A Lutheran Says What?

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

Come to the Table: Holy Communion 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Sept. 7th, 2016 September 8, 2016

*You can go to http://www.bethany-live.org to view the worship service.

When I was interviewing for the position of pastor of faith formation here at Bethany, one of the topics of conversation came around to how to build community. My answer? It may be very simplistic but it was this: “Feed them!” I personally think that most of our Bethany Fund should be spent on food to gather people. After all, food is central in all of our lives, everyone regardless of any differences, we all have to eat! We need food to physically live, to be healthy and for children to grow up thriving. But I also think we also need food emotionally and spiritually. Eating a meal together reveals a lot about who we are, what we like or dislike, how or where we were raised, (so much of our food preference is geographical). It’s an intimate and vulnerable act, as who doesn’t at least once a meal accidentally spill a little, have something on their face or in their teeth. You can’t always be on your best behavior as you eat and as this is true for all of us, meals are also the great equalizer. The likelihood of a small faux pas is equal among us all. This is why I think so many first dates are meals, or why we invite people we want to get to know over for dinner. We’re willing to risk the vulnerability in order to find out more about people because we know over a good plate of spaghetti a good story will also be told.
Special meals also gather our families and loved ones together at points during the year. Perhaps it’s Thanksgiving at Aunt Jane’s where you know Uncle Joe will show up with questionable stories for the children and questionable behavior. Or it’s Christmas, when certain foods from your family’s heritage are concocted and served along with the stories of the recipes and the history of Great Grandma Mary’s cake. Or birthday dinners where you know an embarrassing story about when you were three is bound to be told. We might face attending these meals with some ambivalence, wondering why we go, yet go we do, to be a part of something, to be connected to the whole of your family and close friends, and to hear the stories once again.
The early church community gatherings revolved around a meal. A real, actual meal. I don’t know if it was potluck or if the host house prepared it or how that worked, but we read in the Bible over and over the importance of gathering for a meal. A meal prepared for three strangers who suddenly appeared from the desert, a meal where all shared what they had and no one had any need, a meal where food purity laws went out the window for the sake of sharing the good news of Jesus will supposed outsiders, a meal where eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread, a meal that proclaimed the promises of God, a meal that binds us as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Gathered around a table, we all sit eye to eye, elbow to elbow, nourishing our bodies together. Even when we sit with people we don’t know, or don’t like or think shouldn’t be allowed at the table. Paul was struggling with this issue with the Church in Corinth. The fledgling church was gathering for meals, but gathering under the auspices of society where some were in and some were out. They forgot the radical invitation to the table from the One who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, the unclean and the undesirable. They had prettied up their tables and were making sure that who was at the table was acceptable by the laws of society and not embarrassing in any way.
When Paul first connected with the people of Corinth, he gathered them not just around food but the story of what truly fills and satisfies, the story of Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus’ love, his love for the whole world to the point of death-not death for the sake of death-but death for the sake of not making choices out of fear, scarcity or despair. Death that could not and would not be the final word. God transformed death into life-abundant life and hope. This story brings everyone in need of this reality, this truth, to the table. All of us are in need of this story and all receive it equally-no one receives more or less, no one gets fancier dishes, no one gets it first or last-but we come as one people to the table where there is room for all and enough for all.
Paul tells the Corinthians the story of the meal that Jesus shared with all of his disciples. Those who loved him, those who would deny him, those who would doubt him and yes, those who would betray him. All were at the table. There was no pecking order, no exclusion for bad behavior or dysfunction, only open invitation into the story of unending love and grace for all no matter where you may be in your own story with God.
So, yes my answer to building community and the Kingdom of God is to feed people. Not because I think it’s a good idea, but because God does. God sent Jesus to walk around with us, turn our few pitiful loaves and fishes into banquets, to fill our nets with more fish than we can eat in a day, a week or a month. Jesus who over and over again sets the table, invites us all to join and fills us with what we need to share the table with our neighbors, coworkers and family. We share the stories of our hearts, of our experience with the difference that Jesus Christ makes in our lives. How Jesus’ love opens us up to see those whom no one else does: those who are hungry, those who are sick, those who are despised, those who no one will eat with. At the meal of Holy Communion, we are part of the story that calls to us to see and sit with on another how God does-with love, mercy, vulnerability and compassion. Every meal we eat is a continuation of the story being in the community of God’s people whether you are at home with your family, eating at work, or eating alone. The promise from Jesus is that every table is sacred space that proclaims the presence of God and God’s promise for abundant life now and forever. Jesus says, “Come. For all is ready.”

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Changed by Water: Baptism August 31st, 2016 Romans 6: 3-4

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 6:46 pm
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*You can go to http://www.bethany-live.org to watch the worship service.

Have you ever walked in the rain? Being from WA and OR, I have a lot. When you walk in the rain, you see how water changes things. Water makes plants and crops grow, water sustains our lives, water cleans the earth, water cleans us. We also know that water causes things to be destroyed: water erodes rocks, in LA we see how too much water destroys homes, water even causes death to animals and people. The news rarely shows us the good that water does, only the harm. Water is everywhere on earth, even if it’s just small amounts, water is powerful and is a source of death and life, it’s constantly changing the world. We use water in our sacrament of baptism (a sacrament is an action that we do as a community to reveal God’s promise of love and life) and it’s a curious thing isn’t it that we pour water, something that can cause us harm, on babies and young children (sometimes older youth and adults).
We tend to think of baptism as part of God’s promise of something a long way off-when we die from this body and earth and live with God. It’s easy to think of this as not something that affects our daily life-today Wednesday August 31st, 2016. Baptism IS partially about what happens when we die from our earthly bodies-baptism reminds us that we are never separated from God and God will gather us up in God’s arms when we die and offer us resurrection-life with God forever. But baptism is even more than that! The new life that Paul is writing to the church in Rome about is about our lives today, right here, right now. Baptism changes our todays, not just our tomorrows.
Baptism is a public proclamation for what God has done for us and for all people. When we pour water over a baby, child, youth or adult, we are saying to the whole world that God names them as a child of God, claims them forever as belonging to and being in the life of God, and is sent out with the love of Christ to be a part of a Christian community, what we call Church, and into the world reflecting the light of Christ. It’s not that before we poured the water, they weren’t part of God’s promises for life, love and belonging, they were, God has taken care of that, we don’t have to worry about who’s in or out. Baptism is important, though, because it’s not about how we die, but it’s all about how we live, how we are changed by God to share love with the world.
Some of this is about earthly death, but it’s also about how sometimes things have to die in us in order for us to do something new. For those of you who are middle schoolers, right now some of your habits are changing, what’s dying is that you’re no longer a young child, but are a new youth. You’re changing! When you were born, your parents way of living without children died and they took on a new life as your mom and dad. Their life changed. Or when you realize that something you do isn’t helpful to you or people around you, you quit doing that habit, or it dies, and you do a new thing, you change. Baptism declares that God wants us to be new, changed people every day. God says to each of us, “I love you and I want selfishness, hate, and fear to die, to be changed to love, sharing, and joy that will grow in you so that other people can be changed by your drenching them in love, sharing and joy.” And here’s the cool thing: God says that we get to try again to change every day, even if we didn’t do that well the day before!
Water poured over us at baptism washes away, destroys, the messages from the world that tells us to look out for only ourselves, keep all our stuff to ourselves and get more stuff, and to be afraid of not being perfect, of not having enough, of all kinds of stuff. Water not only destroys these messages, but also opens us up like a cavern to be filled with what God wants to grow in us. And not someday, but every day! And we do this together, we live in faith together to ensure that all people in the world know the power of what God offers everyone: belonging, love and hope.
Baptism declares that we are changed from grave people to grace people. We don’t look for death in water like the world does, but life. God’s love poured out on us, brings us to life. When we say we’re grace people, not grave people, it means that we look for life, new life, everywhere. After Jesus died and was buried, the women went to the tomb expecting to see death but instead saw that God had raised Jesus to life! Jesus told the women and later the disciples to not look for death when God’s promise of life is everywhere. The followers of Jesus, men, women, boys and girls, saw this new life clearly in their everyday lives, and we too look for new life in all of the seemingly ordinary places we go.
We look for new life in our friendships at school. I’m sure you have all had the experience of not getting along with a classmate or a friend for a while-grace people look for how to pour out forgiveness to change the relationship. Who has fought with their parents, or brothers or sisters? Yep! We all have! Grace people look for ways to say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” in order to pour out a new beginning, new life with those family members. When you think that you’ve messed up beyond a second chance, remember that God says “new life is always here for you. Just as water is everywhere changing what the world looks like, so am I.” There is no where you can go that God won’t be there with the good news that your past mistakes, sorrow and worries die in the promises of God for new life, love forever and joy that grows in us all each day, over and over no matter what to change us and the world. Walk as grace people: wet in new life, drenched in love, and changed by joy. Amen.

 

Who’s Story? Daniel 3 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego

I invite you to turn to page 916 in your pew Bibles, Daniel 3, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace. It’s more than about being rescued from earthly death.
We are exposed to more media in the 21st century than any other time in history and are sent more messages, both subtle and overt of how we ought to think, dress, eat, shop, live, drive and the list goes on and on. We are bombarded by commercial decrees that want us to bow down at their altars of consumerism, immediate self-gratification, egoism, every time we hear their blaring jingles, tag lines or see their logos. By worshiping their goods, services and lifestyles that the corporations offer, their claim is that we will be safe, secure, and right where we should be in relationship to all of our neighbors-you know the ones with the nicest stuff, newest car, and so higher status. All we have to do is remember that money makes the world go around, being comfortable is what life is all about and going along with the masses will make us happy. We are sold the lie that those things will be our foundation, our security, our roots.
This might even kinda work for a while, until it doesn’t. Until we lose our dream job, until we buy more and more and still feel empty, until our spouse leaves us and we’re alone in a culture that supports couplehood, until we don’t have 2.2 children and a dog, until we get sick, until we don’t measure up to the social standards of beauty, until, until, until… Then what? The corporations will tell you that the answer will lie in more things, a new house, a new spouse, just replace your health with something that makes you happy. But then we’re caught in the cycle of measuring up to others, fear, scarcity, and loneliness. We wonder what is wrong with us that we can’t seem to keep it together by the standards of the world. We wonder if God is listening at all, if God is really with us because we don’t seem to be saved from the disasters, maladies and disappointments of life. We want God to do what we want God to do. We begin to wonder if our faith is enough, if we believe or if God’s promises are true. What we are asking is: what is it that really roots us?
The prophetic book of Daniel tells of hope rooted in God. When the southern kingdom of Judah fell in about 587/6, the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and took many of the Israelites away to captivity. In the ancient near east, to have your nation captured meant that your god was not as powerful as the other gods and had lost. The Israelites were influenced by this thinking and so when Jerusalem fell, it might have shaken their faith. So it stands to reason that when a Babylonian king says, “worship this statue,” it would be easy to get distracted away from God and towards the golden image-after all, everyone else was doing it. But there were three men refused King Nebuchadnezzar’s decree-Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Now, I’m sure that they had doubts about their wisdom in refusing king Neb, as they had already lost their homeland, their connections to family and friends and a whole way of life, but for S, M, A to lose their sense of identity as God’s people would have been far worse than everything else they had already lost. Grounded in their trust of God, they stayed focused to the primary roots of their faith, despite siren songs and frightening decrees to find rootedness in golden images.
But you see, they didn’t do this alone, as individuals, but as a community. S, M and A had another friend struggling to stay rooted, Daniel. I imagine that they would have told each other the stories, the same stories we have heard all summer: of God’s word creating the heaven and earth, God’s breath creating humans, God saving Noah and his family through the flood, God’s presence with the Israelites in the wilderness, God providing manna, quail and water, God bringing them into the promise land. Daniel, S, M, A knew these stories from childhood and that these stories all pointed to God’s actions and love from the very beginning. God over and over claiming the Israelites as God’s own, caring for and staying with them. These stories were alive in these men and so when king Neb commanded that they denounce their faith or be burned alive, S, M, A had the words, the courage, the foundation to proclaim that no matter what, whether God saved them from this earthly peril or not, they were rooted in something bigger, something beyond what the world considered being saved. They knew that whether they lived through the fire, or died in the fire, they were God’s own beloved and God would be there. Their rootedness wasn’t dependent on what they thought God should or should not do.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did indeed go into the fire, naively, or foolishly proclaiming the trust that even if they were about to die, God was with them. Into the incinerating furnace they went, dressed in their finest clothes, hats, tunics, trousers and other very flammable garment. Three went in. Neb couldn’t resist peeking in on them…would they denounce their faith now? Were they dead already? Three went in…and four were seen in the blaze. God had sent an angel or a messenger not only to be with S, M, and A in the fire but also to send a message to the king and all of the king’s courtiers that God indeed is there, is here, is in the world, with God’s people, offering life with God, whether they are in a fire, or in historic floods in LA, or in disease, or in pain, or even caught in the lonely cycle of consumerism and materialism.
The promise isn’t that believing or faith saves us from the scary realities of the world or that God will be like a cosmic magic 8 ball giving us all of the answers. No, God promise is to love us at all times and in all places. God’s promise is to be present when it’s the most bleak. God sent Jesus to proclaim the love song that drowns out the jingles and siren songs that distract us-the love song of good news that the kingdom of God is not just near but here but here for all people. The good news that we can step out of the cycles that proclaim only death, pain, fear and scarcity in which we are all too easily entrapped. We can step away from the golden images, and step into the love, life, abundance and hope rooted in God. We may walk through fire, we might get singed but we walk confident that God walks with us and we walk together, in community, telling each other the stories of God’s promise of life, the story of the empty tomb-God refusing to let death be the last word for us. In the celebration of baptism, we pour water and profess like S, M, and A, that no matter what we experience in this life, we trust in God’s promise to name us, claim us and to never leave us. This morning Kayla and Kyle will profess this faith and we will promise to be part of their community to tell them the stories over and over in order to drown out the stories the world will try and tell them. Ron Swanson claimed this promise this week and his witness to telling the story of God’s love, will live on in each of us.
Like S, M, and A, together as God’s people we witness to this good news and help keep each other from being distracted. I invite the children, and anyone who has a bag to bless this morning. You may have noticed or heard that we will have a Bible Verse of the Month. Beginning today, every four weeks or so we will all together learn a new Bible verse that we will allow to dwell in us, grow, ruminate and live with us in our daily lives. We will experience the verse in worship, meetings, bible studies, the Beacon, our Facebook page, in our Friday email, through music, all kinds of practices. Our first verse you will find on the front of your bulletin, Romans 10: 15b, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.” We take the good news of Christ with us into our daily lives no matter where we go. We come to church to hear the story of God so that we can learn it really well and can tell our friends, neighbors, teachers, anyone about God. How many of you are beginning school and fall activities? It’s good to remember that our feet that God created, take the love of God everywhere we go. We are giving cross keychains to go on your bags so that other people in your schools, soccer teams, grocery store, dentist or dr offices, work places, will know that your feet bring something special. The cross will remind you to tell people about God’s love and that God is always with them. If someone is sad, or worried, or sick, you can say to them: you may not know it, but God loves you and is with you right now! Just like God was with S, M, A in the fire, (and don’t you think that they were scared?), God is everywhere with you. Even scary places, especially scary places. Really. How many of you think you can tell two people about God this week? (Hand out the keychains)
Prayer: God, we tell your story so that everyone will hear it. Thank you for sending us out with our beautiful feet to be your love in the world. Amen.