A Lutheran Says What?

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

We Are a Sign: Sermon on Luke 21 year C November 17, 2019

This sermon was preached on Nov. 17, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Malachi 4: 1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Luke 21: 5-19

Children’s sermon: Gather the children and have some different kinds of signs printed off. Ask what the signs say. Why are there signs all around us? Some are safety, some want us to buy things, some are confusing, some are scary, some are old and aren’t relevant anymore. But there are signs all around us. Signs are not only words on a board and a stick, but can be actions or words of people, or some people see signs around us of what God might be trying to tell us. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes, it’s not-so it’s very difficult to know. But Jesus tells us that signs aren’t always what they seem to be and so not to get too concerned-pay attention, but don’t worry too much. That when life seems scary or sad, or hard or confusing, look for signs of God’s love, because signs of God’s love and care are already all around us. AND we are to be signs of God’s love in the world with the words we say, with our actions, with our whole lives. We are a sign from God to the world! If you had to wear a sign about God’s love, what would it say? I have this poster board and some materials for you to make a sign to share about God’s love in the world. Let’s pray:

There are signs everywhere and we like to try and interpret them or to make sense of them. As I talked with the children, signs are a common part of our lives and most of them are easy to understand, such as traffic signs, which door to use at a restaurant, where the exits or restrooms might be in a building. But then there are signs that we’re not sure about. The stock market going up and down, nations invading nations, genocide, unpredictable weather causing floods, fires, droughts, and crop failures, buildings crumbling, our own health changes (what does that new ache mean?), off-hand comments from a supervisor or colleague that make you take notice, changes in your child’s behavior, changes in your parent’s behavior, is it a sign of something serious? Is it a sign of ominous things to come? Or a sign that life will get better? Which is it? I need to plan! I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, if “A” happens then will “B”? What’s a sign that I can make sense of and trust?

This wondering leads us to put our faith in objects and institutions that we feel will help us to interpret all the other signs. We want to find what will never change and never crumble. Our trouble comes when we choose objects and ideas that indeed inevitably will and have to change because they always have been changing, albeit perhaps so slowly that we don’t notice. This was the case with the disciples in our Luke text today. They had just witnessed the faith of the widow placing all that she had into the temple treasury-despite her poverty-a testimony of her trust in God. The very next thing the disciples did, where we pick up the story today, was to comment on how the temple was so beautifully adorned from all the gifts dedicated to God. The temple was a sure and steadfast sign, a testimony, of God’s presence and sovereignty and seemed so stalwart that nothing could ever destroy it. But Jesus, probably shaking his head a bit, says, all of this, what you think is a sign of God’s reign, is not. It all can and will come down. These would be concerning words for the listeners, for what they were hearing, questioned the very presence of God in the world. The belief in Jesus’ time was that the Temple is where God was so the Temple coming down would be a huge cause for concern and planning. When will this happen? What are the signs?

Jesus acknowledges that life is unpredictable. Jesus doesn’t try and sweep under the rug the realities of war, famine, health crisis, discrimination, human suffering, human impacts on creation, even the destruction of the temple, which would herald an end to the Israelite/Jewish tradition as they knew it. Jesus says yes, those things will happen and we will need to face them head on. But they are not a sign of the end, they are not a sign of God’s disfavor with us or creation, these hard realities are a sign that our testimony, our witness of God’s presence and love in all times and in all places is more important than ever. When death and destruction seem to have won the day, this is when testimony to God’s promise of life matters most.

Bearing testimony is not a common topic for conversation or a sermon in the Lutheran church, which is interesting because it’s the very foundation of our denomination. Martin Luther bore witness to God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness in a social and political climate that was antithetical and hostile to his testimony of the word of God. He didn’t do it perfectly, let’s be clear, he also did and said some things that were harmful and hurtful to our Jewish siblings and to those in poverty during the peasants uprising, but Luther didn’t back down from doing what he knew was right-bearing witness to God’s love for all and freeing people from the worldview that hardships and difficulties in your life are signs of God’s punishment and you have to earn God’s favor with your actions. Luther’s very life became one of bearing witness to God’s grace and mercy in the world for all people. Luther’s testimony meant that church hierarchies and political systems were in jeopardy, status quo was no longer an option. It was doom and gloom for those in power and authority and out of self-preservation the powers and principalities condemned Luther’s witness. But despite fear, Luther held fast to the promises of God. He understood that things would look bleak before real transformation could occur. Luther trusted in God’s ongoing creative work of redemption, that God was always doing a new thing in people and in institutions and that God would never leave him.

We get so caught up in trying to interpret the threatening signs in the world that we forget, that like Luther, we too are signs for God’s transformational work in the world. How we live, how we treat each other, how we sing a new song in every time and in every place as the psalmist writes, bears witness to signs of God’s love for the entirety of creation. Ominous happenings in the world, the toppling of institutions, wars, diseases, hardships are never about God’s wrath, or punishment, they are part of life in a broken creation where the full reign of God has not yet been revealed. Jesus reminds us that we aren’t to be frightened and isolate ourselves or think that we’re too insignificant or unimportant to make a difference. As the people of God, we don’t live in idleness, we live boldly proclaiming to all, including powers and principalities the good news with whatever words of wisdom God gives us. And more than only words, God will also give us the actions of wisdom we need for this proclamation. Wise words and actions can bring down stone by stone unjust systems that discriminate against some while privileging others. Wise words and actions from God feed the hungry, ensure clean water for all communities, meet the needs of youth in our neighborhoods, offers safe, loving and affirming community for people of all genders, sexual orientations, race, color, socio-economic status, ability and health. With God’s wisdom, we won’t grow weary in doing what is right, of what builds up and cares for our neighbor despite risks to ourselves. Let us make up our minds to let our lives will sing a new song of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness through Jesus Christ. Jesus time and again witnessed to God’s love, reconciliation and healing of humanity and creation with more than words but with his actions and on the cross with his very life. Jesus, God in our midst, is a sign of what radical love can do. Jesus’ love transforms religious and political systems, creation and our lives today and every day, so that there will indeed be the Day of the Lord, a day when no one is oppressed, marginalized or discriminated against. A day when God’s justice rolls down like waters, a day when all people are protected, cared for and not one hair on anyone’s head is harmed, a day when all that divides us comes down stone by stone, and a day when every life will be a testimony, a sign, of God’s healing, love, and transformation of all hearts, minds, souls and the world through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

 

Renewed for Life: Dangerous Hope Sermon on Luke 20: 27-38 November 14, 2019

This sermon was preached on November 10, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Job 19: 23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17
Luke 20: 27-38

Children’s sermon: Do you ever worry about something? What do you worry about? Yeah, we worry about lots of things don’t we. Worry can be ok, as worry can sometimes help us to make decisions, but often worrying can keep us from focusing on what is actually important. Have you ever worried about the wrong thing? Such as worried about what a friend thinks of you to the point that you ignore other friends who then might get upset with you? Yeah, we can worry about the wrong stuff as people of any age. Our bible stories for today are kinda odd, but they are essentially about worrying about the wrong thing. We heard some questions from people worried about what happens when we die, or when Jesus comes again-but Jesus says, don’t worry about that! We don’t have to worry because no matter what, God loves us, is with us and never leaves us. So if we don’t have to worry what should we do? Jesus says we should do what God does, offer life! God offers life to us in so many ways-how do you see God in your life? Yep! All great things! God wants us to spend our lives offering this same life to other people. Today we are talking about offering life as the church to the community around us. We can offer life to people by spending time with them, by working with people with a special gift we have or with our money. The adults will be turning in what we call a pledge card and it’s about how we will offer life with all of who we are as well  our money. You have something to offer too. I have these cards that say “I offer to God” and you can write or draw with this dry erase marker how you will share God’s gift of life with people. When the adults come forward with their cards, you can drop yours in the basket too! Every gift matters! Let’s pray:

This might seem like a counter intuitive statement, but we live in a culture preoccupied with death. Now, the real challenge is that we don’t talk about it or acknowledge in healthy or forthright ways, we dance around the deeper questions to worrying about our physical bodies. Watch tv for five minutes and you’ll see products to make you look younger, take away gray hair, exercise programs to keep you thin, products that make your joints less creaky (ok that one is speaking to me some days), whiten your teeth and even more invasive medical procedures to give you back the body you had when you were young. Sucking out fat, removing wrinkles, lifting things, and the list goes on and on. We worry about our aging bodies, we worry about the future and we worry about dying. We are really trying to control the future. We want to control what happens next in our lives, we want some certainty about how our lives play out and ultimately what happens when we die. We’re afraid of the unknown, and when we’re left to our own speculation, we try and shape what happens next. We’re preoccupied with death-but so much so that I’m not sure how many of us are really living.

This is also true in religious institutions. In the ELCA, we’ve heard the alarm bell clanging of “we are a dying institution.” And not just ELCA but all mainline protestant churches (UMC, UCC, Presbyterian, Episcopal). As mainline, we’ve watched rapid decline of attendance and participation in the past 20 years and in response a whole slew of books, speakers, conferences, blog posts, and FB conversation threads have popped up all with the idea that if we could just find the right answer, find the key, the silver bullet, then we could return to the good old days and we could be comfortable knowing that we’ve got this church thing under control. If the church could just look like it used to, it would be great! We wouldn’t be living in fear of the “what happens if all this goes away,” what if it looks different and wondering if there is life for Church after the death of the institution.

It turns out that this has been our tendency for thousands of years, being preoccupied with death but for all the wrong reasons! We speculate ourselves into a corner so to speak where we then concretize these vague ideas as truth. Both the letter to the Thessalonians and our gospel from Luke today capture this challenge of wanting certainty about the unknown. The Thessalonians were stressed out about the second coming of Jesus and wondering if they would know when it  happened and make the cut. Paul attempted to calm them down reminding them to not get caught up in people who run around saying the sky is falling, you’d better be doing or not doing certain things and everything is terrible. Don’t focus on what is going wrong, stay focused on the truth that God chooses us, all of us, loves us and promises that we will be with God always, in this life and in the next, no one is left behind. What God is doing in your midst today, may not look like the past, but our God, through Jesus Christ, is always renewing, transforming and nurturing life in unexpected places and in unexpected people.

The Sadducees were looking to discount Jesus’ teachings on resurrection and life with God, when they approached Jesus with what they thought would be a way to ensnare him in a conundrum. Most Sadducees denied that there was anything after death-no resurrection-and they only acknowledged the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah or writings of Moses. The Pharisees did have a theology of the resurrection long before Jesus, as they acknowledged the history books, the prophets and the writings that make up our OT. This is why Paul, a Pharisee, could so easily articulate how God, through Jesus Christ, promises resurrection and saw the support for the resurrection in the Hebrew Bible. The Sadducees ask Jesus this ridiculous question about seven brothers and this one poor woman. Since they don’t even believe that there is an afterlife, they don’t really care, they just want Jesus to contradict Mosaic law and tradition so that they could label him a heretic. They are looking to kill this Jesus movement that was bringing people so much hope because people with hope are dangerous. They live differently. They think differently and see more than others. But Jesus elegantly leaps over the tripwire to move them and us beyond worries and preoccupations with being right-to God’s truth.  The truth that women are not property to be batted about among men-we have our own worth and God will affirm that worth in this life and in the next. The truth that God is a God of love and relationships and wants us to be in healthy, safe and affirming relationships, and not alone. The truth that we must move beyond worrying about death into order to see there is life all around-Moses even said so! When Moses at the burning bush calls God the God of Abraham, God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, Moses affirms that in God, all life is connected, God is not a God who worries about death but creates life when the rest of the world proclaims finitude and hopelessness. God is a God of the living and the hopeful!

Resurrection life is not only about the transformation of our lives when we die, it’s a process that starts right here right now. In God, resurrection isn’t status quo and more of the same of this life, it’s so much more! It’s transformation, God’s grace that won’t leave us devoid of hope or in the same ruts on either side of the kingdom. It might not feel good, as resurrection does first mean death, death to the preoccupations of the world: death to our fears of not being in control and being comfortable. Death to the traditions that stifle our imagination and hope about God’s work in our midst. Like the Sadducees, we must die to thinking that we have the all answers and can manipulate God into affirming them. When we die to our fears, worries, and preoccupation with getting it right, then we focus on being alive in Christ, we try something that we’ve never done before, we stop doing things that aren’t bringing life to ourselves and our neighbors, and we know that being alive in Christ, is moving forward even when we’re unsure of the path because of our confidence of who is on the path with us. God who calls us beloved, renews us, transforms us, resurrects us and declares us alive.
While we’re preoccupied with the details of death, God is preoccupied with life-our life with God today and forever. Being children of the resurrection means that we focus on life, abundant life, right here, right now. We quit worrying about dying and start living! Being alive in God means that we embrace that with God, our lives will look different in the coming years, personally, in the larger church and here at Our Saviour’s. We don’t have to know the details but we can wonder with hope, promise and confidence that God is present with us in this life and the next. Alive with God’s presence, we can offer this resurrection life, transformational life through how we live our lives, to people in our midst today and every day. Thanks be to God.

 

Renewed by Love-Saints Build for the Future Sermon for All Saints Day Year C November 3, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on Nov. 3, 2019.

The texts were:

Psalm 49
Ephesians 1: 11-23
Luke 6: 20-31

Children’s sermon: I have some rocks here, what can we do with them? We can build, decorate, all kinds of things. Have you been hiking and saw rocks stacked up along the trail? Those are called cairns and they are made by people who have walked that way before, realized how difficult it could be and marked the path for people who came after them. These people took time to point others in the right direction so that they could be safe, enjoy the hike and know that they are on the right path. I think that God puts people in our lives that do that same thing, maybe not with rocks, but with their love, power and their whole lives. We call these people saints. They are not perfect people, but they are people who love others so much that they use their time and power to show God’s love to others. Sometimes we think about these saints and they are people who have died, they now live with Jesus, but some are with us each day. Who might be a saint in your life? Today we remember all the saints, particularly those who have died. That can make us sad, and it’s ok to be sad and cry! Tears are holy and are signs of how much we love people. In our story today, Jesus is giving examples of how we need to focus on loving each other and not worrying about what we may have for stuff, or if people like us or not, or if we use our power to only care for ourselves. Jesus says, when we love, we use our power to care for other people. We call this the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you want done to you.” Jesus wants us to know that God loves us and uses God uses power to love us-to keep us safe, to give us family and friends who love us and to hold us when we are sad, hurt and need help. In the bible, rocks are important ways to show God’s love and power to people who come later. Just like on hiking trails people stack rocks, Jacob stacked rocks at the Jordan river so that people in the future would remember God’s care of the Israelites, and the rock that was removed from Jesus’ tomb tells all people of all time of God’s love and power in Jesus resurrection. I have rocks here for us to write the name or initials of some saint in your life who shows you God’s love and power today and for the future. Let’s pray:

I come from a long line of strong women. I have been blessed by grandmothers and great grandmothers who were a force to be reckoned with in their own way. They each have given me a gift that is still with me today. My maternal grandma, Grandma Fouts, was a woman of deep faith. Going to church, Sunday school, youth group, bible studies were not optional, even when we were only visiting for only a week. Her denomination was not Lutheran, it was Church of God, but her commitment to passing on the faith, to ensuring that her grandchildren knew God’s love and power in their lives was always present.  She wanted faith in God built in my life. My grandma Emmons-paternal grandmother-was not deeply religious, but only wanted her grandchildren to know that she was a safe person for all kinds of conversations and challenges. She never judged or offered pedantic advice, but she asked good thought provoking and reflective questions-to build our critical thinking skills. My great grandmas were also both women who had vision beyond themselves. My sweet great grandma Tone from Norway, (we called her Gung) who was about four foot ten inches, would feed you, sing Lutheran hymns to you, care for you and make you feel special and at the same time, we knew who was in charge. Her. To say she was feisty is an understatement, but we all knew that for her, building family was important. My great grandmother Emmons, again paternal, was the original feminist. She wrote several books and plays and was one of the first authors to write about an important moment in history strictly from a feminist perspective: The Lewis and Clark expedition. Her book was that expedition from Sacajawea’s point of view.  When I was a little girl, and we would go visit her, she would whisper in my ear, remember, “you’re smarter and better than the boys, don’t forget it!” She was building a better future for all women but particularly her daughter, granddaughters and great granddaughters. What I learned most from these four women was not to get stuck in what was happening today, my actions were not about me only and pointing people in the right direction and building someone up for their future matters. They exemplified using their own power-no matter how limited that might have been with age, gender roles, etc.-to show God’s love to their family. They innately understood that power was to be given away, that love isn’t a sentimental emotion but actions of tenacity, courage, justice and building to make the world better for those who came after them. They weren’t perfect, but they are saints, set apart for God’s work of love. I am connected to them as their descendant and I build on their lives to offer actions of love to others in my life for today and for tomorrow.

We tend to think of saints as people who are somehow infallible. But in our scripture passages today, we get a different glimpse of the kind of saints that God calls us to be. If we take a deeper look at saints, we discover that they are not always comfortable people to be around. They are those who aren’t important by the world’s standards, they are on the edges of “respectability,” and status, we might even call them trouble makers because their actions reveal the power and control in our society run amok. Saints often point to life in the here and now while building something beyond that for the future.

Jesus says, blessed are those who are poor, hungry, mourning, excluded, reviled and defamed, not to say those are the only saints, but Jesus is pointing out that in God’s kingdom and economy, they are equal to those who seem to have everything by worldly standards. In Jesus day, the poor, hungry, grieving, outcasts, were to be avoided. Whenever we avoid someone, look down on them, we are using our power for ourselves and our comforts. No wonder Jesus then says “woe” which means “yikes” or “look out!” Look out if you are rich, satiated, laughing, and beloved by everyone (is that even a thing?) because you’ve built a world all about you in the here and now. You’ve placed your trust in yourself and things that are fleeting and what we don’t have control over in this life. If you have power, privilege and material wealth, fine, but look out for what you are actually building.

Saints point to the truth that whether we are poor or rich, hungry or full, laughing or grieving, part of the “in-crowd” or not, that God, through Jesus Christ, shares power and love with us. This is the promise. Our response is to treat everyone with this same power and love from God and build them up. When someone tries to exert their power over us, curses us, mocks us, takes our things without permission, disrespects us, we don’t respond to power with power, we respond with powerful love-not the emotion but the actions. To be clear, being abused is not ok, and is not to be glorified in anyway. Loving actions also look like clear and firm boundaries. Boundaries in many ways are like turning the other cheek. It’s calling out abusive words and actions. As saints, we reveal God’s reversal of powers in the world, that Jesus’ ministry and mission points to building up people and building up the kingdom of God for today and for tomorrow. It’s love that shows what God is building. This love can’t be lost, swept under the rug or denied. God’s love and power through Jesus is about transforming the world from the bottom up, the inside out, from today to tomorrow and from death to life. God’s love renews us when we think that we can’t keep going, when we’ve messed up, it’s hard and we are uncertain. God’s love pulls us to see beyond ourselves and the systems in which we are caught, to the vision that God’s inclusive love changes us and changes the world.

We are building, oh saints of God. We are building here at OSLC not only for us today, but for those who will come after us. We will use our power and love we have from God to build in unlikely places with unlikely people-we will build a community of radical inclusion where all are safe, we will build a community that bridges partisanship,  we will build a community that values civil dialogue and collaboration with all our neighbors regardless of differences, we will build a community where we get at the roots of hunger, poverty and homelessness for all people to thrive. This will not make us popular, but God will be present. We will not do this perfectly, but we will build with God as saints for those who come after us. We will point to the importance of Jesus Christ, and the empty tomb-God’s loving actions for creation and we will point to the power of God to transform, renew and love us all today and tomorrow. Thanks be to God.