A Lutheran Says What?

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

Burned Out An Ash Wednesday Sermon March 6, 2019 March 7, 2019

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO on March 6, 2019. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts for the day were Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 6: 1-21

 

We live in what many psychologists call a “burn out” culture. We have 24 hour news cycles, constant connectivity, the ability to work from anywhere, anytime, the mentality of “work hard, play harder,” the idol of busyness, the pressure to have the perfect home, family, physique, diet, the list goes on and on. We have never ending “to-do” lists and feel the pressure of not being worthy or enough. So we put on masks to cover up our unworthiness, the pressure, the tension and even figure out how to glorify the masks. “Oh I’m so busy!” we say! Translated, that means, “aren’t we so important to people and without us it all falls apart.” Another translation could be “I need to be needed and without being busy, needed and noticed by everyone, I’m a nobody.” So, with that tape running through our minds, we think we have to hustle for our worth, we keep on our masks of self-importance and perfection-until we can’t. We burn out. Sometimes it’s subtle and we simply become exhausted and take a break and try to reorder our priorities. But sometimes, it’s more insidious, isn’t it? It’s a health diagnosis, it’s depression, it’s destructive relationships, it’s doubling down on power and control in our own lives or tightening that mask of the image that we show the world, while internally we are literally dying, becoming ashes, dust.

We’ve all experienced some form of “burn-out,” I know that I have. I reach a point where I’m not really me, not the best version of myself to anyone, anywhere. I slip on the mask of strength, perfection, having it all together, the perfect wife, mother, pastor. But here’s the thing about masks: they aren’t built to stay on. Eventually, it will slip, and then I’m grateful for family, friends, trusted colleagues who see beneath my mask and say, “hey this mask isn’t really you. This isn’t who I know you to be. How can I help you recover your true self, your true identity and come into new life?”

On Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, we start with the reality of our masks. We admit that we are burned out of the masks we wear, of trying too hard, and we are afraid of being a pile of ashes. We are weary of being in the dark of our masks. We long for light, life, freedom, truth, grace. We long to be reassured that we are loved but we cling to the fear that we need to earn love. So we end up sliding those masks right back on, even though we know that they aren’t really us.

These masks are not new to modern times. Jesus names these masks in our Matthew reading as hypocrisy. Jesus points out the masks of religious piety, of putting on a mask of self-importance, worth, and pride are as much an issue as the other masks that we might try on. Religious rituals themselves are not the issue, doing religious rituals to prove your worth is wearing the mask of false identity. You are not created to serve you, you created for relationship with God and neighbor. You were created to bring your true and whole self into the light, to be the light of Christ.

Giving alms publicly means nothing if you withhold basic needs from your neighbor in private. Praying out loud with eloquent words and complex sentence structures means nothing if your everyday words to your neighbor are cruel, unloving, oppressive, homophobic, racist, sexist, classist, and hurtful. Showing that you are fasting means nothing if in the rest of your life you serve your own interests, as Isaiah writes, you hoard and take more than you need with no thought of others. It’s a lot of energy and work to act one way in public and be someone else in private. It can burn you out.

Jesus invites us to take off the masks of hypocrisy, to expose our true identity, to be God’s own people of light. The return to our authentic selves, unmasked, vulnerable and beloved. This is a rich gift that never fades, never breaks, and can never be taken from you. It’s from where true life flows. This new life is what God promises to do with the ashes of our masks, the pieces of us that burn away when we turn again to trust God for all of who we are and all that we need. This is why Jesus teaches what we now call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, Mark and Luke. This prayer has simple and unpretentious words that names us as God’s own, names us as worthy, grounds us in accountable and beloved community and reorients us to the reality that we can’t control our lives, we can’t hide behind our masks of independence, autonomy, busyness, perfection or ego. They are words with which we can cry out from the dark to the Lord, our parent, and God responds: Here I am. They are words that each time we say them together as the people of God, breathe new life into our ashes, the dust of who we are and remind us that the promise is indeed there is abundant life in being who God created us to be, instead of trying to be someone else. The Lord’s Prayer names our treasure that we are God’s here on earth and for all of eternity.

We all come to a place where we burn-out, we are a nothing more than dust and ash. As our masks slide off, we call out to God and God responds with the light of Christ and the truth of being sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. This cross that is placed on our foreheads is dirty, messy, and imperfect, but it reveals the truth of what is behind our masks: that we are worthy just as we are, deeply and unconditionally loved and set free to be who God truly created us to be. We are reflections of Christ’s light and love to a world that is hiding in the darkness of their masks and to hear the words: Remember you are God’s and to God you shall return. Thanks be to God.

 

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We Build Up Sermon on the Faith Practice of Encouragement March 5, 2019

This sermon was preached on February 3, 2019 at Bethany Lutheran Church. You can view it at http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts are Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, 1 John 3: 18-24, Luke 12: 22-34

Children’s sermon: Do you ever have a day where everything seems hard and you worry about everything? Maybe even friends say things that aren’t kind and we feel bad. Show me what you might look like on those kinds of days. Yes, we might slump over, hang our head, make ourselves small. But what about when you are having a hard day and someone says something that makes you feel better? Such as “I’m sorry this is hard, but you can do it!” or “I’ll help you!” or “You are good at this!” Show me how you might look then: Yes, we stand up a bit taller! We feel bigger and more solid. We feel built up. We just heard three bible stories on how God wants to build us up. God wants us to have life, love and freedom from worry. All really good things and they are hard to remember. Sometimes we get confused about what is important and we worry about things.  Have you ever worried that you weren’t smart enough, or tall enough, good enough at something or had the right clothes to wear? Yeah, me too! Adults do this all the time too, we just don’t admit it.  Do you know what encouragement or to encourage means? Yep! It means we build each other up! This is the sign language for encourage. It’s the faith practice that we are exploring in worship today and in our cross + Gen faith formation. The middle of the word encourage is courage which means strength and “cour” which means “heart” in French. So when we encourage each other or God encourages us-we are building up each other’s hearts and God builds up our hearts with words of love. And there is plenty to go around! Telling someone that they are special or good at something doesn’t take away from our specialness or talents.

God builds up our hearts by giving us words of life, of remembering to love Jesus, to not worry, to trust God and to build up other people’s hearts. How can we build other people up? We happen to have a holiday that is all about hearts coming up. Valentine’s Day! We give cards and treats that remind our friends and family that they are loved by us and God! These are words and actions of encouragement that build each other up and build us together as a community of God’s people! I have Valentine’s here for each of you.

Encourage is a concept that we often water down to mean cheerleading or affirmation yet, in my own life, I’ve learned it’s so much more than that. I’ve recently discovered the Netflix show Marie Kondo’s the art of tidying up. Have you heard of this? She had a book a few years ago and now she has a show. I didn’t read the book, as I consider myself, especially at home, don’t look in my office, a tidy person. I don’t like clutter and as a military kid, living in military housing, you were not allowed to leave for school unless your bed was properly made, your things all put away and the bathroom picked up. we were inspected once a month and we never knew when. So, I never did the messy teenage room thing and when our kids were teens I couldn’t understand the piles of clothes on the floor and beds unmade. It’s completely foreign to me. So, I honestly eschewed Marie Kondo’s tidying ways at first, assuming the Air Force regulations and my time in Japan were sufficient. But the other night it popped up at the top of our Netflix stream and I was mesmerized. You see, I discovered that it’s not about just tidying, it’s about joy, gratitude, relationships and building people up, giving them courage to be all of who they really are.

Marie begins by entering the home, greeting the family, and then kneels on the floor to give thanks to the house for offering protection and safety and to honor the tidying that is about to occur. Often the home owners tear up. You see this isn’t about how big or fancy the house is or how to make the house better. It’s not Fixer Upper or My Lottery Home, it’s about focusing on the correct thing: what kind of life they want to live.  Houses are simply a place where life is in proper perspective and you can be who you truly are, a space for your heart and spirit to be nurtured and built up. Marie, with her wide, gentle smile and breezy Japanese,  asks people the hard questions about how they want to live and who they are. She tells them to connect with what brings them joy and then discard the rest. She shares with them her own imperfections and struggles, she’s quick to make sure that the families know that she’s not better than them, just on a different point on the path and can walk with them because she knows the way. She reveals her heart to them. Marie is clear that this is hard work but they are not alone. She shows them that their heart and relationships are their treasure and who they truly are, not their things. She gives them courage to be their true selves and not hide behind stuff, worry or fear.

This is the truth of building someone up or encouraging them. Building up is heart work, as I told the children.  It strikes at the very core of who we are and who God is. I was struck this week, that really any bible passage would work, as the faith practice of encourage weaves through the entirety of the biblical witness. God offers prophets such as Moses, community leaders such as the writer of 1 John and Jesus, and God’s own son, to build us up, to reveal God’s heart, to ask us hard questions about how we want to live, to point us to who we truly are and gives us each other as  community on the path of faith together. Encourage is a faith practice that can simply not be done alone. Together we are built up and reminded of the truth that we indeed have life-the joy of living in our identity as God’s children together in community but death-living in the identity of the world that focuses on self, status, material wealth, and privilege, is pulling on us too. Choosing death might seem easier in our culture, after all the world tells us that it’s all about us, our stuff, the size and expensiveness of our homes, cars and other possessions. If we don’t have those things then we are no one and we should worry, be afraid and work harder to attain those things. But it leaves our hearts deep in clutter, over stuffed and overwhelmed by things that don’t bring joy.

In Luke, Jesus encourages us and says don’t worry, don’t be afraid and focus on what matters, true treasure, offering your heart to God and neighbor. Discard everything else. This is courageous behavior and it requires our whole selves. Jesus calls us as disciples and builds us up to live as God’s people so that we can offer our hearts to build up people who need to hear of God’s love and grace-to walk with them, to point to hope and true joy. Not with only kind words but with our actions. It takes real courage, strength of our hearts, to say “no” to our own wants and desires in order to build up our neighbor in need. As God’s people we are called to build up our neighbors who do not have shelter, food or clothes by providing those things without judgment or critique. We build up our neighbors who are invisible to the rest of society: people who are the differently abled, black and brown, LBGTQ or simply different from us by seeing and standing with them. We build up our neighbors when we listen and put aside the need to be right in order to hear their perspective, we build up our global neighbor when we  reflect on how we in the US often live at their expense, and we build up people we’ve never met, even at the cost of our own wants or convenience. Jesus tells us that there is a cost to living as disciples, it takes courage, strength of our hearts, to follow God’s heart for the world. Jesus should know, he paid with his life.

The cost of following Jesus and practicing encouragement will be the death of our egos, desires and privilege but will raise us be courageous witnesses to new life in Jesus of love, joy, gratitude and grace.  Our hearts and lives are built up by what matters, joy in the promises of God for love and life through Jesus Christ, today and forever.  Okage de kami ni narimasu. Thanks be to God.