A Lutheran Says What?

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

Comfort Food Sermon Matthew 14 August 14, 2020

This sermon was preached on August 16, 2020 at OSLC in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21
Isaiah 55: 1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

Like many of you, I’m sure, I have many memories tied up with food. Some joyous, some not. I remember Thanksgivings, Christmas’ or birthday meals with family and friends. And I remember a plate of chicken, rice and broccoli being shoved in front of me on the day of my son’s funeral by loving friends who knew that I hadn’t eaten in four days. I remember the meals that poured in for months to support us when Ben was in the hospital and after he died. I remember how people expressed that only sending mac and cheese and fruit seemed inadequate in the wake of what we were experiencing. And yet I can tell you that those simple homemade meals from people who loved us were worth more than any sumptuous, high end feast from a celebrity chef could ever matter. Many times, people just made a double recipe of whatever they were cooking for their own families, as it didn’t take that much more to feed two families. Those meals from and sometimes with the people who cared for us and stuck with us  even though it was hard, brought comfort. Often the phrase was “we’ll bring you some comfort food.” Food that not only satisfies our bellies but our souls. Comfort food is categorized as food that not only tastes good, but evokes memories of feeling safe, secure, loved and protected. Comfort food reminds us that our bodies and our souls are connected, and we have to feed both. Comfort food is compassion in action.

Jesus’ compassion is on full display in our gospel text for today. He gets into a boat to get away by himself for a bit, as he has just heard about the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod at a lavish dinner party where John’s head was served on a silver platter. Jesus was grieving and needed some time away. But the crowds heard of John’s death too, and of Jesus’ leaving town, so they followed him. Why we’re not quite sure, other than by now the connection between John and Jesus was evident to the people, and what Jesus offered people for their lives was a stark contrast with what Herod and the Roman Empire was offering them. Jesus saw this large crowd and their desperation. He had compassion, which in the Greek is far more descriptive, as it means, Jesus was moved to his guts. Jesus’ body ached for these people. This story isn’t only about food, or how Jesus feeds us spiritually, it’s about bodies, and that to God, bodies, our physical selves matter. We tend to gloss over in this passage that Jesus cured their sick. Jesus attended to their physical bodies. And Jesus must have healed for a long time as then it was evening. So here is as large crowd, in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat or drink. The disciples correctly suggested that the hungry crowds be dispersed to go get food in the towns. That is a practical and loving decision. But Jesus turns to them and says no, they can stay, you feed them. I love the disciples reaction, as I’ve had it a time or two in my life as well, “we’ve got nothing here.” Well, except this little bit but it doesn’t count. So many times when I am faced with deep need, deep sorrow, I worry that I don’t have enough to offer that person in need. How can I help someone grieving a death? How can I feed all the starving people of the world? How can I help so many people dying of cancer, heart disease, mental illness? How can I house all those experiencing homelessness? It’s too many. And so I tell God that I’ve got nothing here.

But Jesus takes the little bit of bread and fish that the disciples do have (the simple standard meal in first century Palestine) and blesses it, breaks it into pieces, gives it to them and says, what little you have, give away, it will be enough. And it was. Five thousand men plus women and children (who weren’t normally counted in ancient times) were filled– with leftovers collected, nothing was wasted. The disciples were able, with Jesus’ blessing, to feed probably close to 15,000 people. It’s a miracle, but not because of the food distribution, it’s miracle because it shows us that when we come together, we can comfort one another, we can provide for the actual bodily needs of each other. This is the ultimate comfort food story. Jesus reveals that God does indeed care about people and their daily bread, their sick bodies, and their hardships. The powers of the world, like Herod only care about their own power and themselves. This would be revelatory to the people and it’s still revelatory to us today. God cares about us, each and every part of us, yes, our hearts and our souls AND our bodies too.
We instinctually know this, which is why when someone is experiencing a hardship, our “go to” is to offer meals, comfort food. It’s why we donate food to Crossroads Urban Center, its’ why as a denomination we have a whole ministry of ending world hunger. When we feed people, we are Jesus’ compassion in action. When we feed people, we are in solidarity with them as we all know on some level hunger pains. When we feed people, it’s our prayers in action. It’s a bold declaration that with Jesus’ blessing we can see past our own scarcity and know that what little we may we have to offer, is enough. It’s a bold declaration that great things happen with ordinary things. It’s a bold declaration against the excesses of this world where some have more than they will ever need while other people struggle for morsels to keep going. It’s a bold declaration of hope that when we come together, people are healed, people are fed and people are comforted. It’s a bold declaration of the promises of God not for someday but for today and for all bodies. And that is a comfort we can trust. Thanks be to God.

 

A Keen Eye A Sermon for Richard Weber

Richard’s service was held on the west lawn of OSLC on August 14. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 121
Psalm 46
John 14: 1-7

Grace and peace to you from God the maker of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life and the Holy Spirit, who makes us one, amen.

Richard Herrmann Weber, born in Chicago, Illinois on October 7, 1947 to Heinrich and Sofie Weber and big brother Hank, was a man who had a keen eye for many things throughout his life. He saw the normal ups and downs of childhood and youth, the joy and sorrows that come from relationships, and the peaks and valleys of adulthood and career. Rich would see what was important and then go do it. Rich’s educational accomplishments, including degrees in social work, education and a PHD in clinical psychology, led to his vocational life of service in the Air Force and then in the Utah State Dept of Corrections. In these experiences, Rich saw a diversity of people and situations through his vocational choices and saw how he could accompany people on their journeys. Rich had an eye for how his presence with people mattered and Rich’s ability to see what was truly important, to see beyond the current situation to the bigger picture was a rare gift. Rich’s gift of insight is exemplified in a few ways, such as he had an eye for well-tailored and nice clothing. He could put together an outfit and tended to be quite dapper. And his good eye was fortuitous, as one day while with a friend, he noticed Marti as she sat by the pool where she was living. The friend, as I’m told, was a bit, shall we say, ungentlemanly and Rich saw that. He apologized to Marti for his friend, and Marti could see that this Rich fellow was different than others. And the rest we say is a beautiful 38 plus year history.
I know from my conversations with Rich, that what he treasured most was seeing his family, his children, Ashley and Justin and his grandchildren Bradley and Maxwell. For Rich, his family was his favorite vision.

Rich loved viewing God’s creation too. The family chose psalm 121 and 46 today because of Rich’s deep love for nature, for animals and everything that God created. Rich had an eye for the hand and the love of his creator in the natural world around him, and this setting today out here on our west lawn where we sit under the trees in view of the Wasatch front is testimony to Rich’s vision. Rich’s faith and trust in God was evident and anyone who knew Rich not only saw this faith and trust but saw God in Rich too. Jesus in our Gospel reading is clear that we have all seen God because we have seen Jesus and so our hearts don’t need to be troubled. Rich saw Jesus in the people around him, in his environment and in all aspects of his surroundings. When Rich’s heart would from time to time be troubled, whether it was concern for his family, or his own health challenges or issues in our society and world, Rich also spoke of where he saw Jesus, in his family, in his OSLC family and friends.

Jesus states in our gospel that seeing is trusting. Jesus knows the importance for us of the concrete reminders of God’s presence with us. The writer of psalm 46, the basis for Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, one of Rich’s favorites that we’ll hear in a moment, calls out that God is our refuge and our strength and our very help in times of trouble. And in Psalm 121, we can trust that when we look at the hills as Rich did, and we see what Rich saw: the handiwork of our creator God, who never sleeps but will keep watch over us and protect us when life is difficult. Essentially, God keeps an eye on us. Jesus knew these psalms too and calls us to see God’s presence all around us, and especially in one another. We know that God’s protection and care doesn’t mean that we aren’t spared from suffering and hardships but that we are never alone in those situations. We know that not only do we see God but God sees us. Rich trusted and knew that the promise is that God had a loving eye on him and us all, always. And we are to see the world how God sees the world, through the lens of love. This was a comfort for Rich and it is a comfort for us who now mourn Rich’s death and absence from our lives. In the coming weeks, months and years, we will see the promises of God through Jesus in each other, as we together we go forward. We rest in the comfort that God has an eye on our tears, our broken hearts and holds us just the way we are.
 And just as we saw Jesus in our brother in Christ, Rich, other people will see Jesus in us. We can witness to the love, grace and mercy of God who is our keeper, our refuge, who has prepared a room, a forever home for us and for all, who keeps our life right here, right now and in eternity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is the promise that Rich now claims and that is the promise for us today. We honor the love and witness of Rich’s faith, and show that same love and witness to others. We can keep an eye on each other as Christ commands us.

Like Rich, we have an eye for the promises of God all around us, we see Rich’s legacy of love and faith that he generously shared with us, we see that this love never ends and we see the hope that God  pours out to us each day. We trust, as Rich did, that God does keep an eye on us, loves us and that “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” Thanks be to God.

 

Responses to Fear: Fight, Flight, Fear and Faith? August 7, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 9, 2020 in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were 107: 1-3, 23-32
Matthew 8: 23-27

Fear is a powerful emotion. Psychologists suggest that we have three reactions to fear: fight, flight or freeze. I can tell you at some point in my life I have reacted in each of those ways at different times when I’ve been afraid but my “go to” is fight. That can sound aggressive and I suppose it can be, but my instinct is to tackle something that I fear head on. For me, I want to take care of it, get to a solution and move on. But that isn’t always the most helpful response. Sometimes, I should walk away, flight. There is nothing wrong with walking away from a situation that is dangerous for some reason. And there are times for pause, freeze. While that one might have some risk of being stuck in a constant state of uncertainty, pausing to think through a situation isn’t all bad either. Fear is a such a powerful emotion that it can cloud our judgment and cause us not see a situation clearly or from different perspectives. Fear can also convince us to worry only about ourselves.

It seems that there is plenty of fear to go around right now and much of it is justified. If you are feeling fearful, you’re in good company. And perhaps as the saying goes, if you’re not even a little afraid, you’re not paying attention. Fear indeed has quite a bit of power in our lives and community right now. And we’ve all witnessed one another’s responses to this fear and that variety can lead to more fear and anxiety. We are being swamped, whether on a community level: the coronavirus, racial tensions, the beginning of the school year, the rise in unemployment, homelessness, or food insecurity. Or on the individual level, it’s many of the above, plus fragile relationships, personal health, mental health, and more. We are afraid of sinking. We’re afraid that we will perish and we wonder why it seems that Jesus is asleep.

The disciples had risked quite a bit to follow Jesus. Leaving their families, livelihoods, security behind to support this itinerant preacher, teacher and healer who said that he was the Son of God, required bold courage. They mostly believed that Jesus was who he said he was, but at the same time they couldn’t quite wrap their heads around it. If it’s true who Jesus is, that’s frightening on a whole different level. And now here they are in a boat, on the sea of Galilee, a place notorious for fast moving, strong storms. When that does indeed occur, it doesn’t take much for the waves to take over their vessel, and drowning in these storms was common. Fear gripped them. Had they risked everything only to die in the sea? We don’t know how the disciples reacted, who froze, fought, or tried to flee. But I would think flight wouldn’t have been much of an option. But what we do know is after it was clear that their responses weren’t working, they called out to the sleeping Jesus, who was ostensibly completely oblivious to the situation.

Jesus response to the disciples’ fear is telling. He doesn’t tell them to not be afraid but asks them why they are afraid. He doesn’t dismiss their fear but acknowledges it. Jesus knows that human fear is real, for Jesus is human after all. But then Jesus offers them another response to fear besides fight, flight, or freeze…that is faith. He says that they have little faith, but perhaps that is all the disciples, and we, need in times of fear. Jesus then speaks a word of rebuke to the storm and the winds and the sea become dead calm, we read.

What does it mean to have faith in the midst of our fear? That might be different for each of us, just as we each have an innate response to fear. Throughout the gospels Jesus talks about faith: praising people for faith, telling parables of faith, admonishing those with no faith. As Lutherans, we acknowledge that faith is not of our own doing or striving but is a gift from God. Jesus exemplifies this as God’s gift of God’s presence with humanity. Faith is a relationship with God, faith is our life vest in the midst of storms, its what we cling to when we don’t know what else to do. Faith is clinging to God and God clinging to us.

Jesus knows the power that fear can have over us. Jesus wants us to know the power of God’s faith that God desires for us. God’s gift of faith is more powerful than our fear. God’s gift of faith buoys us and helps us to respond in fearful situations by not curving in on ourselves and becoming insular. God’s gift of faith frees us to use our fight, flight, or freeze response to care for our neighbor and their well-being and not only ourselves. God’s gift of faith frees us to see how we might weather the storm and frees us to see God’s power at work in the world. God’s gift of faith lifts our eyes above the waves to see that this storm too shall pass. God’s gift of faith reveals to us who Jesus is, God’s love and power in our lives and in the world that never leaves us alone and is always in our boat no matter how vicious the storm.

Fear is a powerful emotion and we give thanks that Jesus proclaims that God’s gift of faith is even more powerful and holds us forever. Amen.

 

Not a Status Symbol July 31, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 2, 2020 in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 29
Matthew 3: 13-17

Junior High is an interesting time for youth, at least it was for me. Where do I fit in? With whom will I fit in? How will people know who I am and that I’m cool, which in 1984 was everything. Of course, there were the usual desirable clicks, athletes, the cheerleaders and the pom squad. What I immediately noticed from the older students is that wearing something that identified you in a certain group was preferable. In other words, the cheerleaders and pom squad were identifiable by their uniforms and I decided that was the status that would be beneficial in jr. high and probably beyond. I wanted the status symbol of the uniform, much like wearing Guess jeans or having a latest Madonna album identified you as cool in the 80’s. Of which I had neither. So I tried out for cheerleading, didn’t make the squad, not shocking but I did make the pom squad. I was so excited! I could claim the status symbol of the uniform that would signal to everyone that I was part of the “in” crowd. It was a status symbol in seventh grade that I had arrived…to where exactly I don’t know, and to do what, I also didn’t know. I liked being on the pom squad, but what I really loved was playing my violin in the orchestra, reading and church. Even with the external status symbol of the pom uniform, it turned out I was still an awkward, slightly, ok mostly, geeky violin playing, glasses wearing, 12 year old-I couldn’t hide that. It took me some time to claim that truth and that the pom uniform wasn’t fooling anyone.

This is the function of status symbols in our culture and in our psyche. Whether it’s a uniform, a upscale car, living in a certain neighborhood, wearing certain clothing or accessories, we use these items to send a signal to people about who we are and to make a claim on our place in society. We are hustled by media and corporations into thinking that claiming a particular status is what matters, and that status will give us purpose and direction. But just as I discovered in trying to claim a status of being part of an “in” crowd, we discover that claiming an external status for the sake of appearances isn’t all that fulfilling or truthful. So what do we claim about ourselves?

As Christians, we say that we claim our baptisms-that it is a status we have. Claiming our baptism brings us peace, or contentment, hope, or salvation. These things might be true and I believe that simply claiming our baptism misses the mark, makes our baptism into something that it isn’t: a status. Being baptized isn’t about being “in” and not being baptized isn’t about being “out” and we have to admit that we too often do think about it that way and judge others by that standard. We forget that baptism isn’t a status symbol of Christianity, it’s a calling and a way of life. It’s a truth of who we are and what we are to do.

When Jesus shows up at the Jordan river to be baptized by John, Jesus responds to John’s objections with the statement of not waiting, and for them to do this act together. It’s not about status, who is greater or lesser, who is more powerful or knowledgeable. It’s about something else, something that even John can’t quite place his finger on until…until Jesus comes up from the water and God’s voice calls out, booming over the event with a claim. Claim of truth, a claim of love. Jesus’ baptism isn’t about a special status, or being  “in” instead of “out.” Jesus’ baptism is a calling of being loved and being love. Jesus never speaks of his baptism again in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus never views his baptism as a status symbol, as a way to delineate himself from other people. Jesus’ baptism sent him to the desert, it sent him to the sick, the outcast, the oppressed, the devalued. Jesus’ baptism got him into trouble for questioning the powers and authorities for their neglect of the people in need. Jesus’ baptism sent him to the cross. Jesus’ only speaks of baptism again after his resurrection when he tells the disciples to go about their lives telling others about God’s love and baptizing them; calling all people of the world to be love.

The truth of our baptism is that it is not ours to claim, but it is God’s claim on us. We are claimed in God’s love and sent in love to call others to love. Baptism isn’t a status, it is a calling, it’s hearing God’s voice that tears through everything else in our lives, in our hearts and in our souls. Baptism calls us out of the waters and into the world. Baptism erases all status between us, all of us, and calls us beloved. Baptism doesn’t separate nor spare us from all the challenges, heartbreaks, tense conversations, injustices and hardships of the world. Baptism sends us to places we are afraid to go: to protest racism in all it’s insidious forms from redlining to incarceration, to stand up for the truth of what’s happening to our neighbors in this pandemic with lack of affordable housing, economic safety nets, lack of adequate healthcare. Baptism sends us to get into good trouble for the sake of the gospel being heard and lived. And we don’t go alone, we have the cloud of witnesses who went before us in this gospel work and we have each other. Baptism calls us together, to be and speak love in those places, to step in as Jesus shows us, with the truth that God’s voice and call, will tear through the noise again and again with words and actions that bind, heal and renew.

Baptismal calling is a life that never worries about arriving, never worries about being in or out, never worries about being greater or lesser than others. Baptismal calling is a life that is rooted in the truth of authentic faith community for the journey, a life that includes anyone and everyone, a life that seeks to serve, care and uplift people. Baptismal calling is a life that dares to be bold for God’s justice to prevail, to roll like waters, waters that destroy the hate, fear and despair that hold us in their grip promising status and security. Waters that cling to us like the promise of being in God’s grip of love and grace. Baptism is not a status symbol we claim, it’s God’s claim on us that calls us to life, to seek justice and peace now, today, for all people and creation. Thanks be to God.  

 

In Sync with God July 24, 2020

This sermon was preached on July 26, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.”

The texts were:
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Matthew 1: 18-25

Merry Christmas! That feels out of sync doesn’t it? Actually, even reading this scripture in July feels a bit discombobulated. We are used to certain patterns of life happening in certain ways and times and when that doesn’t occur…well mayhem can ensue. We are wired as human beings to seek synchronicity, to find homeostasis-sometimes at any cost. Being out of sync or swimming up stream is not desirable and can lead to challenges for us in our  daily lives, families and communities. We rarely like to be “the only one” in any situation. We all know that experience of being in a group and voicing an opinion that turns out to the minority voice. Or acting in a way that is an anomaly to what everyone else is doing. Most often, we try to fit in. Losing social status and connections in our community becomes the paramount concern. Staying within social norms is the safe and comfortable space to be in. Until we realize that space isn’t actually all that comfortable especially when it is out of sync our core beliefs and values.

When we read Matthew 1, we tend of focus on the passage as the birth of Jesus, but upon closer reflection, it’s a passage that highlights what it is to live in sync with God’s values versus the world’s values. This is the story of Joseph, who’s very name should hearken us back to Genesis, to Joseph who was the favorite of his father Jacob, who had dreams and visions of the future, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, whose gifts gave him prominence in Egypt and who ultimately was able to save people from starvation and hardship. Joseph in our Matthew 1 passage, thought his life was in sync, even with engagement and marriage to Mary. The usual pattern was that you would be betrothed, which was a formal contract between families that was not easily broken, and after some time, a few months but no more than a year, the contract would be solidified by the marriage. Usually, nothing dramatic happens in that in between time. So Mary becoming pregnant before they solidify their marriage is out of sync with the plan. Joseph has every right to adhere to cultural and religious norms, divorce her, and allow her to be stoned for this betrayal. No one would have thought twice about his actions as it sadly happened all the time that women and other people who weren’t in sync with cultural norms were severely punished with torture or death. Joseph would have been supported by friends and family if he had made that decision.

But it turns out, Joseph’s value system didn’t sync up with that. We read that he was a righteous man, in right relationship with God. When an angel comes to him in a dream, he knows to his core what the right thing is to do, and it’s not what the culture of the Roman Empire or his faith tradition tells him. It’s what God tells him. He gives up his rights, his power and privilege to protect Mary, to protect the child and God’s mission. He chooses to not be in sync with the world but to be in sync with God. Joseph knew that people would ridicule him, would shake their heads that he would still take Mary, an obviously unfaithful and immoral woman, to be his wife. Friends and family would label him a sucker, weak, wonder what moral failings he also possessed to act in this way and ostracize them both. We tend to romanticize Joseph’s actions, but let’s be clear, Joseph was choosing Mary and God over comfort, stability, safety and being in sync with his community. Joseph’s actions spoke volumes about what and whom he valued.

Living from our values as people who choose God is never easy, never comfortable and rarely safe. When we choose a life in sync with God’s vision and mission, we are choosing to be out of sync with the world. We are choosing radical love, mercy, grace and justice that proclaims with words and actions that those who are despised by the values of the world, God loves. Those who matter less, matter to God. Those who have no value by worldly standards, God lifts up as deeply valued. We are choosing the risk of being labeled, the risk of being ridiculed, or the risk of losing family and friends. It might feel overwhelming to think about how as people of God can be out of sync and make a difference, but I want to remind you that we have already made the first step as a faith community. Our Welcome Statement is also our value statement: I invite you to look at the bulletin and read it with me:

Welcome to Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

 We embrace the teaching of Jesus to love one another as we are first loved by God: wholly and abundantly. We want all people to know that they are worthy of God’s unconditional love and grace. 

Whoever you are- we want you here.
Whatever your gender identity- we want you here.
Whatever your status- we want you here.
Whatever your sexual orientation- we want you here.
Whomever you love- we want you here.
Whatever you look like- we want you here.
Whatever your abilities- we want you here.
Whatever you bring to Christ’s table- we want you here.

 You are wanted here.

As we all move forward with the work of being God’s love for all people, we commit ourselves to making God’s justice, healing, grace and inclusivity a reality in this congregation and throughout the world.

These aren’t just nice words, these are our values as people of God. This is how we live our values proclaiming God’s good news that through Jesus Christ, separation from God is no more, that all are beloved, that the love in the kingdom of God is more powerful than the hate, fear, and division of the kingdom of the world. Living this out fully in our daily lives, wherever we go, as the people of OSLC, is how we will live in sync with God, how we will make a difference, how we are making a difference.

Joseph understood that God’s values becoming a reality in the world, started with him. He could choose to live differently and in doing so, Joseph became a vital piece of God’s plan for the wholeness, redemption and hope for all creation. God empowered Joseph with God’s presence to live out his values despite the values proclaimed by Caesar, the chief priests, the cultural laws. God empowers us too, through the waters of baptism, in the bread and in the wine, and in our community. We are fortified with God’s grace and courage to live as Jesus showed us. Jesus shows us that when we live in sync with God’s unending and steadfast love, when we lay down our lives for others, when we amplify unheard voices, when we say “no” to the death dealing ways of the world, we are proclaiming that God’s kingdom, God’s values, in the coming of Jesus Christ in our midst, is changing the world, bringing us all in sync with God’s promises, today and forever. Thanks be to God.

 

The Heart of It Sermon On 1 Samuel 16 July 17, 2020

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This sermon was preached on July 19, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Psalm 51: 10-14
1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Ok, I have to admit something to you, I’ve never quite known what to do with all of the “heart” language that seems to permeate the Christian vernacular. I mean, think about it. We’ve got “what a kind heart,” “what a tender heart,” “they wear their heart on their sleeve,” “lift up your heart,” “check your heart” (whatever that means), and the often passive aggressive “bless your heart.” We talk an awful lot about our hearts. In modern times, our hearts are associated with emotions but in the ancient world hearts held knowledge and wisdom and in the Hebrew tradition faith and loyalty. One’s heart was what mattered more than intellect or bodies. Hearts gave insight to the world around us. So when reading our psalm and the 1 Samuel text this week, all of the heart language had me pondering this anew about our hearts and God’s heart.

In 1 Samuel, we read that God looks on our hearts and not on our outward appearance. When I hear that my initial thought is “yay! That’s great news! I don’t have to worry about my gray hairs, my lack of height or my middle aged body because God sees my heart.” And then I think “uh oh, God sees my heart.” David had the same reaction in psalm 51 when he implores God to create in him a clean heart. God sees what I barely want to see myself-everything that goes on in my heart. The truth is, I’m not even sure I completely understand what is in my heart most of the time. I know what I WANT to be in my heart, what I WANT God to see: that I truly love everyone, that I love God, that I only see the best of everyone, that I’m totally trusting of God, that I’m the most faithful follower of Jesus ever….but I have to admit that’s sometimes not what’s there. These days what’s often in my heart is skepticism, judgment, frustration, and imperfection. I might try to cover up and deny that truth by doing really saccharin sweet Jesusy things such as only posting uplifting scriptural memes on Facebook or what other people expect me to do as a Christian, such as never have an emotion outside of serenity. Oh I want to be this, I really do, but I simply can’t sustain that right now or ever. My heart is messy and complex, and my heart really wants peace and hope. God sees this. All of this.

God sees that the prophet Samuel’s heart has been through the ringer by the time we get to chapter 16. Samuel was dedicated to God when he was just a child, and has been a prophet to the Israelite people a long time. He was leader of sorts, so when the Israelites demanded a king, God told him to anoint Saul, who’s main qualification for king was that he was big. He did so and became Saul’s friend and confidante. But Saul’s leadership didn’t work out. It was perplexing to Samuel exactly why God wasn’t happy, and if you read Saul’s story, it isn’t evident to even the most learned of scholars. Maybe God saw something that rest of us don’t? All we know is that when Saul’s leadership didn’t live up to what God wanted and it seems that no grace was afforded him. It’s not exactly the picture of God that we all want but it’s what we have here. When God rejects Saul as king, for Samuel, it’s as if Saul is dead and he is angry with God. He will have no further contact with Saul until the day he dies. Samuel’s heart must have also been concerned about how the Israelite people will see him in light of this debacle. What will people think?

Samuel’s heart is further troubled when God tells him to go to Jesse’s family in Bethlehem to anoint a new king. Remember, Saul is still on the throne, and this would be a coup. So, Samuel is looking for anything to soothe his heart, to give him insight on what God is up to. When Samuel sees Eliab, Jesse’s first son, and he is big and strong, that is reassuring, except, he’s not the one God says. Son after son is presented, and God says no. Finally, Samuel asks if there is anyone else, and Jesse offers his youngest, the shepherd. David is small, the last in line and pretty, maybe too pretty for a warrior king. Samuel’s heart couldn’t see the new direction, the new thing that God was doing through David, as it didn’t make any sense in worldly terms. But God confirms that David is the one and Samuel anoints him. Even as Samuel’s heart is conflicted, he does God’s bidding, secures Israel’s future, and God worked through him for the future of Israel. It wasn’t about Samuel’s heart, but God’s heart for the Israelites and for the world. God was doing the unexpected through the least expected.

Samuel, and we, forget that it’s not about our hearts, it’s about God’s heart. God’s heart vision that does see our hearts, and loves our hearts, and works through our hearts, messiness and all. We know that David was often called a man after God’s own heart and we know that David was complicated, imperfect and fallible. And yet, God’s heart, God’s loyalty, faithfulness and wisdom was offered to David time and time again, and David responds. God extends this same heart vision to us, when God sent Jesus to show us how expansive, faithful and merciful God’s heart is for us and creation. Through Jesus, we see that God’s heart will do a new thing with our hearts. Through Jesus, our hearts are opened, like the tomb, to respond to God’s heart and see our neighbor and world with this same heart vision. Just as God’s heart extended to Samuel and David to do a new thing in Israel, so too, God’s heart is showing us right now a future of God’s promise of newness, where all hearts rest in hope and are unified, cared for and loved.  God sees this in our hearts, in our future, and gives God’s whole heart to us. Amen.

 

Our Piece Sermon On Ruth July 10, 2020

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This sermon was preached on July 12, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC

The texts were:
Ruth 1: 1-17, 3: 1-5, 4: 13-17

It’s been heartbreaking and perhaps a bit frustrating witnessing and experiencing how our cities, states and nation is wrestling with being community right now. It seems that we are fracturing into several pieces at a time when we need to be cohesive. We know that our actions don’t happen in a vacuum, we know that we impact one another, we want people valued, we want people cared for, we want people to be safe and we want those things for ourselves. We hear the words of Jesus echo in our ears from Matthew 25: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it to me.” As people who follow Jesus, who take seriously the mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves and to lay down our life for our friends, we often ask ourselves, “what does that really look like in my every day life to care for people whom I don’t know, who aren’t like me, and think and live differently from me? What does unity look like when there are so many pieces?” The challenges in our communities loom large and finding common story, identity and unity is paramount.

How we live together as people has been a struggle since, well, there were people! We have lots of examples in the news, history, literature and our own Bible of how it most often goes poorly. But every now and again we get a glimpse of what it looks like to live together well in community and when we see it, we cling to it. Such as the book of Ruth in our biblical witness. The book of Ruth is beloved by both Jewish and Christian believers because it is an example of what living together out of true love, love that God has first shown us, can look like. How people with many different traditions, nationalities, religions and identities bring their pieces together for a vision of a unified future and story.

Our first glimpse of caring community in Ruth occurs when Naomi’s husband and sons die, she and her daughters-in-law are left alone and childless. Naomi decides to return to her homeland that they had fled ten years earlier, because of famine. Naomi’s daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, are Moabites, enemies of the Israelites and would be not welcome in Judah, so she sends them back to their homes-which is the safe and expected thing to do. Orpah goes, but Ruth, stays with Naomi, perhaps recognizing that the older woman shouldn’t be alone in her grief, shouldn’t be alone period. Ruth cared for Naomi more than she worried about her fate as a Moabite in Judah. Ancient tradition didn’t dictate that Ruth had any obligation to Naomi, but she went with her anyway, together is better than alone.

Naomi in turn, realizes that Ruth should be remarried, as in the ancient world, women were protected and only had value in connection with male relatives. Helping Ruth connect and marry Boaz, was a gesture of care that Naomi certainly didn’t have to do either. And then we meet Boaz, who immediately recognized the vulnerability of Ruth, a foreign immigrant, poor widow gleaning food from the fields and gave her protection, extra food and status among his own people. That was also not necessary or expected. But it was the kind and righteous thing to do, Boaz seemed to recognize that anyone in need in the community would impact the community. Ruth and Boaz’s relationship was also unlikely as she was a Moabite. Although we find out that Naomi and Boaz are related, Boaz doesn’t have any obligation to Ruth, and marrying an outsider, was not accepted. But the community seemed to support their marriage as when Ruth gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David, the townswomen offered Naomi the affirmation that Ruth was worth more than seven sons-that alone is remarkable. Ruth’s piece in the community was valued.

People caring for one another’s safety, health and welfare even if we’re not related, are outsiders, different social statuses, is what God desires for us. This story gives us a glimpse of what it looks like when people live God’s commandments out of love and not from fear. When we live from the promises of God’s unwavering, unending and unconditional love, we can live for each other. As we see in this story, it’s actions that connect us to our own humanity that make a difference, such as staying with someone in their grief, offering food to someone in need from our plenty, welcoming and befriending people from different lands, different faiths and different viewpoints. The book of Ruth shows us that our everyday lives rooted in God’s love, can ripple through the community and the generations. These caring people had a piece in God’s larger story of salvation, wholeness and redemption through Jesus. Jesus calls us to offer our piece in the story too, rooting ourselves in God’s love to live in care for others, to show the world that life together in harmony and unity is possible. We are the beloved community.

We, as followers of Jesus, witness that our identity is not who we are as individuals, but our identity is found in whom we belong, God. We do things that might inconvenience ourselves because as part of God’s people, we care for our neighbor who needs us. Right now, we wear masks, we pay attention with our in person interactions and the places we decide to go, we create welcome and care for immigrants and refugees, we listen to voices that are grieving and despondent from death, suffering and injustice. We don’t act or speak from fear, self-interest or scarcity but like the townspeople, offer our voices of affirmation and value for people who typically are not affirmed or valued in our community.

In our baptism, we are set apart to do this work that Jesus calls us to do: to identify with the outcast, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the foreigner, the thirsty, the poor and to care for them as though they were Christ. Jesus knows that when we live in this way, caring for each other today, we are also determining our future. Together, we can write and tell a story of a future, like Ruth, that points to God’s work of collecting the fractured pieces of ourselves today and creating community that is loving, hopeful, safe and unified. And we offer our piece in God’s work so that humanity and creation can be whole. Thanks be to God.

Blessing of the Masks:

You are invited to hold or wear your mask as we bless this object that signifies caring community at this time:

Holy God, throughout history you have provided us with items, knowledge and science that witness to your care and attentiveness to our bodies. You stitched clothing for the first people, you instructed Noah to build an ark, you gave food and water to the Israelites, your Son Jesus, fed 5000 with a few loaves and fishes, healed suffering bodies and minds and he broke bread and poured wine so that we may be one with Christ. These masks are a sign of this oneness, of selfless love and care for our each other. Bless all who wear and all who see them, and may they be a reminder that together, we build a strong community of love and care for all. May your peace that passes all understanding be with us all. Amen.

 

Seen and Heard Sermon on Exodus 16 & 17 July 5, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 5, 2020. We continue in our summer series “I Love to Tell the Story.” It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were Exodus 16: 1-18 and 17: 1-7

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs points out that when your basic needs aren’t being met, food, shelter, clothing and safety, you can’t focus on anything else. We all know this, on a personal level, when you’re extremely hungry or thirsty, the only thing you can focus on is rectifying that situation. When there is hunger and thirst on a community level, an entire group of people are kept in a pattern that doesn’t allow for worry on a collective about the future, education, neighborhood, or anything past survival. Survival becomes the only thing you can think or talk about. And you wonder if anyone sees your needs and hears your cries for the basics of life that others seem to have. You feel invisible. Your focus on these needs might be heard as complaining, which culturally for us in our society is taboo. We are enculturated to not ask for help, that not meeting our own basic needs is a failure and to just push forward no matter the suffering.  We are taught and perpetuate the myth that it is better to not be seen or heard at all, then to be seen or heard as a problem. But the problem with that is that it leads to other problems.

Complaining has such a negative connotation in our culture that we judge and label people who complain. “Oh, that person is just complaining to complain.” Or “they should quit complaining and do something about it.” I know I’ve done it. We think complainers are weak and self-centered, and we certainly don’t want to be labeled that or around those people. When I read our two stories from Exodus for this week, my first thought is “why are the Israelites complaining to Moses and God after being liberated from the Egyptians? It seems ungrateful.” But I then I realized what the Israelites where unhappy about: they were hungry and thirsty. Their basic needs for human existence weren’t being met, they were in the middle of a desert where they couldn’t meet these basic needs themselves, they needed help and they weren’t sure if God really saw them.

The Israelites genuinely wondered what God was up to and if God was perhaps no better than Pharaoh, who had only seen them as free labor with no value. Maybe it’s better to be seen as less than, and have some food, than not seen at all by God in the desert? We might view that as a lack of faith, but again, I will admit to questioning God’s motives or lack of action every now and again too, wondering if God really sees the situation I’m in. Moses’ reaction to the demands of the Israelites is interesting. He takes it very personally and immediately deflects to God by saying, “This isn’t my problem, it’s God’s. Don’t look at me!”

God did look at Moses though, and God saw and heard the Israelites. God saw and heard their grumblings and didn’t chastise them, didn’t become annoyed, but instead said yes, I will give them what they ask for, bread from heaven, quail from the sky and water from a rock and even more, they will see the glory of God. God wanted them to know that God saw them for who’s they were-God’s. And God will give them what they need to survive, acknowledging that basic needs are a reality, not a nicety. And God gave them agency to gather their own food, to have a part in the provision. God doesn’t just give charity, God gives empowerment and dignity. God looked to Moses to provide leadership, God looked to the people to share, and God looked to the people to keep moving. God showed the Israelites to keep looking and listening for God who will meet their needs in unexpected ways.

Being seen and heard is a basic human need as much as food and water. The Israelites wanted to know that they mattered to God and so do we. Admitting that I have needs isn’t a lack of faith, it’s an act of bold faith that as someone created in God’s image, as someone with dignity and worth, these needs should be met. It’s a proclamation that if I have value and worth to be seen, heard and responded to by God, then other people do too. It’s a statement that the needs of our bodies do indeed matter, each body, are gifts that God promises to provide for. God does indeed provide, and not just for some individuals, but for the whole community. All the Israelites were included, all had what they needed.

God calls people such as Moses to lead and work with God to provide for the needs of the people. God calls to us to see, hear and act for the needs of our neighbors, their reality of what their bodies need for health, safety and life. Right now, many people are crying out for basic needs, to be seen and heard. They are crying out for us to act. We show that we see, hear and act for the care of our neighbor and to show that their bodies matter, when we wear a mask, when we say “no” to harm being done, when we protect our clean drinking water sources, when we ensure that food is not hoarded but shared, when we work to ensure fair pay for essential workers, for health care for those without, for human and civil rights for those denied, creating spaces for people who are disabled, and when we hear the words of Jesus in our ears: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it to me.” We meet basic needs, when we see Christ in people whom we dislike, fear or don’t understand. When we see and hear each other as God does, we will act how God does, for the sake of people hungry and thirsty for food, water, grace, mercy and justice. Amen.

 

Self Interest at the Red Sea Sermon on Exodus 14 June 26, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 28, 2020. Worship can be viewed on YouTube on our channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. *Image from Google Free Images-no copyright infringement intended

The text was Exodus 14 in our series I Love to Tell the Story

You may know that on Tuesday we start our Conversations on Holy Ground book study on “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. All are welcome and invite a friend! If you haven’t read the book, even if you can’t attend the discussions, I invite you to do so. He wrote it about two years ago now and he names the root of many of our societal and personal challenges-yes racism, but also patriarchy, misogyny, classism, homophobia, and whatever other “ism” we as humans create. You see, Kendi’s thesis on why humanity struggles to get along is simple: It’s all about self-interest. And right now, you’re saying to yourself, as I did, well, of course! That’s not a revelation! Self-interest in and of itself, isn’t necessarily bad, it keeps us alive on some basic level day to day, but when self-interest, particularly unexamined self-interest, drives every decision, every action, every thought-the outcome is not hard to see. It means everyone around you has to lose in order for you to win. It means that whatever seems comforting, safe and certain must be the right thing. Kendi unpacks how that unexamined self-interest shapes our every thought, word and action and only brings sickness, death and fear. Learning to examine our self-interest, to recognize it, name it, and set it aside, allows for imagination, health, newness and a hopeful future.

Self-interest is of course rampant in our Exodus story today. The Israelites had finally been freed from Pharaoh, but only after 10 plagues brought devastation and death to the Egyptians. It was only out of self-interest that the Egyptians told Moses to take his people and leave, and they did. The Israelites were led by God (represented by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night) to camp on the shores of the Red Sea. It must have seemed fool hardy to flee in a direction that put them in the path of a major body of water on one side and the enemy on the other. But there they were. Self-interest reared it’s head again when Pharaoh and his officials realized that they had just let all of their free labor, the basis of their economy, leave. So they pursued the Israelites. The Israelites saw the army coming and out of self-interest complained to Moses that they were better off in servitude in Egypt than what was about to happen. They feared death more than they could imagine the life that God was up to in their midst.

I love the next couple of lines as we get a little humor and snark out of God. Moses tells the Israelites to stand firm, be still and watch what God will do. But then God, clearly having a “what in the world” moment with Moses, said “no! Don’t just stand there! Go forward! I know that there is a sea in front of you, I know that it looks like there isn’t a way out. I know that this looks bad, but I need you all to keep moving forward, even when it’s hard, even when it seems to be not in your own self-interest!” Then the pillar of cloud moved to the rear of the Israelites, I like to believe to prod the Israelites forward and not let them fall back into self-interest.

The Israelites moved forward towards the Red Sea and through Moses God parted the waters with God’s own breath for them. They walked toward the promise of a new life and new freedoms. The Egyptians saw this powerful act of God and out of self-justified, self-interest, kept pursuing. While it is indeed a difficult piece of this story to name that the Egyptians died so that the Israelites could live, I tend to believe that it was the Egyptians own self-interest that led to their demise. God sends the Egyptians into a panic we read, a panic of realization that without the Israelites to serve them, to be exploited to support their “civilization,” to be a scapegoat for the ills of Egyptian life, that they would have to rebuild their entire way of being. A panic that maybe they weren’t the smartest, best, most developed, and most powerful. This panic, this need to reinforce their own self-interest, is what led to their demise. If they had not pursued their own self-interest, but faced the reality, they wouldn’t have drowned.

Like the Israelites, we might feel trapped between a formidable obstacle and a coming army. We can’t see a path forward, to what the future might hold, and so it seems in our self interest to go back to what we know, except we can’t and it’s not. We’re also like the Egyptians in that we don’t want to lose what makes our lives easy and comfortable. We don’t want to lose the idea that we have all the power, the know-how and innovation. We don’t want to examine who is being exploited for our way of life.  We don’t want to admit that someone else is paying the price for our comforts. We don’t want to admit that something has to die in ourselves or in our society for all people to have life.

This is what Jesus means when he says that we need to die to live. We have to die to our own self-interest-our self-interest that brings death to our neighbor, and our neighbor’s self-interest that brings death to us. Paul names that in our baptism, the old person dies so that we arise from the waters as a new life with Christ. That paradox is a hard one, but God’s very breath will create a path where none before existed or at least, we couldn’t recognize. In these days of a pandemic, economic devastation, the sin of racism coming to a head, God calls to us, don’t stand still! MOVE! Move forward, act not from self-interest, but for the interest, care and liberation of your neighbor of what oppresses and harms them.  It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable and it may look like walls of death ready to drown you. But God as our rear guard, prods us to walk in faith, away from our own self-interest, toward the promises of God’s interest for unity, justice and deep love for humanity and creation. We let God’s interest shape our todays and our tomorrows. We walk forward to a new life. Thanks be to God!

 

Extraordinary God Genesis 18: 1-15 June 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 21, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

We are in a summer series: I Love to Tell the Story

The text is Genesis 18: 1-15

We keep hearing that we are living in an extraordinary time and it certainly feels true, though I don’t really know what it fully means.  I do know that there is much good and hard work to do, but am I up to it? I know that the road is long, pandemics, systemic injustices and wounded creation don’t just go away quickly or easily, as let’s be honest it’s been around since the beginning of humanity. And I know that I am a part of the ills and the solution. A solution that seems beyond my imagination. It feels that I, too, need to be extraordinary and I can tell you that I feel anything but that 99.99% of the time and people who actually are extraordinary have been doing this hard work for decades and there’s still much to be done. Will this time be different? Should we dare to hope? Will we be discouraged and disappointed for another 50 years? Knowing this cycle can lead me to keep my imagination limited and narrow to avoid heartbreak. I certainly don’t expect the extraordinary to really happen. It’s safer to not.

Sarah resonated with me this week from our Genesis text. This woman had been told most of her adult life that nations will be born from her and Abraham, that they will have a son and descendants that will be more numerous than the stars or grains of sand. Now at the age of 90, she still doesn’t have any children. Thinking that she had to help God fulfill the promise, she had given Hagar, her slave to Abraham for progeny. And let’s be clear that Hagar didn’t have any agency in this and yes, it is human trafficking. Such stories are why we must be cautious in how we interpret the bible for ourselves today. We don’t glorify this or normalize it in any way. Ishmael was born from Hagar and Abraham, and Sarah thought that this would fulfill what the Lord had said. Though God kept saying to her, no, this is about you having a child. The promise of descendants was as much about Sarah, as it was about Abraham. If it was only about patriarchal lineage, then the birth of Ishmael or the other six children that Abraham had with the wife he married after Sarah’s death, would have fulfilled what God had promised. It’s clear that God’s work was beyond human imagination.

The three visitors in our story, who arrive at the oaks of Mamre, are divine indeed but when or how Abraham and Sarah know this is not clear in the text. Did Abraham and Sarah’s imagination allow for the possibility of God to come to their tent for a meal and conversation? Abraham shows impeccable ancient near east hospitality, down to the best flour, veal, milk and curds, not to mention precious water for drinking and washing of their feet. The visitors asked Abraham where Sarah was, which might have been the tell that they were divine beings, after all how would strangers know his wife’s name? And then the prediction once more, that in due season, that Sarah will have a son. Sarah, after all the work of preparation for these visitors, of course is listening in to the conversation to try and figure out the purpose of these strangers who appeared out of nowhere in the heat of the day. And upon hearing this prediction one more time that she will have a son, after more than 75 years of that promise going unfulfilled, she laughs. Not out loud, but to herself, it says in the Hebrew, laughs in her guts. This is now ridiculous. She has given up on that future. She had always pictured herself as a mother, that wasn’t the issue, but not at 90! She had stopped imagining this dream long ago. She had stopped expecting the extraordinary.

But God knew her incredulity. The stranger we now know is God, called it out, and questioned, Sarah’s laughter at having a son and then asks the million dollar question that hit me like a ton of bricks this week and I think struck Sarah hard too: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Or the Hebrew can also say, “is anything too extraordinary for the Lord?” Sarah was forced to confront her own wrestling and striving to make the future happen in a way that she wanted. She probably was afraid, maybe not of God’s rebuttal, but fear of God’s power to really bring about the promise. What if it was really going to happen after all these years? It would indeed be extraordinary and beyond her imagination! Her laughter released the pent-up disappointment of all those decades. Her laughter covered up the deep wounds. Her laughter was honesty at the audacity of the promise. I love that God doesn’t chastise her laughter but simply names it.  God sits with her in the reality that she is wounded, that she has given up hope, that God’s power is beyond her imagination. God’s promise will be fulfilled, and Isaac, whose name means laughter, will be born. Sarah will be the mother of nations, more than she ever imagined.

I recognize my own incredulity and lack of imagination at what God can do in my life and in the world. I recognize my internal laughter at daring to hope that miracles can occur. God responds to me “why are you laughing? Have you not seen the what I can do? Have you not seen the sunrise, the moon, the seasons that change in due time, flowers that know when to bloom, hearts being healed, people being fed, love hanging on a cross and the empty tomb?” reminds me that nothing is too extraordinary for God. That despite my own laughter, striving, control and doubt, God’s promise of extraordinary, wonderful, vibrant and hope filled life, is coming, it will be born with or without me, and will be more than I can imagine.

What can we imagine dear ones? If nothing is too extraordinary for God, the one who sent God’s own son, Jesus, to affirm that people’s lives are more important than buildings, rules and rituals, who died for the sake of love, wholeness and ending the reign of death for us all. If nothing is too extraordinary for this God, then nothing is too extraordinary for God’s people and creation. We are called and equipped through our baptism to unabashedly participate with God in this extraordinary activity of radical love, even if we are laughed at for our audaciousness. We are given the God-sized imagination that we need to do the extraordinary work of God as Jesus showed us: equality for all who are denied it, unity for those who are separated, health for the sick of mind, body or spirit, a world where death isn’t the last word, and the wholeness and goodness of life, is here, now and for all people. For nothing is too extraordinary for our God.