A Lutheran Says What?

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

It’s a New Year AND I Don’t Want To Be New! January 1, 2023

As we slide into 2023 (literally here in SLC as it has dumped a foot of snow today!), my social, tv and radio medias are burying me with the message of “a new year means a new you.” I have to admit that a “new me” sounds pretty good most days. I would love to be new! New hips and knees (mine ache a bit from age), new brain cells (I fear that they are depleting), new skin (how can I have acne and wrinkles at the same time?). The list goes on as not much is “new” in my 50 year old body, except of course, my new menopause symptoms (tired, curly hair, my squishy middle), and the new aforementioned aches and pains. Yeah, maybe those ads are on to something.

At the turn of each new year, we look back on the previous year (and woo boy the last few years have been a RIDE!) and place our hopes into the “new.” New year, new month, new season, new diet, new lifestyle, new clothes (my weakness-I love new clothes), whatever will entice us to sweep the old under ye ole proverbial rug and never speak of it again. But what’s that little phrase about history…oh that’s right: “those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We have such a penchant for “new” in our country’s culture that we eschew anything older than a nanosecond. Fashion, media, vocabulary, cars, houses, and yes, even people. We instinctually know this and literally buy into the psychology of new for ourselves. Our old 2022 bodies aren’t good enough, our clothes are now outdated, as is our home, our job, relationships, etc. I, for one, have made many a new years resolution that I didn’t keep. I will eat less, exercise more, read more, work harder, be a better parent, finish my book (maybe this is the year?), whatever I think will make me new, make me over, make me into someone else.

But here’s what I’ve learned, I can’t be someone else, and neither can you. I don’t want to be someone else and I don’t want you to be someone else either. Yes, you, even if I have never met you. You see, God created you: you. Yes, you, with addictions, jiggly thighs, sacrastic sense of humor, offended easily, cry too much or not enough, laugh too loudly, take life too seriously, extravagant, cheap, detailed, visionary, tidy, messy, you. You are you and your only mission, purpose, is to be you, and to be the healthiest, grounded, integrated, whole, you as possible. And by the way, it’s not possible to be perfect. That’s part of being you, and me. If I tried to be totally new, I would leave behind all that I have learned about being me, being human, created in God’s own image that obviously includes being short with glasses. I would also leave you behind and all that I have learned about you and your humanity and divinity.

Maybe there is something that needs to change to make you healthier, able to engage in your precious sacred life more fully. I know for me, my red wine has to go. I don’t feel my best with it, so it’s not for me. Maybe there is something that isn’t for you, or working for you in your life, and yes, then that should shift. This isn’t about holding on to the old for the sake of the old, but it’s recognizing that new isn’t always better, new doesn’t equate with happiness, or joy or wholeness. The old you that you bring with you to 2023, has a lot of wisdom, grace, scars of learning, laugh lines, and all the love that fills you. This is the same love in which God created you, all of you. And yes, Jesus talks about making all things new, but this isn’t about erasing the past, or people, or you. The old is the foundation, the old you is from where you begin this new year and each new day. You bring your old self, and all your gifts, into the new moment for the sake of a you that grows, deepens, connects and loves. When we each come with our fullest old selves, there are indeed new possibilities for greater wholeness. If you tried to be new, someone else, you’re slicing away vital and necessary pieces of yourself that the world needs, that I need.

In this new year, I don’t want to be new, but more fully me. And I don’t want you to be new either, I want you to be you and for us to be fully in community with each other.
Here’s to a 2023 of connnection and building the beloved community based on the old, old story of divine love. Happy New Year beloved people!

*Also, many of you know that I choose a word for the year to ponder and live into. My word is “enjoy.” For me, this means finding joy in the mundane, the everyday and even in what I wouldn’t choose. What do you want to live into this year?

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Prepared or Present? Reflections on the Christmas season and God in our midst December 26, 2022

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If you know me at all, then you know I’m a planner. I still keep a paper calendar, I make lists, and I am constantly considering what I need to do in what order for life to flow seamlessly with the least amount of disruption and chaos. You also know that I have a spouse and children so you know, I have lots of practice at the unexpected. Planning for the unexpected has led me to over pack for trips, as I want to have what I might need for every contingency, and I carry a large purse for the same reason. I never want to be caught off guard. And yet…in all this planning, scheming, managing, and overthinking, I find that I am so focused on what might happen next, or what *could* happen next that I’m not fully experiencing what is happening in the here and now. My pesonality is such that being fully present and not worrying about the future isn’t my natural state of being anyway, and I find that I miss connections, details in conversations, and the simple moments as my mind races ahead to what’s next. I am disconnected from life around me and even sometimes from myself.

The holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Years, for me is essentially a doubling down on planning, worrying about what’s next, what I haven’t done, decorated, bought, or mailed. Each year, I get to Christmas exhausted, stressed and disembodied.

So when three days before Christmas my 23 year old, Ash, asked us if their girlfriend, whom we’ve never met, could stay with us Christmas Eve, it took me a minute to reconsider my plans. Of course the answer was yes, and it meant some last minute changes to our planning, including ensuring that there were presents underneath the tree for her. AND THEN: on Dec 23, the day my daughter, her wife, and Ash were supposed to fly in, they sent a picture from the car captioned “here we come.” Well, the “we” was four….girlfriend coming in a day early. What? We didn’t have a plan for that!

I was pondering about all of this preparation and planning basically being for naught, as life will happen as it will happen and our children rarely adhere to our planning and ideas and felt a kinship with Mary, the mother of Jesus. She and Joseph probably had a differnt plan for the birth of their first child than a several day journey out of town, a room filled with animals, without any family or friends around for support. The shepherds probably had a different plan that night than seeing angels fill the sky, leaving their sheep alone in the fields and running to find a newborn in a tiny town. They all had different plans for their lives, and that night. But they all gave up on their plans to be present. Mary had no choice but to be fully present in as her body was wracked with labor pains. Joseph was fully present by Mary’s side as this frightening, gory and majestical event unfolded. The shepherds pivoted their presence from their sheep to the Lamb of God. For here came the son of God, as God had planned, to be present in their midst.

God doesn’t have specific, detailed plans for us or the world that read out like a treasure map or a blueprint, but God does promise to be fully present in whatever is happening in our life, whether it’s going according to our plan or not. Often when I’m left bewildered by what I have planned being altered, I am left only with what is actually happening, the here and the now, and the people immediately around me. It’s not about my elaborate plans, or my detailed execution, but about my willingness to show up, be present and fully in the moment, even if it’s not perfectly planned. Ash’s girlfriend didn’t care that we hadn’t planned presents for her, but she felt loved by our presence, to pull her into our midst, our story. We were unprepared, but present with our wholeselves.

Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, were unprepared but present with every fiber of their beings, to bear witness to God’s presence with the world, Emmanuel, God with us. God isn’t looking at our calendars, our lists, our plans. God isn’t interested in my preparations or planning. God is simply wanting to be present with me, with us, with creation, today and forever. Thanks be to God.

 

Just Breathe: A Sermon for Advent 1 and Thank You November 27, 2022

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on November 27, 2022. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. It is the first week of Advent and we are in a sermon series: Make Way for Holy Disruption. The texts were: Genesis 2: 4b-7, Psalm 40: 3-7, Isaiah 40: 1-5 and Hebrews 11: 1-3

Young Friends Message: Our breath is very important isn’t it? Unless it’s really cold outside, we can’t really see our breath. We can see candles blow out or bubbles form when we use our breath. Our breath is very important, as it comes from God! Did you hear the first story about God breathing into the first person and making them come alive? Pretty cool! Our breath is what makes us move, and talk and sing, and dance, and love. We can’t do anything without our breath, and our breath comes from God, so we can’t really do anything without God! Try holding your breath again and talking. We can’t do it! So if our breath is from God, it’s pretty special, what we call sacred. That means that we do with our breath should be special too. In our psalm today, we read that God gives us a new song to sing that tells of how great God’s love for the world and us, is. A new song, or a new beginning. As you might know, today is my last day to with you, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t love you! I want you to know that today is a new beginning for us all with God, and we will each have a new song to sing. When Judy and Dave teach you a new song, how do you feel? A little frustrated, scared, worried? Yeah, that’s normal. The first thing you do to learn a new song is to take a deep breath. And that is always a good place to start! After a while, the new song, becomes familiar. That’s how new songs work. Every song we know really well, started out as a song we didn’t know. I’m going to teach you a new song right now to remind us that we’re all connected and part of God’s world together. It’s called the community song: “It’s love, it’s love, it’s love that builds community, it’s love, it’s love, it’s love that builds community, it’s love it’s love, it’s love that builds community, it’s love that builds community….Oh roll over the ocean, roll over the sea, go and do your part to build community…or roll over the ocean, roll over the sea, go and do your part to build community.” We each use our breath to build God’s community everywhere we go! We’re going to talk a little more about that. But remember that God loves you always!

I want you to join me for a moment of breathing. Yes, I know you know how, but let’s be intentional about breathing together. You can close your eyes if you’d like, or simply soften your gaze a bit. Sit comfortably and notice your body in the pew, feet flat on the ground, relax your shoulders and face. Now breathe in for three counts….and out for three counts, Let’s do that again, and one more time. Just breathe. It seems so simple doesn’t it. Just breathe. Yet, holding our breath is often a sign of stress: emotional, physical or otherwise. I’m a trained birth doula and it’s common to remind laboring people to not hold their breath, as it’s a normal response to pain, but to breathe through it, especially in the phase of labor right before the baby is born, called transition. Just breathe. One breath at a time. Even if it’s painful, breathe through to the next moment. Just breathe.
We’re aware of all the ways that the life can “knock the wind” out of us, leave us breathless. After the past few years, we’ve never been more aware of our breath. From the cries of our Black siblings of “I can’t breathe,” choking on air pollution, a global pandemic that threatens our very ability to breathe, it feels collectively as humanity and a planet that we are gasping for air, struggling to breathe and the pain is enhanced. Panic rises in us and we hold our breath, anxious of what the next moment might bring and if we’ll be able to breathe through it. We hold our breath convinced that refusing to exhale will allow us to control the next moment and to conserve resources. We hold our breathe as if our next breath depends solely on ourselves, and we don’t want to waste our precious breath on what may be unnecessary at the least, or folly at the most. We forget where our breath originates. Despite COVD lessons, we forget that our breath is not our own, that our breath is shared, connected to one another and connected to creation. Breath is not just a biological function, it’s a creative act, that enables us to sing, dance, paint, write, love, speak, march, proclaim, and so much more. The effects of breath are what we experience. Each breath has so much potential.

God from the beginning has been a God of breath, a God of creativity, a God of potential. Life-giving breath to the earth creature, breath that animates all living creatures equally and justly. Breath that is sacred as it’s a promise of wholeness and holiness from God who from the beginning, shared breath for more life. With each breath the new earth creature drew in, they were breathing in God, God’s very presence. This presence summoned a response from the earth creature and has summoned responses with each breath of a human and creature since. The Psalmist who sang words of praise and wonder of God. The Prophet who exhaled proclamation of comfort, leveling of structures and God’s glory. The early followers of Jesus, God’s Word breathing and made flesh, breathed new life into dying systems. With each generation, God’s people echo to us, Just Breathe. Inhale, and exhale something new, new moment, a new word, a new song, a new beginning, new life.
On the first Sunday of Advent we inhale and exhale the new liturgical year and a new beginning for us both. A transition phase of something new waiting to be born. For you here at OSLC, it’s a new breath, a new song together. This would be true even if today weren’t my last day here, as each new breath is loaded with sacred potential and new life. As today is our last worship together as pastor and people, we just breathe in and exhale a new beginning. We don’t know where this new beginning will lead, but God promises to be present from our first breath to our last, and each breath in between. God is birthing something new in us, and in all creation. We have faith, that while we may not see all that God is birthing, we know that God is indeed creating, conspiring, inspiring for life abundant for us all. Like a birth doula, God is whispering in our ears to just breathe. One more breath, one more moment, now the next. Our ancestors breathed with God, from birthing new nations and communities, to healing and reconciliation. 

I thank you, faithful people of OSLC, for our time together. breathing, conspiring with the Holy Spirit, and being inspired by God’s limitless mercy. I thank you for teaching me a new song in the key of OSLC that I will take with me. I thank you for breathing life into the community through Buttons and Bows, Millcreek Elementary, Roma’s Playground, The Little Free Library, Family Promise, Linus Project, Senior Lunch, Crossroads Urban center, Utah Food Bank, our neighborhood, and so many places that I’m not naming, and it doesn’t mean that they are less important, only that I’m out of breath listing everything. I encourage you to not hold your breath in the time of transition, as this is the most important time to breathe as a birth is coming soon. Keep breathing, keep singing God’s praises, keep proclaiming God’s mercy, love and justice, keep breathing faith into the world. Dearest ones of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church: Just breathe. Amen.

 

Holding All Things Together: A Sermon for Reign of Christ Sunday November 20, 2022

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on November 20, 2022. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The Christ the King Sunday texts were: Jeremiah 23: 1-6, Colossians 1: 11-20 and Luke 23: 33-43.

Young Friends Message: Hand out a paper heart to each one. Ask them how we can put them together. Try laying them on the floor, but they can be easily disconnected, try other ideas of connecting them. “God understands that it’s hard for us to connect ourselves to one another. Even when we try really hard, it’s easier for us to be disconnected. But God wants us to be connected, to support one another, to love one another and care for one another. Today, in what we call Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate that Jesus is the kind of king who connects us. Jesus’ crown isn’t fancy or even his own, Jesus’ crown is about us, and how Jesus connects us. We read part of a letter just now to some people in Colossae a long, long, time ago, who were told that Jesus holds all things together, us, creation, everything! If anyone tries to tell you that you don’t belong, God says you do. To help us think about that, I have these labels that say…”JESUS.” We can use them to connect our paper hearts. This is what Jesus as a king does, connect us in love. Most people kings, or queens or other leaders, don’t connect us, but Jesus does! We connect our hearts to remind us that Jesus holds us together. We’re going to talk a little more about that.

It can feel as if we are barely holding it all together, personally, communally, globally. We feel stretched, frayed, and thread bare after the past few years of pandemic, racial reckoning, social upheaval, economic instability, mental health crises, and more. It seems that there is more ripping us apart than holding us together. The mass shooting early this mornings in a Colorado Springs club for LBGTQIA+ folx highlights this grim reality. And yes, although there are some bright spots of humanity working together, they tend to be the exception and not the rule. We hear speeches on how power and control is what is needed for unity to occur, and yes, some of these words are spoken with good intent. Yet, the rhetoric around these lofty goals quickly disintegrates into factions, ideologies, fears and scapegoats. Power and control leads to blaming suffering or disunity on certain groups who won’t homogenize or assimilate to what the powers say they should be. Marginalization and disempowerment of those groups, and their supporters, becomes a necessary vehicle for unity. You’ve heard all the denigrating and terrorizing racist, sexist, homophobic and antisemitic the tropes: immigrants are here for your jobs, refugees only want a free ride, Jewish people are controlling the media and the banks, women should not act or dress a certain way, Black folks are lazy, LBGTQIA+ folx are destroying families, and it goes on and on. Horiffically, this isn’t new or unique to our time. We’ve been disconnecting from ourselves, our own humanity for millennia.

To quote the great philosophers, ABBA, “the history book on the shelf, is always repeating itself.” As a nation and as a world, we have been here before, too many times to count really, and the seemingly unique conflation of a pandemic, economic crises, and the rise of fascism and autocrats is no exception. In the early 1920’s the world was recovering from the Spanish Flu pandemic, inaccurately named as it probably started in the United States, the end of the first World War the war to end all wars, economic uncertainty and the rebuilding of a decimated Europe. The intermingling of all these circumstances led to people looking for a strong leader, someone to tell them all would be well, that prosperity would be theirs again. Against their own best interests, the people began to elect leaders who did just that, who told them who was to blame for their hardships and promised to eradicate the “problems.” The immigrants, homosexuals, independent women, the disabled, Romani’s, and the Jews. These leaders would make their countries great again by holding these groups accountable for all of society’s ills. A hallmark of fascism is creating caste systems, such as in Nazi Germany, Jim Crow US, and India.

Pope Pious the XI looked at this trend and was rightfully worried. He watched as leaders divided and conquered, turning neighbor against neighbor, instilling suspicion, fear and even hatred of these groups or those spoke out in solidarity with them. The pope witnessed communities and families being torn apart and knew it could indeed get worse. Now, it wasn’t all altruism, as he was watching the Church’s power dwindle or be co-opted under this movement as well. But regardless of his motivation, he knew that letting all these people be persecuted simply for existing was against the teachings of the Church and of Christ himself.  He worried who might be targeted next. Pope Pious also knew that to not speak out on behalf of people being persecuted, to be silent, was to be complicit. And Pious understood that the Church must always be involved with how the world works, that it’s always been our call to bring in God’s Kingdom to the earth, as the Lord’s Prayer states. It’s only in modern American White Protestant piety where people get upset if the church speaks out and use her influence in how we live together.

To address this, he instituted Christ the King Sunday, also known as The Reign of Christ Sunday in 1925. Pope Pious knew that the Church, the people of God, should use their voices, their lives, their platform to unequivocally proclaim what and who holds all of us and all things together: Jesus, the true king.

So today, on the last Sunday of the liturgical Church year, we boldly speak God’s truth into a world that is obsessed with its own power, strength, status, wealth and territories. We speak the truth, as Jesus acknowledges on the cross, that we don’t always know what we are doing, and we do often work against the will of God to be in true oneness, Shalom, with each other.

We need forgiveness indeed as we confess that we are more comfortable with scapegoats being crucified so that we can transfer our own sins to someone else, than acknowledging our own propensity for violence, greed and hate. We get wrong that Jesus’ death on the cross is what saves us, it’s not. Jesus’ murder on a cross simply revealed the lengths to which we as humans will go to ensure that status quo, hierarchies, power and wealth is maintained. We’ll kill anyone who preaches Samaritan Lives Matter, Women’s Lives Matter, Poor People Lives Matter, Disabled Lives Matter, Enslaved Lives Matter, Children’s Lives Matter.  Jesus was murdered because he refused to let go of anyone. He refused to allow anyone to be treated as less than, to be isolated, to be denigrated. He refused to let the rich and powerful, you and I, off the hook as people who possess the power and resources to bolster our neighbors wellbeing, who are barely holding their lives together. Jesus’s murder was an attempt to thwart Jesus’ power of giving power away.
The writer of Colossians tells us that this is the true power of Jesus, to use his power to hold all things together. The power of God to turn our violence, our division and our hate into life doesn’t only come from Jesus’ death, but his resurrection from God. In God reversing death, bringing forth life for all through Jesus, God proclaimed that the powers of the world, won’t and can’t prevail. Not one of them can truly make anything or anyone great again, and great isn’t the point anyway. God through Jesus wants to make us whole again, one again, in harmony again, and holding us together in love again.

This is the power we emulate. The power of life who holds us together and doesn’t let go. Jesus holds us together so that we must face each other, each other’s sacred bodies, black bodies, brown bodies, female bodies, LBGTQIA+ bodies, disabled bodies, Muslim bodies, Jewish bodies, poor bodies and see them how Jesus does, worthy of freedom from violence, oppression and hate.  Jesus holds us together into the future, God’s future, where God’s Kingdom will come, holding it all together in love. Amen.

 

The Power of the Saints: All Saints Sunday November 6, 2022

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Nov. 6, 2022. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts for All Saints Sunday were: Daniel 7: 1-3, 15-18, Philippians 2: 1-11, Luke 6: 20-31

Young Friends Message: Which do you like better: to be hungry or full? Yes, me too! I don’t like to be hungry. My stomach gets all rumbly and I can be crabby and low energy and sometimes I don’t feel good. Now, being full means other things. If I’m full, I have energy, hopefully I’m still not crabby (no guarantees), and I should feel pretty good to do stuff. But sometimes when I’m full, I might also want to rest and take a nap, does that ever happen to you? Yeah…full or hungry, we might not always be productive. If I’m hungry, am I still Pastor Brigette? Yes! If I’m full, am I still Pastor Brigette? What if I’m sad? Or happy? Or poor with no money? Or with money? (I also which one I prefer…) I am me, no matter what I have or don’t have, whatever I’m feeling, or not feeling. Because who I am is a saint of God! And so are you! Being a saint doesn’t mean being perfect, or praying all the time, or reading your bible all the time, it means being loved by God. Jesus tells us today that some are poor, hungry, sad, rich, full, joyful, some people are well liked, or hated. But God says those are all parts of life-everyone’s life-and it doesn’t affect how much God loves us. And we shouldn’t let those things affect how we love and treat others. We should love how Jesus loves. And Jesus loves us by giving us love all the time, like connecting my phone to this charger, we are connected to God’s powerful love through Jesus. God wants us to be full with God’s love! We have this powerful love that flows from Jesus to us and we share with the world. This is why God sent Jesus, to pour out powerful love on the whole world-everyone-you, your family, your friends, your classmates, kids you like and kids you don’t like. Sometimes I feel powerless, like a phone with a drained battery. But then I remember that we are all connected to God’s powerful love-like this charger, I’m plugged into God through Jesus all the time! And so I can share this powerful love with other people. We call it the golden rule: To do to other people what you want them to do to you. We want to be loved, safe, and not alone, just like everyone else. This is what powerful love does. We’re going to talk more about this power of being a saint.

It’s easy to feel drained right now isn’t it? Nearly everyone I talk to is experiencing some sort of exhaustion. And there’s a lot draining us as humanity: the tail end of a nearly three year pandemic, climate crisis, what will happen to twitter, the war in Ukraine, the civil unrest in Haiti, looming humanitarian hunger crisis caused by some of the afore mentioned, civil and human rights being rolled back, inflation and tanking 401(k)’s,  just to name a few. And on top of that, people are still getting cancer, having strokes, divorcing, estranged from family, bills are due, the refrigerator breaks, the tires on the car wear out, and all the million little nuisances that overpower our days and joy. Our batteries can run low, and we feel that recharging is beyond our ability. Or we attempt to recharge with a fabulous vacation, a dinner out, shopping, a nap, a spa day. And those things can help, temporarily. We might call them self-care, but really they are self-distracting, as when we return, the draining begins all over again. What power do we really have to stay charged for not only ourselves but for other people in our lives whom we genuinely want to care for? We want to be a blessing, to feel blessed, but mostly, we have a lot of woe. The thought of one more volunteer opportunity, one more event, or service project drains us before we even get off the couch.

Jesus’ words in Luke today, the blessing and woes, are all about power and how we have the power we need through Jesus. Jesus isn’t giving warnings or listing who’s better than others, or who’s in or who’s out of God’s kingdom in this passage. Jesus is naming the reality of our lives right here, right now. Some are hungry, poor, mourning, full, joyful and rich. And if you are any of those things today, tomorrow you might be in the other category. Rarely are we one thing only in our lives. I’ve been poor, hungry and grieving, and I’ve been full, rich and joyful. I’ve been talked about poorly and well; I’ve been hated and well-liked. But my power doesn’t come from those situations. My power comes from being connected to God, that God’s opinion of me never changes regardless of my worldly status. God sees me and you, as a saint-someone who is loved by God. This is such good news, as I told the children, I am not a nice person hungry.

You see, no one and nothing can take my power, or yours. Jesus’ powerful love poured out to us through his own experiences of being hated, reviled, hungry, poor and grieving, can’t be stopped. That flow of powerful love is like an electric current that has many redundancies. Jesus wants you to create a life where you are plugged into this flow and you don’t need an escape to recharge.

Now this doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect, happy and shiny all the time, nope. But what it does mean is that when life is draining, you are being recharged faster than the draining. And this recharging doesn’t happen alone, it happens in community. We are recharged when we don’t let people’s words hold power over us, we are recharged when we can let go of grudges, comparisons with other people’s lives. Our full battery doesn’t need someone else’s battery to be drained. Saints share their power, ensure that others have the power that they need when they are drained. Saints recognize that what recharges us might be different for our neighbor and we need to ensure that our needs don’t drain them. If our words or actions drain someone else, then, Jesus says, it’s a problem. Saints recharge each other how we want to be recharged. We have this power, the power to do to the people around us what we want them to do to us.

The power of the saints-the people of God is more important than ever in our world. The power of the saints can energize communities to care for all people as they want to be cared for. This means seeing all people as saints, not statistics, not as issues, not as competition for power. Saints come together to when life is at its most tenuous, to speak powerful love into places of despair. The power of the saints can move leaders to house the unhoused, to eliminate food insecurity, to protect our environment, to love transgender youth and call them by their true names. The power of the saints sees the power in all people, not only in the rich, full and happy, but the power of knowing hunger, grief and poverty. The power of the saints only increases when we come together-we don’t drain each other, we charge each other up for the sake of God’s kingdom come here on earth, today. This is what we are all, the holy ones, the saints, are called to do. We remember today that the power of the saint of God, to whom the kingdom belongs, through the powerful love of Jesus that flows from the cross, will recharge the world with mercy, grace and wholeness. Thanks be to God.

 

Captured in God’s Love: A Sermon on John 8 on Reformation Sunday October 30, 2022

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 30, 2022. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The Reformation Sunday texts were: Psalm 46, Romans 3: 19-28, John 8: 31-36

Young Friends Message: (Have a heart shaped pillow or stress ball to throw) “Here catch this!” Have the kids catch the heart. Good job! You caught God’s love! Can you throw if for someone else to catch? Yes! This is maybe not a great example, but God’s love is all around us for us to grab on to. But even if you don’t catch it, or drop it, like this, it’s still there! But really, it’s God who catches us with God’s love. God catches and holds our hearts, but we forget. Jesus was talking to people in our story who forgot that they were caught in God’s love. These were good people, like you and me, but sometimes they got caught up in worrying about themselves, what they looked like, how good they were, or caught up in being the best, instead of caring for their friends and family. Does that ever happen to you where you get caught up in your own world and you forget everyone else? Yeah, that happens to me. But the truth that Jesus talks about is that we are free to not get caught up in ourselves, but make sure that people know that they are caught in God’s love. You are held in God’s love through Jesus! We’re going to talk a little more about that.

I can get all caught up in all the wrong stuff, so much that I couldn’t decide which one to share with you. We don’t have time to go through the Netflix shows I’ve been captivated by, Money Heist ya’ll. Or the books I’ve been reading or worrying about the holidays (they’re coming!), or the political drama constantly unfolding in front of us right now, or do I need new boots for the winter, or the million other ways I am ensnared by my own life, my own agenda, my own comfort, my own story. I get caught up in with what or who is the most flashing neon light in front of me, or what the media or pundits scream at me to catch. I’m caught up in allowing politicians to define my identity, I’m caught up in allowing my vocation as pastor to define my identity, or my role as wife, mother, friend. I’m caught in this echo chamber that offers me confirmation bias after confirmation bias of the way the world works and my place in it, even if perhaps it’s well meaning.

Now, I despise the thought that I’m easily caught, I mean after all I am a runner. All day long, I will project an image of confidence, self-assurance and independence that is just that: an image. I can’t even admit that I’m caught and being held by forces that don’t tell me the truth of who and who’s I am and only want me to be captivated the latest advertisement or gimmick that promises to make me better, or my life better, or pro tips for how to win friends and influence people. It’s a little bit of Stockholm syndrome living in our culture. We are in bondage to what doesn’t bring true life and we don’t even want or know how to be free from it. So I have to admit that I understand and have empathy for the people who vehemently argue with Jesus in our John text today about never being slaves to anyone or anything. Our NRSV English translation calls them Jews, but in the Greek, John names them as Ioudaimos, the Judeans. Judeans are not necessarily Jewish people, but people living in the region of Judea. Sure some or maybe even most were, but this back and forth isn’t necessarily about the Jewish religion, it’s about the human condition. The reality, that like me, these Judeans are caught, captivated by the shiny Roman Empire, their familial, societal norms to define their identity and deny their true history. Just as I will gloss over and rewrite the pesky bits of my history that are unseemly and problematic, so did the Judeans. The truth is that of course they’ve been captives! By Pharoah in Egypt, by Assyria, Babylon, and now the Romans. And like all good captives, they are simply trying to survive by allowing their captor to define their lives, believing that will make life easy and secure. It’s easier to stay in bondage than do the hard work of freedom.

Martin Luther, our good ole founder from the 16th century, was also captured by all the wrong things in his life. He was captivated by the pursuit to somehow be perfect enough to be worthy of God’s love. But the more he tried the more he was ensnared. He was despondent. As he dove into the scriptures of the New Testament, he became captivated by something else: grace. More specifically, Jesus and grace. Luther became captivated by this grace and in being caught up in Jesus’ faith that God forgives, loves and has mercy on us all, he was freed. Moreover, Luther wanted this simultaneous captivation and freedom for all people. Luther wanted the Church to not ensnare people into impossible rules, or fees for get out of purgatory cards, but to free people to trust in the truth of God’s love, grace and their own worthiness through Christ.

Luther’s reformation was a liberation movement. And truth is always a threat to power. The Church had abused and used the scriptures to keep people captivated in fear, to justify their own existence, and to enforce class, gender and hierarchy divisions. Luther knew that God was a liberator of God’s people: from Egypt, from exile, from isolation, and from sin and from death. God paradoxically wants us captured by love and grace to be liberated from the lies of the world to know the truth of what is possible with God. Luther expounded on this in his famous treatise “The Freedom of a Christian.” Christians are ultimately defined by how they extend God’s love, mercy and grace to every sibling, friend, foe, authority, and person in need. Christians aren’t free to do nothing, but free to free others. Every action is holy, every word uttered in sacred, and every interaction is infused with the connection of Christ.

Unfortunately, Luther didn’t fully do this himself, as he was still captivated by his own biases of the society and time. He couldn’t free his own mind and heart to extend full freedom and inclusion to Jewish people and the peasant class. This is also the paradox of being human. But my favorite quote from Mya Angelou is “when you know better you do better.” We know better and are free to own our Lutheran, American history, the good, the bad and the very, very ugly, and to not repeat mistakes of anti-Semitism, classism, racism, homophobia and gender bias. We are free to partner with the work of the Holy Spirit to grow and continue to reform ourselves and the world. We are free to pass God’s love and grace to our fellow humans for them to be caught up in the truth of who and who’s they are: God’s beloved.

We are not slaves to our sin, to our histories, to our lies. We don’t have to live in a house that can’t withstand the winds of truth. We are permanent members in God’s word of love dwelling with us through Jesus. We are free to shed the shackles of the false identities and whitewashed histories. We are caught in the truth of who’s we are: God’s. We are caught in God’s grace; we are captured by God’s love.

 

God’s Group Project: Sermon on the Pharisee and the Tax Collector October 23, 2022

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 23, 2022. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were: Jeremiah 14: 7-10, 19-22 Psalm 84: 1-7 and Luke 18: 9-14

Young Friends message: Let’s build this tower! Ooo good job. Ok I have stickers for you, for you, and for all of you! Is it fair that I gave them stickers even though they didn’t help? No? Why not? Yes? Why? Sometimes we benefit from other people’s work. Such as when Mike cooks dinner, I get to eat it! Even though I didn’t help! Well, Jesus tells us a story today of two people who live in the same town, both the same religion and go to church. One has done all the right things and one has probably hurt some people. Who do you think God loves more? That’s right! God loves both of them the same! No matter what we do or don’t do. God wants us to work together to help people, to keep the water and air clean, to feed people, whatever needs done. We are all part of God’s project to show love to the world! And YOU are part of God’s project! We’re going to talk a little more about that.

Ah group projects! We’ve all had to do them. I always hated group projects in school, even graduate school. I was always the convener of the group, the person who organized what everyone will do, checked in to make sure it was being done, and tragically disappointed EVERY TIME that one person NEVER did what they were assigned to do and didn’t seem to care. Well, I cared, very much. I wanted a good grade, and there was no way I was going to let a slacker mess that up. It took every ounce of self-control I had to not provide the instructor a detailed list of everything I had personally done ensuring that it would be obvious who did nothing. If I’m honest, I always held out hope that the teacher would some how intuitively know that I did most of the work and give me bonus points. That never happened by the way. What DID inevitably happen was that no matter how much work I or anyone else in the group did or didn’t do, we all received the same grade. Because of the work of others, someone got a better grade than they deserved. And sometimes because of others, I got a lower grade than I deserved. But I will admit that sometimes because of me others got a lower grade than they deserved as well. There is nothing fair about a group project. And I think that might be point of assigning them.

Perhaps the real learning isn’t in the content of the material, but in the relationships of the group. Individual achievement, knowledge, resources, skills, etc., only go so far. Maybe the people in my groups who according to me didn’t pull their own weight, had obstacles of which I was unaware. Maybe their parents worked at night and so they were responsible for younger siblings, maybe they had to work themselves, maybe they weren’t feeling well, maybe their loved one just died, and the list could go on. But I only saw them through my eyes of competition, hierarchies and worthiness.

New Testament and Jewish Theologian Dr. Amy Jill-Levine reflects that Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is about the ultimate group project[i], how we as humans understand that our liberation, our flourishing, our thriving, not to mention surviving, is inextricably bound up in one another, to paraphrase MLK. You seek the modern Christian interpretation of this parable is not how first century Jewish Palestinians would have heard it. Our translation of the Greek into English has led us to the conclusion that the Pharisee is in the wrong, is arrogant, and prideful and the Tax Collector is repentant and the one worthy of God’s salvation. Our modern, American ears and hearts, want a winner and a loser, we want to know who is right and who is wrong. We want to know who’s better than the other, and most importantly, we want to know who we’re better than. Are we going to get the A and everyone else a lower grade?

Jesus rarely pits people against each other, so we when we read “two men went up to the Temple,” the first century audience would already know a couple of things about the men: both were Jewish, ritually clean, for only the ritually clean could enter the Temple, and the Temple welcomed all people. The Temple was not exclusive, Jews, Gentiles, sinners, saints, there was a space for all at the Temple. So, the two men were on equal footing before God. Jesus has the Pharisee claim hyperbolic piety that would have brought a smile to most Pharisees[ii] faces not from pride, but acknowledgment that no one is that good. Pharisees were well liked among the people, and not seen in a negative light at all, as they were passionate about educating the average person about the Torah, and how much God is with them and loves them. They cared about the everyday lives of the average Jewish person. This is why Jesus encounters the Pharisees so often, they were out with the people, just like Jesus. And the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner, asked him good questions, and even warned him when Herod wanted him killed. But the idea of Pharisees in Christianity came to be known as anti-Jesus, extreme rule followers, religiosity, and an example of why Jewish people are less than Christians. Many scholars highlight that there is a direct line from this interpretation of the pharisee in this parable to the Holocaust.
Then we get the Tax Collector. This man worked for the Roman Empire, often grifted from his neighbors, but because he had money and important connections, he was probably popular in the sense that if you were his friend, he might not extort as much from you. So, the trope that he was marginalized and the Pharisee was putting him down, is probably not true. Both men address God, the Pharisee thanks God and the Tax Collector laments. But we have zero indication that the tax collector actually intends to change, the meaning of repetenance. He simply admits that in this group project of first century life, he’s not pulling his weight.
If the parable stopped at verse 13, all of this might be well and good, but we do have this pesky verse 14, that leads our human heads and hearts down the path of needing to rank these two men as we like to rank ourselves. But you see, the ranking isn’t there in the Greek, the word “rather” isn’t there, and it turns out that a better translation is “because of” or “with the other.” Both are justified. Both are equal before God. The humble and the exalted in this life are on the same level playing field, as Mary’s Magnificat proclaims. It’s a group project and the works of the Pharisee lift up the tax collector and the works of the tax collector have the potential to be harm to the Pharisee. Jesus isn’t offering who is better, or how to act, Jesus is pointing out how we live in community together matters. God has invited us into the group project of reconciliation, liberation, and wholeness of humanity and creation.

Right now, there are many voices telling us that there are certain people not pulling their weight, who want your “A” without any of the work, who deserve what they get, who are unworthy of the basics of life, of human and civil rights. These voices tell us that it’s not fair if someone gets help that you don’t need. This is how political leaders try and pit us against each other to fight over what is in reality available to us all, it’s not a zero-sum game, Jesus says. Bodily reproductive autonomy for all people isn’t less bodily autonomy for you, immigrants working jobs doesn’t mean fewer jobs for you, marriage rights for LBGTQIA doesn’t negate your marriage, living wages doesn’t mean less money for you, health care for all doesn’t mean less health care for you. It’s the hallmark of authoritarian and fascist regimes to stir up competition, ranking, find scapegoat demographics like immigrants and minorities, to maintain power and control. Jesus says, don’t fall for it. When you do well, your neighbor does too. Because of your liberation, your neighbor is liberated too. With one another, and because of one another, we can level the playing field, we can free our neighbor from harm and free ourselves at the same time. Women can be free from misogyny and patriarchy to have the same bodily autonomy and receive equal status as men, and this also frees men to be whole. LBGTQIA folx can be free from homophobia to have the same human and civil rights as cisgender, hetero folx and frees them to be whole. Black, Brown and all people of color can be free from white supremacy to have access to all the same privilege of white folx and this frees white folx to be whole.  Our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu siblings, and people who don’t ascribe to faith can be free from Christian hegemony to worship, believe and live without fear in their own country and this frees Christians to be whole. Our environment can be free from exploitation and destruction and we can be free to be whole with creation. In order to be whole, we have to stop being in competition and scapegoating each other, we have to work for our common good, our common healthy and vibrancy in God’s project of abundant life. God’s only grade is bestowed on us all: deep, unconditional and abiding love. Love that’s not earned, you can’t lose it, it’s given in portion to your need and it’s for all. Love frees us to give what we have, to do what we can, not for ourselves, but because of our neighbor. Love is God’s ultimate group project. Amen.


[i] Levine, Amy Jill, Short Stories by Jesus, Harper One, 2014, pg. 212

[ii] Ibid, pg. 185

 

We are Turned Around October 9, 2022

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 9, 2022. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 6-15, Psalm 111, Luke 17: 11-19

Young Friends Message: Ooo look! I have these brand new crayons! I love them! Look how nicely they draw! Do you love new crayons? Me too! Maybe I’ll just not use them and then they will look perfect forever and never change. Here are some older ones, they’re broken, and the paper is torn off, and they look raggedy. I mean they don’t even draw as well….can you see a difference? No? Hmmm… hey! They actually draw the same don’t they? But I like the new ones! Maybe I can turn the old ones new again? (Have some tape and maybe a sharpener) No….that isn’t working. I guess even though they are changed, they still work. Sometimes I get confused or turned around about what is important. Is it important that the crayons look new or that they color? That they color! Yeah, I need to be reminded to turn to what is important.

Today in our bible story, Jesus came across ten people who lived outside the town away from everyone because their skin was different, they didn’t look like other people and the town people were afraid of them. The 10 different looking people asked Jesus for mercy, as they were afraid that Jesus would ignore them like the town people. Well, of course, Jesus didn’t ignore them! Jesus sees and loves everyone no matter what they look new or old! Jesus told them to go and show the priest that all ten of the men’s skin turned back to look like new! Nine went back to their families and lives BUT one man, didn’t do that. He turned back to thank Jesus for turning his whole life around. This man could be himself and like a crayon that colors no matter if it’s new, old, or with or without a wrapper, he can turn to what it important, loving Jesus. When we turn to loving Jesus, we also turn to loving everyone and everything! All the colors of the rainbow! I have rainbow crayons for each of you to remind you to turn to loving Jesus and everyone. You can draw pictures of how to show love in God’s world and we’re going to talk more about getting turned around and who’s important: Jesus.

About eight years ago I was running a relay race with the Faster Pastors called Flaming Fall Foliage through the Colorado Rockies. It’s a race with a team of 12 and you take turns running sections of the course, about 200 miles total, in a 24 hour period. Each runner has three legs. My second leg of this race was about 6.5 miles over Kenosha pass, on to the Colorado trail and then to the exchange point for the next runner. Armed with my map, my watch, water, a little food, I set off. I managed to follow every twist and turn for the first three or so miles. According to the map, I would see a small rundown shack right before the turn to the CO trail at 3.41 mile mark. Well, that mileage marker came and went and I didn’t see a shack. I kept going a bit, and then stopped to try and get my bearings. I was alone in the wilderness, disoriented and trying to decide which way to turn. I ran forward a bit more and came upon another runner, a woman who was also lost. She had been lost long enough that she had hit desperation and was becoming frantic. I wasn’t there yet. Yet. She said that she couldn’t find the shack either. After a little map reading, I suggested that we go back to where we knew we were on the right track. So even though we would lose time, (hopefully not daylight) and add mileage, we turned around and started to go back. Not long after, I spotted a runner up on a ridge above us. I yelled up to him if he was on the CO trail. He waved, which I decided was a yes, and we bushwacked our way up to the ridge and found the trail. The woman admitted to me that it didn’t occur to her to turn around and go back. We ran the rest of the leg together, and we ended up running a total of nine miles instead of our 6.5. The woman expressed thankfulness that I had happened upon her, grateful that she wasn’t alone. I have been disoriented enough times in races such as these that require orienteering to know that turning back to where you knew you were on the map last is a good idea. But I don’t always translate that lesson to the rest of my life.

I have to admit that there are times that I don’t know where to turn, or to whom to turn when I’m feeling lost, lonely, overwhelmed, frantic or just plain old afraid, so I run off to what makes me feel in control, safe, or good in the moment. I turn to anti-wrinkle creams to outrun aging. I turn to Netflix to outrun negative feelings or burnout. I turn to shopping to outrun emptiness. I turn to resentment to outrun responsibility. I turn to anger to outrun powerlessness. Like the nine men who unreflectively run back to what they think they know, I too, run to what is safe and easy in my life. I run to what I think is the next best thing and I don’t turn back to where I last felt wholeness and connection. I keep trying to outrun fear, change and emptiness.

This is why the one Samaritan man intrigues me as he’s the only one who turns back to Jesus when he realizes that his life’s map has changed. He leaves the group who in my imagination is running towards the town, and turns back to Jesus laying his whole body out before Jesus to give his thanksgiving, his eucharist, as the Greek says. The Samaritan, the outsider, the one from whom other Jewish people would run away, turns back to be connected to the source of his wholeness. The nine who’s skin was also returned to health, ran off, thinking they knew where they were going, and who could blame them? They were following the rules set up centuries before of needing the priest’s ok to return to their families and homes. All ten had longed for their lives to be turned back to what they knew. What the Samaritan recognized was that running off to rules, or a priest or to safety, wasn’t what turned his life around, it was Jesus, out in the wilderness, meeting him when he was most lost, frantic and turned around.

Jesus’ wondering about the whereabouts of the nine wasn’t disappointment or condemnation, it was acknowledgement that the outsider, the foreigner, recognized the need to turn back, when the folks who should have known the map of God’s love the best, missed it. The Samaritan man’s faith to turn back to offer Jesus praise, his eucharistic thanksgiving, brought him more than skin turned to health, eucharist brings connection and wholeness through Jesus, who’s map always brings us to God. Today Benny promises will be made to Benny that we will always help him turn back to Jesus no matter where he is on the map. God’s desire is for us all to turn back to Jesus who sets us free, who makes us whole and holy in our own skin, no matter what color, shape, size or abilities. We turn back to Jesus and see our neighbor as whole and holy, beloved and deserving of justice, equity and health. We are turned around to Jesus, in faith, and in eucharist, to turn the whole world around for connection, wholeness, recovery, and love. We are indeed turned around.

 

Uprooted and Planted: Sermon on Luke 17:5-10 October 2, 2022

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 2, 2022. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. We are finishing up our Generosity Drive Sermon Series, “We are a Spirit filled community who serves.” The texts were: Habakkuk 1: 1-4, 2: 1-4, 2 Timothy 1: 1-14, Luke 17: 5-10

Young Friends Message: Create a large heart puzzle from a piece of poster board and try and put it together yourself but struggle. “Ugh, I wanted to show you this, but I can’t, tt’s too big and hard for me to do. I guess I won’t show you this and we’ll do nothing…” Have someone offer to help you. “Thank you! But I should do this on my own. It’s my thing and if I can’t do it, then it won’t get done. I’ll just sit here.” Have the friend say, “Well, what if we do it together? I think that together we can get this done.” Shrug and give in. “Hey, we did it together! Together we were stronger and could do hard things!” Hmmmm I wonder if this is what Jesus means in our weird story today. Jesus says that if we have the faith, if we believe, just a little, like a little seed, like these tiny seeds I took from the big, tall sun flowers in our community gardens, then we can do really hard things that need to get done. Do you ever have hard things to do? Yes! Maybe it’s sharing or forgiving someone who wants another chance to change and be kind, or a hard project, or test at school, or learning a new skill like riding a bike, or running, or playing the piano. Life gives us hard things, everyone. AND Jesus says, we can do them! Not alone, like I tried to do, but with each other! If you have a hard test coming up, study with a friend! If you want to get better at swimming, or running, or playing piano or drawing, I find drawing hard, find someone who knows more than you do about it and ask! AND if someone asks you for help, what can you say? YES! Together, we can do hard things. We’re going to talk a little more about that.

Do you remember the commercial for I think Office Depot a few years back that offered their business services so that people can “hit the easy button.” It was popular, as it spoke to the inherent desire in us all for a project, task, relationship, or challenge to be completed with minimal effort on our parts. Are there some tasks and projects that this is appropriate? Sure, in graduate school we used to say, “a good paper is a done paper.” In other words, we can’t let perfection get in the way of getting something done. And it’s also true that when faced with what seems impossible challenges, we might throw our hands up and say, “we don’t have enough time, skill, or resources.” The other side of this is what has been identified as “imposter syndrome.” A feeling most of us have had a one point or another, when we think we are in over our heads, we’re not good enough and everyone around us knows more than we do. I feel this way often. I love the advocacy work that I get to do and I don’t have bandwidth to know all the policy pieces, to research all the ins and outs of a piece of legislation, or the legislatures sponsoring bills. Or to understand all the convoluted funding streams of our governmental system. So, I go to meetings and assuming I have nothing to offer, after all, I’m just someone with a degree in ancient texts, languages and pastoral care.
But then I was let in on the big secret, even the people sponsoring the bills, writing the policy, don’t even always understand all the machinations of the system. The folks with full time jobs in advocacy, policy and funding often say, I don’t know, but let me find out. And they seem to think that their clergy colleagues (it’s not just me who is engaged) have great value as we are connected to who matters for the hard work of living together: all of you. What we do together matters. The big secret is that none of us have it all figured out, and none of us can do anything meaningful alone. When the task seems impossible, is when we should look around to see what is possible, and with whom. We may not be able to change every policy that keeps people in poverty, unhoused, discourages voting from certain demographics, or harms our environment. But maybe we can work on one, make a difference where we can, for who we can, and with who we can.

But like the disciples we don’t truly believe that it’s enough, we have enough or we’re enough. We cry to Jesus to give us more, increase what we already have been given, believing that we are lacking, and have inadequate faith, belief, time, or skill. Jesus hears our cries, shakes his head and reminds us that we are enough, and we have enough. It’s not about more, it’s not all or nothing, it’s doing the right next thing. There is no easy button for us to push, the world is too complicated for that. But we can push together to do what we know is right, what brings abundant life, love and mercy to the world and creation, it can and WILL happen. It will. Maybe not all at once, and maybe not easily, but we can and do impact the world for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ. That is the promise and that is the truth.

Together, like seeds of new life pushing through the dirt, we can do the hard work of uprooting systems of injustice, inequality and fear and changing the landscape of the world we live in. We can uproot our own insecurities to be seeds of change for the landscape for our neighbors who need the basics of life: safe housing, nutritious food, the dignity of a living wage for work, reproductive bodily autonomy, access to quality education. We have what we need to uproot division, hate, racism, white supremacy and fear, and push through to grow mercy, love, wholeness, and diversity. We can do the hard work of growing the realm of God, the vision that God intended for creation when God declared the sea, the land, the trees, the birds, the animals and yes, the people, good and very good.

We are not worthless, we are not imposters, we are not lacking. We are worthy, we authentically belong, and we are enough in God’s vision and calling for us, together. This is the gift of faith, that it’s given to us all, together. This is the gift of community in Jesus, that we are gathered together, not for our own sake, not to make our lives easier, not to save us from suffering, but because there is hard work, hard events, hard challenges in our lives, because there is suffering. We have what we need right here, right now at OSLC to continue doing ministry in the community and world. We have what we need, we can do what we are called to do, because you are all here, in person and on YouTube. We are together, “a Spirit filled community who reaches out, uproots injustice, plants mercy and cares for all.”

 

Who We See: A sermon on the rich man and Lazarus September 25, 2022

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on September 25, 2022. We are in our Generosity Sermon Series “A Spirit-filled community who comforts all.” The texts were: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7, 1 Timothy: 6: 6-19, Luke 16: 19-31 (Read from the Spark Story Book Bible)

Children of God Message:

Thank you Alida for reading the gospel story from the Spark Bible for us today! Alida, how did it feel to be up front? Was it different for you? Did you see the sanctuary differently than when you sit facing forward all the time versus looking at the back? Let’s all go to the back of the sanctuary. Look forward: what do you see? Yep! All those things! Now let’s go to the front and look towards the back. What do you see? Does it look exactly the same? No? Before we only saw the back of people’s heads and not much else, in this direction, we can see more of people, their masked faces, their hands, maybe even their feet. If someone was crying and needed help would it be easier to see that from the front or the back? The front! Depending on where we look, we might miss someone or something. The story that Alida read for us talks about this. Jesus tells a story of a man who only looked one way, at himself, so he didn’t see Lazarus. The rich man didn’t see that Lazarus was sick, hungry, poor and alone. Both people, Lazarus and the rich man, died. Lazarus went to be with God, and the rich man was separated from God and Lazarus. When he died, it’s when the rich man saw Lazarus for the first time! How weird is that? And he wanted Lazarus to help him, even though he never helped Lazarus! He only saw Lazarus when he needed something from him. God saw both men and wanted them to see each other in LIFE, as friends and as helpers. God doesn’t want anyone to be alone, hungry and sick. Look at your bellybutton, can you see anyone but yourself? Nope! We have to look at each other, see what we all need and share it! I want you to look for three people to help this week and we’re going to keep talking about this.

Actually, my friends, my plan today is a bit of an extended young friend’s message. You may or may not like this, but we all learn by moving our bodies. So, with that, I want everyone to find a new place to sit in the sanctuary. Even if it’s only a little. And no place is off limits to sit. You can sit in the choir pews, in chancel, anywhere you want. How does it feel to be in a different place? Uncomfortable? Scary? Annoying? That’s ok to name that you don’t like it. Do you see something in your new space differently? Be sure to look behind you too! Yeah, we don’t like to move, to change what we see, to have to consider a new perspective. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus is naming in the gospel text. The Spark bible tells this story of the Rich Man and Lazarus a bit differently, which is fine, but I’ll fill in some gaps. You see, the rich man was preoccupied with his own perspective. He saw himself in a certain light, with certain people, with certain possessions and accoutrement. He loved his comfortable lifestyle and didn’t want it disrupted. It’s not that Lazarus was hiding, or hard to see, he was right outside the rich man’s door. In the ancient world, rich people had a bench outside their door for the poor to sit on and wait for scraps of food or alms. But the rich man didn’t even do this, he was too afraid to look at Lazarus at all. I think he knew that Lazarus was there but couldn’t acknowledge the truth. The truth of seeing that there were hungry, sick, and lonely people in the world, who looked horrible and scary with the sores, thread bare, tattered garments and the bones visible beneath weathered skin. Who wants to see that? Who wants to see someone unkempt, unhoused, mangy, muttering incoherent words under their breath? It scared the rich man, and it scares us! I know that when I have encountered such a soul there have been times that I simply looked away. I mean, what could I do? What if I get hurt? This person has bigger problems than I probably have resources to help. I can walk on by or cross the street or better yet, stay in my neighborhood. I see a problem and not a person.

Jesus sees that we put separation between ourselves and people who are different than ourselves and justify these chasms like I do, ostensibly for our own safety. Not only our physical safety, but our emotional and spiritual safety. If someone has cancer, we tell them they will be fine, not because we know that, but because WE need to be reassured that if we get cancer, we’ll be fine. We blame folks who are harmed by another person, they shouldn’t be out at night, or alone, or in that outfit, thinking that we can keep ourselves from such suffering. If someone has a heart attack, we wonder what their diet is. Liver disease-Did they drink? COPD-Did they smoke? Fall down the stairs-Were they in socks? I could go on and on. This is a natural human safety response! Don’t feel bad about having it, we all do! None of us want to suffer! So, we don’t want to look at it, we don’t want to admit that it could be us, we don’t want to admit that we are not immune from the hurts, sufferings, and real trauma of the world. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It’s a response to circumstances we can’t control.

The last few years have sharpened the focus on how we see each other. We’ve tended to see each other, people we know and don’t know, as disease vectors, as opponents for resources, adversaries for power. We’ve bought into how the world wants us to see each other, and forgot how God wants us to see each other. Jesus invites us to see each other through the eyes of God who says that there is no separation from God or each other in this life or the next. God looks at each of us, the young, the old, the able and disabled bodies, the mentally ill, the poor, the immigrant, and doesn’t see problems to be solved, but people to love.
Beloved, what do you see when you see each other this morning from these different seats? Look around. Who do you see in this building, in this land on which we sit, in our Welcome Statement, in our prayers? I’ll tell what I see: I see a faithful people who are capable of anything God calls them to do when you bring all your resources, talents and love to work together. I see a beloved people who sees the world both as it is and what it could be: a place where the fullness of the realm of God where all people and creation are connected, interdependent and vibrant. We can look and see that the love of Jesus matters and is needed in our community. It matters that we are here.

We are a people committed to this call, to our baptismal vocation of seeing with God vision with no separation between any human or creation. This morning we baptize Walker Fredrick Alleman to be part of this vision, the vision of hope, justice, reconciliation and recovery, a vision of Shalom-wholeness.  With Walker we will offer our precious time and energy to this work, our gifts and talents, and yes, our financial resources. We give from our abundance, we give as an act of faith, we give because we see Jesus at work in the world. We see that what we give matters, we see that what we do matters, we see that who we see matters, as we are a “Spirit filled community who reaches out to comfort and care for all.”