A Lutheran Says What?

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

Beyond Expectations Luke 2 Christmas Eve October 30, 2020

This sermon was recorded October 30,2020 for our Christmas Eve worship. Yep, we’re early as we have a lot of video to edit! It will be on YouTube on Dec. 23, 2020 Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Isaiah 9: 2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2: 1-20

Sometimes life is beyond our expectations. I think it’s fair to say that this year fits that description. At Christmas last year, we were looking into the future with the expectation that life would only be better, or least not this. I have to say that it’s beyond my expectation to be leading worship mostly on-line, or that in person communion would become dangerous. It is beyond my expectation that I would wear a mask anytime I left the house, and leaving would be rare. It’s beyond my expectation that I would have Zoom fatigue. And it’s completely beyond my expectation to be writing and recording a Christmas Eve sermon in late October. (Happy Halloween everyone!) It’s beyond our expectations that our celebrations and worship are so different and, well, unexpected.

Expectations are notoriously challenging, as they are rarely met. Expectations are built on what we know about our present and our experience of the past, what we think we can control and know our future. Expectations have an almost truth like quality to them, as we commonly cement expectations into our own consciousness. Expectations are about what we can imagine, what we want to be true, and based on our limited experiences. When expectations aren’t met, it’s disorienting, and we’re often disappointed and disillusioned. Even when expectations are exceeded, it’s just as challenging, as it still requires a shift in our thinking and response. Anything beyond our expectations, transforms us.

The beloved Luke 2 Jesus birth narrative states that Mary “was expecting a child.” Expecting. Mary probably had certain expectations for her life and life with Joseph. I’m willing to guess that conception of a child out of wedlock by the Holy Spirit, being told by the Angel Gabriel that the baby would be the Son of the Most High who would save the world and giving birth among animals were beyond her and Joseph’s expectations.

It was beyond the expectations of the shepherds on duty that night outside of Bethlehem to be serenaded by a multitude of the heavenly hosts about the birth of the Messiah. The people of Israel had been expecting a Messiah for a long time, but it was beyond the expectation of these shepherds, on the lowest rung of society, that they would be the first to hear or see it for themselves. It was beyond anyone’s expectation that this new family would have as their first visitors the shepherds who shared the angelic message of the expectation of this new frail baby. It was beyond their expectation of what the coming years would bring for this newborn, how his life would transform the world, shatter the expectations of so many people, break open hearts and imaginations, and two thousand years later we would be ruminating on their story. Some of their expectations would go unmet, yet God’s presence, love and mercy would turn out to be beyond what they could expect or imagine.

The truth is that we have many unmet expectations this year. We expected to attend a candlelight worship, to sing Silent Night together, watch the children dressed as angels, hear the choir sing, and be together. We expected family gatherings, joyous meals, meaningful gifts, and festive parties. And as I am preaching this sermon on October 30, I am obviously projecting expectations on what December 24 will be like for me and for you. I don’t actually know what the next two months will bring, I don’t know what to expect. Just like Joseph and Mary who never expected to parent the Son of God, or the shepherds who never expected to be the first witnesses to God’s incarnation with humanity and creation, we just don’t know what to expect for the coming weeks, months or year.

In the unmet expectations this year, the truth is also that God’s presence and work in our midst has been beyond my expectation. It’s beyond expectation how OSLC would turn our focus so rapidly and unwaveringly to protecting and caring for our community outside our walls, how robustly we would respond to digital worship and embrace Zoom simply to see each other.

God has shown up and shattered our expectations of what life can be, and what life should be in this pandemic. Just as it is beyond human expectation for God to show up as a baby in the middle of nowhere 2000 years ago, in Jesus, to live as one of us, so too it’s beyond expectation how God shows up in our midst today. God shows up in holy Facetimes with beloved family in assisted living facilities, in sacred Zoom family game nights, in smiling eyes above masked faces, in funding organizations for neighbors in need, in difficult conversations of articulating our faith in the midst of political and racial upheaval. God’s very presence has unexpectedly bound us to one another despite distancing. We are together beyond our expectations.

God is all about shattering our expectations, showing us that life with God is beyond anything we can expect because God’s expectation for us and creation transforms us, reorients us to what is true even when we don’t expect it. God transforms our unmet expectations into wholeness, healing, new life and love. We trust and expect God’s presence no matter where we are, even if the situation is beyond our expectations. God promises that life with God, through the love and grace of Jesus Christ, will always be beyond our expectations. Amen, and Merry Christmas!

 

Our Bodies Remember Sermon on Luke 22

This sermon was preached on Nov. 1, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

We are in our generosity focus and celebration of our 60th anniversary. “Rooted in our past, embracing our future.” This week’s theme is “Remember.” We also celebrate All Saints Sunday.

Texts:
Exodus: 16:1-18
Luke 22: 1-23

There have been significant insights gained in the past couple of decades on the link between our brains and our bodies. Most of this information is simply an affirmation of our lived experiences, with the science of hormonal and immune system responses, as well as the activity of our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. We all know that stress, good and bad, plays a role in our physical well-being and learning how to teach our brains to listen to our bodies is necessary for overall health. Our bodies know a lot, it turns out, perhaps more than our brains but we rarely listen to our bodies until it’s too late. So often in my life, I worked tirelessly on a big paper, project or event only to fall ill immediately following the culmination of that stressor. Our bodies know, and our bodies also remember. Our bodies remember stresses, remember feelings, remember betrayal, remember love. You know that pit in your stomach when you remember an action from several years ago of which you are ashamed? Or those butterflies you get when you think about a beloved?  Sometimes our bodies are the only parts of us that do remember significant events and use bodily responses to get our attention. How many times have we not felt well or “off” only to later remember that it was the anniversary of a beloved’s death, or relationship ending, job loss, or health diagnosis? Conversely, how often have we felt great and then realized it was because we were remembering a time when we were safe, loved and cared for? Our bodies know, and they remember.

We celebrate our 60th anniversary this year at OSLC,  and we gratefully remember the people who had the vision of a community of followers of Jesus in Salt Lake City. Nearly all these people have gone before us, I believe Janice Orme is the only charter member still with us. And while we may not remember all the names, all the faces, we remember the love and faith that they poured into this congregation and this community. We remember, not just with our brains, and hearts, but our bodies. Some of us with the pit of grief in our stomach and some of us breathing easier that these saints had such an astute sense of God’s mission and vision 60 years ago. We know that where we are today, is not by our own doing but due to the love and vision of others and their bodies. This is true in every aspect of our lives. I’m wearing a stole today that celebrates the 50th anniversary of ordination in the Lutheran church of white women, 40th of Black women and 10th of people who are LBGTQIA+. I’m here as a pastor today not because of my own vision, but because of others. The names on this stole are some the faithful women in the Bible who held fast to God’s call and vision and not what the world’s vision for them was because their bodies were female. I remember that they sacrificed much, some their very bodies, for God’s vision and call. Our bodies know and our bodies remember; our bodies know that we are part of a larger whole and remember that we cannot be whole without being together. Our vision, our faith, our calls, bring us into wholeness, and interconnection like puzzle pieces, to God, and perhaps more importantly, with each other.

Jesus exemplifies this truth in his earthly life and death. Jesus points to the power of what our bodies know and remember throughout his ministry. Jesus desires for his disciples, and us, to trust that power of what our bodies know and remember. Our bodies are part the very kingdom of God, they matter and are declared very good. Jesus wants us to watch and listen to his body so that we learn to listen to our own and others. Jesus knew that the time after his death and resurrection for the disciples would be challenging. Their bodies would also be on the line. This faith in following Jesus is not intellectual, it’s incarnational, it’s fleshy, it real and it’s risky. Jesus offered his own body for the work of God to bring eternal life and wholeness for all bodies. Jesus knows that our bodies will need sustenance for this work. So, Jesus, at that last meal with his disciples, gives bread, saying this is my body. It’s broken, it’s divided, it’s sustaining and it’s for you. Eat it, be filled, be reconnected to the body that matters, the body of Christ, to remember. And then drink, for you don’t live by bread alone, drink and know that this is my blood coursing through your veins, through your body. It’s love that runs through you, remember, be reconnected with hope, mercy and forgiveness and then fill others. Your body knows, and your body will remember.

This is why we celebrate the meal, to listen to Jesus’ body and to hear our own. Our bodies know what it is to be loved, to be valued, to be cherished. Our bodies remember every time they are violated. Jesus wants our bodies to only know love, to only remember wholeness, to only remember what it feels like to be in this body of Christ that has no end, that sustains, visions, frees, and hopes. This remembering that Jesus offers in this supper, this reconnection, gives us strength as we go out into the world.

We remember and give thanks on this All Saints Sunday, that we are never alone, we are connected and cared for by the people who have come before us, surround us and are yet to come. We are heard and filled by Jesus’ body, not for our own sake but for people who will come after us, in the next 60 years. People who will be very different, worship differently, live differently, dress differently but who’s bodies are loved all the same by Jesus. Their bodies will know and remember that they were thought of and loved by us today.

Our bodies know and our bodies remember. We remember that we are loved by God, and we are God’s love in the world. Amen.

 

Statements of Faith Sermon on Mark 12: 38-44 October 23, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 25, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

We are in our Generosity Focus with our theme: Rooted in our past, embracing our Future. This first week is Reimagine.

The texts were:
Leviticus 19:9-10, 25: 8-12
Mark 12: 38-44

Luther only wanted to make a statement, not start a revolution. Martin Luther, 503 years ago, posted some statements on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, as he had done before, hoping to open up a conversation regarding the church system. The system that he had participated in his whole life, the system he actually loved, the system that had been in place for centuries, although with some evolution and nuance, the system that Luther believed was failing thousands of people. Luther considered his statements logical and obvious harms being perpetrated on innocent people who were reliant on the system and the structure to daily life it provided. But in truth, Luther’s statements were a vision, a reimagination of how the system, the world, the community of faith could operate. Luther saw through and beyond the system to something else, to something new. They were his statements of a reimagined life, of faith, daily living and community. That kind of reimagining, Luther soon found out, is always a threat to those in power in the system. Keeping the system stable and keeping those whom the system privileged comfortable was paramount at any costs. If some people were exploited, well, that’s just the way life works isn’t it? Nope, said Luther. When challenged by the powerful of the system, Luther was offered two choices, stay quiet and stay in the system, or be cast out from the system. Luther recognized that there was a third choice, and that was to follow his faith in God and God’s mission, risk everything to challenge and transform the system. Luther’s reimaging captured the imagination of many around him and the system was forced to alter. Many were upset, scared, bewildered, and angry that the status quo was shredded, for after Luther’s statements of faith, life was never the same again.

 Statements that change the world can be made with words, spoken or written, but sometimes statements are made with what seems to be simple actions. Jesus called attention to this fact in our Mark lesson today. Jesus highlights the statements that the scribes, the supposed leaders of the Temple, who were tasked with caring for the people spiritually and physically, really were. Their long robes and overly ornate prayers were statements of status quo, power, elitism, and privilege. He also pointed to the statements of the rich people giving to the Temple treasury, and how they made a show of the amount they gave, a revealing of their bank statements so to speak, and how the scribes often privileged and fawned over those who gave copious amounts, even if it was really only a sliver of their actual wealth.

Jesus carefully watched the widow approach the treasury deposit site. Widows, who were often poor, as a woman’s only status and power were in relationship to a male family member, were exempt from giving to the Temple as the Temple leaders were supposed to be caring from them. The Torah teachings are clear that widows, the poor, orphans and resident aliens, immigrants and refugees are to be provided for from the Temple treasury and the community. The widow put in her two coins, all that she had, even though it’s a pittance. Jesus honors her but maybe not for the reason we think. Yes, it’s an act of faith, yes, it’s a statement of giving all that she had, but here’s what I think Jesus is really saying: it’s a statement of reimagining. It’s a statement of defiance and calling out the system. No, she didn’t get in anyone’s face, no she doesn’t write an angry note to state her disappointment with the leaders. Those two coins might have come from the treasury to begin with, and weren’t enough to help her at all, and so she gives it back. She knows that the scribes are supposed to be caring for her, and not just her, but all in need, and they are giving some, but not enough. It was a token. It was enough to soothe the conscious of those with all the power and wealth. See we gave them something! It’s not our fault that they can’t actually live on that! It’s Rome’s fault! But the widow knows better. The widow is reimagining what true community looks like. What equal and just distribution of wealth could be. She is reimagining beyond the Roman Empire and beyond the institution of the Temple- to the kingdom of God. She’s recalling our Leviticus text of Jubilee and offering a vision of trusting God AND trusting each other to provide for all needs, including the earth.

Jesus pointed out this widow to the disciples and to us so that perhaps we too can reimagine. What statement of God’s vision do we want to offer in this time and place? We have to reimagine beyond our broken and human political system, beyond our broken and human institutional church and offer a vision to the world of God’s kingdom. Luther, while by no means perfect and he had his flaws, was attempting in his own way to do this. It’s the foundation of our faith tradition-to reimagine the world that centers the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of the world, of human greed, selfishness, and egocentricity. When we center the kingdom of God, we center a vision of wholeness, justice, mercy and community, not for some but for all.

I have been ruminating more and more on how my life can be such a statement of reimaging life ushering in the kingdom of God in our current world. I truly believe that as a world and a Church we are in a time of reimaging and our statements of faith with words and actions matter. Nothing will be the same after this pandemic, and do we have the imagination, like the widow, Luther and Jesus, to join what God is already up to? We must reimagine our statements of faith that our communal lives together are more important than our individual rights, so we wear masks, curb our activities to necessities only, don’t hoard, and offer patience and compassion with leaders and each other. Reimagine our statements of faith that in our lives together white supremacy, racism, homophobia, misogyny is a sin, that our consumer culture is killing and harming us and the earth, that there is enough for all, and that yes, we will have to set aside our own power, privilege and entitlement. Reimagine our statements of faith that enable our bank statements to match our vision of abundance. Our statements of faith matter, for our statements can reimagine the world, bring down unjust systems and reveal the mercy and grace of God for us all.

God’s statement is clear, God’s living statement is Jesus who states in words and actions what God reimagines the world to be. Jesus’ statement is to reimagine a world where death isn’t the final word, where God’s will is done, all humanity and creation exists in health, interdependence, mercy and hope and the tenacious love of Christ binds us together. You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen .

 

Quality of Life Sermon on Matthew 22 October 9, 2020

This sermon was preached on October 11, 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 23
Philippians 4: 1-10
Matthew 22: 1-14

One of the goals of parenting, caregiving, teaching or mentoring, is to help another person achieve a healthy, vibrant and sustainable life-to have what we often refer to as “quality of life.”  Such as when my children were very young, I knew that making them take a nap would ensure a better rest of the day. Now that doesn’t mean that they were always receptive to this nap. Sometimes I had to make them lie down to get them to rest. They thought I was being mean and unfair because they wanted to stay up and do what they wanted to do. But I knew that if they didn’t rest, they would be crabby and melt down later and it wouldn’t be good for them or anyone around them. Their resistance to this reality is not unique as we often can’t see consequences for our choices, for ourselves or those around us. I usually think that I know what I need to have the kind of quality of life I want and deserve. And yet, I have to admit, when I consider my own quality of life, rarely do I consider the impact of my decisions on others.

This idea of our quality of life is front and center right now in our culture. We all have our individual opinions on what is a good quality of life and tend to think that we should have autonomy over those opinions. Where we go, what we do, where we live, what we buy, and what we share. We all want security: financial, health, food, housing, work, etc. And we are sure that we each know the best way to have a good quality of life. The crisis comes when others don’t agree with us and when our decisions for ourselves impact one another in negative ways.

Jesus challenges our concept of “quality of life” in our parable today. This is a hard parable, and I seriously considered preaching on one of the other two texts, except I realized Psalm 23 and Philippians 4 only support what Jesus is saying in Matthew 22. This parable is filled with invitation, rejection, killing of the messengers, destruction of the city, the good and the bad gathered off the streets and ultimately someone thrown out of the wedding banquet. Not a lot of good news it seems, as reality abounds in this parable.

Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. Wedding feasts were about unity, the combining of clans, cementing of relationships and alliances. They were political. Attending a wedding feast was a statement about your allegiances and how you lived. You didn’t attend a wedding feast lightly or just to make an appearance. In this harsh parable Jesus offers that we must understand that we have been invited to God’s wedding feast. God is offering us a relationship that is important and permanent. All too often, we walk away from the invitation of this relationship because it might seem risky to accept it, to be seen at the feast, or we mistakenly think our daily lives are the real invitation from God. We look for ways to avoid making visible our allegiance to the good news of Jesus in the world. We make light of the importance for showing up, and not just showing up half-heartedly or because we have nothing better to do. God desires for us to show up fully clothed in our baptisms, fully clothed with the love for our neighbor, fully clothed in the understanding that we can’t be speechless, like the guest who didn’t understand that half-way doesn’t cut it. We show up knowing that our quality of life is not something that we decide for ourselves nor is it what we can control and master. No, good quality of life, only comes from our lives in God through Jesus Christ who lived, died and was raised from the dead to usher in quality of life for all to flourish today and forever. Good quality of life requires something from us, it requires that we do the things that may not make sense or seem too hard. Good quality of life means that we recognize that our quality of life is interconnected to the quality of life of each other.

When we show up fully as God’s people, living the message of love for the world through Jesus, in the hardest of situations, that is a good quality of life. Paul, in Philippians, was writing from prison, probably about to be killed and yet, rejoiced in his quality of life in the grace and mercy of Christ that he shared with the people of Philippi. A good quality of life is a life lived for God and for others. It’s not living perfectly, or the absence of hard situations, but it’s the ability to deal with what is, even if what it is, is hard.

 Our presence matters, and not just for appearances. How we live our lives, our actions as the people of God must be clear and plain. Jesus offers that the wedding guest not clothed correctly was thrown out, and I wonder if that is because when our inside intentions don’t match our outside actions, we have the possibility of harming those around us. We can’t talk about loving our neighbor while refusing to wear a mask to keep them safe, or deny them healthcare, or go hungry, or sleep on the streets, or the right to immigrate, or to allow racism to abound. We are called to consider what will further human flourishing, not just our own. God’s invitation is indeed for all and how we respond matters. When I don’t respond fully as a person of God, I not only undermine my own quality of life, but the quality of life of others around me. When I’m silent on matters of injustice, when I avoid hard conversations with a misguided notion of keeping the peace, when I stay in my comfort bubble because my privilege allows me to, when I don’t do the hard actions of putting my money where my mouth is for reparations for Black and indigenous folks, then I lessen the quality of life for others in the world. For Jesus, our quality of life is bound up in one another, as a community, AND our individual response matters as it impacts the community. For Jesus, our quality of life can be rich only through our connection to God and accepting the invitation to God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness. Our quality of life is not about us, and yes, when we think it is, difficult, unpleasant and harmful events unfold in our midst, this is the reality of the parable and our lives. Our quality of life is full with promise and hope and when we open our hearts, spirits and souls to life fully with God in God’s kingdom, and we are connected to the joyful feast of life that never ends in Jesus.
You are loved. You are beloved. Go and be love. Amen.

 

Rock Bottom Sermon Matthew 21: 33-46 October 2, 2020

This sermon was preached on Oct. 4, 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 80:7-15
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21: 33-46

I have had the experience a few times in my life of hitting rock bottom. Now, realize that is perhaps not as dramatic as it sounds. That term has some strong connotations in our culture, mostly associated with the disease of addiction, but Fr. Richard Rohr notes that as a culture as whole, we are a very addictive people and discusses the 12 Steps from AA and spirituality. We’re all addicted to something, whether it’s work, diet coke, food, tv, social media, exercise, shopping, doomscrolling, there is something that each of us does that keeps us from perhaps healthier pursuits. For many, it’s mostly an eccentricity and doesn’t interfere with daily life, but every now and again, we all reach a point with a situation that causes us to realize that we aren’t managing very well. That’s hitting rock bottom. It’s being crushed and broken open to see something truthfully and to acknowledge that something has to change.  One time, for me, it was the recognition that I needed to lose the weight I had gained from having three children, to be healthier. Our youngest was medically fragile and after his first surgery at seven months old, I hit rock bottom in realizing that he would need care his whole life and I needed to be around as long as possible. I hit rock bottom and knew I had to change. So I began to eat differently, exercising differently and got healthier, to take care of Ben. I saw my life differently than I did to before, and changes were needed. After admitting this was true, I was broken open to do and live in a new way. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was living out the first principle in AA’s 12 step program: to admit that we are powerless [over alcohol] and our lives have become unmanageable. We can’t simply go the way we are and be healthy.

In our reading this week, Jesus continues his occupation of the Temple and confrontation with the chief priests and elders. He tells them another parable, offers a scripture from Psalm 118 and has stinging words for these supposed leaders. Jesus is laying down some harsh truths. In the parable, the tenets were supposed to care for the land, collaborate with the landowner, give the servants of the landowner the fruits of the land and their labor, for the landowners use. But the tenets became unmanageable, they forgot that none of the land, the produce was theirs. It all belonged to the landowner. They harmed and killed the servants of the landowner, addicted to their own power and authority. The landowner then sent his own son thinking that might manage the situation, but they threw him out and killed him too. They only cared about their own wealth, status, wants and future. They didn’t even realize that they were unhealthy and unmanageable. They thought they had it all under control, they didn’t realize that they were really hitting rock bottom.

Jesus knew that the chief priest, the elders and the pharisees would simply keep operating the way they always had, rejecting anyone who challenged their power and authority, getting rid of them, debasing or discrediting them. They were addicted to their own power and authority like the tenets. They didn’t even know how unmanageable and unhealthy they were, not only for themselves, but for everyone else too. Lie the tenets as well, they forgot that their work was not for them but for God and God’s people. Jesus knew that they would have to be broken by the reality of God’s kingdom, hit rock bottom, in trying to manage it all themselves as if it was their kingdom.

We’re not different than those chief priests, elders and pharisees, here in 2020. We think that we can manage it all, the way we always have, we just need to keep complete control, try harder, grab on to whatever we can, discard anyone and anything that challenges us. But we can’t manage it all and we are hitting rock bottom. We are being crushed by the truth and reality that we aren’t in control, that nothing is really ours, and we have to work together and with God for anything of value and worth to be produced. We can’t continue to abuse God’s creation, the earth, and use up all of her resources. We can’t continue to dump millions of tons of plastic into our oceans, we can’t continue to ignore climate change that brings the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever, weeks to months of no rain in other places, wildfires that destroy ecosystems, livelihoods, and lives. We can’t continue to not deal directly with COVID19, to make compassionate decisions for others. We can’t continue to sit in our white privilege while our siblings of color are harmed and killed by oppressive and unjust systems. We can’t continue to think that we are managing all of this, because we’re not.

But we aren’t supposed to manage everything. Jesus knows that we will hit rock bottom and be crushed, we will realize that we are powerless, and our lives are unmanageable the way they are. But in being broken we can be transformed. Our broken pieces can be rebuilt on the Holy One who is the foundation and owner of the heavens and the earth and all that is in it. When we hit rock bottom, when we admit that we are broken and powerless, God is there. God sent Jesus to be the foundation, the cornerstone that transforms, rebuilds and renews us in love. This is when we produce fruits of the kingdom, when we are broken open and can admit that it’s not about us, but it’s about what God needs from us for the flourishing of all creation and humanity. Jesus, the cornerstone, the first fruits of God’s reality of eternal life, comes to us over and over with this invitation from our brokenness to produce fruits of the kingdom: care, love, forgiveness, mercy and hope. We hit rock bottom, and in our breaking find that we fall into God’s wholeness.

You are loved. You are beloved. Go and be love. Amen.