A Lutheran Says What?

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

We Can Learn a New Trick! June 1, 2016 Wednesday Worship: Pondering the Parables Luke 5:33-39 June 23, 2016

A friend of mine has embarked on a new vocational adventure after years as a CIO of large corporation. He took his observations and learning from his many years of leadership in the technology world and created a company with his wife called People Before Things. After all his years in corporate America, Chris observed that when you put people and their needs first in an organization, change was smoother. That didn’t mean catering to individual agenda’s or preferences, but acknowledging that collaboration, community, and relationships deeply mattered. It also doesn’t mean that you back down from change or trying something new, but understood that some would get it and some would not. You can’t make everyone happy and it’s very difficult to combine new technology into old technology. The two systems often couldn’t speak to one another. A new system meant, just that, a new system. You could maybe patch it together for a while, but that would never be a sustainable long term solution. New required full by-in. So the tension of leadership is inviting people into a vision of the new, affirming that change is hard and yet, uncompromisingly moving forward in a direction that is life-giving for all.

I’m often struck as a church leader how sometimes the supposed “secular” world has better paradigms and strategies for change than the Church, whose whole reason for being is to declare that God is doing a new thing and we’re an important part of it. We are people of resurrection, newness, life from death and yet we cling to “the way we’ve always done it” like it’s an oxygen mask on a decompressing plane. What are somethings we think we have to do? We have to do: Sunday morning worship, confirmation, Sunday school, youth group, kneel for confession, etc.

What if I told you that really none of those things might matter to the new generation? What if welcoming those who are not born and raised Swedish/Norwegian/German Lutheran meant that we don’t worry about some of the practices that are really ethnic or geographical in tradition and not actually theological or necessary? What if I told you that ten years from now Sunday morning expression of worship may not be the most central part of being Church? Crazy right?

Here in Luke 5, Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry but already he is catching flak from the institutional leaders. Jesus, pure Jewish people don’t eat with the poor, the diseased, the outsiders, the tax collectors, the unclean. We’ve never done that. Jesus, we always fast and are very pious with our prayers. This is what we do. Your disciples aren’t doing it right. Even John’s disciples are better versed in the traditions than yours. You had better take care of this!

The religious establishment and my guess even some of the everyday lay folk, were deeply confused and genuinely worried about this itinerate, street preacher and healer who didn’t seem to understand the way it has always been done. Someone had better set him straight before too many people began to think that not fasting, and hanging out with unclean people were ok activities!

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is one that pierces at our hearts today. God is doing a new thing. You can’t take a patch of the new kingdom and simply graft it onto the old one. The integrity of the new kingdom is lost. And you can’t take new wine and put it in old wineskins. The old wineskins simply can’t handle the growth of the new wine-they will burst and then all is lost. New wine needs new wineskins. God’s new kingdom needs new structures and new rules. Rules that don’t exclude certain people and require certain behavior to fit in, but rules that allows for all to be included and invited into because the only rule is love. Complete and whole love of God and neighbor.

But Jesus knows that it’s not as simple as telling the Pharisees or us, that preserving traditions that aren’t rooted in God’s love for all people in all times and in all places is not what God is all about. Jesus knew that we would have to witness first hand that this kingdom of God is not about being comfortable, status quo, resting on laurels and security. Jesus very presence was a new garment and new wineskins. Jesus came to show us that God’s primary concern is for the wholeness of all people and creation over the things of worldly structures that kept some people on the margins and not in full community. Jesus very presence heralded God’s proclamation that nothing can stay the way it is. It’s not that traditions are bad, but rituals and traditions unexamined and done just for the sake of doing them and not for the sake of love of God and neighbor, always need to be rethought. When we put our neighbor first, ahead of our own comforts and preferences, we proclaim the good news of the God’s structure of new life, unconditional love and unleashed hope for all people.

Jesus knows that as humans we will always revert to what is easiest, comfortable and what we know. But Jesus loves us too much to leave us in our comfortableness. Jesus calls us and invites us into this new kingdom where transformation brings wholeness, freedom from what binds us to sin and death and ushers in life, true life where all are valued and loved. Jesus calls and invites us to be the new garment for all the world to see and the new wine for all the world to taste. Jesus calls us to move beyond our culture, our preferences, our own hang-ups to be truly alive in the truth that the gospel, the good news of God’s active Holy Spirit in the world can’t and won’t be hindered by our human brokenness. God’s kingdom transcends those human structures and bursts them like old wineskins for a new thing to grow. It might at first taste bitter, like new wine, or not be as comfy as an old, worn garment, but God created us with the capacity for new, to grow, to participate in what God is up to around us. God promises to never leave us alone as we step out into this newness and is always on the road with us, even when we can’t recognize God’s presence.

Even while we have ancient traditions that announce the in-breaking of the kingdom of God-water, bread and wine, God is always doing a new thing through them to guide us and call us into this new economy where there is only abundance and room for all. Water, bread and wine are not exclusionary markers of God’s kingdom but radical inclusionary markers that no one is left out of the newness that God is pouring into the world. God is pouring that newness into each of us every single day. We are sent into the world as workers with God in this newness. God continues to work in us, through us, and with us for the sake of love. God’s promise is that you, all people and all creation will always come before the things of this world. No structure, tradition or rule will keep you or anyone else from the love of God. Thanks be to God for that!

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People of the Story (And It’s a Good One!) Genesis 1 May 29, 2016 Sermon Series: “I Love To Tell the Story.”

I love a good story. I don’t think that I’m alone. For millennia stories have been at the center of the human experience. Stories that told around a fire of ancestors, of hunts, treks, beginnings, endings and truths about this human existence. Stories that are passed down from generation to generation. Stories that are written and preserved for the future. Stories that are shared through music, theater, dance and visual art. Love it or hate it, this is the crux of the popularity of television. Stories, stories and more stories! If the story on channel 9 doesn’t appeal to you, try channel 13! We love to share our own stories too. It’s how we really get to know one another and ourselves. We can offer people facts about ourselves: age, marital status, height, weight (well maybe not weight!), education, etc. Facts are great but they don’t convey the nuance of who we are, what our hopes, dreams, visions, passions and gifts entail. When we tell stories about ourselves, we reveal the core of who we are, our primary reason for being. I can tell you that I am 43, have a Master of Divinity and am a pastor but that isn’t the same as telling you that when I was 12, I saw a female pastor for the first time and felt the call to ministry. When I came home from my first confirmation class with her, I said to my parents: “I’m going to be a pastor just like Pastor Julie!” Pastor Julie nurtured this call by having me participate in worship in all kinds of leadership, including reading the gospel lesson on Sunday morning, singing the liturgy and serving communion. She asked me hard questions and allowed me to grow. This story in my life shapes who I am as a pastor today.

And stories do just that: Stories shape us, reveal us, and open us up to new ideas, possibilities and realities. They make room for more stories to bloom from the seeds of the other stories. Pastor Julie’s own story to ministry led to my story.

We forget that Genesis 1-the creation story-is such a story. It’s a story that isn’t about facts, science, concreteness, or details. No, it’s a story that reveals something about who this God of the Israelites in the Ancient Near East is about. You see there are many creation stories from the part of the world what we call the cradle of civilization. Most of them deal with many gods and goddesses who conquer sea monsters as well as lesser deities for control of the earth and humanity. In those stories, creation and humanity are at the whim and disposal of the gods and goddesses and if you anger them, then you get earthquakes, floods, drought, disease and the like. But the Israelites had a different creation story because the Israelites knew they had a different kind of God-they knew one God alone, who interacted with creation and humanity not with vengeance but with grace.

In the Genesis creation story, God, whose very spirit brooded protectively over the face of the waters, created, and not for self-gratification or what creation could do for God, but for the sake of goodness. God’s very word brought land, seas, sky, into being. God created these canvases for more creation. Sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, sea monsters, birds of the air and even creep crawly things were etched on the canvases of sea, land and sky that God first composed. Even when God filled those spaces, more spaces were created in the plants and animals themselves for more creating. God’s creative spirit isn’t a once and done activity, no God loves to see what will happen next and to try new things, witness change and diversity. God created not just one kind of bird but thousands! Not just one kind of animal but millions! And sadly, not just one kind of insect but billions! (We may not understand all that God creates! But that is good news too!)

And God wasn’t done with just plants and animals. God created in God’s very own image. God wanted to know what gift and closeness awaited in the composition of human kind. In creating humans, God was not creating beings to merely perform tasks, to entertain God, or to be scapegoats when things didn’t go well. God created partners for more creation. God wanted more and more creation and so filled humans, us, with the capacity to continue this important work with God. God didn’t need help, but wanted to be full partners and in relationship with us.

In this creation story, the Israelites told the rest of the world what God was truly about. Their God isn’t afraid of sharing power and control. Their God delights in witnessing all of creation living into the fullness of their capacities. God delights in how the lilies bloom in different colors and sizes, how birds have different songs, how elephants sound different than tigers, and how humanity has different languages, gifts, colors and points of view. God delights in sharing the story, sharing creation and sharing the possibilities of new creation.

The Israelites shared with the world a God who didn’t conquer humans but heard their cries, made promises to them, told them when they were wrong, offered a chance to try again, and promised to be with them always. This God was one who was always doing a new, unexpected thing and always offered life, even when it seemed impossible. This God offered hope, mercy and grace from the very beginning-grace is in creation itself. The Israelites loved to tell this story-a story of the truth that God is God of all creation and loves all creation and humanity.

The Israelites could find themselves with God in this story-included and valued for who they were created to be. We, too, find ourselves in the creation story. We find ourselves taken into the promises of God for life, for the opportunity for creative response, and the gift of God’s intimate presence with us. God’s nearness in creation and in us, opens up space for more to be created. God so desires to be near us that God’s creative word of life and promise came to dwell with us, in the flesh as Jesus. Jesus was with God from the very beginning and Jesus’ very presence is creation, creation of tangible love, tangible mercy and tangible grace in order for more love, mercy and grace may be created in the world. Jesus came to show us another way to create with God. We create when we love the outsider, we create when we generously offer our possessions for God’s work, we create when we participate in God’s justice for all to thrive, not just survive, and we create when we trust God’s promises enough to truly rest in Sabbath. Sabbath holds us in the promise that we will have life and have it abundantly not because of our effort, but God’s.

Like the Israelites, we have a different story of creation to tell the world. Not a story of scarcity, fear, entropy, and death that creates more of the same. No, we have a story of God who creates abundance from nothing, hope from chaos, newness from what used to be and life, life forever with God, from death. We don’t simply tell this story, we live it. We practice it here for an hour each week so that we can embody this story, God’s story, the other 167 hours of our week. We splash plenty of water around, as we will on Keira this morning, we offer bread and wine to all and we generously share peace, community and love with one another, no matter what because we know that God continues to create through us. This is the story that the world is desperate to hear. You see the Bible isn’t a fact book or a rule book, it’s a love story. This is why the creation story and the entirety of the Bible is foundational, it contains truth. From beginning to end the whole Bible reveals the truth about who God is: unconditional love that always creates more love. These biblical stories reveal that we are created in this love and continue the story of God’s love that lives in us through the Holy Spirit now and forever. Thanks be to God.