A Lutheran Says What?

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

Planning on the Promise Sermon on Luke 12 August 11, 2019

This sermon was preached on August 11, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Psalm 33: 12-22, Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12: 32-40.

 

 

 

Children’s sermon: School is starting soon and so are all of the activities at church…here is my planner where I try and keep it all straight, so that I have everything under control. I like to think that if I plan, then I won’t have to worry. But even planning makes me worried about everything going on! How do you get ready for things such as the first day of school? You set an alarm to remember to get up. Get dressed: Do you wear shorts in the winter or a heavy coat in August? No, you check the weather. You might take a shower, brush your teeth, pack a lunch maybe a snack, make sure you have your homework in you backpack…Why do you do all of those things? I mean you pack a lunch at 7 a.m. and lunch isn’t until much later…but you do these things because on some level you’re afraid of not having what you need for your day. If you didn’t you would get to lunch time and be hungry, or get to math class and not have your homework. This thing about my calendar and how we plan our day, is that it’s all about ourselves. We spent a lot of time last week getting ready for VBS, not because we were afraid of all you kids coming but because we were excited and wanted you and all the children to feel welcomed and loved! Our bible stories remind me today that being ready is important but I don’t have to be afraid or panic. Jesus tells us to not be afraid for God gives us God’s kingdom! What do you think is in God’s Kingdom? Well, God’s kingdom probably includes lots of things that I don’t understand about but here’s one thing that I do know is included in God’s kingdom: God’s promise to love us, to keep us together as a community, and that we are with God always-right here, right now and when we someday die. And God GIVES it to us-to all of us together! Do you know what a promise is? Yes, it’s a gift to do something. We can’t earn it or lose it! God gives the kingdom to us simply because we are loved. And so we live our lives being ready, not out of fear, not out of worry of what will happen next, but ready to receive all that God will give us and to share it! Let’s pray:

There seems that there is a lot to fear in our lives right now! Perhaps there always has been, but it seems in hyperdrive. Especially in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton last weekend. We can be fearful about even going to the grocery store or other retailers to do back to school shopping knowing that spaces we once held as public, safe and communal now cause us to be on constant guard and vigilance. I was reading where some parents are buying their children bullet proof backpacks out of fear…that never would have occurred to me or been on my radar as a parent of young children or a teacher. And that’s not the only fear that seems prevalent: fear of the stock markets, trade wars and economy, which might lead of never being able to retire or maintain retirement (I’m personally not planning on being able to fully ever retire), fear of actual wars and rumors of wars, fear of the mass deportations that are occurring, fear of global warming and the effects on the environment and on our health as a people. And then you layer that with what I call fears that persist at an underlying hum in our lives: health, family, day to day finances, relationships, work, childcare and we spend much of our day to day lives mitigating or coping (in productive or unproductive ways)  those fears by financial planning or plain old calendar planning, following the stock markets daily, checking the weather, knowing the news, mapping out our children’s future, working out, dieting, organizing, and we fool ourselves into the illusion that that we can on our own know everything and be ready for any eventuality in our lives. But really all that happens is what psychologists call being in a state of hypervigilance, which is a leading cause of anxiety and depression, both conditions of which are skyrocketing in our society, particularly among our children. And this doesn’t only effect mental status but anxiety and depression have real physical symptoms as well. And it feels the more we try to plan and control, the more anxiety we can have.

And then we get a passage like this one in Luke. And in our current state of affairs, what do we hone in on in these nine verses? The being ready part! We bypass the first couple of verses and our hearts go straight to where our own treasured anxieties lead us: We must be ready! If we’re not something bad will happen! We must do all that WE can to be ready, it depends on us! If we don’t prepare-we have no one to blame but ourselves.

But that’s where we have to back that train up. Jesus says in this passage and so many times throughout the gospels “Do not be afraid.” Yeah, right, Jesus, easy to say in bucolic ancient Palestine when times were simpler…well, Jesus was on the way to the cross, the Empire and the religious authorities were after him. The people he was talking to were poor, oppressed, marginalized and lacked power over their own lives. They had much to fear. They never knew when a Roman solider would enter their home demanding money, food or to take them away to be conscripted. They never knew when disease would strike. They never knew if the food would hold out or where they could get what they needed to survive. Don’t be afraid? Fear was in the very air that they breathed.

What follows from Jesus is the heart of the gospel: “For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” As I told the children, this is the promise. God loves us as a parent adores a child and gives us, no matter what, God’s kingdom. With this promise in mind we read the next verses on being ready. God’s promise permeates all that we think, say and do. Any planning that we do isn’t wrong or bad, and it’s also not a command that is up to us to follow. We plan out of faith, what we hope for in God’s kingdom, that the promises of God cling to us more tightly than fear clings to us. When we focus on God’s promises, this is where our heart will be and so our treasure.

When we plan and live out of this promise and faith that is part of God’s kingdom, we live differently than those around us. Living out of fear will always seek to divide, hoard, worry, terrorize and polarize us. Living out of faith and promise witnesses to sharing, including, welcoming, contentment and loving. God’s promise isn’t just to us as individuals, but to us as a whole people. How we are prepared to receive God’s kingdom is about how we live together. We live together from faith when we support Urban Crossroads, when we offer VBS to children as a place of hope and love. When we support Linus Project to offer hope to children with something as simple and meaningful as a blanket. When we for God’s Work, Our Hands, work at Family Promise. We live from faith of God’s promises, anytime we walk with people on the margins to make visible this assurance of hope. This week at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in WI-a memorial was passed that the ELCA would be a sanctuary denomination-which means essentially that we will walk in meaningful and purposeful ways with people in this country who are marginalized due to their immigration status. While some would worry this a partisan stance-it’s not. It’s a political stance-one the highlights God’s politic-God’s heart-that we all love and care for one another despite paperwork or human made borders. We forget that politics are not bad, as Jesus was highly political. The word politics comes from the Greek word “polis” which means “city” or “living together in a city.” God cares very much how we live together. When we follow God’s politics, God’s heart, we also care how we live together, our heart will be with whom we treasure, when we serve one another as Christ. This will make us, as the writer of Hebrews states, “strangers and foreigners on the earth.”

We will be very strange and foreign indeed, to live fully into the gospel of promise of being ready to receive God’s kingdom, not from fear but from hopeful anticipation. God calls us to live together and to be ready for God’s transforming presence in our lives-not by our own deed but by the work of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews also states, “God has prepared a city for them/for us.” God has already prepared what we need to live together in peace and we are ready to participate in God’s work of  God’s heart for the world, clinging to faith and not fear, hope and not despair, promise and not worry.

We cannot know the future, and fear will continue to swirl around us. But so do the promises of God, so do the words of Jesus, “do not be afraid little flock,” and so does the gift of faith from God who prepares our hearts, minds and souls with what we need to live together, to live into the promises and to receive the kingdom that is already here and is still being revealed. Amen.

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Revealing the Truth Sermon on Luke 12 and Colossians 3 August 4, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on August 4, 2019.

The texts were Psalm 49: -1-12, Colossians 3: 1-11 and Luke 12: 13-21

Children’s sermon: Two truths and a lie. Tell three statements and have the children guess which of the three statements I give about my life is the lie. Do it a couple of times, if there is an adult or older child present, then ask them to offer two truths and a lie about their life. What is true about our lives? Sometimes, we don’t even know! Have you ever known someone who wasn’t completely honest about themselves or maybe you told a lie about yourself? We have all done it because we want to fit in, or be someone we are not, or not get in to trouble. But being honest about who we are is important. When we aren’t honest, we can get focused on only ourselves, keeping the lies going and start to believe our own lies! I start to believe that maybe I can be something or someone I’m not. But our bible passages for today talk about what is true: that our lives are meant for  focusing on loving God and each other. That God is the one who gives us all that we have and is with us all the time. When we only listen to ourselves, we just keep hearing the lies that we tell and forget that God wants us to be who God created us to be. And that God created us to live together and to care for each other, no matter what. How can we do that? Should we be honest with each other? Should we share what we have? Yes! I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about that but first let’s pray:

You might remember the movie the Truman Show with Jim Carey from several years ago. The premise was that there was a man who lived his whole life at part of a reality TV show and didn’t know it. But then some pieces started to not add up for him and he discovered that his whole existence wasn’t what he thought it was. Everyone in his life were actors, the town was a sound stage and everything revolved around him. His entire life was a lie, essentially. Nothing was real, and he didn’t even have a concept of what an authentic existence outside of the controlled TV environment might be like. Nothing had ever been demanded of him. His relationships were all centered around him, his job was catered to him and even the weather was controlled. Everything was carefully scripted to present one story only. In some ways, it should have been idyllic and perfect. But when the truth was revealed, Truman realized his isolation, his separateness and the emptiness of his life. At the end he asks of the creator of the show “Who am I?” and then walks through the door to the real world, to his new, authentic and unscripted life.

Now this movie is of course fiction and an exaggeration of inauthenticity, but it begs the question of us all: what is true in our lives? Where do we find value, meaning and truth? Psalm 49 and Luke 12 seem to be taking on greed and our relationship to money and possessions, but I think that there is more here than that. What is demanded of us in our lives, who are we, and as we read in Colossians, what life will we live?

The demands of modern life are many and perhaps not that different than in Jesus’ time. We have the demands of survival, the demands of family relationships, the demands of work, and of our friends. And all these demands can make us greedy. Maybe not only greedy with our money and possessions, but greedy with our time, our status, our security or safety, and greedy with our sense of power and autonomy. And greed is indeed idolatry-that is something that we give a higher value and priority to than anything else in our lives. The truth of greed is that is turns our focus inward-to me, myself and I. Like the rich man in the parable, we start to talk only to ourselves, think that our accomplishments were done only by ourselves and scarier yet, we only listen to ourselves. We live our lives in isolation and separation, afraid to hear anyone else because to do so might reveal the delusions that we live in, such as the delusion that we don’t need anyone else, that we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and that the perspective we have, is the only one. Much like in the Truman Show, we follow a script that we tell ourselves is necessary, needed and even holy, yet if we are honest, we are really following the script that the world has offered us. It’s easier to simply follow the script that everyone else seems to be reading from, than to ask the harder questions, isn’t it?

To be clear, Jesus isn’t saying that planning for the future and being good stewards with resources is a problem-not at all! The foolishness comes in when we do follow society’s script, thinking is all about us and up to us and we always need more. Protect what you have, worry about something being taken from you, whether it’s money, material possessions, status, power or privilege. Build a bigger barn, bigger walls, to keep it all to yourself. But for what? Is that what life is all about? Is that the story we want for our lives?

But then God interrupts, speaks into the life of the rich man and into our lives. God flips the script if you will, calling us to remember that there is more than just us, more at stake than our own individual futures. Living in God’s demands, in God’s story for our lives, is a revelation of truth, a pulling back of the camera shot to see what is really happening and the truth that God is the author of our lives. God’s story for us is clear: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. God is the one who provides all that we have and is still with us even when we try and go it alone. We are part of a larger story, part of a whole where love for God, love for each other and mutual loving community is the mandate. Through Jesus, God interrupts our regularly scheduled program to reveal to us the work of God’s kingdom, the truth of Christ in us all and in all of creation. The truth of our lives, that Jesus gathers us all together as one people and through Christ we are interconnected, even if we don’t recognize it or like it. Our actions and inactions send ripples through the body of Christ and matter to our neighbor. This is why we must stand up and speak out against the lies that divide us, most notably in recent weeks and months, the lies that propagate racism and white supremacy. The lies that the man in El Paso believed and led him to kill 20 people and injure dozens more must be denounced and brought to the light. We don’t know what lies the shooter in Dayton believed but we can guess that they were powerful. These lies can’t be allowed to masquerade as truth.

In our baptisms we promise to live among God’s faithful people, to be a part of God’s work of reconciliation in the world that is for all people. This means that I must listen to more than myself, I end my monologue and enter into the dialogue, into the story with God and with others. I must die to those things that don’t bring me into mutual connection and life with my neighbor-I need to look out beyond the walls of safety and security I have built up, to see what God sees. When I look at God’s people and God’s creation with the eyes of Christ, I can be rich, generous toward my neighbor and therefore rich and generous toward God. Martin Luther is quoted as having said “God doesn’t need my good works but my neighbor does.” God doesn’t write a script that we have to follow word for word for us to have value, worth and love, we’re not puppets on a string. But God offers us a role, a chance to improv, to help write the story and use our gifts wherever we can to flip the script for other people around us who are caught trying to live by the world’s script and don’t know how to set it down and walk off stage to what God has waiting for them in life through Jesus Christ.

Our lives are being demanded of us this very day, to live into the story of Christ’s love and grace loose in the world. We live in the truth that we and all people are clothed in God’s image of love, renewed by grace and brought into the community of Christ where all lives have meaning, worth and value. The truth of who we are, is how we live. We listen for God and for one another, we plan for the future with God’s mission of radical love in mind, we focus on what matters, we care for people and relationships more than things and we live lives of generosity of time, spirit, gifts, privilege and possessions so that the world may see Christ in us and we may see Christ in the world. This is the truth and the demand of our lives in the life of Christ. Thanks be to God.

 

Hard To Stop A Sermon on Luke 11 July 28, 2019

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 28, 2019.

The texts were Colossians 2: 6-15 and Luke 11: 1-13

Children’s sermon: Play Red Light, Green Light with a twist! When I say Green light you are going to walk to me. When I say red light you are going to stop but you are going to thank God for something, or ask God for something. Ok let’s play! After the children get to the front: “Normally when we play this game, red light means freeze-don’t move-don’t do anything! But stopping doesn’t always mean that we aren’t doing things. Stopping can be an important part of our lives-when we stop-we have time for other people and God. We’ve been looking at all of these different road signs the past few weeks that help us look for God and God’s love and grace in our lives. But today we have a stop sign and it’s not just because we are at the end of our sermon series! Our bible story this morning is about learning to stop and notice what is important. Jesus and his disciples have been on the road a long time now in the gospel of Luke and our story starts this morning with Jesus stopping and praying. The disciples want to know more about this prayer time! So he teaches them a short prayer and it starts with Our Father-so who do you think is the most important person in Jesus life? God! Yes! And so who is the most important in our lives? God! This bible story is about who God is: God is the one who gives us all that we need, not what we want necessarily, but what we need. We need food, but we might want pizza over vegetables that are healthy for us. We need to be safe but we don’t need to be isolated from everything that might be hard in our lives. Jesus teaches his disciples that God wants us to be bold in what we ask for and know that God hears us and is with us for what we need, even if it doesn’t seem like it. One of the hardest things is when we pray and what we pray for doesn’t happen-we think that maybe God didn’t hear, or didn’t care. But the truth is that God always hears and cares but things don’t always work the way we want them to. There are just some things that we can’t understand and even as adults it’s hard! But Jesus says, God loves you and will care for you and for all people no matter what. So we pray to stop and remind ourselves that this is always true. I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about that and I want you to listen too as this is really important and hard stuff! I might even ask you to help me in my sermon today! Ok?

We just don’t know when to stop. An interesting phenomena that has been created in the past 10 years or so is the concept of “binge watching” shows on services such as Hulu, Netflix or Amazon. It used to be that you had a show that you watched once a week or so and you had to wait patiently for next week’s episode. Now, a whole season gets released at once and you can watch the whole season in one sitting! You don’t have to stop! And a whole culture has arisen around this concept. You are encouraged to not stop, don’t leave your house, order in food, and have a comfy couch. This was the next logical iteration of our culture when you think about the last 60 years or so. Being on the go and not stopping until everything is done is a strong value in our society. And it’s not a bad thing, unless it goes unchecked and out of balance. And now in our 21st century culture of busyness, stopping isn’t even an option. We have the 24 hour news cycle, constant connectivity that allows (or forces) us to work 24 hours a day, we are convinced that the busier we are, the more we go-go-go, the more worth we have. Being labeled a “go-getter” is a high compliment, isn’t it?

Tv and work aren’t the only thing we can’t stop doing-addictions are on the rise-we can’t stop looking at our phones, we can’t stop shopping, consuming, gambling, overeating, over drinking. And even if we do stop those things, our brains often can’t stop worrying about all the things that we can’t control, we can’t stop complaining about all the things that we don’t like. We just can’t stop.

And why is that? What keeps us from stopping? What are we afraid of if we were to just stop-stop with hyper connectivity, stop with busyness, stop over consuming, stop worrying and stop complaining? If we stop, what will we notice and discover? There is much research that shows that stopping and having nothing to do is recharging and renewing for kids and adults. Ironically, busyness also makes us lonely. This is highlighted such as when the power goes out and there is no internet, tv or things to do but card games and talking? People often talk about how nice it was to be forced to be disconnected from the outside world but reconnected to those close to them. But it can also bring us face to face with some realities in our lives. If we have time and space that is not filled with noise and activity and our brains aren’t obsessing on everything wrong in our lives-we start to have time to reflect on deeper truths in our lives and that can bring pain and uncertainty. When life circumstances force us to stop: physical challenges, job loss, or death of a loved one, it can cause us to wonder who we are apart from the constant “on-the-go” that defines us. Stopping is often something that we avoid rather than embrace.

Our Luke passage begins to today with Jesus stopping to pray. He and the disciples were traveling to Jerusalem where Jesus knew that his time on earth would end. But as he moved toward the event of the cross, he stopped. All the gospels highlight Jesus’ stopping to pray, but Luke emphasizes prayer more than the other three gospels. At every important juncture in his ministry, Jesus stopped to pray to God. This time out seemed to give Jesus reorientation, clarity and vision and the disciples even knew it. Teach us to pray too, they ask. And Jesus stops and gives them these words that we now know so well. These words that gives God a name, Father, loving parent. Words that ask for God’s kingdom, for daily bread, for forgiveness and for help in times of trouble. Notice that pleasantries such as “please” and “thank you” are not present in this prayer. It’s clear and direct for connection to God and for daily needs.

But then Jesus also offers a parable on prayer to clarify what prayer is and what it isn’t. In this parable, a neighbor comes to another neighbor late at night in need. He needs bread for a late arriving traveling guest and hospitality in the ancient world is serious business. Culture dictates that he offer anything his guest could need and everyone hearing this story from Jesus would understand that. The other neighbor had an obligation to help the one in need, despite hardship. Jesus offers that the first man will be helped simply because of the relationship with his neighbor. The word translated as “persistent” really means “shameless.” The first man is shameless in his need and is vulnerable to the mercy of his neighbor. But he also knows that he is part of connected community and the neighbor will stop and help.

Jesus is clear that prayer is trust in God’s mercy, prayer is being shameless before God with our every need. Prayer is relationship and connection at our most vulnerable and needy time to God and each other. Prayer isn’t control of what happens in our lives, prayer isn’t a Magic 8 Ball where we get an immediate answer. Prayer isn’t really about answers at all, which is difficult for us. We want prayer to cure cancer, to heal our marriages and relationships with our children, to get us our next job, to ensure that our lives are easy and what we want them to be. But this isn’t the promise in prayer. Jesus witnesses to this even from the cross-he prays for God to forgive those who are killing him and for God to hold his spirit. Jesus prays to be connected to God’s presence and for the people around him. Jesus knows that it’s hard for us to stop trying to give the illusion of not needing anyone and to stop trying to control every aspect of our lives. Prayer is trust that no matter how hard and painful things are, God is there, even when it’s not the outcome we want, even when it hurts.

When we pray, we are stopping and recognizing our shameless need for mercy, help and connection with God and God’s people. Stopping to pray, Jesus says, reorients us with God’s will and stops us in projecting our own will. Stopping to pray puts all the noise and activity of the world in proper perspective, to be aligned with God’s promises and vision: living into our identity as God’s beloved people who witness to the world. People who stop worrying about only themselves, people who stop giving into their own ego and pride, people who stop hate, people who stop the cycle of fear, people who stop buying into the culture of over-consumerism, people who stop to offer God’s vision of love, generosity and mercy to all people in all places.

It’s hard for us to stop, but stopping to pray, to connect and to stand shameless before the One who is source of our identity, life and hope is exactly what God desires for us to do. And when we stop, we notice that God’s promises to provide for our daily needs, and to respond to us in deep, unending and unconditional love has been with us all along. Amen.

 

Life Together in Focus Sermon on Luke 10: 38-42 July 22, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 21, 2019.

Children’s Sermon: Have a hoola hoop, gather the children forward and have the hoola hoop laying on the ground. “We are going to pick this hoola hoop up with each of us only using one finger. Ok here we go!” Let them work together and see if they can do it. Offer hints and help if necessary. Once they have it lifted to waist level have them stop and hold it. “You did it! Working together and focusing on the same task, made this possible. Now that you have it lifted- I’m going to ask you some questions: If you don’t like to hoola hoop, or don’t know how, let go and step back. Ok come back and hold the hoola hoop again. If you like to read instead of watch tv step back. Ok come back. If you like to play outdoors more than video games step back. If you like video games more than playing outdoors, step back. What happens when we lose someone from our hoola hoop? It drops. We need everyone to keep it up off the ground don’t we? And despite the differences we just talked about-we all liked to do different things-we worked together to get the hoola hoop lifted. Our bible story reminds me of this working together, how we live together, even though we are different people. Martha and Mary were sisters who liked different things. Mary wanted to sit and learn from Jesus to show her love for him and Martha wanted to make sure that everyone had enough food to show that she loved Jesus. They both loved Jesus and both had good gifts to share. But Martha on this day, wanted Mary to be just like her and help serve and cook. And she was mad about it. Has that ever happened to you? When you wanted someone to like the same things and do the same things as you, but they wouldn’t? Yep. It’s happened to me! Martha was so mad that she told Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus knew that Martha loved him, and had many gifts as did Mary, but at this time was so worried about small details that didn’t matter, that she lost her focus on Jesus. Jesus reminds Martha that Mary is staying focused on what matters, Jesus, and so should she and so should we. Just like when we focused together to lift the hoola hoop, we can stay focused on Jesus by not worrying about who likes what, or is like us or different from us but how we work together to show Jesus’ love in the world. When we focus on Jesus, this is what we do. We focus on Jesus’ message of God’s love, grace and forgiveness for everyone. What helps you focus on Jesus? Prayer? Reading the bible? Helping people in need? This week say this blessing to one another in your house : +Jesus holds all people together in love+

A few years ago, I added yoga to my fitness routine mostly because as a distance runner, I needed something that would help me to stretch my tight hammies. And I need to work on balance. I have the grace and balance of a water buffalo, which is to say, none. I can trip and wipeout on a perfectly safe floor-and have! My mom recognized this in me at an early age and put me in every ballet class she could find but to no avail. I’m just not very coordinated. My mom used to say that I stood behind the door when God was passing out gracefulness. So, I took up yoga. What a train wreck I was at first. I would wobble and bobble, fall, look at certain poses and just laugh as there was no way that was ever going to happen. And I was certainly self-conscious. I would be trying to get into a pose and I would look up to see all the graceful people around me and inevitably, I would fall. The teacher would gently remind us all (probably mostly me) to find a focal spot and don’t look anywhere else to help you center. At first that didn’t even help me, as if I’m honest, I only focused on it for a bit and would become frustrated that I still wasn’t doing the pose like everyone else. The teacher would also say annoying things like “don’t compare yourself to others, this is your body, do what you can do and focus on that.” Sigh. You mean it’s not a competition to see who is the best at yoga? Mind. Blown. I kept going to yoga classes for some reason, even though I was uncomfortable, usually couldn’t wait for them to be over, and it only seemed to remind me of all my bodily weaknesses.

Then over time, something shifted. I started focusing on what I was doing and (mostly) quit looking around me at what other people were doing. When I did that, I could hold those uncomfortable and tricky balance poses. Now the second I looked over at the Gumby person on the mat next to me, I would fall. It’s all about focus, letting differences, competition, and worry, go. It’s about trusting in what God has given me, sinking into the promise that it’s enough, and that through Jesus, who I am is enough as are all the other people around me in that space. When I simultaneously focus and let go, not only in yoga class but in life and ministry, I can surrender to the flow of the Holy Spirit that surrounds me and us all that sweeps us up into what Jesus tells Martha is the only needed thing: Focusing on Jesus.

Focusing on Jesus seems so simple doesn’t it? We come to worship, we pray, we read the scriptures, the word of God, experience the Eucharist and then…we look up and get distracted and fall out of the balance of seeing people around us how Jesus sees them. We worry that not everyone looks like us, thinks like us, values the same activities that we value. We see other people’s differences as a problem or competition instead of a gift. We see change as threat and not as promise of a vibrant future. We see life together in a community as conflict and division and not beautiful diversity and unity.

The Martha and Mary story has been much maligned in interpretive history. It’s been touted as one sister is right and the other one is wrong, or as a model of discipleship for all women for some weird reason, or that Jesus is scolding Martha. But I would offer that those interpretations are not actually in the text. Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she is wrong in serving. After all, just a chapter before, Jesus sends the 70 out and tells them to rely on people like Martha for hospitality. And last week we heard Jesus say go and serve your fellow humans. No service isn’t the issue. Focus is. Where do you want to focus Martha? On other people? On details of lunch that don’t ultimately matter? On your anger and self-righteousness? Focus on me, Jesus says.

And what do we see when we focus on Jesus? We see what life together can look be. When we focus on Jesus, we begin to see people and creation through the eyes of Jesus, who sees us all as created in God’s image, as the beloved community. Not in sameness or homogeneity, but in a myriad of the diverse gifts needed to proclaim the kingdom of God in a world that is so set on the either/or of life instead of being open to a both/and mindset. Who’s in and who’s out, who’s like me, who’s different. When we focus on Jesus, we truly see each other and we see the truth of life together as the writer of Colossians stated in our reading this morning, verse 17 “[Jesus] himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus holds all things-things we like and things we don’t like-together so that each day, we begin anew to let go of details, fears, worries, anxieties of changes, differences, what distracts us from loving our neighbor and proclaiming the good news of God’s love and grace. Jesus holds our tensions, holds the paradox and holds the mystery of life in the 21st century. Jesus holds our lives and holds us in life together, not for our own comforts and preferences, but so that as the people of God, our lives together through Christ make the word of God fully known to a world that is dying of division, anxiety and fear. Jesus holds us to each other and to God.

When we focus on Jesus, we witness the promise that began at creation: All creation in richness and diversity is good, humanity is very good and Jesus as Christ, the one who is, was and is still coming to us over and over for all time, holds us all together and hold us in the flow of the life  of the Holy Spirit and tethers us to the promises of God for abundant and eternal life, not someday but beginning today. So, we focus, we center our lives on the one needed thing for life together: Jesus. Amen.

 

Don’t Look Away Sermon on Luke 10: 25-37 July 14, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Hollady, UT on July 14, 2019. The texts were Colossians 1: 1-14 and Luke 10: 25-37

Children’ s Sermon: Who do we see? We’ve been talking about different road signs for the last few weeks and sometimes talking about something makes you more aware of it in your world. For instance, you might not look for falling rocks in the mountains until you see the sign telling you about them. But sometimes the signs go by so fast that you miss them. We are going to play a little game: Let’s start here at the front and we are going to quickly walk (don’t run for safety) to the back of the church. 1-2-3 lets go! Ok, now keep facing the back of the church. I’m going to ask you about the people you saw. (Ask a couple of specific questions about people in your space. Have it be detailed enough so the children won’t get them all correct.) So, we missed a few details about people didn’t we. Now we are going to walk back to the front but more slowly and I want you to pay attention to the people. It might be uncomfortable to stare!
Once you’re at the front again: So did you notice Mr. and Mrs. ? When we slow down, we notice people and really see them don’t we? Our Bible story is about this today. Jesus wants us to see everyone…and tells a story about who we see and who God wants us to see as our neighbor. Jesus tells the story about a hurt man and two people who should have slowed down to see and help the hurt man but didn’t. But the third man who stopped, the Samaritan, was someone who most people didn’t like, and they wouldn’t have even wanted this Samaritan to stop and help them! But Jesus wants us to know that when we slow down and get close to people we see them how God sees them, as people worthy of care, compassion and love. That’s our sign for today, to “Watch for Children of God.” I want you to notice people this week, around you, on the news, in your neighborhood, and see who needs our help and love.  I have these little care kits that you can put together during the sermon to help you to remember to slow down and care for all people!

 

 

We can become conditioned to our surroundings pretty quickly can’t we? What we see and what we don’t see? When we’re just in our routine moving quickly in and out of our day we might not really see what’s around us. Such as the church clean-up day yesterday….I thought, oh, yeah, we’ll pull a few weeds that’s not too bad. I even said to Mike before we left for church, I don’t really think this will take that long…and then I arrived and started looking at ALL. OF. THE. WEEDS. Every time I pulled one, I became aware of 10 more. Where did they all come from? I mean, I walk in and out of this church at least 5-6 days a week, a couple of times a day and I didn’t notice that many weeds…But when I got close and slowed down, I really saw them. All of them. Small, large, prickly, tree like, viney, all sorts of weeds!  And we do this with people in our environment as well. We can move so fast through our days that we might not notice who is around us, or when we do see people, we make fast, snap judgments about them, their place in our lives and if they are worth slowing down for. This particularly happens with people who are not like us and make us uncomfortable.

There is a book that was published about 11 years ago I read, called The Big Sort. This book offered that in America, even as the US was becoming more diverse, we were sorting ourselves geographically into more and more homogeneous communities. People wanted to only see people whom they could relate to, was the thesis. Now, this book has it’s opponents and perhaps overstates the case a bit, but if we’re honest there might be some truth to that-even if its not as dramatic only living in certain neighborhoods or regions of the country. We do this in many ways in our daily life. Even being here on a Sunday morning is one way that we could argue that we sort ourselves. While I know that we have a rich diversity of opinions here, there is still much about us that is similar you will have to admit.

And then there is the fact that we tend to not see those whom make us uncomfortable. We see someone coming towards us on the street and if we size them up from afar as a possible threat, we pass by on the other side. I know that I do this in psychological ways too, not only physically changing my location. On my way to church every day in Denver, there was always a person with a sign asking for money at the off ramp from I-25. I learned to not make eye contact and to look away…and I justified it with my knowledge that there was a syndicate of off ramp workers in Denver and that they signed up for a shift each day. At the four entrance/exit ramps at that one intersection-each one had a person holding a sign every day and I started to realize that there was a rotation. I chose to not really see them as a neighbor but as someone to avoid-they only wanted money-and so I would look away.

But then we get this parable from Jesus to the lawyer who asked: Who must I see as my neighbor Jesus? What must I do to see my neighbor? Jesus tells this parable to lay down some truth: We see what we want to see. Or really, we see what we allow ourselves to come close to. We can see someone as a victim who caused their own woes, who shouldn’t have even been there on the road, who shouldn’t have had anything of value, who shouldn’t have left their home anyway, who shouldn’t have worn that outfit, who shouldn’t have made poor choices. We can look away as the priest and Levite did, and avoid the people who might slow us down, keep us from important work, take too much of our time or might contaminate us somehow. We can see people as problems not to get close to-and even justify that to ourselves with sound logic-as I did with the off-ramp workers and not see people as, people. It’s easier to look away than to see what makes us uncomfortable.

Or we can risk coming close. When we come close-what happens to us is what the Samaritan discovered-we see people not as their problems or circumstances, but as people like us. People who are beloved by God. But be careful, because then you will be moved with compassion. I don’t do a lot of Greek in my sermons but the Greek verb here for “moved to pity”  is fabulous “splagchnizomai.” It means moved to you guts. When we get close to people-close enough to have to slow down to see the hairs on their head, to see their face, look into their eyes, we see their humanity and their divinity. And it stops us in our tracks. We can’t look away now-for they are us and we are them.

The real scandal of this text is what if the person in the ditch is us and the someone who sees and comes close to help us is someone whom we would be embarrassed to later admit helped us. What if they are of a religion that we don’t like and find oppressive, what if they are from a different political belief, or what if they give money to places we don’t support, what if they don’t have the correct documentation, or what if they think differently than us on an equality issue such as racism, refugees, LBGTQIA, gender justice, abortion, or the list can go on and on. And we are faced with wondering if we would really see and come close to them if they needed help. Would we be moved to our guts?

Who must we see as our neighbor and how will we see them? Jesus tells us to slow down-so that we can really see people and they can really see us. This mutual seeing is all about mercy for one another amid our differences, diversity and polarization. When we see each other, we are seeing Christ.  God’s mercy became flesh in Jesus to show us that God wants to come close to us-to really see us-every part of us and wants us to come close to each other in the mercy and love. God sees us with this mercy and love-and God is moved to God’s very guts.  God sees us, God doesn’t look away and sees even the parts that aren’t so lovable, to proclaim that mercy, forgiveness, compassion and love has come close. We live daily in this mercy and it slows us down-to see other people with God’s eyes of grace. We come close and see all people as our neighbor deserving of care and compassion and this can change the world. We slow down, don’t look away and watch for the children of God. Thanks be to God.

 

The Kingdom of God Is Near But the Road Might Be Rough Sermon on Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20 July 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 7, 2019. The texts were Galatians 6: 1-17 and Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

Children’s sermon: Have a large poster board with the words written largely: KINGDOM OF GOD. Have crayons, stickers available for the children to use. Ask them if they have ever felt left out. Talk about today’s gospel from Luke and Galatians where Jesus sends the 70 missionaries out to everyone about God’s kingdom being near and how that message is for everyone, even people who don’t believe it or like it. And how Paul talks about how we are to work for the good of all, we are all together. And this all together-the 70 working with Jesus and Paul telling people about the Kingdom of God, is what joy (Luke 10:17) is all about! It’s not about if everyone we tell about Jesus comes to OSLC or is our friend, but that we are all together in God’s love no matter what! Then ask the children (and adults as a prayer station) to write under each letter of KINGDOM OF GOD names of people, or groups of people who are included in God’s love (hint: everyone! This poster board should be full!)

I asked the children and now I’ll ask you all: have you ever been left out? Rejected? Yep, we all have! Sometimes it’s dramatic such as a break-up or an argument with someone you love, or you didn’t get a job you really wanted, or into a educational program you dreamed about. But sometimes it’s less obvious. You can simply be ignored, or in a place where there is an expectation that you will behave a certain way, or like certain things and when you stay true to yourself, the people around you don’t accept your differences and so don’t accept you. Being rejected, ignored or unaccepted, can make you reexamine yourself and wonder if you should change your thoughts, actions, words, or completely change who you are to fit in.  We all experiment with our identity growing up particularly in the teen years, but if we’re honest even as adults, it’s easy to think that who we are isn’t enough. Or we can judge others by their behaviors, likes and dislikes and criticize them for not being like us. We can subtly and not so subtly, send the message to people that they should change to conform to what makes us comfortable. It takes courage and vulnerability simultaneously to stay grounded in what matters and as our sign for today warns us, it can be a rough road.

Rough roads are not always to be avoided as they can also be a path that leads us to a deeper truth and can help us keep “the main thing the main thing” in our lives. Rough roads can be focusing as if you get distracted, it can lead to even bigger challenges. If you’ve ever driven or hiked on difficult terrain, you know what I’m talking about.

In our Luke passage today, the 70 are sent out to proclaim a very important message. And Jesus is clear that the road will be rough. They will be completely dependent on the people they meet, they will eat food they don’t like, stay in places for an uncomfortable amount of time (Jesus is telling them to overstay their welcome!), they will work hard, curing the sick, and they will more than likely be rejected. Sounds inviting doesn’t it? Sign me up Jesus! But Jesus is clear that the main point of their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to unequivocally declare that the Kingdom of God has come near to all-the welcoming, the strangers, the sick, the unbelieving, the unaccepting. The Kingdom of God is near to all whether they know it or not. This Kingdom is for all.

And when they return to Jesus full of joy, it’s not only because they had some successes (isn’t interesting that they don’t name their failures? Which I’m sure there were many!), but because they experienced this Kingdom of God for themselves in being together in community no matter how rough or smooth the road. Now, they also had a bit of ego tied into this: Jesus, you’re right we can do anything, even the demons submitted to us! Human nature hasn’t changed in 2000 years…Jesus tempers their egos by reminding them that their successes and failures are nothing, what is everything is that they are part of God’s mission to bring the kingdom off love to the world. This is the main thing, even in their own mission.

It seems so simple doesn’t it? All we have to do is proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. Done. And yet…We know that it’s a rough road to do so, even in the 21st century, or maybe especially in the 21st century. We set up a table at Venture Out to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near and some people love that we are there, and some people walk very quickly past our booth. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we house families experiencing homelessness and we know that four families at a time is only a drop in the bucket. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we welcome and accept all people of every race, color, gender, sexual orientation into this family of faith and there are people who will reject this promise for God’s love for all people. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near when we strive to steward the earth with care and there are people who will deny this as reality. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near with our daily lives, with generosity of time, words, talents and gifts for people we don’t know well or have never met, and there are people who will shake their head at our naivety.  But Jesus declares to us that when the road is rough, God’s Holy Spirit is guiding us and continually reorienting us-through community, bread, wine, water and word-to the main thing of God’s mercy, hope and love for the entire world.

And we can forget that we need to be grounded in God’s community and kingdom as we try and navigate the rough roads alone. We can put our own human egos, rules and boundaries into this mission work as Jesus cautions. We can get stuck in thinking that the success or failure of this message is dependent on us, our own abilities and talents. Jesus reminds the 70, and us, that all power and authority belong to God alone that God gives away for the sake of including all people into this unconditional and transformative love. We are not only recipients of this love but participant as well. This is the good news that the coming of the Kingdom of God is for all, those who accept it and those who reject it. The promise of God coming near isn’t dependent upon the ability of the person to receive it and it’s not dependent on the messenger. God has written our names in heaven, on God’s own heart to declare that our worth in God’s kingdom isn’t dependent on our abilities or gifts but is simply found in belonging to God. This is our true identity that never changes, no matter how we try or what other people might want us to be. We are never left out in God’s kingdom and neither is anyone else.

Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 6. After six chapters of breaking down why Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised to be brought into the new family of Jesus followers and being clear about the subversion of the law, at the end of the day, Paul soundly ends this letter (writing in large letters) that none of that human stuff matters. Follow the law, don’t follow the law, whatever, but just know that you are made new in the love of God through Jesus Christ simply because God loves you. This unconditional love always surrounds you  at all times and in all places-especially when the road is rough. God’s kingdom, where all are made whole, where all are included, where power and authority are turned upside down and where all names are written and known, is for the whole world, no matter what. We can rest in the peace that the Kingdom of God has come near, includes you and will stay. Thanks be to God.

 

This Moment: A sermon on what lies ahead [Luke 9: 51-62] July 2, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 30, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts were Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9: 51-62

Children’s message: Gather the children and ask them about showing God’s love. In our reading from Galatians today, Paul gave examples of showing God’s love. Love, joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Fruit of the Spirit song.

Think back on a time that you had a moment of clarity-or a defining moment in your life-where you knew that everything from that moment forward would be different. It could be a joyful one such as an engagement, or the birth of a child. Or a promotion in your career. Or it could have been a painful moment, the death of someone beloved, or the ending a significant relationship.  Or getting fired, rejected or failing. In all these scenarios-positive or negative-there was a moment when you knew that you couldn’t go back to “before,” everything going forward would be different. One could argue that we have smaller moments like these in our daily lives, but we all have experienced what I would call watershed moments. Where one moment you are living one way and the next, well, everything might seem completely different..

Even when it’s a positive shift, it’s often frightening and so to cope, we try to use the skills and ideas from what we’ve always known to help us to make sense of what could be now ahead. But often what can happen is that those skills and ideas that worked before, now are woefully inadequate or simply not helpful. Such as you suddenly move to a new job of leadership and the relationships with the people on your team can no longer be the same as you have different responsibility and accountability. Or in the absence of a loved one, your routines are disrupted and altered. Daily rhythms are not the same. “The way it had always been” simply isn’t true any more.  It’s disorienting to not be able to predict what will happen going forward and it often means resetting your entire framework of living. In other words: the usual stuff ain’t workin’ and it’s time to reevaluate for the future. It might seem painful to shift but staying in what isn’t working has a pain of it’s own.

Our Luke text is such a watershed moment in the gospel, for Jesus and the disciples. Our passage today opens  simply and yet dramatically: “Jesus set his face to Jerusalem.” This sentence isn’t to tell us geographically where he is on the map. It’s not to mention that Jesus and the disciples will need to stock up on snacks and take a potty break before the next leg of the journey. No, it’s a watershed moment of what the rest of Jesus’ ministry will be like. He’s headed to Jerusalem, his death. He is no longer just the itinerant preacher who says mysterious things like love each other, feed each other, include one another. Now Jesus is serious. There is a sense of urgency to his mission-his days are numbered. Nothing else matters but this focus on Jerusalem and the cross. Traditions are moot, material possessions are a distraction and doing what has always been done won’t work going forward.

This is shift for the disciples that they don’t seem to get. Jesus sends some of  them ahead to the Samaritan town to do reconnaissance and take the temperature of the people there. Samaritans and the Jewish people didn’t get along as they both claimed different locations for the true worship of God-which you can imagine was problematic. So naturally, Jesus and his entourage are not well received. In response to rejection, James and John wanted to do what the prophet Elijah did to the worshippers of Baal: rain down fire and brimstone on them. But Jesus says nope-this isn’t what we’re about. That won’t work any more. We’re just going to move on and not worry about them. God’s bigger than all of this and we’ll leave it with God.

Then there are the three would-be followers who each say that they want to follow Jesus but with provisions, conditions and a recurring theme of “but first.” And Jesus each time is clear, those things that they have held dear-religious traditions, family, homes, security-no longer take priority over the mission of God. And maybe they never should have taken priority. But it’s easy to convince ourselves that those things are as important as the work of the kingdom or are the same thing as God’s mission. But in Luke 9, this is a moment of clarity as to what really matters.

The 21st century Church-Church universal-is at a watershed moment in history I believe and like the disciples, I know that I sometimes don’t get it. I want things to stay the same and yet we know, in the mainline protestant churches, attendance is declining, relevancy is waning and the cultural perception of the Christian Church is that we worry more about traditionalism than the kingdom. Theologian Jarslov Pelikan said “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Jesus isn’t against tradition-Jesus is reorienting the disciples and us to the reality that the tradition that we most need to adhere to is loving and serving God and neighbor. Rituals, sabbath rules, liturgies, worship services are fine, but they are not the traditions that Jesus most wants us to follow. Jesus understands that we like things to stay the same, but that when we try and keep things the same, it leads to changes that aren’t helpful. Will we cling to those things for the sake of our own security and self-satisfaction or will we shed those “but firsts” and get on the road with Jesus, dying to our own wants and comforts for the sake of the mission-God’s reconciliation and redemption of the entire world through the love of Jesus Christ? In Christ, we are free from whatever keeps us from truly participating in God’s mission. We are free from worrying about ourselves, which is really what the list of “desires of the flesh” in Galatians is about. When we get caught in ego and self-centeredness that list is what happens to us all. But we are free to live in the gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit-which are all about focusing on loving and serving God and neighbor and not ourselves.

This is the moment we find ourselves in as God’s Church in 2019. There is indeed urgency. Not to keep the doors open, not to keep the lights on, but to flood the world with this grace, hope and mercy. This mission of the Church matters, and perhaps is more important than ever in our world. And your participation no matter how young or old, no matter what gifts you think you may or may not have, matters. Jesus says so in our baptisms, Jesus says so in the cross and the empty tomb. People of God, our mission in this time and place matters deeply. We are in a watershed moment. Which is actually not new for Our Saviour’s. We’re in a moment like when Our Saviour’s first began ministry in 1960 and people stepped out on faith that this congregation would matter to the work of God’s kingdom in Salt Lake City. We are in a moment like when Our Saviour’s almost closed a few years later but people stepped out on faith and followed God’s mission. We are in a moment where Jesus is calling us to follow where nothing will be the same, where what we have clung to for security and safety over the years will no longer suffice, where the usual stuff we knew may not work, but the Holy Spirit will guide and reveal to us God’s  grace and promise to make all things new, and to walk with us into this newness even when we doubt, are scared and uncertain. It’s a watershed moment, life will be different going forward. But we’ve been here before and went forward into God’s future, open to the newness that God offered.  Once again, we set our faces to Jesus to be on the road with him, free from what holds us back, and free to be part of the work of the kingdom of God. Thanks be to God.