A Lutheran Says What?

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

Holy Relationship Sunday June 12, 2017

Last week, I had the privilege to go up to Sky Ranch and offer staff training on child/adolescent development and faith formation stages. I’ve done this a couple of years now and even though I’m not always thrilled for the three hour drive up and back, I’m always glad when I’m there. If you have any concern or doubt about the future of the Church or our world, spend time with these gifted, bright, generous young adults who give their summers to spend with children and youth in our camp ministry for not a lot of money, and you’ll feel very optimistic! I come away each time knowing that I’ve received more from them than this old lady could possibly give them! They are very gracious with this nerdy pastor, who also has an education degree and geeks out on brain development, and gives them more information than they want or need. Now, don’t worry, I do also give them practical ideas for engaging children and youth with their summer curriculum, as well as tips and tools for discipline and caring conversations.

I always stay for a meal with the staff, talk to them, getting to know them a bit. They love having an adult who doesn’t HAVE to hang out with them, but chooses to hang out with them. They think I’m cool, and I always let my own children know that other young adults find me cool. Even after teaching for two or more hours straight, I always leave camp feeling refreshed, energized and renewed for my own ministry. Relationships that are life-giving and supportive have this effect on us. As much as I might teach them some nitty gritty concepts of brain development and James Fowler’s six stages of faith development, mostly what I spend time teaching is on how faith is all about relationships.

Faith development or even lack thereof, is grounded in the quality and depth of relationships from the people whom we are in contact with from the time we are born and our relationship with God. Erik Erickson, a psychologist, names the first stage of emotional development in infants as trust vs. mistrust: knowing whether you will be cared for or not. James Fowler’s faith stage parallel in infanthood is Undifferentiated Faith, which means your being is completely without boundaries from others and you are solely grounded in God. From our very beginning, God wired us to need caring community with God and with one another, and my time at camp exemplifies this reality.

As we heard in the Genesis creation story this morning, we are created in God’s image, every single one of us-just as we are, in beautiful and rich diversity. Created male, female, short, tall, black, white, with a variety of gifts, a variety of opinions and a variety of viewpoints. But all equally in God’s image and all equally loved, called and gathered. We’re created individually in God’s image, but we are also created communally in God’s image as well. God’s very being is relationship-this is what we celebrate today, on Holy Trinity Sunday. It’s not a day to get bogged down in dogma or doctrine or to try and explain the unexplainable, no, it’s a celebration day of who God is and who we are as the people of God. It’s really Holy Relationship Sunday, or Holy Creation Sunday. Creating is always messy, think of artist’s studios and creating community, with actual people is even messier!

God’s very existence is community: three persons or expressions that we often refer to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we also hear God described in the Bible as creator, nursing mother, caretaker, rock, anchor, redeemer, the word, lamb, light of the world, mother hen, sustainer, animator, Lady Wisdom, sender, gatherer. God only knows relationships and so this is why God’s biggest desire is to be with us and for us to be in loving community with one another.

But community is messy, it’s chaotic and it’s unpredictable. We have this idyllic picture in our mind of harmonious community, even within our own families and it pops like a balloon within about 2.4 seconds of being in a room full of people, doesn’t it? For one thing, we each have OUR own idea of what the perfect community looks like, and often it’s one that revolves around us, our own needs, our own wants, our own preferences. So, we get frustrated, we form unkind opinions of one another and decide that perhaps a deserted island is the way to go, and so we end up creating this in our lives in many ways. We sit at home and watch tv with no interaction, we segregate ourselves in activities by age, by choices, by economic status, by neighborhoods. We stay out of certain parts of town, or don’t talk to certain types of people. We explain this in a rational way to ourselves that it’s about safety, or common sense, or who is worthy of our time, but if we’re honest, it comes down to trying to keep control and maintain a façade of autonomy, not needing anyone else and having all that we need without any assistance.

But God has no concept of autonomy, singularity, or isolation. God from the beginning of creation goes all in on relationships and interdependence. The more the merrier! Sea creatures, plants, trees, birds, creepy crawly things (which I could do without but not GOD!), large animals, small animals, microscopic life, and humans! Animals that eat plants, plants that supply oxygen, water to nourish plants and animals alike, people to care for the land, which in turn cares for them-all interconnected. And God took delight in this and saw that it was very good!

Not perfect, but very good. Community in the life of God is not about perfection but about goodness, which means it’s all about forgiveness, openness, and joy in being together. God delights in creating, delights in taking on human form to dwell with us and delights in being the breath that fills us and connects us for mission in the world. This breath that sends us to indeed Be The Blessing to our neighbor, all of our neighbors, yes, those neighbors who voted for Clinton, those neighbors who voted for Trump, those neighbors who are Lutheran, those neighbors who are Catholic, those neighbors who are Muslim, those neighbors who drive a fancy car, those neighbors who haven’t worked in five years, those neighbors who can eat nothing but cake and not gain weight and those neighbors who despite best efforts are always sick.

We need to remember that conflict is nothing new! Paul had to write time and again, we think at least five times, plus a couple of more visits, to the people of Corinth because they kept fighting, they kept dividing themselves, they kept arguing which way of doing church was better, who knew more, which preacher they should the follow. Paul had some stern words for these people who I’m sure were on Paul’s very last nerve with their bickering and wayward activities. Paul wrote to them and said to the Corinthians: it’s not about what you want or what a different preacher wants or what even what I want-it’s what God wants for you-love and grace and inclusion of all through Jesus Christ-even at costs to your personal comfort.

And yet, despite the exasperation he must have felt, at the very end of 2 Corinthians that we read this morning, Paul leaves them with a blessing, words of hope. Greet each other with a holy kiss, live in peace, and the words that we hear at the beginning of worship each week: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Conflict is real but so is the reality of loving relationship that first flows from our communal God that binds us together in community. We begin with these words each week to remind us of the reality of this messy community that is grounded in the promises of God.

It’s why here in a moment we’ll baptize Violet with the words Jesus spoke in  Matthew 28: 20 and why we as Lutherans, don’t do private baptisms, we baptize into community– first and foremost the community of Godself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also the community of saints, this specific community who promises to love Violet no matter what and promises to be there for her, even when it’s messy, even when she might be an angsty teenager, and especially when she needs us the most. The promise of this kind of radical, counter cultural community is that Jesus promises to be with us always-to the end of the age and so we get to live as “Jesus People” together to witness to the world a new possibility-one where there is more that unites us than divides us and we yield to reality that we are bound up together in the life of God and we celebrate it, not just today, but every day.

We celebrate our connectedness when we listen before we speak, when we suspend judgment, when we open ourselves up to new ideas or admit that there could be more than we currently know. We celebrate our connectedness when we pour water from the font, when all people are gathered at the table for bread and wine, when we ponder the needs of our neighbors more than our own. It’s not easy, but easy isn’t the promise, the presence of Jesus with us always is.  It’s not easy but it’s worth it; it’s worth it because God says to us first that we’re worth it, that creation is worth it. Interconnected creation in unbreakable, unshakable and unconditional relationship grounded in bonds of the Father Creator, Son Redeemer and the Holy Spirit sustainer. May we live every day in this Holy Relationship and Holy Creation. Amen.

 

What Is Love? Just Watch! Sermon on John 13:33-35 May 12, 2017

*Preached on April 13, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

Love one another. We often wonder how we will know if someone really loves and cares for us, don’t we?  We watch people closely to see if their actions match their words when we wonder about their hearts and intent for us or others. These words of “love one another” we hear Jesus telling the disciples over and over in all four of the gospels. Words that we, without hesitation, throw out when someone slights us or someone whom we love. “Love one another” are words that we take very personally and internalize what that means for us. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus talks at great length about loving your neighbor as yourself. Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated. We’ve condensed that to a social platitude of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Seems simple enough. As humans, we also cling to this saying because it leaves us wiggle room to not treat kindly those who don’t treat us with kindness. We can justify transactional relationships. What does my neighbor do for me? If nothing, then that’s how they must want to be in relationship with me.

But here in this passage of John, Jesus gives us a twist: Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus takes our wiggle room, our social platitudes and our justifications and hurls them into the abyss. Jesus once again pulls us out of ourselves, widens our view of love, deepens our understanding of who and what God is about and crush our egos that interfere with God’s transformational work inside of us. How do we know if Jesus’ really loves us? Just watch. Watch Jesus become a servant and washing smelly, dirty and worn feet. Watch Jesus offer the same caring actions to the one who would betray him to the authorities. Watch Jesus forgive those who persecute him as he is dying on the cross. Watch Jesus, dying on a cross, not so that we “owe God or feel guilty”, but to show that God withholds nothing, not even his son from us in love. Jesus on the cross is love in action. Love that transcends words. Love that does what is necessary for the wholeness and well-being of all people, with no thought of reciprocation, no consideration of risk to himself or worry of safety. Love that offers freedom from what holds us back from living as people of God. Love that opens our eyes to the needs of our neighbor. Love that dies to human self-ego and lives to see beyond today, the here and now, to a vision of how God sees the world, created good, in harmony and peace. Today we reorient to this love that is a commandment, Mandatum in Latin, and why we call today Maundy Thursday. A love command that is not a suggestion because there is too much at stake.

So we watch. We watch Jesus’ actions of love and understand that the world is watching us, how we love. Jesus says that the world will know that we follow Jesus by our love. This is not easy love. It’s hard. It’s messy.  It transcends our political, social and economic philosophies and places us squarely in the realm of how we think about God’s love in our lives and what difference the loving actions of Jesus Christ make in our everyday decisions. Jesus calls the disciples past, present and future into this way of living, knowing that we will stumble, get confused and need reorienting. Jesus’ love in action also draws us into community, community that supports and reminds one another of this love shown by Jesus. Today, we come to the table of this love that Jesus prepares where bread is placed in our undeserving hands and wine flows to soften our hardened hearts. Our first communion children and youth tonight come to this table to watch, to watch love made flesh, love given as a promise, love that surrounds and encompasses them, us and all of creation. We watch in ourselves for opportunities to be love in action, to offer ourselves fully and know that the world is watching for love from us. We don’t have to wonder about God’s love for us because we can watch Jesus as God’s love in action today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.

 

But Wait! There’s More! Sermon on John 21: 1-14

*From Wednesday April 19th, 2017. I’m catching up on posting sermons! you can watch on http://www.bethany-live.org

Anyone watch the late night infomercials for knives or hoses, or protein shakes or whatever? After the host shows you all of the features of the product that you can’t live without, they say, “but wait, there’s more!” and then either offers you two of the product or bonus items to enhance your product experience. The 21st chapter of John, reminds me of these infomercials. Scholars speculate that this chapter was not part of the original gospel, it was an add on by someone in the Johannine community, an epilogue if you will. Could be the same author, but we really don’t know. It’s as if the writer of the gospel, or someone close to the writer, said, oh but there’s more!

Post resurrection, the disciples might have felt a little lost, perhaps suffering from some post-empty tomb let down. After the euphoria of the initial event wore off and they had seen Jesus and he had blown the Holy Spirit into them (a sort of Pentecost in the book of John), they were left with a “now what??” So life went back to being ordinary. They went fishing, back to their day jobs if you will and it all seemed rather dull. What does being a disciple look like now that Jesus has risen and is no longer with us day to day? They knew what day to day ministry with Jesus in their midst had been like: healing, teaching, miracles, signs. But now?

So fishing it was. But they didn’t catch anything. They had to have been frustrated and disappointed. They couldn’t even succeed at their previous vocation! Then some guy from the shore says, hey did you try the other side of the boat? Yeah, right, like 10 or 15 feet matters on the big sea of Galilea. But they did it, and it did make a difference! In the abundance of the fish, the disciples recognized that it was Jesus who had given them the instructions! Jesus was with them, even when they didn’t recognize him! But wait, there’s more! AND then to top it off, Jesus asked for some of the 153 fish they had caught and cooked breakfast for them! There was plenty for all!

Like the disciples, I think that we quickly forget that with Jesus, there is always more than we can see, more than we can imagine and more waiting for us than we can ever know. We get stuck in the day to day, the ordinary and forgetting that Jesus always meets us in the ordinary and the day to day. The disciples were fishing, not healing, performing miracles, not teaching the Torah, but fishing. Yet, Jesus came to them in that ordinary event to show the extraordinary abundance and grace of God. I don’t think that it’s an accident that the writer of this chapter wants us to make connections with Jesus’ calling the disciples to come and see, connections with God’s abundance in feeding 5,000 with two loaves of bread and five fish, and with the Eucharist meal. Perhaps those in John’s community needed a reminder that Jesus will be present, God’s abundance is real and to trust these promises in the ordinariness of their lives. Perhaps we need these reminders as well.

Reminders to wait, there’s more. What we think is the end, with Jesus, is actually only the beginning. Everyday Jesus calls us into newness of trust in his presence and abundance. How often as the church do we think that we know how to do this ministry thing, that is fish for people. We cast our nets into the waters of thinking that Sunday School, worship, or confirmation programs, or outreach programs or music is the only way to grow ourselves and others as disciples and sometimes we come up empty and we get frustrated, or disappointed. Or we get busy in our lives and become complacent our personal prayer and bible study habits and feel dry or disconnected with God? We get caught in returning to what we always know, getting stuck in ruts and forgetting to look up and see Jesus on the shore asking us to try a new thing. Something that might be as simple as casting on another side though, might make all of the difference. It makes the difference because we’re trusting in what Jesus wants us to do and not how we’ve always done it. How are we being opened up to seeing Jesus anew in a post-resurrection world where everything is different and can never be the same? How do we see that over and over, Jesus comes to us, to show us a new thing and fill our nets, for Jesus provides and provides in abundance, even if we’re not seeing it yet.

This makes me wonder if we think big enough about what God can do in our lives. When the disciples cast their nets on the opposite side of the boat, as Jesus directed them to, it says that they caught 153 fish that they hauled to Jesus on shore. Some have speculated on the importance of that number, but the crux of it is that it’s a lot of fish that they brought to Jesus. And I think that is the point, there’s more! The disciples then hauled the fish to Jesus. Our job is to bring people to Jesus, all people. The disciples didn’t have a say in what fish came, and neither do we. When we forget to look up and see Jesus asking us to do a new thing, who are we excluding from Jesus’ abundance? Jesus is about gathering all of us into his arms and this gets uncomfortable for us. It might mean gathering people whom we don’t like, or don’t like us. People who look different, eat differently, talk differently, think differently. But we’re called to catch them with Jesus’ net of love and inclusion. But wait, there’s more.

The disciples weren’t sure what to make of Jesus appearing to them in their ordinary lives. We too struggle to remember that Jesus indeed, comes to us at school,  when we’re with our friends, at soccer, at work, at home, caring for a loved one, and yes, at church, but not only at church, to show us that there is always more. It’s why we come to the table of Holy Communion when we gather, we gather in the promise that there is more, more Jesus that fills us, meets us here and out in the world. The powerful promise that the writer of the 21st chapter needed us to hear is that there is always more-over and over again, Jesus comes to us, to fill our nets, and provides abundantly. So just wait, there is more! Thanks be to God!

 

Jesus the Door Sermon on John 10: 1-10 Easter 4A May 7, 2017 May 10, 2017

 

The gospel text was John 10:1-10 for May 7, 2017. This can be viewed on http://www.bethanylive.org. The sermon is marked in the archived service.

As many of you know, Mike and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time in Paris last week. It is the first time either of us have been to Europe, although our children have been able to go a few times. The architecture there is stunning with treasures discovered at the turn of every corner. One of the surprises for me (after 28 years together!) was that Mike had a draw towards all the different types of doors that we encountered on the streets, at places such as Notre Dame or Versailles. Many people are drawn to doors and there is much study both psychologically and theologically as to why. Doors, or entry ways, can represent opportunity, protection, change, risk, and excitement. We know that doors have an impact on us, on our brains. How many of you have ever walked into a room to do something and the second you cross the threshold, you forget what that task was? We all do it! There has been research done on this and it turns out that crossing a threshold actually reorients us and transforms us! Going through a door, or entry way, causes our brains to work differently. Going through a door adds possibilities to our brains and therefore pushes whatever we originally considered important, out and allows new input to come in. Doors can broaden our vision, take us to a new place, to new people, to new thoughts.

Today we hear Jesus proclaim: I am the gate. I was struck when I learned that the word “gate” can also mean “door” and it is the same word that is used in John 20 when Jesus walks through the locked doors to the disciples and breathes the Holy Spirit into them. How cool is that! This word gets interpreted as gate here with the context around it of sheep and shepherds but door is most likely a better translation, particularly since we need remember that these ten verses are not a new story.  The beginning of John 10 is actually the end of  the story of the man born blind in John 9 that I happened to preach on March 26, so I don’t know if it’s a Holy Spirit thing that I also have the opportunity to preach on the rest of the story or just bad luck for you all! The first part of John 10 is Jesus still talking to the Pharisees-who were opposing Jesus, the disciples and the man whom he healed. To refresh your memory, there was a man who was born blind and Jesus, with his disciples, came upon him as they were traveling. To be a person with a disability meant that you were an outcast, unclean, sinful somehow and walled off from the community. This man begged for what little people would give him for sheer survival. Jesus healed him, ostensibly returning him to community, full human dignity and worth. But the Pharisees and others, were suspicious of his claim of miraculous healing from Jesus and threw him out of the community. Jesus finds the man again and tells the Pharisees and the disciples that there is more than one way to be blind and sin can separate us from God and blind us from the grace that is freely given to us and we should give to our neighbors.

Our John 10: vs. 1 is simply a continuation of Jesus explaining why God has sent him to dwell among us, why Jesus heals, brings outcasts into community, offers true sight, and true life to all people. Jesus uses all kinds of symbolic speech to broaden our vision of what Jesus came to do: He is living water, bread of life, the light of the world and here, a door. Not a door that excludes, but a door that appears in unexpected places and times, a door that offers hope, and swings wide open to for all to enter. The man born blind, heard the voice of his savior long before he saw him and Jesus spoke words of invitation to him to enter through the door of healing, a door where this man would know that he is a part of the community and love of God, a door that broke through the walls of religious and cultural law to reveal new possibilities, transformation and abundant life. The man had spent his whole life with the understanding that there was no way for him to bridge the wall of his blindness and separation from community. He would have been without much hope for anything different than what he had experienced each day of his life. Until he heard the voice of Jesus coming to him, making a way where before none existed, being a door, an entry way, to a different kind of life that included being transformed in God’s grace for the sake of sharing his encounter with the one who offered him life.

(Children’s sermon) I would like to invite the children to come up: Just like he didn’t leave the man born blind alone and in the dark, Jesus will always find you, call to you and be the door to all that God promises us: God promises that you will have what you need for your life-what do you really need? Yep! Do we really need toys or lots of clothes or the newest scooter? No! There nice to have, but being with God and each other is waaaaay more important than stuff! Jesus will always tell us to be with our family and friends before we worry about stuff-and we can listen for Jesus voice to remind us of that. What are things that we can do to help us to listen for the voice of Jesus? Jesus will call us through the door to be with him and each other! ok, I need you five to link arms tightly and make a wall. Can you do it? No, it’s hard! Now you are going to be Jesus and go delink their arms and make a doorway for the other children. Now make a doorway over here….Jesus does this for us! Jesus makes a path or a way for us when it seems that there isn’t one or it seems impossible. Through Jesus, we are brought into a community of love, life and hope. All that we need to know that we are loved and we need to share love! We’re going to talk a little more about that, so you can go back your families, Thank you for helping!

How do we know it’s the voice of Jesus calling us to walk through his door to abundant life? How do we know it’s not really the thieves or bandits Jesus warns us about? Throughout the bible, God’s story of love for us, we read that abundant life with God is all about relationship with God first and foremost. When we are in relationship with God, we recognize God’s presence, God setting the feast before us, even when enemies of disease, isolation, and fear are present. The door of peace and comfort is opened by God for us. Abundant life with God brings us into relationship with other people as well. In Acts, the community the Apostles and early followers of Jesus, called The Way, was hallmarked by worshipping together, continuing to learn about the promises of God for them and all people, breaking bread together and praying. Abundant life was not about possessions but about a life oriented on God and neighbor. Jesus as the door, ushered them into a new room, a new way of living that changed their hearts, souls and minds and caught the attention of thousands of new people day by day.

Jesus is indeed a door that to a new way of living, being and doing. Jesus calls to us over and over to walk through the door, even when it seems difficult or impossible because the thieves and bandits of the world will try and tell you that there is a wall, a divide that you just can’t cross, that you need to stay in your place or you’re not good enough to enter. Or the thieves and bandits will tell you that it’s all about you, your needs and to stay on this side of the wall where you are lured by false sense of control, need for more and more stuff, or prestige. Jesus’ voice will cut through that noise to call us to the door of himself that gathers us, loves us and transforms us in the truth that we are enough, have enough and are the beloved community. Whatever we had thought was important regarding our lives before we crossed the threshold to Jesus, is reoriented to what God proclaims is important: Loving God with our whole, entire being and our neighbor. Living in the truth that we are all God’s beloved people. We aren’t to keep this abundant life to ourselves but reveal it to people all around us.  This week look at doors in a new light. Every time you go through a door, remember that Jesus is gathering you into his arms and look for who is on the other side of the door with whom you can share the promise of that good news. We proclaim with our voices and our bodies that Jesus is here, breaking through walls that separate us from God and one another. Walls of bias, walls of fear, walls of hopelessness, walls of grief, walls of brokenness that Jesus transforms into a door that swing open wide for entry to the love for God’s diverse people, a door of joy for the promises of God that are freely given to everyone, a door of wholeness in authentic, messy community, a door of grace that proclaims that abundant life isn’t for some but for all. Jesus calls you and me and us all by name through that door. Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

Cross Gen Experiment: Vision for Tomorrow April 15, 2017

On March 26th, I preached on John 9 and invited the congregation of Bethany Lutheran Church into an experiment. It was risky, fraught with danger and yet, we had nothing to lose. I invited every youth under the age of 18 to come forward and if they were four or under, a parent type person to come with them. I also had caring adults staged to come up and help as well. I handed each youth five little yellow slips and a name tag. I told them to write their first name on the name tag and put it on. Then I asked them to write their first name on each of the slips of paper and had a sentence prompt for them to finish: “I love to….” I asked them to write one thing that they love to do. I talked to the adults about how I had a vision for each youth to have 5-7 adults at church who knew their name and could talk to them about what was going on in their lives. As the children and youth were finishing up, I told them that as they returned to their seats, to hand out their slips to adults whom they didn’t know. Then I said after worship, everyone go to the fellowship hall and adults, find you youth! Youth, keep your name tags on and be available to be found!

Here’s what happened after church: the fellowship hall was brimming (the fullest on a Sunday morning I have seen it in the 18 months I have served here) with adults and youth interacting! They did it! Some stories I heard in subsequent days are as follows:

One young man named Hunter had an older couple Jan and Dennis get his name. Jan and Dennis had a son named Hunter who died two years ago. With tears in their eyes they told me how even the handwriting of this Hunter was similar to their deceased son’s handwriting. They were thrilled to hear all about Hunter’s life and they are staying connected as this is healing for them. They don’t talk about Hunter much (our culture has no place for those of us who parent from the graveside) but now they feel as though their grief was validated. Hunters parents were very moved as well.

Olivia is a young lady who wrote on her slip that she loves to write. The caring adult who received her slip is a librarian who suggested that they should write letters back and forth to one another.

Abby is a high school student who loves to dance and be in theatrical productions. Her caring adult, an 87 year old woman, loves to ask her about her theater time. The 87 year old recently had a health scare and when Abby’s mom, our parish nurse, went to visit her, Joayne was more interested in how Abby was than her own recent incident.

An empty nest couple who had raise four boys (!!!), received a name of a young man who loves to play basketball. The couple’s youngest son had played basketball in High School and they miss going to games. They are now attending this young man’s bball games.

An 18 month old came up for communion with his mom on this day I preached the sermon and he reached his hand out for the wafer. I asked mom if he received communion and she said, well, sure! I put it in his chubby little toddler hand and he immediately dipped in the wine chalice!! Why? Because he had witnessed this since birth! His mom said to me, I guess he takes communion now!

Things that we learned: Suggest that if you cannot stay after worship, please do not take a slip. I think that we had a little of this, but if a child or youth didn’t have an adult talking to them, we watched as other adults “filled in the gaps.” Also, suggest that if you have already received a slip to have the youth invite another adult or pass it on to someone who doesn’t have one. We are a large congregation and so the people on the aisles received them more versus in the center.

So now what do we do to keep this going? We have a youth carnival on May 21 that I would like some similar engagement that is organic. Ok, internet family, help me out! Ideas?

 

 

Just Watch Sermon on John 13: 33-35

Love one another. We often wonder how we will know if someone really loves and cares for us, don’t we?  We watch people closely to see if their actions match their words when we wonder about their hearts and intent for us or others. These words of “love one another” we hear Jesus telling the disciples over and over in all four of the gospels. Words that we, without hesitation, throw out when someone slights us or someone whom we love. “Love one another” are words that we take very personally and internalize what that means for us. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus talks at great length about loving your neighbor as yourself. Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated. We’ve condensed that to a social platitude of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Seems simple enough. As humans, we also cling to this saying because it leaves us wiggle room to not treat kindly those who don’t treat us with kindness. We can justify transactional relationships. What does my neighbor do for me? If nothing, then that’s how they must want to be in relationship with me.

But here in this passage of John, Jesus gives us a twist: Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus takes our wiggle room, our social platitudes and our justifications and hurls them into the abyss. Jesus once again pulls us out of ourselves, widens our view of love, deepens our understanding of who and what God is about and crush our egos that interfere with God’s transformational work inside of us. How do we know if Jesus’ really loves us? Just watch. Watch Jesus become a servant and washing smelly, dirty and worn feet. Watch Jesus offer the same caring actions to the one who would betray him to the authorities. Watch Jesus forgive those who persecute him as he is dying on the cross. Watch Jesus, dying on a cross, not so that we “owe God or feel guilty”, but to show that God withholds nothing, not even his son from us in love. Jesus on the cross is love in action. Love that transcends words. Love that does what is necessary for the wholeness and well-being of all people, with no thought of reciprocation, no consideration of risk to himself or worry of safety. Love that offers freedom from what holds us back from living as people of God. Love that opens our eyes to the needs of our neighbor. Love that dies to human self-ego and lives to see beyond today, the here and now, to a vision of how God sees the world, created good, in harmony and peace. Today we reorient to this love that is a commandment, Mandatum in Latin, and why we call today Maundy Thursday. A love command that is not a suggestion because there is too much at stake.

So we watch. We watch Jesus’ actions of love and understand that the world is watching us, how we love. Jesus says that the world will know that we follow Jesus by our love. This is not easy love. It’s hard. It’s messy.  It transcends our political, social and economic philosophies and places us squarely in the realm of how we think about God’s love in our lives and what difference the loving actions of Jesus Christ make in our everyday decisions. Jesus calls the disciples past, present and future into this way of living, knowing that we will stumble, get confused and need reorienting. Jesus’ love in action also draws us into community, community that supports and reminds one another of this love shown by Jesus. Today, we come to the table of this love that Jesus prepares where bread is placed in our undeserving hands and wine flows to soften our hardened hearts. Our first communion children and youth tonight come to this table to watch, to watch love made flesh, love given as a promise, love that surrounds and encompasses them, us and all of creation. We watch in ourselves for opportunities to be love in action, to offer ourselves fully and know that the world is watching for love from us. We don’t have to wonder about God’s love for us because we can watch Jesus as God’s love in action today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.

 

More Than What We Can See Sermon on John 9 April 14, 2017

*This sermon was preached on March 29, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can watch worship online at http://www.bethanylive.org

The gospel for the day is John 9 (in it’s entirety)

 

We don’t always see what is right in front of us. We often aren’t aware of our own blurred, tunnel vision or outright blindness to people, systems and community in our midst. In this story from John 9, Jesus has great compassion and really saw the man who was born blind and knows the implications of this disability on his status in the community. Jesus saw the person, the child of God, and saw beyond a physical difference. But in the ancient world, someone born differently abled came with many questions: who sinned? What evil fell upon this person or was committed by this person or their family? It was often thought that people with an assumed disability were contagious, so they were shunned, cast out and feared by the community.

Jesus rejected these positions and simply restored the man’s sight-albeit in a gross and profane way. Mud, spit and washing in a common pool. Very messy. Jesus broke the rule of no work on the Sabbath to heal and return sight to this man as well as return him into the community and the Pharisees were quick to point out his error. But Jesus had a different vision of how that day should be for that man. Jesus saw more than rules and edicts. Jesus saw the world through a different lens than the people and the Pharisees. Jesus’ vision of the world and the people was through God’s eyes of relationship and love, not through the vision of the religious authorities of following and knowing the correct doctrine, rules, Torah or worrying about sins. When Jesus healed the man born blind, it has nothing to do with knowledge, checking off to-do boxes or following rules-it had everything to do with community, inclusion and relationship. The irony is that when the man was blind, he was an outcast, and when he was healed and professed what Jesus had done for him, he was still and outcast.

I don’t know about you, but I need my vision to be expanded and light shown into those areas of my life where I can get stuck in prioritizing rules, Bible knowledge, and doctrine understanding as the way to know God. I need to see more than what is right in front of me and the way it’s always been. In the past few years, I’ve had many conversations where many believe that the future vision of the whole Church, the ELCA and other mainline protestant denominations looks bleak. We, as this larger church, are losing youth, young adults and not seeing as many new worshippers.  These conversations always gravitate toward: maybe we need more programs, more rules, more classes, more expectations, more types of worship.  Or, I wonder, what if we, like the disciples are asking the wrong question of who sinned and need for Jesus to widen our vision?

My own experience with faith community through the seven congregations I have served in some capacity, has informed and widened my vision of how I am called to serve the church and participate in God’s transformative work in the world.  How many of us can point to important and deep relationships with peers, adults in addition to our parents in our childhood congregations as foundational in our faith formation? I know that I can. It wasn’t SS curriculum or confirmation lesson that I remember. It’s people of faith showing up and bringing Christ with them when I needed them and having the opportunity to do the same for other people. It was a pastor (the first female pastor I had even seen) putting me in the pulpit on a Sunday when I was 14. It’s when we offered a young woman from our church at the time, who had struggled with depression and suicide attempts, a position as the nanny to my children because I knew she needed to feel valued, to have a purpose and had a lot of love to give. She now also serves the Church. It was when my own family was held by our church community as we grieved the death of my son and this same nanny stepping up in ways that she nor anyone else could have imagined out of love for my children. You see, rules, bible knowledge or doctrine didn’t change my life, our nanny’s life or the man born blind. It was relationship with people who knew and loved Jesus and could see beyond what the world saw: broken, messy and real lives. This is the vision that Jesus is talking about in John 9, and this is the vision that compels me in my ministry in faith formation. Faith formation is not about content, it’s about relationship. I want our children and youth to have so many important relationships here at Bethany, that they know that they are loved and that we will catch each other when life becomes messy.

This vision is why I’m passionate about our SS age and confirmation age students and families being in relationship with one another and with all of you here and why we instituted the Milestones for every grade. Families learning and worshipping together rather than separated from each other on Sunday mornings is crucial. This is the only space in our culture where all five generations are together. We segregate by age everywhere else in our society. Yet, science is discovering that we are wired, by God I believe, to be in intergenerational community. And this community matters deeply. We need each other, we need the wonder and fresh eyes of the child and the wise, caring eyes of our elders. I have a vision of this community being a value and a priority for our young people.

This vision is why we lowered communion instruction age because Jesus doesn’t exclude anyone from the table. What happens in Holy Communion is a mystery of God’s grace that none of us truly understand and I often think that babies and toddlers who simply come to the table with their chubby little hands outstretched asking for the bread truly comprehend this posture of mystery. Martin Luther states that we all come before God as beggars.  Jesus comes to us in the bread and in the wine for relationship and draws us all to the table for relationship with one another. All are welcome, no rules, only community.

 

George Barna did some research in the early 2000’s that found values are set by age 9 and worldview by age 13. If children never or rarely attend worship by age 9, it’s very unlikely that worship will ever be seen by them as a value in their lives. If their worldview through middle school is that church is another to-do list, this is how they will view church in their lives. In my 20 years of experience, when we quit worrying about how much content we are trying to teach and shift to creating deep relationships through integrating children/youth into the life and mission of the congregation, in particular worship, such as with the milestones, worship leadership, and leadership in other areas of the church, more youth stayed engaged after confirmation. SS and Confirmation should about relationship building, not courses to check-off. Confirmation is all about relationship and integration into the life of the faith community. I have been known to say somewhat tongue and cheek that if a middle schooler attended worship 40 times in a year, I would confirm them. Don’t get me wrong, some education and content is a wonderful thing-otherwise I’m completely out of a job-but if we knew that our youth and young adults will be around after receiving the certificate? What if they were so integrated into this life of faith and community so that they would have their whole lives to learn the Bible and theology? What if the most important content our children and youth can learn is that they know that they are loved by God and us?

Vibrant Faith institute learned that it takes 5-7 Christian caring adults to raise a Christian child. That is beyond mom and dad and that means all of us. If you are a Christian adult, regardless if you have children in your home or not, you are a Christian parent. What if our vision here are Bethany was that every child and youth who walked through our doors on Sunday or Wednesday had 5-7 adults who knew their name and at least one thing about them to ask them about? Maybe a hobby, or how that math test went. How could that change the life of a teenager struggling with self-worth? Or a child whose parent is ill? What if this community and every congregation is a place where our young people can’t wait to get to each week because they are known, seen and loved? How might this change the world?

I want everyone 18 and under to come forward. If your child is under 6 please come up with them mom or dad. Hi all! Did you know that Jesus sees you? Did you know that Jesus sees you not as the future of the church but of the RIGHT NOW of the church? You are so important! Can all of you write your name on this name tag and put it on. (parents of young kids, please help). Ok I’m going to give you all five little pieces of paper. On the papers, there is a place for your name and one thing that you really love to do: My name is: I love to:
Write your name and just one thing (the same thing on each paper) that you love to do. We’ll all sing Jesus Loves Me while you do that. Now, I want you to leave these name tags on until after you go home.  Go and give those sheets to five adults in the congregation. Don’t be shy and adults reach out for one! After worship-go to the fellowship hall and adults, find the child who’s name you have and ask them about the thing that they love to do. You matter to them. You are their people and they are yours. Together we are the beloved community of Christ and in Christ.

Jesus knew the importance of community. Jesus sought out the man he healed after he had been expelled from the synagogue and made sure that this man knew that his restored vision had nothing to do with what he did or didn’t know. Knowing that Jesus is one sent to reveal God’s love to all people, especially those whom the world doesn’t want to see, is the only thing that matters. Jesus as the light of the world gives us a new way to see ourselves, to see others and to see how we are as the church together. Jesus restores our sight to see each other as valued, as brother and sister, as equals, as beloved. You see, it’s all about relationship. Relationship with Jesus who opens our eyes to a new vision of how the world, how the church, how the future will be in God’s love. Amen.