A Lutheran Says What?

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

God’s Work, Our Questions March 16, 2014

What parts of your life do you consider holy or sacred? Do we always know holy when we see it, hear it or experience it in some way? What do we consider not sacred, holy or from God? We all have ideas about what is holy and in God’s realm and what is not. We try to keep these things separate in our heads, hearts and daily lives thinking that if we have a clear idea of holy versus profane that it will help us to be better followers of God somehow. And let’s be honest, there are some very real, harmful experiences and situations that we live with because of the brokenness of humanity that we need a place to put. That harmful brokenness is not God’s intention for us in anyway but we know that God understands the reality of those experiences and promises to be with us in the midst of real pain, harm and sorrow.
Because we wrestle with real brokenness, it’s easier in some ways for us to assume that God only works through certain places and people: like the church, charities, Christian music, who we might consider devout believers, pastors, but maybe not at our workplaces, schools, or the people there, or people who have never even heard of God. We like to know that we can pinpoint what God is up to and where God is present. We like black and white, right and wrong distinctions-a clear path to belonging to and loving God.
How is that really working out for us? Do we see the path to serving God clearly? Do we know how we should be following God? We have more questions than answers on this journey of faith and luckily we’re in good company. This story that we are working through in Lent from Acts is one of my favorite stories in the Bible and here’s why: Peter-the chosen one upon whom Jesus says he will build his church-is clueless. He is a good Jewish boy who over and over thinks he’s got it all figured out and over and over again God sighs and gives Peter glimpses of a new way of being in the world. Every time Peter gets one of these glimpses (remember the Transfiguration story a couple of weeks ago?) it sends him into astonishment, questioning, fear and a little bit of an existential crisis. Can anyone else besides me relate to Peter? In Acts 10, Peter is waiting for lunch and praying on the roof. God lowers a sheet filled with animals that the Jewish people consider unclean to touch, let alone eat, and tells Peter to kill and eat them! God is telling Peter that these untouchable animals (that non Jewish people eat) are ok, they are not bad and can actually connect him to the Gentiles to whom God wants him to proclaim the good news of love and grace.
If God suddenly used our screens in our worship space to communicate with us-what images would God show us? What do we think is untouchable but God knows really separates us from other people and ultimately from God? This is not just about what we consider unholy but also what would we never dream of giving up or doing? Who are we not connecting with in our neighborhood because we think we can’t or shouldn’t? It’s perplexing because we don’t even know what we don’t know!
But again, we are in good company in our questions and wondering. Peter too, was puzzled and didn’t know exactly what to make of these visions and words from God. The good news is that God didn’t just leave Peter in his wondering without any direction at all. God continued to work: in the midst of Peter’s puzzlement, Cornelius’ men showed up on his doorstep. Peter still had his questions but God was moving forward and bringing (maybe dragging) Peter along. Peter did trust God enough to invite the strangers, these Gentiles, into his life. He trusted God enough to take a risk. He had seen enough to know that God was up to something in these unlikely people from an unlikely source-a Roman Centurion.
God was proclaiming to Peter that God’s realm was wider and more expansive than Peter could grasp. Peter was living deep in the mystery of what God was doing in the world with all of the puzzlement, questions and wonder, as well as the glimpses of unity, peace, mercy, grace and love that Peter, himself, had witnessed from Christ’s ministry, death and resurrection. Mystery doesn’t always mean the complete unknown. Mystery also is about revelation when we are ready to experience it, thinking about life in a different way and being open to what we may not presently understand or know. There can be excitement, promise and hope in living in the mystery of God’s work in the world.
As we see with Peter, we don’t have to have all of the answers to participate in God’s actions, just a willingness to be shown something new, to risk being changed and to keep puzzling through the journey, confident that Christ promises to be with us in the mystery of God at work in the world and in our lives, at all times and in all places. This is the promise that we will proclaim for Riley today at his baptism into this great mysterious journey of relationship with God and the people of God. Christ is present not just in our certainty but in our uncertainty about where God is calling us— to the people, places and situations that we would least expect.
As you know, we have a ministry, the Neighborhood ChurchTask Force (they are using the book that Pastor Rob wrote The Neighborhood Church) that is listening and looking for what God is up to in our neighborhood. The members of this ministry are asking many questions about where God might be calling LCM to be. As we ponder where God is at work in Green Mountain, we thought this might be an opportune time for an update from this ministry.
(To end the sermon time, Jeff from the task force gave a report about how the local high schools have asked to partner with Lutheran Church of the Master to mentor the youth in career exploration. LCM adults would offer their insights and expertise in career fields that the high school young people may want to go into. This is an exciting opportunity to be a part of what God is doing in the lives of the young adults in our community!)


Invisible paths and standing in the gap March 8, 2014

I don’t think I would be offering anyone new information if I said to you, “we are in transition.” Now you might ask me where specifically we are in transition but I am afraid I would just respond to you with a shrug and say, “everywhere.” Because it’s true. We are in transition in our educational systems, we are in transition in our governmental systems, we are in transition in our communication systems, we are in transition in our churches, we are in transition in our homes. We are in transition. We are currently standing in the gap of where we were and where we are going. We can see the black abyss underneath our feet and it’s as frightening as all hell.

Not only are we standing in the gap but the bridge we are walking on is like the path in the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Remember the scene where they are looking for the Holy Grail and the path only becomes visible a little at a time? Yep, we are looking for the Holy Grail all right and the path most certainly seems invisible.

This transition in nearly every aspect of our culture and society, is happening for many reasons that I am not even sure matter anymore. We have analyzed that data to death it seems and it did not reveal a clear path, so I am inclined to quit worrying about the “why” and focus on the “what now”?

What do we do in this gap? Do we even know where we are going? What is our “Holy Grail”? Is it stellar education, equality, peace, food and clean water for each person on the planet? It seems right now in mainline Protestant churches, the Holy Grail (so to speak) is to figure out how to actually “be” the church. We no longer are in the era of the church existing simply because it should or does, so, therefore how do we justify our existence? And now we find our selves firmly in the gap from being part of the institutional establishment to not. And the real issue is that we need to shed our institutionalist skin and live differently. And we no longer know how.

We no longer know how to listen to the people around us and let their story resonate or intersect with our own or most importantly, hear God’s story in our lives. We no longer know how to create authentic community without a national publishing house’s curriculum. We no longer trust ourselves or the people that we live with in our homes, schools and work places to possess a truth or an insight. We no longer know how to think outside of what a supposed renowned person with a PHD thinks. We no longer trust that God is loose in the world and we no longer look for God outside of what we consider “church” or “holy.” We no longer are ok with any ambiguity or mystery in life. We are looking for the Holy Grail and we want it to be delivered by Fedex between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to our office on Monday, thank you very much!

All of this unknown de-centers us, throws us off balance and frankly can make us cranky. Nothing is clear, there is not a magic bullet and it’s exhausting. But here is some good news-no really-I don’t know if we really ever had centeredness, balance or the “magic bullet” answer. I think all that we don’t know is now a bright strobe light that no one can ignore and it forces our acknowledgement of our lack of knowledge. This is great news in that it allows and pushes us to ask the tough questions, to wrestle with this transition that God has called us into, to get comfortable with discomfort, and to be open to mystery that our western scientific minds refuse to even consider.

Right about now you are hoping that I have some pithy internet, Facebookesque, clean statement that wraps this all together in a neat bow for you. Well, get used to mystery starting now (and disappointment), because I don’t. I do think it is a huge step to name the gap, to name the fear and figure out who is on the invisible path with you willing to teeter on the edge a bit. God is calling us all to participate in mess, uncertainty, humility, risk, creativity, faith, learning, and growth that is the heart of God’s mission of revealing God’s unconditional and unending love for the entire world. All in all, a pretty good gap to stand in don’t you think?