A Lutheran Says What?

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

We Are Shaken Sermon for Palm Sunday April 5, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on April 5, 2020, Palm Sunday in Holladay, UT. You can view it on YouTube: our channel name is Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts:
Isaiah 4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Phil. 2: 5-11
Matthew 21: 1-11

Today’s gospel reading of Jesus entering Jerusalem certainly seems like a far-fetched concept these days to us. Where our streets are eerily desolate, empty and quiet, the streets of Jerusalem in our Matthew passage are crowded, chaotic and cacophonous. There were people shouting “Hosanna!” which transliterated from Hebrew means “Save us now!” and waving palm branches, laying down cloaks on the road with the branches to welcome Jesus. Jesus was in the middle of this crush of people as they made their way into the heart of the city. It will be a long time before we see anything that might resemble such a parade.

This is a day where we too would typically have palm branches, sing “Hosanna!” with the children and choir processing in parade fashion. But the sanctuary is quiet and we are at home. While it seems that our experience is the complete opposite of what was happening in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, in reality they are very much the same. We read that the city of Jerusalem was in turmoil, and that word turmoil in the Greek is the same word that we encounter in Matthew 27:51 for the earthquake that occurred at the time of Jesus’ death and for the earthquake in 28: 2 that rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb. The earth shook at the arrival, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our lives are similarly shaken.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was revealing the truth of who he was and who God is in relationship with humanity and creation. Jesus entering Jerusalem revealed the truth that there was no going back to the good old days of wandering the countryside, healing, teaching, feeding, and praying. There was no going back to what to the disciples, must have looked like Jesus in control of the situation. Jesus knew that there was no going back and went head on into the crisis and chaos of betrayal, isolation, and death. Jesus also went head on into the heart of the matter, to the people to dispel the human illusions of security, power and control, to point to God at work redeeming, saving and loving humanity even when it seemed all was lost. Jesus went forward in the confidence and trust of God’s presence, even when he was scared, even when he suffered, even when he died.

We too have entered into turmoil and are shaken. The earth beneath us all has shifted, literally in the past two weeks with the earthquake in Magna, as well as emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically for us with the pandemic. Our whole world, experiences and lives has been shaken up, turned upside down and changed forever. We long to go back to just a few short weeks ago, when we could be together without fear of illness, when we could get toilet paper anytime we wanted, when we could keep travel plans, when we could have a sense of security, do whatever we pleased and had, we thought, control over our lives. But we’ve learned in the past few weeks any sense of control, comfort, security and autonomy were illusions. What’s been revealed to us is deep global interconnectedness, that there is much we don’t and can’t control and what we place security in: finances, work, material goods, health aren’t guaranteed and are fleeing at best. What’s been revealed is what truly matters when the ground beneath us is shifting and unsteady.

This is where Jesus indeed enters in. Jesus enters into our turmoil, hears our cries of “Save us now!” and comes to us and reveals to us God’s mercy, peace and tenderness when everything seems chaotic and hopeless. Jesus enters, not as a worldly king wielding words of quick fixes, placating comforts, self-serving assurances or blame, no, Jesus enters as a king whose kingdom offers actions of humility, servanthood and selflessness. Jesus incurs risk, suffering and death to enter the turmoil of humanity to reveal that there is more, there is hope, there is healing, there is light and there is life. God is at work all the way to the cross.

As the people of God, we go forward despite turmoil, chaos, despair and fear, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, lifting our palms in confidence, in trust and in love. We lift our palms to sweep back the curtain of the illusions of security,  control, comfort and autonomy to reveal that those things were never going to save us. We can’t go back to what was, we know too much, we’ve seen too much. We go forward toward what we know, lifting our palms to what does save us: God’s promises of being with us in suffering, walking with us in fear and at work in the darkest nights for the dawn of new life. New life that will be like nothing we have experienced before, new life that ushers in God’s kingdom where true security is found in doing what is beneficial for our neighbor, in sharing power, in letting go of control, in getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and in proclaiming radical, equalizing, unifying, ego-destroying, sacrificial and earth shaking grace and love. Amen.

 

“If” a Sermon on John 11 Lent 5A March 29, 2020

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This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 29, 2020. You can view it on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The text was John 11: 1-44

One of my favorite games to play when I’m ruminating on a situation that I’m unhappy about, is the “if only” game. Maybe you play this game too. You know the one where you have a fender bender and you think “ugh, if I had only not looked left when I should have looked right.” Or “if that other person had stayed in their lane.” Or “if I had stayed home.” Then all the unpleasantness could be avoided. Part of how we are wired as human beings is to be constantly vigilant for how to stay alive and out of danger. And when danger does arrive on our doorstep, as it invariable always does at some point, we want to dissect the events leading up to the misfortune, figure out who to blame, how we avoid this again and even on occasion figure out how to change the misfortune so that we don’t have to endure any of the consequences. This line of “if only” thinking lulls us into the falsehood that we have some sort of control over life events and we can logic or bargain our way to happiness, safety and security.

Don’t get me wrong, we should try and make appropriate decisions that don’t put ourselves or others in harms way, but we also know that there is no such thing as perfection. We can technically make every correct decision and take every prudent action and still have traumatic events befall us. And we’ve seen the inverse of that as well, haven’t we? When someone seems to make poor decision after poor decision and still everything comes out all right for them. It can be maddening to attempt to discern any pattern, consistency or logic out of life.

Mary and Martha and even the disciples are knee deep in this “if only” game in our John 11 story this week. Jesus gets word that Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha, is very ill. Jesus seems to brush this news off in a cavalier way that is hard for me to understand. I mean, I want Jesus to drop everything and rush to Lazarus’ bedside and save him from what ever pain and suffering he is experiencing. But Jesus doesn’t do that-he hangs out two more days wherever he was. Then all the sudden after two days, Jesus decides to go to Bethany where Mary and Martha were.  Again, why the wait, I just don’t understand.

Jesus arrived to find what I always have envisioned as a wake happening. Family and friends gathered lamenting, crying, telling stories of the deceased, eating, praying, visiting the grave all the activities that you might participate in when a loved one dies. It is interesting that the gospel writer John does let us know that the “Jews,” who are in this gospel the authorities, are here. Were Lazarus or Mary and Martha important to the authorities somehow? Were they a prominent family? Or was it that they were close to Jesus and they thought that this was another opportunity perhaps to see what Jesus is up to? It could be any or all those things, we don’t know, but I get the sense that their presence wasn’t completely altruistic. And I think Jesus knows it. Martha met Jesus on his way and the first words out of her mouth were “if you had been here.” Martha was probably replaying the sickness and death of her beloved brother over and over in her mind and now seeing Jesus was another piece in her attempt to make sense of a senseless experience. Jesus if you had done what I wanted you to do. Jesus doesn’t offer platitudes of “God needed another angel,” or “this was God’s will,” or didn’t even offer an “I’m sorry he died.” Jesus simply states: “Your brother will rise again.” Now Martha’s response is less surprising than we might think as there was a strand of Jewish Pharisaic theology that did believe in resurrection. But it wasn’t quite what we think of resurrection as followers of Jesus, it was more of a what happens on judgment day or the Day of the Lord from the Hebrew Bible. Jesus knows this and gently offers that there is more to it than that. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, not just someday in the far off future, but right now, even when we wonder “if only” and even when we don’t like or understand our current circumstances. Martha then gets Mary, and the Jews follow her as she too, goes to Jesus. Ironically, or predictably, Mary’s first words to Jesus are the same at Martha’s “if you had been here.”

Jesus sees her tears, sees the Jews and then gets mad. The gentle translation of “greatly disturbed” doesn’t do justice to the Greek, which means indignation. Jesus is angry. He is angry and moved, that is he is overcome with many emotions at once. He’s angry that the Jewish authorities are using Lazarus’ death for their own gain, he’s angry that death is a part of his dear friend’s existence at all. He’s moved to tears that this is humanity’s reality. Jesus is moved to tears amid the many emotions himself and of others around him. We have a God who is with us in sorrow and cries with us in sorrow and fear.

Jesus goes to the tomb, and when he says to roll away the stone, Martha interjects that is a bad idea, Lazarus has been dead long enough that there will be the stench of death in the air. But Jesus then offer his own “if” statement. If you believe, you will see the glory of God. Jesus then prays and calls Lazarus by name and Lazarus emerges from the tomb, bound in death wrappings. Jesus says to those present to unbind him from the trappings of death.

We find ourselves in a time when we are asking ourselves, and God “if ” questions. If someone had contained this virus sooner, if we could figure out how to cure it or treat it, if we weren’t so vulnerable from it, if this wouldn’t affect the economy, if this didn’t require so much sacrifice, if we weren’t so afraid and uncertain. But Jesus comes to us in our “ifs” and offers to us belief. Believing isn’t some naïve ascent to wishful or magical thinking, it’s not like those prayer forwards that we all get that say “if you forward this to ten friends then your prayer will be answered.” Belief is like love, it is a gift from God, and it is tenacious and foundational. Believing is how we orient our vision and hearts to live in painful times and in suffering. Believing doesn’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen, but what it does mean is that you will see God at work even when it only looks like death, you will see God who takes our chaos and brings order, you will see how God takes our attempts at logic and control and reminds us that there is more than we can see. Through Jesus, we are freed from the “ifs” of our lives. Jesus unbinds us from “ifs” to freedom, to community, to service and to love.  We are freed to hear Jesus call our names and we unbind each other, as Lazarus’ friends unbound him, for life. Life that is not certain but life where hope is alive and present through Jesus Christ. We believe because of Jesus’ love and we look for abundant life and possibility where others see finality and despair.  We believe and so we see the opportunities before us as a congregation and as individuals, to unbind each other from fear and death to freedom, for the sake of being this abundant life and freedom in our community. In the coming days and weeks and probably months, we will be called on to serve our community in ways we’ve never imagined. But this is God’s people unbound, not stuck in the “ifs” but freed to the reality of God’s love and presence no matter where we are, how isolated we might physically be. We believe and we shed the trappings of death for life. Amen.

 

Out of the Mud Sermon on John 9 Lent 4A March 21, 2020

This sermon was preached/recorded at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church for Lent 4A March 22, 2020 in Holladay, UT

The text was John 9: 1-41

I’ve always wondered about those mud wrap spa treatments, maybe you’ve had one. Or use the mud masks on your face. Some people say that it is good for their skin, that it’s relaxing and when the mud masks are washed away, their skin looks different, glows, is radiant and is smoother. That might be, I’ll probably never know. I will admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of mud on me, anywhere on me. Living in OR and WA, I have encountered plenty of mud in my time, mostly that which my children dragged in, but I would also run trails in OR that were often muddy. But I mostly spend a good amount of time avoiding mud, muck and general icky. I mean, someone will have to eventually clean that up and that someone is usually me. And as we enter spring and spring rains, things are getting muddy. But I’ve also noticed this week how out of mud, bursts forth colorful flowers, plants, worms for birds and other sorts of life.

So it’s not shocking that what stood out to me this week in our John text was all the mud. And on top of that, mud mixed with spit. That is NOT Coronavirus approved by the way. Jesus encounters this man who was born blind and the first question that the disciples wonder is who or what is to blame for this man’s mucky predicament? Who messed up Jesus? Jesus responds that no one messed up. Some things just are BUT watch and see what God is up to. And with that, he spits on the ground, totally gross even if there wasn’t a pandemic, and makes mud. I can imagine that maybe Jesus made mud pies as a little boy, as little boys do, proudly offering one to his mother who would smile politely as she accepted this treasure wondering how she would dispose of it without hurting her little boy’s feelings. Jesus scoops up this mud and smears it without permission on the mans eyes and says go wash. The man washes and can see! His life is changed forever. We would assume that this miracle would simply return him to what we think of as status quo, the way things should be for him had he been born with sight.

But that doesn’t happen. With the new vision, comes a new role in the community. He had been known only by his ailment and his position as a beggar, but now, now there was no going back to any semblance of what was for him or the people who knew him. This is alarming to those who are tasked with keeping everything in order, clean, neat and sanitized, in this text, called the Jews, which in John always refers to the Jewish authorities. This man was no longer in his place, his transformation muddied the social structure, not to mention the fact that he had been healed on the Sabbath day. This is a direct violation of the rules. The pharisees interrogate the man, and when they don’t like his answer, they interrogate his parents, who out of fear bounce that ball back into their son’s court. A second time they ask this healed man, about who healed him on the sabbath, only to hear that this man simply testify to his experience with Jesus. “Here’s what I know! I was blind but now I see.” But the infuriated pharisees, drove him out of the synagogue. It seemed cleaner to cut him off from the community than to allow his testimony and experience with Jesus dirty the theological waters.

Jesus finds this man again but remember the man has never seen Jesus up to this point, he has only heard his voice. So, when Jesus tells him that he has seen the Son of Man, the human one sent by God, the man suddenly sees everything. He sees the love for the world shining as bright as the sun in the form of the Son of God. The man sees that the world, not just his own world, but the world for everyone, is now changed. What was clear before is now muddy and what was muddy before is now clear.

Sometimes it takes getting covered in mud to really see. We are in a time of muddiness, murky waters and we long for clarity. It feels as if we should be able to just wipe the mud from our eyes and then we can go back to the way things should be, before we were covered in the muck of this pandemic. Yet, in the mess, we see things differently. We see how important connections really are. We see how interconnected we are locally and globally, and that one action impacts us all. We see our interconnectedness with the earth-I don’t think that it’s an accident that pollution levels are falling where people are being told to stay in. The water in Venice is clear enough for the first time in decades to see the fish and dolphins have returned. Our eyes are opened to how important retail and restaurant workers and truckers are in our society. Our eyes are opened to the needs of those who are already on the edge financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Our eyes are being opened to what we thought was clarity and vision was perhaps never all that clear. Maybe we’re in the process of being healed from the vision we had for how life should be just a few weeks ago, to what God desires for us and creation. Maybe we’re being healed from what we saw as important for our communal life together for seeing God’s vision of the beloved community. The pharisees saw only rules, order, traditions and authority. Jesus showed them that what matters is love, compassion, and community. Jesus showed them that they had been blind to the needs, the dignity and the divinity in the people around them, but that healing was available for them too. People, real people, mattered more than contrived rules, order or traditions. To bring people to the fullness of life, to be healed and made whole in the love and grace of God, sometimes those things that we see as the only way to live together have to be circumvented and abandoned, they might have to die.

As we willingly physically distance for a few weeks, we know that this is about people, real people, and not about our own comforts, wants and preferences. As we wash the mud of how life used to be from our eyes to be healed to see what is now, we see that church, God’s people was never about a building. It’s nice, but what clearly matters is our relationship to God and one another. Just as the man’s life was changed, so will ours going forward. We’ve seen too much in the past few weeks to just go back. Healing isn’t always easy, sometimes healing is painful, messy and hard. It requires rest, new patterns, the washing of wounds and often care from one another.

What if this is time of healing? What if Jesus is saying to us, go and wash the mud off your eyes and tell me what you then see? Can we see that Jesus is the light of the world and we are to reflect that light too?  Out of abundant and steadfast love, God sent Jesus to heal us and make us whole now, not someday but today. Maybe not in our physical bodies, but to heal our hearts, minds, spirits and our relationships. And not only heal us but the entirety of creation, for we are intertwined. Yes, things are muddy right now, but out of mud comes growth. Out of mud comes new life. Out of the mud comes the promises of God through Jesus that nothing can drive us away from God’s love and care. Amen.

 

 

What We Leave Behind Sermon on John 4 Lent 3A March 15, 2020

This sermon was offered at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 15, 2020 to an empty church due to the concerns from COVID-19. However, God’s Church, God’s people, are active!

The texts were: John 4: 5-42 You can watch the service on YouTube on the Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC channel 

A lot has changed this week hasn’t it? We have left some things that we’ve always known and had behind. It’s in our human nature to try and not leave anything behind when we leave places as we like to keep what we have and what we know in close proximity. There are times when we intentionally leave something behind, like a gift, or a remembrance as a way of marking the moment and the occasion. But how many of us have the experience of leaving something and not even knowing until a later date, sometimes much later. So was that thing really that important? Do we really need it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. We can also realize what we truly need when we’ve left something behind.

When we leave things behind, sometimes it frees us to be open to a new direction, a new way of doing something, or a new experience or new information. Leaving something behind means loss, worry and a feeling of vulnerability. So we try and hold on to what we have, even when perhaps leaving it behind is what we need to do for something new.

Our story of the woman at the well with Jesus today has a lot of layers, depth and nuance to it that I wish I could address in one sermon, but alas, you’ll have to wait another three years when this comes back around and we’ll add to the story. But I’ll try and drop a few fun nuggets as we go. Jesus crosses into Samaria, foreign territory, where the people worship differently (despite being a branch from the same tree of Judaism), have some different values and there is a definite rift between the Samaritans and the Jewish people of Israel. The Samaritans don’t worship in Jerusalem in the temple but at Mt. Gerizim-which would be blasphemy for the Israelites. The Samaritans were considered persona non gratis to Israelites and to be avoided at every cost. But Jesus doesn’t take the long way around to avoid them-he goes straight into their territory unabashedly. He leaves behind the safety of staying in territory that is known, acceptable and comfortable. He goes to the well, Jacobs Well, as Sychar, or what in the OT is Shechem. This well is the scene of a couple of betrothals and wells were known in the ancient world as a place to see the opposite sex. A dating site if you will.

Jesus is at the well when the woman comes at noon to fill her jar. Now a lot of assumptions have been made about this woman coming to the well at noon alone. But notice that the text says nothing of her morality, ethics or character. Only that she comes to the well at noon. Jesus engages her in conversation and through this back and forth about living water, Jesus reveals that he knows about her marital status. Five previous husbands and the one she is living with isn’t her husband. Some scholars think that this is metaphorical for Samaria being under the rule of five foreign powers and then Rome, but more than likely, this is a nod to Levirate marriage laws where if a man dies without an heir, one of the remaining brothers marries his wife. It could be that this poor woman has been widowed five times and the last brother refuses to marry her. We also have to remember that women lacked the autonomy that we have today. Women only had safety, worth and dignity attached to a male family member somehow, a husband or a son. She’s not a woman of ill-repute, she’s a woman caught in social structures that don’t benefit her.

Jesus acknowledges this. Jesus understands the predicament she’s in and offers her another way. The way things have always been in her life, don’t have to be. The old ways will be left behind and something new will happen.  She responds with the proclamation that Jesus is a prophet and challenges him with another cultural norm, the place of worship. She brings up the elephant in the room: we don’t agree on a basic tenet of faith Jesus. As Jesus always does, he doesn’t get caught in the either/or trap. He reveals that the day is coming when WHERE we worship God is far less important than HOW we worship God. We will have to leave behind the trappings of space and ritual and worship in Spirit and truth-that is live out John 3:16-be God’s love in and for the world.

The woman then has a glimpse of what is really going on-she’s met the messiah, the one who makes whole, the one who will bring redemption, the one who brings life. Jesus simply says “I AM.” The woman then goes back to her village filled to the brim from this encounter with the living God, leaving behind her water jar, leaving behind her past, leaving behind her assumptions, leaving behind social norms of women, to be a witness to truth, to living water that flows to all. Everything she leaves behind frees her to witness to God’s mission through Jesus. She goes and tells her community, “Come and See,” and the people also leave behind their own opinions on the unnamed woman, assumptions on the messiah, as well as Israelites. They invite the stranger into their midst and learn from him and become witnesses themselves to the new thing that God was showing them through Jesus.

We, too, are in a moment of leaving things behind. We have left behind being together in a particular place for worship, for sacrament, for fellowship. We have left behind social norms of daily life, we have left behind certainty, assumptions of how life should be, and so much more. But in leaving these things behind, for hopefully only a few weeks, how are we freed to witness like the woman in ways that are unconventional, new, and life giving? Jesus is clear in this text, where one worships isn’t what matters, it’s worshiping in Spirit and truth. It’s getting clear about what matters, what we can and should leave behind, in order for God’s truth, that God loves the world, and we are to bear witness to that in all times and places. Jesus very presence with the woman propelled her out of her comfort zone and everything she knew about herself in societal structure in order for others to come face to face with Jesus who crosses borders, leaves behind earthly expectations to reveal God’s expectations of how we live together.

I’m sure the woman was nervous, a bit afraid and wasn’t sure what would happen next as she left her water jar. But she did it trusting that what she had experienced mattered more than any of those things. As we move forward in the coming days and weeks, we are called to trust in what matters, that the people of God cannot be contained to a space, that Church is always loose in the world and isn’t a building, that we can be witnesses to God’s presence in surprising and unexpected ways in our lives. I, too, am leaving behind comforts, routines and assumptions of how church and life work right now. Together we will step out in faith and leave behind what was and embrace what is and know that Jesus is in our midst. Amen.

 

Well, It IS a crisis…Sermon on John 3 Lent 2A March 8, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 8, 2020. The texts were:

Genesis 12: 1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4: 1-6, 13-17
John 3: 1-21

Children’s sermon: Do you ever worry about things? I do! I worry all the time. Sometimes I worry about things that I can’t control or do anything about by myself. Such as I worry about will it snow. Can I control that? Nooo, even though I want to! Our bible story today is about a man named Nicodemus, or Nic for short and he was worried about who Jesus was and why Jesus was doing the things he was doing. Nic was someone who knew a lot, he had a lot of education and he liked to know what was happening but he didn’t understand Jesus, so he went to talk to him. Jesus understood this worry and sat and chatted with Nic about how it’s hard to understand, but he didn’t have to worry about having answers or knowing the right things because God’s love took care of him! Nic needed to realize what really mattered, not his learning or knowledge but God’s love that is for everyone no matter what! Here is a big heart and during worship and during the week, write or draw where you see Jesus’ love in the world.

I was reminded in our gospel reading this week that the word that we often translate as “judgment” in the bible, as we get in this John text, in the Greek is krisis-where we derive our English word for “crisis.” It seems to me that as humans, we jump from one crisis to the next in our lives. Crisis arise when how we think life should be is juxtaposed with something different and seemingly threatening. When the world appears to be in continual turmoil, the best that we can do is to react. Except that reacting is exhausting isn’t it? Reacting means getting involved, getting our hands dirty, the feeling that we can’t just ignore the current crisis at hand, and that we have to respond in some way, even if it’s risky and maybe against our better judgment. There are times when reacting matters, such as when our neighbor is in need, as in TN after the tornadoes. And there are times when reacting drains every bit of physical and emotional energy that we have such as in a chronic situation. Humans aren’t wired to stay in constant state of crisis and yet, we seem to thrive on it a bit. Until we can’t and we burn out. And then it can seem that the easiest and safest thing to do is to ignore everything, even true crisis’, hunker down, keep your head low, stay cocooned in the comfort and safety of your own community, family, friends and simply opt out of the drama. But the reality is that crisis is part of our existence, crisis also pushes us to become very clear about what matters when crisis demands a response from us of one sort or another. We can choose to step into the mess, or we can hide. We also learn to define what is a true crisis and what is mere theater.

Many of us have experienced crisis’ in our lives, probably several on one level or another. Daily life crisis’ such as severe economic downturns, job losses, bankruptcy, health challenges or the more existential and spiritual crisis’ of grief, hurt, and shame. What John of the Cross (a 16th century priest) called “the dark night of the soul.” When it seems that darkness will last forever and will hold us hostage. And yet, that darkness is not always bad. We forget that things grow in the dark, if you’ve ever cared for poinsettias outside of the Christmas season, you know that they need to be in dark for a few months of the year in order to grow. Seeds germinate underground, caterpillars hide out in dark cocoons, and humans grow in the darkness of wombs. But life can’t stay in the dark. In order to be vibrant and to thrive, the crisis of leaving the darkness must occur and when it does, it’s often messy, frightening, liberating and breathtaking.

Our gospel story from John about Nicodemus is all about crisis. Nic is in crisis. What he knows about God is juxtaposed against what he’s seen from Jesus. He’s heard about water to wine, and of Jesus’ angry outburst in temple-the story that precedes this one.  Nic knows what he knows, he’s a religious scholar, a Pharisee, and he has the rules, the rituals, the doctrine and the academia down pat. But something else is growing in him that he can’t quite control and can’t quite articulate. While all his learning and knowledge lead him to judge Jesus’ actions as anarchy and agitation, Nic also senses the truth resting underneath those actions. The truth that perhaps there is something more than rituals, rules, and doctrines. Maybe there is something more to this Jesus and so he needed to check it out. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark, which we assume is about cover but it could be about comfort and quiet. Nic knew what he knew AND knew that there were things he didn’t. Jesus doesn’t offer pat answers but acknowledges the crisis moment Nic is in. Yep, you don’t know everything that God is doing. Yep, this faith that is growing inside you, it’s very hard to control because once you recognize the Holy Spirit loose in the world and your life, nothing will be the same. You won’t view the world and the crisis’ of the world in the same way. This is what judgment is, not God’s judgment but yours, Nic. But you are in this moment, this liminal space where how you respond to the Spirit and your flesh together, matters. Will you trust that I am here from God with grace and love? Not because your personal salvation is at stake, that is already done, but healing, wholeness and truth in your life and in the world is at stake.

Jesus invites Nic and us into this crisis: will we allow ourselves to stay in the safety and comfort of the dark we know, where we don’t have to engage in the reality of the world or will we trust the truth that God, out of God’s unending, unconditional and unexplainable love, sent Jesus to be with us the crisis of our lives and the world for redemption and healing? Will we believe that the only condemnation we’re under is our own? But like Nic, we’re perplexed, confused and can’t see the whole picture from our places in the dark. We meet Nicodemus twice again in John, in chapter 7, sticking up for Jesus against the other religious authorities, and then at Jesus ‘burial where Nic stepped into the crisis of Jesus’ death and trusts God. We, too, are in a moment of crisis to trust in God’s promises of new life, to trust in the messy and uncontrollable process of being made new every day, and following the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit. If we live into this radical trust, what will others think? The crisis before us is: will we grow into the light, shine with our own brightness and work with the Holy Spirit for creation to be healed and made new or will we do what’s easy and stay in the dark?  Living in this trust will not keep us from crisis’ but will guide how we react-from a place of trust, hope and from our hearts.

We can’t stay in the dark as people of God. Jesus calls us to follow, yes sometimes even into the crisis to be a part of the solution. We follow Jesus to work for justice and to stand for inclusive love of God for all the world, trusting that the Holy Spirit is already there to lead us and to sustain us. We follow Jesus into the crisis of people who are not guaranteed civil and human rights because of the color of their skin, immigration status, gender identity or sexual orientation. We follow Jesus into the crisis of caring for creation, of stewarding what God has given us and knowing that the earth needs us to hear the cries of its crisis. We follow Jesus into the crisis of those who lack access to healthcare, adequate housing, education and economic opportunities. We follow Jesus into whatever the crisis of our neighbor and discover that Jesus is already with them.

We can’t be afraid, and we must love light and truth more than the dark, even if it means going into the dark to bring our neighbor to the light. We must say what we know of God, not of rules, rituals or doctrine, but what we know in our hearts of God’s loving presence with us, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit always, from crisis to crisis. We let our light so shine so that the world sees Jesus who was sent to heal, unify and free us all. Amen.

 

“You’re So Vain…” Sermon on Matthew 4: 1-11 Lent 1A March 2, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 1, 2020.  The texts were:

Psalm 32
Romans 5: 12-19
Matthew 4: 1-11

 

Children’s sermon We heard a story today that makes us ask a lot of questions. Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit to the desert where the devil tempts him to do things that Jesus knows aren’t a good plan. Even though Jesus was tired and hungry, Jesus doesn’t do them. And then at the end, it says that angels came and cared for him. Now, it’s easy to focus on the devil and doing things that we shouldn’t, particularly in Lent, when you might have heard some adults talking about giving things up that are bad habits. But I think we miss in this story the last line of the angels coming and caring for Jesus. In the Bible, another name for angels are messengers, and really, it’s a better way to describe angels. What does a messenger do?  What do you think a messenger for God says? Yes, messengers for God will tell you how much God loves you! Do you think that there are messengers from God around you at school? At the playground? At soccer or wherever you might be? YES! God’s messengers are everywhere! Can YOU be a messenger for God? YES! You can! In your SS class you painted these rocks and now I want you to write words or messages about God’s love for people. You can place these rocks in your neighborhood for people to find and know that God loves them. The adults will do this in a couple of weeks as part of our Lenten worship, so I thought you all could show them how that works.  When we remember these messages of God’s love in our lives, it helps us to live together in love, serving and caring for each other which is what God wants. Let’s pray:

This text had me humming Carly Simon’s song “you’re so vain” all week. “You’re so vain…you probably think this Lent is about you.” It’s so easy to take a story like the one today in Matthew and immediately see myself in it. Oh that tempter, always trying to get me to do things that I don’t want to do or shouldn’t do. I just need to be strong like Jesus! And I need to know bible verses to quote to have the perfect comeback to the devil to prove how pious I am and how much I love Jesus. I need to resist all my bad habits like chips and salsa, or buying books (I might have a theology book problem), or not making my bed. I can take this text and make it all about me in about 3.2 seconds flat. I can make this about how disciplined I can be, how I can follow all the rules and then I will be a better person and never tempted like Jesus. And that can make ME feel pretty good…until I succumb to whatever temptation I have been trying to resist or I fall for the ego trip. When I make this text all about ME, how I can resist the tempter even when I’m at my lowest, how I can deny my human tendencies, it can leave me feeling inadequate, deflated and hopeless. I can’t pass up chips and salsa, even when I’m not hungry.

The good news is that this text isn’t about me, and yet it is most definitely for me, and it is for you and us all. This scene takes place immediately after Jesus is baptized, Jesus is claimed by God as God’s own son and beloved. Jesus is then led to the desert by the Holy Spirit, a place where there is no where to hide, no resources, there is sheer silence and no one around. Until the devil comes. We don’t talk much about the devil, much like hell, and there is much about the evil one that has been conjured up over time. Mostly, that the devil, Satan, the tempter, the accuser, the liar, is sinister or terrifying, is trying to harm us or worse, and is lurking in shadowy places. But here, the devil is in broad daylight. And no where does it say that the devil is frightening to look at or speaks with an other-worldly voice. Jesus doesn’t seem afraid at all. Mostly annoyed. The tempter doesn’t ask Jesus to do anything for him or her (we don’t know) per se, but the devil asks Jesus to do things for himself. There are no weird rituals, or pentagrams or sacrifices, just the devil trying to get Jesus to worry only about Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t fall for it, not for any of it. The devil even quotes scripture to Jesus, trying to twist the faith to justify the view that God is ok with Jesus being self-focused. It’s biblical, right?! Jesus also quotes scripture, not to get into an argument or a tit for tat conversation, but to point to God’s promise and presence not only for himself but for others. Jesus takes all of these temptations or tests, that happen to parallel the experiences of the ancient Israelites in the desert, and lays them bare, by revealing that all comes from God, all is God’s and all belong to God. Jesus’ encounter with the devil is not about how we should resist temptations, it’s not about resisting chocolate, or watching too much tv, or not exercising enough, or not shopping, or whatever. Jesus’ encounter with the devil shows us that the devil is a reality in life, the devil isn’t easily recognizable, the tempter won’t look or sound scary or like a bad horror movie. The devil will look and sound like our egos, our will, our voices in our heads that justify worrying only about ourselves and caring for ourselves first. Jesus’ encounter with the devil, reveals all the ways that we forget that God is God and we are not. Jesus trusts in the promises of his baptism, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and knows that God can’t be manipulated, God isn’t a cosmic slot machine where you can put in your requests and get out the answer you want. There are real consequences for our actions, particularly when are actions aren’t Spirit led. The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the desert, to the real world, not to force rocks to be bread, or to jump off a building, or to worship another, but to encounter the real promises of God. The Spirit only leads to actions, God’s actions, that are life-giving and are life-giving for the care, provision and sustenance of all people and creation, not just for some or one. The Spirit led Jesus to the desert to be tempted, not because Jesus had to pass some sort of test, but because reality is that as baptized people the Holy Spirit will lead us out into the real world, we don’t stay holed up in a bubble. And out in the real world, the devil exists but so do God’s promises.

That is where it is good news that this story isn’t about me or us but is all about Jesus for us. Jesus doesn’t use God’s power for himself and for his own wants, Jesus only uses God’s power for others: to heal, feed, care, and love those whom no one else does. The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the real world where it is hard and then angels, God’s messengers, cared for him. The good news is that this is true for us as well. The Holy Spirit leads us, is always out ahead of us pulling us to places that we might not want to go and encountering experiences that will be difficult for us to keep our focus on what matters. But God will also send messengers, angels, to encourage us, bolster us and reorient us to God’s vision and mission when we need it.

This story may not be about you, but God is all about you. God sends Jesus to reveal who God is, how much God loves us and wants to be with us and how God places us community, with one another for these promises of love, grace and mercy to abound. You are led this Lent by the calling of the Holy Spirit, to see Jesus’ love and power for you and to hear the messages of God’s promises for you again and again. Amen.

 

What Good Is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday Feb. 26, 2020 February 28, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Feb. 26, 2020 in Holladay, UT. The texts were

Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 51: 1-17
2 Corinthians 5: 20b-6:10
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

What good is Ash Wednesday? I find myself pondering that this year. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I DON’T think Ash Wednesday is important, I do, it’s more that I’ve noticed fewer and fewer people in our culture, even those who might even profess to belong to a Christian denomination, attend Ash Wednesday services. In some ways, I can’t blame them. Ash Wednesday most definitely isn’t fun, it’s not Christmas, or Easter or even Pentecost. It’s a day where we come face to face with a reality that most decidedly isn’t fun. The reality that we are mortal, we are not perfect, we aren’t in control, we aren’t who we say we are. This is not a day that we look forward to and a day we spend the other 364, well with Leap Year we get and extra day, trying to deny. Trying to deny that we will die, trying to deny that we mess up, trying to deny that we are anything but dust.

And if we ask “what good is Ash Wednesday” we also must ask what good are ashes? What good is it to put ashes in the shape of a cross, a symbol of suffering and torture, on our foreheads? After all, ashes are only the remnants of something that has died, been destroyed, or used up. Ashes leave a messy, dirty smudge where life once was. Ashes of a tree, a home, a life, all look the same, at the end, for ashes are ashes are ashes. The details of what that life had once consisted of are reduced to sameness. It doesn’t matter how good or bad, how pious or irreverent, how helpful or unhelpful, how educated or uneducated, how beautiful or ugly, how able or unable, how kind or unkind any of those previous lives might have been, as now they are all burned down to the basics, to the core of what anything or any of us really is: dust. Dust that blows away with the slightest breeze and is seen no more.

What good are ashes? Ashes also can be used to fertilize new life, and ashes can be used to create soap that cleanses. Ashes themselves are neither good nor bad, they simply are. Encountering ashes, encountering Ash Wednesday calls us to examine both death and life through this lens. Ashes on our foreheads reveal the reality that we can be dead before our bodies actually die: we can be dead to our need to confront our own sin, the ways that we separate ourselves from God, we can be dead to our own emotions, we can be dead to our neighbor by competing with them for resources, for health, for status, for power, and yes, as Jesus says, even God’s love. We can be dead to the truth of God’s grace, love and mercy for all people when we attempt to fit into the what the world tells us is reality and important. Death comes when we are anyone other than who God created us to be.

Ashes on our forehead also mark another truth: that out of the ashes of our lives, God will cultivate and bring forth new life. Ashes tell us that we are marked with God’s love, forgiveness and grace even when it seems that death is all around. The cross of ashes upon our heads pull us through the reality of death and opens to us life that defies death. God isn’t afraid of death, God isn’t afraid of our piles of ashes and sees our possibilities, God sees what we can be, how we can grow, what can live in us and who we truly are as the beloved. God collects our messy, dead lives into God’s hands, breathes life into us and shapes us in love, and marks us with mercy and heals us with grace.

What good is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday is good for pulling us into God’s unending story of good, not only for us as individuals for all people and creation. Ash Wednesday is good for burning away that which keeps us from an honest and intimate relationship with our God who’s love for us knows no bounds, and will not be swayed by anything we do or say. Ash Wednesday is good to remind us that God is good now and forever. Amen.