A Lutheran Says What?

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

Cross Gen Experiment: Vision for Tomorrow April 15, 2017

On March 26th, I preached on John 9 and invited the congregation of Bethany Lutheran Church into an experiment. It was risky, fraught with danger and yet, we had nothing to lose. I invited every youth under the age of 18 to come forward and if they were four or under, a parent type person to come with them. I also had caring adults staged to come up and help as well. I handed each youth five little yellow slips and a name tag. I told them to write their first name on the name tag and put it on. Then I asked them to write their first name on each of the slips of paper and had a sentence prompt for them to finish: “I love to….” I asked them to write one thing that they love to do. I talked to the adults about how I had a vision for each youth to have 5-7 adults at church who knew their name and could talk to them about what was going on in their lives. As the children and youth were finishing up, I told them that as they returned to their seats, to hand out their slips to adults whom they didn’t know. Then I said after worship, everyone go to the fellowship hall and adults, find you youth! Youth, keep your name tags on and be available to be found!

Here’s what happened after church: the fellowship hall was brimming (the fullest on a Sunday morning I have seen it in the 18 months I have served here) with adults and youth interacting! They did it! Some stories I heard in subsequent days are as follows:

One young man named Hunter had an older couple Jan and Dennis get his name. Jan and Dennis had a son named Hunter who died two years ago. With tears in their eyes they told me how even the handwriting of this Hunter was similar to their deceased son’s handwriting. They were thrilled to hear all about Hunter’s life and they are staying connected as this is healing for them. They don’t talk about Hunter much (our culture has no place for those of us who parent from the graveside) but now they feel as though their grief was validated. Hunters parents were very moved as well.

Olivia is a young lady who wrote on her slip that she loves to write. The caring adult who received her slip is a librarian who suggested that they should write letters back and forth to one another.

Abby is a high school student who loves to dance and be in theatrical productions. Her caring adult, an 87 year old woman, loves to ask her about her theater time. The 87 year old recently had a health scare and when Abby’s mom, our parish nurse, went to visit her, Joayne was more interested in how Abby was than her own recent incident.

An empty nest couple who had raise four boys (!!!), received a name of a young man who loves to play basketball. The couple’s youngest son had played basketball in High School and they miss going to games. They are now attending this young man’s bball games.

An 18 month old came up for communion with his mom on this day I preached the sermon and he reached his hand out for the wafer. I asked mom if he received communion and she said, well, sure! I put it in his chubby little toddler hand and he immediately dipped in the wine chalice!! Why? Because he had witnessed this since birth! His mom said to me, I guess he takes communion now!

Things that we learned: Suggest that if you cannot stay after worship, please do not take a slip. I think that we had a little of this, but if a child or youth didn’t have an adult talking to them, we watched as other adults “filled in the gaps.” Also, suggest that if you have already received a slip to have the youth invite another adult or pass it on to someone who doesn’t have one. We are a large congregation and so the people on the aisles received them more versus in the center.

So now what do we do to keep this going? We have a youth carnival on May 21 that I would like some similar engagement that is organic. Ok, internet family, help me out! Ideas?

 

 

Just Watch Sermon on John 13: 33-35

Love one another. We often wonder how we will know if someone really loves and cares for us, don’t we?  We watch people closely to see if their actions match their words when we wonder about their hearts and intent for us or others. These words of “love one another” we hear Jesus telling the disciples over and over in all four of the gospels. Words that we, without hesitation, throw out when someone slights us or someone whom we love. “Love one another” are words that we take very personally and internalize what that means for us. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus talks at great length about loving your neighbor as yourself. Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated. We’ve condensed that to a social platitude of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Seems simple enough. As humans, we also cling to this saying because it leaves us wiggle room to not treat kindly those who don’t treat us with kindness. We can justify transactional relationships. What does my neighbor do for me? If nothing, then that’s how they must want to be in relationship with me.

But here in this passage of John, Jesus gives us a twist: Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus takes our wiggle room, our social platitudes and our justifications and hurls them into the abyss. Jesus once again pulls us out of ourselves, widens our view of love, deepens our understanding of who and what God is about and crush our egos that interfere with God’s transformational work inside of us. How do we know if Jesus’ really loves us? Just watch. Watch Jesus become a servant and washing smelly, dirty and worn feet. Watch Jesus offer the same caring actions to the one who would betray him to the authorities. Watch Jesus forgive those who persecute him as he is dying on the cross. Watch Jesus, dying on a cross, not so that we “owe God or feel guilty”, but to show that God withholds nothing, not even his son from us in love. Jesus on the cross is love in action. Love that transcends words. Love that does what is necessary for the wholeness and well-being of all people, with no thought of reciprocation, no consideration of risk to himself or worry of safety. Love that offers freedom from what holds us back from living as people of God. Love that opens our eyes to the needs of our neighbor. Love that dies to human self-ego and lives to see beyond today, the here and now, to a vision of how God sees the world, created good, in harmony and peace. Today we reorient to this love that is a commandment, Mandatum in Latin, and why we call today Maundy Thursday. A love command that is not a suggestion because there is too much at stake.

So we watch. We watch Jesus’ actions of love and understand that the world is watching us, how we love. Jesus says that the world will know that we follow Jesus by our love. This is not easy love. It’s hard. It’s messy.  It transcends our political, social and economic philosophies and places us squarely in the realm of how we think about God’s love in our lives and what difference the loving actions of Jesus Christ make in our everyday decisions. Jesus calls the disciples past, present and future into this way of living, knowing that we will stumble, get confused and need reorienting. Jesus’ love in action also draws us into community, community that supports and reminds one another of this love shown by Jesus. Today, we come to the table of this love that Jesus prepares where bread is placed in our undeserving hands and wine flows to soften our hardened hearts. Our first communion children and youth tonight come to this table to watch, to watch love made flesh, love given as a promise, love that surrounds and encompasses them, us and all of creation. We watch in ourselves for opportunities to be love in action, to offer ourselves fully and know that the world is watching for love from us. We don’t have to wonder about God’s love for us because we can watch Jesus as God’s love in action today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.

 

More Than What We Can See Sermon on John 9 April 14, 2017

*This sermon was preached on March 29, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can watch worship online at http://www.bethanylive.org

The gospel for the day is John 9 (in it’s entirety)

 

We don’t always see what is right in front of us. We often aren’t aware of our own blurred, tunnel vision or outright blindness to people, systems and community in our midst. In this story from John 9, Jesus has great compassion and really saw the man who was born blind and knows the implications of this disability on his status in the community. Jesus saw the person, the child of God, and saw beyond a physical difference. But in the ancient world, someone born differently abled came with many questions: who sinned? What evil fell upon this person or was committed by this person or their family? It was often thought that people with an assumed disability were contagious, so they were shunned, cast out and feared by the community.

Jesus rejected these positions and simply restored the man’s sight-albeit in a gross and profane way. Mud, spit and washing in a common pool. Very messy. Jesus broke the rule of no work on the Sabbath to heal and return sight to this man as well as return him into the community and the Pharisees were quick to point out his error. But Jesus had a different vision of how that day should be for that man. Jesus saw more than rules and edicts. Jesus saw the world through a different lens than the people and the Pharisees. Jesus’ vision of the world and the people was through God’s eyes of relationship and love, not through the vision of the religious authorities of following and knowing the correct doctrine, rules, Torah or worrying about sins. When Jesus healed the man born blind, it has nothing to do with knowledge, checking off to-do boxes or following rules-it had everything to do with community, inclusion and relationship. The irony is that when the man was blind, he was an outcast, and when he was healed and professed what Jesus had done for him, he was still and outcast.

I don’t know about you, but I need my vision to be expanded and light shown into those areas of my life where I can get stuck in prioritizing rules, Bible knowledge, and doctrine understanding as the way to know God. I need to see more than what is right in front of me and the way it’s always been. In the past few years, I’ve had many conversations where many believe that the future vision of the whole Church, the ELCA and other mainline protestant denominations looks bleak. We, as this larger church, are losing youth, young adults and not seeing as many new worshippers.  These conversations always gravitate toward: maybe we need more programs, more rules, more classes, more expectations, more types of worship.  Or, I wonder, what if we, like the disciples are asking the wrong question of who sinned and need for Jesus to widen our vision?

My own experience with faith community through the seven congregations I have served in some capacity, has informed and widened my vision of how I am called to serve the church and participate in God’s transformative work in the world.  How many of us can point to important and deep relationships with peers, adults in addition to our parents in our childhood congregations as foundational in our faith formation? I know that I can. It wasn’t SS curriculum or confirmation lesson that I remember. It’s people of faith showing up and bringing Christ with them when I needed them and having the opportunity to do the same for other people. It was a pastor (the first female pastor I had even seen) putting me in the pulpit on a Sunday when I was 14. It’s when we offered a young woman from our church at the time, who had struggled with depression and suicide attempts, a position as the nanny to my children because I knew she needed to feel valued, to have a purpose and had a lot of love to give. She now also serves the Church. It was when my own family was held by our church community as we grieved the death of my son and this same nanny stepping up in ways that she nor anyone else could have imagined out of love for my children. You see, rules, bible knowledge or doctrine didn’t change my life, our nanny’s life or the man born blind. It was relationship with people who knew and loved Jesus and could see beyond what the world saw: broken, messy and real lives. This is the vision that Jesus is talking about in John 9, and this is the vision that compels me in my ministry in faith formation. Faith formation is not about content, it’s about relationship. I want our children and youth to have so many important relationships here at Bethany, that they know that they are loved and that we will catch each other when life becomes messy.

This vision is why I’m passionate about our SS age and confirmation age students and families being in relationship with one another and with all of you here and why we instituted the Milestones for every grade. Families learning and worshipping together rather than separated from each other on Sunday mornings is crucial. This is the only space in our culture where all five generations are together. We segregate by age everywhere else in our society. Yet, science is discovering that we are wired, by God I believe, to be in intergenerational community. And this community matters deeply. We need each other, we need the wonder and fresh eyes of the child and the wise, caring eyes of our elders. I have a vision of this community being a value and a priority for our young people.

This vision is why we lowered communion instruction age because Jesus doesn’t exclude anyone from the table. What happens in Holy Communion is a mystery of God’s grace that none of us truly understand and I often think that babies and toddlers who simply come to the table with their chubby little hands outstretched asking for the bread truly comprehend this posture of mystery. Martin Luther states that we all come before God as beggars.  Jesus comes to us in the bread and in the wine for relationship and draws us all to the table for relationship with one another. All are welcome, no rules, only community.

 

George Barna did some research in the early 2000’s that found values are set by age 9 and worldview by age 13. If children never or rarely attend worship by age 9, it’s very unlikely that worship will ever be seen by them as a value in their lives. If their worldview through middle school is that church is another to-do list, this is how they will view church in their lives. In my 20 years of experience, when we quit worrying about how much content we are trying to teach and shift to creating deep relationships through integrating children/youth into the life and mission of the congregation, in particular worship, such as with the milestones, worship leadership, and leadership in other areas of the church, more youth stayed engaged after confirmation. SS and Confirmation should about relationship building, not courses to check-off. Confirmation is all about relationship and integration into the life of the faith community. I have been known to say somewhat tongue and cheek that if a middle schooler attended worship 40 times in a year, I would confirm them. Don’t get me wrong, some education and content is a wonderful thing-otherwise I’m completely out of a job-but if we knew that our youth and young adults will be around after receiving the certificate? What if they were so integrated into this life of faith and community so that they would have their whole lives to learn the Bible and theology? What if the most important content our children and youth can learn is that they know that they are loved by God and us?

Vibrant Faith institute learned that it takes 5-7 Christian caring adults to raise a Christian child. That is beyond mom and dad and that means all of us. If you are a Christian adult, regardless if you have children in your home or not, you are a Christian parent. What if our vision here are Bethany was that every child and youth who walked through our doors on Sunday or Wednesday had 5-7 adults who knew their name and at least one thing about them to ask them about? Maybe a hobby, or how that math test went. How could that change the life of a teenager struggling with self-worth? Or a child whose parent is ill? What if this community and every congregation is a place where our young people can’t wait to get to each week because they are known, seen and loved? How might this change the world?

I want everyone 18 and under to come forward. If your child is under 6 please come up with them mom or dad. Hi all! Did you know that Jesus sees you? Did you know that Jesus sees you not as the future of the church but of the RIGHT NOW of the church? You are so important! Can all of you write your name on this name tag and put it on. (parents of young kids, please help). Ok I’m going to give you all five little pieces of paper. On the papers, there is a place for your name and one thing that you really love to do: My name is: I love to:
Write your name and just one thing (the same thing on each paper) that you love to do. We’ll all sing Jesus Loves Me while you do that. Now, I want you to leave these name tags on until after you go home.  Go and give those sheets to five adults in the congregation. Don’t be shy and adults reach out for one! After worship-go to the fellowship hall and adults, find the child who’s name you have and ask them about the thing that they love to do. You matter to them. You are their people and they are yours. Together we are the beloved community of Christ and in Christ.

Jesus knew the importance of community. Jesus sought out the man he healed after he had been expelled from the synagogue and made sure that this man knew that his restored vision had nothing to do with what he did or didn’t know. Knowing that Jesus is one sent to reveal God’s love to all people, especially those whom the world doesn’t want to see, is the only thing that matters. Jesus as the light of the world gives us a new way to see ourselves, to see others and to see how we are as the church together. Jesus restores our sight to see each other as valued, as brother and sister, as equals, as beloved. You see, it’s all about relationship. Relationship with Jesus who opens our eyes to a new vision of how the world, how the church, how the future will be in God’s love. Amen.

 

It’s Hard and It Matters February 5, 2017

Preached on Feb. 5, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

 

Isaiah 58:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

False and True Worship

58 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice? Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,  and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator[a] shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places,  and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Matthew 5:13-20New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The Law and the Prophets

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks[b] one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

 

Sometimes things are HARD. You know, just plain ugh. School, work, relationships, raising kids, caring for aging parents, eating kale, exercising, not eating the whole pan of delicious gluten free brownies, writing a sermon instead of watching Netflix, the list goes on and on. I don’t like it when things are hard and I’ve done some hard things in my life and my guess is that you have too. We don’t like it when things are hard, we want things to be simple, easy, enjoyable, you know focused on whatever makes us happy right here right now. Whenever possible we try and make things easy on ourselves usually with some justification of we deserve it, we couldn’t possibly do all those hard things anyway and so why try? No one will know or care if we make our lives a teeny bit easier by avoiding some hard stuff every now and again. It won’t affect anyone else.

Somethings are simply HARD. As I was preparing for the sermon today, one of the commentaries I read stated on verses 17-20: that this is the most difficult passage to be found anywhere in this Gospel. Well….Super. These verses are indeed challenging for many reasons and I considered not focusing on them for that reason, but they kept calling to me. Sometimes we have to wrestle with what is hard. It seems in verses 13-20 that the poet Jesus that Dr. Skinner introduced us to last week with the beatitudes is gone and has been replace by Jesus who has a couple of things to tell us. Jesus starts this long sermon on the mount that we will be exploring for the next couple of weeks, with words that would comfort those people for whom life was hard. Jesus eloquently pulls us in to their hard lives and then moves to make us partners with them in what is hard.

Today’s passage begins with the declaration and promise that we are salt and light, ok, that seems fine, and we hear the words that we use in our baptismal liturgy: “Let you light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Very nice indeed. And then Jesus drops the other shoe. He spells out that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and that one who breaks commandments will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven and one who does the law and teaches it will be called great and that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees or you’re not going to get in the kingdom. Anyone else feel like curling up in the fetal position and throwing in the towel at this point? What??!!! Jesus, you’re supposed to tell us again how we’re tasty salt and gentle and glorious light! Tell us how you’re with us even until the end of the age and how much you love us. Laws, righteousness and commandments? This is too hard Jesus, make it easier!

But Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook about the law. Why? Because it’s not about us at all. That might be the hardest point to hear about the gospel. All the pronouns in the beatitudes and in today’s passage are plural, not singular. It’s “you all” and not “you” individually. Jesus is reminding the disciples and us that the law is all about how we live together as the people of God-all of us. It’s all about relationship, which is Jesus’ parting words in verse 20 to us today. Be more righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees. The scribes and the Pharisees knew every little nuance of ritual and had impeccable theology. But they didn’t want anything to do with people not in their privileged clique.  Jesus isn’t concerned with right rituals and right theology: Jesus is harkening to the Hebrew understanding of righteousness. Righteousness is right relationship with God-how we live in the life of God and so by extension, with our neighbor. And this is HARD because this kind of life, being in right relationship, being oriented to God and not the world, is not about us and whatever makes us happy and gives us an easy life. Jesus doesn’t care if rituals are done correctly, the correct songs are sung, and the correct prayers are said. No, Jesus is wanting us to know that our relationship with God and one another is primary.

The Israelites in Isaiah 58 were also wrestling with this hard reality. They were returning from exile and beginning a new life in Jerusalem. Many were resuming the old rituals as prescribed in the Torah. They were fasting and were annoyed that God didn’t seem to notice them and how well they were performing the ritual. But God saw through the outward act and knew that the fast was all about them. God calls them out and reminds them of the real reason for ritual-to reorient them into right relationship with God. Why? Because their actions as God’s people mattered. Fasting only to follow the rules for the sake of the rules isn’t the point. You fast so that you can share the bread that you were going to eat with the hungry. You fast from isolationism and share your home with the homeless. You fast from materialism and share clothing with the naked. Your actions matter, but your actions are not about you or your salvation, they are about your neighbor in need. When your actions come from a place of serving God, no matter how hard it is, this is when your light shines the brightest and overcomes the darkness that is in the world.

Jesus calls us to do hard things: the life of following Jesus isn’t promised to be easy, without obstacles, without pain, without sacrifice. Jesus calls us to set ourselves, our own wants, our own perspectives, our own comforts aside for the sake of our neighbor. It’s hard, as when we follow the call of Christ out into the world we do so with the needs, dignity, and humanity of our neighbor first and foremost in our minds, hearts and spirits. This is the way of love.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t leave us alone in these hard things and simply says, “good luck!” No, the promise is that Jesus walks with us. The promise is found in our Bible Verse of the Month from Is. 58: 9a “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” Here I am with you, because your actions matter-not for your salvation-for we know the promise is that nothing will separate us from the love of God. God desires nothing more than relationship with us-all of us, even if it’s hard. Your actions matter so that this promise of God’s love and care is experienced by all people through the people of God. Jesus declares that we are beloved children of God and are already salt-we add God’s zest for abundant life to the world and we are already light-we reflect the light from Christ into the world. It means that we go to lifeless and dark places where we might not want to go but are sent, because it’s not about us but the need for our neighbor to taste, see, hear, and experience the love of Christ in a concrete way-from us. When we truly live in this promise of deep relationship with God and neighbor it will indeed exceed the scribes and the Pharisees who were more concerned about their own rituals and their own wants, than their neighbor. Our light shines because in baptism we die to our old selves and rise through the water, as Emerson will this morning, as a new creation clothed in the promises of Christ.

Jesus proclaims to us over and over again to remember that the heart of the law is love: love that flows from God and moves us in thought, word and deed to do hard things. As a disciple of Christ, I want to learn to love so deeply that these things that we are called to do don’t seem hard but are a joy. I want to learn to love so deeply that when I see people who are different, I only see Christ in my brothers and sisters no matter where they are from. I want to love so deeply that I quit worrying about how my actions may look to others or what other people may think about me. I want to learn to love so deeply that my actions are from a place of love from Christ and focus solely on my neighbor. I want to love like it matters.

Paul reminds us in Philippians 2 that we can do these hard things because God is at work in us, through us and with us. And in Phil. 4:13 he declares “I can do all things through him, Christ, who strengthens me.”

We know that it will sometimes be hard. It is a life long journey to learn to love in this way-to love how Jesus loves. Love that matters, love that feeds the hungry, love that clothes the naked, love that houses homeless, love that welcomes the stranger, love that changes lives, hearts and the world. Love that shines not so that people see us, but see God. I want to love this way, even if it’s hard. Amen!

 

 

One in Christ

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Preached Wednesday Feb. 1, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran

Galatians 3:27-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

What are some labels that we give each other or even ourselves? What about when you’re born, what’s the first label that you often receive besides perhaps your name? We get many labels from the first day we are born don’t we? Why do you think we do that? Lots of reasons-are they all “bad” reasons per se? No, of course not, but can labels be taken too far? Yep! Have you ever been given a label that you don’t like but it’s hard to shake it? Or perhaps, it’s not that you don’t like your label, but it’s not always helpful or other people may not appreciate your label. We tend to label people, even for good and right reasons, and the take it too far. We point out distinctions in each other, not to celebrate diversity and gifts, but often to decide who’s in and who’s out, who has power and control and who doesn’t, who’s weird and who’s “normal.” And before any of you start feeling guilty, my point is not guilt, it’s to point out the universalism of this behavior-we all do it! If someone says to you that they don’t see distinctions in people, they are lying. Of course we see distinctions! That’s not the issue! The challenge comes with what we do with those labels and distinctions.

The people of Galatia were so excited about this good news of being loved by God that they wanted to learn everything that they could about it. And they stumbled upon the laws from the OT. All of the laws of what to eat, what to wear, how to act, etc. They began to think that doing these laws was what made them faithful and matter to God. And if you followed the laws better than other people, well, then you were like a super mega Christian and you would matter even MORE to God. Maybe you would get a special cape or hat to signify how special you were in the community.  And the people of Galatia were no different than any of the rest of us and they were also using these laws to label people, how to sort out who has power, who is a real follower of Jesus and who is in or out of this new community. They were competing for status with one another. Who’s the cool kid, the smart one, the best behaved, the most loving, etc.

So Paul writes to them to say no! I can almost see Paul’s eyes rolling as he writes to them. He says, you guys! You are all important to God not because of what you do but because of who Christ is! And Christ is the one who gives us faith, who freely gives us grace, forgiveness, who showers us with love and reminds us that our labels, our distinctions, don’t matter to God and don’t matter in the body of Christ. The Galatians have forgotten that faith is not about what you do, the laws you keep, but who are as part of the body of Christ. Paul writes in v. 27 that in baptism we are clothed with Christ, and that means that we now ALL look like Christ!! You’re a female? You look like Christ. You’re a male, you look like Christ. You’re short? You look like Christ. You’re black? You look like Christ. You struggle to read or do math? You look like Christ. You struggle to speak or walk? You look like Christ. And the list can go on! Do you get it? Jesus says in Matthew 25… when you feed the hungry, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned, you do this to Christ. Christ’s love and grace makes our differences strengths and our diversity into equality. It’s not an eraser of who we are, but a bold proclamation of what unity through diversity looks like in God’s kingdom and how we are to be with one another. This is what our baptism means! Not only do we put on Christ but we put on Christ’s eyes to how we see every person how God sees them. If we all look like Christ to one another, then how do we treat our neighbor? How do we see Christ in our neighbor?

This is what being one in Christ means and why it’s important as part of our baptismal promises. God’s kingdom is full of promise for us to truly be all who God created us to be-to know that our gifts, or identity, even those things that the world might label as disability or less worthy, are exactly what is needed in God’s kingdom of peace and wholeness. In our baptismal liturgy we shout this reality from Galatians 3 to the world so that all may know that God is doing a new thing through Christ and we get to participate in this work. God is exploding all the boundaries that we erect as humans, so that the truth of worldly labels, division and distinctions no longer grant privilege to some and not to others, and those whom the world has dismissed are now on equal footing with everyone else. It’s not easy, this eradication of boundaries and it will mean for most of us in this space, to set aside our own privilege, power and mindset to look at our neighbors in our communities, schools, workplaces, grocery stores, with the eyes of Christ to see them as Christ too. This is the work of the kingdom.

There is nothing easy about this life of faith. The good news is that Jesus promises to be with us each step, each day, each moment and each breath. Jesus offers us sign posts on the way in the form of water in a font with words of love and grace, a table of abundance where bread and wine are offered for us and for all people-to know that we are gathered as one body through Jesus’ body. Yes, there’s mystery of things we can’t understand, and we don’t have to understand all of it. The mystery of faith through Christ Jesus isn’t a paper to be written or a book to be read, but a life of love, mercy and hope to be lived. Labels, laws, and systems don’t save us. Jesus does. Jesus saves us not because of what we do or don’t do, but because of who and who’s we are: God’s beloved children-one body in diversity and unity, in this love of Christ where there is room for all.

 

Holding It Together-sermon on Matthew 2 January 11, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 11:14 pm

Happy New Year! Today is the first Sunday of Christmas in our liturgical calendar and the first day of 2017 in our common calendar. And what a way to begin with this text from Matthew that is often referred to as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” It’s very incongruous with the festive season that we’ve been celebrating and is certainly jarring from the seemingly peaceful, serene and joyful nativity story. It’s a difficult reckoning and it’s hard to hold these stories together. We want to hold on to the Silent Night and the Joy to the World and stay there a bit longer, if not forever. We want to gaze at the adorable baby, Mary the new mother and Joseph the doting stepfather. All is calm, all is bright. God has come to dwell with us and now everything is perfect.

Except it’s not. If you’ve had babies, or know someone who has, you know that the first few days of parenthood are chaotic and you feel like you’re barely holding it together. Lack of sleep, constant worry, crying (and that’s the parents!) can all weave together to raise the anxiety of the most laid back people. And then life happens on top of the stresses of a newborn. Joseph is warned in a dream by God that Herod is out to kill this new baby out of fear of being usurped off his throne and they must run. Now.

Herod declared that all baby boys under two were to be killed in Bethlehem just to be certain that he could hold on to his power and his kingdom. Bethlehem was a small village and so historians estimate that it would have meant that less than 20 babies were executed. There is no historical record of this massacre and the relatively small numbers are probably why. Plus, they were more than likely babies of peasants, and some lives mattered more than others in the Roman Empire. Those 20 or so baby boys’ deaths didn’t register as something important to document. But Matthew knew that those babies mattered to their families and to God and wrote it down and we remember those babies today. We hold together the tension of the Christmas season of the good and joyful news that God is indeed with us, coming to us in a baby, with the reality that suffering is still happening and not all babies are safe. Jesus’ birth reveals God’s promise to be with us not just in our joyful times but in our sorrowful and fearful times, as well. It can be difficult to hold all of those emotions together.

Joseph and Mary had to hold it together as they fled to refuge in a foreign land, a land where their ancestors had once been slaves, Egypt. The incongruity of being refugees to a country who had once committed genocide on their own people had to have been difficult to hold together. We don’t know much about their time in Egypt, but we can assume that their new neighbors welcomed them and kept them safe on some level. I imagine some older women willing to help with baby Jesus and reassuring Mary that she was doing an excellent job of mothering in these early months. The Holy Family had to have relied on the community around them in this stressful time. God’s presence must have been palpable for Mary, Joseph and Jesus through their new neighbors as they made their home in a different culture, with a different language, different food and a different landscape.

It’s difficult to hold all of this together. We hold together the innocence of the manger scene of the Holy Family, Jesus’ birth heralded by an angelic choir, and the baby Messiah adored by shepherds and magi with the reality of innocence all to quickly lost to tyrants, loss of homeland, babies being killed, fear of your baby being killed, and lack of power to control life around you. Holding together the joy of the newborn king, who came to proclaim God’s promises in the world for all people, for all time and the knowledge that we still live in a broken world.

We hold this together ourselves each day. I don’t think that 2016 was necessarily a year worse than any other, I think in the age of global media and social media, we are more aware. This awareness makes it more imperative that we hold together the promises of God with the violence, fear, pain and sorrow we witness all around us in the world. We lament the 20 babies Herod slaughtered and we lament the 50,000 children slaughtered in Syria this year, the 35 people killed in Istanbul overnight, the lives lost in Orlando, Dallas, Nice, Berlin, Chicago, and unfortunately the list can go on and on. We hold together the reality that God is our true king in whose image we and all people are created, with the prayer for just leaders in our country and in every country. We hold together the fear of scarcity of power and resources in our lives with the truth that in Christ there is enough for all people to not only survive, but to thrive. We hold together that sickness and death are part of our earthly experience with the promises of God for wholeness, eternal life and love.

We have a lot to hold together as we enter 2017. I think we had a lot to hold together as we entered 2016. Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus had a lot to hold together in those early years as refugees in a foreign land and then with the realization that they could never really go home again but had to start over in a backwater town of the Roman Empire. It may seem that we do have a lot to hold together: but you see, this is where the promises of God jump in, shake us out of despair and buoy us with hope, real hope, not the false hope the world tells us of figuring life out on our own, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and if we only believe and do the right thing, then we’ll be fine. No, we cling to the hope that is found in God: God who will do anything to be with us, who will never leave us no matter what we do, say or think. God who became flesh, in solidarity with us. God holds together our humanity and the truth of God’s kingdom that not even death has the final say. You see, we don’t hold it together, God does! God holds us together in God’s own hand. God binds us to one another in love, peace and hope so that together we share these truths each other because on any given day we all feel like we are barely holding it together.

Matthew quickly pulls us from the serenity of the manger scene because we need to be reminded of the reality of God holding us through our entire lives. God who holds together our joy with our fear, our wonder with our reality, and our simplicity with our complexity. Matthew knows that for his readers, including us, Immanuel, God with us, is not naiveté, is not about someday by and by, but is about today whether the year is 17 AD or 2017 AD. It’s about God who gets in the trenches with us, knows what it is to be afraid, dirty, hungry, despised, hurt, and on the run. It’s right here, right now holding together the truth that God is really present! Do you see God at work in the world? Do you see God at work in you, and in your neighbor? Do you see God holding us all together as redeemed and beloved? Do you see God holding us all together for the sake of comforting the hurting and proclaiming God’s love? I do. I see you. I see God’s love in each of you, my neighbors. I see God at work in my refugee neighbor, my immigrant neighbor, my neighbor of color, my differently abled neighbor, my neighbor of a different faith, my homeless neighbor, my LBGTQ neighbor, my rich neighbor, my poor neighbor: all of my neighbors and all of God’s children. I see God at work. God’s got us, holding us together today, this year and forever. Thanks be to God and Happy New Year!

 

I gave up Facebook for a week and lived to tell about it October 15, 2016

About two three weeks ago, I took a sabbatical from media, mostly internet media to be honest. I had been facilitating a book club on Wednesday evenings at the church I serve as pastor in Denver, CO, Bethany Lutheran on Jen Hatmaker’s book, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” Hatmaker identifies seven areas of her comfortable first world life (clothing, possessions, food, stress, waste, media, and spending) and annihilates the down to nothing. Eating only seven foods for a month, getting rid of seven possessions a day for a month (this one goes waaaaaay beyond the seven a day), praying seven times a day, well you get the idea. What happens to your faith and spiritual life when you no longer worry about what to wear? Or what to eat? Or have more money to actually give more than 10%? How can we create less room for our egos and more room for Jesus? The book is not perfect and our group vacillated between devastating recognition of our consumptive, hoarding, selfish, egoist ways of living and the absurdity of how far she takes the experiment, mostly in the name of a book deal. Well, that might be a bit harsh, but sometimes it’s the question that popped up for us.

So we decided about week two into our six week book study that the last week together we would each choose one of the seven areas to mutiny against. I know that I have a Facebook problem, so I chose media. I immediately wondered what in the hell was I thinking??? Give up political rants, what people are eating for dinner and voyeuristic peeks into other people’s lives that are apparently waaaaay more fab than my own? Ok, I’m in. I also gave up tv this week as well. And email and text was only for work purposes, following Hatmaker’s guidelines in the book.

So on Wednesday evening, I posted the obligatory “Hey, as if any of you care, but I won’t be on FB, email or much media for week because blah, blah, blah…” I then turned off all With notifications on twitter, FB, Instagram and Pintrest (Oh my God do I LOVE Pintrest!!!) and took all the apps off my phone. Then I went to bed, convinced I had just severed all connections with human life.

The first couple of days went very smooth and honestly, I didn’t miss it much. With the apps off my phone, the battery lasted FOREVER and I didn’t constantly have notifications coming through distracting me from whatever it was I was doing. Now, I would love to say that I was more productive off of social media, but I’m not sure that is true and I can’t really measure that in a couple of days. I can say, no tv however, meant that read more in the evenings, and went to bed earlier. These are two very good things for this middle aged, tired, brain starting to turn to mush, momma. Unlike Hatmaker, whose children are younger, I have a 17 almost 18 year old son still in the home. So I have to admit that the tv was on-just to the stuff he was watching which mostly doesn’t interest me. My big vice is tv in the morning as I get dressed for work. The Today show is my “stories.” I like to think I’m watching “the news” but….yeah, I know. It’s like saying The Office is a real documentary. (Ahem-If you are a colleague reading this or my lead pastor, kindly skip down to the next paragraph. This next bit doesn’t concern you, at all…) With no tv in the morning, I found that I was generally about 10 minutes faster getting ready for work and to work a bit earlier. And I was less rushed and prepared a better lunch/dinner for later in the day at work.

So, all in all it was going pretty well until…Monday….dun, dun dunnnnn. What happened Monday you ask? Well, this little thing of a conference call Birthing Cross + Gen Eduworship started in Estes Park. As a pastor of Faith Formation and someone who has worked in the faith formation arena in the ELCA for about 15 years and was part of the Killing Sunday School Birthing Cross Gen think tank in 2012, and had presented at the 2014 conference and knew about 80% of the people at this conference (these are MY PEOPLE!) it took the conference being in session for about 30 minutes before emails rolled in (I was at work ya’ll so yes, I was checking email.) pinging me on FB and Twitter for questions, insights, and shout outs. Oh No. I was like a deer in headlights! What do I do?? Is this work? Is this connectivity? Is this ego?? (Um yes, BTW.) I came home that evening and looked at Mike (my spouse of 22 years who seriously is a saint with all of the crazy crap I come up with) and said, “Now what?” He looked at me with patience, love and exasperation and said, “oh for goodness sake just answer them! The world will not end because you tweeted or posted!” So I did. With guilt. With pleasure. With relief.

I did not go on any social media other than that however. I did not scroll, search, or “like.” I don’t think anyway. It’s been three weeks now. But I held the fast in the other areas.

Ok, nitty, gritty, what I learned:

1) I love social media! Not for controversy, not for voyeurism, but because I love reading what other people think, do, give, wonder, and yes, even get upset about.

2) I realized that I use social media for ministry much more than I would have pegged going into the experiment. Pintrest, ya’ll. Pintrest.

3) I genuinely missed you all. Yes, you.

4) I love baby pictures. All of you youngsters keep having babies and putting their gorgeous pictures and videos into my feed please. It keeps me from being too annoyed with my young adult children.

5)The TV can probably just go. Seriously, with the exception of Portlandia, nothin’.

6) This connectivity thing is tricky and messy. It can consume you and it can be an idol like anything else, but it also reminds us that the world is flat. What happens in Syria impacts me, or should. I can know that a friend needs a prayer, yes, an electronic prayer from half way around the country or down the street. We are called into community and social media broadens what that community looks like and how it’s shaped. After a week off, I will with gusto proclaim that social media is not evil! I think, no, I know, it’s where Jesus is. I see Jesus at work in your lives as you work out trying to take kids on fabulous vacations. Not to flaunt wealth, but to make memories from a time that flies by all to quickly. I see Jesus at work as we share ministry, faith, foibles, missteps, prayer, laughter, tears, sorrows, joys and love together even though we’re apart. I see Jesus even in the political rants as I remember to breath, love, and know that God’s kingdom is bigger than our partisanship and divisions.

7) I learned that I learn from all of you. Each and every day. I need other voices to keep from being stuck in my own voice in my head.

8) Because of number 7 above, I learned gratitude for all of you who I read, interact with and learn from. Thank you.

I’m aware that none of these revelations and learnings are earth shattering or “book deal” worthy, but they are mine. I encourage you to try this! What do you learn about yourself and your consumption of media?

May you see the love of Jesus every where you go: In others, in media, in situations, at work, in prayer, at church, and in you.