A Lutheran Says What?

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

Who’s afraid of a little Reformation? Oct. 26th, 2014, Year A October 26, 2014

I’m going to share a secret with all of you….we live in a fear based culture. Are you shocked? No? Well fear is everywhere (Ebola anyone?) and we know that fear can also be a great motivator.  Fear can make us prudent and propel us to make good and healthy changes. Fear helps us to remember that we should wash our hands more often or that we should wear our seatbelts. We teach our children to not walk into on-coming traffic, or to not get into a car with someone they don’t know. A little bit of fear can be correcting and provide healthy boundaries. But unfortunately, for humans, if a little bit is good, than we assume that a lot must be better! So our fear spirals out of control until, ironically, fear controls everything that we do.  Fear can have power in our lives that changes our thoughts and behaviors and tells us a false story of who we are in the world.

So what are some of our collective fears? Loneliness, disease, financial struggles, unworthiness, war, death, messing up, rejection, etc. While we tend to think that the things we are afraid of are unique, they are universal aren’t they? We put up a façade to try and mask our fears from others, for “fear” of being seen as unstable, irrational or needy. What are some ways that culture tells us to respond to these fears? Buy more, do more, pretend more, dress in a certain way, food, alcohol, excessive exercise, be a certain shape or size, look a prescribed way, make sure you have enough for yourself, drive a certain car, live in a certain house, etc. The story that fear tells us is that we are alone, we don’t measure up, we must try harder and we must be who others want us to be.

This story of fear obviously isn’t new in the history of humanity. Fear has written stories of wars, words of hurt, self centered decisions, prejudice, and labeling. Fear can override every other emotion in us and cause us to act in a way that is not consistent with whom we actually are. So the question arises, what are we to do with the very real presence of fear in our lives? Fear is probably not going away.

This is the core of what a monk named Martin Luther wrestled with his whole life. He knew the story of fear by heart. He was terrified by the thought that he was not and would never be good enough for God to love him. He was terrified that God did see into his heart and knew that he was a fraud, a deviant, a nothing, a worm. Martin was terrified of his inability to control all of his thoughts, words and deeds. He was terrified that his own shortcomings, lack of knowledge, inabilities separated him from God and that there would never be enough self-flagellation, penance, or prayers to put him in right relationship with God. I know that Martin was not and still is not alone in his terror.

So Luther searched. He searched for anything that might relieve him of this terror and how he could make himself right with God. We tend to think this day as the pivotal moment of church reformation and all about Luther nailing 95 things that ticked him off about the Roman Church. But that event was actually not at all pivotal in Luther’s life or what the reformation was about. The Reformation was not about institutional church. It was about so much more than anything human or earthly. Luther’s pivotal moment came while reading Romans 1:17, which in my Lutheran Study Bible is under the heading “The Power of the Gospel.” Paul writes “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Those words in Romans at first deepened Luther’s terror as he fixated on the “righteousness of God,” and knew he fell short. He even wrote that this passage made him angry at God, as it made God a bully in his mind, just hanging out waiting to condemn us the second we mess up. But then he was struck by the phrase: “the one who is righteous will live by faith.” Luther had what he called a conversion moment (so yes, as a Lutheran we can have conversion stories!) and he realized that faith had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God. Righteousness, being in right relationship with God, had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God. Salvation had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God through God’s son Jesus Christ. None of this was about Luther-it was all about God. It was a story of love and freedom that God had begun at the beginning of time and was continuing to write in Luther and in us all.

This freed Luther from his fear. It allowed the power of the good news of the love of God to transform him, to reform him and allow him to live his life fully in the promises of God. This is the heart of Luther’s reformation. He had this amazing story of good news that fear has no real power in our lives because God freely gives with love the promises of righteousness, grace, mercy and eternal life no matter what we do or say, and he couldn’t keep it to himself. He was freed in his life to do what mattered without fear of the possible worldly consequences of bucking the system, because he had this truth of the promises of God that are more powerful than any earthly promise or truth.

Today we, too, are recipients of this rich story of freedom, promises and transformation. Reformation Sunday is not about how the institutional church changed 500 years ago or about how the institutional church should change now. But it IS about how God is everyday reforming us-the people of God who are the living church in the world-making us new, and calling us to be free to do what matters in the world, without fear. This is the tapestry of God’s story of freedom, mercy, love and desire for relationship with us that weaves through time to all of those who have heard the story and are rooted in the story. The story of God’s grace wove its way through Luther’s life and is weaving its way into our lives and the lives of everyone today and the days to come. This story has power to transform our lives to free us do what matters.

Arianna is affirming her belief in these promises today and she is proclaiming that she is free to live in God’s story as a beloved child of God.  She is affirming that this power of God’s love and grace transforms her life everyday and for the rest of her life. The verse she chose for today is Joshua 1:9, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Wherever her life takes her, God’s story of love and grace are a part of her story forever.

This is what reformation means. Do not fear, do what matters, God is with you always creating you new. How will you live your life free from fear and transformed by the power of God’s promises? How does your story and God’s story weave together in a way that, like Luther, you can’t keep this transformation to yourself but need to let everyone know that God created us in God’s image, God loves us no matter what we do or say, that God meets us in our fear and says I will never leave you and God will transform us each and every day? There is power in this story: power to transform our fears into hope, power to transform me, you and all of creation for the sake of God’s love being revealed to all. Amen

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“I don’t need anyone!” and other lies we tell ourselves, Matthew 21: 33-46, Year A, Oct. 5th 2014 October 13, 2014

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 9:17 pm

Have you ever had that moment when you realize that what you know is turned upside down and what you thought was foundational isn’t? Maybe it’s not a big dramatic moment but happens slowly over a few situations and you come to an awareness to a new way of living. For Mike and I, that was becoming parents. Now both of us were education majors, I had been a preschool and daycare teacher for a couple of years and Mike also had experience with children, so we assumed that we were extremely prepared and knew exactly what life would be like with our own baby. We knew all of the rules, all of the possible pitfalls, all of the proper procedures, took Lamaze class so that we would know EXACTLY how childbirth should go and were positive that we had this completely under control. And then Kayla was born. That was the last time we were sure about anything. This baby did not sleep like all the books said a newborn would sleep. This baby did not eat like all the books said newborns should eat. This baby didn’t even poop the way the books said newborns should. Nothing was according to our plan, the rules and procedures we had learned, and by day three we had no idea what was going on.

Now grandma (my mom) swooped in less than 24 hours after Kayla was born and it is probably the only reason that Mike and I are sane at all. Every time we would say, “well the book says…” she would smile at us and say “uh huh.” We had a very hard time letting go of the books, the rules, the stuff we thought we knew and consequently about ten days into this new venture we hit a pretty profound low of realizing that we had no idea what to do. Thank God we didn’t have the internet with which to torture ourselves! Kayla did not sleep the normal newborn 22 hours a day but instead cried for 22 hours a day and this was not covered in any of the books. She was a poor eater and again, none of the books were all that helpful. And she would go days without a dirty diaper and by the time she was two weeks old, our pediatrician gently suggested that the books wouldn’t really help us with Kayla and that we would have to play it by ear and figure out a different foundation for our parenting. Maybe talk to other parents, he said. Our world turned upside down and when we realized in hitting the low point in frustration, exhaustion and uncertainty what we really needed was not books and our own answers but friends, family and community who listened to questions without judgment, understood our weariness, shared our fears and offered accompaniment for the journey. We couldn’t do it this parenting thing (at least with Kayla) alone.

It’s easy to get caught in thinking that we have all of the answers and that we solely know will protect us, help us, give all that we need and keep us comfortable. We live in a culture that tells us to take care and look out for ourselves, to be sure that we have enough money, power and control.  And it’s not that it’s a bad thing to care for yourself but when we think that these things are ultimately the most important and if we truly believe that we can go it alone and rely on ourselves, we are leery of anyone who tries to challenge our autonomy. We tend to think that we don’t need anyone, not even God.

Jesus calls the Pharisees, and us, out on this fallacy in this story from Matthew today. It’s important not to hear these 13 verses in a vacuum but to keep them in the whole of Matthew’s gospel and in the whole of Jesus’ ministry because let’s face it this violent parable and the back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees leave us a bit bewildered, confused and  pretty sure we’re all going to hell. But it’s bigger than that. God is bigger than judgment, confusion, violence, our own arrogance and ignorance. Jesus calls us out on our black and white and self-absorbed thinking. Jesus is naming that like the tenants in the vineyard,  we DO get caught in thinking that our number one priority is going it alone and looking out for only our own interests. When we attempt to stand on this foundation, what actually happens is that we end up denying ourselves and others life. When we stand on the foundations of pride, fear, scarcity, greed and autonomy we reject God’s offer of new life in the community of God and God’s people. For the sake of appearances and a sense of pride we cling to foundations that separate us from each other and God.

Jesus knows this to be true but also tells us another truth: God continually, to the point of foolishness, pursues us for relationship with us, and to offer us life and wholeness. The truth, Jesus says, is that the love and mercy of God is our cornerstone, our foundation no matter what.  Even when we reject God from our lives, the promise Jesus says, is that when we fall to pieces from exhaustion, frustration, and uncertainty, God is there. When we are the most broken, crushed and vulnerable, God’s foundation holds us and builds us back up. Falling on this cornerstone can feel like failure and loss of control but this is exactly where God meets us and catches us. This cornerstone also crushes us with love and grace that we can’t even comprehend or fully accept but is offered to us again and again.

When we are broken into pieces and crushed by the weight of God’s love and grace what is revealed is the fruit that God has been cultivating in each of us for the sake of the world. Just like pure exhaustion of new parenthood opened Mike and I up to the possibility of a more life giving way of being parents in community to care for Kayla, the cornerstone of God’s grace breaks us open not for ourselves alone but to open us up to reveal the kingdom of God in the world, to share with our neighbors this mercy and love God has given us, to proclaim that we can’t separate ourselves from God no matter how hard we might try to go it alone. In our encounter with God, we are compelled to share what is our foundation and life with a world that desperately needs to hear that there is another way. When we serve at The Action Center, Habitat ReStore, educate ourselves on our neighbor’s needs and walk with them through agencies such as World Hunger and Lutheran Family Services, accompany families in our neighborhood schools, open our building to organizations who need space; we celebrate all of the ways that God has placed us here in this time and place to reveal God’s truth in a world that often wonders what the truth really is.

Nothing in this parable from Jesus today is easy, because that’s reality. Our lives in the world are not black and white or easy but they are messy, unclear and leave us guessing, and we will try to go it alone, but the truth is that in all of our uncertainty, Jesus is there. When we realize that we don’t have it all together, Jesus is there. When we don’t have all the answers and can’t go it alone, Jesus is there.  When what we thought was certainty in our lives is anything but, Jesus is there. When we come face to face with our own failings and misunderstandings, Jesus is there. Thanks be to God. Amen.