A Lutheran Says What?

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

Difficult conversations and being one in Christ: Matthew 5:21-37 February 16, 2014 February 16, 2014

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 9:00 pm
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In chapter 5 of Matthew-Jesus is really just getting started in his sermon about what it is to live together as people of God. Jesus is not afraid to have these difficult, taboo and even down right hard conversations about life in community. All of these statements about anger, adultery, divorce and telling the truth to one another are not nice, neat, coffee and donut hour types of talks. Jesus is calling out on the carpet the fact that we might know and follow religious or civil laws- but only for our own sake or protection. We adhere to laws so that we can say that we are law abiding people. Jesus proclaims that laws are so much more than just being blameless but about giving life and dignity to all people.
These four issues that Jesus takes on in today’s readings are steeped in relationships. Relationships with neighbors, friends, and spouses. Jesus addressing adultery and divorce in this manner, is pretty radical for first century Palestine. In Jesus’ time, women were property and had little to no say in their own lives. If their husband wanted to divorce them, the woman was then without a home, protection, income or community. Women were not seen as full people and were often blamed for any improper behavior of men so its radical for Jesus to claim that if a man lusts after a woman, it is not her fault. How she dressed, or acted or where she happened to be at a certain time of day was not the cause of another person’s actions.
So these laws from Deuteronomy might have allowed for the human reality of broken relationships and imperfect people but Jesus is pointing out that they don’t always affirm human worth. Those things simply can’t be legislated but has to be rooted in something more than just what makes life easier; living together as people of God has to be rooted in love that calls for seeing all people as truly made in God’s image and with inherent worth.
This issue of all people having equal worth has unfortunately not been fully resolved. Some of you may know, I was in Chicago at the ELCA offices to be trained as a process builder for the social statement Women and Justice: One in Christ that will be in process over the coming years. What that means is that I will facilitate listening events in this synod around the issues of women, justice, safety, equality, cultural norms, media, etc. Some of these topics are not easy. How do we enter into the conversation as a church around the uncomfortable realities of women in the US and in the world of abuse, media and cultural objectification, inequality in leadership positions, access to education and in socio-economics? What do we as a people of God have to say about this?
We too have laws in the US and abroad that are intended to remedy some of these issues, but the reality is that laws don’t solve all of the problems. Of course this is not only a gender issue: racial, sexual orientation and other forms of inequality exist. But I am choosing what is my lived experience.
Here are some examples of how laws in the US have not improved equality for women. In the US Women make up 51% of the population but only 17% of government officials are women. In the 2010 midterm elections women lost ground in representation for the first time since 1979 and at that rate women will achieve parity with men in government in 500 years. Yes, 500 years. The US is 90th in the world for female leadership-behind countries like Iraq. Women earn $.82 on average for every dollar a man earns. This is an average and hispanic women earn $. 59 on the dollar and and African American women earn about $.78 on the dollar. White women do better and Asian women make the most at $.88 on the dollar. This is in spite of equal pay legislation. Media representation of women is a major issue in our country but at the heart of that issue is that women only make up 3% of leadership in media corporations.
It’s not just secular leadership where this inequality exists. Many denominations do not allow female leadership-and before we pat ourselves on the back in the ELCA- women make up a little better than 50% of the Masters of Divinity, ordained track students in seminaries but the ELCA reports that only 19% of actual ordained clergy in a call are women. There are congregations who will never call a female pastor. And this is just a snapshot of the US, we could use the whole rest of the day to discuss the life of women across the globe. Despite laws, resolutions, and good intentions, we still have not figured out how to truly speak plainly, listen openly and go beyond laws that are just about what’s fair and move to what is loving, life giving, and builds authentic community where everyone’s worth as a child of God is affirmed and upheld.
Jesus proclaims that the second we stop seeing the person in front of us as a child of God as a whole and complete person who is not there for our own use or neglect then we have damaged their humanity as well as damaged our own. Because we are all made in God’s image, we are also interconnected and the only way to live in community as one people of God is to keep this fact in front of us at all times. The only law that we need to worry about is the that of God’s unending and unconditional love and grace for us all. This is the law to live fully into.
In this text today, Jesus tells us the truth about how difficult it can be to live together in healthy, life giving and loving relationships. We can’t do it on our own, no matter how hard we try with great and well intentioned laws. Jesus shows us the possibility and reality of another way of life together. Jesus included women, gentiles, tax collectors, the unclean, the non religious, the foreigner all sorts of people into community and relationship with him and each other. Jesus very presence tells us how much God loves us—enough that God sent Jesus to tell us these hard things and to show us that our differences and uniqueness are a gift from God that should be affirmed and cherished by a whole community.
To God, it matters that we are all together, that we work together, it matters that we speak into darkness, it matters when we are complacent and silent on issues that deny full and abundant life to anyone for any reason. It matters that we offer and receive forgiveness from one another, it matters that we build each other up and tell the truth. This is the real messiness of life together. But in the midst of all of this talk of law today-Jesus is clear with the good news: in God’s kingdom here and now we all matter, we can point to and offer God’s vision of what the world could be like when all people are truly equal, all have dignity and all have a voice. God proclaims this radical equality of us all in the waters of baptism, and in welcoming all to the table to share in the bread and the wine with the promises to be with all of us for all time. These sacraments do more than draw us into the life of God but into life with one another, for the sake of a world waiting for this reality. Thanks be to God for our lives together as one people of God.

 

Blessed or not blessed, is that the question? Matthew 5: 1-12 The Beatitudes February 10, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 5:56 pm

What do we often say when we greet someone that we know, whether we have seen them recently or not? That’s right: How are you? And what is the automated response to that “I’m fine,” or “I’m good.” We too, just give that basic and trite response even if things are not fine or not good. If we truly are fine, we might expound upon our fineness or contentedness, but if we are not, how many of us either deflect the question back to our friend or just change the subject. It’s not a question that leads us to open up ourselves to the other person is it? It’s not easy to admit that things really are not fine, what will people think? A pastor who is a friend of Pastor Rob’s and myself taught his congregation in Elizabeth to respond to that question of “how are you?” with “I’m blessed.” One of the first times I met Dean I asked the socially appropriate question of “How are you?” and his answer of “blessed” admittedly threw me off and left me not knowing where to go with our conversation next. What did he mean by that? Blessed how? Then a colleague who knew him better asked about some treatment he had been having and I found out that his response of “blessed” was so much richer that “fine” or “good.” He was not really fine or good but he could confess that he was blessed.
I think that word gets misused and abused in our culture. When you think of being blessed what do you think of? We have come to associate “blessed” with being happy, comfortable, physically well, everything going just the way that we want it, material possessions and overall success as the culture defines it. So to not be blessed means…? That means conversely, if none of the things we just mentioned are happening in your life, then you are not blessed. Either you are or you’re not. We get caught into measuring blessedness only in these worldly terms. We turn this very God centered concept into a statistic, a tangible element, something we can quantify and measure. We do this I think because we want blessings, we want everything to be fine and we want to be able to hold on to blessings and own them somehow. We also associate being blessed with a public affirmation of God’s love for us and equate it with God’s response to our faith. If everyone can see that I am blessed, I possess these gifts from God, then everyone will know that I am faithful and MOST importantly, God knows that I am faithful. We equate positive experiences with blessings and we turn them into a measurement of our faith journey with God.
We have examples of this in many places- from Joel Olsteen telling us that being faithful will reap us rewards of material possessions. To the media, especially in the last few weeks showing us Grammy winners who thank God and hold up their award as proof that they are blessed, Golden Globe winners and sports players. If you win, you are blessed. We use it in our own everyday language fairly casually as well, I missed that big accident, I am so blessed! If good things happen, we are blessed by God. Gods blessings are for the winners and for those who seem to be able to avoid mishap, heartbreak and tragedy.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger, blessed are the merciful, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted, who are reviled.
That does not sound like a list of who’s who or winners to me. These sound like real people, people for whom life is not easy, perfect, what they expected, what they hoped, dreamed, wished or prayed for. But people who are faithfully wrestling with their relationship with God, as well as others, and wonder about why things have to be the way they are in the world. Why am I sick? Why am I sad? Why doesn’t God fix this? Jesus is teaching that God is turning on its head the idea of winners and losers, who’s in and who’s out, who’s in God’s favor and who has messed up somehow. God is not interested in labels, perfection or status. God has a greater vision of her children than that. The rich will mess up, the poor will be gracious, the celebrity will stumble, and the peacemaker will argue. No one is immune to the tragedies, struggles, and uncertainty of this world. No amount of faith keeps our bodies from declining, people from hurting us, economic downturns and the reality of death.
At the very beginning of this long sermon, Jesus leads off with God’s vision for the world: God’s promises to be with us no matter what, no matter how much or how little faith we can muster up, how long we mourn, how many times someone tells us that we are crazy to believe or how many times we feel forgotten or how often we ask why. This promise is for all of us in community- no one, no matter how messed up, is left out. In God’s vision, worldly measurements of success no longer apply. God’s promises are not contingent on our accomplishments or ability to hold our lives together but are unconditional and show up in the least likely people and places.
Gods promise of being with us and loving us unconditionally is exactly what we will as a community proclaim for Isaiah, Noah and Lukas today. God promises to those little boys being splashed with living water, that when they are joyful, God will be there, when they are content, God will be there, when they ask why, God will be there, when they are at the end of their rope, God will be there, when things are falling apart-God will be there.
As God’s people, we promise today to be the kingdom of God that Jesus talks about to Isaiah, Noah, Lukas and to their mom Desirae. We point to the presence of Gods kingdom already here–Gods promises in the water, in the bread and in the wine. And not just to them but to one another and to God’s entire world. We will walk beside them as we together proclaim and participate in God’s activity and presence in a world aching to be filled by more than Super Bowl wins, gold medals, trophies, money, or power.
Let me tell you another piece of Pastor Dean’s story. He was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer. When he told his congregation they responded “blessed to be a blessing.” No one thought his illness was a good thing and I am sure that Dean and his community wrestle with why. Blessedness or blessing isn’t an end, an answer or a reward-it is the promise of deep relationship in the midst of our imperfect and messy lives with God and then with one another for the sake of the entire world. We are all blessed and thanks be to God.