A Lutheran Says What?

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

Hold On February 28, 2021

This sermon was preached for the community at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on February 28, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Romans 4: 13-25
Mark 8: 31-38

Children’s message: Have my bag handy:  My children, who are now grown-ups, always make fun of the size of my bag. I quit carrying a small bag after becoming a parent as I felt like I was always needing something I didn’t have. If they got hurt, I would need a first aid kit, snacks for when they were hungry, water for thirst, pen and paper for when they were bored, tissues, hand wipes, and more. If they needed something, I could help. And even after they were grown, I discovered that keeping these things around wasn’t a bad idea, not just for if I need them, but I could help someone else too. We all need help sometimes don’t we? We all get hurt, sick, lonely, hungry, sad, it’s just what happens in our lives. We don’t like it and we don’t like to think about it do we? Well our story about Jesus today is kinda about that. Jesus was walking along with his disciples and started telling them that he was going to be hurt and die, which happens to every person. But Peter didn’t want to talk about that. Peter wanted to believe that Jesus and hopefully himself as a friend of Jesus, would avoid ever being hurt and dying. But Jesus says, no, that’s not how life goes. We can’t pretend that we’ll never be hurt, sad or that people will never die. We have to be honest about that and tell the truth of how God is always with us especially when we are hurt, sad, lonely and dying. Jesus tells the disciples that they can’t pretend that hard and scary things won’t happen, because that doesn’t help. But they DO need to help other people through the hard and scary things, maybe crying with their friends and family, by sharing food, clothes and money, by saying no when someone is hurting someone else. That’s what “picking up our cross” means. Notice how the cross looks like a “t”? Well, Jesus wants us to follow him into the truth that yes, we might get scared and hurt, and the truth is also that God hold us and hold each other and help others when they need it-like what’s in my mom purse. I want you to draw or write what you have that you can share when a friend is hurt, scared or lonely.

 Full confession: I have always possessed a “gallows” sense of humor or maybe what is better described as Gen X snark. It’s probably because I’ve had a few life events that if I didn’t find the irony or the humor in, I’d cry all the time or be jaded. Well, and maybe I am both of those things, but mostly, the snarky thing. Call it irreverent, call it a coping strategy, but it’s all part of my charm. So, when the pandemic first started, and Mike and I would be watching the horrifying news each evening, all the poor decisions or simply lack of leadership happening, I would turn to him and say, “we’re all gonna die.” To which he would say, “yes but maybe not today.” Each day in 2020 would pass with some over the top new low, and I would look at Mike and say, “We’re all gonna die.” “yes,” he would say, “but maybe not today.” There’s been a couple of times with all of the chaos in the past two months where Mike has conceded where we might all die sooner versus later….
Despite my snark, it is true that we are all gonna die. From this life anyway. Yet, I think what is at the root of my snark is our ability as humans to think that we can outsmart reality, suffering, hurt and death. That WE’RE different from everyone else and we’ll escape it. But that’s just not how life works, it turns out. We often ask, “why me?” when bad things happen to us, but I’ve learned the real question is “why not me?” Suffering and death is a part of life and all the major world religions have at their core how we cope with life’s hard realities. But we live in a culture that tells us to deny aging and death: from commercials for anti-wrinkle creams, hair dyes, fat removal, to how we keep dying people hidden away in facilities and sanitize the dying process so that no one is uncomfortable. We are lulled into holding on to the deception that we can avoid the inevitable. We will do anything: any diet, any exercise routine, any procedure, any supplement, and hold on to any illusion or delusion to convince ourselves that we can outsmart aging, suffering and dying. Until we can’t. Until we trip and fall into the reality that we and everyone we know suffers and dies. But even then, our inner dialogue becomes one of rationalization that maybe they didn’t hold on tight enough, that their suffering was teaching them something, or us something, or worse, was God’s will. This is never true.
Peter is caught up in the very human delusion that he can escape the reality of suffering and death, after all he knows Jesus, the Messiah who will conquer all! The Messiah who will hold the Empire accountable and the Israelites will be conquerors and in power at last. But Jesus sees the self-deception that Peter is holding on to, and names it by calling him Satan, the deceiver. You see, Peter was still deceived that he was in control, he hadn’t figured out yet that following Jesus,aligning your life with God, isn’t going to spare you from hurt, suffering, oppression and death, it doesn’t spare you from being human. Following Jesus means that you let go of all the deceptions, all the fears, so that you can pick up your cross; you can pick up the truth that there is suffering in your life and the lives of people around you. The truth that we can’t honestly enter into the hurt of the world if our hands and hearts are clutching our own misconceptions, worries, fears and delusions. Picking up our cross means that we’ve let go of anything that doesn’t bring the fullness of life for ourselves and the people around us.

This isn’t easy, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s a journey that we have to be honest about and commit and recommit to every day. We can’t put our heads in the sand, or hope that someone else says the hard, but true thing. We can’t drive by the tent camps of people living on the streets and hold on to the myth that a solution is too expensive or the people won’t want it. We can’t watch over and over again as black and brown people are unjustly incarcerated and murdered by authorities and hold on to the lie that racism and white supremacy doesn’t exist and we don’t have a role. We can’t witness the denigration and lack of human rights of people who are LBGTQIA+ and hold on to the prejudice that they should be excluded. We can’t ignore the racist or sexist joke because we want to hold on to “niceness” or our need to be liked. Like Peter, we want to hold on to the delusion that following Jesus means that we should be able to hold on to our comfortable life, or hold suffering and death at bay, or that being church is about feeling good, safe, and secure.

We forget what the cross really means in our life. It’s not a sign of holding on to protection, piety, status quo or comfort. The cross was a symbol of abusive power for the Empire, for the powers and principalities as Paul calls it, and was used by the Empire to keep the marginalized people of the society in their place out of fear. But God doesn’t allow abuse to continue, let status quo stand, doesn’t let fear and death win. Jesus picked up the cross to turn it into a symbol of God holding on to God’s vision of justice, of God’s upheaval of worldly authorities and of God’s will for life and wholeness for all creation. Jesus picked up the cross to show us to let go of the myth that suffering is good, God’s will or redemptive, but to show us that suffering is reality AND that God is present; we aren’t alone in our suffering. Jesus picked up the cross to show us that God lets go of everything that doesn’t bring life, empties God’s hands to hold on to us, to reveal that when it’s hard, when it looks bleak, God’s love, justice, mercy and life will find a way to hold on.

We are called to empty our hands, to let go, so that we pick up our cross, we hold on, we hold on to one another when suffering abounds, to hold each other in God’s love and care, clearly name the oppression, abuse and harm being inflicted on our marginalized siblings and speak the truth to the powers of this world in love. Not love that is sentimental and mushy, but love that can hold on in tension, paradox and reality. This is Luther’s theology of the cross, that in the cross of Jesus, suffering, reality and wholeness in God’s mercy and grace can be held together. We pick our cross, the cross that holds us when nothing else can, and we let go of the delusions of what we think life should be. We let go of our false life to hold on to a true life of being held by God’s love, mercy and grace, in the reality of our lives. This is good news indeed. Amen.

 

Signs of Life Sermon for Lent 1B February 19, 2021

This sermon was preached for the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 21, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please subscribe!

The texts were:

Genesis 9: 8-17
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 9-15

It was riveting to watch the Mars Rover, Perseverance, land this week. The joy of the Nasa and JPL crew was palpable as the rover transmitted first pictures of the surface of the red planet. The rover projected a barren terrain: only sand and rocks, no plant life, trees, lakes, or rivers. The mission is to determine if life is possible or was ever possible on Mars, as currently, it appears that there are no signs of life to be found. But the recent discovery of the possibility of water, 4 million years ago in the Jezero Crater, opens the door and the imagination to dig deeper, literally, into the sand and rocks, to see if life is indeed present and possible. This most certainly captures my imagination, as if there is life on Mars, it will be unlike anything we have ever seen. The possibility exists of life and we might miss it because it will be so foreign to us and outside our scope of experience. This scientific mission names a truth for us on this planet earth. I often only take in at face value the surface of the terrain around me, whether that’s the actual earth, which at this time of year seems to be as lifeless as Mars, or my day-to-day encounters with people and places. I don’t take the time, possess the curiosity or have the imagination to wonder about what I don’t understand and what I don’t know. I make assumptions about situations and people sometimes writing them off as lifeless, useless, and arid. I assume that there is nothing life-giving able to come from that place or relationship. I don’t dig deeper; I don’t allow for the possibility for my mind to be changed. I believe that what I see, is all there is to see. Only sand, only rocks, only snow, only barrenness.

Lent beginning at the end of winter, when most life is dead or hibernating, is not simply a happy coincidence. Lent was wisely ascribed by the religious folks to begin the six weeks leading up to Easter, when signs of life are harder to find. And the texts that we encounter in worship, call us to dig deeper, go beyond the surface terrain and look under the rocks, dig in the sand, and the see past the barrenness to see signs of new life. Every first Sunday of Lent we read about Jesus in the desert. Each version from Matthew, Mark and Luke are slightly different, offering a myriad of insights, but Mark’s our reading today, and it is the briefest, two verses. After Jesus is baptized (also a brief version) the Holy Spirit drives Jesus, or literally in the Greek, throws Jesus into the wilderness or the desert. He’s tested by Satan, is with some wild beasts and the angels who erve him. This story would have been much kinder and easier to digest if it went right from Jesus’ baptism with the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and the loving words from God, to Jesus proclaiming that God’s kingdom is here, turn around and believe in the good news! But that’s not what we have. In between those two stories, Jesus is thrown into a dangerous place where few people could survive. No water, no food, no shelter, only sand, rocks and the blazing Middle Eastern sun. Not a very hospitable place for life. Yet, Mark adds the detail that there are wild beasts there. So, there is apparently SOME life to be found. And if that isn’t enough, the angels are there too, serving Jesus, that is to care for his life. Despite Satan’s attempts to prove otherwise, there were signs of life in that wild place. Maybe not the life that Jesus would have preferred, or the kind of life that brings comfort and ease, but it was life finding a way against all odds.

This is the good news that Jesus then proclaims in Galilee. Yes, John is arrested and most likely will be killed, yes, you might be surrounded by desert, death, lifelessness, hopelessness, but God’s kingdom is also here! God’s kingdom is the sign of life that you are looking for! It’s life that meets you at the waters edge, in the cold, parched, and dead places in your life, in suffering, in hopelessness and helplessness. God never gives up on revealing abundant life, over and over God chooses life. God creates life from the chaos of the void, calls forth life from a flood, gives life to God’s people in the desert for 40 years, God offers a new life to the exiles, and in Jesus, God proclaims that death will not abound for humanity or creation only life eternal.

God sends signs of life: The bow in the clouds, manna on the ground, water from a rock, a sprig from the dead stump of Jesse, a baby in a feeding trough, God’s son on a cross and a tomb that is empty. Not always the signs we look for or can understand but signs of life, nonetheless. Signs of God’s promise of life are all around us today: people volunteering to give vaccines, Navy pilots rescuing sea turtles in TX, animals keeping their humans warm in subzero temps, people serving their neighbors who live on the streets in the bitter cold, hospital staff working overtime to heal broken bodies, voices in unity demanding equity and dignity for Black, Indigenous and LBGTQIA folks, there are signs of life.

Jesus calls us to be God’s signs of life in the world. We are part of the promise that life finds a way even when it seems impossible. Drenched in the life-giving waters of our baptism and nourished by Jesus’ very body, we are walking, breathing, loving signs of life. We are signs of life when we refuse to allow any person be denigrated, we are signs of life when we ensure that children and families have safe and adequate housing, food and medical care, we are signs of life for MillCreek Elementary families, we are signs of life for Family Promise guests and Linus Project children, we are signs of life when we realize that we can’t sit silently on the shoreline, we have to get into the water, we go into the desert, not alone but by and with the Holy Spirit and each other to usher in the life that God has envisioned from day one of creation. Life in harmony, life in balance, life abundant and life for all. It’s risky to be those signs of life, like the Mars Rover, we might feel like we’re being hurtled through space towards an unknown future. But unlike the Mars Rover we know that we go with God and one another and God knows what’s coming: God’s realm where signs of life aren’t hard to see but are abundantly found, in creation, in you, in me and in us all. Amen.

 

Breaking Orbit: Shattered and Whole February 18, 2021

As some of you may know, I made a short video last summer after the officers in the Breonna Taylor murder were exonerated. I was done, I was undone, and I still am. The crux of that video is that I have to make a break from my enculturation as a white cisgender woman. I have to break from racism, white supremacy and all the powers to which I have not only been beholden, but have upheld and supported, knowingly and unknowingly. In pondering this I reflected on how much of my life has been about the reality of “breaking.” Broken hearts, shattered lives, broken relationships, broken promises, and the list goes on. And yet, in that brokenness, the reality of something else breaking through: God’s love, healing and wholeness. No, not in a happily ever after Disney movie sort of way, but love, healing and wholeness from God that bears witness to tension, paradox, messiness and imperfection. The reality that life is messy, relationships are messy, we break, and God put our pieces back together not so that we can pretend that we never broke, but to show us the beauty of our cracks, and so that when we see someone else’s cracked life, we recognize the intricate patterns and delightful lines of a life well lived. I’ll be blogging chapters, and updates, mostly for accountability to keep me writing. Thanks for breaking out with me on this journey.

I began to wonder if anyone would resonate with this and so I’ve been working (slowly) on a book entitled: Breaking Orbit: Shattered and Whole. (Working Title) Here is a snippet of the introduction and the chapters:

Chapters:

Breaking In
Breaking Out
Breaking Up
Breaking Down-
Breaking away-
Breaking Point-
Breaking Free
Breaking Through

Introduction: When I first began to conceive of this book more than a decade ago, I really thought that it would encompass only one specific period of time in my life. But that never felt quite right to me, while that period in my life was pivotal and a crucible moment (and will be covered in this book), there were also lots of defining moments that led up to it and there were just as many defining moments that followed. Sorta like clouds that come together, build up and produce lightening, but then there is the thunder and the rain that follows. I know that all of us are more than the sum of one event in our lives and it seems that pivotal moment is dishonored by not naming other moments and events. But pivotal moments are just that, when the lightening of clarity strikes and you know that things have to be different.

In the summer of 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, the sin of white supremacy and racism rose to the top of our social conscious with the murder of George Floyd. All through the summer, we protested, wrote letters  and called our state and federal representatives, demanding that Black Lives Matter and for oppression through policing for Black people to stop. It seemed every week brought in front of us a new layer of horror for our Black siblings in the United States. But it was when the officers who murdered Breonna Taylor while she slept in her own bed in her own home were exonerated, I came undone. I broke. I broke open to the horror that I was integral in propping up our caste system of race and I am integral in dismantling it. We cannot expect our Black, Brown and People of Color siblings to do this work. As a white person, I had to break free from this system that harms everyone and helps no one. I made a video that morning after that verdict entitle “Break Orbit.” I knew that continuing to stay in the orbit of racism and white supremacy was death dealing for me and everyone around me. Things HAVE to be different. If as a person who believes that Jesus Christ was killed, died and was buried and on the third day was raised by God who makes all things new, then I have to be part of the resurrection narrative that God is enacting today, right now, in our nation and world. We have to envision a different world, we have to work to bring this different world into being.

There is something about the concept of “breaking” that intrigues and resonates with me. We fear things and relationships breaking and exert a great deal of energy attempting to keep breaking in any fashion from occurring. We live in a society that was intentionally erected to perpetuate the myth of stability, order, and “intactness.” That is systems need to remain functioning as they always have, nothing should change, and if something does, the return to homeostasis must be swift and sure. The idea of something “breaking” is to be avoided at all costs. And if something does break, the goal is to put it back together so that it looks and functions exactly as it did before. If you’ve ever broken an object, let’s say you smart phone, you might be able to get it fixed, but it’s never the same. This is true for those of us who have experienced broken bones. I’ve broken my left wrist twice in my life and I can tell you when it’s about to rain.

Yet, we’ve all seen that social media meme about how in the Japanese culture a broken object is put back together with gold to highlight the brokenness or how when something is broken the light can come in. Those are lovely images, and yet it more than that for me. I think that it’s important to name that breaking is hard and it hurts-always. There is no way around the pain of breaks in any way. This is probably why we strive to avoid breaking in any form in our lives and we want to avoid pain. The problem is, that in avoiding breaking and pain, we also avoid the new life that awaits. In breaking, I have the opportunity for transformation, to be put back together in a new way.

So this book is a culmination of who I have been shaped to be from all of the breaks…so far. I pray to be a work in progress until my last breath, and my spouse assures me that will be true! I am an ELCA pastor, currently serving in Salt Lake City, Utah. While much of my adult life’s vocational work has been within the ELCA, I have only been a pastor since 2012. My journey to the Church was anything but a straight path. I am shaped by my childhood as a self-ascribed “Air Force Brat,” that is my dad served in the Air Force for 26 years, as I like to say, I served with him for 18 of those years. We moved frequently, I attended five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools. I learned to be flexible, outgoing and skeptical. Well, maybe the skeptical part is innate, but regardless, my bullshit meter was well developed at an early age. Oh, and if swear words bother you from a pastor…well…remember, I grew up in the military. When our children where growing up the rule was “you have to use them correctly in a sentence and you can’t noun verbs or verb nouns.” Grammar matters people.

What does this all have to do with the title of the book you may ask? If you didn’t, well too bad. While the articulation of the words “breaking orbit” is a fairly recent epiphany for me, the concept of an unpredictable journey is one that is not new. My entire life has been one of not quite being in the same path as everyone else, of discontentedness of status quo and going in circles has always made me dizzy and nauseous. (Not a fan of amusement park rides ironically.) Every couple of years my military family broke orbit to a new location, and we voyaged out to a new community, new cultures and new patterns. I’ll never know if it’s nature or nurture, but at an early age, I loathed stagnation. I always loved the electric zing of the words, “we’re going to do something different.” (If you’re now questioning my vocation as a mainline Christian pastor where change is eschewed, yeah, you’re not alone. I’m with you.)

But not just different for the sake of different or the novel. Different for a reason. I’ve also never been a fan of arbitrary rules. My mother’s oft used verbiage of “because I said so,” was often met from me with a look of incredulity, and more often that I’d like to admit, some sassy comeback. If a rule or suggestion didn’t seem to have a satisfactory reason (to me) then it must be challenged-either to be abolished or to be changed to make sense. Yes, I was an obnoxious teenager. Yes, I’m an obnoxious adult. But back to the concept of different. Different always had the alure of the new, of learning, of the exotic. Moving to a different location on a very regular basis revealed to me that I could literally be a different person in each new context. In middle school, I was thrilled to be the peppy, outgoing pom-pom girl. But then we moved while I was in high school, and I decided to try the brooding, intellectual, violinist who locked herself away for several hours a day to practice. Different. Not bad, not good, not better, simply different.

I did meet my spouse in high school (you’ll get all the details in one of the chapters, don’t worry!) and so he knows me well. Sometimes, with all my craving for different, change and looking out into the universe, I worry that I’m flaky, inconsistent, have commitment issues, etc. But he very kindly says to me “oh I’m just used to you reinventing yourself every five years or so.” I looked back and realized he’s right. About every five years, I start to morph directions, look at my life, the world or whatever, differently. For better or worse for Mike, I’ve never considered a different life without Mike….you’ll have to ask him if he’s ever considered a different life from being with me! No, wait, I don’t want to know. Ignorance is bliss. I like to think that this “reinvention” is about taking the best of who I am at the time and shedding what is no longer working to allow me to move in a different direction. Here different might mean healthier, more fulfilled, using more of my gifts, or just the ability to wonder if I can do something new. Does that make me flaky, inconsistent and noncommittal? Maybe, but I prefer to think that it makes me interesting. Or annoying.

Mostly, different for me is linked to vision. The other thing my spouse often says about me is that I wake up every morning and imagine that the world is somehow different from the night before and life is more just, more loving and more kind. I’m not sure if this a compliment, but I choose to not think it means I’m simply naïve. I DO think that the world can be different, and yes, I think that every single day. A big piece of the “breaking orbit” theme for me is to participate fully in bringing this difference where diversity is honored and revered, where no voice is silenced, people are housed, feed, given medical care, given autonomy and love, to fruition. For me this is deeply tied up in my faith and belief that Jesus meant the words he said about loving your neighbor as yourself and caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry, giving clean water to the thirsty, clothing the naked. I don’t read the Bible literally, but I don think that if we are going to take any of it literally, it should be this. Don’t fret that you think you’ve picked up a fruity religious book where I’m going to try and convince you to be Christian, you haven’t. You’ve picked up a fruity book where I’m going to try and convince you that you and we all matter. My personal bent is Jesus, and nearly all religions pretty much say that we shouldn’t be assholes to each other or the planet. While the book is called “Breaking Orbit,” we are all stuck together on this planet Earth and we should make the most of it. There’s no leaving.

In sharing with you my voyages of breaking free, moving on, reimagining, seeking different, I hope to offer comfort to my fellow “different” seekers, inspiration to my fellow “should I/this be different” wonderers, and connection to us all as humans trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got. I hope that there will be nuggets that will settle into your heart and remind you that whatever you encounter in your life, you are empowered to make choices, you have gifts, you have options, you are who you are and it’s enough.

 

Keeping Secrets Ash Wednesday

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This sermon was preached for the people at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 17, 2021, Ash Wednesday.
It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 51: 1017
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

The concept of the word “secret” has always made me squirm. That is, rarely in my life have secrets, even the presumably “good” secrets, been a positive experience. For one, I’m terrible at keeping secrets or lying; I don’t have a poker face at all. Growing up, I would occasionally try and mislead my parents and other adults in my life, either pretending that I had indeed practiced my piano for 30 minutes already or that I couldn’t possibly have made that mess in the kitchen. But one cursory glance at my face and the jig was up. I would be terrible at a Vegas casino. Or as a spy. After nearly a whole year of seeing myself on Zoom, I have come to understand how my face nearly always betrays what I’m really thinking. I humbly apologize, as yes, you’re right, it’s not always charitable. It’s my best/worst trait. It sometimes serves me well, and just as often gets me into trouble. I don’t always mind the trouble, which could be an issue all unto itself, but there are occasions that I wish I was a bit harder to read, harder to predict, was more of a mystery, and had a few more secrets. I’m sure several people around me wish the same thing!

But Jesus isn’t the least bit squeamish talking about secrets, as the word “secret” is used six times in our reading this evening. That’s a lot of secretiveness! For a gospel that tells us to be a light on the hill, to go and tell all nations about Jesus and baptize everyone into the mission of bringing God’s kingdom, why tell us to keep our piety in secret?
I don’t think that Jesus is trying to purposefully confuse us or to suggest that we should never share our faith. I DO think that Jesus is concerned that we are often more concerned with what other’s think of us, or that we make our faith practices a competition. He’s challenging our notions of what a religious person, a true believer might look like. Jesus is revealing that we are revealed. No matter how hard we try and hold that poker face, or that face of piety, God sees what’s really going on: God sees us only giving money from our comfortable excesses, God sees our social media posts that make us seem like Mother Teresa, God sees us praying loudly at restaurants so that everyone hears how close we are to God, God sees our t-shirts, jewelry with Christian symbols and sayings.  None of those things are wrong or bad, but God sees what we do and think when no one is looking, what we think we do and think in secret and the actions don’t always match the motivation.
Jesus is aware that we have secrets, and he’s aware that the secrets we hold, are we probably aren’t very proud of. Jesus sees that we try to be generous but knows our secret that we don’t want to be TOO generous. Jesus sees our attempts to show others how we love Jesus but knows the secret that we compare other people to ourselves and put others down to elevate ourselves. Jesus sees what we think is important, what’s our precious treasure and knows our secret, that it is often us.
It’s no secret that Jesus’ presence in the world and in our lives reveals us, and it’s no secret that we don’t know what to do with Jesus who sees our secrets, who we really are, and loves us anyway. It’s no secret that in Lent, we hope that by giving up a favorite food, or drink or questionable habit or by adding daily prayer and scripture reading that we will distract God and deflect God from knowing our real secrets of competition, greed, worry and lack of self-worth. The good news is that it won’t work. God knows all of our secrets; God knows that we try and fail to live in the footsteps of Jesus. Here on Ash Wednesday, we mark ourselves with the cross that reveals this secret: we try, we fail, we try again, and we are loved the whole time. The cross of ash, tells the world that God’s redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of all creation, is not a secret and is out in the open for all to see and participate. Maybe God has a poor poker face as well, for in Jesus, we see God’s love and care for all people clearly. God sees the secrets we keep but doesn’t keep the secret that we are all, each one of us, beloved people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Getting Our Attention: Sermon on Transfiguration Sunday, Epiphany 6B February 12, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 14, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

2Kings 2: 1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Mark 9: 2-9

I will admit to you that my planner is my life. Many of you have heard me say: If it doesn’t get into my planner, it doesn’t exist. Each day, I look at my calendar to see what should get my attention. Is it emails? Pastoral care calls? Holy Week planning? Sermon prep? Paying bills? House maintenance? Or the now complex task of procuring groceries without contracting a disease? And then there’s the stuff that creeps up that I DON’T plan for: the so-called “emergencies” that suddenly grab my full and complete attention, whether they should or not. And if I’m honest, then there are the things that grab my attention because they are simply distractions from what I should really be doing.  TV programs, my phone, social media, and more can get my attention. I am self-aware enough to know that what gets my attention is not always what SHOULD get my attention. I also know that left to my own devices, I will give my attention to situations and distractions that aren’t life-giving, or feed my ego, or keep me from what truly matters. For this reason, I bought a different kind of planner for this year. It’s a liturgical year calendar, which is church geek speak for it starts at Advent and ends at Christ the King Sunday. Each day there is a one sentence prayer, the daily office scriptures, and a reminder to keep the main thing the main thing. I wanted a planner to remind me that it is God who should get my attention each day. I would love to tell you that it’s working beautifully and each day I give my full attention to God and listen for God’s word in everything I do. But if I said that, I would be lying. Even with this planner, what tends to get my attention is whoever is the most demanding in my email, texts or ear, or the outrageous Twitter thread, or our national drama, or whatever is shinier, easier, and self-gratifying in my day, or whatever Amazon’s deal of the day might be. (But have you seen some of those deals?)

I can convince myself that I am giving my attention to God through my to-do lists, as giving those distractions my full attention seems far safer than truly giving God my full attention. I know that giving God my full attention, would mean a focus not on myself and what I want or what I think is important. And yet, there have been times that God has commanded my full attention. Usually, it’s when I’m at my most confused, exhausted, fearful or angry. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth. And even then, my ego works overtime to put the attention back where I think it belongs, on me. But God doesn’t give up and is ok even with the negative attention I offer. God knows that as a human, I’m a hard sell on giving my full attention to anyone but myself, so God goes to great lengths to lure me into God’s love and care.

Evidence of God’s desire to get our full attention is in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus, God with us, is God’s ultimate attention grabber and yet, as we read in the gospels, humanity, even or especially the disciples, still miss it. Healings, casting out of demons, inclusion of the outcasts, all are easily dismissed, and people focus not on the care and mercy offered, but the rules broken, the human hierarchy dismantled and the need to control what they can’t understand. This story that we call the Transfiguration of Jesus is no exception. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain, a place in Jewish cosmology where one experiences the divine. He glows, like he swallowed radium and even his clothing was bright enough to get the attention of someone miles away. And if that wasn’t enough, Elijah and Moses appeared, both of whom were servants for God, but God had to work really hard to even get their attention from time to time. God grabbed Moses’ attention by manifesting as a talking burning bush that wasn’t consumed and had to get Elijah’s attention that God could be in the sheer silence, not only in big grand theophanies of wind, fire and earthquakes. Moses and Elijah constantly had their attention pulled away from what really mattered.

But dear Peter’s attention couldn’t be so easily persuaded away from himself. “It’s good we’re here! Let me build something!” I would love to criticize this, but I recognize myself in this reaction, so I’m going to give Peter a pass. But God, God tries again. This time a cloud overshadows them, and God speaks through the cloud “Hey, this is Jesus my son, could you do me a solid and please pay attention! Listen to him!” For me, the most poignant part of this story is verse 8, “Suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” Everything that could have taken their attention elsewhere, was gone. Their attention had be on Jesus, because at the end of it all, Jesus was the only one there, and nothing else mattered. Only Jesus.

This is what God wants for us, for our attention to be so focused on Jesus that Jesus, is all that we see. It’s Jesus’ love, care and mercy that get my attention each day. I have to admit that God sometimes has to work hard to get my attention as I don’t always want to notice. I have to listen to God’s voice as it whispers in the tears and heartbreak of my neighbor; as God’s voice thunders through the chants of my neighbor demanding justice and dignity; as God’s voice crackles in storms, wildfires and destruction of ecosystems; as God’s voice sings out the love that longs to be free in all people of every gender and orientation; as God’s voice heralds’ true life, life that is attentive to God’s love for us all through Jesus.

God’s attentive and loving gaze on us and creation craves to be seen, heard and noticed, not for God’s sake but for our own sake, and for our and creation’s healing and wholeness. But giving God our full attention brings risk, for then we will see ourselves and each human being we encounter in light and truth, through the gaze of Jesus. It means that we can’t look away from the suffering, pain and fear, for our own safety and comfort, but like Jesus, we will fully give our attention to the people and places in our community who need to know that they are worthy of God’s and our, full attention. We will give our attention to the full inclusion of each person in God’s promises. Giving God our full attention will mean less attention on ourselves, and that is part of our journey in Lent where we admit this truth of self-absorption and ask for God’s grace and help in returning God’s attentive gaze of love. When we return God’s loving gaze, we see Jesus Christ and see the life Jesus promised us all and that will hold our attention. Thanks be to God.

 

Breaking the Cycle Sermon on Isaiah 40 February 6, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 7, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 147: 1-11, 20c
Isaiah 40: 21-31
Mark 1: 29-39

If you are feeling weary, you’re not alone. Everyday brings a news article or story on how people throughout the world are living with a heightened sense of fear, anxiety and worry right now. Our brains and parasympathetic systems are constantly under the stress of keeping us safe without the usual breaks. Many mental health professionals are warning of the rise of people experiencing “burnout.” Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” in 1975[1] and offered three components: 1) emotional exhaustion-fatigue from caring about too much for too long or what we call compassion fatigue 2) depersonalization-the depletion of empathy, caring or compassion, 3) decreased sense of accomplishment or feeling that nothing you do matters. Burnout was a staple of our modern environment before the pandemic and now it’s rampant- 78% percent of Americans say that the pandemic has increased their stress levels, and 67% say that the stress has gotten worse as the pandemic wears on.[2] And many health and human professionals are suffering: nearly 30% of teachers are considering leaving the profession[3], 51% of doctors are reporting burnout and are considering leaving medicine[4] and in my own profession, clergy burnout is at the highest levels ever experienced. Before the pandemic over 50% of clergy quit after five years of ministry. The statistic now pushes that to 70% and trends are showing a mass exodus of clergy in the coming year after the stress of the pandemic[5]. Burnout is more than just needing a tropical vacation, although I vote we try that, or a nap, there’s no quick fix for it. Burnout is being stuck in a long-term stress cycle that you can’t complete. It’s a pattern of emotional and psychological abuse in many ways. Burnout can lead us to forget many things: our worth, our dignity, and our need for authentic connection. We not only lack energy, compassion and care for others, we lack those vital necessities for ourselves. We may blame ourselves and decide that we just need to exercise, eat, Netflix, nap, or vacation our way out of burnout. But in honesty, that usually leads to more burnout as it doesn’t heal the underlining trauma of continuing to operate under a framework that our worth is in what we produce and do for others. Burnout (and ironically recovering from burnout) has become a badge of honor in our society, as being a consumer and the flipside, being consumed is prized. But burnout isn’t God’s desire for us or creation. Rest shouldn’t be revolutionary, as God embedded rest, sabbath into the very framework of creation. God took time to just be God. The problem is that we twist the idea of sabbath and make it a “to-do” instead of a “to-be.”

While the word burnout is new, the experience is not. In 587 BCE when the Babylonian Empire ravaged Israel, destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, and hauled the prominent Israelites away to exile, the people of Israel were already tired. They had been dealing with the Assyrian assault for nearly 150 years at this point. They had been living in the chronic stress cycle of paying tributes they couldn’t afford, oppression of their identity, separation from family and community support, loss of autonomy, connection to the land, themselves and to God. They felt useless and that they had nothing left to give. So, by the time we get to around 520 BCE, approximately when our Isaiah text we read today was written, the people are beyond tired, they are burned out. Isaiah repeats in verse 29 what the Israelites have been lamenting: Why are you hiding God? Why do you ignore us? Don’t we matter? They have lost hope that anything other than suffering, tragedy, and separation was possible for them. They were stuck in a burnout cycle.
Isaiah seems to chide them with the questions of verses 21, 25, and 28: Have you forgotten everything? Have you forgotten who God is and was and will be? Do you really think that God has forgotten you? No. God is not human, and God doesn’t forget, God will never burnout on caring, loving and having compassion for you. God heard your cries from Egypt, God hears your cries now and remembers you. The trouble is, do you hear and remember God? God remembered your need for food, water and security in the desert and provided. God heard your pleas for king like other nations. God cried out to you through the prophets telling you that giving into the world’s worries for wealth, power and status will only lead to the cycle of worry about wealth, power and status. God warned you that putting your trust in these things and in yourself will lead to the cycle of death and destruction. God calls you to remember that cycle of work and rest is holy, and leads to the cycle of hope in the promises of God to provide, that you will have and will be enough.
We need to hear this again today, and if we’re honest, again and again, each day because we forget. We forget that the more we try to control our lives, to get back to normal, back to the cycle of doing, buying, and competing, the more we forget that it is God who offers us a cycle of life. God’s cycle of holy work and holy rest is a statement of holy resistance from what the world wants, it’s a statement of our identity as God’s own, and it’s a statement of trust. We trust that we don’t have to have to have all of the answers on our own, we trust that we don’t have to hoard resources, we trust in God’s creation there is always enough. We trust that when we are at our lowest, most weary, helpless and hopeless, God sees us, and Jesus offers his hand to raise us up from our fever-pitched cycles of overdoing and fitting in and says, “be raised up for true life where you are loved for who you are and who’s you are.” We are raised up with Jesus’ love to remember that it all rests on the cycles of God’s love and wholeness, and we rest and wait and hope in God’s promises that we are more than what we do, we are enough as we are. Our power is God’s power, our strength is God’s strength, not our own. I know that this is easier said than done, I know that I have a long way to go to break the cycles of self-doubt, of proving my worth and fitting in to the world’s definition of success and value. I know that to be refreshed and renewed, I need to trust in holy rest that God will be all of who God is, who is to love all of who I am. I know that I need to free you and all my neighbors from these worldly cycles so that together we wait, rest, hope and are renewed in God’s promises to break the cycle weariness for life where we are more than enough, just as we are where we are. Amen.


[1] Page xi Introducion, Burnout:The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Nagasoki, E. Nagagsoki, A. 2020 Ballatine Books

[2] Stress in America 2020 www.apa.org Emma Adam, PhD, Northwestern University; Earl Turner, PhD, Pepperdine University

[3] Singer, Natasha “Teaching in the Pandemic: “This Is Not Sustainable,” New York Times 12-3-2020

[4] Frellick, Marcia, www.medscape.com, 1-25-21

[5] Barna Group 2-3-2020