A Lutheran Says What?

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

Worth Our Salt Sermon on Mark 9: 38-50 September 26, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 26, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’ Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Psalm 19
Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Mark 9: 38-50

Young Friends message:
Have some salt to show them. Ask them and the adults, how much money do you think is in this little packet of salt? Yes, probably only a few cents worth. If I were to give you some salt for your birthday or Christmas, you probably wouldn’t be impressed. It’s not worth very much in money but it’s worth a whole lot in our lives. What are some things that salt does? Salt does many important things, but we actually need a good balance of salt in our bodies to live. Without it, our bodies don’t work properly. Even though it’s not worth much, you can’t buy anything with it, it’s very valuable to us.  But in Jesus’ time, salt was like money, and was more valuable than gold. People were paid for jobs in salt. In our bible story today, it starts out with the disciple John being very worried that someone else was good at casting out demons, or helping people in Jesus’ name, and he was jealous. Jesus tells him that anyone who is helping people and loving people in God’s name is valuable. Jesus then goes on to say some very scary things about body parts being cut off. Jesus does not mean for us to cut off or harm any part of our body. But Jesus is trying to get our attention that what we may think is valuable or impressive may actually be harmful to someone else, and that our mission in God’s kingdom is to make sure that everyone knows that they are included in God’s love and promises. That no matter what they look like, what they do, where they live, what they do or don’t have, they are more valuable to God than salt and should see each other as valuable too. The saying you might have heard that derives from this is “someone is worth their salt.” You are valuable to God and to us here at OSLC, more valuable than money, gold or salt. I have a reminder for you of this-a baggie with some salt and the saying “you are worth your salt.” We’re going to talk a little more about this.

If you had one hour to pack up your car and leave because of a fire, or some other disaster, what would you take? Outside of important legal documents, for me, I would grab pictures. Not a piece of china or crystal, not a piece of furniture or another object that might have monetary value. I would take items that are probably only valuable to me, because they offer me a connection to someone and something that can’t be replaced by money or other material means. Most of what I own, doesn’t have monetary value, only sentimental value. A saying I’ve heard is “something only has value if someone else wants it.” That’s a hard fact for most of us. We think our children will want some of our things one day, but the truth is that they often don’t. Our material things don’t have any meaning to anyone outside of us. No matter how much we want other people to place value on the same things that we do. This can happen with traditions as well. Such as sending Christmas cards used to have meaning for me, but it honestly no longer does since with social media, I keep up with the folks that I want to throughout the year. It’s a tradition that many have given up as it no longer holds the value that it once did. And it frees up time, worry and money in a season that is already fraught with stress and removed an obstacle from focusing on what really matters.
What’s truly valuable is a hard conversation, whether it’s material objects, or traditions. We like to think that what we find meaningful is meaningful for everyone else, in all times and in all places but sometimes we find that what we think is meaningful, can be a stumbling block for someone else. In the 21st century church, we’re wrestling with this truth. Traditions that seem immutable and monolithic aren’t valuable to different generations, demographics and cultures. As a matter of fact, they are a stumbling block for them to even consider being a part of a Christian community. It can be a stumbling block that worship is Sunday mornings, or that communities aren’t racially diverse, or mainly accessible to able-bodied, neurotypical folks, or when churches are more concerned about who they keep separate from than seeking authentic partnerships. Or more personally, I can be a stumbling block for others to experience the healing of Jesus, when I don’t advocate for my Haitian siblings on the border, or I’m too afraid of tarnishing my reputation or being called radical that I don’t stand firm to support the human rights of bodily autonomy of pregnant people and LBGTQIA+. I can be a stumbling block when I’m more worried about myself, what I might lose, than what my neighbor has already lost. I can be a stumbling block when I succumb to my privilege, being “nice” and quietism instead of living for the good news of Jesus Christ in the world. I have to wonder if part of the decline in participation in mainline Christianity, such as the Lutheran church, is linked to that we refuse to wrestle with and cut off what is no longer valuable for people in our church systems, that we cling to what we like, are comfortable with and are used to, instead of focusing on what is truly valuable to bring in the kingdom of God. Something only has value if someone else wants it.

Many people, particularly younger people, are searching for true value, authentic community, community who accepts them just as they are and doesn’t make them hustle for their worth. Community that exists to transform the world, to care for creation, community that clearly sees the hard realities of our society and faithfully engages. Community that is rooted in something beyond themselves, something more precious than much fine gold or honey as the psalmist writes. A community that is worth its salt: people are looking for life, for peace, as Jesus offers his followers today in this gruesome passage of amputations, and the fires of hell, Gehenna. This talk of hell isn’t about the afterlife, it’s about being in the garbage heap outside of Jerusalem where refuse, objects with no use or value were disposed of by fire. But there is good news here for us in this horror story.

Jesus names the reality that we think we need to compete for our worth, and Jesus counters that because of the word of God, the name of Jesus, the promises of the good news of wholeness, abundant life, connection and love we are already worthy. Or is as valuable as salt, which as I mentioned to our young friends, in the ancient world was used as currency and was more valuable than gold. What and who has value in God’s economy isn’t the same as the world’s economy, Jesus says. You have worth because you are God’s, AND so does everyone else.
But we worry about what we might lose if we cut off the things and traditions that we love and know, as dearly as we love and know our own appendages. Will the church have value if it no longer looks like what we grew up with, or doesn’t have all the programs we’re used to, or doesn’t use a building, or has leadership that looks different than in the past? Or will we then clearly understand what has true value: God’s living word of love for us and our neighbors.  We can see how people around us are also worth their salt to God and understand that in removing stumbling blocks, even if we love the stumbling blocks, we gain so much more than what we gave up. We gain wholeness in ourselves, in our community and in God. We gain peace with each other. We gain life beyond arbitrary traditions and human rules to freely live as God’s people in God’s economy valued and beloved. We live as people worth our salt. Thanks be to God.

 

Drawn In Sermon on Mark 9: 30-37 September 19, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 19, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Jeremiah 11: 18-20
Psalm 54
Mark 9: 30-37

Young Friends Message: I am sharing the book today: “Maybe God Is Like That Too” by Jennifer Grant, illustrated by Benjamin Schipper and published by Sparkhouse Family 2017.

When was a time when you felt truly welcomed to a new place or event? One such time for me was when I was still in seminary and I was taking a class in Chicago through the Seminary Consortium for Urban Parish Education (SCUPE), on Faith Based Community Organizing. It was in January 2012 and over MLK Jr. Weekend. Two of my roommates and I learned that Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King, MLK’s youngest daughter, would be preaching at mostly Black St. Sabina Catholic Church on the south side of Chicago that Sunday. St. Sabina was one of the parishes we were studying on community engagement. We took the El and a bus that cold Sunday morning and ended up entering the sanctuary through a side door. But a wonderful, warm woman saw the three middle aged white women enter the wrong door into an all Black church and she swooped over, put her arm around me and drew me in close to her and said, “child, I’m so glad you are here, I’ve been waiting for you. Let me show you three to the best pew for worship today.” And she did. She drew us into the center of the sanctuary literally smack dab in the middle and sat us in the best vantage point to see Rev. Dr. King preach. She brought us a bulletin, made sure that we knew that we knew where the restrooms were, and this church had a Sunday morning snack bar in the basement. She drew us into the community. She didn’t seem surprised to see us, it was as if she had been looking for us to arrive. This woman made sure that we knew that we belonged there that morning.

Belonging is a basic need for us humans. We are wired for connection; without that connection, we wither. Yet the feeling of belonging often feels like a surprise or a shock to us. When we belong, we share many aspects of our lives with a certain group of people such as dress, speech, rituals, days of worship, music, doctrines, traditions, and commonly held beliefs. Some of these aspects are what drew us in and connected us, but the irony is that these aspects can leave people out. We rarely seek out new or different. Like the woman at St. Sabina’s we don’t make a beeline toward a new and different face. Part of our wiring is also to be suspicious of new and different. It’s a loop that is hard to short circuit.

The idea of who belonged and who was accepted is as old as Genesis 3 when the first people first realized that they were separate from God. The Bible is a story of God drawing God’s people back into full belonging and oneness with God and each other. No separation. Jesus is God as human, the one who holds divinity and humanity together, who draws us all into oneness with God and one another.
The disciples had a front row seat to this project, and it caused them fear. Their whole lives had been one of figuring out where and to whom they belonged and to whom they belonged. Their religion? The Romans? Their vocations? Jesus over and over says, no, you belong to someone and something grander: God. But it’s not what you think. Jesus tells them that Jesus belongs to God and will suffer, be killed by the other communities, but will rise again. The disciples aren’t exactly drawn into dig deeper into this news. It’s not the kind of belonging that they want. They want to belong to something and someone who is powerful, great, has authority, and status. They want belonging that brings worldly security.
Jesus patiently, again, tells them that what and who they belong to is one who serves, one who supports, one who draws people into abundant life. This is what belonging to God is like: it’s knowing that when we are drawn in by God’s love together, there is so much more than the world can offer. To shock the disciples into fully grasping this, Jesus draws a child into their center. A child, in the ancient world, had zero value. Children were the most vulnerable and least worthy in Jesus’ time. For Jesus to draw this child into his arms, is scandalous. Jesus declares that accepting, centering, connecting, belonging to this child is the point, that welcoming Jesus, is welcoming God. Belonging to God is belonging to the weakest, least valuable person in the community. It’s drawing yourself to people with whom you would rather not be connected. They might need something from you.
This is still scandalous today, and I know that I, like the disciples, struggle with this radical belonging. It means that I am drawn to the person I walk past sleeping on a bench. I am drawn to the person with differing political persuasions. I am drawn to the person who is fleeing their country to escape poverty, war and oppression, like the 14,000 Haitians on our border needing refuge. I am drawn to the person whose gender or sexual identity expression is new to me. I am drawn to the person with a differing faith tradition. I am drawn to the person working tirelessly in hospitals who need me to do my part to alleviate their strain. I am drawn to the person who is grieving, celebrating, or unsure what is next for them. I am drawn to the person who has differing health needs, such as our unvaccinated children who need protection from the community around them. When Jesus puts his arms around me and draws me close, he is also drawing close all the people from whom I desire a great distance. Jesus draws me in, and draws you in, just as we are, Jesus doesn’t care if we are great by the world’s standards. We are great because God is greater, because we belong to and are loved by God, not what for what we do, not for what we don’t do. God says that what and whom God creates and draws close to is great too: you, me, people whom we haven’t met yet, and may never meet.  
This is God’s hope, vision and call to us all: be drawn to each other, welcome one another, to see God in all people. Jesus draws us in to God’s kingdom where we belong to one another with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.

 

Talking the Jesus Talk and Walking the Jesus Walk: Sermon on Mark 8 September 13, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 12, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:

Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Psalm 166: 1-9
Mark 8: 27-38

Young Friends message:

Ok I’m going to have you call out some actions for me to do and I’ll do them! (But when they call out for instance jumping, I’ll snap my fingers instead, or if they say clap, I’ll jump.) They will probably get frustrated with me. So we’ll try again. This time I’ll do what they call out correctly. Ask: Does something like this ever happen in your life where someone will say one thing and do something else? Or misunderstand what you mean? Yes! It happens all the time! Sometimes, it’s not a big deal like our fun just now, but sometimes it matters that what we say and what we do match. We call that “talking the talk and walking the walk.” When we say we’ll do something, we’ll actually do it. Such as when you say to your parents that you’ll be kind to your friends or siblings but then you might not share or use kind words with them. Our Bible story reminds me of this today. Jesus is teaching his disciples and he asks them who people say he is, and they give him a bunch of responses but none are who he really is. But then Peter says: You are the Messiah! Which means Jesus is the anointed one of God. Jesus then does a curious thing and tells them not to tell anyone that. But then tells the disciples some hard things about being a messiah, that he will be hurt and killed, which is not what they think being a messiah is about. The word messiah for them is like being powerful king, and kings are considered special aren’t they? They live in a big castle away from other people, they are served by people, and don’t usually work the way other people do. But Jesus says that is not who he is. He is someone who is just like us in many ways, except he talks and walk in the love of God for us all to see. Even if it gets him hurt. Peter tells Jesus to stop talking that way, because Peter wants Jesus to be the special king who is separate. But Jesus says no, Peter, stop thinking I’m special because I’m separate from you, I’m special because I’m with you and you will be with me. Jesus is talking the talk and walking the walk of loving us. We’re going to talk and hopefully walk, more about this power of words and actions matching.

I can remember when I was a little girl and my mom would be eating a treat or drinking her diet coke and I would want to do the same. She would tell me, “do as I say and not as I do.” That phrase was well intentioned enough as she didn’t want me eating sugar or drinking soda at all. As a parent there were plenty of times I did or said something that I wouldn’t want my children to do or say. I remember clearly the first time Kayla said a swear word, in the church nursery, to the associate pastor’s child. Sigh. She was only doing and saying what she had witnessed me doing and saying. Kayla, at the age of four, didn’t understand the difference between me doing those things and her doing those things. I felt terrible, guilty, and maybe a bit ashamed, that what I wanted to do and say but what I actually did and said was on display in the form of my daughter. Not my finest parenting moment but not my worst either. I was after all someone trained in teaching children, I talked all the time about boundaries, language development, discipline techniques, all of it. And parents at the church would come to me with parenting challenges and questions. And then here is my own child behaving in a way that didn’t seem congruent with a parent who had knowledge and experience in child development and had children of their own. I needed to remember that my talk and walk were not only about myself, but about everyone around me.

 I admire people who truly talk the talk and walk the walk. I think of the obvious, Jesus, the early martyrs of fledging Christianity, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther as historical figures, but even more contemporary such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa, John Lewis, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, and the list can go on. And we all know people who quietly and without much notoriety live in such a way that their words and actions are held together to create a holistic life. They can cut through all of the talk of the world that is about self, scarcity, fear and power and hear the talk of community, abundance and connection. Not only that, but they can talk that talk and then walk in that truth. They take the path that might label them as weird or a troublemaker for not talking and walking the way the world demands. They talk and walk they way they do for others to be freed from the lies and paths of deception. Their talk and walk are not for themselves.

Peter was only considering his own talk and walk when he pulled Jesus aside and told him to stop the downer talk. Suffer and die? Take up a cross, a sign not only of death and torture, but of ridicule and criminality? What? It would be akin to Jesus telling us today to purposely go to death row at prison and sit in the electric chair. This wasn’t the word or the action that Peter, any of the disciples, or if we’re honest, any of us want to hear from Jesus either. Peter wanted Jesus to talk about how he and his followers were special, different from everyone else and would be treated as such. Jesus realized that Peter wanted to say and do what helped Peter, but ultimately, deceived Peter. Peter was confused about divine things and human things. Peter needed to lose his own talk and walk and pick up Jesus’ talk and walk.

Jesus is clear about what he says and does. Jesus gives us straight talk that his walk is one that focuses on community, truth and creating the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ talk comforts the outcast with words of inclusion and hope. Jesus’ talk empowers women and children with identity and worth.  Jesus’ talk blesses the poor, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely. Jesus’ talk calls out misuse of power from leaders, every time. Jesus’ walk touches the unclean, and the dead. Jesus’ walk crosses into territories where he is a stranger. Jesus’ walk flips rules, and tables of social order, upside down. Jesus’ walks to the cross to die to reveal the truth of the violence of the world and truth of God’s love for the world, no matter what.

As followers of Jesus, this is also the talk we talk and the walk we walk. Who we say Jesus is needs to be matched by our actions.  This is our baptismal call, this is the cross that we carry, the full weight of losing our own talk and walk for Jesus’ talk and walk. We can’t be silent or paralyzed. Our Jesus’ talk speaks life into a world that loves to rally around death and fear. We talk the Jesus’ talk that pregnant people have rights over their own bodies, healthcare and lives. We walk the Jesus’ walk of welcoming the children of all ages with this playground and Little Library. We walk the Jesus walk of ensuring healthcare, housing, equal pay and support for all people. We talk the Jesus talk of ending the unnecessary daily deaths of thousands from a disease that is being used to divide and conquer us. COVID19 yes, but the disease I’m talking about is the lie of individualism and consumerism that drives our societal policies and culture. We talk the Jesus talk to flip the tables on racism and classism to make room for unheard voices. We walk the Jesus walk with our refugee and immigrant cousins to safety, freedom and a future. We walk the Jesus walk in caring for creation and walking in humility with nature. We talk the Jesus talk, we walk the Jesus walk, and not our own. We lose ourselves and gain the truth, gain peace, gain the abundant life of our neighbor and creation. We gain oneness with God and each other.

Jesus’ talk and walk is for you, for me, and for us all. Jesus’ talk and walk goes before us, beside us and guides us each day. Amen.

 

Doing What Jesus Does Sermon on Mark 7 September 6, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 5, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 146
Isaiah 35: 4-7a
Mark 7: 24-37

Young Friends message: Follow the leader.

What does the word discipleship mean to you? (Accept all answers) I have to admit that it’s a word that even as a pastor, can seem nebulous. I mean that is one of my roles, is to help form disciples of Jesus. And as simple as that sounds, in practice, it feels very complex and I wonder if I don’t understand fully what discipleship is.
I took a class with the Southwest CA synod in August where we read the book “The Rediscipling of the White Church” and the definition of discipleship in that book struck me as poignant. On page 15, the author David Swanson writes “our definition of a Christian disciple: following Jesus to become like Jesus, in order to do what Jesus does.” [i]This definition is rooted in St. Augustine of Hippo’s theology of “becoming more like Jesus.” And our own Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, very much adheres to this theology as well when he purports that it’s how we live each day that changes us and the world. This seems simple enough, but it’s quite complex, messy and anything but easy. I feel the weight of trying to be a disciple of Jesus, to do what Jesus does, and it’s overwhelming. For one thing, it feels hubris to claim to be anything like Jesus, and for another, what would Jesus do? I often sigh, and think maybe it’s easier to do nothing, than get it wrong, or maybe my actions don’t matter all that much. After all, I can’t change whole systems, and I can’t control a virus, I can’t control governmental systems oppressing people, I can’t control world affairs. This discipleship thing, is hard. Becoming like Jesus is daunting, as we forget that Jesus wasn’t particularly liked by people in power. He wasn’t considered nice. I get caught in liking being liked and wanting to be nice, but if I’m taking discipleship seriously, it’s not that easy.

Our text from Mark today is anything but easy, and it shows us a not nice Jesus. This text flows from last week’s where Jesus was sparring with the religious leaders over rules and what defiles, and it’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s in our hearts. Jesus disciples were being challenged that they weren’t following the religious rules by following Jesus. Jesus didn’t tell people to follow rules, he told people to follow him. So that makes our passage today even more complex. Jesus leaves the supposed safety of Jewish territory and crosses over into Gentile territory. There were some Jews living there, but not many. It seems that Jesus was ready to be out of the spotlight for a while. But it didn’t last. A Syrophoenician woman found out about Jesus’ presence and falls at his feet begging him to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Jesus responds not with compassion or empathy, but an insult. We can’t soften what he says to her-yes, he calls her a dog. Honestly, I don’t like this from Jesus, it messes with my simplistic mindset of Jesus as passive, soft and mushy. But that’s my problem and not Jesus’. The woman isn’t deterred and retorts to his insult with “fine, call me a dog, but even dogs eventually get taken care of too.” Jesus is snapped out of whatever funk he was in and realizes that he was wrong. The easy thing for Jesus would have been for him to double down and insist that she was wrong, and he was right, after all, he is God made flesh. But Jesus does the hard thing, he listens, and is changed by her need. He realizes that this woman is as important as his mission to the children of Israel and maybe more so. He acts and heals the girl without even being in her presence. Jesus doesn’t have to meet the girl to ensure that she is able to flourish and be a part of her community.

Jesus is so changed by this encounter, that he goes deeper into Gentile territory, where there are fewer Jews. A group of people bring their friend to Jesus who is deaf and doesn’t speak. They beg him for help, as anyone with a disability in Jesus’ day, and even our own, is ostracized from community and wholeness. Jesus takes him aside in private, I think to keep the focus on the man and not his own power. Jesus doesn’t just offer a prayer, he acts. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears, spits on him and touches his tongue. That is considered gross in nearly every time, place, and culture. And a definite crossing of a boundary. And not COVID safe. Then Jesus does something that I deeply resonate with, he sighs. Jesus sighs. Maybe at himself, maybe for the man, maybe Jesus is overwhelmed by the systems in society that led to this man needing help. He says, “Be opened.” Again, maybe to himself, maybe to the man, maybe to all creation. The man is then able to hear and speak. And more importantly is returned to community. He’s opened to the presence of God.

As complicated and unflattering of Jesus as these stories are, they are good news for us as people who strive to follow Jesus to become like Jesus, in order to do what Jesus does. Following Jesus, means that we will be confronted by people who demand things of us that we don’t like, or hadn’t considered before. We will be called out for our own hypocrisy, given an opportunity to listen, learn, change and do better for our neighbor. Following Jesus, means that we may not be considered nice as we cross borders and boundaries and go to places and people where we aren’t comfortable and may want to hide. Following Jesus means that we don’t fall for what is easy or simplistic and we are opened to a new reality, and we admit when we were wrong.

Doing what Jesus does leads us to change the world with building relationships and offering mercy and real life, physical help sometimes one person at a time. As disciples, we follow Jesus, to become like Jesus to do what Jesus does: we feed the hungry, even if it’s one person, one family at a time. We house the unhoused, one person, one family at a time. We support Black people and POC one person at a time. We support women’s flourishing, dignity and worth, one woman at a time. Yes, systems need to change and yes, that feels overwhelming, but we act, we do what Jesus does. Like Jesus, we cross boundaries and we open ourselves up to risk. We follow Jesus into the heart of God’s mission of reconciliation, that is bringing all people and creation back into deep relationship with God where there is no separation from God, creation or one another. What happens to one of us, happens to us all and like Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, we are transformed by that radical connection.  
Discipleship, following Jesus to become like Jesus, in order to do what Jesus does, isn’t easy. That’s not the promise. What is promised is that we have a God who has experienced and understands the complexity, who listens, hears our cries, and acts with mercy. What is promised is that we will be opened, our hearts, our eyes, our ears and our tongues, to do and say what Jesus does and says. Thanks be to God.



[i] Rediscipling the White Church, David W. Swanson, InterVarsity Press, 2020, page 15

 

What Are You Wearing? Sermon on Ephesians 6: 10-20 August 22, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed on August 22, 2021 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18
Ephesians 6: 10-20
John 6: 56-69
Young Friends message: I remember that each year, no matter how old I was, I spent a great amount of time picking out my first day of school outfit. Do you all still do that? Yes, no? Well, sometimes we think about what we want to wear don’t we? What we wear sends a message to people about what we like, maybe band or unicorn t-shirts, or our school colors, or as we get older, some jobs have uniforms, like medical workers, construction workers. And what we wear tells people what we are doing, such as if we’re wearing workout clothes, or fancy clothes. I probably wouldn’t wear a fancy outfit to go for a run! Or my running clothes to a nice restaurant, although I’ve been tempted! And we definitely wouldn’t wear a swimsuit to play in the snow! The right clothes can matter. In our Ephesians bible story today, we hear about putting on the armor of God. What does that sound like to you? Kinda strange maybe? It does to me! But I got to thinking about it and I realized that maybe we need to remember that just as it’s important to wear the right clothes to be warm, or cool, or even safe, so too, our actions and our words are like our clothes that let people know about what we are doing and who we are. Telling the truth, being righteous which is a fancy word for being kind and a good friend, being peaceful, having faith that God is with us all, and that God will always be with us, which is salvation, and God’s Word of love, as we have in Jesus. We don’t think of that as “wearing anything” but just as we take time to decide what to wear for our day, we should take the time to decide to show God to other people. Let’s talk some more about that!

Somedays it is a challenge to decide what to wear based on weather, what I’m doing that day, meetings, off or on zoom, etc. I want to be ready for whatever the day brings. I will admit that the days I need to wear my clerics are days I spend less time staring in my closet. While that seems like a good thing, to have that easy choice, wearing this shirt comes with other side effects. I’ll notice that people star at me, treat me differently, call me “sister,” are very confused by my holding Mike’s hand or avoid me altogether. As a pastor, who happens to be female, in a world that a) is not accustomed to seeing people wearing clerics all that often, and b) a woman wearing a cleric, it can lead to situations that range from weird, to sublime, to disturbing, to downright hilarious. People expect me to behave a certain way when they see me in a clergy shirt that they don’t when I’m in the Target in my jeans and a t-shirt. And sometimes I forget that I’m in a cleric, and sometimes I’m all too aware. For instance, if I drive past a person asking for money on a corner, it’s tempting to remove my collar so that I can’t be identified as a pastor, when I don’t stop and offer money. I have a colleague from seminary, a woman as well, who said that sometimes this shirt can feel 500 pounds because of the expectations. I honestly have a love/hate relationship with wearing clerics. Sure, it’s an easy wardrobe choice, but this shirt sets me apart. It’s a lot of pressure and forces me to live carefully about the choices I make. Sometimes, only sometimes, I long to be a “normal” person.

While yes, maybe this clergy shirt does come with expectations, but when I consider whether to wear the shirt or not, I realize that those expectations are always present. As those expectations, don’t have anything to do with the clerics, but my baptism, who I am and whose I am. My identity is far beyond this shirt or any other piece of clothing I might wear. My identity of following Jesus is known by my words and actions and those should be consistent regardless of if I am in my clerics or not. Wearing this shirt, people expect me to behave ethically, morally, truthfully, lovingly. But shouldn’t that be true if I never put this shirt on again? And yet, I know that wearing this shirt forces me to remember; it holds me accountable. When those of us who do wear this shirt behave in ways that are incongruent with following Jesus, it harms the body of Christ. Sadly, every pastor or priest has let their people down, and I’m no different, for we’re human. And yes, there are horrible circumstances when priests and pastors have abused their positions and power, lied, stolen from people or the church, or made other choices that betrayed and denied their vows to God’s people and Church. And all too often the Church hasn’t done enough to protect people, or ensure that those perpetrating harm receive consequences. As Church leadership we must repent of the harm and abuse that hierarchy and clericalism has inflicted on the Body of Christ.  

We know all too well that the clothing itself doesn’t completely control identity, words and actions, just as wearing a stethoscope doesn’t make you a medical expert, neither does wearing clericals make you closer to God or a better disciple. Each day we choose our baptismal vocation.  That can indeed be a difficult thing to accept as Jesus points out in John’s gospel, as it does sound offensive that there is a choice to be made and it makes us uncomfortable like an itchy wool sweater. There is not any give or stretch, in any of today’s three texts and that might seem harsh or unloving, or ungraceful, but I would ask you to reconsider.
Joshua asks the people, who will you serve? The people proclaim God, but in the verses that we don’t read, Joshua correctly tells the people three times, that they won’t because on their own, they can’t. In Ephesians, we’re told to dress for a spiritual battle, not for violence or mayhem but for the real possibility that life will be hard, and we’d better be ready. Jesus asks the disciples and the twelve, why is the good news that I am the bread of life hard to accept? Do you want to leave? The choice is yours.
We like choice, but the choice we want is “can’t we say we love Jesus and then do whatever we want and just ask for forgiveness?” and the choice we get is “you either get it or you don’t.” This isn’t the Jesus we like or want to profess. But it is good news. Jesus says to the twelve, I called you, all of you, even the one who will betray me, but you can leave if you want. Joshua reminds the Israelites that God chose them as God’s people, rescued them, provided for them, and made a path for them, but won’t coerce them into relationship. The good news is that God chooses us, chooses you, chooses me, each and every day. That will never change. God desires for us to choose to love and serve God every day as carefully as we might choose our outfit. God desires for us to carefully put on what will reveal the kingdom of God in our lives and the lives of others: truth, righteousness in relationships with each other, peace, wholeness, faith, salvation-safety in the promises of God, and the word of God. The word of God made flesh in Jesus, that abides in us and we in him, no matter what. We are chosen, all people are chosen by God’s love. Being chosen doesn’t make us special but makes us accountable. We are chosen and the world is watching, Jesus says. What and who will we choose? Will we choose to wear the mask of compassion, the vaccine of community, the shoes of protest for compassion and dignity for our neighbor? Or will this be too difficult to accept, and we will walk away complaining that it’s too hard? This isn’t a guilt trip or a shame fest, my friends, it’s a fact of life. It’s a fact of life that all too many people are unwilling to face, that we are called to be bold in our witness and when others walk out of hard situations, as followers of Jesus, we choose to walk in. We walk in armed with the presence of God in the Holy Spirit, armed with the word of God, the love of God made flesh in Jesus, knowing that harm and suffering is not only possible but expected. But we walk in, because what else can we do? Our neighbor needs us: our sick neighbor, our Afghani neighbor, our Haitian neighbor, our scared neighbor, our angry neighbor. Where else can we choose to go? Jesus calls us by name, calls us to wear love, makes us holy and whole, with each other, all creation and God, and separation will be no more. Jesus IS the word of sustaining life for all, that covers us and sends us out ready to love and serve our neighbor. This is the promise. Amen.

 

Filled Sermon on John 6 August 15, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 15, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Proverbs 9: 1-6     Ephesians 5: 15-20       John 6: 51-58

Young Friends Message:
Which flavor of Skittles is your favorite? I like orange. It’s interesting to me that they make candy that is supposed to remind us of a fruit flavor. Shouldn’t we just eat the fruit instead of the candy? The fruit is better for us than that candy. The fake sugar and colors in candy aren’t good for our bodies, and can make our bodies sick as a matter of fact. But real fruit is good for our bodies and has what you need to grow and be healthy and has what adults need to age well and be healthy. But we tend to really like the fake stuff don’t we? I wonder why? There’s a lot of complicated brain biology that is why we crave the fake, but it’s mostly because the fake stuff, fools our bodies and brains into thinking that this is good when it’s not. The real fruit doesn’t make us feel as good instantly, but it doesn’t make us feel horrible later. The real fruit doesn’t fool us. It’s honest that we don’t get the immediate feeling good of sugar. Instead, we just feel, well normal for lack of a better word. The candy is faster and easier to eat and real fruit or vegetables, take more work and we eat them slower. No immediate gratification. When we stick with what’s real, it’s better for us, even if we don’t feel good immediately or even if it’s more work.
In our Bible story from the gospel of John, Jesus is talking to the people about eating what is real, what matters. It sounds very strange doesn’t it? Eating and drinking Jesus! And it is strange. But here’s what Jesus wants you to know: Jesus is never about making you feel bad. Jesus is always about making you feel the truth, that you are loved. It might not always seem like it, but Jesus wants people to know they can have Jesus actually in them, like an orange or an apple, to take care of them from the inside out. Jesus cares for every part of you! Your brain, your heart, your lungs, your skin, everything. You’re entire body matters to God just the way it is. Jesus says that he will give you everything you need. We help each other remember this truth each Sunday with a little piece of bread and wine or grape juice, the truth that we know Jesus and so we know God’s love. We’re going to talk a little more about this.

We have the cold storage room in our basement right off of our laundry room that many Utah homes have. We use it for the storage of items such as baby clothes, baby toys, some camping items, etc. It’s also a convenient location to put items that you need to donate. When the pandemic started and basic items fell prey to supply chain issues, we bought a few things in bulk, yes, toilet paper (ok an aside from my Guam story last week, TP was one item that was rationed, so I’ve always had a thing for Costco bulk TP), paper towels, rice, beans, other canned goods and some cleaning supplies. We’ve never really been ones to have that kind of emergency food stocked up, but between the earthquake and COVID, we realized maybe it’s not horrible to have something. Because of this stocking up, Mike started calling the cold storage “The Apocalypse Room.” As the past year or more has gone on, that room began to fill with items that we no longer were using, or had replaced such as the coffee maker that constantly overflowed, the ceiling lights we replaced with ceiling fans, some stuff from our son, etc. We weren’t careful about how we threw stuff in and didn’t pay much attention to it until “The Apocalypse Room” began to overflow. It became so full that you had to dig to get to said TP or other things you might need. And it began to overflow into the laundry room. It was embarrassing. And overwhelming. And annoying. So last week, Mike and I gathered all that stuff up and he took it to Goodwill and then I organized what was left. What was left was less but exactly what we need. All that other stuff that filled the room, were things that were, well, just that, things. Things that didn’t fill any particular need or want, things that didn’t offer us anything other than covering up the things we really needed. It’s ironic that Mike calls it “The Apocalypse Room” as the word apocalypse means “to reveal.” What was revealed is that we didn’t need that room filled with all that other stuff.
I am often tempted by the lie of our consumer culture that our pantries, homes, lives need to be full to be happy and I even fall for it from time to time. Oh, that shirt will make my wardrobe complete, or that bag will make commuting so much easier and keep everything I need handy, or that protein shake will help me feel full to lose weight and be content with my appearance. But that kind of fulfilment never lasts. It turns out that I’ll always find that there is a reason to not be fulfilled. The more I try and fill myself, to get what I need for me alone, the emptier I feel. I long to be filled with what matters, with what sustains. I want a fulfilling life.
I know that left to my own devices right now, I could fill myself with the world’s goods. I could fill myself with cheap, snarky comments at people who disagree with me; I could fill myself with hoarding supplies; I could fill myself with self-righteous rage; I could fill myself with apathy; I could fill myself with the lie that I’m the only one who matters; I could fill myself with the delusion that I don’t have to change my behaviors for creation. I could fill myself, with well, me.

Luckily, I, nor you, are left to our own devices. God wants us filled with what matters as well. The gospel writer of John wants his community to trust that Jesus will indeed pour life into them; life that will over flow the fear, persecution, isolation and uncertainty the late first century people were experiencing. Jesus offers the shocking words to the crowds, disciples and religious leaders that filled with his very life blood, their lives will no longer be empty. Jesus had indeed given them food that filled their stomachs, but Jesus wants to fill them and us with so much more. When we are filled with Jesus, by Jesus, we become truly alive. We see life for all it is, the hard truths in our world and we are more careful about how we live; we pay closer attention to what matters. We live in God’s life and see the world with God’s eyes and heart.

Filled with the living Jesus, we notice that our earth, God’s creation, is literally on fire and know that it will take each of us changing how we live, both individually and corporately to stop the exploitation and destruction to the earth. It’s scary to pay attention to what is happening to the world, the report that just came out from the United Nations isn’t good. We’re past the point of stopping the earth’s warming but maybe if we all live carefully, we can keep it from getting too warm. We can reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, single use plastics, minimalize our consumer habits, reduce water waste and more.
Filled with the living Jesus, we pay attention to the crumbling healthcare systems and do what we can to slow the spread of COVID. We can all live carefully, and lovingly, together, wearing our masks, making hard decisions to not gather in large groups, or do indoor activities. We work to support medical staff.
Filled with the living Jesus, we live carefully with our words and actions in person and in on-line spaces. We can offer words that give life, dignity, worth and humanity to all people, we can use the correct pronouns for one another. We can not allow labels, name calling or other harmful behavior in our presence. We name vicious lies for what they are and not allow the truth to be buried.
Filled with the living Jesus, we pay attention to our own souls, we notice what is really, truly filling us. Is it fear, rage, worry, anxiety? And if so, how do we ensure that we make the most of our time to be filled with Jesus and the Holy Spirit? We can live carefully with how much social media, television and other distractions fill our days versus time in prayer, in faithful community, in scripture reading or other spiritual reading, in silence to listen for God’s wisdom.

Filled with the living Jesus, we live carefully trusting in God and responding to God’s pouring out of the Holy Spirit into us, into the world, with praise. That praise can be a simple “thank you,” music, a poem, a painting. Praise can be food for the hungry, shelter for the unhoused, accompaniment for the lonely, welcoming the refugee and the immigrants. Praise is being so filled with the living Jesus that it pours from us and fills other people with Jesus too.
When we are filled with the living Jesus, we fill others with Jesus, and true life that matters abounds. What is revealed is that eternal life is already here, for Jesus is already here. Yes, a day will come when our flesh and blood will be gone, but Jesus’ flesh and blood will still be filling God’s people who come after us and are yet, connected to us. Filled with the living Jesus, we give thanks to God, at all times for everything that

 

Anger Management Sermon on Ephesians 4: 25-5:2 August 8, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 8, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

1 Kings 19: 4-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6: 35, 41-51
Young Friends message

When I was in fifth grade, my military family was stationed on Guam. It was not the most stress-free environment for a 10-year-old. Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific, in the middle of the Cold War, isolation from family, basic supplies rationed, lack of many amenities that one takes for granted on the mainland, disease was common, and even school was very different. We went to school off base, in a building that had concrete walls, tin roof, louvers instead of windows, no air conditioning, the door to the classroom opened straight to the outside, and families took turns providing a box fan for the classroom. The school property had been clear cut out of the jungle, so finding a jungle critter in your classroom or desk was not uncommon. Yes, kids are resilient and yes, I was a hyperaware, perfectionist, intuitive kid who was very stressed out. So basically, this personality you see before you today in a child. It was not good times for anyone in my family.

One day we were taking a test in my fifth grade classroom, and there was a breeze coming through the louvers that repeatedly blew my paper off my desk. After about the fourth or fifth time, I had had it. I snapped. I took my paper, tore it up into little pieces and stomped over to the trash can and threw them away, muttering under my breath with each step. My teacher, Mrs. Lucio, was stunned. Needless to say, my parents were called in with the concern that perhaps I needed to learn a little anger management. I remember being made to do a research paper on stress. I’m not sure that helped. But it did make me aware for the first time in my ten short years that stress was a thing and it was not a thing I was handling well. And this was when my dad introduced me to running. Unfortunately, what my ten-year-old self took away from that experience was that anger was bad, something to be pushed away, and a cause of shame. I spent a lot of years in my life thinking that I wasn’t allowed to be angry, which ironically, made me angry. It really hasn’t been all that long in my adult life that I’ve reconciled that anger is an ok emotion, just as all our emotions are neither good nor bad, but just are. What’s important about our emotions is how we act or don’t act on them. Or as theologian Father Richard Rohr says, “pain that isn’t transformed is transmitted.” Hurting people, hurt people.

What I also didn’t learn until I was an adult, is that anger is a secondary emotion. Anger often masks other emotions such as fear or sadness. Anger is a response to any other emotion. Anger can seem less vulnerable than admitting your sad or scared. Anger is part of our armor that we hope protects and separates us from what is sad or scary. It’s also one of the phases of grief. Clearly, I wasn’t angry at the wind or the test. I was grieving that my life wasn’t what I was used to living in the US. I was moving through the phases of grief, the shock of a different culture, the denial that I couldn’t force my life to be the same, anger that I couldn’t control anything, bargaining wasn’t even a possibility for my young self, and yes, eventually some acceptance that there were gifts in this phase of life too. This wouldn’t be the last time I moved through these waves of grief, and I have learned to recognize them a bit sooner. And I have learned to recognize when others are grieving. That recognition of someone’s grief allows my anger to be transformed and can lead me to come to the comfort and aid of others. Anger can be transformed.

There’s a lot of anger in our society right now because we’re a grieving society. And it’s ok. We have a lot to grieve, I would affirm. We’re going through the stages of grief around a virus, racial injustice, economic stress and more. So, we’re angry. We’re angry at the people denying the virus and the science. We’re angry that some people are willing to bargain their own convenience over the health of others. We’re angry that people aren’t willing to care for and love their neighbor. We’re angry at the exposed wealth and equality gaps. We’re angry at the death toll. We’re angry that we can’t even grieve, come together as a community for support and love the way we are used to.
So. what do we do with our grief: with our shock, denial, anger, bargaining for what can’t be, and get to some reconciliation or acceptance of what is? I don’t have a prescriptive plan for you such as five ways to deal with your grief or an anger management program. I don’t think a research paper will help this heart problem. But here’s what I do know: we are created in God’s image and called to imitate God our creator. You might recall from the biblical witness that God gets angry too. And we don’t have time today to dig too deeply into some of those traumatizing and problematic stories, and yes, the Flood narrative is difficult, the plague of the killing of the first born is horrific, the exile stories are puzzling, and my intent this morning is not to deal with the paradox or gloss over it but simply to say yes, those are hard stories and yes, God’s anger is real. I would offer that perhaps even God recognized that God’s anger wasn’t always handled well. But here’s the good news for us on imitating God: For God so loved the world. God’s anger always kindled greatest when we were harming each other, not loving each other, and separating ourselves from one another and ultimately God. But God never stopped loving us or creation. God never gave up on relationship with us, God didn’t use anger as an armor to separate from us. God’s anger was transformed by God’s love. God’s love for us moved God past anger, to covenants with God’s people over and over. God sent Jesus to be the final promise of never letting us go. And yes, Jesus got angry too, flipping over tables and systems that harmed people. God never tolerates oppression, harm, separation, or evil. Never. So, when we are admonished to imitate God, we are to love the world, both humanity and creation, with tenacity.

We are to take our anger, our grief, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us to act out of love for our neighbor. We recognize our own waves of grief, so that we can support and empathize with others in their waves of grief. We are in a scary time, which is why we are angry. And God accepts us just as we are, imperfections, anger and all, and loves us. God doesn’t want our anger to cause us to sin against our neighbor, God wants our anger to open us to love and care for our neighbor. Our anger moves us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and foreigner without conditions, house the homeless, ensure clean water and air for the next generation, and act for the care of all creation. That is eternal and abundant life. Life together, messy life together, fully accepted by God who loves the world. This is our baptismal promise from God. That our grief, our anger is held and transformed by God’s love.

We are going to practice letting go of anger, allowing it to transform our hearts and continue in our process of imitating God. You have a card in your bulletin, and if you don’t, please raise your hand and one will be brought to you. Take a moment and write what is making you angry right now. Then you can tear it up, and place the pieces in the font. God promises to accept our anger and transform our anger into love for the world.

 

Never Torn Apart August 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 1, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Exodus: 16: 2-4, 9-16
Ephesians 4: 1-16
John 6: 24-35

Young Friends message: I have here a Lego car from my son’s Lego collection. In order for this to look and work like a car, it took many pieces to be joined together. What happens when I take the wheel off? Is the wheel by itself a car? Can the car work without all four wheels? Nope! What happens in your family if someone doesn’t do their chores, then the rest of the family has to either do them or maybe dinner doesn’t get made, or laundry done. Church is like that too! Without people serving here in worship, or this Friday at Millcreek when we all helped to put up bulletin boards, it takes us all doing a little bit for great things to happen. God loves this, when we work together and this is what we’re reading more about in the letter to the Ephesian people today. God wants us to work together, to be like one object like this Lego car, for God’s love to shine. And so we put away our worries about ourselves. Which is hard, and sometimes we have to work with people we don’t like, or think differently than us, or have different needs. But God tells us that we are to look out for people who need something different and make sure that everyone is included. When we are missing someone or missing you, it’s like missing a piece of this Lego car, and then we don’t work as well. We need everyone, all ages, all stages, all sizes, all talents. And we need you! You matter in our community and I hope that you know that. It’s a hard concept called unity and we’re going to talk a little more about that as it’s hard for adults too!

I have a confession to make: I’m not sure what true unity is supposed to look like. I don’t. I want to know what unity looks like, and I find myself pondering and searching for how the words in Ephesians chapter 4 could be true. I desperately want them to be true. I shake my head every day at the lack of empathy in our society and wonder how in the world are we ever going to live into the oneness that Jesus prays for in John 17 and is laid out for us in the letter to the Ephesians. I looked up the Websters definition for unity and here’s what I found: “the quality or state of not being multiple, a condition of harmony, continuity without deviation or change as in for purpose or action, and finally, a totality of related parts, an entity that is a complex or systematic whole, being joined as a whole.” Never was it mentioned that unity meant all being the same, but the focus was on how pieces worked together as one. Perhaps what we need as a people is to review this definition from time to time. I know that I get caught in the false belief that unity is about sameness. Yet, oneness and sameness, are not the same thing and not even to be desired, Jesus says.

Unity is a hard reality for us to live into, as we tend to fear what or who is different. Fear makes unity, joining together for a common purpose, harder. Fear fragments us internally and propels us to cause external division and fragmentation. This week someone attempted to fragment us by cutting our RIC banner in half. Who it was is unknown and honestly, maybe it doesn’t matter all that much. Whomever it was is a child of God, who may feel that this sign of division instead of radical inclusion, they may confuse unity with sameness, and they felt a need to visually represent this fear by cutting the banner in half. They reacted to the idea of radical togetherness, after all being joined to people is scary stuff. Being joined to people who you know and don’t know is vulnerable. Being joined in purpose, action and life to people is indeed complex and may not always work how we think it should. When we’re joined together, our purpose or role might shift. This banner being cut in half could lead us to wonder if we’re cutting people off who believe that differences in sexual orientation, gender, or race either don’t exist and shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith. After all, isn’t one faith everyone believing the exact same thing? There are some who have a list of what or who shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith as “good Christians.”  Should “good Christians” be politically active? Support secular peace and justice movements such as BLM? Talk about sexuality, big business, climate change? Should “good Christians” hang out with people who listen to death metal, swear, drink or are into slasher movies?

 First off, I’m not sure what a “good Christian” even means as we are all saints and sinners and Jesus never really addresses this. Second, I believe we’re more comfortable figuring out how to be disjointed from certain people and activities than joined as one people with God as Jesus prays in John 17. When Jesus feeds the 5,000, he is joining them as one people, he is taking their fragmented lives and knitting them together. We rarely think about who was in that crowd being fed together, but statistically speaking, there were probably thieves, outcasts, sex workers, beggars, manipulators, shepherds, carpenters, moms, dads, surly teenagers, cute babies, grandmas, grandpas, addicts, essentially people of all kinds. I wonder if the miracle, the work of God, that Jesus is pointing in our gospel today, is less about the bread and fish, and more about everyone sitting down together. Sitting and standing next to people is very different. When you stand next to someone, you have a quick escape if you will. But we all know the angst of deciding who you’re going to sit with in the school cafeteria or in the south wing at fellowship time or here in worship. Maybe it’s why no one will sit up front with me? Once you sit down with someone, you’re stuck. You’re in this meal/fellowship/worship time together whether you like it or not. You’re joined together.

The irony is that our deepest fear as humans is being alone, cut off from what and who matters most. We want to be joined in relationships, just on our own terms. Jesus shows us that we are joined as one, but on God’s terms, and for God, everyone and everything is joined together. Nothing is excluded from God’s life and so, too, in our lives, including our lives of faith. As Lutherans, our heritage is built on the truth that every aspect of our lives is holy and belongs to God, even the parts we might be ashamed of. This is the work of God, Jesus says, that faith, belief in Jesus leads us to be joined together, even if it’s uncomfortable. God’s work is drawing us together as one body, to be one in faith, in the Spirit, in baptism, in love. That is the bread of life that sustains, as when we are joined to each other and God, our fragments are made whole, and we join one another ensuring food, shelter, health, and community to promote growth, flourishing, and thriving for all.  This is the action of unity, of love. This is the joining all aspects of our lives: the secular, the mundane, into our lives of faith. If harm is happening to any part of the body, we must speak that truth in love for our neighbor. Even if it’s unpopular and people try and cut us off. We are called to build each other up, not tear each other down.
Perhaps this is the unity that I am searching for. Perhaps this is the unity that whoever damaged our banner was searching for. The unity we aspire to in our welcome statement. True unity where we can’t cut each other off, even if we want to. True unity sitting together in tension and discomfort for the sake of the purpose of including everyone into God’s kingdom. True unity of together looking into the wilderness, into the uncertainty, as the Israelites did, and seeing the unwavering presence of God, who promises to always be joined to us, building us up in love each moment of each day. Love that joins us and refuses to let us be torn apart. It is unifying love that is above all, through all, is in all, joins all and builds us all up. Amen.

 

Beyond Our Imagination Sermon on Ephesians 3 and John 6 July 25, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 25, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

2 Kings 4: 42-44
Ephesians 3: 14-21
John 6: 1-21

Young Friends message: I’ve got a fun thing to show you to help us talk about how being together with people, impacts us. I have this plain jar of water and some water colors. If I put in the blue, what happens to the plain water? Yep, it combines with the blue and becomes a new color, one color together, they don’t separate. How about if I put in some yellow with the blue? Yep, it changes to green, do you know exactly what shade of green? Dark or light do you think? It’s hard to imagine the exact color isn’t it? Let’s see….yep its green! Not clear, blue and yellow, but a new color. Well, God created us, people, to be like this water. Every time we come together, we make a new thing. New experiences, new ideas, happen. Every time! We’re always new! We don’t stay the same, we don’t separate and stay our own self, but the parts of us combine. Sometimes we fight that and don’t like it as we don’t always know exactly what we will look like, or what we will do. But God wants to us to imagine, to dream about how we can combine our beautiful colors together and be even more beautiful. God wants us to use our imaginations about how to live together, how to do new things together that help each other, how to remember that God is making us more beautiful than we could ever imagine! We’re going to talk more about that.

“I just can’t imagine…” It’s a common phrase we use, isn’t it? Typically, we use it or hear it around events that seem completely beyond our experiences, positive or negative. It’s an expression that admits that our imaginations are limited, or perhaps that we intentionally limit our imaginations. After all, if we imagine too much, too wildly, too boldly, we could be labeled as unrealistic, a dreamer, or a problem. When we were young, many of us we had vivid imaginations didn’t we? We didn’t try and fit the world into neat categories. We imagined games, imagined that we were superheroes, imagined stories and songs, imagined what life was like on Mars or in the time of dinosaurs. We imagined that life was expansive and without limits. We imagined quite a bit. But then we stopped. We got older and became more practical and pragmatic. We felt foolish letting our imaginations run wild, so we imagined less for ourselves, for the world and yes God. And it seems when we imagine less, less is what we get.

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand people is in all four gospels and in three of the gospels, it’s followed by the story of Jesus walking on water. Two stories side by side that are fantastical, mysterious, and beyond our imagination, which I think is the point and why each gospel writer decided that these stories mattered in the life of their communities. Perhaps they too were constantly underestimating, under imagining what God can do.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of realism and insist that everything must be grounded in human reality and in what is humanly possible, instead of what God can do. Jesus sees the great crowd and tests Philip. Now, I get itchy with the word test, as tests always seem punitive to me, but that is not how Jesus means the question here. It’s not a trick, it’s a reflection. How will we feed all these people? Philip answers from his limited imagination that it’s not possible. Andrew does a little reconnaissance work and brings up the balance sheet of a young boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish and says there’s not enough. No imagination there either. I picture in my imagination Jesus sighing with compassion. In response to “how can we feed them?” Jesus basically says, “watch me.” And does. All by himself. In John’s gospel, the disciples don’t help. Jesus alone has the power, the imagination, the will to do what needs to be done, with or without human help. That’s not to say that the disciples aren’t important or not needed, but they won’t stand in the way of God’s power either. God is going to do what God is going to do. It’s better if we have the imagination to wonder and participate with God, but it’s not necessary.

Over the past 20 plus years of ministry, with a decade in pastoral ministry, I find myself wondering what God is up to and if my imagination is too limited. I need to take the prayer in our Ephesians passage to heart. This prayer is for the people to be grounded in the love and power of Jesus, not in human reality, or humanly possibility, but Jesus’ unrealistic, radical love. The prayer also proclaims that we will see God’s power to do more than we can ever ask or imagine. There is no talk of limitations, cost benefits, return on investments, risk management or the other ways that we limit ourselves and God.

How can we spark our own imaginations about the future, what God is doing in our own lives and as a faith community? Our council is embarking on some strategic planning in August, to prayerfully discern who God is calling us to become as OSLC. Part of the difficulty of imagining, I believe, is that we must imagine beyond ourselves and even our lifetimes. Over 60 years ago, a fledging congregation did just that and here we are today. It’s not about us and yet it is about us. God’s imagination for our futures and creation’s future, always encompasses us and is beyond us simultaneously. What do we imagine OSLC to be in five years? Ten? Twenty years? Who are we imagining will be here serving and loving God? Who will be in this room? How do we imagine them here in our midst today?

The disciples found it difficult to understand that Jesus’ imagination was always beyond their own, that Jesus comes to them and to us all, gathers and offer himself to people whom they would rather scatter and not deal with. Jesus sparked the disciples, and our, imaginations of what God is up to whenever two or three are gathered. We will do things differently, respond to different needs, create different ministries and let other ministries cease. We’ll have to reimagine relationships, what it means to dwell, with our neighbors and with Jesus. Jesus coming to us, moving into to our hearts, minds, lives, WILL change us, much like roommates change us, children change us, spouses change us. Dwelling together forces us to consider and to imagine different life patterns. God’s power is at work gathering community right here, right now, and we can’t stop it. That is good news my friends; our limited imagination can’t stop God. And how will we respond? We can double down on how things used to be or be imaginative and excited about what could be. Maybe its worshiping on Sunday evenings with dinner church, instead of Sunday mornings, maybe it’s using our land for unhoused youth or families, maybe it’s considering using our building for immigration assistance, childcare, or elder care. What if God’s call is beyond our imagination?

Jesus will come to us, will walk through any obstacle to meet us where we are in our fear, in our limited imaginations, in our uncertainty. Jesus’ powerful love that is for all people, imagines us as connected as one body, through his body. Jesus will work through us, in us and with us, and around us if necessary, to transform us and the entire world. We are a witness to God’s imaginative, abundant and powerful love for the people of God today, and tomorrow. We pray to imagine and be grounded in this truth. Amen.

 

Memory Loss Sermon on Ephesians 2: 11-22 July 21, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 18, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Young Friends Message:

My grandmother died of early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 69. I was 22. The last time I had a chance to visit with her was about seven months before she died on Easter Sunday, 1995. She was already in a memory care facility where she spent her days walking the horseshoe shaped hallway over and over. I went and walked with her for awhile one day not sure how that would be. She didn’t seem to know who I was and spoke mostly of events that happened in her early childhood. I simply listened and kept pace, as she was still quick and spry! Her muscles remembered what to do it seemed, even when her brain could not. Except, occasionally she would look at me or say something that made me wonder if a glimmer of memory was seeping through the cracks of the disease. As our visit was wrapping up, she suddenly and almost dramatically turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, “I love you.” And then just as quickly as that came, it was gone. I don’t know if she really knew who I was. I suspect she had a sudden gut feeling that I was someone she loved even if she couldn’t remember my name, our relationship, why I was there or why she was in a facility. All she knew was on a bodily level was a certitude of love. I think of this experience with her often as in my vocational life as a pastor, as I have similar encounters with folks who have memory loss. The moment I put bread and wine in their hands, their bodies remember what to do. They may not remember their own names or families, but when I begin the Lord’s Prayer, they immediately pray with me, word for every holy word.  Or the sing the words of a favorite hymn. What their brain forgets, their body and heart remember what is true at a core, DNA, base level.

I admit to having spiritual memory loss most days. I go about my day just keeping pace with what needs to happen in my assessment to “get things done.” I see the tasks laid out in my planner: the emails, the sermon prep, the worship prep, planning for faith formation, bible studies, setting up zoom links, keeping the building maintained and the loops that can feel so important, and maybe some of it is. The tasks cause me to think that I’m making progress somehow, that I’m building something that will last with my busyness. Yet, I return to the same thing over and over and maybe that’s not where I’m supposed to be going. I forget that my worth isn’t in my doing but in my being. I forget that at the end of the day, my checked off task list won’t remind me of what really matters at a core, DNA, base level. Maybe you have a similar experience some days.

When my days are filled to the brim of frenetic movement from one task to the next, there are times when my body will indeed remember what my brain forgets is at the core: love. Love that remembers that my heart, brain and body are all connected, love that remembers that I am connected to all of you and your hearts, brains and bodies, love from God that is indeed here to build, but not through a task list, but through love in Jesus. Love that is strong enough to tear down any dividing walls of hostility whether it’s diseases of mind, body or spirit, social diseases, or our own egos and need to be right. Love that remembers that any rule or law that excludes or separates isn’t from God. Love that remembers that buildings don’t contain God, our bodies do. Love that remembers temples and sanctuaries aren’t human made but God created. Love that remembers God’s purpose, plan and will is for humanity, creation and God to be one, to be whole, to be in peace. Love that is at the core, in the DNA at the base level of all creation. Love that is built on the love of Jesus that refused to play the memory game of the world and constantly shook people to remembering that we are not to be pitted against each other for resources, or status or worth. Jesus called us to remember him, to remember that we are his body, wholly and holy his body, on earth and can’t be, won’t be separated by powers and principalities. Remember me, Jesus says, and remember that you are one.

I don’t want to forget this; I need to remember those who have gone before us and left us deep reminders of this truth. Yesterday, I was reminded that it was the one year anniversary of the death of John Lewis, the great civil rights activist, who fought his whole life, literally putting his body on the line, for voting rights for Black people, Indigenous people and other marginalized people. He never forgot that his life was to build a memory of love and justice that would outlive him. Yet, I’m guilty of letting my comfort and privilege give me amnesia and forgetting what Lewis, King, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and so many others risked their lives to spark our memories that we are to remember that we are all part of God’s kingdom, and we all have worth. I want to remember to get into “good trouble” and not worry about my own reputation, but remember the divinity of my neighbor oppressed by racial, social, gender, economic or any prejudice. I want to remember that Jesus never acquiesced to unjust religious or civil laws but worked to overturn them at every opportunity. Jesus never shrugged his shoulders and figured nothing could be done, but always reminded people that the power of God is at work in them and through them and yes, when they act for love, radical love, injustice can be undone. I want, I need, to remember this truth. I need to remember that God’s love isn’t a nice phrase we say, but a call to action for the coming of God’s kingdom.

I thank God for this memory of love that my grandmother had on that day, as it reminded me of the promise of love from God. I thank God for the memory of love that Jesus poured out to us in the bread and wine and from his own body on the cross. I thank God for the memory of love that lives in all of you. I thank God for God’s memory of love that never waivers, never leaves us, and never forgets, even when we do. Thanks be to God.