A Lutheran Says What?

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

Connections: Sermon on Facebook, Signs, Truth and God June 17, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 16, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31, Romans 5: 1-5 and John 16: 12-15 Holy Trinity Sunday

Children’s sermon:

Have a game, a phone, a letter, hands, cards, yarn. Gather the children and ask “Do you ever feel alone and you don’t want to be? Yes we all do! And we look for ways to be connected to our family and friends because we love them and love being with them. I have some things here that might help us think about being connected. Go through each one leaving the paper hands for last. In our bible stories today, they all talk about how God gives us signs of how we are aware of God’s connection to us. Just like the phone, or a letter bring us awareness that we can be with our family and friends in lots of ways, the same is true of God. What are ways that God might show us that we are connected to God? God connects to us such as through nature, through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, which is a little harder but is about feeling God’s presence through the air we breath and people around us. God wants to be with us and wants us to be with God! One way that we know God is with us is through other people telling us about God. Today we celebrate all of the men in our lives who tell us that God is with us always and show us God’s love. I have these hands here, just like Mother’s Day, and today we will write the names of dads, grandpas, uncles, brothers, cousins, friends who are special to us. Today we will tape them together and make a chain of hands and put them on this altar rail.

About ten maybe almost eleven years ago, I joined Facebook. Now, even in my mid-thirties, I was not known as being terribly technologically savvy or even liking tech or the internet all that much. My best friend, Leta, when I joined, commented “you are the LAST person I thought would ever be on FB!” And I honestly thought it would be a novel thing I would do for a while, I would get bored and quit. But I didn’t. FB has its ups and downs, good points and terrible points, but overall I love it! Why? Because I love that I can stay connected to people all over the world! FB allows me to at anytime, anywhere, be connected. I can connect with colleagues for advice, solidarity and empathy. I can connect with family and friends for laughs, crying and prayers. I can connect with people I have never met and will probably never meet in remote parts of the world and gain insight into what is happening globally. And yes, my dear parishioners, I get insight into you, the people whom God has called me to care for and walk beside. There’s a lot more pastoral care that happens on FB than you might realize. Believe or not, FB CAN be used for good and to broaden our worldview and doesn’t have to be an echo chamber. I didn’t expect to like FB or to utilize it for more than a few fun months, but a decade or more later, I am still there, and added Twitter and Instagram as well! Although, here’s where I am still a luddite-keeping up with all of that overwhelms me, so I mostly stick to FB. FB has become a sign in my life of how I am connected in positive and not so positive ways to so many people.  For instance, because of FB, once for a colleague out of state, I helped a family who was in Denver because their baby was life flighted from NE for cardiac treatment. I connected them to other resources, prayed with them and offered support. Because of FB, I mentor colleagues entering pastoral and faith formation ministry and I also get mentoring from colleagues who have “been there and done that.” Because of FB, I “talk” to people who are very different from me and I learn something new. Often, I am challenged and confronted about a piece of myself that I don’t want to admit to, or an action that I have done that needs reflection and repentance, such as changing my language around race, ableism or LBGTQ persons, or expanding my views on a topic beyond a right or wrong perspective. But because of this connectivity, I am pulled into the awareness and wrestling with the messy multiplicity of thought and relationships. I move from either/or thinking into both/and. Connections often bring awareness. One can see signs of the Holy Spirit at work in our world, and you might not believe me but even on social media where we don’t expect it.

Signs of God’s work are everywhere-and this week we are starting a seven-week sermon series “Give Me a Sign” and we will explore signs of God’s activity in our lives-particularly unexpected signs. Signs of God’s presence and activity are not always what we expect them to look like. Sometimes, as with our sign for today “Caution High Winds,” we are caught off guard and the sign may not seem to be good news for us at first. Signs might tell us that we are not where we think we are, or we are further or closer than we thought, or that there is potential for an event that we didn’t anticipate, or that preparations are needed. Signs don’t usually give us all the information but point us in a direction to keep going further down the road where we will encounter new experiences and new connections.

God has always provided signs of God’s activity, presence and connection in the world and in our lives from the moment that God spoke words of creation into the chaos of the void. God understands that we, as diverse humanity, need many signs, many experiences of God to expand our awareness of God. God’s deepest desire is to connect and be in constant relationship with us, as God’s very self is relationship and connection. Holy Trinity Sunday, is not a day to try and explain the three distinct expressions of God for intellectual understanding, but to point to the gift, joy and awareness of God’s diversity and connectivity in the world. The Trinity isn’t to be explained as much as it is to be lived and experienced. The core of God’s heart is abiding relationship. God as creator, Son and Holy Spirit-in unity and yet in distinction is a sign for us how God loves and craves relationships.

God’s signs of connection permeate the natural world with ecosystems both macro and micro. The relationships of plants and bees, animals and humans, rain, sun, wind and snow, reveal how God designed life to be dynamic and always transforming. Nothing stays the same and yet, the transformations are done in partnership in these systems. The more we become aware of our earth, the more we find that everything is in relationship from atoms and quarks to ice shelfs and penguin colonies.

God’s sign of connection is perhaps most personal in the coming of Jesus as a human infant, vulnerable and unprotected. God’s desire for relationship with us meant enduring risk. Through Jesus, God offered more signs of God’s connectivity to us. Water that connects us to the earth, and to the ministry and mission of Jesus, bread and wine that connect us to the seasons of planting and harvest, and also to inclusion for all into the body of Christ. And the sign of the cross, that connects us to the promises of God for presence in our suffering, connects us to the truth of the empty tomb, and life eternal with God and the people of God. These signs herald for us the truth that relationship and connection with God doesn’t remove suffering from our lives, as Paul writes in Romans, but has the power to transform it into hope- that is trust in God’s promise of abundant life.

God’s sign of connection in the Holy Spirit points us to new adventures and roads. Jesus tells the disciples in our John passage that we are connected to the Holy Spirit and so connected to the truth of God that guides our lives. Jesus doesn’t promise that this will be easy, clear or safe. The truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives witnesses to God’s power to call to us from unexpected people and places-such as in Proverbs chapter 8, Lady Wisdom calls to the people from the city entrances and crossroads-a sign of God’s connections in our daily lives. Throughout the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles God’s work among those who were different from them and challenged their embedded way of thinking about life with God. The Holy Spirit guides us to open roads and open hearts where we encounter God’s people in rich diversity, distinction and uniqueness. The Holy Spirit guides us to the truth of God’s love for us and all creation, that God is beyond either/or  thinking but reveals multiple perspectives and avenues of connection. The truth that God sends us out filled with these signs, to be living signs, with our words, actions and to be the very presence of God’s love, grace and hope to everyone that we encounter. Signs of acceptance, signs of advocacy, signs of inclusion, signs of welcome, signs of God’s gracious love that is poured out in unexpected places, to unlikely people in a multiplicity of ways. These signs open our awareness of living in grace-filled, abiding and eternal relationship with God and one another. Thanks be to God.

 

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The Power in this Moment Sermon on Pentecost Jun 9, 2019 June 9, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are Acts 2:1-21 and John 14: 8-17, 25-27

Children’s sermon: (Have ribbons, the paper flames for the prayer station and glow sticks to give them) Gather the children and have a red ribbon and a glow stick. What’s your favorite color? Mine is red! So I love it when we have Pentecost and Reformation Sunday or Confirmation and I get to wear my red stole. Or anything red! What’s awesome about the color red, as well as orange and yellow, is that they are bright colors and you can’t miss them! This is why crossing guards at your school, or construction workers on the highway wear orange or yellow or sometimes that neon green color. They need to be seen for safety and we don’t want to miss seeing them!  In our bible story this morning in Acts, there was a strong wind that was hard to miss! And then what looked like fire appeared with the people! What colors are in fire? Red, yellow, orange. Hard to not see fire isn’t it! While we don’t see wind, we can see what wind does: it moves and blows things around as well as changes things. When the Holy Spirit shows up and we notice God’s presence and how things change. The Holy Spirit was among the people and God didn’t want them to miss it! God wants us to see that God is with us today and always in the Holy Spirit, like Jesus promised in the John story, we are never alone, and that God wants everyone to know about God’s love-no matter what language they may speak, where they live, or how old they are. For this to happen, all of God’s we must burn bright and move with the love of God. God wants us to prophesy which means to tell the truth that God’s love is for everyone today, people you like, people you don’t like or people who don’t like you. This love today will create more love for tomorrow!

And you don’t have to wait to be older to do this: God gives you gifts today to be God’s love in the world. We can see the Holy Spirit through the love that people give to each other. God’s movement and love can be seen all around us. Who shows you see God’s love in your life? How can we show God’s love to people? Family promise, food for Urban Crossroads, helping at home, being kind to a friend, inviting someone over to play this summer. I have these paper flames for you and all of us to write how we can share God’s love today and tape them to the crepe paper flames in the back. And I have a glow stick for each to you to remember to burn brightly. Let’s pray:

 

The Power in this Moment:

There is a video going viral this week of a dad and his baby sitting on the couch. Have you seen it? The baby is babbling with very animated expressions and arm movements and dad (a comedian) is responding to his son as if he’s understanding every word the baby is saying. He even occasionally initiates a new train of thought with the baby and the baby seems to respond appropriately. It’s adorable and great example of how young babies and toddlers learn to interact and communicate before they can be completely understood. The dad didn’t wait until his son was older and had complete language to have a meaningful conversation with him. He knew that the moment at hand was important and that he could show his son his love today and that his son needed him to relate to him just as he was-babbling baby and all. How they might communicate when the baby is older remains to be seen but what happened on this day will shape their relationship for the future. This dad knows there is power in the moment to shape a loving future.

It’s often hard to be in the moment. To stay grounded in the here and now. We get caught wistfully remembering the way it used to be: “the good ole days.” And in our memories, everything was perfect. And we love to project about what the future might bring. We think ahead about life will be. Such as when our children are babies we await the day when they sleep through the night. Or we can’t wait to finish school to “get on with our dreams and hopes,” or we can’t wait to retire to get to do all of things we can’t while we are in our careers. Always something to look forward to-always a way to compare yesterday, today and tomorrow and somehow “today” can seem like it’s not enough. Being in the moment today requires us to let go of the past and to suspend trying to predict what will happen in the future.

Today is Pentecost-a festival day in our church calendar that gets celebrated in many ways. Some call it the birthday of the Church, some call it the commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, some call it the reversal of the Tower of Babel (although this interpretation is falling out of favor). But I’m going to offer that Pentecost, the 50th day after the resurrection of Jesus for Christians and the festival of the first fruits of the harvest for our Jewish siblings, is about God calling us to pay attention to the moment and not miss it. To live in the now. Not the past, and not the future. But to notice that God is moving in your life and calling you to be this same movement with others today-even if it’s not totally clear and doesn’t seem coherent.

When we can live in the moment, being fully attentive to the presence of God and God’s powerful deeds, the truth is revealed. This truth of our lives, how God’s loving power enlivens and empowers us TODAY is one that we need to share in whatever language and mode we have available. Peter is so moved by the moment of experiencing God’s powerful presence, that he stands up and simply begins to speak. He doesn’t write and rehearse a fancy sermon, he doesn’t look to an expert to explain it, he uses the first words that come to him: the words of the prophet Joel. Peter doesn’t even worry about having his own eloquent statements, or getting the passage right word for word, Peter speaks what he knows to be the truth of God’s presence with God’s people. God’s promise through Jesus Christ to be present today, to bring wholeness today, to bring us abundant life today, is also a promise that does shape our future and the future of the world.

This promise of today allows us to see where the Holy Spirit is at work and where we can participate with our gifts. God has gifted us for this work of today, this sacred time and this sacred place. The Holy Spirit today, is poured out upon all people and fills us so that we may boldly speak and act as Peter did, in our community, and all will hear our prophesy, our truth telling of God’s powerful deeds of love here and now. Prophesying doesn’t predict the future but tells the truth about God’s power today to shape our future wrapped by God’s promises for salvation which is wholeness-deep connection- with God and one another. God’s most powerful deed is God’s presence with us, in us and in creation. God’s power is expressed through empowering us-pouring out God’s Holy Spirit-for the sake of this power surging throughout all of creation. This power surge is what God promised in the resurrection of Jesus and God wants us to help it go viral. The power to destroy death, the power to redeem the broken, power to make God’s diverse people one in this love and truth. This truth telling of God’s power reveals to the world that through Jesus, God, in this moment, shapes our future into one beloved community. When we are in the moment-what truth can we proclaim?  When we are in the moment of hosting, eating, talking, caring and being community with the guests of Family Promise, we tell the truth of God’s promise for wholeness today. When we are in the moment of starting a Scout Troop, when we are in the moment of serving and welcoming our neighbor who doesn’t look, think or act like us, when we are in the moment of offering peace instead of anger, when we are in the moment of supporting and partnering with our black, brown, LBGTQIA, immigrants siblings and anyone whom society claims as less value than others, we are telling the truth of God’s promise for wholeness for all today and that shapes our future in love, grace, mercy and hope.

Pentecost isn’t a day from the past to just remember. Pentecost is today and each day as we live in the moment, empowered by the Holy Spirit to tell and be the truth of God’s promise of love and wholeness for all people. Today we are empowered, we have enough, we are enough, and this moment is enough for God’s powerful love to shape our future. Thanks be to God.

 

Insurance, Mayhem and What God Sees Sermon for Affirmation of Baptism Sunday June 2, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts were chosen by the two youth affirming their baptism.

Genesis 6:11: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”

Matthew 6: 25-34:

Children’s time: What God sees.

I have worn these glasses since I was 11. They help me to see things far away and up close. Without them, I can’t see important things, like you! What are other objects that help us to see things more clearly? Yes, binoculars, telescopes, all help us to see God’s universe, near and far! We might miss seeing something unique and interesting! Well, these Bible passages read by Aidan and Katie today remind me of what God sees and wants us to see. The Genesis text seems a little hard to hear but when you put it with the Matthew text where Jesus says not to worry, we remember that it’s a good thing that God sees the hard stuff in our lives too. Good sees it all as God created it! In Genesis 1, the very beginning of the Bible, we read the creation story and every time God created something God said what? Do you remember? Is there an adult who remembers? Yes! God saw that it was Good! And when God created humans, God said that we were “very good!” God loves what God has created. God sees us as good and doesn’t want us to be hurt or unkind to one another. In the Genesis verse, people were being unkind and hurting one another and hurting the earth. God saw this and didn’t look away but knew that something had to change. This is the beginning of the Noah’s Ark story or the great flood. Now we know that the people saved were Noah and his family as well as all those animals. And when the flood was over, God sent a rainbow to let the people and animals know that they didn’t have to worry about another flood-this was a promise from God that this wouldn’t happen again. But we still worry don’t we? What do you worry about? That’s what Jesus is talking about in the Matthew story. When we worry about flooding, we worry about what to eat, drink or wear, we are worrying and seeing only ourselves. But Jesus reminds us that by not worrying, we can know that God sees us, God loves us and thinks we are very good. When we stop worrying-we can see God’s love and care all around us! the flowers bloom each year, how the birds are fed, people who care for us. We don’t have to worry about is being alone, or being afraid as God promises to be with us no matter what-even if there are scary things happening or we don’t know where food or clothing might come from. God promises good for us because we are precious to God. And Jesus tells us that if we look, we can see God’s love and care all around us, even if we don’t have a telescope! I have a blessing for you today: +You are God’s precious joy+

 

What are things that you worry about? I’m a worrier: mostly about silly things I can’t control-especially at 2 a.m. It seems everywhere we look there are reasons to worry in our community and throughout the world. Now it might seem prudent to worry about somethings such as our health, retirement, our children, as this worry can lead us to make sound choices today that we think will ensure a certain type of outcome for tomorrow, and some of these choices are a good thing! But we think that our worrying, will create some sort of guarantee of controlling outcomes-like an insurance policy that covers us. This is the heart of the insurance industry-isn’t it? I love that one commercial with the man who personifies “mayhem.” In one commercial a car owner is at a football game and gets a facetime call from Mayhem who informs the man that he is about to steal his car. All the car owner can do is watch helplessly as this happens. The company is wanting you to worry about mayhem and then claim that you can protect yourself from it with their policy. Maybe you can a bit, but truth is that mayhem is simply part of life and no insurance policy can totally protect you from it.

We don’t like to think about that reality too often as it leads to anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. But what do we do when that reality smacks us right where we live? When it’s more than just our car being stolen or our she-shed burning down. What about when it’s something a bit more substantive such as a loved one dying, a scary diagnosis, a long term relationship ending, or more systematic challenges such as lack of healthcare, climate change, wars, immigration crisis, racism or as was lifted up at the Utah Pride Interfaith Worship service, the reality of violence against those who are LBGTQI or on the margins of any kind. It’s mayhem, it’s violent and God sees it all.

But we have this God that doesn’t just watch from a distance, the Bette Midler song is incorrect. God is watching us but not from a distance, God is watching us up close and personal. All up in our grill as the kids say. We are all precious to God, so much so that God doesn’t leave us alone in the mayhem-even when it’s of our own doing. God doesn’t judge the mess-God comes down into it. That’s the scandal of Jesus. Jesus comes to us in our mess-acknowledges it and doesn’t try and explain it away. You see, the words in Matthew 6 can seem a bit Polly Anna-don’t worry! And we say, that’s easy for you to say Jesus, your well, Jesus! God’s son! And yet, we need to remember that the very human Jesus was an itinerant preacher, he relied on other people to support him-he lived in what we would consider a bit of a commune. Jesus knew that he couldn’t control the outcome of day to day life. And Jesus knew his mission-to reveal the truth of the radical, life-transforming grace and love of God is the promised outcome for the world. That world that would soon kill him for this message that breaks systems of mayhem and violence. The powers and authorities knew that worry of mayhem and violence keep the masses in line-after all, if you’re so busy making sure that no one takes your stuff, encroaches on your turf, or gets more than you then you don’t notice the powers and authorities taking advantage of your fear and worry. They want you live in the falsehood that the outcome of not worrying and protecting yourself was death. But freeing people from worry of mayhem, violence and death, would mean that people wouldn’t be afraid-they would live differently. They would live not only looking out for what’s best for them, but would be free to care about their neighbor and the world. To be clear, not worrying isn’t about not planning for the future, but it IS about not being afraid to live fully as who you are as a beloved child of God TODAY and delighting when other people do the same!

God sees the entire world: the good and the bad and loves it and us too much to leave us alone in it. Through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, normally today we would be celebrating Ascension Sunday, God acts to destroy violence and death in the. God acts to bear joyous life and calls us to see and also bear this life, abundant life, even in the midst of harm, fear and violence. Goodness and life is about what God sees and does.

Aidan and Alex, this is what your claiming your baptismal faith for yourselves today means: God sees you, just as you are as God’s precious and beloved young men. God sees you because God is with you right here, right now and always. No amount of mayhem, violence or fear separates you from God’s love and care. And so with this truth, you don’t have to worry-you are free to be who God is calling you to be through the waters of baptism and the promises made by your parents all those years ago that you now claim today: You are free to join in the mission of God in God’s kingdom with all of your gifts, passions and talents. You, just as you are, have this day and we pray so many more, to live boldly and to show God’s colorful promises in a world where all too often people only see the darkness of mayhem and violence. Be and act on Christ’s vision-God’s life, love and mercy.

This is our insurance and assurance: God sees us, doesn’t leave us hopeless or helpless but comes along side us in love and grace to move hearts and to reorient lives. God’s hands hold our todays and tomorrows. Don’t worry, live boldly, be who you are fearlessly, bloom brightly and fly freely. +You are God’s precious joy!+ Thanks be to God!

 

Return to the Source Sermon on John 14 and Revelation 22 May 27, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are John 14: 23-39 and Revelation 21: 10, 22-22:5.

 

Children’s sermon: Have the children meet you at the font. We are going to play a game! You are going to each bless five people by making the sign of the cross on their hand and tell them that Jesus loves them. But between each person, you have to go back to font to get your finger wet again. Ok? Come back here when you are done! Go! (When they are done.) How did that feel? Did you like coming back to the font or was that kinda annoying? Yeah, I can see both sides of that. In our bible stories the last few weeks we have been hearing stories about the night before Jesus died on the cross-which seems kind of out of order since we just had Easter! But I think the point is this: the night before Jesus died, he wanted his disciples and us to know that he will always be there to return to for love, grace and hope. Just as you returned to the font between blessing each person, so we return to the truth that Jesus’ love is always with us no matter how scared we might be, where we might be or whatever is going on in our lives. Because of this, we are free to be bold and to tell everyone we know that Jesus’ love is true for them too! No matter what! We want to flood the world with that good news! Besides offering a blessing, which you can do to anyone, how else can you share Jesus’ love with people? Yes! Those are all great ways! Let’s pray:

This weekend I went to Fort Collins for my best friend’s daughter’s high school graduation and I also attended her International Baccalaureate celebration. We listened to speeches from the principal, teachers, counselors, mentors and the students themselves. As most graduates are, they were a jumble of gratitude for what had been, a twinge of melancholy for the relationships that will now be altered and a sense of hopeful anticipation, mixed with a healthy dose of fear for what the future might hold. As these young people enter a new phase, all of this particular group going on for higher education, they would speak with excitement about the future and then circle back to how great the past four years with their friends had been, even if the work load from IB seemed from time to time too overwhelming, too hard and too much. It was a dance of stepping forward to the unknown and simultaneously stepping back to what they knew, what was certain and what they could depend upon. Mixed into this drama are the hopes and dreams of their parents who have a different sense of what the future will bring for their children. Their role will now shift from hands on day to day to one of a place where these young adults can circle back to when they need guidance. The love for their children will not change, but how it is expressed will. Graduation celebrations hold the tension of all the joy of what was, what has been accomplished and the anxiety of a now palpable change. Everyday life will not be the same. But some pieces from this time of high school will remain in their grasp as they spring forward to a new future. Some deep truths of who they are will remain in spite the new adventures.

As we look at the scripture texts that we have been assigned for these seven weeks after Easter, it might seem as if we can’t quite move forward. As one colleague on an ELCA clergy FB site pointed out this week, these chosen texts for the seven Sundays after Easter are a hot mess! I mean it’s Easter! Shouldn’t it be all joy, lilies, chocolate, colorful easter eggs, Alleluias and we love you always Jesus, right?! Like those high school grads rotating from party to party, we want to remain in the celebration, to focus on what’s easy, comfortable and seemingly joyful and we want to stay there forever. Like every other Mainline Protestant Church just a scant six Sundays ago, OSLC was decked out to celebrate Easter-the resurrection of Jesus. The pinnacle of the Church year and a cornerstone of our faith. Jesus is Risen! He is risen indeed! Oh there were lilies, and eggs, and candy, and a brunch, and family and new worshipers and the full choir and extra music and….oh it was glorious! And somehow each year, every congregation thinks: this is the year that all these new worshipers will start attending every week! Everything will be different; it will feel like Easter celebration every Sunday! And then the reality that the Sunday after Easter is one of the lowest attended Sundays in the year for every congregation, sinks in. The lilies and other flowers fade, the chocolate runs out, the eggs are turned into sandwiches, and we are left with this yearning for something that perhaps never existed, with a feeling of inadequacy, and maybe a touch of existential crisis-just to keep it real. Why can’t we stay with the joy of the empty tomb and the beauty of a picturesque spring morning forever? Why do we have to be a hot, disjointed, mess wondering what is next?

Sometimes in the midst of such wondering, we need a touchstone-something that we can return to when nothing else makes sense, when life isn’t quite going how we had planned, when celebrations end, and the challenges, questions, and uncertainties drip back into our lives like slow leak from a faucet.

Jesus is well aware of how quickly shouts of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” shift to “Crucify him”! Jesus knows that his followers will need something to return to in the coming weeks, months, years, and really, until the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. These passages that we have been reading from the gospel of John have pulled us back to the night that Jesus was betrayed, the night before Jesus was killed, three days before the tomb was empty and a new future emerged. This was the night that things were about to change for the disciples and for the world. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples would forever be altered. They would no longer be with Jesus physically day to day, which seemed unfathomable to them. How would they know what to do?

Jesus offers them and us a touchstone to keep returning to when we are stepping out into an uncertain future. When we know that the next faithful step isn’t to stay where we are, but to go out and risk. Jesus tells us that the love that we have from God will never change, that love is unconditional and always with us, but our experience of God will be different. It won’t be physical, hands on. The Holy Spirit will come and keep teaching, sustaining and prodding us on. We will have the peace from Jesus to calm our troubled hearts, not peace that world tries to lure us with, but the peace of knowing that in the midst of life, with the Holy Spirit, we can return again and again to the word of God made flesh, Jesus, the living water, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the vine, the true source of our lives when everything else seems fleeting.

Jesus is also clear that God as our truth and touchstone, isn’t to keep us comfortable but to keep us going. Jesus knows that as God’s Church on earth we always live on that precipice, on the eve, of what is about to come. We live lives that reveal the love and truth of God, and that isn’t simple, easy or without risk, but we live them anyway, for as we read in Revelation, God’s concern is for all people, for all nations, to draw on God as their source and truth. This doesn’t mean that there is only one way to experience the truth of God. Cities (such as the one named in Revelation) are diverse and rich with multiplicity. Even the tree of life produces 12 different kinds of fruit and leaves that heal all manner of ills. God’s truth is most richly expressed in diversity such as all the gifts gathered here in this sanctuary, the gifts in the community around us waiting to be discovered and in the world. What’s universal, what is the constant is God’s promise of abundant life and love for us all and for the entire world. With water, word, bread and wine, we are sustained with the truth of God’s mercy, love and grace that then we carry with us to a world that indeed needs this healing. Nations are healed with the peace of Christ that puts others first and doesn’t fear diversity and what we don’t understand.

So we go out, into a future that is unknown, yet filled with promise, where there will be risk, and meaningful opportunities, where we might feel inadequate and we will have the Holy Spirit to keep teaching us new things, where chaos may surround us, and Jesus’ peace will pervade all of creation. Life will not be the same, but the deep truth of belonging to God and God’s presence with us remains. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

What We Envision Sermon on John 13: 31-35 Fifth Sunday of Easter

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are John 13: 31-35 and Revelation 21:1-6.

Children’s time: Gather the children and show them the playdough. Have enough of the mini-containers for each child if possible. Say, “I have some brand-new playdough that I bought. I love playdough. When you first take it out of the container all you see is a blob. But then you look at closely and realize it can be a fun shape.  Look, I’ve made a heart! When I made a new shape, did what the playdough is made out of change? No, that’s not what’s new, what’s new is the shape-still the same playdough. I was able to see something really wonderful about it and make it happen. What would you make with your playdough? Yep, you all had an idea of what your playdough could be! Still playdough, but it’s been transformed into something else. And it can be something new all the time!

Well our bible stories today are a bit like that. In Revelation, we hear that God is making all things new! Now we tend to think that it means that all the “old” everything we know will go away, never to be seen again. But that’s not what God means. God means that God will take what is already here, you, me, all people, the earth, trees, land, plants, animals and transform us into how God sees us! God sees all people and all the earth as joy, togetherness, where no one is alone, people and the earth are loved and cared for and no one is harmed. Jesus talks to his disciples about a new commandment-that as Jesus has loved us, we love one another. Now Jesus telling us to love one another isn’t new, what’s new is to love one another how Jesus loves us-to see every person with God’s vision of how we should all be. To see the love in everyone. What’s new about this loving one another is that Jesus wants us to love even when it’s hard. Judas had just left to betray Jesus and Peter was about to tell people that he didn’t know Jesus, and Jesus still loved them. Jesus knows that loving even when it’s hard and people don’t love us, is what shows people God’s love. It’s what reshapes people. God’s love doesn’t leave us alone-just like you all can’t leave your playdough alone, you’re constantly making a new shape out of it, God’s love constantly makes us into new people, not different looking  people, but people who’s hearts, and lives are molded, like this playdough by what God sees. God each day reshapes us to be the love that God sees in the world. Let’s pray:

 

 

 

So do you remember being a little kid or youth and being asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? How did you see yourself in the future? Or how did you see yourself then? I saw myself as a famous singer as I love to sing. When I got older and picked up the violin, I envisioned being a professional violinist playing in the NY Philharmonic or some other elite orchestra. And then, for me and for us all, reality sets in and we see ourselves differently. Turns out I’m an ok violinist and singer, but not that caliber. That was a bit painful to discover. How we see ourselves and others changes sometimes as well,  such as when you realize that this wonderful person that you have married is…..umm flawed. Or when you realize that your best friend has not kept confidences or when you realize that you won’t be the CEO of your company, or whatever dream/vision you might have had for yourself isn’t coming to fruition. We have this idea or vision of what life should be like and when that vision has to change, it’s unsettling and can be painful.

There are some commonalities of our visions of ourselves in our 21st century culture, I think, if you’ll allow me. We see ourselves with financial security, good health, strong relationships with our families/friends, meaningful and fulfilling careers, not just a J-O-B. We see life as something that should be easy and comfortable. Oh doesn’t that sound glorious! We’ll be the envy of everyone. I’m reminded of the tagline from Garrison Keillor from his News From Lake Wobegone-and yes that is a play on words Woe-be-gone. “Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all of the children are above average.” You know, an idyllic place where everything is as it should be…

But then we wake up to a roof leaking, a teenager yelling at us, a failed marriage, iffy health, a sudden tax bill, and nothing is what we envisioned for ourselves. And beyond our own day to day lives, are the larger systems in which we participate and place our trust but end up letting us down. Health care, education, government and yes even Church. All of this can swirl around us and all we can see is chaos and uncertainty, like choppy, stormy seas. The jarring tension between what we envisioned and what is reality, can break our hearts. Life, it turns out, isn’t easy, smooth or what we expect. And it certainly doesn’t always look loving. We can lose vision for anything beyond just getting through today, we can become jaded or cynical that there is nothing beyond this reality.

Relying on our own vision nearly always comes with suffering. God understands this and over and over again offers us what God sees. These passages from John and Revelation give us some insights into God’s vision for creation and humanity. At face value, these passages may not seem helpful as at first blush they are unrealistic at best. This is where we need to take a step back and reinsert these texts into their greater context. In John 13, these five verses on glory and love are sandwiched between Judas leaving into the night to go and betray Jesus and Jesus foretelling Peter’s denial of knowing him. Those are some pretty tough realities. And in Revelation, our passage comes towards the end of the book after some chapters of fairly scary imagery of sea monsters, destruction and chaos. We need to remember that the entire book of Revelation is not to be read literally but as allegory. It’s theological imagination for the suffering and reality of life apart from God and what life with God could be.

Jesus’ commandment about love is all about what God sees, as well. God saying to love one another isn’t new, it’s part of the OT. What’s new is that Jesus has shown us in the flesh, God’s vision of loving us and for us to truly love each other. A love that lives in the midst of chaos, betrayal, denial, suffering and death. A love that doesn’t back down, doesn’t cower in fear, doesn’t respond quid pro quo. It’s a love that is open to being changed by one another. It’s a love that flows from God and is about God’s vision of who we are and how we live. It’s not that God has a specific plan for your life such as what you do on any given day-it’s not predestination. But it is a holistic vision of love that redefines what we do in our lives. This love changes everything. It’s a vision of us that is robust, lived into fully despite risk, and demands action from us–despite the reality of a broken heart, and a broken body. It’s a love that takes the world’s definition of glory-personal honor and status-and transforms it. God’s glory is taking seriously the reality of suffering, chaos and uncertainty in our lives and says that God’s vision for the world is more than these things, God’s vision for us is love that sticks around when life gets hard, love that removes separation from God or one another. God will dwell with us, be right beside us, and be at home with us. In God’s vision of making all things new, God sees us and creation for who we really are and can be.

This vision of God of making all things new, means that God doesn’t leave us alone but is constantly transforming us for a new future, rooted in our true identity of love. And as God’s people, we are to embody and live out that vision to a suffering world looking for wholeness. It’s not easy.

God calls us to see beyond our own vision which tends to focus on ourselves and broadens our vision to see and participate in something greater. It requires us to do some hard work. Living into God’s vision certainly isn’t passive. It’s not being done to us but through us and with us. It’s the hard work of self-examination as individuals and as a church community in order to be the love our neighbor needs, not what we think they need, or what we need. Jesus’ commandment means going out into the world around us with concrete actions. We envision and create a world based on this active love. What we see, we can be. We create a world where families aren’t separated by gun point by Immigration authorities or anyone, we create a world where black and brown lives matter, we create a world where women and girls are valued, we create a world where children aren’t afraid to go to school, we create a world where people are housed, feed and can see a doctor, we create a world where love wins. We go out, as Jesus’ love, to those who have never seen it. It’s the reality that God is indeed in the transformation and creation business and we will not and cannot stay the same.

God casts a vision in Revelation 21, that is all encompassing: all people living in a city together in a diverse, caring authentic community, creation and people enmeshed in sacred harmony, death and sorrow abolished because of God’s glory revealed for us, living waters that renew, refresh and offer life in the love of God that encompasses all things and people. God’s vision beckons us to put love into action here and now. God’s vision calls us to see with new eyes how God’s future reshapes us each day in love. God sees us as just as we are and who we will be. Thank be to God.

 

 

 

Where is the Love? Sermon on John 10:22-30 Easter 4 May 14, 2019

This sermon was preached on May 12, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

Children’s time: Gather the children and ask: what does love look like? What does love sound like? What does love feel like? Love is many different things and is all around us! Can it be hard to see/hear/feel love sometimes? Yes. Sometimes we just aren’t aware of it until later or we’re so busy at school, sports or friends that we don’t notice. Sometimes it’s little things or things we don’t think about as love. One time when I was about your age, I was fighting with my sister and I wasn’t being very nice. My mom made me go to my room and I wasn’t allowed to play with my friends after school for a couple of days. Oh that really annoyed me! But now that I’m older, I realize that my mom was showing me love by not letting me be mean to my sister. My mom knew that loving me meant making sure that I also showed love to other people, including my sister. So, love is a bit tricky and annoying! But Jesus wants us to know that love is all around us even when we’re not sure. In our bible story today, Jesus says that he shows us God’s loving actions all the time, but we don’t always see or hear it. But God is always holding us in God’s loving and protective hands and God gives us people around us, like moms and other women, to show us this forever love. Today is Mother’s Day, a day when we celebrate women who show us love with words and actions. But again, we don’t always see it. I have these paper hands and you and all of us are going to write the names of women who show us God’s love and that we are held in God’s loving hands each day. It can be any woman. And then when you come up for communion, you can place the hand with the name on it on the cloth by the altar and we will have so many hands of love to remind us of God’s love for us! Let’s pray:

A favorite musical group of mine the Black Eyed Peas put out a great song in 2003 entitled “Where is the love?” that went to the top ten, with the chorus that begged “Father, Father, father help us, send  some guidance from above ‘cause people got me questioning where is the love?” It’s not always easy to see love in our lives is it? I have to admit that this week has been a tough one with another school shooting in CO that affected some youth from my former congregation. I found out that a bullet narrowly missed a young man in my confirmation ministry whom I used to tease about being our professional acolyte as he loved to be a part of worship and was an acolyte nearly every Sunday. Sadly, this has happened in CO and in our world too often. And there seems to be a lot that can cloud our ability to see love: deadly floods, geopolitical conflicts, the report that a million species are on the brink of extinction due to climate change, harmful words on social media, or on this Mother’s Day, the complexity of familial relationships, the sorrow of broken relationships, separation by death, the grief of not being a mother, the absence of a mother figure.

Wondering about the presence of love is not a new question or existential crisis for the 21st century. In the passage from John 10 this morning the Jewish leaders are annoyed with Jesus’ and the love that he has been spreading throughout the region. (I’m going to take an aside for a moment-when John references “the Jews” he doesn’t mean the Jewish people as a whole, he is always calling out the religious leadership who were oppressing the everyday people, protective of their own status and authority and were fearful of Jesus’ message of equality, inclusion and unconditional love for all.) Their question of “How long will you keep us in suspense if you are the messiah?” can also be interpreted “How long will you annoy us?” I love that and I think it fits a bit better! The religious leaders were indeed annoyed with Jesus! Jesus had spent the last three years (by the time we get to chapter 10 in John) turning their world upside down with God’s love! It didn’t feel very loving to them as all of the rules, guidelines, boundaries, and hierarchies that they had built their lives around were being erased by this Jesus who spoke to outcast Samaritan women, healed the unclean, gave sight to the blind, fed 5000 people with a little bread and a few fish, who turned water in wine, who over turned tables with a whip and chased out the money changers from the temple. This isn’t love, they thought-it’s annoying! How is this what God really wants? In the view of the religious authorities and many of the people-God’s love could only be attained, achieved, and earned by these very rules and practices that Jesus critiqued and ignored. The love the religious leaders had been looking and hoping for looked like a conquering warlike messiah that would establish an earthly kingship where some are in and some are out, or a messiah that would make them comfortable, in power and in control. How can we truly have God’s love if we’re going to allow all people, the sick, the hungry, the poor, the worthless, the non-rule followers, to flagrantly be included where they don’t belong?  We’re supposed to love people we don’t like or don’t like us? If God truly loves us, then we’ll have things the way we want them. But Jesus? How very annoying!

Jesus was a different kind of king and a different kind of love and it was hard for them to see it. Jesus’ answer to them is really an invitation. An invitation to see beyond the rules, boundaries and practices that they know. Look, listen, reach out and touch this love that is all around them. It’s there! Jesus’s followers, the sheep who hear his voice, experience it and these sheep can point others to it as well! But hold on-it’s not what you think.

Psalm 23 gives us glimpses into this radical love: This is love that gives us what we really need, sustains us when we are at our most fearful and vulnerable. This is love that restores our brokenness into abundant life, this is love that never leaves, this is love that gives us a place at God’s table even when there are people in your life who tell you that you don’t belong. This table that gathers us into God’s family-even when we are estranged from our human family and friends. God’s love pursues us, chases us relentlessly, is inclusive, unconditional and forever. Human love and relationships might be finite and broken, but God’s love never fails and holds us. And as Jesus tells us, we can never be snatched away from God’s loving grip.

And how do we know this? How can we tell? Because of Jesus. Jesus is God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and grace in the flesh, meeting us where we are. God and Jesus are one-not in the sense that they are the same person, but they express the same actions: loving actions. Jesus shows us God’s love and calls us, his followers, to be one with Jesus and God in loving actions. Jesus knows that the more followers there are, the more ways that God’s love is revealed in the world. God’s love is everywhere because God’s people and God’s creation are everywhere, we only must have eyes and ears open to it. Last weekend at synod assembly the keynote speaker was Richard Rohr, who reminded us of how God’s love is infused in all of creation. He spoke of how if we are open to this idea then “meditation on even a blade of grass can save us.” God’s love is revealed infinitely.

Knowing that we are held and loved is our foundation so that we can experience and share more of God’s love. Love creates love, creates love, creates love. And love unifies, love heals, love holds us, love makes us whole, love makes us holy, and love never leaves us. Love moves us to see our neighbor’s needs and to love in a way that makes a difference to them. Love means standing in solidarity with people whom society says are unlovable, love calls us to say “no” to that which steals life from others, love looks like demanding loving actions out of others-especially those in leadership. Love stirs us to move beyond worrying about who’s in or out, what’s wrong or right but pushes us to live in the mystery that life with each other and God is always one of learning, exploring and wonder. And it might annoy us, as God’s love is not always what we think it should be. Love is surrendering to the mystery that somehow all people and things belong; all people and things are held together in God’s loving hands and that eternal life begins now. Here is where love is: It’s all around us, it’s you, it’s me, it’s creation. It’s the promise of Jesus to be with us and that God’s love pursues us now and always. Thanks be to God.

Prayer cards can be collected.

 

New Perspectives Sermon on John 20: 19-31 Easter 2

This sermon was preached on my first Sunday at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

Children’s sermon: Gather the children and introduce myself! Talk a bit about how I’m new to Our Saviour’s, to Utah, to so much right now! I’m seeing all kinds of new things! And I’m so glad to see you! What special day was last Sunday? Easter! Yes! What do we celebrate on Easter? Yes, that God raised Jesus from the dead, the tomb was empty and because Jesus has new life, so do we! We have different ways of thinking about that, different symbols, and one we often use is a butterfly. Do butterflies start out as butterflies? No, what is the butterfly life cycle? Yes, first a caterpillar, then it spins a chrysalis or a cocoon and what happens in the chrysalis? The caterpillar becomes the butterfly! It changes! Then the butterfly emerges and is very different than before. Not just in looks but in what it can see. Where are caterpillars mostly found? On the ground or maybe in a tree but not too high up, so they can only see a little bit around them. Where do butterflies go? Everywhere and up high! Do you think they see the world differently than a caterpillar? Probably! Do you think that is weird for the butterfly until it gets used to the new perspective? Yes! It takes time to sort new things out and to realize that life is different as a butterfly. Our bible story talks about this today. The disciples are locked in a room after Jesus has died and been raised because they were afraid and confused about what would happen next. They don’t know what to do with this new information that Jesus is alive! They know that it’s important but what should they do now? Then Jesus comes to them and says “peace be with you” which reminds them that God is always with them. Jesus knows that they are confused and so helps them sort out their new perspective. Jesus says now that the new life is right here, right now, for them and Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. The very breath of God will be with them and will send them out to tell the whole world about this good news that God says that nothing-not the things you do or don’t do, not your words, not even death-keeps you from God’s love and care! Seeing Jesus gave the disciples a new perspective on Jesus’ death and resurrection! Now Thomas wasn’t with them and didn’t get to see Jesus, and really wanted this same new perspective! Thomas sometimes gets called doubting Thomas but that’s not really fair-Thomas doesn’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus, Thomas wants to be a part of this new mission of Jesus ! And Jesus does come, Thomas sees him and knows that Jesus is Lord, and God forever! Thomas now has the new perspective of Jesus’ mission for himself and for us all! Thomas’ new perspective led him to share Jesus’ love all over the world!

Like these butterflies, as people who love and follow Jesus, we now have a different way of seeing the world. We see the world as a place to spread God’s love and joy everywhere we go, like the butterfly spreads joy wherever it goes. How can you spread God’s love and joy? Yes! So many ways and you have so many gifts to share! You can each choose a butterfly to remind you that as God’s people we see the world as a place to share love and joy-like the disciples did! Let’s pray:

New perspectives! Mike and I can identify with that over the past two weeks! It seems that one night we went to sleep in CO and then woke up the next day in Utah! While it’s only about 500 miles from Denver, it’s a whole new way of living. We have a new perspective on the Rocky Mountains seeing them on the east rather than the west-that’s going to be directionally problematic for a while…lower elevation means different plants and trees, a different home in a new community, new neighbors, and even mundane things such as a new garbage pick-up day. New perspectives are exciting and as human beings we often seek them out, and at the same time we are overwhelmed by newness. Newness always comes with some risks. It’s a push/pull relationship for most of us with new ways of seeing our lives in a new context.

Our text today struck me as highlighting new perspectives. Yet, this gospel lesson today is often called the Doubting Thomas text and that has never really sat well with me. Whenever a text has a scapegoat, I start looking for why. Why are the couple of verses where all Thomas wants is what the other disciples and Mary Magdalene already have, singled out as a problem? As I mentioned, Thomas isn’t doubting the resurrection-he’s asking to have the same altered perspective as the others. He wants to experience the risen Christ, to be infused with the Holy Spirit which affirms his relationship with Jesus, and to be sent out with this good news of Jesus’ resurrection that most definitely changes everything. After the trauma of the cross, hiding from the authorities, the fear of what would happen next, then the message from Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple of the empty tomb, Thomas is fervently praying/hoping for something new to happen! Anything else has got to be better than the past few days! Even if the newness is risky!

And Jesus comes to Thomas. Jesus once again slips into the locked room and doesn’t chastise Thomas but offers him what he needs, a new perspective-touch my wounds, believe that this new life is also for you, Thomas. Jesus offers him reassurance of their unending relationship. We don’t really know if Thomas touches Jesus, the text never says that he does, but what we get from Thomas’ lips is a new proclamation of truth, of hope, of grace and of mercy for all the world and a new perspective on Jesus: My Lord and My God. The gospel summed up in four words. Our Lord- the one who was risked being truly human and in solidarity with us in our pain, suffering, sorrows, joys and celebrations. And our God, the divine, the one who redeems, gathers us in God’s mercy, love and care. God the one who gives us the Holy Spirit to reorient our perspective again and again to our baptismal identity as God’s beloved and as co-creators in God’s kingdom to reconcile the world into God’s promises. This proclamation is the statement of new life with Jesus not only for Thomas, but for us all.

And so on this second Sunday of Easter, we at Our Saviour’s have a new perspective. It is the end of the transition process for OSLC and today we begin ministry together for the sake of the community around us. It will bring new perspectives for us all as we will see the world differently going forward. We will fully live into the newness of the Easter truth: perhaps like the disciples, not fully understanding what that means or what God has in store, but also trusting in the promises of Jesus to fill us with the very breath of God that sends us to unexpected people and places with forgiveness, grace, mercy and unconditional love which are to what the mission, vision and core values of this community call us.

This new perspective is everything-it’s about how we will live together, witnessing, to the experience of Christ in our lives not for our own sake but so that as the writer of John states in verse 31: So that others will come to believe and have life in Jesus. Resurrection life that is right here, right now, not just someday when we physically die, resurrection life that will shift perspectives, resurrection life that calls God’s beloved to feed the hungry, house the unhoused, visit the imprisoned, care for the suffering, clothe the naked and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and God. Resurrection life that spreads the love and joy of God wherever we go. Resurrection life where Jesus reminds the disciples and us that we have the power to offer forgiveness and to receive it. Resurrection life has power to restore relationships and communities.

Resurrection life and new perspectives will also come with risk, it’s not safe or tranquil. As the disciples experienced over and over as heralded in the book of Acts, this message of unconditional love demands radical justice that pushes human systems and shatters cycles of status quo, violence, religious intolerance, exclusion and discrimination of any type.

Living as resurrection people call us to stand with those harmed by these systems and to give witness to the damage done. We pray for our Jewish siblings today at Congregation Chabad in CA as they lament the evil that entered their sanctuary and we join our voices and spirits to all who mourn this day. With the people of God throughout the millennia, we live into this resurrection life with all its messiness, confusion, challenge, beauty, inspiration, wholeness, and value. This is why God creates community in resurrection life, where we encourage one another, guide one another, forgive one another and love one another. We call one another back to this new perspective, remind one another to look for resurrection, as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed, to seek out where God is cultivating new life through Christ all around us, to witness to it and proclaim with our entire lives “My Lord and my God.” It’s a new beginning. Jesus promises to come to us with peace, forgiveness and mercy and to be with us in this abundant life-giving mission. Thanks be to God.