A Lutheran Says What?

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

God’s Hope for the World: Sermon on Genesis 1-2, Matthew 28:16-20, Holy Trinity Sunday, Year A, June 15th, 2014 June 16, 2014

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like the problems of the world just keep piling up and it’s overwhelming. No matter how much I am outraged and saddened about another child being shot, it will happen again. No matter what I do, children go to bed hungry. No matter how I want people to live in peace, people will still make hateful racist, anti LBGT, and other hurtful remarks. It seems we can’t just all get along. Sometimes, the world can seem like a dark and isolating place. And if we’re completely honest, we wonder if there should be some sort of reboot. Do we just need to start over somehow? We worry what kind of world we are raising our children in or leaving for the next generation. What will be our legacy and what consequences will those after us have to experience? What is it we are supposed to do or be? What is it we want for our life together?
And we look for some hope. I have noticed that the idea of hope bubbling up in the secular culture quite a bit. Some of you already know that I have been thinking about this lately. I listen to the radio a lot, as many of you can guess, I drive quite a bit. So, I wait and get the deals on the satellite radio to help me pass the time. One of the stations I listen to is a top 40 format. They do a weekly count down of the top 15 songs each week and I noticed last week as I was driving to and from Ft. Collins that 4 of the top 15 songs directly speak to the desire and longing for hope and unity as humanity. (In case you’re wondering: “Raging Fire” by Philip Philips, “Nothing More” by the Alternate Routes, “Scare Away the Dark” by Passenger, and “Love Don’t Run” by One Republic.) It’s also a theme that is integral to the plots of many tv series and movies. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, even sillier ones like This is 40. To notice the darkness and brokenness of the world is part of our human experience and yet so is the clinging to some strand of hope it seems.
So I’ve been thinking about the nature of hope and what the difference is between the secular idea of hope and the hope that we have as people who believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes a difference in and for the world. I am also wondering what God is up to in our world with these themes of hope and unity bubbling up.
Much of the secular media culture seems to link hope to another person noticing your human condition and offering you compassion. Hope seems to need a communal quality to it. Hope transcends the individual and give substance to the mystery of mutual relationship. Yet, the concept of hope that is put forth in the world still has the underlying assumption that hope is all about us. That hope doesn’t exist without something that we as human beings do. And we continue to get it wrong and so the spiral of despair and hopelessness continues because we can’t pull ourselves together and we stay with our narrow focus of the world around us and only what we can see. And so hope and unity seem unattainable.
If the world says that hope is fleeting, dependent on us and yet desperately needed, what do we know about what God says about hope? Today’s texts help tell the story of God’s love and hope for the world. In the Genesis creation story, we read that God is hovering over the formless void and darkness. “Formless void” is better translated from the Hebrew as chaos. In the very beginning, God looks right into the chaos and darkness and speaks light and life into it. God’s word and breath swept into the chaos to create life where none had existed before.
And not just one kind of life but all kinds of life. God created fish and birds and plants and trees and cows and dogs and lizards and deer and snakes and platypuses. God created not just one thing or one time but again and again. When God was done creating the plants and animals, God still wasn’t finished. God the creator had more visions of what the world could be. God created people, in God’s image-men and women. Not just in God’s physical image but in the image of God’s love and hope for what it could mean for God and all that God created to be together. God created life to be interwoven and interdependent in order that each part of creation needs other parts of creation to be healthy, whole and what God declared as good. God didn’t create out of hopelessness but out of hope and joy bursting with the possibilities of what living in the midst of and with this creation for eternity could be.
Hope is embedded into all that God has created. Flowers that bloom every spring, plants that regrow each year, sunrise after the dark, babies (is there anything more hopeful than a new baby?), new friendships, even our how we develop as humans is a sense of hope. Developmental phases where babies and children learn new things, phases of life that offer adults new opportunities, even while other parts of our lives are fading away. God’s hope is deeply intertwined in us.
We know that shortly after this glorious creation, a separation between God and humanity occurred. Yet, God’s resilient hope for connection with us abounds in the world and this was never made more plain than in the person of Jesus. God came to us to be love and hope in the flesh. Jesus proclaimed that God’s love is for all, nothing separates us from God and that just when it seems that darkness, death, and hopelessness will win-look again. God’s hope that created the world, created life once again from death. God’s hope calls to us from the empty tomb to tell us that this is a hope that is not dependent on us but encompasses us and draws us into the very life of God. God’s hope is enough for you, for me and for us all. We don’t even have to always believe in this hope all of the time. Sometimes we will worship in this hope of God and at the same time wonder if it’s true.
Jesus knew that the idea of hope the world offers will confuse us and make us question. The world tells one story of hope that is incomplete and unsatisfactory and yet, we find it easier to believe than God’s overflowing promises of hope, grace, mercy and daily renewal that meet us right where we are with no strings attached. We have to experience these promises over and over to drown out the other voices we are prone to listen to and this is why we gather together often as the people of God.
This hope and love from God I believe is what God wants for us in our life together. Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 28 to go out and give voice and experience of the good news of new life in God to all people because this new life is for all people. We all are intertwined in the life and breath of God and connected to one another and it’s why it matters that we tell the story of God’s love and hope to one another, to our children and youth, to our neighborhood, and to our world. We have to remind each other that God’s hope is not dependent on us or what we do but is simply in us to be revealed and daily recreated. We have to remind each other that we matter to God and to one another, as well as that we daily receive being this new creation and deep love from God’s Holy Spirit who simply desires to always be with us whether there is chaos, peace, challenges or joy. This is the hope we cling to and live in everyday. Thanks be to God for all of God’s people who are filled and moved by the Holy Spirit, who are the hands and feet of the risen Christ for the sake of the world that God created. Amen.

 

What’s prayer got to do with it? Sermon on John 17:1-11 Easter 7 Year A June 1, 2014

Mike and I have friend from Nebraska, Matt, with whom we went to high school, worked at camp during our college years and he and I even attended seminary at the same time. We both also worked at the UNL campus ministry just at different times. Needless to say he’s a good friend of ours. On early Friday morning we got the news that his house burned. Everyone got out ok but Matt needed some medical attention. His wife and two young elementary age children were physically fine. But they lost much of the house and their possessions. Matt’s wife posted on Facebook what had happened, that they were fine and to please not ask what they need right now as they didn’t know. So, many of us as friends and family made simple posts of support, love and prayers. He has many pastor friends obviously, and many of us wrote an actual prayer or that we were praying.
How many times when life becomes difficult or unclear or even downright tragic for someone we tell them that we are praying for them? Or when we are going through a difficult time people say they are praying for us? We do it all the time and here’s the thing for me, it sometimes kinda bugs me. It feels and sounds like a copt out. If I tell you that I am praying for you, then maybe I don’t really have to do anything else for you and get my hands dirty. Especially if I don’t have to pray out loud or in the presence of anyone else. Those words of “I’m praying for you,” can almost seem like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Or sometimes those words of “I’m praying for you” are really born out of a sense of helplessness because there is really nothing of any substance that we can do to change our friend or family member’s situation. With my friend Matt who lives in NE, what can I do to help him? I guess I could drive to NE and help them clean up or something? But realistically, they will need a professional and my help would be laughable at best. Maybe as they put their house back together they will need some financial help, which I could do, but that won’t be for awhile. So, in the mean time, I tell them that I am praying for them. Is it enough?
This whole idea of what prayer is bewilders many of us. Donald Miller in his book, “Blue Like Jazz,”talks about treating God and prayer like a cosmic slot machine: prayers go in and we think what we want should pop out. Is it about getting what we want out of God? Is prayer about telling God all of our problems so that God will fix them? Is it a way to do something for someone without ACTUALLY having to do anything? Is it about me, myself and I? Is it about keeping God happy because Jesus tells us to pray? Is it about eloquent words and proper posture?
In John we get the first part of Jesus prayer to God for his disciples in chapter 17. It’s Jesus last hurrah with the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion and the messiah who turned water into wine, fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, who raised Lazarus from the dead, decided the best use of his time left with his friends was to pray. He was leaving them; they would be alone without his daily physical guidance, so shouldn’t Jesus be trying to shove as much knowledge about God or the Torah down them or be giving them something tangible that they could hold on to in the coming days, weeks and years? I would think so. But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus stops and prays. Really? That’s the best you’ve got Jesus?
The words that the writer of John has Jesus say are well constructed and eloquent if not a little convoluted. But I am struck by what Jesus does NOT ask God for with the disciples in the entirety of chapter 17. He doesn’t ask for God to bless them with anything worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask God to have Judas not betray him or to help Thomas believe in the resurrection the first time Thomas is told about it. Jesus doesn’t ask God for advice on how best to act when arrested or what to do if the disciples abandon him. What Jesus does ask, is for God to be revealed in the disciples lives and for overall protection as they proclaim God’s love and work in the world. Jesus asks that they are one with each other and one with God, creator, redeemer and sustainer.
I can easily forget what prayer is really about and I need this reminder from Jesus. Prayer is not about me. It’s not even about you. It’s about God and connecting ourselves to the very heart of God which is about so much more than our day to day concerns and joys and yet is all about those day to day concerns and joys at the same time. Prayer is exactly what Jesus asks for in John-prayer is about being one in the life of God. One voice, one hope, one people. When we pray with and for one another, it’s a connection of relationship. It’s a time to create a holy space for God and each other in our busy lives. When I am praying for Matt and his family’s current situation, I am remembering that we are connected from our past, present and future relationship through God is truly present and promises to love us all. They occupy space in my life and in my heart.
Jesus knows that the most important action to model with his disciples before he is no longer with them day to day, is that of stopping, pondering and creating space in their lives for the mystery of God’s promise of continued and eternal relationship with them. All of the extraordinary actions Jesus had done cannot compare to knowing that you are important in the life of God and in the life of someone else. Jesus is naming in this prayer what is already true: we are one in the life and love of God and God’s Holy Spirit is with us always. Nothing changes that. But by saying or hearing the words “I’m praying for you,” it’s a reminder of the promise that this holy space has been created for you in the heart of a friend and in the heart of God. It’s knowing it’s already true that God’s Holy Spirit is connecting you to something bigger than yourself and to others and there may not always be adequate words for what comes from that space in your heart. This is why Paul writes in Romans 8 about the Holy Spirit interceding for us with sighs too deep for words.
Our very breath is prayer-it connects us to the breath of God that surrounds us. And this breath of God is in us all-our friends, our family, coworkers, those whom we don’t like, those whom we’ve never met. It’s what makes us one in the life of a relational Triune God. In deep unity, words aren’t even necessary, let alone supposedly articulate ones. When we are with someone who knows us well, we don’t even have to speak to communicate our thoughts. This is what Jesus prays for us all. That we know God so well that words aren’t necessary, to live fully in the here in now with one another in God’s love and to know we can rest in the promises of the sacred space created just for each of us in God’s heart with unconditional love, mercy, and grace. Thanks be to God.