A Lutheran Says What?

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

If It’s Your Last Night Maundy Thursday April 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Maundy Thursday April 1, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Exodus 12:14
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

If tonight were your last night on earth what would you do? What experiences would you want to have for your life to be complete or fulfilled? Or what is on your Bucket list?  Mike and I went to Paris four years ago this month as Mike had always wanted to go to Paris, as a side note, we did meet in 10th grade French class. He had a list of the museums, sites and activities that he wanted to do while there and we ran around the city (literally it seemed) for seven days trying to squeeze as much in as possible. It’s our human tendency to think that for our lives to mean anything, they have to be filled with novel and exciting experiences, something that stands out as special and unique. Going to Disney Land, climbing the Himalayas, visiting that faraway and exotic location, meeting a certain celebrity, or writing the great American novel. We worry that if we died tomorrow, we would feel incomplete, unfulfilled and that our lives were meaningless. How would people remember us? Will we be remembered for the book we wrote, the building we built, the money we had, the trips we took, what we completed, or is there something more?

We enter the scene in John’s gospel on the day before Jesus would die. Jesus knew that this night, was the last night of his earthly life. Jesus gathered with his disciples, his friends, for one last meal, one last time to be together. We tend to romanticize this scene, Jesus stooping to wash the feet of the disciples, Peter protesting, Judas walking out on Jesus. We focus on sentimentalizing all the words on love, loving one another, turning this scene in our heads and hearts into a Hallmark moment. But it’s anything but that. Jesus knew, perhaps like a cancer patient knows, that death was very near. He knew that it wouldn’t be a passive, peaceful death but one of horror, violence and suffering. It’s his last night on earth and Jesus wants it to mean something.

Jesus doesn’t pull out his bucket scroll and look forlornly at all of the places he didn’t go or things he didn’t do, such as float in the dead sea, or create a carpentry masterpiece, no Jesus knows that his life, the lives of his disciples, and our lives, mean more than that, and mean everything in the love of God. Jesus knew he had one day left and he didn’t worry about what he has or hasn’t completed, because that’s for God to worry about. Jesus trusted that God will complete God’s work and mission of love beyond his earthly existence. What Jesus does with his last night, is give the disciples a foretaste of what is to come in God’s unending love that completes them just the way they are. Jesus knew that they wouldn’t get it. We don’t get it when someone acts in a way that is utterly for the sake of someone else, even to their own detriment. Why would someone give away their money when they could buy some bucket list experiences? Why would someone choose exposure to a deadly virus to care for others? Why would someone offer water and food to undeserving people? Jesus doesn’t try and squeeze in as many activities as he can in his last night, instead he pours water, uncomfortably washes feet, grieves Judas’ decision to walk away from love and community, eats a simple meal, and reveals an active, decisive love that not only means something, but means everything for us and the world.
If tonight were your last night on earth what would you do? On this night, Jesus did what truly mattered, offering us the truth of God’s presence and love. Simple bread, a sip of wine, and an extraordinary love. A love that fulfills all needs, draws us together, satisfies our longings, and sends us to live each day as if it were our last, imitating Jesus, loving with God’s love to the fullest. Amen.  

 

On The Move Palm Sunday Sermon March 27, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 28, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Philippians 2: 5-11
Mark 11: 1-11

The law of inertia, is one that most of us learned in middle school or high school. Even if you didn’t formally learn it by its scientific name, it’s a law of physics that one might call “common sense.” A body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. If you’ve ever laid down on the couch after yard work or house cleaning, thinking you’ll just take a 15-minute breather only to still be on the couch an hour later, you know what the law of inertia is about. I’ll be intimately familiar with inertia next Sunday afternoon after Holy Week. It can be hard to get ourselves moving, whether it’s physically up off the couch, or emotionally, psychologically, spiritually to move our feelings, thinking and hearts in a new direction. What causes us to be moved to change, to engage our lives and world differently, to overcome the law of inertia, is elusive. We’ve all had the frustration of trying to move ourselves or a friend or family member to quit smoking, drinking or change their language.

 George Barna did a study about 15 years ago now, that showed worldview was set by age 13 and values by age 9. Whatever your values and worldview might be entering high school, are pretty much concretized. Of course, we might have life experiences that move us to shift those values and worldviews but usually it’s nuance and not upheaval. When people are moved, typically it is due to a personal major traumatic event. It’s why right now in our national discourse we have so much tension. We are trying to move people to new worldviews and values with stories and facts that aren’t necessarily personal. It’s real experiences, personal and communal experiences, that move people. What moves us, compels us to either physically or spiritually, change our course, and do a new thing is that the heart of our text for this Palm Sunday, what is called “The Triumphal Entry.” As I wrote in my Faith + Talk this week, that title is a bit of a misnomer, but it’s what we have to work with. I’m struck by all of the ways that Jesus moves people. Jesus leads his disciples to the outskirts of Jerusalem, a city teeming with people celebrating Passover. He moves two disciples to go get a colt, a young donkey, for which he had obviously planned ahead. He then moves with the crowds who are also pilgrims, entering the holy city, and they are moved to call out “Hosanna” which interestingly means, “Save us now!” It’s not a movement of joy, a movement of celebration as we often project on this story, it’s a political movement, a movement of people who are recalling that they are not free. The pilgrims recognize that just as they are entering the city, so are a whole legion of Roman soldiers along with Pontius Pilate. Pilate didn’t live in Jerusalem but out on the coast, and he came in each Passover with troops as a show of force to the occupied Jews. Passover was a holy time that celebrated God’s movement and action of liberation for the Israelites and the Roman government didn’t want them to get any funny ideas about God moving for them again.
But Jesus knew that was EXACTLY what God was up to. Jesus’ physical movement from the rural and outlying towns in Galilee to the center of power of the Roman Empire and the Temple Institution in Jerusalem, revealed that God is indeed moving right to the heart of what needs to be confronted and changed. God had come in Jesus to move all people toward God’s unconditional love, mercy and grace and to move people to recognize one another as worthy of love and care. Jesus was on the move, not only into Jerusalem, but into people’s lives and hearts. Jesus moved toward the conflict, toward the pain, toward the divisions, toward the unrest. And Jesus moved his disciples to do the same.
Jesus modeled for the people what it means to be moved, to have your heart and soul moved not for your own well-being but for the well-being of all people and creation. Jesus was moved by the lepers outcast, Jesus was moved by the separation of the man unhoused living in the tombs, Jesus was moved by the woman who begged for crumbs, Jesus was moved by the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus was moved by the crowds hungry and lost, Jesus was moved to offer his very life for the sake of ending the movement of evil, hate and death and affirming the movement of God’s kingdom of wholeness, peace and abundant life for the world. Jesus moved to move us.
Our baptism calls us to this movement. We move to see our lives together as God’s Church beyond our walls, we move and join the shouts of Hosanna, save us now for our black siblings, our refugee siblings, and our LBGTQIA+ siblings. We move and say no to economic disparity and poverty. We move to ensure healthcare is offered for all; we move to keep our society safe from senseless violence. We move to offer our neighbors tangible experiences of God’s mercy, wholeness and love to all people and creation, so that they too will join the movement of hope. We move even when the path leads through pain, suffering or even death. We move, knowing that we are part of a movement in which the horror of death on a cross, moves us to the mystery of the empty tomb, moves us to the promise of new life that stretches out to the end of the earth. Jesus calls us to follow and move but reminds us that we will not move alone. God moves with us, with pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night so that we move together as a beloved community. We are part of the movement of God’s kingdom that enters into the heart of what needs to move for hope, mercy, grace and love in and for the world. Thanks be to God.

 

A Multitude of Sins Sermon on Psalm 51 March 25, 2021

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

The text was Psalm 51: 1-12

As humans, we can smell a cover up a 100 miles away, can’t we? We don’t like having truth hidden from us. We want to know the truth, what people might be hiding, what we don’t know. Unless, of course, it’s something that WE did that we don’t want anyone to know, then we try and distract, use smoke and mirrors like a master magician to get people around us to dismiss the faults or sins that we don’t want uncovered. The phrase “covers a multitude of sins” has been rattling around in my brain in connection with psalm 51. I know that I see my faults or sins as objects to be mitigated. If I do something that is less than attractive or isn’t the image I want to project, I try and cover it up through words, or actions that are designed to disguise or distract from what I did, to hide the truth. It could be as simple as make-up that covers a perceived facial flaw, to a mint to hide the garlic I had for lunch, to suddenly slowing down to the speed limit when I see a police officer. I know the truth, I know what’s under the make-up, behind the mint and the law I had just broken, but I don’t want anyone else to know. It seems harmless most of the time, doesn’t it? Until we take that train of thought all the way to its logical conclusion of hoping that we can cover up the bigger sins in our lives and hope no one, including God, will see them.

And there a multitude of sins that I have, individual ones and ones that we share communally that we do try and cover up: ignoring people we don’t like, or are different from us, the reality of our planet in crisis, people hungry, in poverty and unhoused. We try and cover up the sins of not truly loving creation and our neighbor, of covering up the truth of our own complacency, comfort and self-interest by recycling plastics, offering disingenuous pleasantries, or our left-over canned food to food banks, or money to other charities. I’m not suggesting that any of the above actions are wrong, but they allow us to cover up from ourselves the bigger truth that we refuse to address. What happens when we can no longer cover these sins up with charity and simplistic acts? What happens when we have climate crisis, whole groups of people hated and more and more families on the street? What happens when there are more tent cities than affordable housing? What happens when the truth is found out?

The psalm writer has come to this hard truth-that sins can’t be hidden or covered up forever, but they’re always found out. There will come a time when the make-up is removed, the garlic breath overpowers, the speed trap is up ahead, our healthcare, education, and social systems collapse under the weight of people neglected, undernourished, and unhoused. God already sees this truth and is waiting for us to come clean. The psalm offers us the path for coming clean that lays our hard truths at the merciful feet of God. We can’t come clean on our own, as when we try, the cover up will only continue. It is God who reveals the truth not only of who we are, but of who we can be. We can come clean, because God can’t cover up God’s unconditional and unrelenting love for us. God sees our sins, our faults, with God’s love transforms them and therefore transforms us. God who creates, creates the world, creates humanity, creates relationships, will create us new again and again. When we try and cover up, pull the sheets up over our heads to hide, God peaks underneath to coax us out, to call us to see ourselves in freedom, to see ourselves as worthy of restoration to wholeness, unity, and joy in the truth that we are loved and beloved.

God’s truth is new each day with love, newness and joy. May we never cover that up. Amen.

 

It’s Been a Year Sermon on Ephesians 2 March 12, 2021

This sermon was offered to the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 14, 2021, one year after the COVID19 shutdown. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Numbers 21:4-9
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Children’s message: Have a battery operated candle or flashlight. Have the batteries out or placed incorrectly so that it doesn’t work. Say, “It’s been a long year hasn’t it? It’s been a year of learning about stuff we never knew like social distancing, masks, vaccines and so much more! I’ve learned how much I miss all of you for one thing! I miss singing with you, dancing with you, playing games and praising Jesus with you! What have you learned this year? I’ve also learned that being alone is hard and that being alone isn’t what God wants for us and our lives. It made me think of this battery operated candle. When the batteries are out or not in correctly, it doesn’t work. It can’t work without the power from the batteries. But when the batteries are in place and correctly connected, it lights up! Then we can see clearly around us. In our Ephesians story today, Paul is writing to people about how we live together. How we have to act how God acts with love and grace. Kind like how the batteries and the candle all have to work together to give light.  If we’re not connected to each other and God, we can’t give off light for others to see God’s love and grace. That’s why we gather, even on Youtube or Zoom, to connect to God, to remember that God will love us forever no matter what and that is what grace is. AND God wants us to live together, our way of life, in this same forever love and grace. Think about how you can shine with God’s love this week! We’re going to keep talking about this….

It’s been a year. It’s been a year since our whole way of life was disrupted.  It’s been a year since we’ve worshiped in person in the sanctuary together. It’s been a year of hardship, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, turmoil, revelations, transformations and learning. It’s been a year for me of doing ministry in a way that I never imagined. It’s been a year of digital worship, or small groups outside. Many, many phone calls, texts and FaceBook messenger. It’s been a year of difficult conversations as we navigate differing perspectives and experiences. It’s been a year of clarifying what really matters, how we care for one another and our neighbors. It’s been a year that has revealed where our society is healthy, and where it most certainly is not. It’s been a year for me, of gratitude for you the beloved people of OSLC and all who have partnered with us. It’s been a year where I witnessed your compassion, generosity, graciousness, and love for one another and myself. (And as an aside, oh my how I love you all and I’m so grateful for God to have called me here!) It’s been a year, and now we embark on another year, another Lent, another Easter of navigating something new, a new way of life.

It’s not what we imagined, wanted or bargained for. We yearn to go back to the way life was just a little over a year ago, before we knew what was to be, before we knew the hardship, the sickness, the death, the fear. We yearn to go back to when we were comfortable, or at least thought we were. But the truth is that COVID19 wasn’t the true reason for our hardship, it was the catalyst, but we were all experiencing a sickness of one sort or another before March of 2020. We were and still are, soul sick. We were already afraid of the future, even when we thought that future didn’t entail a deadly pandemic. We were afraid of how the world was changing, how we were changing, how we weren’t in control. We were already suspicious of our neighbor and the decisions they made. We were already competing for resources, power and privilege.

The truth is that COVID19 revealed that our way of life, wasn’t working. COVID19 revealed a crisis, a need to re-evaluate how we live together and what it means to live in response to God’s grace. There were a few voices that tried to assert that COVID19 was God’s judgment against some group of people with whom the disagreed, that God was condemning non-Christians, or LBGTQIA+ folks, or people who wanted to allow immigrants across our borders, or some other made-up distinction and compartmentalizing of human beings. But as Jesus tells Nicodemus in their cover of darkness meeting, God doesn’t condemn the world or the people whom God lovingly created. God’s judgment, the crisis, is that God desperately loves us and creation and desires nothing more than for us to love God and each other. God sending Jesus into the world to live in our midst as one of us, is a sign of this love, for God’s desire for abiding connection with us. Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ raised on cross for the world to behold the power of sin, Jesus raised from the dead for the world to behold God’s “no” to death, and Jesus’ raised to God’s side, for the world to behold that heaven and earth are connected, are one in the life and Kin-dom of God and separation is no more.
And this is all a gift from God freely given, God’s grace is given despite our actions or inaction. Through the faith of Jesus, the trust in God’s will and desire, we are connected to this flow of love for the world. And God wants love to be our way of life, Paul writes to the Ephesians. Quit worrying about yourselves, your salvation, it’s already done. Your way of life in now one of response to God’s grace and love. Yes, this is a disruption of how we are living now. Yes, it will mean a hard look at the truth of the world around us. Yes, what will be revealed will be painful, and we will not be able to go back to our old way of life, and it wasn’t working anyway.

It’s been a year, a year where God has so loved the world and Jesus has been present. It’s been a year where God’s presence was not one of condemning us or offering God’s wrath, but of revealing where healing, wholeness, justice and mercy are desperately needed in our communities and in our world. It’s been a year that exposed that we were dead a year ago in status quo, in comfort, in security and now we’ve been made alive in truth. We now look at the truth head on, we see the snakes that are biting and killing and say no. We see the truth that worrying about ourselves, making decisions that are about our own wants and not for the health, well-being and safety of our neighbor brings harm to us all. We see the truth that much of our society, our way of life together, needs to be disrupted by God’s grace and love. We see the truth that this is our baptismal life, to be this graceful and loving disruption of sickness, separation and death.
It’s been a year, and I pray that it’s a year that we don’t try and sweep under the rug, simply forget, or try and ignore. I pray that it’s a year that we recognize that our way of life has been and will continue to be disrupted by God’s love, grace and mercy through Jesus. I pray that it’s a year that we hold on to as a witness that our way of life together is intertwined to God’s life and God’s desire for abundant life for all humanity and creation. It’s been a year, a year that has changed everything and exposed that our way of life is always held in God’s eternal presence and grace. Amen.

Prayers of the People:

Prayers of the People

Let us lift up our prayers today for ourselves, our neighbors, our community and our world.
A brief silence.

God of all, it has been a year. A year since we have worshiped in our usual spaces, a year since we have sung together praises of love, a year since we could freely have human contact, a year of change, a year of uncertainty. Hear our laments and our grief, God, as we now recall our experiences of this year.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Creative God, it has been a year. It has been a year of newness, change, creativity, and worshiping how we never thought possible, gathering how we never thought possible and doing ministry in ways that we never thought possible. But you saw the possibilities and called us into them with you. Thank you for the strength and courage in the past year to join you in bringing creation alive in our midst.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Healing God, it has been a year. A year of bodies hurting, of minds suffering, of hearts breaking and death mounting. It’s been a year for the medical teams who have worked tirelessly and we pray for sabbath rest for them. It’s been a year for the essential workers and we pray for economic justice for them. It’s been a year for our educators and we pray for a society that supports them. It’s been a year for those who work for racial justice and we pray to be part of the transformation with them.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Listening God, it’s been a year. And we begin a new year with tender hope, hope that things may return to normal and a desire for a new normal. As we go forward from this year, remind us to bring with us all that we have learned and experienced. As we go forward from this year, may our hearts be more open, may our ears more attentive and our eyes clearer to the revelation of your kin-dom. As we go forward from this year, may we refuse the normal that was oppressing and harming people of color, immigrants, refugees and our LBGQTIA+ siblings. As we go forward from this year, may it be for justice and peace.

Lord in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Loving God, It’s been a year and you have been always near. You hear our prayers, you give us strength, courage for the journey and hold us in love.

Amen.

 

Hidden Faults Psalm 19 March 11, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay UT, on March 10 for Wednesday Lent Vespers Worship. It was Zoom and it can be viewed on the Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC Youtube Channel.

The text was Psalm 19

The first house we bought in 1996 was a 1952 starter home in Lincoln, NE. Being an older home, we soon discovered some issues. We were having trouble with water in our finished basement, as every time we had a heavy rain, which in the spring and summer in NE, could be often. When the contractor came to regrade the dirt around the foundation, he saw something that concerned him. He started taking down the sheetrock in the basement and discovered the foundation was caving in. It couldn’t be seen hidden behind the walls. The water problem was really part of a bigger problem that only could be solved by removing all the walls in the basement so that the faulty foundation was exposed. Once it was exposed, the big heavy “I-beams” were brought in to reinforce the foundation. It was expensive for us as a young couple with two small children, and painful to lose the basement as living space. But it would have been more painful had the faulty foundation remained hidden. The possibility was the losing the whole house.

Like the psalmist in verse 12, I’m pondering what it means for God to clear me of my hidden faults. It seems innocuous enough, maybe God will just come in with a soft eraser and gently wipe the slate clean. But I think it’s more akin to the foundation work we had to do on our house in NE. When God clears our hidden faults, it means demolition of whatever wall is covering up the fault so that it can be rectified. Maybe it’s carrying a metaphor too far, but I know when I am faced with some hard truth of myself, there is a wall that has to come down so that I don’t continue to perpetuate what is faulty and crumbling.

The psalmist is also clear that all humans have faults, yes, even me, yes, even you. It is God’s presence and truth that pulls down the walls around our faults not for guilt or shame but for community, healing, justice, peace, and wholeness. With wall removed, we see God’s glory and grace in our lives and in the world. It beckons us to have our words and deeds reflect God’s will for God’s people. God’s presence in creation is sure, never ending, from heaven to earth, from day to night. God’s presence reinforces our true identity as beloved, so that we are courageous in doing what is life-giving for our neighbor. We are reinforced and girded with God’s law of love on our hearts. Thanks be to God.

 

Dr. Suess and Flipping Tables March 5, 2021

This sermon was offered for the community at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay UT, on March 7, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Exodus 20: 1-17
1 Corinthians 1: 18-25
John 2: 13-22

Children’s message: I have this word here-what does it say? WOW! Yep-what a great word, it can mean wonder, fear, joy, all kinds of things. BUT what happens when I flip this upside down…it says MOM! It means something completely different! Sometimes our lives are like that-we might see something differently when we turn it around. And sometimes we NEED to do that! God sent Jesus to turn us around, to help us to flip over what we see around us. God wants us to see that we don’t have to act a certain way or look a certain way for God to love us. BUT God does want us to love as God loves everyone around us, and that might mean flipping over  what we think about other people and acting differently. In our bible story today, Jesus was indeed angry, anger isn’t bad. Anger when people are being lied to, hurt or stolen from is normal. Jesus was angry and flipped over tables to make the people see differently because he loved them and knew that they could do better. Like when adults in your life are upset with you when you don’t do your best. Jesus wanted people to see that money didn’t get you closer to God. That you didn’t need to do anything to be close to God because the promise is that God comes to us. And Jesus wanted the people to flip how they saw each other, not as people competing for God’s love and grace but working together to BE God’s love and grace in the world.

So when you think that there is someone you don’t like or think is too different from you, see if you can flip how you see them-see them as Jesus does!

This week I was invited to read to the Mrs. Walkers kindergarten class at Mill Creek Elementary for Read Across America Day on March 2, Dr. Suess’s birthday. Now, as an educator I have long celebrated Dr. Suess’s birthday and read many of his books to students. And I thought I would read one this year to the kindergarteners. And then, some information surfaced about two weeks ago that made me rethink. It had come to light that Theodore Giesel, AKA Dr. Suess, had a history of racist behavior and some of his book characters were based off his stereotypes of Black people. My first reaction was a deep sigh, now no Dr. Suess? IS this now cancel culture run amok? But I set aside my feelings, listened to my Black siblings who told me that this is indeed offensive, racist and I believed them. I did not read a Dr. Suess book but instead read a book by Ezra Jack Keats instead. I listened, learned and made a different choice even though I wasn’t immediately comfortable with it. But I realized it’s not about my comfort. It’s about my black siblings and their lives, their experiences and their justice in a nation that often negates or tries to cancel them as a human. For years, I had jsut accepted Dr. Suess, a white author, as the norm and didn’t question it. But when that was flipped over, turned upside down, I knew that it was true and not perpetuating the racism was the action that would bring human flourishing to all.
And if I’m honest, there are many areas of my life where I don’t question and just accept. And when my perspective is flipped over, it makes me uncomfortable and defensive. I don’t like to think I could be wrong. Right now, we are in a societal debate about many long-held ideas and concepts that need to be flipped, as it turns out they are harmful or derogatory, they always have been, but now we see it differently. Such as learning that Dr. Suess books have inherent racism in them, or a pancake syrup company changing their logo and name, or companies no longer using women as objects to sell products. Or, as I learned some years ago, that only referring to God as male perpetuates sexism and homophobia in our theological thinking and that leads women/femmes and young girls (including myself) to assume that they are NOT created in God’s image, if we always refer to God as male. Some people are calling this cancel culture. Cancel culture isn’t new, and no it’s not actually canceling anything. It’s reflecting on new information, like Dr. Suess and making better decisions. Maya Angelou famously once said, “when you know better, you do better.” It’s ok to say, oh I didn’t know that but now that I do, I’ll change my language, behavior, thoughts, etc. so that I don’t cause harm to anyone.
This is hard, and often we don’t change, do better, even when we know better, until it’s our only option. It’s easier to just ignore what needs to change, particularly if it doesn’t directly affect us, and just go along to get along. We forget that we’re interconnected and what harms one will eventually harm us all. We forget that it matters that we make better decisions with the information we learn for our neighbor to be secure, safe and loved.

The Israelite people had a rough history of knowing better and then doing better, like every other human group in history. God had freed them from slavery, gave them food and water in the desert, protected them, and still they squabbled amongst themselves and tried taking more than they needed. So, God offered them some boundaries, commandments, guidelines of how to live with God and each other. God wanted to instruct them on how to live in such a way that offered safety, dignity, honor and flourishing. God wanted them to know better so that they would do better. Well, even while Moses was being given the 10 commandments, the people had decided to build a golden calf to worship…seriously. It took about 2.2 seconds for the people to grow restless and decide that they could figure out life together without God.
Fast forward about 800 years and the same was still true. They had rebuilt the Temple after exile and decided on a Temple festival, ritual, purification system that they thought was wise and beneficial. Well, beneficial if you were the Temple authorities, or the money changers, or the sacrificial animal vendor…but if you were poor, from outside Jerusalem and simply trying to be an observant Jew? Not so much. This system was not set up to benefit you. It was set up to take advantage of your love of God, of your desire to do the right thing. It was set up to put a barrier between you and God and to remind you that you have to be in the right place at the right time to experience God’s presence.
They should have known better, but they didn’t. They had bought (literally) into their own ideas about how God and religion worked. They needed to be shaken up, to see the system for what it really was so that they could see who God really is. Jesus sees what is happening and how it’s cancelling what God truly wants, and yes, it made Jesus angry. Jesus’ anger is not out of hate or exclusion but exasperation and love that they should know better. It must have been frightening for some to see Jesus enter with a whip (to be clear for the animals not for the people), to see his anger, kick over tables, pour the money out all over the floor, release the animals for sacrifice and declare that this is not how you build a relationship to God. God isn’t in the Temple; God is with them wherever they are. The money changing is canceled, buying animals for sacrifice is canceled, worrying if you’re pure enough for the Temple is canceled, the idea of God only in the Temple is canceled. What isn’t canceled is God’s promise of renewing the people’s hearts, minds and souls so that as God’s beloved community the world will also know better than to harm, oppress or marginalize other people. What isn’t canceled is God’s desire to be with God’s people wherever they are without barriers. What wasn’t canceled was God’s inclusion of all people into God’s grace.

This challenge to the Temple system, the religious system the way it had been, the way it had been set up by the people, would mean many changes for those in power and privilege. They wouldn’t have liked it and pushed back complaining that their livelihood, their beliefs, were being negated, oppressed or canceled. But Jesus wouldn’t have any of that. No, your oppression and power over other people isn’t your right, or your entitlement. God is creating something new, a new way to be in the world and it might mean that what we have created as humans will need to be turned over.

There are so many tables in our world that do need turned over. We need to turn over the tables of our capitalistic culture that lie to us that more stuff is security and money is power. We need to turn over the tables of homophobia and transphobia that keep our siblings from human and civil rights, we need to turn over the tables of sexism and misogyny that  objectifies women and disallows women agency and autonomy over their own bodies. We need to turn over the tables of using religion and the bible as a weapon to keep certain populations in a marginalized place or to perpetuate hierarchy and hegemony. Jesus didn’t come to keep us comfortable, but to reveal that when God is with us, our tables are turned over so that we can see underneath the surface. And once we see it, once we know it, we will do better.

Our baptismal journey is to keep turning over the tables of status quo, comfort and security in our lives to see differently from God’s perspective, to see the new thing that God is creating. We are called to keep learning, to keep digging deeper, to keep questioning, to keep doing better. We will be different from other in the world who will call us foolish or weak. But we trust in the wisdom and strength of God flipping over what doesn’t bring flourishing and life to all people and all creation. We cling to the promise that God’s love, grace, mercy and hope are never canceled and our lives are turned over to see the world differently. Amen.

 

Hold On February 28, 2021

This sermon was preached for the community at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on February 28, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Romans 4: 13-25
Mark 8: 31-38

Children’s message: Have my bag handy:  My children, who are now grown-ups, always make fun of the size of my bag. I quit carrying a small bag after becoming a parent as I felt like I was always needing something I didn’t have. If they got hurt, I would need a first aid kit, snacks for when they were hungry, water for thirst, pen and paper for when they were bored, tissues, hand wipes, and more. If they needed something, I could help. And even after they were grown, I discovered that keeping these things around wasn’t a bad idea, not just for if I need them, but I could help someone else too. We all need help sometimes don’t we? We all get hurt, sick, lonely, hungry, sad, it’s just what happens in our lives. We don’t like it and we don’t like to think about it do we? Well our story about Jesus today is kinda about that. Jesus was walking along with his disciples and started telling them that he was going to be hurt and die, which happens to every person. But Peter didn’t want to talk about that. Peter wanted to believe that Jesus and hopefully himself as a friend of Jesus, would avoid ever being hurt and dying. But Jesus says, no, that’s not how life goes. We can’t pretend that we’ll never be hurt, sad or that people will never die. We have to be honest about that and tell the truth of how God is always with us especially when we are hurt, sad, lonely and dying. Jesus tells the disciples that they can’t pretend that hard and scary things won’t happen, because that doesn’t help. But they DO need to help other people through the hard and scary things, maybe crying with their friends and family, by sharing food, clothes and money, by saying no when someone is hurting someone else. That’s what “picking up our cross” means. Notice how the cross looks like a “t”? Well, Jesus wants us to follow him into the truth that yes, we might get scared and hurt, and the truth is also that God hold us and hold each other and help others when they need it-like what’s in my mom purse. I want you to draw or write what you have that you can share when a friend is hurt, scared or lonely.

 Full confession: I have always possessed a “gallows” sense of humor or maybe what is better described as Gen X snark. It’s probably because I’ve had a few life events that if I didn’t find the irony or the humor in, I’d cry all the time or be jaded. Well, and maybe I am both of those things, but mostly, the snarky thing. Call it irreverent, call it a coping strategy, but it’s all part of my charm. So, when the pandemic first started, and Mike and I would be watching the horrifying news each evening, all the poor decisions or simply lack of leadership happening, I would turn to him and say, “we’re all gonna die.” To which he would say, “yes but maybe not today.” Each day in 2020 would pass with some over the top new low, and I would look at Mike and say, “We’re all gonna die.” “yes,” he would say, “but maybe not today.” There’s been a couple of times with all of the chaos in the past two months where Mike has conceded where we might all die sooner versus later….
Despite my snark, it is true that we are all gonna die. From this life anyway. Yet, I think what is at the root of my snark is our ability as humans to think that we can outsmart reality, suffering, hurt and death. That WE’RE different from everyone else and we’ll escape it. But that’s just not how life works, it turns out. We often ask, “why me?” when bad things happen to us, but I’ve learned the real question is “why not me?” Suffering and death is a part of life and all the major world religions have at their core how we cope with life’s hard realities. But we live in a culture that tells us to deny aging and death: from commercials for anti-wrinkle creams, hair dyes, fat removal, to how we keep dying people hidden away in facilities and sanitize the dying process so that no one is uncomfortable. We are lulled into holding on to the deception that we can avoid the inevitable. We will do anything: any diet, any exercise routine, any procedure, any supplement, and hold on to any illusion or delusion to convince ourselves that we can outsmart aging, suffering and dying. Until we can’t. Until we trip and fall into the reality that we and everyone we know suffers and dies. But even then, our inner dialogue becomes one of rationalization that maybe they didn’t hold on tight enough, that their suffering was teaching them something, or us something, or worse, was God’s will. This is never true.
Peter is caught up in the very human delusion that he can escape the reality of suffering and death, after all he knows Jesus, the Messiah who will conquer all! The Messiah who will hold the Empire accountable and the Israelites will be conquerors and in power at last. But Jesus sees the self-deception that Peter is holding on to, and names it by calling him Satan, the deceiver. You see, Peter was still deceived that he was in control, he hadn’t figured out yet that following Jesus,aligning your life with God, isn’t going to spare you from hurt, suffering, oppression and death, it doesn’t spare you from being human. Following Jesus means that you let go of all the deceptions, all the fears, so that you can pick up your cross; you can pick up the truth that there is suffering in your life and the lives of people around you. The truth that we can’t honestly enter into the hurt of the world if our hands and hearts are clutching our own misconceptions, worries, fears and delusions. Picking up our cross means that we’ve let go of anything that doesn’t bring the fullness of life for ourselves and the people around us.

This isn’t easy, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s a journey that we have to be honest about and commit and recommit to every day. We can’t put our heads in the sand, or hope that someone else says the hard, but true thing. We can’t drive by the tent camps of people living on the streets and hold on to the myth that a solution is too expensive or the people won’t want it. We can’t watch over and over again as black and brown people are unjustly incarcerated and murdered by authorities and hold on to the lie that racism and white supremacy doesn’t exist and we don’t have a role. We can’t witness the denigration and lack of human rights of people who are LBGTQIA+ and hold on to the prejudice that they should be excluded. We can’t ignore the racist or sexist joke because we want to hold on to “niceness” or our need to be liked. Like Peter, we want to hold on to the delusion that following Jesus means that we should be able to hold on to our comfortable life, or hold suffering and death at bay, or that being church is about feeling good, safe, and secure.

We forget what the cross really means in our life. It’s not a sign of holding on to protection, piety, status quo or comfort. The cross was a symbol of abusive power for the Empire, for the powers and principalities as Paul calls it, and was used by the Empire to keep the marginalized people of the society in their place out of fear. But God doesn’t allow abuse to continue, let status quo stand, doesn’t let fear and death win. Jesus picked up the cross to turn it into a symbol of God holding on to God’s vision of justice, of God’s upheaval of worldly authorities and of God’s will for life and wholeness for all creation. Jesus picked up the cross to show us to let go of the myth that suffering is good, God’s will or redemptive, but to show us that suffering is reality AND that God is present; we aren’t alone in our suffering. Jesus picked up the cross to show us that God lets go of everything that doesn’t bring life, empties God’s hands to hold on to us, to reveal that when it’s hard, when it looks bleak, God’s love, justice, mercy and life will find a way to hold on.

We are called to empty our hands, to let go, so that we pick up our cross, we hold on, we hold on to one another when suffering abounds, to hold each other in God’s love and care, clearly name the oppression, abuse and harm being inflicted on our marginalized siblings and speak the truth to the powers of this world in love. Not love that is sentimental and mushy, but love that can hold on in tension, paradox and reality. This is Luther’s theology of the cross, that in the cross of Jesus, suffering, reality and wholeness in God’s mercy and grace can be held together. We pick our cross, the cross that holds us when nothing else can, and we let go of the delusions of what we think life should be. We let go of our false life to hold on to a true life of being held by God’s love, mercy and grace, in the reality of our lives. This is good news indeed. Amen.

 

Signs of Life Sermon for Lent 1B February 19, 2021

This sermon was preached for the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 21, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please subscribe!

The texts were:

Genesis 9: 8-17
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 9-15

It was riveting to watch the Mars Rover, Perseverance, land this week. The joy of the Nasa and JPL crew was palpable as the rover transmitted first pictures of the surface of the red planet. The rover projected a barren terrain: only sand and rocks, no plant life, trees, lakes, or rivers. The mission is to determine if life is possible or was ever possible on Mars, as currently, it appears that there are no signs of life to be found. But the recent discovery of the possibility of water, 4 million years ago in the Jezero Crater, opens the door and the imagination to dig deeper, literally, into the sand and rocks, to see if life is indeed present and possible. This most certainly captures my imagination, as if there is life on Mars, it will be unlike anything we have ever seen. The possibility exists of life and we might miss it because it will be so foreign to us and outside our scope of experience. This scientific mission names a truth for us on this planet earth. I often only take in at face value the surface of the terrain around me, whether that’s the actual earth, which at this time of year seems to be as lifeless as Mars, or my day-to-day encounters with people and places. I don’t take the time, possess the curiosity or have the imagination to wonder about what I don’t understand and what I don’t know. I make assumptions about situations and people sometimes writing them off as lifeless, useless, and arid. I assume that there is nothing life-giving able to come from that place or relationship. I don’t dig deeper; I don’t allow for the possibility for my mind to be changed. I believe that what I see, is all there is to see. Only sand, only rocks, only snow, only barrenness.

Lent beginning at the end of winter, when most life is dead or hibernating, is not simply a happy coincidence. Lent was wisely ascribed by the religious folks to begin the six weeks leading up to Easter, when signs of life are harder to find. And the texts that we encounter in worship, call us to dig deeper, go beyond the surface terrain and look under the rocks, dig in the sand, and the see past the barrenness to see signs of new life. Every first Sunday of Lent we read about Jesus in the desert. Each version from Matthew, Mark and Luke are slightly different, offering a myriad of insights, but Mark’s our reading today, and it is the briefest, two verses. After Jesus is baptized (also a brief version) the Holy Spirit drives Jesus, or literally in the Greek, throws Jesus into the wilderness or the desert. He’s tested by Satan, is with some wild beasts and the angels who erve him. This story would have been much kinder and easier to digest if it went right from Jesus’ baptism with the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and the loving words from God, to Jesus proclaiming that God’s kingdom is here, turn around and believe in the good news! But that’s not what we have. In between those two stories, Jesus is thrown into a dangerous place where few people could survive. No water, no food, no shelter, only sand, rocks and the blazing Middle Eastern sun. Not a very hospitable place for life. Yet, Mark adds the detail that there are wild beasts there. So, there is apparently SOME life to be found. And if that isn’t enough, the angels are there too, serving Jesus, that is to care for his life. Despite Satan’s attempts to prove otherwise, there were signs of life in that wild place. Maybe not the life that Jesus would have preferred, or the kind of life that brings comfort and ease, but it was life finding a way against all odds.

This is the good news that Jesus then proclaims in Galilee. Yes, John is arrested and most likely will be killed, yes, you might be surrounded by desert, death, lifelessness, hopelessness, but God’s kingdom is also here! God’s kingdom is the sign of life that you are looking for! It’s life that meets you at the waters edge, in the cold, parched, and dead places in your life, in suffering, in hopelessness and helplessness. God never gives up on revealing abundant life, over and over God chooses life. God creates life from the chaos of the void, calls forth life from a flood, gives life to God’s people in the desert for 40 years, God offers a new life to the exiles, and in Jesus, God proclaims that death will not abound for humanity or creation only life eternal.

God sends signs of life: The bow in the clouds, manna on the ground, water from a rock, a sprig from the dead stump of Jesse, a baby in a feeding trough, God’s son on a cross and a tomb that is empty. Not always the signs we look for or can understand but signs of life, nonetheless. Signs of God’s promise of life are all around us today: people volunteering to give vaccines, Navy pilots rescuing sea turtles in TX, animals keeping their humans warm in subzero temps, people serving their neighbors who live on the streets in the bitter cold, hospital staff working overtime to heal broken bodies, voices in unity demanding equity and dignity for Black, Indigenous and LBGTQIA folks, there are signs of life.

Jesus calls us to be God’s signs of life in the world. We are part of the promise that life finds a way even when it seems impossible. Drenched in the life-giving waters of our baptism and nourished by Jesus’ very body, we are walking, breathing, loving signs of life. We are signs of life when we refuse to allow any person be denigrated, we are signs of life when we ensure that children and families have safe and adequate housing, food and medical care, we are signs of life for MillCreek Elementary families, we are signs of life for Family Promise guests and Linus Project children, we are signs of life when we realize that we can’t sit silently on the shoreline, we have to get into the water, we go into the desert, not alone but by and with the Holy Spirit and each other to usher in the life that God has envisioned from day one of creation. Life in harmony, life in balance, life abundant and life for all. It’s risky to be those signs of life, like the Mars Rover, we might feel like we’re being hurtled through space towards an unknown future. But unlike the Mars Rover we know that we go with God and one another and God knows what’s coming: God’s realm where signs of life aren’t hard to see but are abundantly found, in creation, in you, in me and in us all. Amen.

 

Breaking Orbit: Shattered and Whole February 18, 2021

As some of you may know, I made a short video last summer after the officers in the Breonna Taylor murder were exonerated. I was done, I was undone, and I still am. The crux of that video is that I have to make a break from my enculturation as a white cisgender woman. I have to break from racism, white supremacy and all the powers to which I have not only been beholden, but have upheld and supported, knowingly and unknowingly. In pondering this I reflected on how much of my life has been about the reality of “breaking.” Broken hearts, shattered lives, broken relationships, broken promises, and the list goes on. And yet, in that brokenness, the reality of something else breaking through: God’s love, healing and wholeness. No, not in a happily ever after Disney movie sort of way, but love, healing and wholeness from God that bears witness to tension, paradox, messiness and imperfection. The reality that life is messy, relationships are messy, we break, and God put our pieces back together not so that we can pretend that we never broke, but to show us the beauty of our cracks, and so that when we see someone else’s cracked life, we recognize the intricate patterns and delightful lines of a life well lived. I’ll be blogging chapters, and updates, mostly for accountability to keep me writing. Thanks for breaking out with me on this journey.

I began to wonder if anyone would resonate with this and so I’ve been working (slowly) on a book entitled: Breaking Orbit: Shattered and Whole. (Working Title) Here is a snippet of the introduction and the chapters:

Chapters:

Breaking In
Breaking Out
Breaking Up
Breaking Down-
Breaking away-
Breaking Point-
Breaking Free
Breaking Through

Introduction: When I first began to conceive of this book more than a decade ago, I really thought that it would encompass only one specific period of time in my life. But that never felt quite right to me, while that period in my life was pivotal and a crucible moment (and will be covered in this book), there were also lots of defining moments that led up to it and there were just as many defining moments that followed. Sorta like clouds that come together, build up and produce lightening, but then there is the thunder and the rain that follows. I know that all of us are more than the sum of one event in our lives and it seems that pivotal moment is dishonored by not naming other moments and events. But pivotal moments are just that, when the lightening of clarity strikes and you know that things have to be different.

In the summer of 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, the sin of white supremacy and racism rose to the top of our social conscious with the murder of George Floyd. All through the summer, we protested, wrote letters  and called our state and federal representatives, demanding that Black Lives Matter and for oppression through policing for Black people to stop. It seemed every week brought in front of us a new layer of horror for our Black siblings in the United States. But it was when the officers who murdered Breonna Taylor while she slept in her own bed in her own home were exonerated, I came undone. I broke. I broke open to the horror that I was integral in propping up our caste system of race and I am integral in dismantling it. We cannot expect our Black, Brown and People of Color siblings to do this work. As a white person, I had to break free from this system that harms everyone and helps no one. I made a video that morning after that verdict entitle “Break Orbit.” I knew that continuing to stay in the orbit of racism and white supremacy was death dealing for me and everyone around me. Things HAVE to be different. If as a person who believes that Jesus Christ was killed, died and was buried and on the third day was raised by God who makes all things new, then I have to be part of the resurrection narrative that God is enacting today, right now, in our nation and world. We have to envision a different world, we have to work to bring this different world into being.

There is something about the concept of “breaking” that intrigues and resonates with me. We fear things and relationships breaking and exert a great deal of energy attempting to keep breaking in any fashion from occurring. We live in a society that was intentionally erected to perpetuate the myth of stability, order, and “intactness.” That is systems need to remain functioning as they always have, nothing should change, and if something does, the return to homeostasis must be swift and sure. The idea of something “breaking” is to be avoided at all costs. And if something does break, the goal is to put it back together so that it looks and functions exactly as it did before. If you’ve ever broken an object, let’s say you smart phone, you might be able to get it fixed, but it’s never the same. This is true for those of us who have experienced broken bones. I’ve broken my left wrist twice in my life and I can tell you when it’s about to rain.

Yet, we’ve all seen that social media meme about how in the Japanese culture a broken object is put back together with gold to highlight the brokenness or how when something is broken the light can come in. Those are lovely images, and yet it more than that for me. I think that it’s important to name that breaking is hard and it hurts-always. There is no way around the pain of breaks in any way. This is probably why we strive to avoid breaking in any form in our lives and we want to avoid pain. The problem is, that in avoiding breaking and pain, we also avoid the new life that awaits. In breaking, I have the opportunity for transformation, to be put back together in a new way.

So this book is a culmination of who I have been shaped to be from all of the breaks…so far. I pray to be a work in progress until my last breath, and my spouse assures me that will be true! I am an ELCA pastor, currently serving in Salt Lake City, Utah. While much of my adult life’s vocational work has been within the ELCA, I have only been a pastor since 2012. My journey to the Church was anything but a straight path. I am shaped by my childhood as a self-ascribed “Air Force Brat,” that is my dad served in the Air Force for 26 years, as I like to say, I served with him for 18 of those years. We moved frequently, I attended five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools. I learned to be flexible, outgoing and skeptical. Well, maybe the skeptical part is innate, but regardless, my bullshit meter was well developed at an early age. Oh, and if swear words bother you from a pastor…well…remember, I grew up in the military. When our children where growing up the rule was “you have to use them correctly in a sentence and you can’t noun verbs or verb nouns.” Grammar matters people.

What does this all have to do with the title of the book you may ask? If you didn’t, well too bad. While the articulation of the words “breaking orbit” is a fairly recent epiphany for me, the concept of an unpredictable journey is one that is not new. My entire life has been one of not quite being in the same path as everyone else, of discontentedness of status quo and going in circles has always made me dizzy and nauseous. (Not a fan of amusement park rides ironically.) Every couple of years my military family broke orbit to a new location, and we voyaged out to a new community, new cultures and new patterns. I’ll never know if it’s nature or nurture, but at an early age, I loathed stagnation. I always loved the electric zing of the words, “we’re going to do something different.” (If you’re now questioning my vocation as a mainline Christian pastor where change is eschewed, yeah, you’re not alone. I’m with you.)

But not just different for the sake of different or the novel. Different for a reason. I’ve also never been a fan of arbitrary rules. My mother’s oft used verbiage of “because I said so,” was often met from me with a look of incredulity, and more often that I’d like to admit, some sassy comeback. If a rule or suggestion didn’t seem to have a satisfactory reason (to me) then it must be challenged-either to be abolished or to be changed to make sense. Yes, I was an obnoxious teenager. Yes, I’m an obnoxious adult. But back to the concept of different. Different always had the alure of the new, of learning, of the exotic. Moving to a different location on a very regular basis revealed to me that I could literally be a different person in each new context. In middle school, I was thrilled to be the peppy, outgoing pom-pom girl. But then we moved while I was in high school, and I decided to try the brooding, intellectual, violinist who locked herself away for several hours a day to practice. Different. Not bad, not good, not better, simply different.

I did meet my spouse in high school (you’ll get all the details in one of the chapters, don’t worry!) and so he knows me well. Sometimes, with all my craving for different, change and looking out into the universe, I worry that I’m flaky, inconsistent, have commitment issues, etc. But he very kindly says to me “oh I’m just used to you reinventing yourself every five years or so.” I looked back and realized he’s right. About every five years, I start to morph directions, look at my life, the world or whatever, differently. For better or worse for Mike, I’ve never considered a different life without Mike….you’ll have to ask him if he’s ever considered a different life from being with me! No, wait, I don’t want to know. Ignorance is bliss. I like to think that this “reinvention” is about taking the best of who I am at the time and shedding what is no longer working to allow me to move in a different direction. Here different might mean healthier, more fulfilled, using more of my gifts, or just the ability to wonder if I can do something new. Does that make me flaky, inconsistent and noncommittal? Maybe, but I prefer to think that it makes me interesting. Or annoying.

Mostly, different for me is linked to vision. The other thing my spouse often says about me is that I wake up every morning and imagine that the world is somehow different from the night before and life is more just, more loving and more kind. I’m not sure if this a compliment, but I choose to not think it means I’m simply naïve. I DO think that the world can be different, and yes, I think that every single day. A big piece of the “breaking orbit” theme for me is to participate fully in bringing this difference where diversity is honored and revered, where no voice is silenced, people are housed, feed, given medical care, given autonomy and love, to fruition. For me this is deeply tied up in my faith and belief that Jesus meant the words he said about loving your neighbor as yourself and caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry, giving clean water to the thirsty, clothing the naked. I don’t read the Bible literally, but I don think that if we are going to take any of it literally, it should be this. Don’t fret that you think you’ve picked up a fruity religious book where I’m going to try and convince you to be Christian, you haven’t. You’ve picked up a fruity book where I’m going to try and convince you that you and we all matter. My personal bent is Jesus, and nearly all religions pretty much say that we shouldn’t be assholes to each other or the planet. While the book is called “Breaking Orbit,” we are all stuck together on this planet Earth and we should make the most of it. There’s no leaving.

In sharing with you my voyages of breaking free, moving on, reimagining, seeking different, I hope to offer comfort to my fellow “different” seekers, inspiration to my fellow “should I/this be different” wonderers, and connection to us all as humans trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got. I hope that there will be nuggets that will settle into your heart and remind you that whatever you encounter in your life, you are empowered to make choices, you have gifts, you have options, you are who you are and it’s enough.

 

Keeping Secrets Ash Wednesday

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 4:01 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

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

The texts were:
Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 51: 1017
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

The concept of the word “secret” has always made me squirm. That is, rarely in my life have secrets, even the presumably “good” secrets, been a positive experience. For one, I’m terrible at keeping secrets or lying; I don’t have a poker face at all. Growing up, I would occasionally try and mislead my parents and other adults in my life, either pretending that I had indeed practiced my piano for 30 minutes already or that I couldn’t possibly have made that mess in the kitchen. But one cursory glance at my face and the jig was up. I would be terrible at a Vegas casino. Or as a spy. After nearly a whole year of seeing myself on Zoom, I have come to understand how my face nearly always betrays what I’m really thinking. I humbly apologize, as yes, you’re right, it’s not always charitable. It’s my best/worst trait. It sometimes serves me well, and just as often gets me into trouble. I don’t always mind the trouble, which could be an issue all unto itself, but there are occasions that I wish I was a bit harder to read, harder to predict, was more of a mystery, and had a few more secrets. I’m sure several people around me wish the same thing!

But Jesus isn’t the least bit squeamish talking about secrets, as the word “secret” is used six times in our reading this evening. That’s a lot of secretiveness! For a gospel that tells us to be a light on the hill, to go and tell all nations about Jesus and baptize everyone into the mission of bringing God’s kingdom, why tell us to keep our piety in secret?
I don’t think that Jesus is trying to purposefully confuse us or to suggest that we should never share our faith. I DO think that Jesus is concerned that we are often more concerned with what other’s think of us, or that we make our faith practices a competition. He’s challenging our notions of what a religious person, a true believer might look like. Jesus is revealing that we are revealed. No matter how hard we try and hold that poker face, or that face of piety, God sees what’s really going on: God sees us only giving money from our comfortable excesses, God sees our social media posts that make us seem like Mother Teresa, God sees us praying loudly at restaurants so that everyone hears how close we are to God, God sees our t-shirts, jewelry with Christian symbols and sayings.  None of those things are wrong or bad, but God sees what we do and think when no one is looking, what we think we do and think in secret and the actions don’t always match the motivation.
Jesus is aware that we have secrets, and he’s aware that the secrets we hold, are we probably aren’t very proud of. Jesus sees that we try to be generous but knows our secret that we don’t want to be TOO generous. Jesus sees our attempts to show others how we love Jesus but knows the secret that we compare other people to ourselves and put others down to elevate ourselves. Jesus sees what we think is important, what’s our precious treasure and knows our secret, that it is often us.
It’s no secret that Jesus’ presence in the world and in our lives reveals us, and it’s no secret that we don’t know what to do with Jesus who sees our secrets, who we really are, and loves us anyway. It’s no secret that in Lent, we hope that by giving up a favorite food, or drink or questionable habit or by adding daily prayer and scripture reading that we will distract God and deflect God from knowing our real secrets of competition, greed, worry and lack of self-worth. The good news is that it won’t work. God knows all of our secrets; God knows that we try and fail to live in the footsteps of Jesus. Here on Ash Wednesday, we mark ourselves with the cross that reveals this secret: we try, we fail, we try again, and we are loved the whole time. The cross of ash, tells the world that God’s redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of all creation, is not a secret and is out in the open for all to see and participate. Maybe God has a poor poker face as well, for in Jesus, we see God’s love and care for all people clearly. God sees the secrets we keep but doesn’t keep the secret that we are all, each one of us, beloved people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.