A Lutheran Says What?

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

HOPE Holding Onto Promises Expectantly November 29, 2021

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This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Nov. 28, 2021, Advent 1 Year C. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:

Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Psalm 25: 1-10
Luke 21: 25-36

Young friends message: Ok I want you to right where you are crouch down like this (show them how to get small where they can’t lift their heads very well or see much, particularly in the pews) and tell me what you see: Accept all answers. Ok, now, stand up and tell me what you see: accept all answers. In what position could you see more? Standing up! You can lift your head better, turn around, etc. Which for you was more comforting when you could see more or less? Why? Yep, sometimes that can go either way, sometimes we’re happy seeing less, knowing less and not worrying about as much. And sometimes we feel comforted seeing the whole landscape, seeing everything that is around us. This is the first week in Advent for the Church, every Christian church everywhere is starting a new liturgical year today. Sort of like New Years for the Church. Advent means “an arrival” and we are waiting both for the arrival of Christmas, when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, but we are also waiting for the full arrival of God’s kingdom. We have a good idea of what Christmas day will look like for each of us, probably going to church, presents, family, a meal together, but we don’t know what the arrival of God’s kingdom will look like and so people try and guess. People will try and scare us that God’s kingdom coming WILL be scary, and want us to be afraid so that we crouch down and hide. But Jesus says, don’t be scared. Stand up! See it all! Don’t hide from something because it might look scary or new. Even when we’re scared, or confused, or unsure, Jesus words of love, mercy, and hope never leave us, or as Jesus says “my words will not pass away.” Scary situations end, and new experiences become known, but God’s love and presence with us never ends and that gives us something called “hope” which is what we think about on the first Sunday of the Church year. I thought of an acronym for HOPE: Holding Onto Promises Expectantly. Hope lets us stand up and see God’s work even when we’re scared. Hope is isn’t making a wish, hope is continuing to look for God and share God’s love even when we don’t understand the world around us. God promises to hold us, to never let us go, and it’s in that promise that we can live in hope. So whenever you see signs of hope, like new leaves on a tree, or a baby animal or baby human, that is God’s hope holding on to you. We’re going to talk about this more.

HOPE-it’s a four-letter word that is tossed around almost as much as the word LOVE in our society with as little understanding of what it means. Hope is often confused with wishes, or naivety. Hope is different than either of those concepts however, as hope, like love, is active. Hope isn’t passively sitting around waiting for circumstances to change, not saccharine sentimentalism, no, hope moves us to be part of the force that will change circumstances. Hope is vision and action melded together in a way that can be a powerful catalyst for transformation if we allow it to be. Loss of hope is devastating and many of us have witnessed someone who has lost hope. When hope is absent, it’s as if we curl in on ourselves like when we crouched down a minute ago. Losing hope goes along with losing vision, losing perspective, losing connection. While I am not necessarily an optimistic person, I want to always remain a hopeful one. I hope to keep seeing the world how it really is while also being able to imagine how the world COULD be when we proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. And I know that some do not share this hopefulness. There have been a couple of stories lately about the rise of young adults saying that they do not want to have children at all. The reasons range from lack of financial abilities to the belief that the world is not progressing for the better and they don’t want to bring a child into a dystopian future. Essentially, there is a lack of hope that anything will transform for the better. I don’t want to critique this worldview, as I do understand it, I really do, and I can’t adhere to it either. I believe that this is where our message as followers of Jesus matters immensely in our world today, and we have an obligation and a duty to speak hope into a world that seems to be leaning into hopelessness.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of HOPE and hear these passages from Jeremiah, Psalm 25 and Luke and wonder how they help us to speak hope: the Holding Onto Promises Expectantly, into the world, when it seems what is reinforced is calamity, fear and confusion. We need to take a step back and see the forest for the trees, see the big picture, which hope helps us to do. In Jeremiah, we hear what God will do: cause new life to spring up from a dead branch. Life where none existed. In Psalm 25 that we will read after the sermon (spoiler alert), it’s a prayer of God’s steadfastness, love and covenant, which means promises, to hold on to us no matter what. Jesus in Luke 21 recalls the promise that when everything that we know, trust and think is certain, passes away, or dies, God’s word, God’s presence, will not. God’s presence holds us in hope, that God’s kingdom will prevail and God’s love will flow. So don’t bury your heads, stand up, lift your heads, and see the signs of hope and share them. Lifting our heads, our hearts, our lives in prayer are one way that we hold onto promised expectations of new life, that it won’t always be this way, and we are called to be part of the transformation. Jesus shows us this hope in action: feeding the hungry, being in community with the outcast, the lowly and the people whom society declared worthless, turning over tables of exploitation. Jesus’ life was one of hope, hope that didn’t stay still but went from community to community actively proclaiming that God’s hope is real, and holds us, even in suffering and death. God holds on to us, God’s loving grip on us can’t be shaken, and so we are freed to live and act on this hope, we aren’t trapped by the hopelessness of the world, but we lift our heads and clearly see the world how it is and work to bring the transformational reality of God’s kingdom to creation. This is our redemption, our healing, what we look up to see: God holding out all hope and expectation that we are being transformed in this waiting time for the kingdom to fully come and that we hold out all hope that God will keep God’s promises for abundant life to come now, for healing mercy to come now, and for unending love to come now. We stand in the promises of God, that this transformation will come upon all who live on the face of the earth. We stand in this hope, we stand before the love of Jesus. For we can do no other.   Amen.

 

Sermon for Maraget Warrick November 21, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at the worship service celebrating the baptismal journey of Margaret Warrick at First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, UT. It can be viewed on their YouTube Channel: First United Methodist Church SLC.
The texts were: Psalm 121
Revelation 7: 15-17
John 14: 1-7

When we think of the life and faith of Margaret Warrick, we all immediately begin to hum, whistle or sing a beloved hymn, Bach fugue or toccata. For most of us, music is icing on our life’s cakes, but for Margaret, it was the cake, icing, candles, decorations…it was life and her life in God. As her children, Steven, Carolyn Janet, Susan and husband of nearly 72 years Harry and I gathered to plan this day, the music was central, sacred and holy. There were so many hymns and organ pieces that could have been chosen. Music was how God’s word, love and mercy flowed to the world for Margaret, and she cherished proclaiming that loving, merciful and grace-filled word to us every chance she could. For me, one of the hymns on my lips when I remember Margaret, is “My Life Flows on in Endless Song.” The refrain asks us “how can I keep from singing?” The fact is that Margaret couldn’t keep from singing or playing the music that welled up in her.
Margaret’s life of 94 years sang out to the world in so many ways, yes in serving as a church organist faithfully relaying the gospel week after week in music, and her life sang to her beloved students for nearly 70 years, her PEO sisters, and her family. Margaret’s heart couldn’t keep from singing, when she met this tall, lanky young man at Boise State where they were both enrolled. Her heart sang so boldly, that she invited Harry to a dance! Yes, their first date of the 75-year romance involved music.
I can only imagine the music that burst forth from her when her four children were born. When I would visit Margaret and Harry, her joy, pride and love for the four of you and your families couldn’t be contained. I felt like I knew you before we met. In that way, Margaret shared her gift of music by connecting other people to her life’s song. As the new pastor in town, Margaret called me weekly for a while in the midst of the pandemic to check on me. Her life not only sang with joy but with generosity and care.

She genuinely cared about people, not only people she knew but people in general. Musicians often have a deep intuition and tap into the broader social emotions of the world around them, and Margaret was no exception. Margaret wanted all people to have the love and care that they deserved as God’s people, the life that she knew in the love and care of God. Just as music was foundational for her, the core of who she was, so her faith and love in Jesus was deeply intertwined. Music was how she experienced and knew God’s love, care, protection and shelter in her life. How she knew that she wasn’t alone on her journey, that God sheltered her all her days, as the psalmist wrote in Psalm 121 that Pastor AJ read. And now her eternal life in the arms of Jesus, indeed flows on in the endless song of praise and she sings, or perhaps even plays the organ in worship of God continuously in God’s presence.
Margaret’s life song flowed to us and the song doesn’t end with her death. Margaret’s song of love, grace, hope and faith still sings to us today and each day to come. Her life’s song still rings in our ears and in our hearts and we add our own voices to the song. The song that tells us of God’s love through Jesus, the promises of God for abundant life here and now, the promise that there is room for all voices in this song of love that Margaret and we so intimately know. And joining our voices together in the chorus of God’s people, we sing of new life today and the life to come in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus’ love song resonated in Margaret for 94 years and now she claims her baptismal promise of eternal life in the music of God’s kingdom. This song of faith, hope and love was for Margaret, and is for you, for me and for us all. May this love song from Jesus surround you, hold you and may your life flow on in endless song you can’t keep from singing. Amen.

 

What We Seek Sermon on Matthew 6

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Nov. 21, 2021. It is the last Sunday of our liturgical year. Worship can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:

Psalm 126
1 Timothy 2: 1-7
Matthew 6: 25-33

Young Friends message: What does your shout for joy sound like? Have you shouted for joy lately? Yes! Those are all good reasons to shout for joy! Has anything made you cry lately? You don’t have to share what-we all have things that make us cry. Where have you seen God in your life? That’s harder isn’t it? Sometimes we see God in our joy and sometimes we see God in our sadness and sometimes we have a hard time seeing God at all. In our confirmation classes and youth group, we share our highs/lows and God moments, where we’ve seen God in our lives. Highs and lows are easier, aren’t they, but it’s about us and our experiences, but God moments are harder, often we have to stop and really wonder where we’ve seen God. That’s ok. All our bible stories that we just read today, are about how we as people struggle to see God in our lives, and how we can seek what God is doing, or what Jesus calls “seeking the kingdom of God.” That sounds like going on a quest like in Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones, but what Jesus is saying, is look for where God is doing God-like things. What are God-like things? (Accept all answers) We’re going to talk a bit more about that.

Seeking the kingdom of God feels complicated and a bit esoteric, doesn’t it? Seeking the kingdom of God seems like something only the very spiritual, pious or mystical can do, like the 4th century desert fathers and mothers or monks, it’s not for the everyday Jesus follower. One must be endowed with some sort of spiritual vision to seek the kingdom of God these days it seems to me. As I just mentioned, one of the rituals I have taught families, including my own, congregations and other gatherings, is to share your highs/lows and God sightings or sometimes I call them God moments. Nearly every person can quickly and easily come up with their high’s and lows for the day or week. As a matter of fact, I want you to turn to the person closest to you now and offer one high and one low for the week. I’ll give you about 90 seconds… That’s not too hard for most of us. We can recall what has made us joyful and what caused us to weep with accuracy and speed. We focus easily on ourselves. But God sightings? I bet right now you’re all scrambling in your brains to come up with where you saw God afraid that I’m going to make you do that next and you won’t have anything with substance to offer. Don’t worry, you’ve got time and I’ll prime you.
I know for me, it can be difficult to seek the kingdom of God, to see what God is doing in the world amid the noise and worry in the world. I can focus on what worries me, what impacts me and what will happen to me. So much grabs my attention, from the mundane: is my retirement fund enough or hoping that the grocery store has what I need, to the seemingly endless injustices of our nation and world: lack of equal pay, the lack of equal healthcare, housing, and this week how our legal system isn’t a justice system. I get worried about the future and how I can ensure safety, security and welfare of myself and others. The reality is while those concerns can seem valid, urgent and necessary, the truth is I can’t see God’s presence, God’s God-like actions when I’m only looking at what I’m worried about.
Jesus, in his sermon on the mount here in Matthew, knows that as humans this is our reality. We have so many worries, and we miss God’s invitation to trust in God. I have to admit that to compare our lives to the lilies of the fields or the birds of the air feels quaint and naïve, I mean, oh Jesus, that’s so adorable! There life span is so short, and they don’t have to prepare for old age! But that is Jesus’ point. They inherently trust God, now, obviously, they don’t articulate that, but they trust that whatever they do that day, is enough, that they will have enough, and their purpose is fulfilled. They live fully present in this day. Jesus is inviting us to look beyond our worries and see what God is doing, to see God’s kingdom coming before our very eyes. To see and know God’s God-like actions.
When I take a step back and do this, I can see God at work. I see God’s work, God’s kingdom coming in how we are welcoming and caring for the Afghan refugees in our community. I see God’s kingdom in how government agencies, yes, you heard correctly, the government, is working with Family Promise to ensure that FP gets the grants they need to house more families this winter. I see God’s Kingdom in how this community cares for our seniors and young families with care packages. And sometimes I see God at work in places I won’t go, I don’t want to see and in people I don’t like. God at work in our world can also seem dangerous and distasteful. I’m reminded that we seek a kingdom where the lowly, poor and powerless are centered. Jesus was God in action with the sick, the leprous, women who were abused, the children neglected, in over throwing tables of injustice and exploitation, in being arrested, beaten and executed. God’s actions don’t always make sense, but God’s actions are always about bringing life and hope where we see only death and hopelessness. God’s action in resurrecting Jesus is against all odds and is exactly what we seek. What are your God sightings this week? Again turn to the person closest to you for about 90 seconds:
Jesus understands that what we see first, is what our vision will be. Jesus invites us to seek God’s kingdom first in our lives, to see how God cares for us, first and foremost. God looks on us with love and care and desires for us to return that gaze not only to God but each other. When we seek out God’s kingdom, we see our neighbor through the eyes of God’s vision where healing, mercy, trust and love flow. When we can trust this vision of God, we learn to trust each other, which ultimately is God’s vision. Trust that we will emulate God’s actions, that we will care for each other, put the flourishing and well-being of people different from us, those we know and don’t know, ahead of our own worries about ourselves. God seeks first our good, our well-being, our flourishing each day. God seeks you: to be with you, to love you and to hold you. As we end this liturgical year, and begin a new one, we seek God’s presence, love, hope and kingdom to come for us and for all creation. Amen.

 

Forces of Life and Breath Sermon on Mark 13 November 14, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Nov. 14, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:

Daniel 12: 1-3
Psalm 16
Mark 13: 1-8
Young Friends message: This week’s story of Jesus and his disciples wondering about the future and what to do about it got me to thinking about how we know when we’re going astray. What does it mean to go astray? (Accept all answers) So how do we know when we’re not going astray? (Accept all answers) It’s hard! We often don’t know but we have to trust that God will keep us from going astray, which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “and lead us not into temptation.”
Well, we were talking about this in Monday Bible study (all of you are invited! 1:30 p.m. on Zoom!) and Bertram taught me something about physics that I didn’t know but for me connects and helps me to ponder the forces of God in my life: the concepts of static and dynamic equilibrium. Static means no movement, dynamic means movement and equilibrium roughly means in balance or centered. *Bertram will show them how these concepts work by attempting to balance a wooden dowl on his finger (when the dowl moves in the slightest, equilibrium is lost and it falls. But when he holds the dowl vertically from his fingers, when the dowl is pushed or pulled, it will come back to center and equilibrium is maintained even though it’s moving. Thank you Bertram! While these concepts aren’t EXACTLY what is happening here in our gospel story with Jesus, I think it can remind us that the world will try and push and pull us, try and scare us, dazzle us with big buildings, bright shiny objects but God’s force of life and love will always bring us back to God. We’re going to talk a little more about that now.

Many folks don’t know that I am a trained birth doula. The main role of a birth doula is to accompany and guide the birth team. Often that means encouragement, offering different positions and movements, breathing techniques, and helping the birth team work together even if the birth plan doesn’t quite pan out the way they planned. The breathing is very important as when we are in pain, suffering and fear, we tend to hold our breath. This response is an attempt to control the situation and to not cause more pain. But in reality, it does the opposite. Not breathing intensifies the body’s fear response and causes us to lose focus. So as a doula, getting the mom and dad to breathe, by breathing with them, draws them back to the here and now. One contraction at a time, one breath at a time. Often a mom will say something like “I can’t do this.” And I say, “You are doing this, we are together.” Yes, it’s hard, and yes, those birth pangs are real, and yes, a new life is coming. When I was a hospital chaplain as part of my clergy training, I discovered that all my doula training was relevant for the dying as well. Bringing the dying person and the family back to the present, breathing with them, one breath at a time, one dying pang at a time was also beneficial. Family members would often echo what those birthing women said, “I can’t do this.” But I would say, “You are doing this, we are together.” It turns out that these life transitions have much in common, wanting to know the exact time and date of the life transition ahead of time, fear of what is next, fear of more pain, fear of the life change that is about to happen. It’s all very decentering, and pulls us into places that aren’t life giving, that feel isolating, and despondent. We don’t know which way to go: give into the fear or stay in the moment. But regardless, a new life is being revealed. Now breathing and being in the moment with community doesn’t take away the pain, but it allows us to endure it and focus on the new life that is awaiting us on the other side.
 There is so much is pushing and pulling us in different directions right now, and it seems we can’t even catch our breath. So much is being revealed in our world and we don’t know what to make of it. While, this level of global anxiety is new to us, it’s not new to history. Chapter 13 in the gospel of Mark is often referred to as the “Little Apocalypse.” Now we hear that word and usually what comes to mind is some sort of dystopian society, but that is not what the word “apocalypse” means. It means revelation, revealing, an uncovering. In Jesus time, it was being revealed that the Pax Romana, the Peace of Roman, was only peace for the rich and powerful. We pick up Mark’s story with Jesus and disciples exiting the Temple where Jesus had turned over tables, confronted and denounced the chief priests and scribes with their own hypocrisy and called attention to the widow who literally had nothing to lose, because she had so little to give, so she gave it all away as a protest of the unequal Temple taxation. So, despite all this, apparently what the disciples got from it was how impressive, impenetrable, and too big to fail the Temple was. I can almost see Jesus shaking his head in disbelief at how easily they were led astray by the myth of human achievement. Pulled into the allure of grandeur and grandness.

But led astray they were, as all humans are, and lovingly and firmly, Jesus reminds them that nothing of human origin is forever and they need to not be pulled and pushed by the values, norms and fears of the world. Yes, this will all go away and some person will come along telling you that they have all the answers about God and the future. They will lead you astray through your fear and anxiety of the future. There have been and always will be forces that will try and capture your imagination, capitalize on your sense of self-preservation, and need for control. These forces will seem the strongest, the most alluring, the safest bet. But they are not a force that will bring life; they are forces and ultimately bring death and separation. We can’t escape pain and suffering, no matter how hard we try, and we will be pushed and pulled by those forces, but the promise Jesus says, is God’s force of life is always stronger. These birth pangs, that seem like death pangs, the pain that must occur for new life to emerge, is a stronger force that draws us into the very heart and life of God.
When everything seems to be ending, it’s because new things are beginning. God’s life and love force is always on the move in our lives through the Holy Spirit and is more powerful than the other forces of the world. God is a dynamic, moving God who desires to center us in relationship with God and each other. Just as when Bertram tried to create equilibrium on one finger, with just the slightest disruption, the stick fell. But when Bertram held the dowl with more than one finger, equilibrium, being centered could occur. Yes, the dowl could be acted upon, but the dowl was always brought back to center. We don’t have to fear movement, change or newness, because God is always our center, breathing with us in the Holy Spirit. God is our center when everything else falls around us. Walls may crumble but that let’s in the light and for us to see the new life on the other side. The crumbled walls of security, status quo, comfort allow us to see how those walls were never forever. Everything will change, we will change, our own walls of self-preservation, ego, fear and control must crumble for God to reveal new life to us. We might get dusty, dirty and a little bruised, but God will pull us form the rubble into new life. God’s life force courses through us and all creation. Each time we breath, we are taking in the very life of God. And we are doing it, together. Breath by breath, each moment of pain and suffering at a time, releasing the worry of what might come next but trusting in God’s promise of abundant life. This is the hope that we live into, God’s life and love pulls us more closely to God and each other, for the life of the world to come. Amen.

BLESSING OF BREATHING

That the first breath

will come without fear.

That the second breath

will come without pain.

The third breath:

that it will come without despair.

And the fourth,

without anxiety.

That the fifth breath

will come with no bitterness.

That the sixth breath

will come for joy.

Breath seven:

that it will come for love.

May the eighth breath

come for freedom.

And the ninth,

for delight.

When the tenth breath comes,

may it be for us

to breathe together,

and the next,

and the next,

until our breathing

is as one,

until our breathing

is no more.

—Jan Richardson

from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief

Image: “Until the Breath of God Breathes in Me”

© janrichardsonimages.com

 

Lord, If You Had Been Here: All Saints Year B 2021 November 7, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Nov. 7, 2021 commemorating All Saints Sunday. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:

Isaiah 25: 6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21: 1-6a
John 11: 32-44

Young friends message: Have a Where’s Waldo book-talk about how hard it is to find Waldo and even though you know that he has to be somewhere on the page, the longer you look, the more you start to doubt that Waldo really exists. But then you see him and then you can’t unsee him, and if someone else is still looking, you might be like, oh it’s easy! See he’s right there! I kinda dislike those Where’s Waldo books, my kids loved them. I have to admit that if I don’t find Waldo in what I consider a reasonable amount of time, I give up and go do something else. But it will bug me that I can’t find him too. It kinda makes me mad. How about you? Our gospel story this morning is called the Raising of Lazarus, but that’s not really what the whole story is about. It’s about how we wonder where Jesus is sometimes, and why we don’t see Jesus easily or exactly when we want to. Mary and Martha were Lazarus’ sisters, and they were mad at Jesus because he didn’t come right when they wanted him to and they didn’t see how God could possibly be at work in the midst of the death of their brother. They were so sad, and mad that Lazarus had died. When people we love or a pet dies, we feel so many emotions! What are some emotions you feel? Yep, sad, mad, confused, scared, all of them at once sometimes. And you know what, all emotions are ok, God doesn’t mind that your mad at God. As a matter of fact, in our story today, we heard that Jesus was “greatly disturbed,” do you know what that really means? Angry. Jesus was also angry that his friend had died and his other friends were suffering. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to suffer.
Jesus wants us to see life even when death is close and to know that God is with us even if we can’t see God. God’s voice will call to us even if we’re locked away, like Lazarus. And God gives us people to help us to see God, like the people who took off Lazarus’ grave clothes. We see God in one another, and we help each other to find God no matter what. We’re going to talk a little more about that.

“Lord, if you had been here.” How many times in my life have I uttered these or similar words? I will admit to you that over the past 19 months it has been often. Over 5 million souls in the world and 750,000 souls in the US alone dead from COVID19. Not to mention those who have died because of the stressed medical system. The numbers are probably much higher and staggering. “Lord if you had been here.” All the division, all the hate speech, all the fear-mongering, all the selfishness of personal freedom, all the worry of money over people’s health, have made me wonder where God is and where God is at work. Like Mary and Martha, I know what Jesus can do, I know and believe in the power of healing and of abundant life and like Mary and Martha I just don’t understand why it doesn’t happen on my timeline or how I want. I want to see God’s power now as I can’t bear the thought of another parent burying their child, or a young mother taken too soon, or a whole species of animal going extinct, or my children and maybe someday, grandchildren living in a world where water, food and shelter are inaccessible, or scarce. I hold these things in tension daily, and maybe you do too.
“Lord, if you had been here.” I look for Jesus’ power in the world I want it to prevail, not someday but today. That seems altruistic enough, doesn’t it? Yet, I know that isn’t the way it works. I know that suffering is real, will continue and I know that suffering scares us all silly. It scares us so much that we deny it, convince ourselves that other people suffered for some reason: old age, bad DNA, self-inflicted by smoking, drinking, or obesity. We yearn to control the suffering and when we can’t, we demand that Jesus does. But Jesus can’t and doesn’t control suffering, suffering is part of living, and yes, it can be and often is random. We don’t know why Lazarus died, because it doesn’t matter. Death is a part of life, but it’s not the final word. Jesus is mad that suffering and death has invaded his friends’ lives, he’s angry, sorrowful to the point of tears that this can’t be avoided, not even for himself.
“Lord, if you had been here.” Jesus goes to the grave, leading the grieving crowd and us right to death, to stare at it and acknowledge it. Jesus knows that when we face death, it loses its power, its control, its sting. Jesus commands the crowd of witnesses to remove the stone and then audibly prays to God to let life’s power over death to be found, to be seen. Jesus’ voice calls to Lazarus to come out, and Lazarus obeys; maybe he didn’t even want to, maybe he was content to rest. But out he comes and again, Jesus has the community remove the shroud of death so that life is seen. The first faces Lazarus would have gazed on would not have been Jesus’ but his community, his friends and family. Jesus was there, but maybe the truth is that the community had Jesus with them the whole time.
“Lord, if you had been here.” Like Mary and Martha, like the crowds, we want to see Jesus’ power evident in our world. And like Mary and Martha and the crowds, we miss what is right in front of us the whole time, saints of God who can show us the abundant life and love of Jesus, if we only can remove the shroud of death from our faces and unbind our hearts. We can see the faithfulness of June Garrity in how she raised her son despite hardships, the care of Frank Elwart for his family, for the tenderness of Emma Peterson who trusted God each day, for the joyful spark of Bernie who cherished her family dearly, for Margaret, whose commitment to serving God through her music enriched us all. Each of these saints helped remove the shroud of death and showed us that Jesus was, is and will always be here, in one another. We might need help to see, but together we can reveal the promises of God for life for all creation. We remember in the bread and wine that feasting is here and abundance is real in the midst of the lies of scarcity. We trust in Jesus’ presence in our suffering, in our fear, in our uncertainty, amid death. We go to the grave, not to stop there, but to go through it, to remove its power and move forward to new life, to a new creation. God will wipe our tears, not because tears are bad, or wrong, no, God wipes our tears because God cries with us, and sits in the grief because sitting in grief is sitting in love. We grieve deeply because we love deeply. The Apostle Paul acknowledges that “love never ends” and our grief will not end until the power of death is no more in our lives.
 So, we move through the grief, through the suffering, through the grave, not alone, but with the saints of past, present and future, saints who call to us “Come out, the Lord is here!” We unbind each other in Jesus’ love for abundant life here and now because Jesus is here. Amen.

 

Facing the Truth Reformation Sunday October 31, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Oct. 31, 2021 in Holladay, UT. Worship can be viewed on our YouTube channel at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please subscribe! The texts for this Reformation Sunday were:

Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3:19-28
John 8: 31-36
Image Credit: Pixaline from Pixabay

Who’s dressing up today? Halloween is probably my favorite holiday in the year. Yep, Halloween. Not Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, or Valentine’s Day. Do you know why? Because it’s all about fun and the kids. There are no presents to buy, fancy outings to plan, elaborate meals to make, expectations of decorating. In many ways Halloween embodies everything that a holiday should be, and even though many people of all ages dress up to pretend to be someone or something else, we welcome whoever or whatever shows up at our door and give them treats that they didn’t earn or deserve. I’ve always thought that it’s a more authentic and Christ like holiday than the others. AND it’s fun to dress up as someone else, to pretend to be a mad scientist, or doctor, or a unicorn. When you put on those costumes, we sometimes even act a bit like those characters. You might change your voice, or how you walk. But are you REALLY those characters? No, and everyone knows it. No one really believes that you’re a ghost, Frankenstein, Dracula or Einstein. And no one is going to expect you to act that way all the time, and that would get annoying pretty fast. Pretending to be someone else for a day is one thing, but I know I can’t keep it up. I’ll forget to be a princess…or maybe I won’t!

I think that’s why I dislike the other holidays; people have an expectation of how we are to act for an extended period of time. So many families pretend to get along, try and recreate family gatherings of the past, pretend that they are happy when they’re not. How often do we retell the stories of the big blow up over mash potatoes or the awkward silences? Nope, we tell the stories of laughter, delicious recipes and sing a-longs. We choose to sweep under the rug the pain and pretend that nothing happened but good times. We love nostalgia-remembering things differently than they really were. But the word nostalgia in Greek, means pain. Nostalgia is the painful act of not telling the truth of our lives, past or present. Truth is a slippery concept in our post-modern, post-“T”ruth society. Some folks think that they can create the truth from falsehoods and if they say it enough times, it becomes absolute truth, except it’s not. “Remember when life was slower paced without all these modern conveniences?” You mean like laundry taking a whole day, people died from infections and there were no microwaves? Yeah, no thanks. While it seems that truth has taken a huge beating in past few years, this isn’t new. Humanity has always had an aversion to the truth, as if you know the truth, then you must act on it. Acting on the truth is a bold and frightening possibility. When Martin Luther told the truth about how the medieval Roman Catholic Church was cheating the common people out of money and playing on their fears for salvation, it cost him his community, his vocation, his freedom and almost his life. We look back on this date and uphold Luther as a hero, a catalyst for reform, spiritually, religiously, economically and socially, from which we all today benefit. While that is true, the whole truth is that he was also hated, feared, considered a rebel and most of us would have kept our distance. Luther was anti-Semitic, he was classist and told the common folks during Peasant Uprising to stay in their social stratum. He was not perfect; he was a fallible human. But we don’t tell those truths too often as then it requires us to face uncomfortable facts of our own history that still bears consequences for us today that we don’t discuss in polite conversation. I guess maybe sermons aren’t polite conversation, as we need to talk about the truth of the remnants of classism, racism and elitism still plague the ELCA today.
Luther was bold and daring to post 95 injunctions on the Roman Church who were abusing power and authority. He called the Roman Church to accountability, told the truth of who they were supposed to be as Christ’s hands and feet in the world. The Church was supposed to free people from fear over sin and death and release them to love God and each other, you know what Jesus says over and over in all the gospels. We are loved and saved by God because God loves us, nothing more. We’re free from working out our own salvation or worrying about our neighbor’s salvation. It’s done. Luther embraced this freedom so much so that he changed his name. His birth name was Ludder, but he took on “Luther” as it came from the Greek word that Jesus uses here in John 8 “eleuthero” meaning freedom. As Lutherans our denominational name, means freedom. Not the type of freedom that let’s you do whatever you want, when you want without thought to how it might affect other people, nope. Luther wanted people to know that Jesus frees them from worrying about their own freedom; yes, that’s convoluted. In Jesus’ freedom, we no longer worry about what is best for us, as we understand that what is best for our neighbor is best for us. The truth is God sees our captivity to our own comforts, ego and self-interest and sent Jesus to shine the truth of that captivity. Jesus’ light dispels the shadows of the lies we tell ourselves: the lie we’re not in captivity to our capitalistic, consumer culture, to the myth of self-improvement, that we’re not in captivity to the lures of popularity or fame, or to the pain of comparisons with others, that we’re not in captivity to our own wants and preferences. Just as the Israelites had forgotten that God freed them from Egypt and credited themselves with power as Jeremiah reminded them, and the people around Jesus in our John passage denied that they had ever been in captivity even though they had and still were to the Roman Empire, we too will deny that anyone has any claim to us.
The truth is that we allow the wrong things to claim us. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Roman Church that it is God who claims us, and we and the whole world are accountable to God. That is the truth. The truth is that Jesus frees us from our pretending to be who we’re not, so that we are fully reformed to be be who’s we are: God’s. This freedom is indeed bold and risky and demands something of us. Yes, it’s freely given and yes, we are accountable to the truth. Both of those things are true. We are free to name and live into the hard truths of the world so that accountability to God’s kingdom occurs. The hard truth that yes, we are captive to sin and can’t free ourselves. We’re captive to judgment, division, sexism, white supremacy, greed. We’re captive to the sin of certainty, fear, to resisting change, even healthy change as we long to live in nostalgia. But the truth is too that we aren’t alone, and God knows our truths, the good, the bad, the ugly and loves and forgives us. The truth is that Jesus gathers us, all people and frees us to answer God’s call to proclaim these truths boldly like Luther, imperfections and all. The Holy Spirit sends us out rooted in the truth of who we are and who’s we are. We know the truth, that God is our God and we shall be God’s people. Amen.

 

Stopped in Our Tracks Sermon on Mark 10: 46-52 October 26, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 24, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Jeremiah 31: 7-9
Psalm 126
Mark 10: 46-52

How many of you have your phone on you right now? To be honest, sometimes I do during worship and sometimes I don’t. I almost never leave the house without my phone and on the rare occasion that I do forget it, it’s very uncomfortable. I feel as if I’ve left a part of my body behind. And ironically, when my phone does ring, and it’s a number I don’t know, I rarely answer it. Or I get a lot of texts and DM’s and I might see them but if I don’t stop what I am doing and respond right away, I’ll forget. We can get overwhelmed with all the constant access from people that these alleged smartphones offer us. This connection can be helpful, necessary and healthy, and it can be a source of consternation, maybe even at the same time. Phones can cause us focus on distractions or distract us from what we should be focusing on for a quick peek at social media or YouTube video. And phones can remind us that stopping matters. A few years ago, at a conference for ELCA rostered leaders, we were encouraged to use our phones to set an alarm for every hour to stop and pray. I did it for a day and it was difficult as stopping whatever I was in the middle of to pray seemed in itself distracting. Except I was opened to how little I stop in a day for much of anything.

I’m not great at stopping, it’s not my comfort zone and I have to be intentional about stopping. Whether it’s stopping when a muscle or tendon hurts on a run, taking a zoom break, eating chips and salsa, or more seriously, stopping the relentless hamster wheel of tasks and meetings, filling my calendar with what one can argue are important activities, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind these things. But perhaps that’s the real challenge. I can justify not stopping because it is my job, my direction, MY priorities. Stopping for me feels like failure, inadequacy, or worse yet, laziness. If there’s any thing our society dislikes, it’s someone who is perceived to be lazy, not doing enough, not focused enough, not producing enough. I fall into the trap of justifying my nonstop, life at the speed of light as holy and righteous.

When we stop, what might happen? We might connect with another person or people, or even connect with ourselves, we will experience our surroundings, our lives differently. Stopping is reorienting ourselves where and who we really are. Stopping feels vulnerable because if we stop, people can catch up to us. In our gospel story this morning, Jesus, his entourage of disciples and the ubiquitous crowds, are heading to Jerusalem. Jesus is focused, he knows that he is on a collision course with the Roman Empire and the religious authorities. They go to Jericho, a city steeped in Israelite significance, and then, to quote Willy Nelson, they are “on the road again.” I imagine that Jesus isn’t in a hurry but is determined as he knows that a confrontation is coming and he just wants it over. He’s not even teaching at this point, they’re all just walking on the way to what is next.
But then someone calls Jesus’ name, and more than that, calls him by a royal title, Son of David, the one who came to redeem Israel. Jesus could have kept going, or even just walked over to the person calling him. But Jesus stops. He “stood still” the text says. I wondered why this man’s words, of all the words, stopped Jesus in his tracks. I can only speculate, and I know that I’m grateful for this detail and this stopping of Jesus for the man only known by his father’s name “Bartimaeus,” son of Timaeus.” B-a-r in Aramaic means son, much like b-i-n in Arabic or b-e-n in Hebrew means son. This son of Timaeus calls on the son of David, which isn’t quite right as Jesus was yes, in the lineage of David, but the Son of God. One son to another son asking for mercy. One son to another son who won’t be silenced by the crowds. Jesus stops and stops the crowds from silencing this son of Timaeus and turns the crowds into his accomplices and tells them to “call him here.” When the crowd is stopped from their silencing behavior, they have a change of heart, they see this man differently and tell this man, the one is on the edge of the road, on the edge of society, on the edge of life, to take heart for Jesus is calling you.
I can see in my mind’s eye, son of Timaeus shedding his cloak, his only worldly possession, jumping up to get to the Son of David as quickly as he can. And the two sons standing face to face. Now it might be obvious to you and me that the son of Timaeus would want his vision returned, but Jesus the Son of God, doesn’t assume that’s what this other son desires. Jesus knows that there are worse things than having physical blindness or any disability, as disabilities or abilities, don’t define people. God’s love does. What we can or can’t do isn’t who we are because that inevitably changes throughout life but our beloved-ness never changes. If this was truly only about physical sight, Jesus could have returned his sight from afar and kept moving. He’d done it before. But he remained stopped in that place and asked, “what do you want me to do for you?” When the disciples were asked this question, they wanted prestige and power, but the son of Timaeus? It turns out that regaining his sight IS what Bartimaeus wants; he wanted to stop being known as the “blind beggar,” and to stop being seen as lesser than other people. He didn’t want greatness only for oppression to stop for equality with other people to begin.
Jesus tells him that his faith, his running to Jesus without knowing what would happen next only that his old life could stop so that a new life could begin, is what made him well. “Well” in the Greek meaning whole. He was whole without or without his sight, his wholeness came in being willing to stop what he knew and to call out to Jesus. We then read that while Jesus told him to go, Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, on the road to the Temple where Jesus would flip over the tables to stop the economic, social and religious oppression; Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the road to the cross.

There is so much in my life that I need to stop to truly follow Jesus. I need to stop frenetic activity that makes me feel important, I need to stop giving into distractions, I need to stop and see the people around me and what ask what they need stopped for abundant life. There is so much that must be stopped for our neighbors to have wellness and justice. As Church, we must stop acting like the crowds in Mark putting obstacles between people and Jesus, silencing voices that we deem uncomfortable or unworthy. We stop. We stand still and hear the cries from the edges and see who is unseen. We stop thinking that it’s too hard to redistribute wealth so that there are no longer economic divides. We stop worrying what the future holds for us. We stop holding on to old identities and ideologies. We stop pretending that our bodies will be able forever. We stop. We stop to hear Jesus calling to us. We stop and see Jesus in the people with whom we are face to face. We stop to boldly tell Jesus what we want: to be seen, to be loved, to be whole. We are stopped in our tracks by Jesus’ love and mercy. Jesus stops to hear you, to see you, to love you. We stop and follow. Amen.

 

What’s So Great About Great? Sermon on Mark 10 October 17, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 17, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Isaiah 53: 4-12
Psalm 91: 9-16
Mark 10: 32-45

Young Friends Message: If you could be famous for one thing, what would you want it to be? Adults how about you? We all think about being famous don’t we? When I was a teenager, I dreamed of being a famous violinist or pop singer, either would have worked for me. I practiced and practiced and could envision it. People telling me how great a musician I am, applause, travel, glamour, great clothes, the whole bit! (I fully admit to loving clothes, although as I age, I now love comfortable clothing less than trendy.) Now, it turns out, my talent lagged my ambition. It’s a hard reality we all face at one point or another but if we’re honest we all think about being famous for SOMETHING. We all want that at least fifteen minutes of fame. I mean we think to be famous and known by everyone like Jeff Bezos, Beyonce, or Oprah or being  social media influencer or the most watched on TikTok is fabulous. Sometimes we know some famous people, and it’s fun to tell people. We think even knowing famous people makes us kinda famous. Famous adjacent. Famous people seem very separate from us as they live very differently than most of us. Famous people have money, freedom, glamour and they can go and do whatever they want, and they are smarter, kinder, and help more people than anyone else, and are the best human beings ever on the whole earth, right? No? Hmmmm….you mean famous people aren’t better than everyone else? But they’re FAMOUS? Isn’t that everything? You’re right and very astute! We know this isn’t true, but don’t we still want to be famous, to be set apart from other people, to be great? We do! We confuse being famous with having worth and being loved. We confuse ambition with purpose.
This confusion is baked into our social structure from education, to health, government/politics, economics and yes, dear friends, even into Church. Every institution has the goal of being the best, the greatest, famous. We are in a pipeline from birth that says greatness is ours to achieve, to earn, whether it’s great health, wealth or status. And I can get sucked in every time. Every. Time. Who doesn’t want to be great at something? I want to be the greatest pastor who ever pastored, give the greatest sermons every week, the greatest at pastoral care, the greatest and budgeting, community outreach, thousands of followers on social media who hang on my brilliant, witty repartee, all of it. I do have like 10 people who watch this YouTube-hi! Why are you laughing? Oh because I’m HUMAN? Yep, this line of thinking only sets me and you, up for another kind of great: great disappointment. I can convince myself that being the greatest pastor is altruistic, I want to be the greatest pastor for you, my beloved people, and I do, sincerely, AND I want the recognition. I need my ego fed, my self-esteem buoyed. It turns out I’m great all right, great at missing the point, great at deceiving myself, great at looking for the spotlight and not seeing who’s in the shadows. I’m great at having ambition but forgetting my purpose

James and John also wanted to be great. And before we make a self-righteous sandwich out of them, the other disciples wanted this too, they just didn’t ask first. They were only mad because they weren’t quicker. James and John confused being famous and ambition with their great purpose in the Kingdom of God really means. They had just heard for the third time Jesus tell them that he would be violently captured and killed by the worldly powers because of his message of radical social change of wealth redistribution, care for the vulnerable in society, such as women, children and the disabled, inclusion and as we’ll hear today, the end of hierarchies, humans having power and control over each other. Maybe the disciples thought that Jesus was exaggerating or being dramatic. Or maybe they believed him and thought that his martyrdom would bring them fame and ultimately power in the new world order. Regardless of their motivation, they asked Jesus the presumptuous question of being seated in places of ultimate honor-on his right and on his left. Now wanting to be near Jesus is a good thing, and we should all want to be near Jesus, to be Jesus adjacent.

Jesus pulls them aside and lays out the power structure of the world, where the people in authority who liked their power and control over people and will sacrifice the integrity, humanity, dignity and worth of other people to keep power. It’s a power structure that hasn’t changed in 2000 years. We like to think that our political system of today is great, that it’s so much more humane and advanced than ancient Rome. Again, it’s only great if you’re on top of the structure, which, to be honest, most of us here on this lawn and watching on YouTube are. We are indeed first, a first world country, and the exploitation of countries doesn’t make them second or not as great, it makes them greatly exploited.
But Jesus then says something that I can’t shake: “But it is not so among you.” It’s a statement of fact on our purpose. We, as disciples of Jesus, who follow Jesus to become more like Jesus to do what Jesus does, won’t exploit people, we won’t exert power over people, we’ll give up our ambition for the spotlight, worrying about being great, for our purpose to be near Jesus. Being near Jesus, Jesus adjacent, is to be near who’s in the shadows, who’s being exploited, who’s considered not great. When Jesus hangs on the cross, there is indeed someone on his right and on his left, bandits, which the Roman Empire defined as people who opposed Roman rule, like Jesus, who society felt they could torture and throw away. Being near Jesus, is to be near those who oppose the rule of this world and usher in the Kingdom of God where we proclaim that there is enough power, wealth, security to go around for all and if someone else has enough it doesn’t mean less for us. We give up being the greatest by the world’s standards and work to abolish the systems that lead to people having power over others. Jesus’ mention of slavery is tricky, it’s not an approval of systematically enslaving and owning people as property. Jesus is declaring that slavery has no place in human relationships, and in God’s economy, no person is bought or sold as property, no person should live in poverty, in economic servitude with unlivable wages, and unrealistic expenses. No life, no voice is more or less valuable than any other.  It’s never God’s will for some to have it all and others to be exploited. It’s not God’s will for any person to suffer and some people to have every creature comfort at the literal expense of other people. Jesus is clear that human suffering is caused by human sin, not God’s will. And Jesus’ death on the cross also isn’t God’s will, it’s God taking the reality of the violence, chaos and brokenness of this world and proclaiming that it doesn’t have to be this way, it won’t be this way among us. That isn’t our purpose.
Among us, we live out our purpose, to be near to Jesus, to be near the people farthest from the spotlight, farthest from worldly power, farthest from safety, farthest from our own comforts and ambitions. We are drawn near to God’s greatness to serve in God’s mission of reordering us and the world. God reorders our lives, our hearts for God’s kingdom to reign in all creation. God’s love reorders the world: having money, property, status, isn’t our purpose. Our purpose is to give away our lives for others to fully live out their purpose. And it’s hard and unpopular. In God’s economy poverty is ended and decriminalized, there is economic, racial, gender and climate justice. God’s purpose is to ensure that our purpose is reordered by God’s love and grace; our purpose is to live in this new order of God’s kingdom where we are close to Jesus, and close those whom Jesus loves. Our purpose is indeed great as God’s love is great. Amen.

 

Saved For What? October 11, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on October 10, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Amos 5: 6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90: 12-17
Mark 10: 17-31

Young Friends message: I love a good apple! This one is so pretty! I think I’ll save it forever. Is that a good idea? No? Why? Oh it will go bad! If I eat it now, it will be healthy for me won’t it? I can share it too and then we all get some of the nutrients from this apple. Yes, food in general doesn’t last forever and will go bad and then it’s no good to anyone. And when we share, it allows the food to nourish more people. Our bible story today is about saving. Now saving can sometimes be wise, but often we save more than we need and save what we don’t need. Jesus tells a person with a lot of things to get rid of all his stuff to follow Jesus, quite saving things you don’t need but other people do. And then Jesus talks about how with God all things are possible. In other words, we don’t have to worry about if God loves us and will keep us forever, because Jesus says that’s already done and everyone is loved and accepted no matter how much money they have, what kind of house they  have, what kind of job they have, none of that matters as God sees only that God loves us. We’re going to talk a little more about how God saves us and cares for us.

What does it mean to save something? Why do we save objects or money? Yes, we save items and money because we might need it later. We store them up like squirrels with nuts for winter. What happens when you don’t need it later, what do you with those saved items or money? Trickier isn’t it? When we save, we’re often afraid to use it aren’t we? A savings account for a “rainy day” or that precious, precious toilet paper we all have saved in our homes, you know you do! Saving seems prudent, rational, and even necessary. This week the media has highlighted how supply chains are fragile and many people can’t get some basic goods, such as canned goods, and even diapers. This is one reason why the diaper drive for CrossRoads Urban Center is so important right now. We ‘re being told to save harder to get items and be cautious about what we actually need as it’s uncertain what will be available in the future.
The concept of saving has a long emotional, psychological, and yes, religious history in the US. Saving is seen as virtuous, people who can take care of themselves are lifted up in our culture as noble, ethical, and righteous. We hold the “self-made person,” well let’s be honest the phrase is “self-made man” as the standard to which we all must adhere. If you don’t have enough saved to care for yourself, for whatever reason, even reasons beyond your control, then obviously, you’re not as smart, capable and or principled. This idea of “saving” is the basis of the Protestant work ethic that infests the white culture of the US. And this Protestant work ethic then wormed its way into the theology of many Protestant denominations and is at the root of the very problematic and misunderstood theology of salvation. Who is saved and who isn’t saved. It’s essentially trying to save up for an uncertain future, what happens when we die?

It’s at the heart of all our texts this morning. While the Protestant work ethic is distinctly American, the idea of people who are the “Haves” in society as inherently worth more than the “Have Nots,” is as ancient as the texts of Amos this morning. The idea of scarcity, that there is not enough to go around so I’d better save and keep things to myself for the future, was as rampant in ancient times as it is today. Humanity doesn’t change all that much I’m afraid. We want to have enough saved for the future so that we can take care of ourselves, and we want to take care of our own salvation too. The young man who ran up to Jesus, was obviously seeking something he didn’t have. He knew that he had saved enough material items and presumably money for the future and he didn’t need Jesus for that. Yet, he felt that his future was still uncertain. AND I bet that young man, like us, knew exactly what was missing but was hoping against hope that he wasn’t correct. You see, this young man knew that Torah, he knew the teachings, and he knew enough about Jesus to seek him out. Jesus only confirmed what he already knew, which I think is why he was shocked and grieved. He was right. The young man was right that he wasn’t contributing to justice and righteousness in his community by holding on to his possessions and money. He knew that living only for himself was not what God desired. He knew that he was no better than the people who worked for him, who had far less and lived day to day wondering where they would get food, shelter, or safety. He knew it. And we do too. We know that poverty or need isn’t a sign of character deficiency or lack of work ethic. Often the hardest jobs in our society pay the least. The world celebrates people who can manipulate and exploit other people for their own savings. If a person had 100 cats, or umbrellas or rolls of toilet paper, we shame them, say they have a mental illness and call them a hoarder, but a person who has a 100 billion dollars, we reward and put them on the cover of a magazine. When in reality the billionaire is also afflicted by the same disease.
We misunderstand the concepts of saving, to save and to be saved. An additional definition of “save” that we need to talk about is this: to keep safe or to rescue. The focus of this definition is about relationship. It’s about what it means to live in community, to shed the harmful notions of individualism and self-importance. This is the definition that Jesus gives the disciples when they ask “who then can be saved?” You see, we can’t save enough objects, money, or status to keep ourselves safe or to rescue ourselves. We can’t save ourselves from the randomness of the world. We can’t control if we’ll get sick, if our house will burn down, if we lose our jobs, our families, or are in a car accident. The big lie we tell ourselves if that if those things don’t happen it’s because we saved ourselves by our cleverness or aptitude. The young man with many possessions, was shocked and sad as he realized how little control he had. Jesus had shattered the illusion of his self-aggrandizement and told him that following him meant that he stopped worrying about saving and rescuing himself and focus on his community members who needed what he had been saving.
Salvation is about connectedness, wholeness and interdependency on God who does the rescuing, the saving. It’s not ourselves, not our works, not our cleverness. Entering God’s Kingdom means entering fully and wholly into community with our neighbors whom God also rescues. God sent Jesus to show us what salvation looks like. It’s looking on us all with deep love, and giving away everything, even his own life to connect us to God. Jesus saved nothing for himself to save us forever. And no one is beyond that loving gaze.
There is a theory that in chapter 15 of Mark, the young man who was traveling with Jesus and ended up running away naked when the authorities tried to arrest him, is this same young man from our story today. And he lost more than his shirt. He did give everything, down to his underwear, for Jesus. Because of Jesus’ loving gaze, he went from a saver of things to being saved for the work of the kingdom. God, through the love of Jesus, saves us so that we give this saving love to others. This saving love compels us to act to care for our neighbor. God’s beloved community is the saving force the world needs to bring wholeness, justice, and righteousness to creation. We are part of God’s saving movement. What do we have as a congregation, as an individual, that we are saving that maybe we should give away? We can save it and lose ourselves or give it away for God’s kingdom. We are saved, for God’s love saves us, bringing love, God’s saving force for us all, forever. For God all things are possible. Amen.

 

God’s Powerful Word October 8, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 3, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:

Genesis 2: 18-24
Psalm 8
Mark 10: 2-16

Young Friends Message: How many of you know any words in another language? Yep, I know a little as well. I took French in high school and college, that’s actually the class where Mike and I met our sophomore year, and I can remember learning some words and phrases in French that when translated to English made no sense at all and were kinda funny to me when I was 15. Such as when we are walking in a mall or on a street with shops but not going in, we say that we are window shopping. In French, the words for that activity literally translate to “window licking.” Mike and I still use that from time to time. When we went to Paris and we didn’t see anyone licking windows, which is good as that’s gross. But if we took it literally and didn’t know the culture of France, we might think that people went around licking windows. Or that the word “gateau” in French is “cake” and in Spanish is “cat.” You don’t want to mix that up!
Something we forget when we read the Bible is that we are reading a translation. It wasn’t written in English originally but two ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek. So, we are careful when we read the Bible, particularly passages that seem hard to understand. The English words may not tell us exactly what’s going on, and then we misunderstand. Today we have two bible stories that are hard for us and have been used to make people feel bad about themselves, to make certain people seem less important or to imply that God doesn’t love them. If you learn nothing else from me, I want you to know that yes, that God sometimes says some hard things, but God only wants you to be healthy, safe, and loved. All the words, the words we don’t like, the words we don’t understand, the words that make us uncomfortable, are all words in the Bible are ones that we should hear as love you and for everyone. And sometimes it’s hard for us to remember that.  We’re going to talk a little bit more about that.

You might think it’s a cop out to take this angle of how we read the Bible with these two really hard passages from Genesis 2 and Mark 10 in our lectionary today. And maybe you’re correct, but what I couldn’t shake all week was how these two stories are ripped from their cultural, historical and textual (which means the placement in the Bible) contexts deeply matters in how we wrestle with them. It matters that what we understand that what we read in English, isn’t the same as in the Hebrew or the Greek. These words have power, because God’s word has power, and it matters how that power is wielded. You see, when we take passages such as the creation of humans, and one of Jesus’ teachings on divorce and use the question “what does it mean for me?” instead of “What does God intend?” we will always pervert it. The Genesis 2 passage has been used for centuries to exert power over women and to deny LBGTQIA+ folks relationships. But when we really dig into it, that’s not what God intended. Genesis 2 tells us how God uses God’s power to create what God desires, community and connection. God sees that the new human is lonely. Here’s where words matter: the Hebrew that is translated in English as man, isn’t “man” in the Hebrew. It’s ha’adamah, the earth, mud creature. No gender. In Jewish tradition this person is non-binary. And while in our English we use the word “adamah” as a proper name of Adam, in ancient Hebrew there are no capital letters. None. Not even for God, Yahweh, Elohim, El Shaddai nor the gender pronouns used for God. (Gender pronouns for God is another sermon.) Giving the first letter of certain nouns a capital letter is a western concept and one that is directly rooted in hierarchy and human power.

So, this mud creature is lonely, and the animals aren’t quite cutting it as friends. Our English alludes that it’s the mud creature who can’t find a suitable partner, but in the Hebrew, it alludes that it’s God who thinks the animals aren’t suitable. Ha’adamah might have been perfectly happy with a cat, but it’s God who decides to make another earth creature.  The English translation says God wanted to make “ha’adamah” a helper, but that’s problematic, as that word in Hebrew is “ezer”, and means divine helper and is only used in the rest of the Hebrew Bible to reference God. That doesn’t sound like a subordinate creature to me. God causes ha’adamah to fall asleep and takes a piece of them and creates another creature who is slightly different from the first creature because God loves diversity. The mud creature wakes up and see the other human and speaks words that were a Hebrew idiom or poetry for connection. “Flesh of my flesh” can mean “one who faces my face.” This new human pair are standing together, connected, both created by God, equal, not separate. There is not a command to be fruitful and multiply in this creation story as well. They are created to simply be together with each other and God. God’s power creates flourishing relationships and community. Yes, that gets disordered just a few verses later, but the rest of the Bible is God’s word to us that God is at work to bring us back to this face to face relationship with God and each other.
And we come to Mark 10 and this pernicious passage on divorce. This too been used and abused to wield power and shame, so let’s dive in. While ancient divorce mores are far different than ours today, a commonality is that divorce is hard, can cause economic hardships, often leaves women and children vulnerable and causes grief for all involved, even if it’s needed and the best answer. The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus and ask him if a man can divorce his wife and Jesus asks them what Moses says. Yes, Jesus knew Deut. 24:1, but he was curious how these learned leaders would respond. They quote the verse. Jesus doesn’t disagree with them and notes how humans are always looking to exert power over each other, even the people we’re supposed to love. And then Jesus flips the script on the pharisees, he recalls Genesis 2 and what God does, what God’s desires and what God’s power enacts: connected, beloved community. Jesus showed this power throughout in the previous nine chapters of Mark as well as, throughout all the gospels, but time and again, the disciples, the religious leaders, the Roman leaders keep getting stuck in their own power needs. This is evident when the disciples asked Jesus again, and Jesus levels the playing field and responds that anyone, male or female, who simply discards a relationship for a new one, causes hurt. What Jesus doesn’t do here, is condemn anyone. Jesus doesn’t use his power for condemnation only to reveal God’s love and mercy.
This is witnessed fully in the last verses seemingly unconnected to the divorce conversation, but they’re not. As we discussed last week, children were the most powerless and vulnerable in ancient society. Jesus welcomes these powerless and vulnerable little ones and says that this is what power in the kingdom of God looks like, it looks like not worrying about your power and coming to God. And then Jesus blesses them, by touching them and gathering them to himself and holding them. This is God’s power on full display.
These texts have power, not because they give us specific rules of what we are supposed to do, the Bible is not a rule book. The Bible has many stories of humanity’s broken relationships: marriages, families, friendships, and even Israel herself divorcing into two kingdoms. The Bible also has many stories of God’s power to create love, connection, of community authentic and healthy relationships. It’s stories of God’s presence and blessing amid heartbreak. Broken relationships are real, and God understands that they break for reasons that are valid and necessary for healing and wholeness to take place. God never wants us in relationships that keep us powerless. If you hear nothing else today, divorce is sometimes necessary and yes, can be a holy and good decision that God supports because God loves you, and the person you are divorcing. Not every relationship is for a lifetime and that’s part of the human paradox.
The Bible opens us to witness God’s power active today, as we are more divided and divorced from each other than ever. God gathers us and blesses us, all of us, people we like, people we don’t, and people who don’t like us. God’s word of love echoes from the past to now translated by God’s Holy Spirit. God created us, for God’s purposes of wholeness. God blesses us to bless others, to be part of God’s gathering and care for the vulnerable in our society and speak words of love and connection, not condemnation or separation. God’s word joins us together to be face to face, not separated, and that is a powerful blessing. Let’s turn to the person next you and offer this blessing: +God’s powerful word of love is for you+
Amen.