A Lutheran Says What?

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

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes Sermon on Acts 9 August 28, 2020

The sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 30, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 30
Acts 9: 1-19

“You’re never going to change anyone’s mind.” “No one ever changes.” Common phrases that I’ve heard and personally used over the past few years. How many of us have posted a meme or an article on social media thinking “oh if people just read this, their minds will completely change and they will understand.” I have! And it turns out, I’m wrong. There are so many conversations right now where it seems that we talk just to state our positions, doctrine, and dogma and not to expand our understanding. Just spend about 1.5 seconds on any social media platform and I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. When opinions are truths and religion is a weapon, we know that this is going to go downhill quickly. We get set in our own thought patterns and we assume, with good reason, that others are set too.  So we reverberate in our own echo chambers and continue on our way. Until something happens that forces us to do, think and see differently. And it’s rarely a meme from Facebook. So what does change us? What does move us into new patterns, new thought processes, new understandings?

Saul was a man who knew what he believed, who knew what was right and knew what to do about people who were wrong. He had been raised as a devout Jew, a second generation Pharisee leader and had much invested in ensuring that nothing ever changed, that the religion remained pure and adhered to the truth. So this movement that had sprung up of John the Baptist and Jesus was a huge problem. All of the sudden people were challenging both the Roman and Temple authorities, and were gathering in groups by the thousands demanding that those whom those in power devalued, marginalized, oppressed, abused and murdered by the state and the religious authorities mattered. It was frightening indeed. Ordinary people, people who should just stay in their place in society, be quiet and be glad they are allowed to live in the Roman Empire, were hearing this message that God said they deserved equality, justice and an opportunity for an abundant life. They protested and shouted Hosanna as Jesus paraded into Jerusalem and after Jesus was crucified and allegedly came back from the dead, they grew in numbers and power. These people of The Way, who shared, cared and spoke out against injustice were dangerous, they were upsetting the status quo and they needed to be stopped at any cost, even death.

So Saul began a campaign of misinformation to rile up people who would be willing to confront The Way people. And he had pretty good success. He pushed people to stone one of these apostles who were keeping the memory of Jesus alive. He got the temple authorities in Jerusalem to give him official papers to root out followers in Damascus. Anyone Jew who was off track with this Jesus stuff needed to be silenced. Ensuring that the religion was followed correctly was more important than people’s lives. And really, it was their own fault if they were imprisoned, harmed or killed. Afterall, they were wrong. For Saul, his religion and beliefs meant that some people didn’t matter or worse yet, shouldn’t exist.

But then on the road to Damascus, there was a flash of light, a voice and darkness. “Why are you persecuting me?” It was Jesus. The Christ, the spark of God’s love who lives in us all, proclaiming that harming any person is harming Godself and that if his religion was causing him to hate someone, he needed a new religion. Saul was suddenly confronted by his own hypocrisy and previous inability to see what he was really doing. Saul’s companions escorted him the rest of the way to Damascus, where Saul sat in darkness, hunger and thirst for three days and waited for Ananias.

Ananias had heard about Saul of Tarsus, who among The Way hadn’t? Saul was hunting them down like prey and apparently had the backing, even if unofficially, of the Temple authorities. Suddenly, Ananias himself had a vision, he was to go help him to see. Ananias was appropriately afraid and voiced what he had heard about Saul. Could this man really be changed? But God tells Ananias that there is more than he knows about Saul, God is going to work through Saul, and work through Ananias. So a nervous Ananias goes to Saul, lays his hands on him and his vision is returned. Saul is baptized, eats and recovers. Saul had changed indeed.

We might say that the miracle is the flash of light, Jesus’ voice and Ananias’ vision. But I don’t think it was those experiences that changed the hearts and minds of Saul or Ananias. I don’t think it all happened in a flash. What if it was the journey? What if what changed those two men, is what can also change us? What if we need to stop looking for the miraculous flash of light when suddenly all is made clear and everyone lives in harmony singing Kum By Yah? What if the point of this story is that God indeed can change us but we have to do the hard work? God equipped Saul and Ananias with what they needed to see how a religious viewpoint that compels you to hate certain people or live in fear can be transformed. God equipped them to change and gave them everything they needed, each other. But they still had to do the hard work. They still had to give something up, their sight, food, drink, comfort, and safety, vocation, thought processes, and deeply held convictions.

We are having our Damascus Road moment my friends, Jesus is calling out to us-why are we persecuting him? This pandemic, the racial reckoning, the #blacklivesmatter movement, the destruction and death from wildfires, hurricanes and derechos from climate change is the flash of lightening and the vision and now we have to do the hard work of change-we have to go. We have to do the hard work of change so that not one more Black beloved person of God is murdered by our institutions, the hard work of caring for God’s creation, the hard work to see those who disagree with us not as an enemy to silence, the hard work of setting aside previously incorrect religious teachings regarding gender justice and our LBGTQIA siblings. This is hard work of the gospel, of truly loving our neighbor my friends. You and me, together, on this road and it will take more than three days and we may feel inadequate to see everything clearly but we keep doing the hard walk. We have to for there is no going back, and we have a new road, for we know God’s grace ourselves and that it is for all.

Saul changes his name to Paul to mark his transformation in the promises of God. Paul will suffer for the gospel it says, and what that means is that he gives up his own control over his life and turns it over to Jesus. We too, will suffer, we will give up our control, power, ego and our very lives so that the gospel of Jesus can be lived and proclaimed. We will have to change, transform, stop doing what we have done before particularly what denies life to any person, for in status quo and living in the past is only death. We go out, new people, with new hearts, renewed minds and we know that life will not, cannot ever be the same. But God is always the same with love, grace, mercy, strength, courage and plenty of ways to keep transforming us for the journey. Thanks be to God.

 

Seeing is Believing Sermon on Matthew 28 August 21, 2020

This sermon was preached on August 23, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3: 1-4
Matthew 28: 1-10

I always get sucked into those Facebook posts or that have the abstract pictures that ask you if you see or don’t see certain objects like animals or numbers or whatever. Sometimes I can see what I’m supposed to and that’s fun but sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I can’t see what others do. Then I wonder if there is something wrong with me, why don’t I see it? Maybe it doesn’t really exist and I’m being punked? The phrase “seeing is believing” has been resonating with me this week as I ponder our gospel text of Jesus’ resurrection. Just as we did Christmas in July, with no snow, or presents or egg nog, we have Easter in August, with it’s dry, hot, waning days of summer as the growing season wraps up. Easter in August forces a different perspective versus tulips, lilies and cool spring mornings when everything seems new. It’s easier to see the new life in Jesus’ resurrection with so many visual reminders around us than in late August when things are drying up and dying. How can I see new life and hope when all around me is death, endings, and empty places where life once was? I think of the angel’s statement to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (probably Jesus’ mother), “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” In Matthew’s gospel, we don’t know why the women came to the tomb in the early hours of Sunday before sunrise. In Mark and Luke, the women went to apply spices to Jesus’ body, but in Matthew, it doesn’t say why the two Marys’ went. Did they expect to see a dead body? A resurrected Jesus? Something else entirely?

What would I have expected to see that morning after witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion? I know that my vision can be sorrowfully myopic. I might only see Jesus in what you might call the obvious: in specific church places, activities or events, or in certain people. I might see Jesus only in my scripture reading or in prayers. I might see Jesus only where I expect to see Jesus.  

If I’m honest, I don’t see Jesus as much as I should. Time and time again, in all the gospels, in the entirety of the Bible, God shows up in unexpected ways, in unexpected places and in the least likely people. Over and over. God shows up as wind, as a stranger, a wrestler who wounds, as a burning bush, as still silence, in the voices of men and women prophets, and as a baby born in the middle of nowhere to refugees whom no one cared about. The Marys’ went to the tomb to see what would happen, and they experienced an earthquake, a large stone moving, an empty tomb and an angelic message. None of these actions typically herald new life. But the women knew that they were God’s actions and where God is acting, they needed to look again. And when they did, they saw Jesus. Without those unexpected and frightening experiences would they have seen Jesus as readily?  

As I said, it’s easy for me to see Jesus in sunrises, in hummingbirds, smiles, and stained glass. But I admit that it’s harder for me to see Jesus in the midst of this pandemic, in the midst of the racial turmoil, in the midst of the divisions and in people whom I disagree with. And yet, that’s the whole point of the resurrection. It’s the point of Jesus’ life and ministry. It’s the point of the Bible. That God acts in all times and in all places, even when we can’t or won’t see God. God acts in tombs of death, God is acting in the pandemic, God is acting in our nation’s racial reckoning, God is acting in our divisive conversations. God is acting whether we can see it or not. God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope and new life exist even when we can’t see it and we can’t believe it. This is good news, because it’s not all up to us and what we can see or do. It’s what God sees and does. It’s what God promises.

God is bringing new life to us, and maybe we’re being forced right now to see it. Maybe we had to experience frightening events to see differently, like the Marys at the tomb. Maybe we had to stop seeing our faith and church life, and our daily lives, in the same old way to see God’s actions of new life. Maybe we had to see our sanctuary as empty as the tomb to see that Jesus has gone out ahead of us to meet us on the road. Maybe some of us had to see how privileged our white upper middle class lives are to see that is not true for all people in our community. Maybe we had to see that relationships can’t be taken for granted, that our health, our status, our abilities are all fleeting in order to see that when we let go of seeing our lives as our own, we see Jesus. Like the women, we can see Jesus right in front of us with words of hope. We see Jesus in our neighbor, we see Jesus in diversity, we see Jesus in hard conversations, we see Jesus in what is changing, we see Jesus in what is hard for us to comprehend, and we see Jesus in our own fear and great joy. And in the midst of this, we worship right where we are. The promise is that we will see Jesus, who is God’s action in our midst through the power of the Holy Spirit. We see Jesus in water, bread and wine. We see Jesus and we then go to tell others to see Jesus too. We walk beside all people so that they can see Jesus in their own lives, and in the world, even when it’s hard, even when it’s unlikely, even when they don’t want to.

This is what it is to see the resurrected Jesus, is to see life where others see death, to see new beginnings where others see endings, to see abundance where others see emptiness, to see love where others see fear. We see Jesus and believe that God is acting. Amen.

 

Comfort Food Sermon Matthew 14 August 14, 2020

This sermon was preached on August 16, 2020 at OSLC in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21
Isaiah 55: 1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

Like many of you, I’m sure, I have many memories tied up with food. Some joyous, some not. I remember Thanksgivings, Christmas’ or birthday meals with family and friends. And I remember a plate of chicken, rice and broccoli being shoved in front of me on the day of my son’s funeral by loving friends who knew that I hadn’t eaten in four days. I remember the meals that poured in for months to support us when Ben was in the hospital and after he died. I remember how people expressed that only sending mac and cheese and fruit seemed inadequate in the wake of what we were experiencing. And yet I can tell you that those simple homemade meals from people who loved us were worth more than any sumptuous, high end feast from a celebrity chef could ever matter. Many times, people just made a double recipe of whatever they were cooking for their own families, as it didn’t take that much more to feed two families. Those meals from and sometimes with the people who cared for us and stuck with us  even though it was hard, brought comfort. Often the phrase was “we’ll bring you some comfort food.” Food that not only satisfies our bellies but our souls. Comfort food is categorized as food that not only tastes good, but evokes memories of feeling safe, secure, loved and protected. Comfort food reminds us that our bodies and our souls are connected, and we have to feed both. Comfort food is compassion in action.

Jesus’ compassion is on full display in our gospel text for today. He gets into a boat to get away by himself for a bit, as he has just heard about the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod at a lavish dinner party where John’s head was served on a silver platter. Jesus was grieving and needed some time away. But the crowds heard of John’s death too, and of Jesus’ leaving town, so they followed him. Why we’re not quite sure, other than by now the connection between John and Jesus was evident to the people, and what Jesus offered people for their lives was a stark contrast with what Herod and the Roman Empire was offering them. Jesus saw this large crowd and their desperation. He had compassion, which in the Greek is far more descriptive, as it means, Jesus was moved to his guts. Jesus’ body ached for these people. This story isn’t only about food, or how Jesus feeds us spiritually, it’s about bodies, and that to God, bodies, our physical selves matter. We tend to gloss over in this passage that Jesus cured their sick. Jesus attended to their physical bodies. And Jesus must have healed for a long time as then it was evening. So here is as large crowd, in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat or drink. The disciples correctly suggested that the hungry crowds be dispersed to go get food in the towns. That is a practical and loving decision. But Jesus turns to them and says no, they can stay, you feed them. I love the disciples reaction, as I’ve had it a time or two in my life as well, “we’ve got nothing here.” Well, except this little bit but it doesn’t count. So many times when I am faced with deep need, deep sorrow, I worry that I don’t have enough to offer that person in need. How can I help someone grieving a death? How can I feed all the starving people of the world? How can I help so many people dying of cancer, heart disease, mental illness? How can I house all those experiencing homelessness? It’s too many. And so I tell God that I’ve got nothing here.

But Jesus takes the little bit of bread and fish that the disciples do have (the simple standard meal in first century Palestine) and blesses it, breaks it into pieces, gives it to them and says, what little you have, give away, it will be enough. And it was. Five thousand men plus women and children (who weren’t normally counted in ancient times) were filled– with leftovers collected, nothing was wasted. The disciples were able, with Jesus’ blessing, to feed probably close to 15,000 people. It’s a miracle, but not because of the food distribution, it’s miracle because it shows us that when we come together, we can comfort one another, we can provide for the actual bodily needs of each other. This is the ultimate comfort food story. Jesus reveals that God does indeed care about people and their daily bread, their sick bodies, and their hardships. The powers of the world, like Herod only care about their own power and themselves. This would be revelatory to the people and it’s still revelatory to us today. God cares about us, each and every part of us, yes, our hearts and our souls AND our bodies too.
We instinctually know this, which is why when someone is experiencing a hardship, our “go to” is to offer meals, comfort food. It’s why we donate food to Crossroads Urban Center, its’ why as a denomination we have a whole ministry of ending world hunger. When we feed people, we are Jesus’ compassion in action. When we feed people, we are in solidarity with them as we all know on some level hunger pains. When we feed people, it’s our prayers in action. It’s a bold declaration that with Jesus’ blessing we can see past our own scarcity and know that what little we may we have to offer, is enough. It’s a bold declaration that great things happen with ordinary things. It’s a bold declaration against the excesses of this world where some have more than they will ever need while other people struggle for morsels to keep going. It’s a bold declaration of hope that when we come together, people are healed, people are fed and people are comforted. It’s a bold declaration of the promises of God not for someday but for today and for all bodies. And that is a comfort we can trust. Thanks be to God.

 

A Keen Eye A Sermon for Richard Weber

Richard’s service was held on the west lawn of OSLC on August 14. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 121
Psalm 46
John 14: 1-7

Grace and peace to you from God the maker of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life and the Holy Spirit, who makes us one, amen.

Richard Herrmann Weber, born in Chicago, Illinois on October 7, 1947 to Heinrich and Sofie Weber and big brother Hank, was a man who had a keen eye for many things throughout his life. He saw the normal ups and downs of childhood and youth, the joy and sorrows that come from relationships, and the peaks and valleys of adulthood and career. Rich would see what was important and then go do it. Rich’s educational accomplishments, including degrees in social work, education and a PHD in clinical psychology, led to his vocational life of service in the Air Force and then in the Utah State Dept of Corrections. In these experiences, Rich saw a diversity of people and situations through his vocational choices and saw how he could accompany people on their journeys. Rich had an eye for how his presence with people mattered and Rich’s ability to see what was truly important, to see beyond the current situation to the bigger picture was a rare gift. Rich’s gift of insight is exemplified in a few ways, such as he had an eye for well-tailored and nice clothing. He could put together an outfit and tended to be quite dapper. And his good eye was fortuitous, as one day while with a friend, he noticed Marti as she sat by the pool where she was living. The friend, as I’m told, was a bit, shall we say, ungentlemanly and Rich saw that. He apologized to Marti for his friend, and Marti could see that this Rich fellow was different than others. And the rest we say is a beautiful 38 plus year history.
I know from my conversations with Rich, that what he treasured most was seeing his family, his children, Ashley and Justin and his grandchildren Bradley and Maxwell. For Rich, his family was his favorite vision.

Rich loved viewing God’s creation too. The family chose psalm 121 and 46 today because of Rich’s deep love for nature, for animals and everything that God created. Rich had an eye for the hand and the love of his creator in the natural world around him, and this setting today out here on our west lawn where we sit under the trees in view of the Wasatch front is testimony to Rich’s vision. Rich’s faith and trust in God was evident and anyone who knew Rich not only saw this faith and trust but saw God in Rich too. Jesus in our Gospel reading is clear that we have all seen God because we have seen Jesus and so our hearts don’t need to be troubled. Rich saw Jesus in the people around him, in his environment and in all aspects of his surroundings. When Rich’s heart would from time to time be troubled, whether it was concern for his family, or his own health challenges or issues in our society and world, Rich also spoke of where he saw Jesus, in his family, in his OSLC family and friends.

Jesus states in our gospel that seeing is trusting. Jesus knows the importance for us of the concrete reminders of God’s presence with us. The writer of psalm 46, the basis for Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, one of Rich’s favorites that we’ll hear in a moment, calls out that God is our refuge and our strength and our very help in times of trouble. And in Psalm 121, we can trust that when we look at the hills as Rich did, and we see what Rich saw: the handiwork of our creator God, who never sleeps but will keep watch over us and protect us when life is difficult. Essentially, God keeps an eye on us. Jesus knew these psalms too and calls us to see God’s presence all around us, and especially in one another. We know that God’s protection and care doesn’t mean that we aren’t spared from suffering and hardships but that we are never alone in those situations. We know that not only do we see God but God sees us. Rich trusted and knew that the promise is that God had a loving eye on him and us all, always. And we are to see the world how God sees the world, through the lens of love. This was a comfort for Rich and it is a comfort for us who now mourn Rich’s death and absence from our lives. In the coming weeks, months and years, we will see the promises of God through Jesus in each other, as we together we go forward. We rest in the comfort that God has an eye on our tears, our broken hearts and holds us just the way we are.
 And just as we saw Jesus in our brother in Christ, Rich, other people will see Jesus in us. We can witness to the love, grace and mercy of God who is our keeper, our refuge, who has prepared a room, a forever home for us and for all, who keeps our life right here, right now and in eternity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is the promise that Rich now claims and that is the promise for us today. We honor the love and witness of Rich’s faith, and show that same love and witness to others. We can keep an eye on each other as Christ commands us.

Like Rich, we have an eye for the promises of God all around us, we see Rich’s legacy of love and faith that he generously shared with us, we see that this love never ends and we see the hope that God  pours out to us each day. We trust, as Rich did, that God does keep an eye on us, loves us and that “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” Thanks be to God.

 

Responses to Fear: Fight, Flight, Fear and Faith? August 7, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 9, 2020 in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were 107: 1-3, 23-32
Matthew 8: 23-27

Fear is a powerful emotion. Psychologists suggest that we have three reactions to fear: fight, flight or freeze. I can tell you at some point in my life I have reacted in each of those ways at different times when I’ve been afraid but my “go to” is fight. That can sound aggressive and I suppose it can be, but my instinct is to tackle something that I fear head on. For me, I want to take care of it, get to a solution and move on. But that isn’t always the most helpful response. Sometimes, I should walk away, flight. There is nothing wrong with walking away from a situation that is dangerous for some reason. And there are times for pause, freeze. While that one might have some risk of being stuck in a constant state of uncertainty, pausing to think through a situation isn’t all bad either. Fear is a such a powerful emotion that it can cloud our judgment and cause us not see a situation clearly or from different perspectives. Fear can also convince us to worry only about ourselves.

It seems that there is plenty of fear to go around right now and much of it is justified. If you are feeling fearful, you’re in good company. And perhaps as the saying goes, if you’re not even a little afraid, you’re not paying attention. Fear indeed has quite a bit of power in our lives and community right now. And we’ve all witnessed one another’s responses to this fear and that variety can lead to more fear and anxiety. We are being swamped, whether on a community level: the coronavirus, racial tensions, the beginning of the school year, the rise in unemployment, homelessness, or food insecurity. Or on the individual level, it’s many of the above, plus fragile relationships, personal health, mental health, and more. We are afraid of sinking. We’re afraid that we will perish and we wonder why it seems that Jesus is asleep.

The disciples had risked quite a bit to follow Jesus. Leaving their families, livelihoods, security behind to support this itinerant preacher, teacher and healer who said that he was the Son of God, required bold courage. They mostly believed that Jesus was who he said he was, but at the same time they couldn’t quite wrap their heads around it. If it’s true who Jesus is, that’s frightening on a whole different level. And now here they are in a boat, on the sea of Galilee, a place notorious for fast moving, strong storms. When that does indeed occur, it doesn’t take much for the waves to take over their vessel, and drowning in these storms was common. Fear gripped them. Had they risked everything only to die in the sea? We don’t know how the disciples reacted, who froze, fought, or tried to flee. But I would think flight wouldn’t have been much of an option. But what we do know is after it was clear that their responses weren’t working, they called out to the sleeping Jesus, who was ostensibly completely oblivious to the situation.

Jesus response to the disciples’ fear is telling. He doesn’t tell them to not be afraid but asks them why they are afraid. He doesn’t dismiss their fear but acknowledges it. Jesus knows that human fear is real, for Jesus is human after all. But then Jesus offers them another response to fear besides fight, flight, or freeze…that is faith. He says that they have little faith, but perhaps that is all the disciples, and we, need in times of fear. Jesus then speaks a word of rebuke to the storm and the winds and the sea become dead calm, we read.

What does it mean to have faith in the midst of our fear? That might be different for each of us, just as we each have an innate response to fear. Throughout the gospels Jesus talks about faith: praising people for faith, telling parables of faith, admonishing those with no faith. As Lutherans, we acknowledge that faith is not of our own doing or striving but is a gift from God. Jesus exemplifies this as God’s gift of God’s presence with humanity. Faith is a relationship with God, faith is our life vest in the midst of storms, its what we cling to when we don’t know what else to do. Faith is clinging to God and God clinging to us.

Jesus knows the power that fear can have over us. Jesus wants us to know the power of God’s faith that God desires for us. God’s gift of faith is more powerful than our fear. God’s gift of faith buoys us and helps us to respond in fearful situations by not curving in on ourselves and becoming insular. God’s gift of faith frees us to use our fight, flight, or freeze response to care for our neighbor and their well-being and not only ourselves. God’s gift of faith frees us to see how we might weather the storm and frees us to see God’s power at work in the world. God’s gift of faith lifts our eyes above the waves to see that this storm too shall pass. God’s gift of faith reveals to us who Jesus is, God’s love and power in our lives and in the world that never leaves us alone and is always in our boat no matter how vicious the storm.

Fear is a powerful emotion and we give thanks that Jesus proclaims that God’s gift of faith is even more powerful and holds us forever. Amen.