A Lutheran Says What?

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

God’s Story of Everything Mark 11:1-11 Palm Sunday Year B March 30, 2015

If we’re honest, we all long to be fully and really seen, our story heard, accepted, and loved. And if we’re truly honest, that also scares us to death.  In this age of social media, self-help, constant communication and reality tv, one would assume that we know each other and ourselves fairly well, it would appear that we are all an open book. Yet, we all like to project a certain image and it seems, ironically, that is easier than ever to do. But it’s difficult to keep that façade up for very long isn’t it? Eventually, what isn’t true, authentic and real about yourself will be exposed and then it gets messy. The clash of who the world wants you to be or sees you as, comes crashing head long into who you really are, warts and all. We all know people who are so cautious about what they allow the world to see or over the top transparent (almost uncomfortably so) about who they are in their lives.

Sometimes the story of who we are that we present to the world is who we actually hope and are striving to be and that is not bad, but again, we will eventually fall short. We live in a culture that simultaneously values perfection and authenticity, collaboration and individualism, and polished image and transparency.

We see it all around us. The clash of what we’ve hoped our story to be in our lives versus what is reality. We have all fallen short according to the world’s measuring stick but we try to sweep that under the rug. What’s more, when we encounter someone who can’t hide the ways that their story clashes with what the world expects out of people, we tend to turn away and ignore them. Perhaps out of fear of the knowledge that it could just as easily be us, or because it one time it was us.  When we begin to live in this tension and tell our own stories of truly who we are and allow all pieces of ourselves to be seen, it’s risky. And it begs the questions:  What will we allow to be seen of ourselves? What happens when every part of us, the good, bad and the ugly are transparent? What about the stories of people around us that we don’t like, agree with or scare us? What happens when our search for transparency, authenticity and acceptance clash with the reality of a world that only seeks perfection, control and categorization?

It’s obvious that the crowds that surrounded Jesus in his processional parade into Jerusalem, knew through stories or personal experience, that this Jesus was someone to be followed and lauded. These were people from the small, nothing towns, where Jesus spent most of his ministry, people whom most of society, particularly the elite of Jerusalem would have ignored at best and treated as less than human at worst. They were most likely peasants, fishermen, farmers, essentially nobodies. They didn’t have a story as far as most were concerned or at least one not worth hearing. But Jesus had seen them, more than that, he had acknowledged them, talked to them, taught them and healed them. He told them that God’s story was their story.

Jesus had entered into their lives and saw the broken parts of them that they could not hide, the broken pieces of real lives where marriages did not always work out, one can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, disease was unpreventable, death was always near and helplessness and hopelessness seemed to win the day. They didn’t have nice clothes to hide scars, or facebook to project a false happiness, or disposable income to temporarily feel better through more stuff, food or influence. Jesus had fully seen them, met them where they were and in this moment of a parade into the center of political, religious and economic power, Jerusalem, they thought that they saw who Jesus really was as well and what his story should be-someone who would give them money, status, and power everything that would allow them to be seen by the world.

But soon these cries of Hosanna, “Save us now,” would turn to disbelief, discouragement and perhaps even disgust as the Jesus who entered into their lives, saw everything, and didn’t give them exactly what they wanted.  “Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” Jesus saw everything: the coming clash of the world’s story with God’s story, the brokenness of the economics of the culture and the temple where some were left out, the marginalized denied of God’s community, those who were trying to live as God’s people, but were struggling, those who cried Hosanna, “save us now,” but won’t let go of their own need for comfort or control. Jesus saw it all. Jesus saw everything and sees everything about us today. Jesus sees our “everything” and in response, offers us God’s everything. While we struggle with keeping parts of our lives unseen and to see those who are different from us, God through Jesus, enters into and sees everything-sees all of us and each one of us.

This week, Holy Week, is our journey of God offering us everything. God’s abundant generosity offers us all of God’s unconditional love and God’s constant forgiveness. In seeing our “everything”, Jesus sees all of who we are; the parts of ourselves that we show the world and the parts of ourselves that we hide out of shame and fear.  Jesus’ only judgment on what he sees about the world and us, is to offer us all of who God is, so that God’s everything of love, forgiveness and generosity can spill out into the world.

When Jesus sees everything about us, Jesus also sees people made in God’s image, and despite all of the pieces that we are ashamed of, we too have the capacity for abundant generosity, unconditional love and constant forgiveness.  God’s everything of love, forgiveness and abundance reveals that the world’s everything of fear, hate and scarcity cannot and will not be the last word. God’s everything reveals in us that all are accepted, loved and forgiven and so we already have everything we need to participate with God’s revelation to the world. We enter into our neighborhoods, our schools and workplaces where God is already at work, with everything we need to be fully loving, forgiving and generous.

We enter into the story of Holy Week knowing that it is really the story of God’s entering into and seeing the reality of our lives and the world’s reality to tell us the true story about who we are and everything God promises for all of creation. God calls us through our stories to reveal God’s story hope, love, forgiveness and abundance to a world waiting to be truly seen. Thanks be to God.

 

The Crisis of “For God So Loved the World” Lent 4B John 3:1-21 March 16, 2015

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 1:27 am
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How many of you can remember either your first year of college, or the first year you lived on your own? It was scary at first wasn’t it? We longed for the familiarity, comfort and security of living at home with our family (even though we probably pushed back on them). We didn’t know who we were, what we were doing or where we were going. Being on our own was a completely new way of living for us. It was frightening and exciting all at the same time. In a sense, this new found freedom and new way of living was a crisis for many of us. But it was a crisis that moved us from where we were as teenagers into adulthood. It was a crisis that opened up for us the possibilities of who we were and who we could become. If not for that crisis though, we might not have met our spouses and had our own children otherwise, or had the vocations that we now have. I know my parents were supportive but out of love, knew I had to be in the crisis and risk a little in order to grow and be all God created me to be. I think all of us would say that was worth the risk of moving out of our family’s homes.
A crisis can be caused by a positive event in our lives, as well as a negative event. It’s a defining period of time where we see the world differently, see our lives through a new lens and are open to new possibilities. Moving away from home, getting married, a new job, a new baby, a uncertain diagnosis, job loss or death of a loved one or any new experience invites us to think, be and live in a different way. Sometimes we handle a crisis well; we open up to the new way of living and explore it, learn from it and grow. Sometimes not so well. Sometimes we choose to go back to what we know and are familiar with, stay stuck if you will in the comfortable, even if that is not ultimately what is best for us, or the people around us. The system of what we know runs smack into something we have never seen before, and in that crisis, we are presented with a choice of what to do next.
Nicodemus, in John 3, is in such a crisis. He is a Pharisee, steeped in the Jewish system of the temple, the law and what he thinks it means to be God’s chosen people. Nicodemus, as a leader, personally benefits from this system; he’s comfortable, he has status, power and probably some financial security. But he admits that when he experiences Jesus and what Jesus is doing in the world, it puts him in crisis. He sees that everything Jesus does points to God and is part of who God is, despite the fact that it doesn’t follow the system Nicodemus currently knows and takes part. So, Jesus’ very presence causes a crisis for him; what he knows is running head long into a new way and what does it all mean?
Jesus affirms for Nicodemus that he does indeed recognize God’s work and
Jesus also affirms his crisis. Yep, Jesus says, this is new, God is doing a new thing
and let me tell you a bit more because it’s not what you think and it’s going to put the whole system that you know into a deeper crisis. God has come to be among you and so you cannot stay the same, the world cannot stay the same and the system that you cling to, cannot stay the same, no matter how hard you try to cling to it. The world cannot stay the same because God loves the world too much to leave it, and us, alone. God sees who God created us to be and wants that transformation for us.
John 3:16 is probably the most quoted Bible verse and yet, is the most misunderstood. Cherry picked from the middle of this rich story of the encounter of Jesus and Nicodemus, it loses it depth, breadth and role of God shaking up the world’s system and gets used to set up and support our own comfortable system that we can control and cling to. It becomes an indictment or a measuring stick for who’s in and who’s out. We focus our attention on the “who believes” and we gloss over God’s sacrificial and unconditional love for the whole world. And we completely ignore verse 17, that this in breaking of the kingdom of God through Jesus for the purpose of all people being gathered to God. We dilute this whole story down to one of pointing our fingers at people who think different than us, we use it as a self-justification that what we believe is correct and therefore makes us ok with God. We make it about us and not the world.
In doing so, we are attempting to keep ourselves comfortable and ignore the crisis at hand. The root of the words condemnation and judgment used in John is the same as our English word of crisis. Jesus coming into the world, the spirit blowing where she chooses presents a crisis, judgment or condemnation for us all. The light of God is now in the world and now everything is exposed whether we like it or not. The whole world, our whole system that we think keeps us comfortable, safe, and secure is in crisis. God is doing and showing us a new thing through Jesus and it’s a good thing but it presents us with some choices, even though that makes us uncomfortable to think about.
One of the tensions in this story is that Jesus acknowledges that not everyone will be on board, there will always be the naysayers, those who will resist the change to the system and will respond to the crisis of the light and love of God coming into the world by doubling down on the system that keeps them in their safe cocoon of the illusion of having power and control. It doesn’t mean that salvation is not theirs because Jesus is equally clear on that: God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and grace are for all-the whole world whether they like it or not or acknowledge it or not. That’s done; no one needs to worry about that. But Jesus invites all people now thrown into the crisis of God’s presence with them always, to be transformed, to grow, learn and made new, not just so that we can say that we believe and are ok, but to transform the world around us with God’s love and mercy. Our participation in God’s new system of love matters, God’s system won’t leave us alone to our own devices but offers us a way of truly responding and being a part of what God is up to around us. It’s risky because we will be set free from the world’s system and transformed by God’s presence and God’s system.
It’s risky when we step out of our comfort zone to volunteer at the Denver Rescue Mission, when we think about new ways of doing confirmation such as our Lakewood Lutheran Confirmation Cluster, when we put relationships with each other first and disregard our differences in preferences for how we live our lives, how we do Bible study, or worship, when we admit that we don’t know exactly what God is raising up but are willing to look for signs of new life and nurture them. It’s risky by the standards of the world to live this way and you need to know that. But love is always worth the risk. God risked through the cross and the empty tomb God’s very own son, Jesus, because loving us and the whole of creation is worth the risk. You, me, and all people are worth the risk to God. Like Nicodemus, we aren’t able to imagine that Jesus’ death on the cross is really about life and that the empty tomb is really about no separation from God and God’s system, but is about God’s imagination for life, hope and forgiveness. This carried Nicodemus and carries us through the crisis of the new way of system of living in Jesus. God is here no matter what and invites us each and every day to imagine and participate with God in this risky endeavor of love. Thanks be to God!