A Lutheran Says What?

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

The Ordinary Reveals the Extraordinary Work of God Luke 2:22-40 Christmas 1, 2014 December 29, 2014

Many of you know that I was a teacher before seminary. When I lived in Lincoln, NE, I did some substitute teaching after graduation and a Roman Catholic school, Blessed Sacrament, liked me so well that I taught there nearly everyday for a year, doing both long term (several weeks in a row) and short term substitute positions. Before this I had limited experiences with the Catholic Church. I had attended one wedding when I was 10 and my college roommate is a devout Catholic but I had never attended mass with her.
Blessed Sacrament students and staff attended mass each day at 3 p.m. Now, I had been a part of a fairly pious Lutheran congregation in ND, but nothing prepared me for the level of ritual and piety that is the Roman Catholic Church. I was completely fascinated with the Rosary, the differences in the Lord’s Prayer, communion practices and liturgy (which I was not able to be a part of) and the candle lighting with the saints particularly was interesting to me. It seems that the Catholic Church has a ritual for everything and for everything a ritual. I watched as many of the older children and adults participated in these rituals, praying, singing, standing and kneeling as seamlessly as breathing. Young mothers with babies crawling all over them could recite the Rosary and keep track of their toddlers without missing a beat. It was all very ordinary and common to them, as well as giving them a laser-like focus on what was important in their lives. Honestly, I was a little jealous of all of this. Going to mass each day was like stepping through a spiritual portal where, while I was an outsider, I was being swept in and enfolded by their singing and speaking words of praise and confession that proclaimed Jesus presence as the central pivot in their lives. Mass allowed me to experience the ordinary rituals of my Lutheran tradition in new and extraordinary ways that revealed Jesus as central in my life.
Now, I am a (good?)Lutheran girl and I know why Martin Luther critiqued some of these rituals and why they can be actually in the way of a meaningful and authentic relationship with God. But in attending mass at Blessed Sacrament and witnessing what was for this congregation, ordinary and common practices that oriented them to God, I glimpsed something that made me think differently about God in my life, differently about my own spiritual practices and differently about what God was doing in the world. I was also made aware of all of the things that I did day to day that were “rituals” but not necessarily ones that connected me to God and the love of Jesus Christ. What part of my day made me stop and look for the love of Christ around me? Where did my ordinary life intersect with the mystery of God? What practices did I have that revealed God to other people?
Mary and Joseph didn’t think that they were doing anything extraordinary by going to the temple with two pigeons for Mary’s purification after childbirth. This would have been as natural and rote for them as the Rosary is for Catholics and saying “The Lord be with you. And also with you” is for Lutherans. Nothing to see here but two sleep deprived parents of a five week old baby. But they went to the temple for the purification ritual, just as they had taken their baby boy for circumcision when he was eight days old. They were following all of the rituals of their tradition as they had themselves witnessed since birth, brought up in homes where God was the focus of their lives. Mary and Joseph assumed that this trip to the temple would be quick and then they could go home and maybe catch a nap before baby Jesus got cranky.
But in the ordinariness of this ritual, something extraordinary happened. An old man Simeon, arrived at the temple as he did each day but knew that this day was different, this baby was unlike any other baby presented to the priest. This baby revealed God’s salvation, light and glory to all people. Mary and Joseph had to have been shaken from their complacency of the ritual by his words and his blessing. It’s not every day a complete stranger sings God’s praises while holding your child, blessing him and proclaiming your son’s role in God’s activity in the world. And for Simeon it was not every day that his life intersected the revelation of God’s promise for creation.
And if Mary and Joseph were not already struck by the difference of this day, Anna, a prophet whose whole life was focused on praising God, echoed Simeon’s words of who this child was, is and will be. This ordinary ritual act of coming to the temple that had been done by thousands of families, on this day revealed God’s extraordinary work, love and mercy for the world. Mary and Joseph must have had the sense of being swept up into something beyond themselves. This simple ritual refocused them to what God was doing through them and Jesus.
We view so much in our lives as ordinary. We go to our ordinary jobs, ordinary schools, run our ordinary errands, take our children to ordinary activities, go to our ordinary homes, see ourselves as ordinary and assume that nothing much is significant in all of that ordinariness. But in Luke today we hear that there is extraordinary in the ordinary and it is in these seemingly innocuous intersections where we are reminded that God is the focus of our lives and swept up into the mystery of God. Rituals have the power and the ability to orient our minds, souls and bodies to the one who created them. It’s not just about rituals in a church building, but it’s about the church as the people of God pointing to God in the world wherever and whatever they are doing.
This morning we celebrate the ritual of baptism with Owen and Cooper. Through ordinary water and words spoken by ordinary people, God’s love, mercy and promises for eternal life are revealed and proclaimed. God declares that in the ordinary water washing over their heads, Owen and Cooper belong to God, belong to the community of God’s people, are swept up into the mystery of life with God and are extraordinarily beloved. Their lives and our lives, reflect and proclaim the promises of God for everyone-no place, person or circumstance is too ordinary for God to be present. Today we are all promising to help teach and include Owen and Cooper in rituals such as The Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, Apostles Creed, Holy Communion, daily prayers, scripture reading, faith conversations and blessing. We are promising to each day reorient our lives to center on Jesus as we walk with them in their faith journey. But even our day to day “ordinary” rituals also have the capacity to remind us, to reveal to us and others around us, that we are surrounded by the love of God in our lives.
The Holy Spirit reveals for us that in the life of God, all is extraordinary, as God has created us, all of us, to participate in God’s work of redemption in the world. With each breath, we are a part of the mystery of God’s presence and love. We may not always understand this or even recognize it as so, which is precisely why we gather to share in rituals of the ordinary earthly elements that point to so much more than we can see today, here and now. Through songs, words, water, bread and wine we focus ourselves on the reality of Jesus’ presence and love. Like Simeon and Anna, we offer with one another praises to God and speak, share and reveal to one another Jesus in our lives, the one who dwelt among us, sweeps us up into eternal life with God, with one another and who came to redeem us all. Amen.

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All Wrapped Up Together in a Not So Neat Christmas Bow, Advent 4, Dec. 21st, 2014 December 21, 2014

Mary had been given news that invoked both fear and joy within her. I think that the fear part is obvious: pregnant, unwed mother, by the “Holy Spirit” (yeah right!) and oh, by the by, your child will be the most holy Son of God. No biggie. I guess we don’t know for sure if the thought of motherhood was joyful to her, but we can extrapolate that she would have been joyful for the pending motherhood of her relative Elizabeth, who had been unable to at this point, have a child. The impossible, a barren woman having a child, was happening, so maybe the other stuff that Gabriel said about Mary was possible too? What if the messiah was really coming through her? What if God was really about to do something amazing through a poor teenage girl and an old woman? What if the angel’s praising of God that all will be ok was true?
Some of the historians point out that Mary may have hastily gone to see Elizabeth out of fear of being stoned or burned for pregnancy out of wedlock, but know from personal experience I know that she would have had 2-3 months before that would be obvious. Luke writes that Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months, so Mary returned to her home just when would have been unable to hide her pregnancy anymore. And some of us have the experience of going to maternity clothes about 10 seconds after two blue lines appear. It’s safe to say that she went to the person with whom she could share her joy, her fears and compare notes. Would Elizabeth affirm what Gabriel had said God was doing through Mary? The instant that Elizabeth and Mary greeted one another, it was revealed for the other that God was indeed up to something new, not just in their lives, but in the world, and that they were participants, however unlikely. Neither of the women knew exactly what lay ahead for them nor their children, (did they have an inkling of their impending heartbreak of the death of both of their sons?) but they did have the sense that God had ushered them into something bigger and beyond them. In some ways, this activity of God had nothing to do with them and yet had everything to do with them. Life was changing for these two women, they didn’t understand all of the details but they would never be the same and it seemed too good to be true. But together they could praise God and dwell in the mystery of God’s work in the world no matter what was to come.
I have to admit to you that I’m not feeling very much like praising God or super excited about dwelling in the mystery of what God is doing in the world right now. And neither is much of my family. The Advent season has been one not of anticipation and waiting for new life but for death. Maybe some of you are experiencing that sentiment in the midst of the holiday season too. I know, from past experiences of God in my life, that God is present and that God IS creating the world new each and every second, and that new life is exactly what my mother in law has claimed, but I’m having a hard time recognizing it or seeing how I could possibly with my doubts and apathy be a part of that creation with God. Like Mary, I have sought out friends and family with whom to talk, who are willing to walk with me in my questioning and are not afraid to wrestle with me in the unknown of grief and yet the hope of resurrection. And these friends, like Elizabeth, have reminded me to praise God in the midst of uncertainty and change. They have listened to my questions of: How could God be doing anything through me or any of the pain and grief of the last few weeks? Really? They have offered me their own experiences, reminded me of what I know to be true and praised God for me when I just don’t have the capacity in this moment. They pull me along in our mutual faith journey with them, despite myself.
Just as Mary needed Gabriel and Elizabeth to praise God for her and with her in the face of her questions and uncertainty, Elizabeth, too, needed Mary’s words of what Mary knew to be true of the God of Israel. It seems that for everyone, even one most favored, this walk with God is messy, not linear, not one way or another but its fear, uncertainty, doubt, joy, and faith all wrapped up together in not so neat Christmas bow. It’s why Mary immediately went to Elizabeth, why we seek out companions on our journey and why we gather as often as possible as the people of God. Community, worship, and gathering are not about coming together and sharing the good news when we have it all figured out and can only praise God, it’s coming together because we don’t have it all figured out. We gather to praise God on days when we can and to allow others around us to praise God for us on the days that we can’t. We gather to be reminded that we are part of what God is doing in the world to reveal love, mercy, grace and forgiveness and that our whole lives are to reflect God’s activity. We gather to be reminded of our baptisms and to be fed at God’s table, the bread and wine that proclaims Christ’s real presence now and always. Mary proclaims to us in her song of praise what God has come to do among us and, just as she is a part of that work in the world, so are we. It’s not about us at all and yet it’s all about us as the people of God.
Our God is about relationships. God with us, Emmanuel, God incarnate in Jesus Christ is God smack dab in the midst of our messy and uncertain lives and in the midst of our doubt. God came to not only draw us to her and to proclaim that nothing will ever separate us from God no matter what, but that the coming of God draws us to one another. In our friends, family member and neighbor we see and experience the living Christ. We experience what it is to be connected to something beyond ourselves and what we can see. We live in the mystery of what God has done, is doing and will do, with pieces of that mystery and that work being revealed by and through each other. We need each other to work through what we know of God in our lives and what we might yet need to discover.
Not one of us has this completely figured out and no one can journey in faith alone. None of us know what is to come next in our lives but we can journey together. We can proclaim to one another that Christ has come, Christ is present and Christ will come again. We dwell together in the reality and the mystery of God’s presence, love, grace, and forgiveness for us and for all. We praise God together and proclaim thanks be to God!

 

The Holy Pause of Advent December 6, 2014

(The following is a devotion I wrote the Women’s Advent Brunch at Lutheran Church of the Master in Lakewood, CO)

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
1 Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. (Selah)

8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. 9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 12 The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

In this season of busyness and distraction, we know that we are also in a season of waiting-Advent. We wait-almost holding our breath for the excitement of Christmas-not just the festivities but the excitement of Christ coming among us; the excitement of the reminder of God incarnate, God among us and God speaking to us and guiding our path. The season of Advent is holy pause, a long inhale and exhale in the church year. The word Selah in our psalm is somewhat of a mystery but we know that it appears in Psalms that were more than likely used in corporate worship among the Israelites. They were songs or litanies that the people spoke together as one voice. Speaking as one people is a tradition that is ancient and still important today. Biblical scholars think that Selah was a cue to pause in the song or litany and breathe together. It was a cue for the people gathered to worship and praise God to connect to the breath of God and to one another.
When we pause, take a deep breath and connect with others we make space don’t we? We make space in our lungs for air, in our lives for each other and we make space in our lives for God. In the coming of Jesus, God is proclaiming that God has made space, room, for us in the very life of God. Through the life and ministry of God’s own child, God is literally breathing space in the world (in creation) for love, mercy, forgiveness and grace. Just as God breathed into the first humans, God’s breath in Jesus blew into the world for life and love and continues to move and live in us in every breath that we take.

We know that there are times in our lives and in our world that it seems we are all holding our breath. We wait for new life to take their first breath and for some to take their final breath in this world. We hold our breath in the face of violence, injustice and fear. We know we are complicit in denying other people life and breath. The reminder of Selah is that we are all connected and connected by the very breath of God. So, breathe. Create a holy pause, a holy breath, or as the psalmist writes, a path in your day for Jesus to come into your hearts and into your life. Hear with your head, with your heart and with your spirit what God speaks to you in that holy breath, how God meets you where you are and promises to be with you on your journey in this life and in the next.
Prayer:  God in you we get our very life, our very breath. Create in us space for your word, for your love and for your grace. Your whole creation is holding its breath for reconciliation, for peace, for love, for mercy. Filled with your breath, may we be instruments of your work in the world. In the name of your son Jesus, the light and breath of the world, amen.