A Lutheran Says What?

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

Don’t Get Distracted (And Don’t Cut Off Any Body Parts Either!) Mark 9: 38-50 Pentecost 18B Sept. 27th, 2015 September 28, 2015

In seminary I took a class in Chicago for two weeks where we studied different urban ministry settings-mostly in impoverished and struggling communities. We went to St. Sabina where Fr. Pfleger had focused on the church building up the community to provide social services and combat racism. We went to Trinity UCC with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III (formerly the congregation Jeremiah Wright served) where the focus was on building up people to be faithful followers of Jesus no matter what their struggles might be. We visited a small Lutheran congregation that ran an assisted living facility for elderly who were low income. We visited soup kitchens, programs to move people off the streets to self sufficiency and several other kinds of ministries. But the one that hit this (at the time) fledging soon to be pastor was a UCC congregation in the Latino part of Chicago.
This congregation ran a soup kitchen that fed lunch to 150 people from the streets every single day. They partnered with a nearby Catholic school for the youth to help serve; they coordinated massive food donations each week; they offered counseling for those in need, not to mention prayer and love. They were not a large congregation, maybe an average worship attendance of 100 or so and certainly not a wealthy congregation by any means. But they were focused on living out the gospel by whatever means necessary. What was more striking to all of us in the class was that this congregation had not had a pastor for two years. None, not even an interim. They had some supply pastors float in and out but no consistent pastoral presence. They deeply desired that presence, they wanted a pastor but it’s difficult to get one to come for what they were paying in that part of Chicago.
A parishioner named Rosaria had decided that the soup kitchen would be her ministry and while she had another full time job, she managed to put together a team of people both within and without of the congregation to work with her. She greeted us at the door and proudly told us all about that ministry and congregation. We sat and listened to how each member of this congregation played a role, how they had put aside the anxiety and fear of no pastor in place and just got on with the ministry that God had called them too, and they did it well. They were the busiest people I have ever seen and yet the calmest people I have ever seen. When something didn’t go exactly how they had planned, they readjusted and just kept moving around, over or through the obstacle not worrying about who is getting credit, or who is in charge. I marveled at the calm, as my personal M.O. is to worry about all of the things that could go wrong. I actually found myself concerned for them! But they ignored all of the possible distractions and were simply focused on God’s children who needed food for the day and a word of God’s love, mercy and grace.
“Be at peace with one another.” We tend to think that peace looks like serenity, rest, status quo, an easy life, or no hardships in our path to whatever we think we need to do to be at peace, happy or content. But peace is not any of these things. Peace in this text comes from the Hebrew word “Shalom” which means wholeness. Wholeness. Peace in God’s kingdom is about all people being whole: being wholly loved, wholly included, and wholly equal. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes when the disciples come to tattle tale that someone else is doing what they perceived to be solely their work. “Jesus this person is casting out demons! That’s what we do! We should stop him!” I mean heaven forbid that all of the demons get cast out and then everyone is healthy! Then we won’t be special! The disciples, and us, like to over think situations and make them more complex and more fearful than they really are.
Jesus then goes on to talk about whoever is not against us is for us, don’t put up obstacles, and then some gruesome words about cutting off body parts that keep you from fully participating in God’s work of peace in the world. Now we know that we can’t take such language literally, Jesus does not want us to cut off body parts or put a millstone around our necks but does want to get our attention and to think deeply about what distracts us from God’s peace, God’s wholeness and being part of God’ work that reveals God’s love in the world. What obstacles do we put up to keep out some of God’s children who make us uncomfortable? We love distractions from our real work at hand and we spend much more time creating them than actually just getting to the task of God’s work given to us. We worry about what other people are thinking or doing, we worry about what other people say about us, we worry that some people may not believe the same way, or will get mad, or not like us, or something may not work as well as we want. We worry, and in our anxiety and fear we create obstacles, we look for pitfalls and failings. What we don’t do is look to Christ who works in our midst, in our mess and promises to be forever present.
Hell is separation from God (it is not a place and no one is being sent there!) and we create our own hell. We create ways to exclude hope, joy and love so that we can say “I told you so” when things don’t quite work out how we envisioned. God desires for everyone to be close to God and wrapped in God’s love with no separation-hell is not God’s judgment or punishment; it’s how we punish ourselves. * But God never leaves us and never wants us separated from God or God’s loving community, yet we look for ways to resist God’s desire, thinking it’s safer to go it alone than to participate in the reckless abundance, generosity and love of Christ. Christ opened the way for all –removed every single obstacle that the world could provide-even death-in order for all creation to be in God’s peace, God’s Shalom and God’s love now and forever.
What distractions need to be navigated in your life, here at LOTH or in the community? How are we caught up in our own worry and anxiety and miss what God is doing right here, right now in our midst? We have the Prayer and Care ministry that offers mercy, hope and community right when people need it the most. We have all of our education opportunities that dive us all at any age deep into God’s word of love for us all. We have Habitat for Humanity and Prayer Shawl ministries. We have our buildings that offer safe places for our brothers and sisters in Christ to meet. God is at work here-no matter what obstacles we perceive!
Jesus removes all obstacles and simply calls us to do the same. The UCC Church in Chicago learned that Christian community isn’t about a pastor, a church building, a budget or anyone of the things with which they could have distracted themselves. Christian community is recognizing that Jesus has already removed all distractions, has already given us all that we need for the journey and has gathered us all into one body for the sake of loving God and our neighbor. “Be at peace with one another, for God is with you.”
*My own personal view point on Hell is that it is not a place where those who are “bad, evil or don’t make the cut get in.” God’s salvation is for all and all are in! All means all! That person right now you’re saying to yourself ‘not them’…yes them too! This is good news as nothing separates us from the love of Christ, not even our own attempts at self-sufficiency! If your head is hurting-good! God’s love and mercy are that mysterious and that overwhelming!

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Fear and asking the wrong questions Reflection on Mark 9: 30-37 Pentecost 17B September 16, 2015

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 4:51 pm
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*I am not preaching this week but I was asked to give a reflection at a prayer worship service. Just a few thoughts on Mark 9.

Mark 9: 30-37
Fear is a powerful motivator: So I’ve recently taken up a new health regime as I’ve been noticing a few weird things that are just attributed to middle age. So, I decided that I wanted to not just lose a little weight but feel better and maybe try and slow down the aging process now that I’m in my 40’s. I know, I know, the optimism of youth! So, armed with what is probably a little bit of dangerous information, I went to a health store privately owned by a nutritionist. I bought vitamins with a 92% absorption rate, fish oil, probiotics and protein shake mix. And so, armed with all of this stuff and a new workout routine in addition to my running, I have pretty convincingly told myself that I don’t need to fear aging anymore. I can do this!
Hmmm….yet, none of the aging stuff has gone away. Nothing has really changed. I feel a little better, maybe less tired but my husband is pretty sure that’s just a placebo effect. He’s probably right. I’m getting older and changing whether I like it or not. Now, have I gone to my wonderful doctor with whom I have a great relationship with? Oh no, as he’ll probably just tell me, yep, getting older!
The disciples were dealing with a lot of fear throughout Mark. Fear at not just the miraculous and unexplainable feats of Jesus but here in the middle of Mark, fear at what Jesus says is coming next. Suffering, a cross, death and what’s this about rising again, Jesus? It was heady, scary stuff. Stuff that they definitely did not want to think about day to day. After all, there were important questions to ask such as “who is the greatest? Who’s the best disciple?” Inquiring minds want to know. Fear was keeping them from confronting the tough stuff with Jesus and kept them thinking about themselves, their own needs and their own comforts. Vulnerably asking what Jesus was talking about and how they might fit into such a plan would just be too risky and they probably didn’t really want to know.
What would you do or ask if you weren’t afraid? About your faith? About Bethany? About your life?
What does it mean to be vulnerable? What’s at risk when we open up about what we’re afraid of? Is it easier to be vulnerable or to accept vulnerability in other people around us?
Good news: Jesus proclaims there is power in vulnerability. When we are vulnerable, like a child, we are open to all of the ways that the kingdom of God comes to us just as we are, wherever we are. God doesn’t assess status based on who’s the greatest, the wealthiest, the smartest or most valuable to society, but declares that the only status that is important is that of beloved child of God. Do not be afraid! Amen.

 

Held By the Cross of Christ, Mark 8: 27-38 Pentecost 16B Sept. 13th, 2015 September 13, 2015

I don’t listen to much Christian pop music, to be completely honest. I prefer Rush, Boston, Bruce Springsteen, Colin Hay, Elton John, etc. It’s not that I’m picky about genres, I’m not-I listen to everything from country to gospel to metal to pop. But message matters. Most, but admittedly not all, of the Christian music’s message tends to focus on if you only believe enough, have enough faith, read the bible enough, are generous enough then your life will be wonderful. The focus of the music is on us and what we think and do and not on what God has already done. Now, having said that, there is an artist, Natalie Grant, whom I really love and she has a song from 2005 called“Held.” The chorus goes like this:
This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.
I love these words as they ring true in my life and maybe they do in yours as well. I saw an interview of Vice President Joe Biden by Stephen Colbert during which Mr. Biden opened up about the recent death of not only his son Beau, but the deaths many years ago of his first wife and daughter. He beautifully witnessed to the importance of rituals such prayer and for him the rosary, and how worship, even when he wasn’t sure about God, centered him somehow. He spoke about the community of people who had faith for him when he wasn’t feeling up to it, carried him through some dark days and kept the glimmer of the light of Christ burning for him. His wife, Jill, put a note up on his side of the bathroom mirror one day that was a quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “Faith sees best in the dark.”

You see, something that Mr. Biden has learned throughout his faith journey is that faith isn’t a once and for all sort of event. It’s an ebb and flow, it’s a windy road, it’s confusing, and it’s foundational for who we are as God’s children. Faith doesn’t promise us that everything will be perfect, that we will have all of the money that we need, that we will be healthy forever, that cancer won’t touch us, our loved ones won’t get sick or die, that we won’t lose our jobs, we will have friends and all of the worldly comforts. Faith, it turns out, is complex, a mystery and causes us to have more questions than answers.
Questions, confusion, and the mystery of faith are at the heart of this morning’s gospel text that I will admit is not one of my favorites. Like, Peter, I’m uncomfortable with not only the bluntness of Jesus in his explanation of the suffering and death to come but seriously uncomfortable with this entire take up your cross business, lose you’re your life and shame talk. It seems contrary to the Jesus that we have just seen who relieves suffering, who offers inclusion for all, who points to that fact that rules can’t save us, only God can do that. The language of denying ourselves and taking up our crosses triggers me in many ways. Is Jesus telling us that we MUST suffer? That we need to let others walk all over us, abuse us, deny our own dignity and self worth? To me, that is very dangerous language-especially for those for who are already oppressed by patriarchy, racism, are being told they are nothing by an abuser, or are telling themselves that they are nothing because they don’t measure up in our culture. Dangerous words indeed, Jesus. How much must we and other people suffer to prove that we are followers of Jesus? Go to jail for our beliefs? Be physically harmed? Put to death as many of the disciples would be?
All of that seems contrary to the rest of the message of Jesus. The Jesus who walks on water, Jesus who feeds crowds, heals women and little girls, who is opened up by a gentile woman, who heals the deaf, who makes the blind see and who proclaims that the kingdom of God is near, surely now isn’t saying, “you must prove your faith through suffering.” I think what Jesus is doing is naming the reality of our lives and of our faith. It’s not that we have to suffer, it’s that suffering in life where the kingdom of God is not yet fully come, is inevitable. We will suffer losses, death, lack of material resources, loneliness, diseases and all of the ways that the world takes its toll on us. Jesus will know suffering too. Jesus will know what it is like to be poor, abandoned, suffering in pain and ultimately killed. Jesus runs head on into the reality, our reality of the world and doesn’t shy away or try and gloss over it with pretty or trite words of platitudes such as, “God has a purpose for your suffering,” or “God is testing you,” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” or “If you have more faith then these bad things won’t happen.”
No, Jesus doesn’t say any of those things but instead says “take up your cross; you know the same cross that I will suffer a very human suffering on. Take it up, not so that you will suffer but because you are suffering, your suffering is real and God sees your suffering and loves you.” The cross of Christ is not about suffering but about the promises of God to be present with us when we do suffer. The cross that we take up is not God allowing abuse, hurt or suffering but the cross we take up is the cross of the promises of God to hold us when we suffer, to love us when we are all battered inside and out by the world and not much to look at, to lose ourselves in this reality and not the reality of the world.
“Faith sees best in the dark.” Faith in the dark allows us to stop seeing ourselves how the world wants to see us-perfect, autonomous, happy and shiny, but allows us to finally see ourselves how God sees us: broken, messy, needy, beloved and worthy of abundant life. We can trust that faith is not dependent on us at all but is all about God and how God wants to live with us now and forever. We pray, sing, worship, study, share, serve, love to reorient ourselves as individuals and as a community to those promises of God, as an expression of faith whether times are hard or joyous.
There is good news in these words, “deny yourself and take up your cross.” The good news that it’s not about anything that we do but all about what Jesus has already done to offer us and all of creation the promises of God for abundant life here and now, and forever. The cross isn’t our suffering to carry, no, the cross of Jesus Christ promises to catch and to hold all of our suffering and all of us, always. “This is what it means to be held.” May we all take up our cross and know that it is the cross that takes us up into the life, love, mercy and hope of our God who holds us always. Thanks be to God.

 

“Be Opened! And Never Be the Same!” Mark 7: 24-37 Pentecost 15B Sept. 6th, 2015 September 7, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 12:09 am

It’s been a tough week to watch the news. No, I’m not talking about The Donald’s hair, although that’s not easy to see. I’m talking about the human tragedy that is unfolding as Syrian refugees attempt to flee their own country’s civil war that has been raging since March of 2011. It’s heated up lately and so it is estimated that over 11 million Syrians are refugees with another almost 8 million Syrians displaced in their own homeland for one reason or another. It is the worst refugee situation since WWII. Many fled to Iraq, but Iraq, as we know, has its own insurgency to deal with and they are just not able to absorb extra people with high needs right now. They are also going to Jordan, which currently has the largest Syrian refugee camp, as well as Turkey and now many are attempting to go to Europe for a new start and most importantly safety for themselves and their families. Over half of the refugees are children. This crisis is causing strain on much of Eastern Europe and it’s not always being dealt with well.

I watched haunting videos this week of families being ripped apart or living outside. How many of you saw the video of the refugees in Hungary? Thousands are at a train station waiting for trains to take them to Germany, Austria and other points west. But the trains didn’t come. One train did come and there was a melee of humanity trying to get on it. Some thought that it was a set up and refused to get on. The train pulled out from the station stuffed with people, some Syrian some European. About 45 minutes into the trip the train suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. They were surrounded by Hungarian riot police and told to get off of the train. The European travelers were let go and put on a bus to continue their journey. The first Syrian travelers who exited were rounded up by the police to go to a camp.  Need I remind you that camps in Eastern Europe do not have great reputations. So they stopped getting off the train. This standoff lasted for several hours. Finally, some tried to get off and make a run for it, only to be captured. One young couple with an infant tried to escape. The riot police closed in and tried to arrest them. They threw themselves down on the tracks with the dad lying on top of his wife and baby to protect them. As the police pulled him off and away from his family, he held onto his wife’s jacket with his teeth in a desperate effort to stay together.

We all saw the haunting and heartbreaking image of the drowned Syrian toddler who washed up on the shore in Turkey. His father was the only survivor in his family’s attempt to flee war. Most of the time we watch these videos and see these pictures of people and we don’t know their names. They are nameless poor souls with whom we empathize and maybe even donate some money to their plight, but they don’t impact us directly as we don’t even know one personal piece of information about them. That seems to hold their horrific reality at bay and from invading our reality. But we know this little boys name: Aylan Kurdi. He was three. He was dressed in a red little shirt, little blue shorts and what every little boy on the run needs, little sneakers. Now he’s real. Now he’s in my heart, in my thoughts and in my reality. His name opened up my ears to this crisis and ripped open my heart to learn more and my mouth to speak. I know that God was with Aylan and his family as they fled and died. I know that God with all of the other Syrian’s whose names I don’t know.  I know that as a follower of Jesus I am compelled to open up myself to speak out against any one of my fellow human beings and children of God from being harmed in any way.

It’s very comfortable to keep tragedy, sorrow, disease, hardship and those who are different from us at arm’s length. We separate ourselves in all kinds of ways and look for justification to do so.  We keep separate so that we don’t have to take on someone else’s reality, tragedy or social position-let’s face it-it’s risky and a lot of work to do so. We can also get compassion fatigue and just need to not think about anyone but ourselves for a while.

I wonder if Jesus was suffering from a little compassion fatigue in Mark 7-“He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.” How many of us have entered our own home hoping no one was there so that no one would need us for about 30 seconds? But Jesus didn’t even get 30 seconds before a woman accosted him with a desperate plea for her daughter. This unnamed, Gentile, woman (lot’s of boundaries between her and Jesus right there!) bowed at Jesus’ feet and pleaded not for herself but for her daughter. The next exchange makes some people uneasy as it shows a fully human Jesus a bit stuck in the racial and gender boundaries of the time. He tries to put her in her place so to speak, but she won’t let Jesus off the hook. Jesus is opened up by her demand for justice and to be heard by God.  Jesus allows himself to be opened by her and responds to her need speaking the words she longs to hear: the demon from her daughter is gone and God has heard her.

Again, no sooner than Jesus gets to Decapolis, is he chased down by more people who bring him another person needing freedom. This man was also a gentile, considered unclean and on the edges of society as he was deaf and couldn’t speak. Jesus opens the man’s ears and tongue. Just as Jesus had been opened by the unnamed woman, he now opens up this unnamed man. “Be opened,” Jesus proclaims and he is. Now Jesus, still seeking a nap, told them not to tell anyone but not only had the man been opened, the whole crowd had been opened! How could they not speak? Their ears, mouths, hearts and minds were all opened to the work of God in the world and to the fact that God goes to those whom the rest of the world tries and separates from. God opens us and we see and hear that we are not separate; we cannot, as we are not boundaried from one another but connected through the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

“Be opened.” How do we need to be opened today? Opened to see our global neighbor as ourselves? Opened to see and know the names of those killed by oppressions in this country? Opened to see the person sitting next to us right now as a beloved child of God? Opened to see our community with different eyes? Here’s the thing about being opened that Jesus, the unnamed woman and the unnamed man realized…Once you’re opened by God, you’ll never be the same. You’ll never see the world, God’s people or yourself the same. You’ll never see boundaries that we think keep our hearts, minds and bodies safe in the same way. We’ll be opened the Saturday for God’s Work Our Hands as we feed families at Ronald McDonald house, make quilts and blankets for those in need. We’re opened each time to build a Habitat house, serve meals to the homeless, speak out for someone with no voice in our culture. To be opened by God is to risk, to risk loving and losing, to risk speaking out for justice and equality, to risk hurting and being hurt, to risk losing your life in the world, to risk gaining your life with God.

Jesus proclaims to us each day, “be opened,” to God’s love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope. God’s gift of grace and faith, opens us, God opens us in order for God’s healing love and grace to flow through our openness to the world to open other people, to overwhelm creation with peace, unity and wholeness-no more boundaries between each other or us and God.  God opened the way to eternal life and love through Jesus Christ-through the waters of baptism that washed Shelby this morning, through bread and wine that open us to the reality of Jesus breaking the boundary of death and being present with us now and in all times and places. We are opened by God’s love, and this love cracks open the whole world to the coming of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.

For more information on the Syrian refugee crisis and to donate, please go to: http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response/Our-Impact/Middle-East-and-Europe-Refugee