A Lutheran Says What?

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

“Who Are You?” Sermon on Reformation and Repentance October 31, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church at Cherry Hills Village, CO on October 28, 2018. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

The texts were Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Romans 3: 19-28 and John 8: 31-36.

Gather the children after the reading of the gospel. Put on the Halloween Cat ears headband! “I love Halloween! It’s fun to pretend to be someone or something else, isn’t it? What are you all going for as Halloween? Wow! Great ideas! Do you ever or did you when you were younger, play dress up? Why do you think it’s fun to be someone different, or try something new? Yep! It’s fun to explore different pieces of our selves, be silly and have fun! But I can wear cat ears all day long and I’ll never be a cat! But have you ever pretended to be someone you’re not to be someone’s friend or have people like you? Or do you hide something about yourself so that people will think that you are a certain way? Such as pretending to like a song, or movie or an activity? Or even pretending to NOT like someone or something? How do you feel when you aren’t really being yourself? Is it hard? We all do this, even or maybe especially adults. If you’re pretending to be someone you’re not, you have to remember to act a certain way, to say certain things all the time and it can feel like your caught in only pretending and not the truth of who you are. Jesus was talking to some people who were pretending to be someone they weren’t. They told Jesus that they were children of Abraham, and forgot some of their past. You see they were really people of God. They had forgotten the truth that they were God’s people and should be acting like God’s people by taking care of and loving each other. The truth is that no matter who we pretend to be: whether is for fun for Halloween or we’re trying to fit in with friends, is that we are children of God first and God loves us always. And the makes us free from worrying about who will like us or not, or who we should be nice to or not because as children of God, who are always loved, then who do we love? Everyone! So that they know the truth of who they are and that they are free in love too! God gives this gift to us all no matter what! I do really love Halloween because it’s silly and fun. So, here’s a little Halloween treat for each of you. But first let’s pray.

As we talked about with the kids, it’s easy to want to pretend to be something we’re not. Many of us probably have stories of pretending to be someone we weren’t. When I was in the 7th grade, I spent about a week pretending I didn’t need glasses. I am very near sighted and a couple of other issues, and I spent a week not being able to see more than about 2 feet in front of me. But you see, I wanted to be someone else, one of the popular kids at school, and none of the cool, popular kids wore glasses and so it seemed to fit in, I shouldn’t either. Now, it turns out, neither did they play the violin, like Barry Manilow as much as I did, were 4 ft 8, were in advanced classes, or were as church nerdy as I was, but somehow I thought my lack of being with the popular kids had to do with my glasses….yeah. I tried to be something I actually wasn’t and, according to my children, will never be: cool. Nope. No matter how hard I try. I’ll always be a bit nerdy, straight laced, blaring Barry down I-25. I was hoping our hymn of the day could be Copacabana…But it’s who I truly am and I did indeed have friends, friends who knew my heart and liked me for who I was, glasses and all.

Part of being human is experimenting and wrestling with our identity, who we see ourselves to be, who we aspire to be, what we want others to see about us. We convince ourselves that our true selves aren’t lovable and that no one will like us as we really are. We want to belong, even if it means not being true to ourselves, owning our identity and revealing our heart. And this can enslave us in many ways.

And it should be no surprise that this struggle unfolds in our biblical witness. The Israelites have this identity crisis in spades in our John passage this morning, and we don’t have time in one sermon to unpack it. But let’s suffice to sum it up this way: When they tried to be anyone other than the people of God, it went awry, as it does for us all. Slaves in Egypt, captured by Assyria and Babylon, destruction of the temple, occupation by Rome. It’s a mess. Oh no, we’ve never been slaves, they tell Jesus. I sometimes wonder how many times Jesus rolled his eyes and if he ever worried that they might stick that way. RIIIIIGGHHHTTTTT, you’ve never been slaves. Ok. Fine. Then who are you? Are you more concerned with your image or with your relationship with God? Because God is more concerned about a relationship with you, than anything else, Jesus says, to those whom John simply called the Jews, but were probably some of the religious elite. And we should be careful to not think disparagingly of them, as are we no better in this kind of self-deceit? This is why Jesus is trying to reveal to them and us that our true identity as a child of God, even with a bumpy past, is truly our freedom. This is the freedom that Martin Luther came to know after years of trying to be something he could never be: a person who never sinned. This truth of simply being a beloved child of God, free from fear of displeasing God, free from trying to earn God’s love, and free from rules from the Church, spurred Luther to proclaim this epiphany to all who would listen. Luther didn’t want people to confuse church with God and that being the best cobbler, farmer, parent, or whatever, is doing God’s work in the world. We are free in God’s grace to be whomever God calls us to be and no one should judge. But even Luther recognized that “freedom” is tricky.

Freedom in God’s kingdom is very different than our western, 21st century concept of freedom. Freedom isn’t about self-realization, self sufficiency, individuality or the ability to do whatever you want. Freedom isn’t only about you and you alone. Freedom is linked to relationship with God and so also to your neighbor. Freedom is vulnerability to show your heart, to admit that you need renewal, and to simply be you. You, and each of us, created in the image of God. Freedom is belonging to community, in God’s family, as Jesus says. Jesus shows us that freedom means revealing who we truly are as God’s people. We are people freed to feed, clothe and house those who are unhoused, to comfort those who come to our land seeking safety, peace and a better future. Jesus shows us that freedom is ensuring that our siblings are not harmed or erased by racism, anti-Semitism, or homophobia. Jesus always included in God’s grace people whom the rest of the world dismissed, freeing them from labels and marginalization. Jesus was clear that true freedom is to adhere to the law of love, not just of self, but of your neighbor. Our first graders have spent the last two weeks learning about this freedom in the law of love and will share that today in worship. True freedom is to allow God’s love and grace to transform and reform our hearts and lives daily for the sake of the world. We pray with our Jewish siblings, as we all lament the senseless loss of life of 11 beloved children of God. We must also confess the sin of anti-Semitism that has been perpetuated in the past by our denomination and reform ourselves to do so no more.  May our hearts and lives be transformed and reformed so that we all seek peace, harmony and the abundant life that Jesus offers for all people.

This is heart of the Reformation story from our past and for the Reformation story that we continue to write today. Reformation isn’t a historical action that is completed but is a truth about God’s continuing actions in our lives and in the world today. Reformation is the truth of the soul of God’s Church on earth. Reformation demands that we stop pretending to be anyone but whom God created us to be. Reformation demands that we pour our gifts and hearts into the world despite the risk, despite fear, despite differences, to reveal our true identity as imperfect, broken yet beloved people of God, called to invite all people have an experience of this God who gifts grace, love and mercy unconditionally. Reformation is an invitation to all people to trust in the promises and freedom in God. God’s promises free us to be Reformation people, always being made new, so that we can live into the truth of who we are, and whose we are. As God promised in Jeremiah, God will always be our God and we will always be God’s people, we simply can’t be anyone else. And it’s enough. Thanks be to God.

 

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Broken Pieces Sermon on Mark 10: 2-16 October 9, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on Oct. 7, 2018. It can be viewed on http://www.bethanylive.org.

The texts for this Sunday were Mark 10: 2-16 and Genesis 2: 18-24

Gather the children up front and ask them if they have ever had a favorite toy or other object break. How did they feel about they broken toy/object? Was it able to be fixed? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Not all things can be fixed. This is a bracelet that a dear friend made for me about 14 years ago. I loved it so much and wore it all the time! But then it broke. I didn’t fix it but I’ve kept all the pieces all these years. I sometimes feel like this bracelet looks, all scattered in lots of pieces. Do you ever feel that way? Feel like one of your broken toys? What helps you to feel better?  We all get sad about things breaking, friends moving, or someone no longer being our friend. Things break, sometimes our friendships break and our hearts break too. In our Bible story this morning, there were some people who wanted to Jesus to tell them that some people are too broken for God to love and accept. Jesus instead says that God is all about putting us and our broken hearts back together. Jesus says God wants our hearts, our lives and US to be whole, to be loved and to know that we are important to God. In our Genesis story we heard about God creating people to be together. I handed out to some of you pieces of a big puzzle, let’s put it together: it’s a big heart! We needed all the pieces to make a whole heart! What happens if I take a piece away….yep, it’s not whole. We all matter to God, God understands that our hearts get broken and sent us Jesus show us how God’s love makes us whole again. God, through Jesus, takes broken people and the broken world and makes us whole. We tell each other about this promise of God, like Jesus did in our story, by giving blessings. Jesus blessed the children by a safe touch-on the head or hand-and said words of love to them. Can we say words of love to each other this morning? How about “you matter and are loved by me and by God.” As you go back to you seat, tell the adults around you “you matter and are loved by me and by God.”

We all know what it is like to be broken and we can feel like this bracelet. And we live in a society that tells us to throw away broken things as they don’t have any value and we then extrapolate that to ourselves. It’s been a long week for me of hearing about brokenness. I had jury duty on Monday and the case was sexual assault on a child and those of us in the jury pool were asked to disclose our personal or familial experiences with sexual assault or abuse. All day long stories of pain and brokenness were spoken. I wanted to cry at many points overwhelmed by the sheer preponderance of pain. Then there are the two young people who died by suicide this week from Arapahoe High School. We can only guess at the brokenness that those young people were experiencing and our hearts break with their families and friends. And then the Lutheran Church of Australia once again voted down the opportunity for women to be ordained revealing the brokenness of even religious institutions. And then there is the brokenness being played out on the national stage this week. No matter where you may be on the judicial hearings, we can all agree that this is human brokenness and pain spilling out into the hearts and minds of an entire nation and it’s not what God intends for anyone. I won’t lie, my pastor heart is weary this week.

We all want to have value, worth, to be heard and believed and so we work hard to hide our brokenness or pretend like we’re not. We cover up our pain with anger, blame of others, or we over work, over eat, over drink, over shop, over exercise, or over sleep. Yet, we have these passages this morning that make us look differently at what God does with broken pieces, our pain and systems that devalue some people while over valuing others.  Unfortunately, this Mark passage, as well as the Genesis text, has been misused in the Church and culture to perpetuate brokenness and pain. We forget that these are ancient texts from a particular time and place and aren’t meant to be taken literally in our context today. Marriage simply doesn’t work the way today that it did 2000 years ago, as it was about clan alignment and property.

It also helps to remember that these stories are a part of a bigger story, God’s love story to us. The creation story of humans in Genesis was never meant to form a hierarchy of importance or to limit what people or relationships could look like and our English translations aren’t overly accurate. “Helper” or Ezer in Hebrew, is used in the OT several times and most often refers to God. It means “divine help”, not subordinate help. And “partner” better translates to “correspondent” or “equal.” This is a story of the creation of togetherness in humanity. God takes a piece from the first human, adamah which means dirt, and isn’t actually gendered as male, and creates a second human. Only with the creation of the second human do we get the creation of gender. God creates community from pieces. The now male and female, created equal, are also created for one model togetherness, but not the only model of togetherness.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus questions about divorce, they are looking to test him about this “togetherness.” What happens in divorce Jesus? They were trying to isolate Jesus from gaining any more traction with the crowds, as Mark tells us that people are listening to Jesus and flocking toward him. Jesus’ ministry addresses the isolating pain of ordinary people’s everyday challenges, personal and systemic, head on-healing the sick, casting out demons, returning the unclean to community, providing abundant food from scarcity to fill bellies. Jesus is creating community, togetherness, and not just any kind of community, but community where all matter, all have a voice (especially those who are on the outside of society-women and children), no one is isolated by social or religious laws and brokenness and fear don’t have the last word. You see, Jesus takes the question of divorce and turns it into a statement about God’s desire for togetherness-for all people. In God’s definition of togetherness-all matter, all are needed to create the whole. There is not anyone who is outside of God’s community and it matters how we treat one another.

Jesus is also pointing the people and us to the cross. Jesus knows this is where he is headed because of the brokenness of humanity as both the Roman Empire and the religious institution are more concerned about power, authority and control than on the dignity and flourishing of God’s creation. When Jesus gathers the children to him for a blessing, Jesus is foreshadowing the gathering of all creation through the cross. Jesus himself will be bodily broken, holes in his feet and hands, pierced in his side. Jesus tells his disciples this fact at the last supper, when he says, this is my body broken for you. My body broken so that you and all of creation can be made whole. Redemption and reconciliation, means God using pieces, broken pieces of us, of our neighbor, of systems, to create wholeness, Shalom wholeness where all people know that they matter, that their brokenness does not make them outside the beloved community of God, but central to it. Our brokenness becomes the beautiful mosaic of creation where God is at work healing systems of injustice and pain bringing us together for the sake of the wholeness of one another. I am not whole without you, and you are not whole without me. We are not whole without the people in Denver, and they may not know it, but they are not whole without us. This is the blessing from Jesus, the words of love offered from a manger, from the cross and from the empty tomb. This is the blessing that Jesus gives the children and we are called to give each other and to all people no matter if we agree with them, can accept their brokenness and pain or not. We might feel like this bracelet today, but this brokenness is not the last word from our redeemer, healer and savior.  We are created for wholeness and to be together in love for the blessing of each other and the world. Hear Jesus say to you: You matter and are loved by me and God.