A Lutheran Says What?

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

Broken and Whole Sermon on Luke 24 Easter 3A April 26, 2020

This sermon was preached on April 26, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be views on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 2: 14a, 26-41
1 Peter 1: 17-23
Luke 24: 13-35

Most of our lives we strive to keep the things we own from breaking, whether it’s a cherished china set from a grandmother, or an essential appliance, or our cars. Broken things are considered useless, a nuisance and undesirable. We may try and fix those things when they break but more and more in our society, we consider many things disposable, not worth anything if they are not perfect or up to manufacturer specs. But when something is broken, we sometimes only then realize its value and importance to us. When something breaks and we can see all the pieces, we can then see what it might be again. Maybe not perfect, but with value, worth, and a purpose again. Broken doesn’t always have to equate with the end. Broken might mean a new and different existence. But it takes a new vision to see it.

In our gospel story, we read about the disciples who saw their whole world broken apart and so they headed out on the road. We have a lot in common with those disciples, Cleopas and his companion, on the road to Emmaus. We are sad, disillusioned, and feeling trapped by the realities of our lives. It seems that so much of our world has broken: social structures, our financial security, our health systems, our experience of community, our sense of safety, and on some days, it might feel like our sanity too. Brokenness abounds as we had hoped for so much more. We had hoped that this disease wouldn’t spread, we had hoped it could be contained quickly, we had hoped for an easy and accessible treatment, we had hoped that it wouldn’t physically separate us, we had hoped that as a nation we could work together, we had hoped for so much more than this. If we’re honest, we had hoped that this wouldn’t affect us as all. We had hoped that somehow, we would be immune from any of the ill side effects of a pandemic and that our lives wouldn’t be disrupted, broken open and vulnerable. Like the disciples, we had hoped for so much.

And also like the disciples on the road, we need a place to tell our story, to share our grief, to process our trauma, to try and parse out all the details that seem surreal and perhaps still too raw to make sense of. So we call one another, share in Zoom times, gather around YouTube, write good old fashioned letters, send cards, texts, and emails. We listen, we pray, we share what we know, our part of our common story-even if it’s not complete. We have time that we can’t fill, silences that are deafening and bodies that feel the grief of missing the ones we love.

But something else happens on this journey, in those spaces cracked open by fear, pain, trauma and uncertainty-we notice that we are not alone. We notice someone coming along beside us who asks us what’s going on and walks with us, not questioning where we’re going or the validity of our story, our pain, our trauma and lament. Our companion then breaks the story open even more, sits with our pain and sorrow to affirm it’s truth and fills in the cracks of our story by showing that we are connected to a larger story, we are held by promises made long before us that continue to today. This promise that stays with us in the ordinariness of our homes and shows us that in broken things, love, light, hope and life spill out. Broken bread reveals the presence of Jesus. Broken things such as our hearts, our hopes, our dreams reveals the presence and promise of Jesus more clearly.

We are physically broken apart as a congregation right now, and I clearly see Jesus in all of you. I see Jesus in how we’ve helped each other learn new technologies to stay connected, I see Jesus in how we’ve prayed for one another, I see Jesus in how you check in faithfully with each other, and particularly those who need the companionship. I see Jesus in how we’ve offered what we have to our community in need. This community might be temporarily broken apart physically, but we can’t be broken apart from being the body of Christ. This is the promise.

The brokenness in our world is where Jesus will be seen, for brokenness creates space where none before existed, and what will we fill this space with matters. When our hearts, dreams, hopes and lives are broken, will we fill it with stuff, with fear, with self-preservation, or with blame of others? Or will we allow for the love of Jesus to enter and fill us with hope, peace, and service? Jesus’ love is indeed seen in broken things, and when our self-centered patterns, our myopic vision, our systems of injustice, abuse of creation are broken wide open for all humanity to see, and we are overwhelmed by how to put it all back together, Jesus’ wholeness will be revealed.  Like Cleopas and the other disciple who saw Jesus revealed in the breaking of the bread and ran in the risky, dark night to tell others, we, too, enter the darkness and brokenness to tell others the story of Jesus who we’ve seen and walks with us in brokenness, in lament, sorrow, fear, and pain and promises to stay with us right where we are broken and all. We are broken and we see Jesus’ light comes in, we are broken and we see God’s love is poured in, we are broken and we see new life begins. Broken is not the end, it’s the beginning of something new with God. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

 

FOMO or What Thomas is Missing Sermon for Easter 2A April 18, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on April 19, 2020. It can be viewed on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC channel. Please subscribe! Check out our Children’s Worship videos too!

The texts were:

Acts 2:14a, 22-36
1 Peter 1: 3-9
John 20: 19-31

Maybe you have heard the term: FOMO-it’s a shorthand to refer to a very human state of being: Fear Of Missing Out. It starts early in our lives, such as at Christmas or birthdays and it seems that everyone else got a better present. Or when we see all the cool things our friends are doing on social media, like going to concerts or vacations and we think “hey, why am I not invited?” or “why am I not having that much fun? It’s not fair!” It’s a fear of missing something important or a fear of not being important ourselves. Well, I don’t know about you but as we have journeyed through these past few weeks, I am noticing that I have a serious case of FOMO, all the stuff I’m missing out on. Gathering with all of you for worship, Easter, going on vacations, time with friends and family, and the list goes on. And not just me, but my family, such as my son’s and niece’s college and high school graduations, respectively, which are canceled. I’m sad for them as they are missing out on an important milestone in their lives. No parties, no pomp and circumstance, no robes, no boring speeches. This all leaves a hole, a gap. It’s a fear that I’m missing out on life, that I’m not complete. Or maybe I’m just afraid that I don’t matter without all of these events, or not noticed, or not missed. Or just plain afraid.

This idea of FOMO resonated with me as I read our gospel passage from John today. I think Thomas gets a bad rap from people who aren’t comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s the evening of that first resurrection day, and the disciples are huddled in fear of the Temple authorities and probably the Roman ones too. We get the translation they are in a house, but “house” isn’t in the Greek. The doors “of where they were” were locked. We don’t know where the disciples are, and it doesn’t matter as Jesus shows up-through the locked doors. He comes to them in their fear and gives them peace and breathes into them-reminding us of God breathing into the first human. And then affirms that the Holy Spirit is with them and they are to go to tell people that they are freed from their sins because of Jesus. The disciples now have their own experience of the risen Lord, like Mary from that morning and it seems to have quelled much of their fear. But not all the disciples are now without fear, we learn, as for some reason Thomas wasn’t with them, he was missing. Why, we don’t know. Maybe he had something else to do? A family member to care for, or maybe he was the disciples’ designated person to go get food, a daily task in the ancient world.

When Thomas returned, his friends told him “We have seen the Lord!” What happens next is often misinterpreted as Thomas doubting. I don’t think he doubted them-I think he was upset with missing out on his own experience of Jesus! He had a hole, a gap in his life. Like us, Thomas didn’t like the feeling of FOMO. He wanted to be part of the group, see what they saw, know that he was important to Jesus too, and not be physically distanced. What we hear from Thomas is sadness, fear, anger and lament. But not doubt.

A week later, Jesus comes again and he acknowledges Thomas’ FOMO. He tells him to touch his wounds, we don’t know if Thomas really does, but just being in the presence of Jesus was enough for him. Jesus then says to him, “don’t unbelieve, but believe.” The word doubt isn’t actually here in the text. Its “unbelieve.” In John’s gospel, to believe is to know that you are in relationship with God, it’s to know that you are loved and that you love in return. When Jesus says, “don’t unbelieve” it’s not to shame or scold, but to remind Thomas that his relationship with Jesus is sure, he’s important to Jesus and he won’t and can’t miss out on the promises of God just because he wasn’t there the first time. Thomas is indeed part of the wholeness of life with Jesus.

It seems that right now there are lots of gaps and holes in our lives. We’re not able to participate in life with the ones we dearly love as we want and we feel inadequate, sad, scared and even angry. I know I do. We’re people who are used to being physically with other people, and we feel complete and affirmed when we are together. We, like Thomas, are afraid of what we can’t experience, what we’ve missed, and being disconnected from what matters.

But Jesus comes to us through our locked doors and our locked hearts, breathes into us the breath of God that connects us to the very life of God and each other no matter where we are. Jesus comes to us with his own wounds, his own story of suffering, fear, pain and death and says that there is more than this story of fear for us too. There is abundant life, and we won’t miss it. Jesus breathes life into us and shares with us peace through the Holy Spirit. This peace doesn’t end our fears or difficult circumstances but offers to be with us as we walk through it, to heal us and reveal that there is more than our present situation. We don’t have to worry about not being in the right place at the right time, because God is in every place and every time and will find us.  Jesus comes to us and reassures us that we won’t, we can’t, miss out on relationship with God, God’s promises and life together, for God won’t allow it. We don’t live in fear of missing out, we live in the promise of being whole in the love, hope and life of the risen Christ. Christ is risen! Alleluia!

 

We Have Seen the Lord! Easter Year A 2020 April 13, 2020

This sermon was preached for Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on April 12, 2020. In light of the pandemic, this sermon was offered from my backyard at sunrise. It can be viewed on Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC YouTube channel.

The texts were:

Acts 10: 34-43
Colossians 3: 1-4
John 20: 1-18

One of my favorite musical groups is a trio called the Wailin’ Jenny’s-it’s a play on Waylon Jennings of course, and their music is folk. On their album entitled 40 Days, there is a song called “Beautiful Dawn.” The words are poignant and speak to the mysteries of our lives. The opening verse is:
Take me to the breaking of a beautiful dawn.
Take me to the place where we come from.
Take me to the end so I can see the start.
There’s only one way to mend a broken heart.

Beginnings and endings. Just mere hours ago we once again were immersed in the story of Jesus’ death and burial, what the witnesses at Jesus’ crucifixion assumed was the end. After all, this what we are all told. Death is final. Certain. And forever. The disciples were working off this paradigm, despite what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead. Their hearts were broken, their friend and teacher had been killed by the Roman Empire. They were afraid too, what had just occurred was dangerous. They were all implicated in the previous days events and logic told them that their deaths could be next. So, they hid behind locked doors, separating themselves from the rest of the community for their own safety and future. They hoped that this would blow over in a few days or couple weeks at most.

Mary Magdalene though, left the safety of the room in the cover of darkness and alone for the essential task of caring for Jesus’ body. When she arrived and saw the stone removed, she was shocked and perplexed. Mary ran back to tell the others. Peter and the beloved disciple returned with her to the tomb. Why they were running, I don’t know. I would have thought that running would attract attention, but maybe they were hoping to go to the tomb and back before sunrise, or maybe they were giddy with being out of the house for the first time in a few days. The disciples entered the tomb to find the linen wrappings discarded and the head cloth, rolled up and set aside. The beloved disciple believed that Jesus was resurrected, but it is clear from John’s commentary that he was still in the dark, so to speak. Then they both returned to their homes. They saw the empty tomb and just went home. No shouts of alleluia, or Christ is risen, no trumpets or fanfare. Maybe it felt like an anticlimactic ending to the crucifixion? Or maybe more like an epilogue? You know where at the end of a movie based on true events you get a snapshot of what the characters are doing now? Something to tie up loose ends nicely.

But Mary stays in the garden and also looks into the tomb. Instead of linens, she saw angels, only she didn’t seem to recognize them as angels, as she seems unafraid. They ask her “why are you weeping?” and unabashedly she simply states what must be the truth, someone has taken Jesus.

Just then Jesus appears. But again, in her raw grief, her vision is clouded as to who is in front of her. Jesus asks here the question that runs throughout John’s gospel: “who are you looking for?” Mary, misunderstanding that the one she is looking for is right in front of her, asks where the body of Jesus might be. Jesus calls her name and she clearly sees. It’s Jesus! He’s alive as he’s said! Instead of sitting with her and chatting, or hugging her, Jesus states not to hold on to him but go and tell the others that he is returning to the Father, to God, and not only his Father and God but theirs as well. Jesus’ resurrection is more than just a second chance at life, only to die again, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension affirms that we belong to God, we belong to a different kind of life that can’t be taken away.

This seems wrapped up nicely-Jesus comes from God and returns to God. The End. But what if I told you that what we are celebrating today isn’t the end, but the beginning. Easter is where our story with God begins. The resurrection and the ascension of Jesus that seems like the end to us is really the beginning of the only way to mend our broken hearts.

On this Easter Sunday we have more in common with the first Easter, that first resurrection day. Like the disciples, our hearts are broken. Our hearts are broken by what looks like endings around us: gathering in person for worship for a while, handshakes, feeling secure at the grocery store, taking for granted grocery workers, delivery people, truckers, gas attendants sanitation workers, healthcare workers. Our hearts are broken by the death, the sickness and the fear all over the globe. Like the disciples, we may not recognize this as a new beginning today. The beginning of what God is doing in the world through Jesus to mend our brokenness, our broken society, our broken relationships and our broken hearts. Jesus resurrection and ascension points to the truth that God is all about new beginnings, the truth that life and love will prevail, even when it looks like the end.

Like the  first resurrection morning, ours today is filled with unknowing, isolation, weeping and fear. We’re not gathered to shout Alleluia or Christ is risen. No songs of praise by choirs and children. No Easter brunches, no egg hunts, no lilies. And like that first Easter Jesus comes to us. Jesus meets us right where we are and asks who we are looking for? Are we looking for organ music, lilies, certainty, comfort and familiarity? Or are we looking for Jesus? Jesus, who lives because God’s love and life force overpowers death and destruction. Jesus who meets us in weeping and calls us by name. Jesus who assures us that he’s going to OUR Father and OUR God. Jesus who draws us all into God’s life and makes us one in God’s abundant life, even if we aren’t all in the same room. Jesus who tells us don’t hold on to what we know, to what’s safe and comfortable, because our new beginning is to go out and proclaim to the world: “We have seen the Lord!”

We have seen the Lord dear ones of OSLC, we have seen the Lord in how we have adapted to being community quickly in this new way. We have seen the Lord in cards, phone calls, texts and technology. We have seen the Lord in how we stay home so that others may live. And people around us will see the Lord as we serve our neighbors in need such as with our new OSLC Community Support Initiative constructed by your council. This is a new beginning of partnerships in the wake of the pandemic to be a part of God’s healing work in our community. Using funds that we no longer need, we will offer Utah United Way COVID 19 Relief Fund, the Fourth Street Clinic Humanitarian Fund and Utah Food Bank Mobile Pantry each a minimum of $3600 over the next three months as our community recovers. We will pledge to continue to support our existing partnerships such as Family Promise, Crossroads Urban Center and others at our 2019 levels regardless of our 2020 offerings. This is only the first phase the beginning of what we will do as God’s people for our neighbors. We invite you to join in this initiative through prayer, presence at these agencies when it is safe, and/or giving to this initiative at any level. We trust that our whole lives, our whole community at OSLC is held in God’s promises to hold our endings and to bring us to new beginnings, to new life.

We see beginning. We see Jesus who meets us and calls our name. We see Jesus who mends our broken hearts with unending love, mercy and grace. We see Jesus who shows us new life and launches us on a new beginning, to proclaim God’s promise, God’s word of life is final. The empty tomb is the beginning of the fullness of life for us and all creation. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

 

 

 

Distinguished Love Maundy Thursday Year A April 9, 2020

This sermon was preached on April 9, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be views on Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC YouTube Channel. Click the link here. Please subscribe to our channel to catch all the latest worship services and children’s worship.
The texts were:
Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

How do people know I am a disciple of Jesus? Do people know that I am a disciple of Jesus? Do people know that we are disciples of Jesus together? When Jesus states with confidence in John 13: 35 that people will know that we are Jesus’ disciples by how we love one another, I always pause a bit. I mean, I want people to know that I strive to follow Jesus, and I want to show love but there is always that little niggle in the back of my brain that says “hmmmm but is that true?” It all seems so good and easy, you know? All I have to do is show love! Ok, well I can do that. Until…it gets complicated. What does love look like? Does it look like me making everyone happy all the time? Does it mean giving away all my time and money to a charity? Does it mean being nice all the time?

I think that Jesus understands that this is not easy for us. Jesus knows that we are very tactile, literally hands on kind of people. Jesus came to be with us to show us love, true love from God. Love that is more than nice gestures, love that is more than nice words, love that well, is more than nice. Jesus in the gospels shows us love that is beyond sentimentality and niceness. Jesus is often neither of those things. Jesus shows us love that set him apart from everyone else, God’s love that is inclusive of all people and yet is very distinguishing.

Jesus’ love challenged the status quo, such as healing the man born blind on the sabbath. Jesus’ love made people uncomfortable such as Nicodemus. Jesus’ love broke social norms such as talking to a Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus’ love called a behavior what it was, such as Judas’ betrayal. Jesus’ love stooped low to wash feet. Jesus’ love stood up to power and privilege as before Pilate. Jesus’ love hung in torture, suffering and died on a cross. Jesus’ love did what needed to be done not for his own comfort, happiness, privilege, or to be nice, but for the compassion, vitality, wholeness, solidarity and fullness of life for us-all of us. Jesus’ love was serious, tenacious and fierce.

Jesus says that this is the kind of love that will distinguish his disciples, love that holds on, love that is a sacrament-a command that sets God’s people apart so that all people know God’s love. In John’s gospel text, we experience a sacramental meal shaped with deep meaning, seriousness and importance, not for the words, not for the specific food offered, but for the actions. The actions of life-giving love. Jesus washed feet as a servant, but he used his hands with his heart, to show God’s humility, God’s inclusion and God’s mercy to transform small acts into great love. The disciples that were receivers of this love are now to be bearers of this love to the world.

This is the sacrament we celebrate tonight-life-giving, communal love. Jesus commands that our actions distinguish us from the rest of the world, for the sake of God’s transforming love for the world. Distinguishing love that calls us to set aside our own wants and preferences to care for our neighbor. Distinguishing love that says stay home for that sake of those who can’t. Distinguishing love that does what needs to be done for our siblings who are in need of someone standing up and speaking out with them. Distinguishing love that sees the harm from lack of health care and acts to relieve suffering. Distinguishing love that cries out for living wages for families to have housing and food. Distinguishing love that lifts our hands in protest for those not granted equal rights based on skin color, whom they love or where they are from. Distinguishing love that stoops down so that others can know their value. People may not call us nice for this love but we will be called disciples of Jesus, followers of the one who loved to the end, who is with us to the end and out of our ends brings God’s new beginnings of sacrificial love and new life.

 

We Are Shaken Sermon for Palm Sunday April 5, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on April 5, 2020, Palm Sunday in Holladay, UT. You can view it on YouTube: our channel name is Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts:
Isaiah 4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Phil. 2: 5-11
Matthew 21: 1-11

Today’s gospel reading of Jesus entering Jerusalem certainly seems like a far-fetched concept these days to us. Where our streets are eerily desolate, empty and quiet, the streets of Jerusalem in our Matthew passage are crowded, chaotic and cacophonous. There were people shouting “Hosanna!” which transliterated from Hebrew means “Save us now!” and waving palm branches, laying down cloaks on the road with the branches to welcome Jesus. Jesus was in the middle of this crush of people as they made their way into the heart of the city. It will be a long time before we see anything that might resemble such a parade.

This is a day where we too would typically have palm branches, sing “Hosanna!” with the children and choir processing in parade fashion. But the sanctuary is quiet and we are at home. While it seems that our experience is the complete opposite of what was happening in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, in reality they are very much the same. We read that the city of Jerusalem was in turmoil, and that word turmoil in the Greek is the same word that we encounter in Matthew 27:51 for the earthquake that occurred at the time of Jesus’ death and for the earthquake in 28: 2 that rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb. The earth shook at the arrival, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our lives are similarly shaken.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was revealing the truth of who he was and who God is in relationship with humanity and creation. Jesus entering Jerusalem revealed the truth that there was no going back to the good old days of wandering the countryside, healing, teaching, feeding, and praying. There was no going back to what to the disciples, must have looked like Jesus in control of the situation. Jesus knew that there was no going back and went head on into the crisis and chaos of betrayal, isolation, and death. Jesus also went head on into the heart of the matter, to the people to dispel the human illusions of security, power and control, to point to God at work redeeming, saving and loving humanity even when it seemed all was lost. Jesus went forward in the confidence and trust of God’s presence, even when he was scared, even when he suffered, even when he died.

We too have entered into turmoil and are shaken. The earth beneath us all has shifted, literally in the past two weeks with the earthquake in Magna, as well as emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically for us with the pandemic. Our whole world, experiences and lives has been shaken up, turned upside down and changed forever. We long to go back to just a few short weeks ago, when we could be together without fear of illness, when we could get toilet paper anytime we wanted, when we could keep travel plans, when we could have a sense of security, do whatever we pleased and had, we thought, control over our lives. But we’ve learned in the past few weeks any sense of control, comfort, security and autonomy were illusions. What’s been revealed to us is deep global interconnectedness, that there is much we don’t and can’t control and what we place security in: finances, work, material goods, health aren’t guaranteed and are fleeing at best. What’s been revealed is what truly matters when the ground beneath us is shifting and unsteady.

This is where Jesus indeed enters in. Jesus enters into our turmoil, hears our cries of “Save us now!” and comes to us and reveals to us God’s mercy, peace and tenderness when everything seems chaotic and hopeless. Jesus enters, not as a worldly king wielding words of quick fixes, placating comforts, self-serving assurances or blame, no, Jesus enters as a king whose kingdom offers actions of humility, servanthood and selflessness. Jesus incurs risk, suffering and death to enter the turmoil of humanity to reveal that there is more, there is hope, there is healing, there is light and there is life. God is at work all the way to the cross.

As the people of God, we go forward despite turmoil, chaos, despair and fear, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, lifting our palms in confidence, in trust and in love. We lift our palms to sweep back the curtain of the illusions of security,  control, comfort and autonomy to reveal that those things were never going to save us. We can’t go back to what was, we know too much, we’ve seen too much. We go forward toward what we know, lifting our palms to what does save us: God’s promises of being with us in suffering, walking with us in fear and at work in the darkest nights for the dawn of new life. New life that will be like nothing we have experienced before, new life that ushers in God’s kingdom where true security is found in doing what is beneficial for our neighbor, in sharing power, in letting go of control, in getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and in proclaiming radical, equalizing, unifying, ego-destroying, sacrificial and earth shaking grace and love. Amen.