A Lutheran Says What?

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

All In! Mark 12: 41-44 October 18, 2015 Pentecost 21B October 19, 2015

*With much love and gratitude to the people of Lord of the Hills, I preached this on my last Sunday serving as their bridge pastor.

diver

Many of us have the experience of learning to swim. At the beginning of classes we would slowly dip our toes in the water, then up to our waists, and then eventually go under water to learn to hold your breath. In order to learn to swim, you have to learn to go completely under water. The final test, of jumping off the diving board, is one that combines all of the skills and is supposed to increase your confidence of being able to jump in the deep end of the pool and swim to the side. I was not interested in that skill. . .I will confess to you that I took beginner lessons for 10 years and never really passed beginner level 1 as the last part of that test to jump off the low diving board and swim to the side was not for me. I do not like heights nor water and the two of those things combined led to a standoff between me and the instructor usually ending with me walking out to the edge of the diving board and standing there until they let me turn around and come down or the instructor threw me off the diving board. I was terrified of what would happen if I jumped in and couldn’t swim, couldn’t make it back to the edge of the pool. Once I was in the air, I knew I didn’t have complete control of the situation. It was better, it seemed to not jump at all than to risk, what appeared to me, to be certain death.

When I lived on Guam as a child, going to the pool was a nearly daily occurrence. All of my friends would be down in the deep end of the pool jumping off of the diving board, except me. One day, I decided that I would try. I gathered up all of my courage and jumped. I didn’t die. I didn’t drown. My 10 years of swim lessons kicked in and I swam to the side of the pool without drama or incident. I even found that it was a little fun…once I had decided to go all in, I saw what I had been missing. I had been missing the opportunity to truly interact with my friends, know my own limits, my courage and what I can actually do. I learned to trust those things and to trust that the people around me wouldn’t let me drown should something go wrong. It wasn’t fool hardy or death defying but simply a willingness to jump into something greater than all of my fears.

This little lesson has stayed with me in large and small ways. I don’t know about you, but it seems that things go better when I am “all in.” When we only tentatively step out, or just stick a big toe in to test the water, we don’t really see the whole picture and we don’t truly benefit from the experience, positive or negative. Being “all in” is scary, it’s risky but we know that there are situations that call for being “all in.” When we are in a committed relationship such as a marriage, or parenting we have to be “all in.” Or for when we’re in school, when we put our whole selves into learning or a project we are able to accomplish so much more. But we know that we risk so much more as well. If we’re “all in” in a relationship and someone else is not, we get hurt. If we are “all in” on a project and it doesn’t work out as we planned, we risk failing, and we risk losing control.

But there is also a gift and peace to being “all in.” When we are focused on being “all in” the risks seem worth it: love is always worth it, doing the ethical action is always worth it, truth is always worth it, trust is always worth it.

Jesus sat in the temple watching people offer their contributions. Now, many were contributing and that was great. But Jesus points out that many were contributing what made them comfortable and what allowed them to stay in control. Then comes the widow; what she offered was a pittance, nothing, barely noticeable or worth it in some ways. But it was all she had; she was “all in.” You see this little bit of money was her security, her control, her comfort. Yet, she recognized, not really. The amount she had wouldn’t even last her a day. Tomorrow was already risky and uncertain. This woman had the courage to recognize that she didn’t have control anyway, she didn’t have any promises of food, shelter or comfort (let alone luxuries) for tomorrow and that really none of us do. She recognized that putting everything she had in to the collection had nothing to do with money but everything about her relationship with God and the community in which she lived.

By giving all she had, she was trusting in the One who promised to give her everything she needed: love, belonging, caring community, forgiveness and life forever. This unnamed widow knew that God had already gone “all in” with her and all of God’s people, for God withholds nothing. Jesus is pointing out to the disciples that by his very presence among them, God says a big “yes, I’m all in” to humanity and creation. Lyssa, Cobi, and Sara, will say to God, today “I’m all in.” They will affirm the promises made for them at their baptism by their parents, sponsors and the faith community; caring community who went “all in” with them at the beginning of their faith journey. They will recognize the promises of God in their lives that are true and forever. Lyssa, Cobi and Sara, living your lives “all in” for God and God’s people won’t always be easy, it won’t always be comfortable and it won’t always work out the way you might think. But I can promise you that it will always be worth it. It’s always worth it because God is “all in” with you. Never forget that God loves you always, is with you always and promises that always is what you have in the life of God.

I have been blessed and I am grateful for my almost five months serving here with you at LOTH. Thank you for your warmth, thank you for your encouragement and thank you for your love and witness of Christ in your lives and in this place. This congregation embodies what it is to be “all in” with God. Despite bumps in the road, sharp curves and unexpected twists, you all continue to recognize, like the widow, that God is “all in” in Lord of the Hills and that your only response to God’s promises is to also say in word, deed and thought “We’re all in with you, God.” It’s risky, it’s not comfortable, and you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But God is here, God is with you, and God promises to care for your todays and your tomorrows. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we celebrate in the words of Holy Communion today that Torrin, Jack, Toryn, Josiah, Matt, Chloe, Brooke and Kate will participate in for the first time, in the bread and in the wine, we are reminded that being “all in” has a cost, it cost Jesus his life. It does cost us something as well to be “all in,” we have to die to our fear in order to fully live in God’s promises. But being “all in” also focuses us on trusting the love and presence of God and that God works all things for good. God works death into life, suffering into joy, sorrow into laughter, and anxiety into peace. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s “all in” for all people, in all times and in all places.

May God’s “all in” with you comfort you, bring you peace, love and joy now and forever,

 

 

 

Who’s Image? Mark 12: 13-17 October 11, 2015 October 12, 2015

Denarius

*This week is the first week out of six, of focusing on discipleship at Lord of the Hills Lutheran Church in Centennial, CO. We are expanding our stewardship focus to recognize that generosity is a spiritual practice and part of being made in the image of God. We will be using alternate texts to the Revised Common Lectionary.

The Question about Paying Taxes

13 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

On Friday evening I attended the annual New Beginnings ministry fundraiser dinner gala. New Beginnings is a congregation that worships inside the walls of the Women’s Denver Correctional Facility. I have attended worship there a couple of times and each time I am left speechless and in awe of these women who have, through many different paths and circumstances, have landed behind bars. They have made bad choices; they broke the law; they harmed others and themselves. Yet, as they walk into the cafeteria turned worship area, sit in plastic chairs and suddenly they are like any other congregation of God’s people gathered for worship. They are in desperate need of forgiveness, they are in desperate need of love, they are in desperate need of newness; they are in desperate need of Jesus.

These women had tried creating an identity for themselves on the outside that ultimately landed them on the inside. They wanted others to see them in a certain way; they wanted to see themselves a certain way. Image is important when it seems that’s all we have left. Maybe it was the image of being tough, hardened, daring or risky. Maybe they had been told that they were not good, that they couldn’t be anything other than broken, worthless, and lawless. I am always struck by how many of these women aren’t that different from you or me. Perhaps the biggest difference is simply luck, a bit more of a stable family or a few more resources available. These visits of worshiping with the women at New Beginnings, always humble me with all of the privileges and resources that I have that allowed me to make better decisions. We all make poor decisions from time to time, but we have to admit that it’s our context in which we have been immersed that boundaries us. Our view of ourselves partially dictates if our decisions have the potential to land us incarcerated or not. If we are in a context that says we have agency, choice, dignity and worth, we are less likely to take away someone else’s agency, choice, dignity or worth. To whom do we truly belong? A family, a gang, or no one? And what is our true identity?

The world wants us to have and to uphold a certain image: one of wealth, power, status, beauty. We are bombarded each and every day with what we should look like, act like, believe, do, and say. Some of those things are fine and can be life giving. Some of those concepts are ones that tug at our core, that mask who we really are, that deny the pieces of ourselves that hold to a different standard of beauty, power and status.

Just like we heard last week, the Pharisees, once again come to try and trap Jesus. What is it with people who won’t give up trying to get you to be who they want you to be or try and pick at you until every flaw is revealed? This time the Pharisees and Herod’s people were looking for Jesus to denounce the emperor. Now, in the Roman Empire the Emperor was also called Lord, as he was considered a god. To denounce Caesar is to denounce a deity and is punishable by death. Jesus knew this, of course, and also knew the reality of the image of him with the leadership: he was a rabble rouser, a controversial figure, a dissenting voice, but could they also get him to live into an image of a criminal needing punishment?

Jesus saw that the Pharisees, Herod’s people, the crowds, and even the disciples were already trapped; trapped by the world’s economy of keeping up with the Joneses, falling in line with what someone else told you, belonging to an empire, belonging to a system that dictates who you are and what you should try and be. Jesus astutely asks: “Whose head (or image in the Greek) is this?” Of course they answered, “The emperor’s image.” By using the word “image” Jesus is pointing back to Genesis 1-the creation story where humans are made in God’s image. Humans only belong to God, not to a political system, not to a certain economic system, not to a church system, not to any other organization-just God.

The difficulty comes in when we attempt to separate parts of our lives as religious and parts of our lives as secular. We don’t recognize that all people are created in God’s image and belong to God-Criminals, politicians, dictators, those in government, economics and other seemingly ungodly systems. We like to think that we can predict whom and what God loves. Author Anne Lamott writes, “You can safely assume that you’ve created a God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all of the same people that you do.” God creates us, not the other way around and we belong to God, and not the other way around. There is nothing that doesn’t belong to God in our lives. Nothing. God who created the whole earth and universe out of nothingness, declared it good, also declared that everything is part of the very life and heart of God. It’s difficult for us to remember that the people we dislike, the systems we dislike, the organizations that we dislike, also belong to God.

Jesus back and forth on what seems to be about paying taxes, what we do with our money, is really about reorienting the disciples and us to the fact that we cannot separate any part of our lives from God, not our daily lives, not our possessions, not our relationships, and not our money. Our worth to God is simply that we are God’s: not what we wear, not what we own, not what we do, not what we say. Whatever image of ourselves we are trying to project to the rest of the world that isn’t rooted in belonging to fully to God will ultimately lead us to confusion, sorrow and brokenness. I heard stories Friday night that drove that point home. It was only when the women at New Beginnings truly embraced that the only image that matters is that of being in God’s image was when healing, wholeness and clarity began to take root. God’s image included forgiveness, grace, love and most importantly hope.

Living as someone created in the image of love and belonging to the source of that love, God, is powerful. Being in God’s image reminds us that it is God  who is worthy and so we and all people have ultimate worth to God.  It transforms every relationship in our lives;  from relationships with other people, to our relationship with how we share our time and passion for God, to our relationships with our material resources. It transforms our lives from segregation to wholeness where the promise of unconditional love, grace, and hope of Christ permeate each and every second of our lives. These promises from God that began when God blew Holy Spirit breathe into adamma, transform all of creation into the very life of God, where we participate in offering our whole selves, all aspects of our lives for the revealing of God’s kingdom.

In this transformation, we withhold nothing, as God has withheld nothing from us. We answer the invitation into a life of prayer, study, service, generosity, and worship not because it improves our image or gets us anything-what God gives God gives freely-but to invite everyone we come into contact with into the transformation of knowing that the only image that matters is one of being made in the image of God. Give to the world what is the world’s-give back the fear, anxiety, greed, scarcity and hopelessness and give to God what is God’s-joy, abundance, generosity, hope and your whole self. You are God’s precious child, now and forever. Amen.

 

It’s Not About Divorce, Genesis 2: 18-24, Mark 10: 2-16 Pentecost 19B, Oct. 4, 2015 October 5, 2015

Dirt-Hand-980x600

I am a Lutheran gal who loves the Hebrew Bible. I love it because of the richness of the literary genres, the messiness of the history, the complexities of the relationships with God and each other, and the grace that drips from each word from God who never leaves God’s people. Basically, if you want a good soap opera, read the OT. I also love it as it reminds me that there is nothing new under the sun. There is deceit, mistakes, vulnerability, violence, indiscretions, agendas, sorrow, joy, paradox and confusion. That sounds like a just another day in our humanity doesn’t it?! And of course, there are laws, we call them the 10 commandments and all of the “laws” that are in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

The commandments and all of the laws spelled out were intended to help us as humanity plagued by all of the drama I listed above, to remember what we read in Genesis 1 and 2: God created everything, including us, and we are created in God’s image, which is love. Everything in the Bible that happens after Genesis 2 is about humanity’s grappling with God declaring creation and us good, God desiring relationship with us, God desiring us to be in loving relationship with one another. In our Genesis 2 reading, it’s the story of how God created the female. In reality, it’s the second account of how woman, came to be. Genesis 1: 26-27 is the first account which explicitly states that humans were created in the image of God-male and female God created them. Genesis 2 is the second account of creation and God recognizes the loneliness of the earthling man, Adam. Adam was created from the humus, the dirt, and so is a human, literally an earth creature.  God wanted to create for him a “helper.” Now this word gets mistranslated. Any other time that this word for “helper” appears in the OT it refers to a divine helper or to God. So God is making Adam a “divine helper,” not a lesser being, not an afterthought, not someone to do what Adam does not want to, but a divine helper-so divine that this earth creature created in God’s image will continue with creation within her own being.

So bound together are the two earth creatures, that God declares no one will be able to tell them apart. They will appear to be the same and of the same mind, soul and spirit. They will be one. God’s intent for all of humanity-earth creatures-is to be one. Not just married people, but all people. But we know the next piece of the story and sin, brokenness, shame, separation and hurt enter into the relationship of the earth creatures. God created oneness, wholeness, equality, and love. We stumbled onto individualism, separation, hierarchy and hate. God was grieved when we stumbled, but didn’t leave us, didn’t give up but began right then and there redeeming and transforming the earth creatures to live into their true divine image.

But we love the law-we love the law so much that we took 10 commandments and turned them into 617 purity laws to follow. We loved the law so much that we would rather uphold the rules than love and forgive our neighbor. We get stuck in worrying about if we or other people are following the correct laws in the correct way. We worry more about who’s in and who’s out of God’s love and grace than stopping to take the time to see that’s not even the what God wants us to worry about. In Mark, the Pharisees are testing Jesus about the law. It didn’t really matter what law they picked, but they picked divorce. It could have been a law about unclean food, although they had already tried to trap Jesus on that one, so divorce it was. It’s unfortunate, as we now read this passage and assume that it has everything to do with the actual action of divorce, when in truth, it has nothing to do with divorce but has everything to do with refocusing to Genesis 2: we are all created in God’s image for one another but we fail to live into that promise.

It’s not an accident that the writer of Mark moves right into Jesus blessing children and highlighting the importance of everyone to God, even those who in our society and culture have no importance. Jesus is breaking the crowds open to their own love of the law, supposed order and rules instead of God’s order of inclusion, love and transformation.

We saw firsthand on Thursday our love of the law above everything and everyone else. The tragedy that unfolded in OR, had unfolded 274 previous times this year, some with media coverage but most without.  Mass shootings are so prevalent that media can’t even cover them all and only cover the events where the toll on humanity is so horrific that it can’t be swept under the rug. The conversation in the wake of the loss of life on Thursday immediately turned to law. We need more gun laws, fewer gun laws, more laws for helping those with mental illness, regulations on campaign funding by special interest groups like the NRA, more laws on how media covers such events. Now, I’m not here to shy away from taking a stand on these issues, and you may or may not agree with me and that’s ok too.  My father was in the military and I grew up around guns, I’m not a Polly Anna about this, but they were called what they really are in the military…weapons. Guns have one purpose, none other; they are to inflict harm on another of God’s creatures. The conversation is about more than guns, it’s about how we kill each other in so many ways. While I don’t own a gun and will never own a gun, I am just as entangled in the culture of violence, entitlement and hardness of heart as anyone. By living in the U.S. with all of my privileges, I participate in systems everyday that lead to the demise of someone else in the world.

But I will also say that laws will not completely stop this. Maybe it will help but laws don’t transform someone’s heart, mind and spirit. Laws have never been able to do that. Jesus points to the vulnerable children to remind the adults that they were once vulnerable and non-important to society too. Jesus is reminding the crowds gathered and us of our common humanity, our common earthiness, our common creation in God’s image. What transforms us is God’s work begun in Genesis 3 of reconciling all of creation that is now broken, divided, hurting and literally bleeding, back to God. What transforms us is God’s love for all of us. God desires transformation so deeply that God walked among us as Jesus, suffered violence, murder and death-shared in our common humanity-to be raised and to raise us to our common eternal life in God.  We each have God’s divinity in us as evidenced in the two creation stories-we have what we need in us to allow God’s transforming Spirit to fill us, to move us, and to gather us again as one people, divine and equal helpers for one another.

You see, we, like the Pharisees, think that we can regulate relationships, we can put laws on divorce, LBGT brothers and sister, gender rules, racism laws or all of the other ways to try and keep each other in what we consider a proper box. We are complicit in systems that leave some marginalized and forgotten. We forget Genesis 1 and 2 where we are made from dirt, all of us and God gathers us dirtiness and all, for deeper, mutual relationship. This means that we are bound to one another in messy, invasive and uncomfortable ways no matter what laws we enact. We are so bound together that we are one body, one flesh in Jesus Christ, that we partake in each time we gather through bread and wine that crumbles in messes to the floor and spills out all over us. We are so bound together that we do what is best for our neighbor and not only ourselves. We are so bound together that we are called to quit fighting about laws and we simply love and allow God’s transformation. We are so bound together that we must move beyond prayers to actions for true unity and oneness with each other and Christ. Our actions don’t save us but they do point to and reveal to the world that salvation and wholeness that God freely gives for all.

It’s messy, hard and God is present. We must go back to the beginning to see what God has planned for us for eternity. Let’s be as children and allow ourselves to be gathered in Jesus’ arms and not worry about what the law says. Let’s refocus to God’s plan from the beginning of creation: God’s plan that includes you, me, all of us together as one, filled with the transforming love of God, now and forever, amen.