A Lutheran Says What?

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

What Good Is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday Feb. 26, 2020 February 28, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Feb. 26, 2020 in Holladay, UT. The texts were

Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 51: 1-17
2 Corinthians 5: 20b-6:10
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

What good is Ash Wednesday? I find myself pondering that this year. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I DON’T think Ash Wednesday is important, I do, it’s more that I’ve noticed fewer and fewer people in our culture, even those who might even profess to belong to a Christian denomination, attend Ash Wednesday services. In some ways, I can’t blame them. Ash Wednesday most definitely isn’t fun, it’s not Christmas, or Easter or even Pentecost. It’s a day where we come face to face with a reality that most decidedly isn’t fun. The reality that we are mortal, we are not perfect, we aren’t in control, we aren’t who we say we are. This is not a day that we look forward to and a day we spend the other 364, well with Leap Year we get and extra day, trying to deny. Trying to deny that we will die, trying to deny that we mess up, trying to deny that we are anything but dust.

And if we ask “what good is Ash Wednesday” we also must ask what good are ashes? What good is it to put ashes in the shape of a cross, a symbol of suffering and torture, on our foreheads? After all, ashes are only the remnants of something that has died, been destroyed, or used up. Ashes leave a messy, dirty smudge where life once was. Ashes of a tree, a home, a life, all look the same, at the end, for ashes are ashes are ashes. The details of what that life had once consisted of are reduced to sameness. It doesn’t matter how good or bad, how pious or irreverent, how helpful or unhelpful, how educated or uneducated, how beautiful or ugly, how able or unable, how kind or unkind any of those previous lives might have been, as now they are all burned down to the basics, to the core of what anything or any of us really is: dust. Dust that blows away with the slightest breeze and is seen no more.

What good are ashes? Ashes also can be used to fertilize new life, and ashes can be used to create soap that cleanses. Ashes themselves are neither good nor bad, they simply are. Encountering ashes, encountering Ash Wednesday calls us to examine both death and life through this lens. Ashes on our foreheads reveal the reality that we can be dead before our bodies actually die: we can be dead to our need to confront our own sin, the ways that we separate ourselves from God, we can be dead to our own emotions, we can be dead to our neighbor by competing with them for resources, for health, for status, for power, and yes, as Jesus says, even God’s love. We can be dead to the truth of God’s grace, love and mercy for all people when we attempt to fit into the what the world tells us is reality and important. Death comes when we are anyone other than who God created us to be.

Ashes on our forehead also mark another truth: that out of the ashes of our lives, God will cultivate and bring forth new life. Ashes tell us that we are marked with God’s love, forgiveness and grace even when it seems that death is all around. The cross of ashes upon our heads pull us through the reality of death and opens to us life that defies death. God isn’t afraid of death, God isn’t afraid of our piles of ashes and sees our possibilities, God sees what we can be, how we can grow, what can live in us and who we truly are as the beloved. God collects our messy, dead lives into God’s hands, breathes life into us and shapes us in love, and marks us with mercy and heals us with grace.

What good is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday is good for pulling us into God’s unending story of good, not only for us as individuals for all people and creation. Ash Wednesday is good for burning away that which keeps us from an honest and intimate relationship with our God who’s love for us knows no bounds, and will not be swayed by anything we do or say. Ash Wednesday is good to remind us that God is good now and forever. Amen.

 

Figuring Out Jesus Sermon on Transfiguration Sunday Year A February 23, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on February 23, 2020 in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Exodus 24: 12-18
2 Peter 1: 16-21
Matthew 17: 1-9

Children’s sermon: (*I ran from one spot in the sanctuary to the next stopping only long enough to do something silly like dance, jumping jacks, etc. without giving the children much direction at all except to follow me.)  How was that to follow? It might have been confusing at first because I didn’t tell you to look for something new. But once you caught on to the new thing, you got it! Our bible story talks about seeing something new. The disciples went up the mountain with Jesus, and they thought that Jesus was special, but they didn’t know how special. They just thought he was a good rabbi, teacher, healer. But then they saw Jesus in a new light! Jesus shined with God’s glory! We don’t really know how that happened, only that God made it happen. The disciples were afraid and fell down-but Jesus touched them and said, get up, don’t be afraid. Just because you saw something new, doesn’t mean you need to be afraid! Jesus says: Now you have seen me differently, now you know that there is more to come, and you will follow me in a new way, on a new and different path than you first thought. It’s not only about teaching, healing and praying. It might not all be easy, but God is with you. Jesus helps us to see the world around us in a new way and to do new things-even if they might scare us. Have you ever been afraid to try something new? I have! It’s scary to talk to a new person, or to help someone in need, especially if it means that we go to places that we don’t know or we might think are unsafe-sometimes that true but sometimes it’s not and we’re just unfamiliar. Jesus says when you are afraid to do something new, I am with you! All the time! Let’s pray:

You’ve heard the saying, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” I’m not always great at remembering that, as I tend to start a journey with the end already in mind. When we go up into the mountains hiking, I have a hard time not worrying about how much further to the top, especially if I’m on a new trail. I’m not much of a enjoy the journey kind of personality. I’m more of a “are we there yet?” kind of person and I really like to know where I’m going, exactly how long it will take to get there, what the path will be (hard or easy?) and if I have everything I could need for the journey.  I’m working on letting go, enjoying the journey and trusting the path. BUT sometimes the destination will shift and not be what I think it is. There have been times in my life, not just hiking, when I thought the destination was in one place, only to find out that it’s not. Such as when I was 21, I thought when I graduated with my teaching degree that was the end, I was a teacher forever. Well, my journey changed as did my destination. As my vocational journey changed, I had to let go of some things from my past journey and be open to a destination that was unknown to me.

We started the Epiphany season with the story of the Magi on their journey of following a star. They had a destination in mind, but didn’t know exactly where. They knew it involved finding where the baby king was, and they followed a star-a star to the sweet little baby Jesus, God now with us in the world. But that wasn’t the end of their journey or ours in Epiphany. The path led to the stop of the Jordan river, where Jesus was baptized and claimed as God’s own son, but that also wasn’t the end. The path then led to the mount where Jesus taught the crowds of the upsidedownness of God’s kingdom where the poor, meek, peaceful, grieving, hungry, are pivotal and important. But that, too, wasn’t the end.

And today the path is literally up a mountain, with three disciples (Peter, James and John) and Jesus. And once at the top, the supposed destination, the unimaginable, the unexplainable, the unbelievable happens. Jesus is no longer who the disciples think Jesus is. The path they had been on with Jesus was one that the disciples had become comfortable with, they could predict with some accuracy what their day to day with Jesus would be like. Jesus will do some teaching, feed some people, heal people, maybe say some weird stuff, but overall, basically they thought that they had Jesus figured out.

But then it all changed. Just when they thought they had Jesus figured out, Jesus transfigured! They saw him in a new light! Jesus revealed a new path on the journey. Much ink has been spilled on why Jesus shines, and the meaning of being up on the mountain and such, but honestly, this isn’t an event to scientifically explain, figure out or dissect-it simply is. Jesus is more than we thought we had figured out and Jesus will continue to reveal to us along the way more and more about what God’s promise to be with us means for us and the world. The journey continues. Peter attempted to make some sense of this event by offering to build the dwellings-one for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. And before we ridicule Peter for this action, Peter was simply applying his previous journey to the current one. Peter was recalling the Jewish celebration of the Festival of Booths or Sukkot, in which temporary shelters are built to give thanks to God for the harvest. It was instituted after the exodus to honor that everything comes from God. Peter is recalling the journey of the Israelites. God’s voice interrupts Peter and puts him, and the other disciples on a new path. They fall down in fear and Jesus comes to them, touches them, tells them to rise and don’t be afraid. And when they look up: all they see is Jesus. Jesus who is the way, Jesus who is their guiding light, and Jesus who will lead them to a new destination that they couldn’t and wouldn’t imagine: the cross. But Jesus says, that destination, the cross won’t be the end of the journey either. There will be more to the journey, for with God what may look like the end, isn’t really the end. There is always more, the journey will always continue and path is one where we are never alone.

Like the disciples, it’s hard for us to imagine the next part of our journey. It’s tempting to simply fall down in fear from the change in direction and the uncertainty or want to figure out how to stay exactly where we are. But Jesus comes to us, touches us, tells us to rise and not be afraid. And when we look up, we will see what the disciples saw: Jesus. Jesus who has always been with us on our journey, whether it’s a mountain top experience that we can’t explain or our path down the mountain, to the valley, to the everyday mundaneness  of our lives where the next stop isn’t always clear. Jesus’ voice rings in our ears, in our hearts and in our souls to guide us on the path. And we listen.

It is good that we are here, and it is good that we don’t stay here. There is more to our journey, for us as individuals, for the community here at OSLC, and for all of God’s people in the world. Just when we think we have our journey with Jesus figured out, Jesus will shine God’s light on a new path, with new people, new experiences and new places. We will see our relationship, our mission here in new light. What may look like an end, is only the beginning to a new part of our journey. Our journey isn’t something to figure out, but our journey is to rise up, be unafraid and to walk with Jesus on the path. Amen.

 

God Loves Each Piece of Us Sermon on Matthew 5: 21-37 Epiphany 6A February 16, 2020

This sermon was preached on February 16, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Deuteronomy 30:15-30
1 Corinthians 3: 1-9
Matthew 5: 21-37

Children’s sermon: Gather the children up front. Have a simple puzzle for the children to put together. I have a puzzle here and I’m wondering if we can put this together. (Have one piece that doesn’t fit.) These are a lot of pieces and it looks like this one doesn’t fit. Sometimes our lives are like that. We have all of these pieces of our lives that seem to go together and they make sense and then we get an odd piece that we just don’t know what to do with and it we try and try and make it fit, and we get mad, frustrated and worry that there is something wrong with us that we can’t make this  piece fit the way we want to. Well, our bible story is like that today. We just read pieces of what we call the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount-Jesus was teaching the people about God like we teach each other about God here each Sunday and anytime we get together. Jesus’ sermon was much longer than what I try and talk and it seems like he was talking about a lot of different things, which I try not to do, but you know…the Sermon started two weeks ago with the Beatitudes, then last week we had salt and light-both really nice things to think about. Well, this week we get more pieces of the sermon and they don’t seem to fit the rest of it! Jesus is talking about some hard things that we don’t like to think about like anger and hurting each other and lying to each other. Do you ever get angry? Have you ever tried to convince someone that a lie was the truth? Have you ever hurt someone’s feelings or made someone lose something? Yeah, we’ve all done those things-all of us! And Jesus knows it. Jesus knows that there are pieces of our lives that we don’t like, that don’t fit, that we don’t like to talk about, that make us feel bad about ourselves. But here’s the thing: Jesus loves every piece of you. All of them-the ones that fit and the ones that we think don’t fit. With God, all of our pieces fit together to create a picture of God’s love to share with everyone we meet. Here’s the piece that fits….Jesus says when we can admit to hard stuff and deal with it, we all fit together better. Here’s a puzzle piece for you to take home to remind you that Jesus loves every piece of you. Let’s pray:

I don’t know about you, but there are pieces of my life and of myself that I just don’t know what to do with. Pieces that are disjointed, incongruent, don’t fit for some reason or another. I’m a complex human that way, I guess. Such when I was a teacher I could have all the patience in the world with the children in my classroom and then I would come home and wasn’t always as patient with my own! Incongruent pieces of me.

We continue through the Sermon on the Mount today and we get these four seemingly random pieces of discussion from Jesus. The scholarly term for this section of the sermon on the mount that starts here in verse 21 and goes to the end of chapter 5: is the “antitheses.” Jesus says, “you’ve heard it said…but I say to you.” And it might seem that Jesus is overruling the law but if we look deeper that is not really what’s going on. Jesus is being antithetical but not to God’s law-Jesus is being antithetical to human hardness and sin-which is anything that separates us from God and each other. Jesus deals head on with the pieces of how our lives together that make us uncomfortable, cause us to squirm and make us wonder if we just should have read the psalm today and been done.

But our lives don’t work that way. We don’t get to pick the pieces of our lives that we like, are comfortable with, can easily explain and make fit. Jesus names pieces that we would prefer to be not named, to be hidden and brushed aside. Jesus says: hey maybe you might notice that big hole in your life where you can’t quite get anything to fit into. Well, God has something to say about that hole.

Jesus wants us to live together, all the different pieces of us, as one, in wholeness, unity and love. This means reshaping our piece to fit with our neighbors. Anger, adultery, divorce and swearing oaths are as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago. When we are angry with someone, it’s akin to murder Jesus says. Anger kills any chance of relationship, of working together, of love growing, of God’s people as salt and light for the world. If you know truly angry people, people who walk around angry about everything and everyone in their lives-then you know someone who is in hell. It’s not a place where God sends us in the afterlife, it’s a place we create for ourselves when we separate ourselves from God and each other. When we choose to not see people created in God’s divine image, we have decided that our judgment is the only one that matters. Humility to ask forgiveness, Jesus says, is the antidote to anger and to build relationships. Jesus takes the pieces of us that lean toward anger and soften our hearts to our siblings in Christ.

And then there are pieces of humanity that have haunted us since the first people knew that they were unclothed, and Jesus wants to free us from that history. Adultery and divorce are about more than just an action: it’s our understanding of how we are connected and how we care for each other. In Jesus day and if we’re honest we still live in remnants of this, women were property. Women were objects and women caused men to do things-men had no responsibility or accountability when it came to adultery and divorce. In adultery, women were scapegoats. Jesus does a radical move and says that men have responsibility and accountability over their actions, women aren’t the issue, perhaps the piece that is missing is that women should be seen as created in God’s image and are beloved with value, agency and dignity. People aren’t to be used, they are to be cherished as God cherishes us.

In matters of divorce, women had no voice or agency, either. Mosaic law allowed for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all-from dinner was burned to they didn’t produce any sons-and women had no recourse. And women couldn’t divorce their husbands no matter how unhealthy and abusive the situation might be. The reality was that if a woman didn’t have a husband, she had nothing, literally. No place to live, no security, no protection.  Often the woman’s family wouldn’t take her back in and the most common result was that she was destitute and many resorted to prostitution, which is adultery: we see the cycle. And still today there is a negative economic reality to divorce. Jesus reveals that the law was affirming that relationships matter, that we are to care for one another, and we don’t discard someone casually in order to just be with someone else. Now, I want to be clear, there are healthy, good and important reasons for marriages to end and Jesus isn’t saying that staying married is what matters. Divorce is a reality, as relationships are hard, complex and messy. What Jesus is turning upside down is that the law was never to support any human social patterns, such as patriarchy and misogyny, that harm, denigrate and devalue any piece of the body of Christ. Jesus reveals that God’s will is for those who are vulnerable to be centered as an important and equal piece of God’s kingdom.

The more our words, thoughts and actions fit together the better. We shouldn’t need to swear an oath for people to know that what we say is what we mean. Lies and manipulations don’t fit in God’s kingdom. God’s words and actions are clear, congruent and lovingly true and this is what we should strive for as well. Not for ourselves but so that our neighbor knows that we can be trusted with their well-being, that we aren’t looking out only for ourselves. We handle our anger with humility, we don’t use people for our own gain, or treat them as objects, or discard them thoughtlessly and we walk the walk we talk.

Jesus takes all these hard pieces of our lives and helps us to put them together, not individually but as a community to be a part of God’s p-e-a-c-e. When we can trust all the hard pieces of our lives to God, we then will live in God’s peace that passes all understanding. When we join our pieces together, we live into God’s bigger picture: God’s desire for wholeness, love, care, mercy and hope for all people and for creation. God names us blessed, salt and light and as integral pieces in God’s mission and work here on earth to bring about the kingdom where no one is separated from God’s love, where people know their value and are treated with dignity and worth and where we all, creatures and creation fit together in peace. Thanks be to God.

 

We Are Who We Are Sermon On Matthew 5: 13-20 Epiphany 5a

This sermon was preached on February 9, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were
Isaiah 58: 1-9a
1 Corinthians 2: 1-12
Matthew 5: 13-20

 

Children’s sermon: Gather the children up front. Have a couple of different light sources (light up legos, glow sticks, electric tea lights). What does light do for us? (Accept all answers) Light shows us the way, light lets us see things more clearly. Jesus says that we are this kind of light-we show the way to God, we let people see God in us and God’s love. But what if I put this light in this box…does that work? No! Jesus tells us today that we can’t hide ourselves, we can’t hide our light. When we baptize people, sometimes as babies, sometimes as older people, we light a candle and give it to them and say the words from our bible story this morning “Let your light so shine before people so that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” How can we shine our light? What are good things that we can do to show people about God’s love? I have a light for all of you today to remember that you are light and love and go and shine! Let’s pray:

I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, but everyone else in my family is and they dragged me to one movie many years ago. I don’t even remember which one it was, but I do remember that in that movie one of the scenes was when Harry (and maybe his friends too) got ahold of the “Cloak of Invisibility.” Harry used it to move freely around the Hogwarts and to do his investigative work on whatever intrigue he and his friends were trying to figure out. Harry was able to hear conversations without being noticed and see goings on without the people knowing of his presence. Being invisible had its advantages for Harry and even had an element of fun for a while. Being invisible often sounds to us like fun and we think about all the possibilities of what we could see, do and hear with no one noticing us. Oh, we could have dirt on our friends and enemies, we might learn things that otherwise we wouldn’t. But being invisible has its down sides as well. If Harry were to be permanently invisible, such as the old “Invisible Man” movies and tv shows, that would come with some serious drawbacks. No one would see what you do, you would *never* be noticed and it would seem as if you didn’t matter. To truly be invisible would be lonely, without purpose and unfulfilling.

But being invisible does have a certain appeal at times in our lives. To just be wallpaper, unnoticed and unremarkable can seem like a better alternative to people knowing you exist and then demanding certain things from you. It’s a difficult time in our world today to find our voices as people of faith and I must admit that even as a pastor, a public figure there are times I would prefer to just fly under the radar, not speak up, keep my head low, and then no one will see or hear me and life will be peaceful and easy. Except that’s not quite how it works I find. Hiding my voice, my thoughts and my faith leaves me feeling disjointed, inauthentic and wondering if those things really matter. There’s a definite tension. Last week in Phoenix my best friend and I had rented a VRBO were there was as permanent tenant. Ask me about that after church, the set-up in the house was a little odd, but at one point the tenant asked me, as we were headed out the door to meet my family for dinner, if I had a job and I said yes, I am a pastor. Well, then I had to hear for the next 15 minutes about his faith growing up, his opinions on religion, questions on female ordination and other things. Leta looked at me in the car and said, “next time just say you manage a large non-profit.” Which is true and is less conversation provoking than saying you are a clergy person, particularly as female clergy. But hiding, keeping my vocation and call invisible doesn’t feel right either. I am who I am and that can’t be hidden.

Last week in the Beatitudes that Pastor Gordon preached on, we hear Jesus proclaiming that the people whom the world calls less then, God calls blessed and loved. Those whom the world wants to be invisible, God sees and values. Jesus then goes on in our passage today to say that the community of God’s people, are salt and light. Notice that isn’t something we strive to be or Jesus says we should look into becoming, but we already are. Period. End of story. And not individually, but together. The “you” is “you all” plural. We are salt and we are light. We are who we are in the life and love of God.  And who we are in community matters in the world, just like salt and light matter in every day life, Jesus says.

Salt was an important resource in the ancient world. Salt had more value than gold. Salt can preserve, sanitize, disinfect and in ancient folklore-ward off demons and other evil spirits. People were paid in salt which is the root of our word “salary.” Salt literally made the world go around. Light was a commodity in the ancient world as well. Night-time was very dark, no street lamps, no ambient light, only what candle or oil lamp you had. So every little source of light meant safety, security and illuminated what was important. Hiding light would be wasteful and unthinkable. To be called salt, meant that you had value, worth and importance, and to be called light meant a prominent place in a room or household. Jesus was intentional about these words spoken to people whom the rest of society deemed valueless, what’s more these words highlighted that hiding oneself, staying invisible or under the radar wasn’t an option for God’s people. Salt is of no use in a container on a shelf in a pantry behind a closed door and light doesn’t work covered up. God’s people are called to sprinkle themselves throughout the world, to light up whatever space they may be in to point to the reality of God’s kingdom in the world.

By recalling the importance of the law, Jesus is reminding the people and us, that God has been revealing God’s kingdom of redemption, reconciliation and mercy for generations. Jesus fulfilling the law and lifting up how we are to uphold the law, roots us in God’s proclamation that God’s people are indeed the light to the nations, all nations and God promises to be our God and we will be God’s people no matter what. This is about the covenant, God’s desire to be in relationship with us and Jesus is renewing, in a deeply personal and intimate way, this covenant with people for all time. AND Jesus proclaims the reality that when we are in relationship with God, we are who we are: people who can’t hide, who must be bold, who will be different, set apart, salt, light, and we won’t, can’t be invisible. Baptism highlights this covenant and calls us to be in the community of God’s people and in mission with God. Baptism soaks us in God’s promises for the sake of dripping this love on other people.

It’s not easy to be different, set apart, bold, salty, and shiny. Salt can also sting as it cleanses, and people may recoil in pain as the infection of hate, fear, and divisiveness is healed. Refusing to be invisible in a world that would rather we keep quiet about God’s laws of loving God and our neighbor more than ourselves, will draw criticism and contempt from some. Being seen and refusing to be extinguished brings risk but God promises to be with us as we advocate for just systems, for truth and for wholeness. Shining our light means refusing to hide, to illuminate the truth of God’s work in the world through Jesus Christ, the one who came to proclaim that the way the world had been, the way the world is, isn’t God’s way. The truth of God’s light in the world is to scatter the darkness, the darkness of hard hearts, the darkness of human power, the darkness of ego, the darkness of selfishness, so that hearts shine with love, human power shines for justice for our vulnerable neighbor, ego shines with humility, and selfishness shines with abundance of grace, mercy and joy for one another and for all people.

We are who we are, dear ones in Christ. We can’t be anything but who God created, called, and proclaimed us to be in the waters of baptism. We are salt for the earth and light to the nations. We are God’s people: visible, bold, salty, valuable, important and we shine with God’s love for justice, mercy, forgiveness and love for all creation. Thanks be to God.