A Lutheran Says What?

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

These Are Days Sermon on Mark13 November 27, 2020

This sermon was preached on Nov. 29, 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: 1-7, 17-19
Isaiah 64: 1-9
Mark 13: 24-37

I’m a date person, and by that, I mean that I am typically fairly conscious of special dates, either as anniversaries or in anticipation of a significant date. This has its pros and cons. In the “pro” column, I’m a planner and I’m rarely caught by surprise of something happening that I wasn’t in some way ready for. In the “con” column is that I can become so hyper focused on what’s coming that I’m not fully present in day to day life. I suppose I could be accused of “wishing days away,” from time to time and waiting “for the day to come.” Such as I couldn’t wait for the day to come when four years of graduate school would end (who can blame me?) Or couldn’t wait for the day to come when pregnancy would end and I would hold my babies (again, who can blame me?). Or today, waiting for the day to come that ends the COVID19 mess and we’ll be able to get back to living our lives the way we want. It doesn’t seem all bad to look forward for the day to come does it? There are sometimes that waiting for the day to come is exciting and expectant such as holidays, graduations, weddings, or births, but for most of our lives that “waiting for the day to come” is much more nebulous and anxious, such as the waiting for the day to come when children are grown and moved out, or when age or disease might take a loved one, or we ourselves will die. In many ways, the harsh and frightening days to come are the ones that preoccupy us the most, as we try to predict when that day might come, how to avoid it or make it less devastating. We can be so preoccupied with the days coming that we forget to notice the days that are already here. Worrying about the days to come can cloud our vision of the right now and paralyze us from living today. We miss the joy and wonder that is present. We miss the people who are right in front of us. We turn the days we’re in into nothing more than obstacles to be overcome. Yet, when I look back to graduate school, or pregnancies, yes, the day mattered, but the days leading up to it are also precious in my memory. All those days made the culmination more meaningful. To quote singer/song writer Natalie Merchant “these are days you’ll remember.” (10,000 Maniacs, “These Are Days” 1992)

We’re in a liturgical and a cultural season where we can easily become focused on the day to come, that is December 25. From Thanksgiving Day forward the whole trajectory of the next four or so weeks points to that day. We light candles each week as a way to mark the time, we might have a chocolate Advent calendar to count down, we check to do items off our Christmas lists, all in view of a day to come. And yet, often that day comes, we wonder where December went, or why we’re so tired, or behind in other tasks. I can get to Dec. 25 unable to really remember much from the previous frantic month. I wonder what it would be to mark this season without being preoccupied with the end date to come.

As humans, worrying about the day to come, the end, is well documented. In our Isaiah passage, the Israelites are preoccupied for the day when God’s presence will be known in their midst. They are concerned about the day when God will show up and make everything the way that they want it to be. They wanted God’s hand to cause the mountains to tremble and quake, the earth to boil, and for God to perform wonderous and mighty deeds such as in the Exodus story with plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. They wanted that day to come when other nations will be at the Israelites mercy, and they were vindicated. They wanted no more days in exile and only looked for that end day to come.

The gospel writer of Mark’s fledgling community of Jesus followers were also looking for an end day to come. They were living through an extremely violent and volatile time when the Israelites had won some independence from Rome for a bit only to have Rome come in and completely devastate Jerusalem, including destroying the Temple. Mark’s community was in grave peril, low on life’s necessities, safety and hope. Mark bolstered his community with the words and stories of Jesus. Many in the community were simply passively praying for Jesus to return, for God to take care of all this, for at this time many people believed that Jesus’ return was imminent.  And some were growing discouraged of waiting and completely gave up on following Jesus at all. These two responses to the day to come when Jesus would return, Mark knew that wasn’t the point of Jesus life, death or resurrection. So he recounts in chapter 13 a corrective to what Jesus says we do while we are waiting for the day to come.

Jesus is clear that God’s kingdom is indeed coming but in focusing on the end, like the Israelites, we actually might miss what God is doing in these days. Preoccupation with Jesus’ return date, or for a date of a vaccine or a date of change of leadership, will seduce us to thinking that today, these days, don’t matter. But these days do matter, Jesus says, as these are days when we can see God’s work continuing around us. These are days we work with God to ensure that no one is denied adequate healthcare, housing, or food. These are days when we do God’s work to amplify marginalized voices whom some in power want silenced. These are days where we work with God to reveal where God’s kingdom is already here: in the Holladay interfaith worship service, in Crossroads Urban Center distributing over 3000 turkeys, in OSLC supporting ELCA Good Gifts, in writing cards for immigrant children with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, in Zoom calls with loved ones, less focus on materials things, and more focus on people. Jesus says be awake, aware to these days and notice with our eyes, our ears, and our hearts God’s work in our midst and join in. Don’t wait for the end days to experience and share God’s love, hope and mercy, that’s already here in these days. God is here in these days for us all.

 

Don’t Look Away Sermon on Reign of Christ Sunday November 20, 2020

This sermon was proclaimed on Nov. 22, 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 for Christ the King Sunday were:

Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Matthew 25: 31-46

Have you heard of the “red car” phenomena? It goes something like this: You decided that you want to buy a red car, and suddenly, it’s all that you see. You notice how many red cars are in your neighborhood, at work, for sale, etc. This psychology works in all kinds of ways. Once, as a child, I wanted a certain doll and that commercial for the doll was on all the time so I thought that meant I should have it. That is not what that meant, by the way.But something gets your attention and then it’s all that you can see. And once you notice, you can’t unsee it. Often it is positive such as an object that might truly be useful to us and other times, it’s something we wish we had never seen, such as a tragedy. We might think that it’s not good to see those negative situations and try to sweep it under a rug. But often, once we know, it doesn’t just go away. And we all know that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
This year has given us much that we can’t unsee. Things that we didn’t or refused to see before now. We can’t unsee disparity of responses to a deadly disease, where often money was prioritized over health and well-being of people. We can’t unsee communities of color, Native American and immigrant communities ravaged at an alarming rate from COVID19 versus white communities. We can’t unsee low wage workers suddenly become essential or unsee the growing numbers of infected and or the dead stacked up in morgue trailers or put in unmarked graves. We can’t unsee the final straw in institutional racism and white supremacy break as people can’t unsee George Floyd calling out to his mother as he was murdered. We can’t unsee the long lines at food banks, or the people facing losing housing or the effects of climate change destroying communities. And maybe that’s the point.

In our gospel text today, there is a lot going on, and to add more freight to the passage, it’s Christ the King Sunday. As a fairly new liturgical holiday, (and if I’m honest, not my favorite as the “king” language seems a bit patriarchal, colonial and hierarchal and gives me hives) it originated less than 100 years ago by a Pope Pius XI in an attempt to build a coalition of resistance to the rise of fascism he was witnessing in the world. He declared a Sunday (originally in the spring) to be Christ the King or the Reign of Christ Sunday. He was very concerned about what he was seeing with people professing their faith in and allegiance to authoritarian charismatic leaders rather than to God. Or worse, conflating that leader with God’s will. The intent was a Sunday to reflect and confess that God is sovereign and people are not. A day to recalibrate political views and hearts to what God sees and desires for God’s creation. The Pope’s hope, perhaps naïve hope, is that people would see and understand the harm happening and remember that they follow a God of love. It was his attempt to halt what would take place in the 30’s and 40’s with xenophobia, genocide, racism, homophobia, war, and hate, all supported and even sanctioned by many institutional churches. Not all churches, it’s true, but too many stayed silent or spoke out too late against these atrocities. In the end it was clear that the Church was complicit in the suffering and oppression that the church is supposed to alleviate. The Church looked away while 6 million people: Jews, LBGTQIA, refugees and supposed traitors went to death camps. They looked away while whole countries and communities were decimated. They looked away while people went hungry, unclothed, and languished from disease and torture. They look away from the rising black smoke from burning bodies in the crematorium. They looked toward their own comfort, safety, and security. They looked toward proximity to power and authority. They looked to ensure their own future and prosperity. They looked to be their own king in their lives. This is what Pope Pius didn’t want to see.

They forgot, as we do, that they serve a different kind of king, or really the anti-king. A king who renounces his own power and authority, a king who is put to death for boldly hanging out with the powerless and seeking to protect them from suffering, a king who sees the world not for what it can offer him but what he can offer the world. A king who sees the world as it should be, not as it is. Most of the world, particularly those with power and status, clearly didn’t truly see Jesus. To see Jesus is to see the world differently. It’s to look beyond oneself and not look away when harm is being done.

Interestingly, in Matthew 25 neither the sheep nor the goats, knew when they had seen Jesus. They both asked, “When did we see you and when did we not see you?” Jesus simply states that we see Jesus when we see people whom we don’t want or refuse to see. You see, when we see Jesus, we have to see everyone who comes along with Jesus. Jesus was always with the wrong crowd, the authorities said, the people who weren’t considered upstanding members of society, according to arbitrary rules. But it’s those people who Jesus saw, and knew by name. People who have been incarcerated, who live without housing, people on borders shoved together in overcrowded cells, people who suffer from addiction, people with disabilities. We can’t see Jesus and not see the whole community of Jesus. And not just see them, but be in relationship and learn their names, their lives, their wisdom and work together to relieve the suffering of all.

What we forget is that Jesus sees us, too, our wholes selves, each intricate piece of us, the part of us that is a sheep and the part of us that is a goat. Jesus doesn’t want us to be separated into categories or separated within ourselves. Jesus wants us to be whole, to be one, as that is how Jesus sees us-all people and creation-together. Not as sheep or goats, or rich or poor, or hungry or too well fed, healthy or sick. Jesus understands that we all suffer when we separate and categorize one another and ourselves. We languish in our own incompleteness in not recognizing gifts in people whom we assume don’t have anything to offer us. Jesus is an “anti-king” who can give us the vision of how we should see and understand the value not only in ourselves but in all people and the world. Jesus sees and calls us to this God vision.

Yes, it’s hard, yes we will be uncomfortable. It is risky to see the world this way, as it will compel us to act and others may try and separate from us. But that’s what it is to see, be a part of Christ’s reign of fulfilling love and belong to Jesus’ anti-kingdom, it’s to see and belong to the one body of Christ, a living, breathing, acting and loving force that refuses to not look away from who and what matters to Jesus and in Christ’s kingdom and kin-dom. May we only see Jesus.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

Worth Fixing: A sermon on Restoration John 21 and Genesis 33 November 13, 2020

This sermon was preached on Novemer 15, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Be sure to subscribe!

The texts were:
Genesis 33: 1-17
John 21: 1-19

This summer I noticed that my Surface laptop, that was about five years old, started not holding a charge, was running slower and slower despite attempts by my IT husband to keep it going. I asked Mike how to fix it and his response was “well, it’s probably better to get yourself a new one. It’s lived out it’s life span.” So, I did, I still have the old one, but I don’t know what to do with it now, as with my old cell phone that quit working.  The old tech just doesn’t have any worth. In our disposable society, if something breaks, or isn’t working well, just get rid of it and get a new one. Sadly, in the tech industry, products are not even designed to be fixed anymore, they are designed to be replaced every few years. This is a huge shift in mentality from the past 60 years or so. My grandfather used to have a tv repair side business when my dad was growing up. When’s the last time you took your tv in to be fixed?
When I stop to take a hard look at all the disposables I use in my day, it’s embarrassing. Things I get rid of without a second thought.  Make-up remover, food packaging, paper towels, and the list goes on. Some of that is simply necessary, but I truly wonder how much of it isn’t? This disposable mentality around material goods is having an impact on how we view other parts of our lives, particularly our relationships. The past few months have been rough on relationships for so many reasons, with politics and COVID19 just being two of the big ones. I know I’ve unfriended people on social media and ceased communication with certain people because that relationship was becoming very broken. And I know that certain people have done the same to me for similar reasons. Brokenness upon brokenness has prevailed. Some of those relationships were fine to let go but there were a couple that really hurt. People I have known for decades, friends and family, with whom now there was a serious rift. Serious hurt was being inflicted on one another. And speaking for myself, I found myself in despair and wondering what to do. No longer communicating with them seemed like the easiest, safest and best choice. Again, maybe for some people it was, but for others? I’m not so sure, and I wonder what I could have done differently, or what I should do now to restore what once was? What will I have to give up?

Broken relationships are nothing new, as we read in both our Genesis and John passages today. It took humanity about 2.5 seconds to start harming one another and put our own needs ahead of family and friends. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright for his own gain and security and Peter, after denying Jesus three times for his own safety and well-being, is given a chance to restore his relationship with Jesus. Both men had some work to do to fix what they had broken. They had relationships to restore. In Genesis, Jacob offered Esau tangible gifts that at first Esau refused as he said that he had plenty, but relented after Jacob insisted as he too, had enough. Jacob knew that a simple “I’m sorry” wasn’t adequate. He had to put his money where his mouth was, which in the ancient world was with livestock. The passage ends tenuously as Jacob tells his brother that he will meet him at Seir and then doesn’t go. We don’t know Esau’s reaction to this, but I’m going to guess that more hurt was inflicted by Jacob. Just because Jacob gave up some wealth doesn’t mean that the relationship was restored. Jacob didn’t seem to want to do the hard work of being together in community of putting the pieces back together. Jacob didn’t want to do his piece of restoration, he seemed ok walking away from Esau and moving on to something new. What’s interesting is that God isn’t mentioned at all in this passage. I wonder if either brother had wondered about God’s presence in their relationship what might have been different?

By contrast, Peter didn’t have to wonder about God’s presence, as the resurrected Jesus was before him and six of the other disciples. Peter, the one whom Jesus said he would build his church, had denied Jesus three times at the crucifixion. Peter chose safety and security over the truth of his relationship with Jesus. Jesus offers Peter restoration in the three-fold questioning of “Do you love me?” By the third time Peter felt hurt by Jesus, but this time, stayed in the dialogue, didn’t walk away from the tension. By engaging Peter, Jesus was revealing that God won’t simply give up on us, dispose of us when we hurt each other or God. God will stay in the thick of the relationship, working to restore even if  WE are the ones who broke it. Jesus’ ministry is one of recognizing that whom and what the world names as disposable and unworthy, God names as essential and worth fixing. Jesus is telling Peter, you are worth restoring into relationship with me and more importantly, you will be a part of restoring the world to wholeness and love in my name, follow me.

God says that no matter what we have done or not done, we are worth restoring, we are worth keeping, helping us to see and claim our original purpose, to be a part of God’s restoring love in the world and for the world. Nothing is disposable to God, everything and everyone has purpose and worth and we all have a piece in God’s restoration, God’s vision of wholeness for humanity and creation. This truth has not changed in the past 60 over the time of ministry here at OSLC. As we each contributed a piece to our whole Mandala, we each contribute to the wholeness of the kingdom of God. We contribute to God’s restoration when we give up our need to be right. We contribute to God’s restoration when we stand with and amplify the voices of people who are marginalized for the color of their skin or for whom they love. We contribute to God’s restoration when we place other people’s needs ahead of our own, even if it means limiting our own autonomy. We contribute to God’s restoration of humanity when we care more about people than profit. We contribute to God’s restoration when we give up our own safety, ego, status, and yes, wealth in order to show people that we don’t give up on them.

This is what following Jesus means, and it may not be where we want to go, and it might be more than what we want to give up. Peter would give his very life for the gospel, to be a part of God’s restoration that began in his own life and flowed out to the world. For God, nothing is broken beyond repair, and as the people of God, we give all that we have, all who we are to follow Jesus into the brokenness to be agents of love, hope, grace and restoration. Amen.

 

The Struggle is Real A Post-Election Sermon on Matthew 19 November 7, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Nov. 8, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC

The texts were:
Deuteronomy 15: 1-11
Matthew 19: 16-22

This week has been a struggle. A struggle to focus, a struggle to wait, a struggle to understand. It’s struggle that isn’t new or unique but seems to be on high boil for the past several months (or years depending on one’s perspective). It’s the struggle of how we are to live together. I’m writing this on Saturday morning, Nov. 7, and we still don’t have a clear presidential election outcome, as well as uncertainty in other governmental positions. Opposing political factions are protesting, threatening, and arguing. COVID19 is spreading exponentially throughout our community and nation. Opposing voices are protesting, threatening and arguing about how not only to best mitigate the disease but even if we should. And while these two situations alone are enough of a struggle, we all can name several other areas of our life together that are less than smooth.

We are struggling on how to live together. In this country, we have deep divisions, metastasized racism, rampant fear and unchecked self-interest. I caught myself this week in the simplistic thinking that a certain election outcome will fix everything and if I just held on to that hope and belief, then all will be well. But Wednesday morning, I woke up, literally and figuratively, to what was the real struggle. I woke up to my own lack of understanding, my vision of the world only through my chosen lens, and my deeply held biases. I was saddened as I realized everything I am holding on to, contributes to the struggle that only brings more division. I have to let go, and release what I might consider important for the sake of releasing others from this destructive struggle too.

I think this is the crux of the gospel story today and the place in history in which we find ourselves at this moment. The young man in our Matthew passage comes to Jesus in his own full-blown struggle. This young man seems to be genuinely trying, he knows that there is more than what he knows, that is why he comes to Jesus. He’s literally having a come to Jesus moment. He’s rich, he has all the worldly wealth, power and status that one can attain in the ancient or modern world. But he’s still struggling. All that worldly success didn’t end his struggle. He asks Jesus how to enter eternal life, and Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. “Which ones?” the young man asks, and Jesus responds with the five commandments that focus on how we live together as a people and adds from Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man claims to follow those commandments and asks “what am I still missing?” Jesus recognizes that this young man is at a crossroads, a struggle that goes beyond simply keeping the law and being a good person, this young man is looking for truth. True meaning, true value, and true life.

Jesus tells him to be perfect, to go and sell everything, give the money away to the poor and follow him. To be perfect in this passage doesn’t mean to be without fault, it means to be whole. If you want to be whole, release everything from the world that defines you and find your value in me, Jesus says. The young man walked away sad, as he thought Jesus would end his struggles, and it turned out Jesus only laid it bare. His real struggle is that he’s struggling only for himself, his real struggle is that he didn’t understand what it meant to truly live in community. He couldn’t see that releasing himself from the ways the world that defined his value and worth also released his neighbor who was defined by the same death-dealing concepts. He couldn’t grasp that his liberation, freedom and wholeness is bound up in the liberation, freedom and wholeness of the people in his community. His struggle was that he couldn’t see the true struggle, that he was deeply interconnected to others who were struggling and needed him to release his love for them and he needed his neighbor’s love too. We can’t be whole by ourselves.

As humanity, we think that our lives, the way the world works, is a zero-sum game. Either we win it all or we lose it all and we have control over the outcome. Jesus over and over in the gospels dispels that idea. Jesus doesn’t deny or diminish our struggle, if anything, Jesus names our struggle as real. Jesus knows that we struggle with how to live together, how to weigh our own needs and wants with those of our neighbor. Jesus also knows that the way to end the struggle is outside the binary response of us or them. It’s about a “we.” Jesus enters right into the middle of this struggle to show us another way. Living together doesn’t have to be a struggle but it does require sacrifice, honesty and truth. We have to admit that we are struggling to care about our neighbor, our black neighbor, our brown neighbor, our LBGTQIA neighbor, our immigrant neighbor, and to put them ahead of ourselves. Jesus’ life shows us that being complete in God and one another is God’s desire and it’s the only way for life to abound. Jesus time and again went to the people whom the rest of society said didn’t matter. Jesus died for this human struggle and God declared that the death will not be the last word for us in this struggle. God ushers in a new economy, on where relationships matter.

We have to release ourselves to God’s economy, we have to release ourselves to the truth of how we need to live together. We have to release ourselves and all people from the harmful labels of the world, we have to come close to each other, not only to people who are like us, but to people whom make us uncomfortable, challenge us, to listen understand and to not put any barriers between us. We have to be one people, Jesus says, we can’t separate ourselves by partisanship, wealth, social status, or education. If nothing separates us from God’s love, then nothing can separates us from the love of each other either.

We are released to be who God says we are: God’s treasure, each of us, together. We are released in the love, grace and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ, for the sake of seeing our neighbor through God’s lens of love, of seeking understanding and unity with one another. Yes, the struggle is real, but we are released by God’s love through Jesus to be God’s people of love, in every time and in every place, with all who we are and all that we have. Amen.