A Lutheran Says What?

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

Don’t Lose Sight Sermon on John 1: 43-51 January 15, 2021

This sermon was preached on Jan. 17, 2021 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC

The texts were:
1 Samuel 3: 1-20
Palm 139: 1-6, 13-18
John 1: 43-51

In my preaching classes in seminary, we studied and listened to several renowned proclaimers of the gospel, including Martin Luther King Jr. We spent a whole class session on King’s infamous “I have a dream” speech. In listening to the speech in its entirety, our professors pointed out something that most of us hadn’t heard before. About half-way through his speech, when King paused, a woman in the front row could be heard shouting, “tell us about the dream Martin, tell us about the dream!” You see, this proclamation that King had written for that day, didn’t originally contain the “I have a dream” rhetoric. He had used the theme at other times in his preaching, but that had not been his intent for this speech. But he took seriously in that moment the urgency of the woman begging to be reminded of a vision, she wanted to see what was possible, and she wanted all the people listening to catch a glimpse of the vision that King and the Civil rights movement offered in liberation, equality, and justice in God’s kingdom and kin-dom. Kin-dom means humanity gathered as one community in the promises of God. Our professors wanted us novice preacher to not lose sight of what matters, one, sometimes you have to let go of what you had envisioned for proclamation and allow the Holy Spirit’s vision to come to fruition, and two, don’t underestimate the power of offering God’s vision to people. People are hungry for a vision of what could be despite what it seems to be. People are always looking for vision, are they going to see God’s or the world’s? Will they lose sight of our life together and themselves? And more frightening…will God lose sight of us?

I confess that I sometimes lose sight that God sees me, sees all that I do, all that I say, all that I think and all that I don’t do, say and think. Everything. Well, maybe I don’t forget, maybe I live in denial that God sees me. If I were to always keep this fact conscious, I would probably be appropriately paralyzed in fear. I mean, the God of all creation is watching me? That can’t be good. But God does see me, and thank God, sees beyond my failures, my cynicism, my temper, and my shortcomings. God sees me, the one whom God created in the divine image, proclaimed as beloved, having worth and value. God sees not just who I am to God, but who I can be for the world. God’s vision for me is, thank God, beyond what I could ever envision for myself. I lose sight of who I want to be. I sell myself short and figure that nothing good can come from me, as I am too flawed.
The real tragedy in this, is the fact that I then limit my vision of who others are, as well. If I can’t envision myself as God sees me, then I’m not seeing people though God’s vision either. I make assumptions about people and situations, always through my dim and limited human view and not through God’s imaginative and broad vision. I assume that nothing good can come from people whom I only see in one dimension. I forget and lose sight that God can and does see fully, not only me, but all people and that God’s vision is always about goodness and life.

Like Eli and the new disciples in John 1, we don’t look hard enough at ourselves and others. Eli refused to truly see or act on the harmful corruption perpetrated by his sons, and so had to endure the consequences, being held accountable by God and removed as a priestly family with authority. Eli lost sight of his responsibilities and role in the community as healer and proclaimer of God’s grace. Nathanael couldn’t see past his own prejudice of Nazareth, a town no better than a bump in the road that produced nothing of value, which led him to dismiss Jesus out of hand. Despite human failures, God’s vision won’t be clouded. God called the boy Samuel, to be a prophet who would anoint kings for Israel and offer a new vision for the Israelites. God’s own son, Jesus would see through Nathanael’s cynicism and invite him to see beyond what he thought he knew, and beyond his own life to what God was offering the world. In God’s vision, things are not as they appear and good does come from hard situations, hard conversations, and from the least expected people and places. In God’s vision, the question shifts from “what good can come from this?” to “what good does God see in this?” God doesn’t lose sight of the vision of wholeness, love and mercy.
It doesn’t mean that we wear rose-colored glasses or deny hardships, to the contrary, God’s vision requires us to see reality, to see our own guilt and complicity, to see the harm we’ve inflicted, to see our own flaws, as well as to see the divine spark in all people that is begging to be seen, as the woman begged King to tell her the dream again. She knew that God’s desire was for this spark to be seen in the world. There is something liberating about being completely seen. When we know that we can’t hide, we’re exposed, then we can give up the façade, and live into the truth of who we are, and who we are to God. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered people, Black, white and brown this God sized vision of liberation in the truth. He never lost sight of what was important and what mattered, liberation for all. When we face the difficult truths, when we can see ourselves and other people clearly, we can then see God’s kingdom at work in us all, together, not as an “us vs. them” but as a collective community of beloved people of God revealing God’s vision for creation. Jesus called Nathanael to see this vision, and Jesus calls us to see it too. Jesus calls us to do the hard work of setting aside biases, being in relationships with people whom the rest of society shuns, to speak the truth, especially when people are being harmed, and to live in a way that honors creation. God’s vision can’t be dimmed by anything we do or say but we can illuminate God’s vision when we join with God for love, hope, mercy and forgiveness. We will see that good does and will come from what God is doing in our midst through the love of Jesus Christ. We will see God’s kingdom and kin-dom come. We won’t lose sight that God never loses sight of us. Amen.


 

Pastoral Response on the Events of Jan. 6, 2021 January 9, 2021

*This will be available to be viewed on the Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC YouTube channel. It follows the worship service on Jan. 10, 2021.

As I have done too many times this year, I am obligated address the brokenness that has devastated us this week. Forgive me for my late and most likely inadequate response, as it took me some time to order my thoughts coherently. We all watched as foundations of our national life together were violated in words and violent deeds. I will name this for what it is: a sickness. It’s a sickness that has been running rampant in our country not only in the past few years, but for over 400 years. It’s easy to trace how we have arrived at this moment, where we now watch horrified as the cancerous cells of white supremacy, nationalism and hate masquerading as religion burst through the healthy cells of our lives together to metastasize. We watched our president refuse to defend our nation, or the people, but only defend himself and his own interests. Make no mistake, this was a coup attempt. And make no mistake, how these white terrorists were treated by the policing agencies is very different than how those protesting on behalf of Black Lives Matter were treated. This is not up for debate. It’s power pure and simple. Power is always dangerous and this week we know now how dangerous unchecked power can be.
We mourn not only for our nation but for the lives lost to this senseless violence. We mourn for people harmed in body, mind or spirit. We mourn for us all. But we will not simply sit in sackcloth and ashes. We will take our tears and turn them into necessary actions of God’s love and God’s justice. You see, as God’s people, we know that conflating our egos, our pride and our religious notions only brings destruction. Jesus didn’t come to affirm self-aggrandizing religion, he came to bring life, abundant life to all people and all nations. This is who we are and must be in the world. If our religion is causing us to hate, sit idle, be comfortable and worry about ourselves, it’s not of God. Following Jesus means that we move, we go straight to the discomfort, the brokenness, even if we’re afraid. We go, because that’s where Jesus already is, and it’s where our neighbor is. We must amplify the voices of the too long silenced, we must speak truth to power, to not allow lies, cover-ups, or violence to overcome the light of Christ’s love in our community or our nation. We, as a white congregation, must do this.
Let me be clear, this nation is not now nor ever was a Christian nation. We are nation that comes together in our diversity to be one in the most radial way, in love and trust. We are stronger in this diversity and God smiles upon us. We come with our own perspective, but never with our own arrogance, agenda or might. We enter into our damaged and fragile relationships with hearts of humility and a longing for lasting peace.
We must come together, we must see the truth of who we are and what is happening, even if we don’t like what we see, maybe especially if we don’t like what we see. We must go forward and build a better way.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

Pastor Brigette Weier

 

We’re Torn Apart: Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday

This sermon was preached on Jan. 10, 2021, at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. You can view it on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Genesis 1: 1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19: 1-7
Mark 1: 4-11

I’ve been torn this week. Torn about what to say. Torn about how to feel. Torn about my own weariness. I’m torn apart. The events of this week nationally, congregationally, and personally have left me torn. Frayed edges of my heart, spirit and soul that need mended, that need put back together, that need smoothed somehow. I’m torn and you need to know that. I’m torn and yet convicted. The events that we witnessed this week, of this year, and of the past 400 years of white supremacy are leaving us all frayed and in need of repair. We witnessed the very tearing of the fabric of our lives together as peoples of this nation. But we have to be honest, that this tearing isn’t new. It’s the final ripping apart of a small tear that began long before us but now it’s up to us to stitch back together. For decades, centuries, we watched as we’ve torn ourselves apart with words and actions of fear, hate and bigotry. We’ve torn ourselves apart with racism, sexism, nationalism, and yes, our very religions. And yes, you might be thinking, “well this is the story of humanity. We tear ourselves apart.” It’s as if we’d rather be torn apart than do the harder work of being the needle and thread, the patch that brings us back together.

God has been watching us tear ourselves apart and it tears apart God. God loves us, all creation and it simply tears God up to see how we treat each other, treat the earth, and treat ourselves. But God acts though being torn up. God tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism to send the Holy Spirit to Jesus. The word in Greek for “torn apart” is schizo, where we get our word schism. God has witnessed the schisms of the world, of humanity from the first schism where humans thought that they knew more than God. All of history is God at work in this schism, sending angels, prophets, and judges with words that called God’s people to see the schism that they have created, to repent, to have courage to do and say what needs to be done. Repairing the schisms of our world, where we are tearing ourselves apart is not for the faint of heart, it’s why God had to come and be flesh in our midst. Only God has that kind of courage, strength and power that was culminated in Jesus. Jesus’ baptism inaugurates him for the vulnerable and courageous work of repairing the schism between the world and God’s kingdom. Jesus shines a light on it, and says it can be mended, but it might hurt as when our own flesh is torn open and a doctor stitches us back together.

At Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit falls through the rip in the heavens and lands on him, God’s very voice booms with the words, “you are my Son, the beloved.” And then the very next thing that happens, which we will read in a couple of weeks, is that Jesus is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, for his ministry to begin. Jesus is sent right out to the edges of the frayed fabric of society, right to where flesh was torn and bleeding, right to where violence of minds, bodies and souls were ripping through communities. Jesus spoke words of healing, not just of ripped bodies but of torn hearts. Jesus words of healing and love also ripped open the truth of powers and principalities, the truth of following along with status quo where some lives did indeed matter more than others. Jesus, as God’s beloved, acted for healing, lifted up those whom were being sacrificed to keep schisms justified and normalized. Jesus refused to do any tearing but only sought to mend, through concrete actions of solidarity for those on the margins and with God’s mission of life, wholeness and abundance for all. Jesus’ baptism sent him right to where his own body would be torn and ripped, on the cross, as a testament to what we can do to one of our own. If we’re honest, we tend to sentimentalize this gruesome act and we move directly to the “yes but then God raised Jesus and everything is ok!” Well, for a long time, things were not ok and what was real was the tearing and ripping apart.

My beloveds, everything is not ok. We live in that time of tearing and ripping. In our own baptisms, we proclaim that we are baptized with Jesus, and we proclaim that the Holy Spirit rips through the heavens to land on us too. As God’s baptized people, we are called to go to where the schisms are, we are sent to the frayed edges of our world, we are pushed to the places where we are tearing ourselves apart as humanity. We are called to be courageous, and in our Lutheran tradition in the theology of the cross, to call a thing what it is. To say no to violent actions and words that are tearing our nation and society apart. To leave the comforts of our privilege behind. To stand up to would be tyrants and rebuff words that incite violence, hate, and destruction. To point out the disparities in how people of different skin colors, genders, ethnicities, religions are being treated by the government and governmental agencies. If you ever wondered what you would have done during the rise of Hilterism in Germany or in the civil rights movement of this country, you’re doing it right now. This is our baptismal moment. We promise in our baptismal vows to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. We must be willing to go the schism. We are being torn from our comforts, our privilege, our egos, our status and driven out into the world. I am beginning to think that there is grace in not being in our buildings right now. We are not baptized to sit in a building, we are baptized to go out into the world as menders.
I’m not naïve, although I’ll admit to being idealistic. I know that many of you right now might be uncomfortable or even angry with me right now for being “political.” Yes, I’m very concerned about how we live together. Jesus was too. I know that this is asking a lot.  This will mean that we speak and act in ways that will be much like the speaking in tongues that occurred in the Acts 19 passage-for when the Holy Spirit lands on us, we are torn from our old selves and our old ways and are made new, and we will be strange to the rest of the world, as Jesus was strange and that is why the world nailed him to a cross. Anything different than the ways of the world must be denied. But here’s what I believe with my whole heart, dear ones and why I became a pastor: I believe that when enough of us stand in the truth of the gospel, the gospel that only has words of healing, reconciliation and love, then nothing, nothing, can stop God’s wholeness from mending what we have torn. God’s power to mend, is greater than our power to tear apart. I want to be a mender, I want to mend myself and be wholly and made holy with Christ. I want to go to the frayed edges and do whatever is necessary, even if it’s unpopular, to heal you, to heal our community, to heal our nation and to heal the world. I believe that we don’t have to continue to tear ourselves apart. I don’t. I believe that Jesus gives me this courage, this strength, this conviction, because I surely don’t possess it on my own,

While we live in a time of tearing apart, we do know the end of the story. We do know that in the tearing open, Jesus comes. We do know that God’s words and actions only bring life, and life abundant for all. We do know that the tomb is empty and that wholeness, for us to be stitched together in the promises of God, is real. We do know that we will not always be torn apart for Jesus mends us together. Amen.

 

What I Know About 2021: Sermon on John 1 January 3, 2021

This sermon was preached on Jan. 3, 2021 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT over Zoom. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Jeremiah 31: 7-14
John 1: 1-18

There’s a cute song from about five years ago called “Say Hey” by Michael Franti that was popular for a while as it was good dance song. The refrain of that song contained the lyrics, “It seems like everywhere I go, the more I see the less I know. But I know one thing that I love you.” Boom, right in the middle of this seemingly innocuous and frivolous ditty, some deep human truth is laid down. It turns out the more we know, the less we know. Just living life can call into question what you are certain of and the realization that you don’t know as much as you thought. For this singer, he’s only certain of the love he has for this other person.

2020 has certainly been a year where everything we thought we knew was called into question and trying to learn, discern or just keep up, felt like a being in a pool of quicksand. The more we struggled and tried to stay on top, the more we sank. So here we are on the cusp of a new year, 2021, and it’s tempting to look forward and project what we think we know will happen and how this year will be. I know that I so desperately want this new year to be one where I can say that I know that we will be together in person again soon, where I know that people will stop getting sick, dying, losing jobs, losing relationships, or being marginalized. I want to know that everything is going to be ok. I don’t want to face the unknown, I want some certainty. But I’m aware that the more I search for certainty, the more truth I miss.  It’s like when you’re looking for your phone only to realize you’re holding it.

On this second Sunday of Christmas and the first Sunday of our new year, we are regaled by the Prologue to John’s gospel, a beautiful piece of poetry that was perhaps a hymn in the early Church, that uses imaginative language to offer the Truth of what we know, what we don’t know and what God knows. The gospel writer brings us all the way back to Genesis 1, to the beginning of creation when the truth is that there was only God. We are brought once again to the power and wisdom of God for creativity, expansive imagination, and endless possibilities. If we listen to this prologue as poetry, we notice the repetition of naming God. God is at the heart of this passage and at the heart of all the cosmos.

But we often miss or ignore that truth. We might not recognize God at the heart of everything. Or we don’t want to know, this as if God is at the heart of everything, then we are not. This is the truth that John the baptizer names as he proclaims that God is in our midst-the light of the world has come. But the world didn’t see Jesus or didn’t want to. As a matter of fact, the world spent much energy trying to hide or deny God as the center of creation and the universe. Jesus, as God with us, showed us what the world, our lives could be like with God at the center. People with diseases are healed, people are fed, people on the outside of society are brought into community, people in poverty are given their share, people imprisoned are set free, people told to be silent are given voice, people who are dead are brought to life. Not a life of emptiness, ego, greed or self-centeredness, but a life that is shared, a life in the fullness of God’s abundant love that knows no bounds or end. But the world tried to bury this truth, literally. The powers and principalities were terrified of a world that they didn’t know, one where they were not in the center and in control. But the more they tried to bury the truth of God as the center of it all, the more God loved, the more God’s life abounded, the more God promised to not let us sink into our own mess but to hold us.

I know enough to know that there’s so much I don’t know. I’m guilty of not wanting to know more because when I do, it decenters me. When I know that black lives matter, it means that my life isn’t worth more for my skin color. When I know that people are sliding into poverty and homelessness because of unjust systems that privilege me, it means that I have to speak out. When I know that people are hungry and I can order take out anytime I want, I have to change my habits. I know that I try to hide, build a cocoon of comfort around myself so that I don’t have to see, but when I do that, I miss Jesus. When I don’t see my neighbor but only see myself, I miss seeing Jesus, God with us in the world. I miss the truth of my life that God is at the center of it all, and I am not.

I don’t know what this year will bring, and that’s a good thing. It’s all unknown to us as it should be. But what isn’t unknown to us is God’s love for us and all creation. What is true is that God will be in our midst, at the center of everything as God always has been. God will continue to make Godself known to the world, for the sake of love, life, grace and mercy in all the universe. May we know this truth, live this truth and be this truth. Happy New Year. Amen.

 

Let It Be With Me Sermon on the Annunciation Luke 1 December 18, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Dec. 20, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
Luke 1: 46-55
Luke 1: 26-38

“How can this be?” is a question I’ve asked nearly everyday in 2020. Sometimes I’ve whispered it in fear or sorrow, sometimes I’ve expressed it in relief or acknowledgment of my relative safety and security, sometimes I’ve said it between clenched teeth of anger and incredulity. My emotions have run the gamut, as I’m sure yours have, as well. “How can this be?” pretty much sums up most of the world right now. How can it be we be losing over 3,000 people a day to COVID19 in this country? How can it be that racism and white supremacy are rampant, how can it be that we still be fighting over the basic human rights of people of color, women and LBGTQIA, how can we be this divided as a people trying to live together? How can it be that working people can’t afford housing and food, the basics of life, in the richest country in the world? How can it be that I haven’t seen any family for over a year? How can it be that while so many are struggling, I’m actually doing ok? How can it be that I’ve avoided this virus so far? How can it be that I’m so tired and perplexed?

This question on the lips of Mary in our Luke 1 text is a beloved passage known as the Annunciation. The announcement from the angel Gabriel is that God finds favor with this young, unwed, lowly woman from nowhere Nazareth. An announcement that she is so favored with God that the most dangerous thing that can happen to a first century Palestinian woman is about to take place: pregnancy. And not just any pregnancy, but out of wedlock pregnancy of God’s son. “How can this be?” is the kindest way for Mary to question the wisdom of this. Mary knows that she could be stoned to death for pregnancy out of wedlock. She knows that the maternal and infant mortality rate is at least 50% as more than likely she has witnessed women and babies dying. She knows how physically and socially vulnerable she is about to be.

The fact that we have this story at all should lead us to ask, “How can this be?” Luke is the only gospel writer to let Mary tell her own story in God’s story of redemption and salvation. John barely mentions Mary the mother of Jesus, and Matthew and Mark, talk about Mary, but never let her speak for herself. It is very typical in a highly patriarchal society for the stories of women to be ignored and forgotten. Mary’s only status is attached to her father, her husband, or her son. So, the fact that the writer of Luke gives such extensive space to not only Mary, but Elizabeth, is remarkable. Luke’s very gospel gives insight as to what God is up to in and through Jesus Christ. God is upending the structures and societal norms of the world and uncovers the truth behind our questions of “How can this be?” The truth of how it should be and how it will be in God’s kin-dom, if we let it.

Gabriel responds to Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God,” and Mary’s perspective shifted. In that moment, Mary could see beyond her own questions, her own legitimate worries and fears, and enter into the mystery of life with God. She realized that whatever God was up to needed to start with her. I like to think that it wasn’t that she was no longer afraid but was afraid and said yes anyway. Mary isn’t braver than we are, or more intuitive. I really don’t think she’s that different from us. What makes Mary the exemplar of discipleship, is that she shows us what simply taking the next faithful step looks like, even when you don’t have all the information or you are afraid. Mary takes her “How can this be?” and turns it into “Let it be with me.” In her response of “let it be with me,” Mary is opening herself up to the possibilities of God’s past actions of liberation and redemption breaking into the world again. Mary’s “Let it be with me” is an acknowledgment of all that she doesn’t know and understand about God’s vision for the world but her willingness to be moved forward. Her “let it be with me” is followed by her song of praise, the Magnificat, where she names what God has done before and will do again to right the world for justice, peace, equity and wholeness. Mary’s “let it be with me,” is rooted in her faith in God’s promises from the past and for the future.

“Let it be with me,” is not often a phrase that falls from my mouth. I get stuck in the “how can this be?” and find it hard to move forward. I want to simply rail against the structures and systems that cause me to ask the “how can it be?” and forget that I’m part of those structures and systems. I don’t stop and look for what God is up to, to trust that “nothing will be impossible with God.” What would happen if I shifted and prayed, “Let it be with me”? How does that change my perspective to see that I am enough to make a difference in the world? How does that move me forward to participate in God’s kin-dom?

So God, let it be with me that I speak out for those being harmed by economic disparities. Let it be with me to stand against greed and consumerism. Let it me with me to give generously what I have. Let it be with me to offer grace when I’m feeling uncharitable. Let it be with me to trust you even when I don’t. Let it be with me to take the next faithful step when I’m feeling vulnerable. Let it be with me to step aside for other voices to be heard. Let it be with me to not be sucked into pettiness and fear. Let it be with me for your mercy and grace flood the world. Let it be with me for hate, bigotry and anger to be no more. Let it be with me to love people how you do, completely and fully, just as they are. Let it be with me to be moved by your love. So God, let it be with me. Amen.

 

Being Surrounded: A sermon for Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, NM December 13, 2020

I had the honor to preach for Peace Lutherand in Las Cruces NM for their midweek Advent 3 worship on Dec. 18, 2020. The text was Psalm 125.

Grace and peace to you beloveds at Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces! I am privileged and honored to share a word of God with you this third week of Advent. I serve Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Salt Lake City, Utah and my congregation sends their love and greetings to you. You might know, if you’re a geology buff, that Salt Lake City sits in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges on both sides. To the west, we have the Oquirrh’s and to the east, the Wasatch. No matter where you look, you can see mountains. It protects SLC and the valley from extreme weather for the most part but also makes it difficult for polluted air to be moved out. Being surrounded by mountains is sometimes helpful and sometimes a challenge. What we are surrounded by matters.

Being surrounded resonates with me in this time. Right now, we are surrounded by circumstances beyond our control: political divisions and conflicts in our society, the sin and injustice of racism and white supremacy, and of course from the reality of the COVID19 virus. A few months ago, I didn’t really know anyone who was affected by it, and now, I’m surrounded by people who have dealt with the disease in one aspect or another. I feel surrounded by the economic, health and death realities of a pandemic. I feel surrounded, as everywhere I look, I see the trials and challenges of our world. I crave to surround myself in what I think is safety and security.

So, I attempt to surround myself with what I think will bring protection and peace: people, environments and material objects. I surround myself with people who affirm my thinking and beliefs, I surround myself in a neighborhood where I’m comfortable, I surround myself with plenty of food, with Amazon deliveries, and with Netflix shows. I surround myself so that the realities of the world can be pushed aside, ignored, put on a shelf, and not be in my line of sight to bother me. But when I surround myself with distractions and false security, I can look past who and what I am actually surrounded by.

The psalmist who prayed Psalm 125, knew what it was to be surrounded. Ancient Jerusalem was nearly always under siege somehow and while yes, it was surrounded by mountains, the inhabitants couldn’t let their guard down and those mountains weren’t a guarantee or foolproof protection. They had to be vigilant as to who might be surrounding them at any given time. This led to living with heightened anxiety and the knowledge that their land was always at risk of being occupied by an invader. The Israelites lived most of their day to day lives surrounded by people who didn’t share their faith and belief in the one God, Yahweh, and they would have been tempted to act and take on the behaviors of the people who surrounded them.

But the psalmist offers another way to think of being surrounded. Yes, they are surrounded by circumstances beyond their control that might seem hopeless, but they are also surrounded by the love and mercy of God. The Lord surrounds them with the truth of being God’s people, that even when life looks bleak, God is at work. God has acted for them in the past and they must trust that God will act again. Being surrounded by loss, suffering and death won’t be the last word.
In Advent, we center ourselves on this truth-that we are indeed surrounded, by God’s promise of surrounding us with the love, mercy and grace as made real in the birth of Jesus. Jesus who entered the world surrounded by smelly animals and shepherds, surrounded by powers and principalities who wanted him dead from the time he was born, surrounded by the songs of angels, and surrounded by the love and care of Mary and Joseph. Jesus came into the world to surround us with the truth of God’s unending and unconditional love for humanity and all creation.
So we surround ourselves in this reality, we trust that when we feel surrounded by events and circumstances that threaten our very lives, we are surrounded by the love and care of each other, from Utah to New Mexico, and we are surrounded by God’s presence, promises and mercy through Jesus Christ. We are indeed surrounded, and we give thanks to God. You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

Who Are You? Advent 3B Sermon December 11, 2020

This sermon was preached on December 13, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 126
Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
John 1: 6-8, 19-28

How many of you hear the words “we’re going to start with an icebreaker” at a meeting or gathering and have a slight shudder go down your back? Yeah, most of us don’t find those contrived “get to know you” activities very enjoyable. Often because they entail doing or saying something that isn’t authentic to us or puts us on the spot with the feeling that we need to perform, to be who others think we are or an image we want to project. It’s just plain awkward. Yet, I confess to continuing to do them in some fashion with children, youth and adults, because despite the awkwardness and pitfalls, as it is important that somehow, we learn who the other people are. Done well, ice breakers can reveal connections, give insights to people’s gifts and worldviews, foster communication skills, and build closer relationships. If we don’t know who people are, we run the risk of false assumptions, judgments, and missteps occurring. Getting to know who people are is vital in any community. And while ice breakers don’t probe the inner lives of people, but they do build trust and confidence that people can be heard, understood and seen for who they really are and not who other’s assume they are. It can free people to be themselves.

Identity, who we are, is a question that has reverberated through the millennia from philosophers such as Socrates and Plato to Descartes, to the self-help industry that exploded in the late 20th century to the present. We link our identity to a myriad of facets: appearance, vocation, education, family, friends, religious organizations, etc. We try and create or recreate our identity at certain junctures in our lives. We like to think that we can reinvent ourselves, recreate who we are, and to a certain extent perhaps we can. Yet, who we truly are, at our core, buried under the layers of appearance and actions, is often a mystery even to ourselves. It’s like we need the ultimate ice breaker to get to know who we are for us, apart from the labels and compartments that other people put us in and we sometimes even agree to. When we chip away at those pieces-what’s left?

I think that the priests and the Levites could have used a good ice breaker or two in their initial conversations with John the baptizer in our gospel passage this week. I have the image in my mind’s eye of this group of men, looking slightly puzzled and agitated, simply walking up to John and blurting out “who are you?” Maybe it was smoother than that, but the gospel writer doesn’t offer any insights that it went differently. And really, it’s the epitome of brazenness and entitlement to waltz up to someone and demand an accounting of who they are. I’m amazed at John the baptizer’s nonplussed response “I am not the Messiah.” John doesn’t answer with a litany of his own accomplishments or pedigrees, but with who he is not. In clarifying his own identity, he starts with who he isn’t and won’t be. Twice more the priests and the Levites press him for who he is, or really, who does he think he is? Are you the Messiah, Elijah or a prophet? The priests and the Levites use up all of their guesses in an attempt to make John fit into their paradigm of how God works and through whom God will work. This weird guy from a nowhere town, living in the middle of the desert, baptizing people with some sort of authority, isn’t it.
John’s humility is extraordinary here. Many of us would get triggered by the constant questioning of our relative value and would defend ourselves. John is clear that he is who he is called to be, the one who will witness, testify and point to the one who God is sending as the Messiah. John won’t be put in the box of who others might want him to be, or even think they need him to be. John stays centered in knowing that his identity, his value, who he is, all rests on one thing: his relationship to God who gives life, breath, and meaning. He doesn’t need to pad his resume to be taken seriously, John is comfortable, naming the truth, that he is simply the voice, the one to announce who is coming and then get out of the way. John is who he is in relationship to the power of God loose in the world. John is the ice breaker if you will, the one who says that the way of God for all the earth is coming, who’s voice prepares us for the One, Jesus, who calls us God’s own, who comes to tell us who we are in the life of God: God’s great joy.
This simple statement is indeed good news and reveals the complexity of who we are.  This statement of humanity as God’s great joy, takes an ice pick to the other identities that people claim for us or we claim for ourselves. It chips away the falsehoods of hierarchy, labels, and segregation. It melts the arbitrary divisions of race, gender and economic statuses. It also cracks open the reality that we are not God, we are not the ones with the answers, and our way is not God’s way. John shows us that it’s important to know who we are and who we are not.
Who we are, is who’s we are. We belong to God, we are people for whom God risks being with us in a frail human body, and we are people invited into Jesus’ work of restoration and jubilee: proclaim liberty to the captives, of binding up the broken hearted, release of prisoners, comfort mourners, and bring good news to the oppressed. For these are the people for whom Jesus also proclaims are God’s great joy. Yes, God’s great joy are people who are unhoused, on death row, who are addicts, who are sex workers, who value money over people, who silence voices they disagree with, and people who struggle with mental health. You see, the is the scandal of God dwelling among us, Jesus in our midst, is that the ice is broken between ourselves, each other and God, our frozen hearts are melted, and we are freed from our own misconceptions about others and ourselves, to gaze upon each other with Christ’s vision of who you are and who we all are: God’s great joy forever. Amen.

 

Little Comfort Sermon for Advent 2 December 4, 2020

This sermon was preached on Dec. 6, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

*The written manuscript contains coarse lanuage that may not be suitable for all ages. This language is NOT in the recording. But it’s an honest account of the dialogue.

The texts were:

Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13
Isaiah 40: 1-11
Mark 1: 1-8

It seems right now in our world that there is little comfort. We look around for what might make us feel secure, hopeful, or safe and it’s scarce. We see death tolls mounting, people suffering long term effects of a new virus, thousands of cars lined up to receive food assistance, a surge of unhoused people, continued violence and oppression of a people who only want the humanity,  justice and equality denied to them for over 400 years, and politicians on every side posturing for their own gain and comfort and not for care of people. There seems to be little to give us comfort. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be uncomfortable if I can help it and it’s uncomfortable to watch other people be uncomfortable so I do whatever I can to maintain the comfort of myself and everyone around me. So I avoid difficult conversations, binge on Netflix, snack on chips and guac, hide out in my beautiful new home office and read all the books I’ve been buying off of Amazon. But there’s a fine line between comfort and denial.

Comfort is a tricky concept, and there have been more times in my life than I can count when I’ve been uncomfortable: being the new girl at school every two years or so (sometimes less), first day of college, graduate school, jobs, parenting, and, I don’t put this in sermons much, but it’s apropos here, I’m permanently uncomfortable with missing our child who died, Ben. When he died, so many people watched my discomfort and wanted to avoid it or fix it. Some brought meals, cards, flowers, spoke words like “it will be ok,” “you won’t always be this sad,” which were kind and appreciated actions but sometimes people also avoided talking to me or even looking at me and if they did, said really unhelpful things like “God needed another angel,” “God has a purpose for this” or “God is teaching you something.” To be clear, God didn’t need another angel and no God doesn’t use a 15-month old to teach his 32 year-old mother “a lesson.” I learned that when people offered platitudes that those words were more about the other person’s discomfort, their need to distance themselves hoping this horrible thing couldn’t happen to them. And I learned that all of the well-intentioned help didn’t really bring comfort. No one could fix this and pretending that they could or pretending that it didn’t happen, brought my family and me little comfort. A few weeks after Ben died, I had gone back to work at St. Matthew Lutheran church and was having a hard day. I went into Pastor Jim’s office and just sat silently slumped in a chair. He studied at me for a few minutes and said, “this is bullshit isn’t it?” “Yes!” I cried, so much bullshit! (*I said “crap” when I preached this….) and we spent the next 30 minutes proclaiming with every expletive we knew how horrible Ben’s death was. And you know what? I felt comforted. Because the truth of my pain, suffering and sorrow was named, given the space that it deserved and acknowledged. Because Pr. Jim was willing to sit in the discomfort with me and not try and fix it. I learned that real comfort, is naming truth and not being alone. Attempting to give comfort that doesn’t name the truth, or isolates a person, only leads to more discomfort, pain and suffering.

This is a truth that God knows and understands. When Isaiah proclaims “Comfort, O Comfort my people,” he’s not saying that it’s time to find a cozy blanket, a television show and chips, he’s saying that God is naming the truth of the Israelites situation-the sins that they committed resulted in these harsh consequences that perhaps had gone too far. The comfort that is needed is for the Israelites to hear, acknowledge and then act on is the truth that God is serious about how they lived together and treated each other, and that worrying about one’s own needs isn’t actually comfort. Isaiah also names the truth that the people are flaky and inconsistent and likely to stumble again. And yet, there is the comfort of the truth is that God is present and where God is, grace, mercy, love and hope are also present for all. “Here is your God,” Isaiah proclaims, God is here, with you in your discomfort, and in the truth of who you are and whose you are.

The truth of the matter is that we try to comfort ourselves. We substitute false, quick, cheap and easy comfort for the true comfort that comes from God. When true comfort comes, it names the truth, the truth of who we are and what God’s coming kin-dom means for us all. It lays us bare, like a desolate desert, and reveals the fact that we have been trying to hide from God’s truth because it’s painful, hard, and will require something from us. John the baptizer declares that we have to face the truth of the consequences of our actions, confession and repentance, for healing to begin. And it’s not individual, it’s communal, it’s always about all of us together. God’s truth is that all people, from every corner of the earth, from the rural country sides, the cities, the suburbs, are gathered equally in the comfort of the God’s presence. The good news of Jesus Christ, God with us, is found in the least of these, in the wilderness, in the poor, in the disenfranchised, in the silenced. The truth that this good news of Jesus is here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Being comfortable by worldly standards of wealth, status, power, isn’t the comfort that Jesus brings. Jesus brings the comfort of truth telling that frees us from own false comforts in our racial, gender and sexual orientation caste system, from consumerism, capitalism, hierarchy, self-agency and autonomy. Jesus names the truth that these comforts only lead to the discomfort and reality of communal oppression and death.

Jesus does indeed come to bring comfort, true comfort for our lives. The truth that we are a captive to sin and cannot free ourselves, the truth that we have harmed and not loved our neighbor or ourselves in the things that we have done and left undone. The truth that we contribute and fall prey to the idols of false comfort in our midst. And the truth that we can step into the discomfort of our brokenness to receive the comfort of God’s grace and mercy, together, as one people. Jesus comes to us each day, to reveal the truth that he dwells with us in the discomfort of humanity’s suffering, to be with us and surround us with God’s comfort. Jesus comforting truth is God’s kin-dom is coming: that the world will turn upside down and those of us who think that the world will always be as it is with some holding all the power and others disempowered are about to be shown something new where power is not to be hoarded but shared, where rhetoric doesn’t separate but words heal. The comforting truth to those on the outside, on the bottom rungs will be brought up and filled and those who stand as mountains will be leveled. Jesus reveals the comforting truth that no matter our discomfort, we are loved today and forever. This is comfort and good news indeed.

 

These Are Days Sermon on Mark13 November 27, 2020

This sermon was preached on Nov. 29, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Isaiah 64: 1-9
Mark 13: 24-37

I’m a date person, and by that, I mean that I am typically fairly conscious of special dates, either as anniversaries or in anticipation of a significant date. This has its pros and cons. In the “pro” column, I’m a planner and I’m rarely caught by surprise of something happening that I wasn’t in some way ready for. In the “con” column is that I can become so hyper focused on what’s coming that I’m not fully present in day to day life. I suppose I could be accused of “wishing days away,” from time to time and waiting “for the day to come.” Such as I couldn’t wait for the day to come when four years of graduate school would end (who can blame me?) Or couldn’t wait for the day to come when pregnancy would end and I would hold my babies (again, who can blame me?). Or today, waiting for the day to come that ends the COVID19 mess and we’ll be able to get back to living our lives the way we want. It doesn’t seem all bad to look forward for the day to come does it? There are sometimes that waiting for the day to come is exciting and expectant such as holidays, graduations, weddings, or births, but for most of our lives that “waiting for the day to come” is much more nebulous and anxious, such as the waiting for the day to come when children are grown and moved out, or when age or disease might take a loved one, or we ourselves will die. In many ways, the harsh and frightening days to come are the ones that preoccupy us the most, as we try to predict when that day might come, how to avoid it or make it less devastating. We can be so preoccupied with the days coming that we forget to notice the days that are already here. Worrying about the days to come can cloud our vision of the right now and paralyze us from living today. We miss the joy and wonder that is present. We miss the people who are right in front of us. We turn the days we’re in into nothing more than obstacles to be overcome. Yet, when I look back to graduate school, or pregnancies, yes, the day mattered, but the days leading up to it are also precious in my memory. All those days made the culmination more meaningful. To quote singer/song writer Natalie Merchant “these are days you’ll remember.” (10,000 Maniacs, “These Are Days” 1992)

We’re in a liturgical and a cultural season where we can easily become focused on the day to come, that is December 25. From Thanksgiving Day forward the whole trajectory of the next four or so weeks points to that day. We light candles each week as a way to mark the time, we might have a chocolate Advent calendar to count down, we check to do items off our Christmas lists, all in view of a day to come. And yet, often that day comes, we wonder where December went, or why we’re so tired, or behind in other tasks. I can get to Dec. 25 unable to really remember much from the previous frantic month. I wonder what it would be to mark this season without being preoccupied with the end date to come.

As humans, worrying about the day to come, the end, is well documented. In our Isaiah passage, the Israelites are preoccupied for the day when God’s presence will be known in their midst. They are concerned about the day when God will show up and make everything the way that they want it to be. They wanted God’s hand to cause the mountains to tremble and quake, the earth to boil, and for God to perform wonderous and mighty deeds such as in the Exodus story with plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. They wanted that day to come when other nations will be at the Israelites mercy, and they were vindicated. They wanted no more days in exile and only looked for that end day to come.

The gospel writer of Mark’s fledgling community of Jesus followers were also looking for an end day to come. They were living through an extremely violent and volatile time when the Israelites had won some independence from Rome for a bit only to have Rome come in and completely devastate Jerusalem, including destroying the Temple. Mark’s community was in grave peril, low on life’s necessities, safety and hope. Mark bolstered his community with the words and stories of Jesus. Many in the community were simply passively praying for Jesus to return, for God to take care of all this, for at this time many people believed that Jesus’ return was imminent.  And some were growing discouraged of waiting and completely gave up on following Jesus at all. These two responses to the day to come when Jesus would return, Mark knew that wasn’t the point of Jesus life, death or resurrection. So he recounts in chapter 13 a corrective to what Jesus says we do while we are waiting for the day to come.

Jesus is clear that God’s kingdom is indeed coming but in focusing on the end, like the Israelites, we actually might miss what God is doing in these days. Preoccupation with Jesus’ return date, or for a date of a vaccine or a date of change of leadership, will seduce us to thinking that today, these days, don’t matter. But these days do matter, Jesus says, as these are days when we can see God’s work continuing around us. These are days we work with God to ensure that no one is denied adequate healthcare, housing, or food. These are days when we do God’s work to amplify marginalized voices whom some in power want silenced. These are days where we work with God to reveal where God’s kingdom is already here: in the Holladay interfaith worship service, in Crossroads Urban Center distributing over 3000 turkeys, in OSLC supporting ELCA Good Gifts, in writing cards for immigrant children with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, in Zoom calls with loved ones, less focus on materials things, and more focus on people. Jesus says be awake, aware to these days and notice with our eyes, our ears, and our hearts God’s work in our midst and join in. Don’t wait for the end days to experience and share God’s love, hope and mercy, that’s already here in these days. God is here in these days for us all.

 

Don’t Look Away Sermon on Reign of Christ Sunday November 20, 2020

This sermon was proclaimed on Nov. 22, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts for Christ the King Sunday were:

Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Matthew 25: 31-46

Have you heard of the “red car” phenomena? It goes something like this: You decided that you want to buy a red car, and suddenly, it’s all that you see. You notice how many red cars are in your neighborhood, at work, for sale, etc. This psychology works in all kinds of ways. Once, as a child, I wanted a certain doll and that commercial for the doll was on all the time so I thought that meant I should have it. That is not what that meant, by the way.But something gets your attention and then it’s all that you can see. And once you notice, you can’t unsee it. Often it is positive such as an object that might truly be useful to us and other times, it’s something we wish we had never seen, such as a tragedy. We might think that it’s not good to see those negative situations and try to sweep it under a rug. But often, once we know, it doesn’t just go away. And we all know that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
This year has given us much that we can’t unsee. Things that we didn’t or refused to see before now. We can’t unsee disparity of responses to a deadly disease, where often money was prioritized over health and well-being of people. We can’t unsee communities of color, Native American and immigrant communities ravaged at an alarming rate from COVID19 versus white communities. We can’t unsee low wage workers suddenly become essential or unsee the growing numbers of infected and or the dead stacked up in morgue trailers or put in unmarked graves. We can’t unsee the final straw in institutional racism and white supremacy break as people can’t unsee George Floyd calling out to his mother as he was murdered. We can’t unsee the long lines at food banks, or the people facing losing housing or the effects of climate change destroying communities. And maybe that’s the point.

In our gospel text today, there is a lot going on, and to add more freight to the passage, it’s Christ the King Sunday. As a fairly new liturgical holiday, (and if I’m honest, not my favorite as the “king” language seems a bit patriarchal, colonial and hierarchal and gives me hives) it originated less than 100 years ago by a Pope Pius XI in an attempt to build a coalition of resistance to the rise of fascism he was witnessing in the world. He declared a Sunday (originally in the spring) to be Christ the King or the Reign of Christ Sunday. He was very concerned about what he was seeing with people professing their faith in and allegiance to authoritarian charismatic leaders rather than to God. Or worse, conflating that leader with God’s will. The intent was a Sunday to reflect and confess that God is sovereign and people are not. A day to recalibrate political views and hearts to what God sees and desires for God’s creation. The Pope’s hope, perhaps naïve hope, is that people would see and understand the harm happening and remember that they follow a God of love. It was his attempt to halt what would take place in the 30’s and 40’s with xenophobia, genocide, racism, homophobia, war, and hate, all supported and even sanctioned by many institutional churches. Not all churches, it’s true, but too many stayed silent or spoke out too late against these atrocities. In the end it was clear that the Church was complicit in the suffering and oppression that the church is supposed to alleviate. The Church looked away while 6 million people: Jews, LBGTQIA, refugees and supposed traitors went to death camps. They looked away while whole countries and communities were decimated. They looked away while people went hungry, unclothed, and languished from disease and torture. They look away from the rising black smoke from burning bodies in the crematorium. They looked toward their own comfort, safety, and security. They looked toward proximity to power and authority. They looked to ensure their own future and prosperity. They looked to be their own king in their lives. This is what Pope Pius didn’t want to see.

They forgot, as we do, that they serve a different kind of king, or really the anti-king. A king who renounces his own power and authority, a king who is put to death for boldly hanging out with the powerless and seeking to protect them from suffering, a king who sees the world not for what it can offer him but what he can offer the world. A king who sees the world as it should be, not as it is. Most of the world, particularly those with power and status, clearly didn’t truly see Jesus. To see Jesus is to see the world differently. It’s to look beyond oneself and not look away when harm is being done.

Interestingly, in Matthew 25 neither the sheep nor the goats, knew when they had seen Jesus. They both asked, “When did we see you and when did we not see you?” Jesus simply states that we see Jesus when we see people whom we don’t want or refuse to see. You see, when we see Jesus, we have to see everyone who comes along with Jesus. Jesus was always with the wrong crowd, the authorities said, the people who weren’t considered upstanding members of society, according to arbitrary rules. But it’s those people who Jesus saw, and knew by name. People who have been incarcerated, who live without housing, people on borders shoved together in overcrowded cells, people who suffer from addiction, people with disabilities. We can’t see Jesus and not see the whole community of Jesus. And not just see them, but be in relationship and learn their names, their lives, their wisdom and work together to relieve the suffering of all.

What we forget is that Jesus sees us, too, our wholes selves, each intricate piece of us, the part of us that is a sheep and the part of us that is a goat. Jesus doesn’t want us to be separated into categories or separated within ourselves. Jesus wants us to be whole, to be one, as that is how Jesus sees us-all people and creation-together. Not as sheep or goats, or rich or poor, or hungry or too well fed, healthy or sick. Jesus understands that we all suffer when we separate and categorize one another and ourselves. We languish in our own incompleteness in not recognizing gifts in people whom we assume don’t have anything to offer us. Jesus is an “anti-king” who can give us the vision of how we should see and understand the value not only in ourselves but in all people and the world. Jesus sees and calls us to this God vision.

Yes, it’s hard, yes we will be uncomfortable. It is risky to see the world this way, as it will compel us to act and others may try and separate from us. But that’s what it is to see, be a part of Christ’s reign of fulfilling love and belong to Jesus’ anti-kingdom, it’s to see and belong to the one body of Christ, a living, breathing, acting and loving force that refuses to not look away from who and what matters to Jesus and in Christ’s kingdom and kin-dom. May we only see Jesus.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.