A Lutheran Says What?

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

New Year’s and the promises of God December 30, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 2:37 am
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This is the time of year when we are trying to make predictions about the up coming new year might be like, removing ourselves from the baggage of the past year and make resolutions about what we would like to be different in the coming year. Many of us think that when “I can accomplish losing weight, praying more, volunteering more, spending more time with the children, working more or less-then, then I will have my life completely together, I will have friends and family who love me, I will be financially stable, and all will be well”. Or for us here at LCM as a congregation-when we have worship a certain way, or the best outreach or the best SS, confirmation then we will be a “successful” congregation and grow to a 1000 members, have a bigger building and all will be well. We think that then we will know in our personal and community life that God is truly present when good things happen.
What I love about the prophetic books of the Bible is that they have recorded the real mess of life along with the real hope in our lives in an honest way. These later chapters in Isaiah, (55-66) tell of the Israelites homecoming after Cyrus the Great released them from exile. They had spent long years dreaming of going home to the holy city of Jerusalem. The Israelites had thought: Oh how wonderful it will be when we are home! It will be just as we remember it and even better! We will stick to our promises we made to God when were in exile. We will stick to our promises we made to God when were in exile. We will be the perfect beloved people of God and we will know that God is present and all will be well. The three verses we have out of Isaiah 63 are words of hope, comfort and reassurance of God’s presence and being God’s people. They seem sweet and idyllic. But let me read for you a few verses before and after:
4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and the year for my redeeming work had come.
5 I looked, but there was no helper;
I stared, but there was no one to sustain me;
so my own arm brought me victory,
and my wrath sustained me.
6 I trampled down peoples in my anger,
I crushed them in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.
10 But they rebelled
and grieved his holy spirit;
therefore he became their enemy;
he himself fought against them.

Verses 7-9 seem a little different now don’t they? They are not part of a long sugar coated message of “good news for all people,” but part of the memory of Israel that life with God ebbs and flows. They had indeed returned to Jerusalem but not all was well. How quickly they had forgot all the ways that they would forever praise and work with God and not for themselves. These verses are as Barbara Brown Taylor writes “airlifted” or rescued from the surrounding words of God’s anger, disappointment and disillusionment with the Israelites. Verses 7-9 can make it seem as if everything is going perfectly. But to not look at the verses around them is to gloss over the reality of what was happening-real life had crept into Israel’s resolutions for post-exilic life with God and one another.
For us here on December 29th, we have a similar issue: just a few days ago we were all aglow with the the sentimental, pastoral scene of the baby Jesus and God’s angels. We were excited for the day of family and friends. We as a congregation were looking forward to all the visitors and community people who would join us for the evening. But now-real life has crept in. Many of us have gone back to work. Maybe the family tension is back. The radio went back to playing Miley Cyrus versus Bing Crosby. We look around the worship space and realize that it will take more than one night to share the good news of God’s love for all people for all time with our community and well…now all we have left is real life. Real life where we may or may not lose that 20 lbs in the new year, read the Bible more, pray more, be a better parent, or whatever we think that it is we need to do. Real life where we fall short of our relationship with God and each other. Real life where God’s people forget to work with God for justice each day. Real life where we have to ask for forgiveness over and over as well as offer it.
But here is why these three verses are so important and are inserted into the disappointment, disillusionment and messiness of the real life of the Israelites and us: God inserts God’s own self into our real life. In the hardships of life, the broken promises, the times when we haven’t quite lived up to what we said we would do with God or with one another, the fear, the questioning–God is in the middle of it all. God inserts Gods promises in the midst of real life.
It’s not that these words of Isaiah 63: 7-9 are a problem; they are not and they are absolutely true. But they ring most true when set in the reality of our broken human existence. It’s easy to hear the words of being carried or being shown mercy when life is clicking right along as we think it should. But when in our distress, we are offered by someone to be carried when we can’t literally take one more step on our own, to hear that God says we belong to God and that she trusts and gives us benefit of the doubt even if we don’t deserve it, to experience that God doesn’t send an errand boy but comes directly to be with us, is a profound, powerful and hopeful declaration of God’s unending love for us.
This new thing of God made flesh dwelling with us, that Isaiah heralded, is God’s promise to us that while we may not be able to hold up our promises or expectations for the coming year: God does. God has promised to be with us from the beginning of time and forever. Jesus proclaimed that every time we gather, God is present, when we share in the bread and in the wine, God is present, when we feel the most alone and broken, God is present, as we gather here as imperfect people, God is present.
While we look to the new year with visions of how we think it should be and what we hope to change, Isaiah reminds us that if we want to predict what our relationship with God will be in the future-look to the past: God’s steadfast love, lifting us up, carrying us, forgiving us and promising that nothing will EVER change– that is what we can count on in this new year and in every new year. Thanks be to God.

 

Why I go to work everyday December 17, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 5:03 am

One of the questions that are asked incessantly of you when you are in candidacy to be a pastor in the ELCA, is what is your call to ministry. What is it that makes you want to proclaim God’s love? What is your understanding of God’s message of love and grace for all of creation? So I am about to do something that I swore up and down I would never do in a sermon. I am going to share with you why I am standing here. Why I am passionate to the point of obsessive about faith in the home, gathering as community, walking with one another unconditionally and serving all in need. Some of you know this and some of you don’t so here it goes-breaking every “rule” I have ever had in my head about this.
On Oct. 13, 2003 our third child Benjamin was born. We thought healthy like our other two but when he was two days old we discovered that he had a critical congenital heart defect. I had just opened the preschool at St. Matthew Lutheran church and so my plan to be back to work quickly immediately changed. As we journeyed with Ben through his first surgery and other ups and downs of his health, we were surrounded by not just the staff and our friends at St. Matthew but also by the families in the school. Besides continuous prayer, meals showed up on our doorstep, cards, offers of help with Kayla and Andrew, parents volunteering to teach while I was gone, staff members shuffling vacation days into my account as I was quickly running out, a senior pastor who said if I answered one work related question a day then it was a work day I could get pay for. Ben did not get better despite prayer and desperate pleas with God. Ben died during his third open heart surgery at the age of 15 months.
In the midst of deep grief, despair, hopelessness and helplessness a whole community stepped up in large and small ways. Over 300 people came to his service. I didn’t cook for three months. Andrew had a funky every other Monday Kindergarten schedule and the teacher called every Sunday night to remind me whether or not I should put him on the bus. I once got a card from a group of senior ladies saying that they were praying for me. Some of those ladies who were in their 70’s and 80’s embraced me and walked with me because infant and child death was common when they were young moms and they knew that “girls my age” didn’t know how to do this. What was really beautiful is that this group also partnered with my peers at church knowing, that they didn’t know how to walk with me, but they did. An instant connection between the generations was made. One woman, Erma Wheeler, who was mid 80’s would grab me in a big bear hug and kiss me on both cheeks and tell me she loved me every time she saw me. Sunday School teachers would call my kids, the church children’s choir that the kids were in, made a big card of love for them. On that first Mother’s Day my porch was filled with flower deliveries from friends. I could go on and on with how the people in that faith community were the light of God to us when we were in darkness. They kept holding the light when we couldn’t. They prayed when we had no words. They didn’t judge but just walked the painful road with us. They didn’t run. They did cry. They lamented with us, they questioned and voiced anger with us. But most importantly, they held out hope for us when we couldn’t see it.
We would not have come through that experience an intact family without those people of God, those light bearers, those faces of hope. As we began to heal, they allowed us to heal, change and grow. They held space for where we had been and where we were going.
As we did heal and move forward in our lives, we were able to offer this to others around us who were in darkness. We could walk with them in the darkness because we had been there and knew the way out. No situation is hopeless or helpless. If we pray together, if listen to the story of God in the Bible and how it intersects our story (for nothing is new), serve others and offer genuine and honest relationship with one another-light shines. I have had this light shine on my darkness and it didn’t make the pain go away or make me miss my son less, but in the light I was able to notice everyone who was walking with me. I saw that I wasn’t alone. I saw that God’s promises to be with us can take the form of a meal, a card, a hug. I also saw in this light that it wasn’t about me. I am connected to everyone around me and I am a part of them and they are a part of me and we need each other.
I have watched this same light transform other families as well. They still had cancer, they still had to get out of a violent relationship, they still were heartbroken over the end of their marriage, but they weren’t alone, through other people around them they knew that God won’t leave them and this gave them hope for tomorrow.
I want this light for everyone. I want the vision as offered in Isaiah 35 for all. I want kids to be so loved and connected that if they think for a second that the only action is to hurt someone and then kill themselves that they have someone safe and loving to share those scary thoughts with. I want families to know that they don’t have to be perfect, they don’t have to buy into the culture of meaning and purpose through sports or academic ability or material wealth. Who they are as people, is who God created them to be and they are enough, loved and in community. I want us to be such an authentically cross generational community where on Sunday morning kids are running around, Sunday education is not age segregated, Wednesday night confirmation is for whole families to take a breather to be together during the week outside of the hustle of sports, dance, music and school activities, I want this because at 32 I needed 84 year old Erma Wheeler to embrace me and promise that I will survive. I want everyone to have an Erma Wheeler. I don’t want for there to be a tragedy for these things to happen. I want this to be so engrained that this is simply who we are as the people of God with one another and in the community. I want talk about God and the Bible to be as natural as breathing-not for answers but for questions and relationship. I want serving the community and others as our primary reason for existing. We are not gathered here for us-we are here to reflect the light of Christ to a dark world.
This is kingdom of God, this is the vision that Isaiah is lifting up to us in chapter 35. When God’s light shines; anything is possible. Water flows from the desert, crocuses bloom where they should not, God provides a highway for all that is safe and for everyone, and there is joy that cannot be quenched by darkness, love that cannot be extinguished, light that will perpetually shine. I know this with every part of my being and this is why I am here. I want this for you, for everyone and I think God wants this for Gods world. So this was my answer to my candidacy committee, this is honestly how I can get out of bed most mornings. Maybe I am naive, but I think this is possible. Why are you here?

 

What now? December 1, 2013

November 30th. About 10 days ago I would have given ANYTHING for it to be the end of November and this little experiment to be over. But I have completed the challenge that was put forth by my friend (?) Andee Zomermann, and I think that I have learned, grown and even appreciated the opportunity to blog every day and the other opportunities that have come my way because of National Blog Post Month. I have learned to let go of perfection (as I am sure anyone still reading can attest to), to view the world a little differently, to read what others are thinking more often, and to be grateful for seemingly random connections.

My sole reason for doing this experiment was to attempt to improve my writing skills, even minutely. I don’t know if I have accomplished that goal but I have discovered something about myself that 30 days ago I would have denied. I like writing. All the way through a M.Div., I loved the reading assignments but never cared for the writing. It always felt like a chore, a necessary evil. I think some of this stemmed from the forced prompts and also from a time crunch point of view. There were so many parameters on the writing assignments (which I understand) that it seemed to suck any joy, creativity or spontaneity out of the any writing that needed to be done. With certain professors, you could get away with being little more yourself and creative but there were others that you knew that you had to follow the letter of the assignment or else your grade could suffer.

But with this writing outlet of blogging, there is a freedom that I enjoy more than I anticipated. I also notice other people’s freedom in their own blog or other writing posts. Everyone has their own unique voice and when it is cultivated, honed and offered to a wider public there is a sense of being who God truly created you to be without any of the boundaries (other than appropriate ones!), limitations or societal expectations. Your experience and perspective on life, culture, relationships and more is your truth and others can take it or leave it; it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day.

For this opportunity, I am grateful. While not everyone will have a blog, I do wonder how it is that we can allow all voices to be heard regardless of platform. The internet has exploded with people offering their two cents, but there are so many more people whom I have the privilege of speaking to one on one each day who should also be heard by more than just me or a small circle. How is is that those without access to this venue can be heard? How do we make room for all voices to be heard in our society? Especially those who aren’t traditionally heard? I am a white middle class, well educated woman with many privileges. How can I use my position and place for the sake of others? How could I use this platform as a vehicle of equality? Perhaps that is the next challenge that I should accept.

*While I will not be writing daily anymore, I do intend on keeping this blog going. Thank you to all who read it! I am always amazed that anyone does! Advent blessings to you all!