A Lutheran Says What?

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

Always A Part, Never Apart from God Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday May 30, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 30, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran SLC.

The texts for Holy Trinity Sunday Year B
John 3: 1-17
Romans 8: 12-17
Isaiah 6: 1-8

Letter writing is a lost art in the 21st century and I wonder if we fully grasp the deficit. Pen and paper letters offer a connection to someone in the present, the past and the future. I can recall, as can you I’m sure, stories of someone holding on to all the letters their child or beloved wrote to them while they were apart because of war, economic hardship or some other necessary reason. Or grandparents who saved letters and cards from their children and grandchildren only to be discovered after they’ve died. Actually, just last night (two full days after I wrote this sermon) the national news had such a story of a letter found in the wall of an old house from a soldier in WWII dated Dec. 31, 1943.  The current homeowners are attempting to find the family who had been living in the house then to give them with this precious piece of family connection. And recently, I was talking to someone who is remodeling a 100 year old house here in SLC and they found 60 year old invitation to meet the Dr. Jonas Salk, who invented the polio vaccine, hidden in a wall. Finding it made them feel a part of the former home owners lives. It made them feel apart of something beyond themselves even though they had never met and were separated by decades. Receiving a card or a letter can help us feel apart of someone’s life and that person feels a part of ours, even if we’re, well, apart. We all know what it is to be apart after these past few months don’t we? We’ve been apart from friends, family, routines. And yet, in some ways we’ve been made aware of the communities and relationships of which we are truly a part. We’ve discovered that we can be a part of our family’s celebrations via Zoom, or FaceTime. Texts, FB, emails, phone calls and yes, actual old-fashioned cards and letters helped us to be a part of one another’s lives even as we have been a part.

We long to be a part of a community, a group, a cause, a movement, and yet so often in our modern lives, we simply feel apart. Either we feel disconnected from community, family, satisfying vocation and even ourselves. We’re disconnected from creation as more and more we live in climate controlled environments, rely on corporations for food sources, and view creation as an object to be tamed rather than an entity to live with. We tend to be individualistic, that what we do or don’t do doesn’t affect the community or creation in which we live. Our choices and decisions are inconsequential and that we are apart from the challenges facing humanity and creation. The truth is that we aren’t ever apart from community or creation, even if we don’t recognize it.

This “apartness” has been a tension from the beginning of creation when God’s Spirit hovered over the waters. God separated the waters of the land and the air apart, but they were still connected, a part of a whole, functioning together for the completeness of the rest of creation to come. God created humanity to be a part of not only creation but God’s own very life, and yet, it wasn’t long before we were trying to be apart from that promise, thinking that we could be just fine apart from the wisdom and relationship of God. Humanity’s history is one of trying to be a part, separate and distinct from each other and yes, God, and the history of God with humanity is chasing us with the truth that we are never “apart” from the life, love and newness of God. God send humanity love letters in the form of angels who visited Abraham and Sarah with good news of a son, tough love letters from prophets like Isaiah, who tried to get the people to recall that they were apart from the will of God for human flourishing and justice, and of course the love letter in the Word made flesh in Jesus. Jesus who spoke words of inclusion, mercy and hope. Jesus who told Nicodemus that God is a part of the world, a part of Nicodemus’s own life, and he can never be apart from the love of God. Jesus on the cross was the ultimate love letter that all are gathered in Jesus’ outstretched arms, and that there is no where any of us can go to not be a part of what God is doing for life, hope, mercy and love for humanity and creation.

God proclaims that we are a part of the mission and work of God in and for the world and continues to send us love letters across time and space. Yes, we have the scriptures as God’s love story to us, we have Jesus as love made human and we have the Holy Spirit who sends us love letters today, through writings of creation and each other. Just as God can never be apart from Godself as creator/parent, child/redeemer, and presence/sustainer, we can never be apart from God. It’s simply not possible, even when we try, even when we resist, even if we don’t like it. We are a part of God and a part of each other. We can write love letters of connection to nature and delicate ecosystems through our actions and policies. We can write love letters of connection to our human siblings local and global through resisting being a part of systems that deny human rights, living wages, safe and affordable housing, clean water, and other supports. We write love letters to be a part of truth telling about harms being inflicted and on God’s desire for all people to be a part of God’s oneness and allness. We are a part of the kingdom of God. We are a part of the followers of Jesus. We are a part of the work of the Holy Spirit that sends us out to be a part of the healing of creation. We are always a part of God, and never apart from God. Thanks be to God.


Finding Our Voice Sermon for Pentecost May 23, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of OSLC in Holladay, UT for Pentecost, May 23, 2021. It an be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Acts 2: 1-21
John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15

Young Friends Message:

What’s your favorite gift that you’ve ever been given? Do you still have it? Maybe yes, maybe no, I’ve been given so many great gifts over the years! I bet you have too! But did you know that God has given us gifts too? But God doesn’t give us gifts like toys, or books, or other stuff, God gives us gifts that we can share with each other! And each of our gifts our different! What are you good at? What do you like to do? Those are gifts that God has given you! The best gift that any of us has been given is Jesus, and Jesus’ gift was love. I want you to remember this week that you are a gift to the world too! All you have to do to unwrap this gift is look in the mirror! And the world needs you and your gifts! We’re going to talk a little bit more about that together.

I was terrified in my first classes for my Master of Divinity. I was so certain that everyone else possessed a good forty IQ points above me, and I had nothing to contribute. After all, up to this point I had a degree in elementary education, had taught preschool, and had been raising our children. My context and culture had been children and families, and young children at that. Sure, I had been on staff at a church for many years, but my landscape was different than theological leadership, very different from pastoral leadership. I had been out of school for 15 years when I re-entered academia and I was pretty sure I couldn’t go to school because my throat hurt and I was too old. My first graduate level course work was a two-week course at Gettysburg Seminary in PA, and it took about two seconds to realize that I was in a different culture. I didn’t speak the theological/academia language, for one thing. I would sit in a lecture diligently taking notes realizing the only words I knew were “the,” “and” and an occasional “Jesus” or “God.” Everything else was foreign. Hermeneutical lenses, eschatology, Parousia, Synoptic, Vulgate, Septuagint, Coptic all of these presumably English words swirled around me as if from another country. And then there were the words that were ACTUALLY not English like diaconia, ecclesia, Imago Dei, eres, mishpat, Greek, Latin and Hebrew thrown into the mix. I’m fairly sure the first couple of days I went back to my austere dorm room, which also seemed to be ground zero for a moth infestation and cried. Luckily, a nice 24-year-old young man seemed to notice my old lady pain and ineptitude and took pity on me. I was ok with pity at this point and he would sit next to me, put his notebook were I could see it and write definitions of all the weird words coming at me. He was my translator for those two weeks. I sat silent in class, not trusting that my voice could add anything of intelligence to the conversations.
When I got home, I had to write a culminating paper as the final. Again, this was my first foray into academia in 15 years, so I was understandably nervous. I did my best to regurgitate and use the language of the theological world, but it was difficult as those were not yet my words. I had my best friend, who was also an ordained pastor, read and critique my paper before I turned it in. She was very kind. When Leta returned my paper to me, it stood out that about half-way through the 20-page paper, she wrote “yay! Finally, your own voice!” She had recognized that the words that had come before weren’t mine, and rejoiced when my own words, my own theological thoughts about God, service and proclaiming God’s deed in the world, finally surfaced.

But honestly, I didn’t trust that voice and wondered if I should say anything at all. I hadn’t trusted my own voice most of my growing up. I didn’t trust my own voice to be worthy through four years of graduate school and the first few years of my ordained ministry. Trusting my own voice seemed hubris and arrogant. I worried that I wasn’t smart enough or possessed the correct language. I couldn’t imagine anyone voluntarily listening to me! I sometimes still don’t trust my voice-will I offend? Will I be coherent? But I’ve come to realize that not trusting my voice means that I’m not trusting God to show up. Trusting my voice has everything to do with faith that the Holy Spirit will indeed give me something to say, something that needs said and someone to hear and understand it. I realize that sitting silent is not an option as a beloved child of God in a world that desperately needs words that heal, love, and give hope.  This is the call of ministry it turns out. It’s the call of our baptisms to trust that we as the people of God, can’t be silent in a world of division, fear and hate, but must find our voices, each of our unique voices, for God’s words to be heard and understood. Even if our voices shake, even if other people don’t like them, even if we are ignored, mocked or misunderstood. Our words can bring down barriers, our words can heal, our words can bridge chasms, our words can point to the promises of God for life for all and they matter.

I wonder if this is how that first Pentecost with the disciples felt 2000 years ago. What was is like to hear their voices proclaiming God’s great deeds of power with words foreign to them? Did they wonder if what they were saying could be heard? If what they were saying mattered? When people began to gather, to listen, to take them seriously, it must have been astonishing. You mean, you can understand me? You are speaking my language? I’m guessing the response of some that they were simply drunk early in the morning should have been expected, after all, aren’t these just lowly Galileans? But Peter trusted God and the promise of the Holy Spirit. Maybe he recalled the words of Jesus from our John passage that they would testify, tell the world something meaningful and necessary about the love of God in the world. Jesus’ voice still rang in their ears and they could trust that they could add their voice to the conversation and cut across language, race, ethnic and cultural barriers to translate God’s love for all the world. The truth of God’s mission, as Jesus had told them, was that there is no division in God’s creation, all are one.

1) What cultural barriers have you encountered in a congregation, neighborhood or other setting?

2)  How does culture (secular culture, ethnic cultures, personal cultures) impact the mission of the Church and our church OSLC?

3) How can we set an example and advocate for an inclusive and just culture in our church and communities?

So we, too have a voice, a voice that we need to trust-a voice that God has given us and trust that God has given other people a voice that needs to be heard as well. We are called not only to use our voices for the wholeness, care and dignity of all people and creation, but we are called to ensure that neglected voices are heard: the voice of creation groaning under the weight of devastation and destruction, the voice of people vulnerable to abuse and oppression-migrants, children, people who are disabled, Black voices. And we need to discern when our voice needs to not be a solo but a chorus, or not the loudest.

Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, isn’t an historical event, but a promise of the on-going presence of God each day in our lives, giving us voice, giving us life, giving us our very being. Giving us these gifts to take with us as we go out, to live our faith, to lift our voices in the world. Pentecost did indeed create the church that day, a church that doesn’t stay quiet and in one place, but a church that is out, loud and diverse. The church isn’t a liturgy or the type of music, or a building, but the church is the people of God proclaiming God’s deeds of power in the world. Pentecost is indeed when we find our voice, we find that God has given us a voice and we are outed as having something to say about God’s kingdom right here, right now. We are outed as being different, in that we welcome diversity, all voices who speak of God’s deeds of loving power, inclusion and mercy into the world. Like Peter, we can use our voices to refute those voices that want to belittle, deny and make light of God’s power. We have found our voice from God, beloved people, let’s use it. Amen.


Peace Worth Fighting For Sermon on Acts 1 May 22, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 16, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC

The Texts were:
Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
John 17: 6-19

Young Friends Message: Put the children into two groups. Give each group an idea to defend and give them one minute to come up with a reason why their idea is the best: Chocolate Cake or vanilla cake. Then give each team one minute to say why theirs is the best. What if someone doesn’t like chocolate/vanilla cake or doesn’t like cake at all? Should they just not say anything? Is that fair? What if when the say that they don’t like chocolate/vanilla cake they are told it doesn’t matter and they have to eat it anyway. Who won? Do you think that person who has to eat what they don’t like feels at peace? I mean the fighting has stopped so it’s all good right? Everyone has what they need? We’re talking about Peace today, which means we have to talk about not getting along. God understands that we will disagree and fight about things, but God really wants us to remember that we all have to work together, we have to remember, like Jesus says, that we are one-one people in God’s love. Jesus shows us how to not just end a disagreement, but to make sure that everyone is heard and has what they need for them. Jesus shows us that to truly live together, we have to listen to each other and understand that everyone is different. That is hard, but Jesus also prays for us and is with us, as we just read in the John story. Jesus promises to be with us, even in hard conversations.

I’ve been thinking about conflict a lot lately, namely what do we do when conflict arises. There’s been a preponderance of conflict it seems, or maybe we’re simply noticing it more, such as when you are thinking about new kind of car and you suddenly notice all the new cars around you. I’ve been blessed, yes blessed, to have engaged in several difficult conversations in the past week. Conversations where assumptions were made, feelings were hurt, avoidance of accountability and conflict were attempted, vulnerability had to occur, awareness blossomed, a resolution arose and yet frustrations remained. The conversations ran the gamut, and the common thread was uncomfortable and messy humanity. There were a times when we all tried to rush to the compromise, rush to the part where the tension ends, rush to go along to get along. But each time, there was a brave soul who refused to rush, who pulled us back into the mire and said, this won’t do. We can rush, we can end the tension but it doesn’t end the conflict and it doesn’t bring peace. We stayed in the messiness, we stayed in conversation, and we stayed in relationship. Why? Because we all realized that peace was worth it.

Peace is one of those concepts that I think we truly only understand in relationship to it’s antithesis: conflict. We use the term peace quite often day to day: All I want is peace and quiet. Keep the peace. Peace out. Give peace a chance. Love and peace. And in our worship: May the peace of the Lord be with you and Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Do we know what we are saying or asking for? Martin Luther King Jr, in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail offered that there is negative peace and positive peace. Essentially negative peace is rushing through the tension to maintain status quo, going along to get along, ignoring hard truths, shying away from hard conversations, peace that ultimately divides. Positive peace is awareness of the presence of something else, the messy and raw presence of truth, authenticity, vulnerability, humanity and wholeness. We have a lot of negative peace in our world I would assert to you this morning: negative peace that requires people to stay silent in the shadows of hatred, racism, homophobia, classism, sexism and the list goes on. Negative peace requires us to pick a side, are we for something or against it? Those are the choices for us. A kind of peace that buries truth, that allows power structures to stay in place and remain unchallenged. We all know this peace. The kind of peace that gives us that sinking feeling in our stomach discomfort when we are in the presence of people telling racist or sexist jokes, the innate fear of being ridiculed, or watching the news and seeing the destruction of towns and the death of innocents in the name of status quo and minding our own business. We fight to ignore it, we fight to feel comfortable. Or is that the presence of something else?

Peace isn’t inaction or nice words, I’m learning. Peace isn’t ignoring, sweeping conflict under the rug, giving up well-being or health of myself or other groups, swallowing my pride, keeping quiet for the comfort and stability of another group. Peace isn’t the path of least resistance. If it’s peace only for some, then it’s not peace for all. Peace is action, peace is recognizing and entering conflict, not for the sake of fighting but for the sake of bringing the presence of something else. The presence of wholeness. In the Hebrew Bible this presence is Shalom, which is mistakenly translated often as peace, but it really means wholeness, completeness. God’s will for creation and humanity from day one is this Shalom. God sends Jesus, sends Jesus into the world, where there are forces that oppose and are in conflict with God’s will. God sends Jesus to be the presence of wholeness, to be the presence that names truth, that names power, that names vulnerability. God gives this presence freely and abundantly.

How do you define (or give an example) of peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding? 

How does the concept of peace as Shalom (wholeness) move us to love our neighbor? 

Jesus shows us how to enter conflict for the sake of true peace. Jesus hangs out with the people whom society decided were the scapegoats to ensure peace for the powerful. Jesus upends tables of status quo and that excludes peace, wholeness for the poor, the vulnerable and the weak. Jesus walks through conflict with authorities, is tortured, executed on a cross, because he wouldn’t be quiet, he wouldn’t stop agitating. He wouldn’t stop being the presence of something else besides what the world wanted him to be. He wouldn’t stay in his place. He wouldn’t stop being in relationship with us, even when it got hard and dangerous, because the peace Jesus brought to the world for the world was worth it.  Jesus was the living peace who only sought wholeness for all. Jesus was the peace that does indeed pass all understanding, for Jesus reveals the truth of God’s embedding peace, wholeness in creation from the beginning. For God, bringing this wholeness  full circle is, dare I say, worth fighting for. Not fighting with weapons or malice, but fighting by dying, fighting with love, fighting with mercy and fighting with hope. God won’t give up on us.
For positive peace, true peace to abound, we too must not give up but enter the world, into the forces that oppose separation from God and creation. We trust that we too are the embodiment of this presence, that we don’t keep the peace, we make it, we build it, not alone, but with God, in the presence of Jesus, and sustained by the Holy Spirit, for we are one-wholeness. We engage conflict, we speak not of right or wrong but of wholeness, mercy and love. We don’t respond to violence with violence but with vulnerability. We lay down our weapons of words, actions, ego and yes, maybe real weapons, and stand bare before our neighbor seeking connection and peace. We stay in the mess, in the tension, because the world, the world where all people and creation thrive and flourish is worth fighting and dying for. Yes, that sounds naïve and dramatic, or perhaps plain foolish, but I think that is the point. Jesus was foolish in who he hung out with. Jesus was foolish in feeding 5000 people as if it made a difference. Jesus was foolish giving away his power to heal a worthless woman, or outcast lepers. Jesus was foolish to believe that turning over tables would permanently end economic theft and the grifting of the poor by the rich. Jesus was foolish to not defend himself before the Roman authorities to save his life. But Jesus foolishly trusted God’s wisdom, God’s wisdom that shows peace, wholeness, is forged through the hot coals of conflict. Peace that matters, peace that means anything, is a peace that isn’t soft, squishy or delicate. Peace that lasts is a peace where conflict is put to death once and for all. The peace that passes all understanding pulls us into the mystery of life together and life with God with humility, openness, mercy and grace. A peace that is for all, no one is harmed, no one is on the outside, no one is right, no one is wrong, but all are loved, fed, housed, sheltered, given abundant life now, and protected in Jesus name. This is a peace worth fighting for. Amen.


We Forget A Sermon on Act 10, John 15 and Human Rights May 9, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 9, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 10: 44-48
John 15: 9-17

Young Friends message: Helping each other remember: What do you remember about the two bible stories that were just read? (Have the children/youth work together to piece the story together-solicit assistance from the congregation if necessary.) Great work! It’s sometimes hard to remember each part of a story on our own, unless we’ve heard it many times or wrote it ourselves. Even if it’s our own story, sometimes when we retell it we still forget some pieces of it don’t we? Well, that true for us all and it was true for the disciples in our Acts and John stories today. Jesus was trying to give his disciples ways to remember not only himself, but how God loved them, and everyone no matter what. But the disciples continued to forget. In the Acts story, Peter had to be reminded by the Holy Spirit, God in action, that the people whom Peter didn’t know and didn’t have anything in common with, were part of God’s beloved people too. It’s really hard for us to remember that people we don’t know, we don’t like or who don’t like us, get the same love and care from God that we do. And if we’re honest, we sometimes purposely forget that don’t we-when we decide to be mean to someone, or ignore them when their hurt, or whatever. This is what we’re going to talk about today, human rights. Human rights is when we all remember, all people, that all people deserve God’s love and care no matter what. It’s really hard, and it’s why Jesus kept telling the disciples and us different ways to remember that and how we remind each other of that fact. Human rights means that each person, each body, is sacred and should be allowed to live as such, with food, housing, safety, able to make their own decisions for their own body, etc. And Jesus wants us to remember this. We’re going to talk a little more about that and wrestle with some questions about it. I want you to talk with us.

I’m noticing that as I get older, my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. You know, you walk into a room and can’t remember why? Or remember the name of someone I’ve known a long time or even just met? Or the pesky question for me, where is my phone? So I sometimes go through an elaborate thought process or even physical process of retracing my steps, trying to jog my memory to remember this allegedly important thing. What was I doing before? What was I doing or thinking that made my mind move on from why I came into this room, what task I needed to do or object to find. Our memory, what our brain records or chooses not to record, is a fascinating subject of study. You can google it and find enough research to read that will keep you busy the rest of your life. How our brain records traumatic memories, happy memories, how all five of our senses contribute to memory, with smell and sound, it turns out, activating our memories the most effectively. Most of the time, what I forget is non-essential, but you all have known me for two years now and yes, I do occasionally forget “important” things, like a meeting or to do a certain task that then holds everyone else up. My bad! Often times, it’s because I’ve stretched myself too thin and have overestimated my capacity. I’ve put doing things above how I relate to people. I need to be reminded of what truly matters, reminded of who matters and why.

In reading through the social message on human rights this week in tandem with the Acts 10 and John 15 passages, I was at first overwhelmed with the enormity of the implications of it all. And I guess I still am, as what I constantly wrestle with is the question: “why do we even have to name that all people, each and every person on this planet, deserves to have dignity, worth, agency and autonomy?” It’s maddening and that question can lead me to despair. But then it struck me this week, we have to name this because we forget. And let’s be clear, it’s not that only some world leaders whom we might label as despicable or evil forget, or corporations only after money forget, I forget, you forget. I forget that when I buy something that is inexpensive off the internet, that I am taking advantage of someone’s right to a living wage. I forget that not everyone has the access to healthcare that I do, and I’m denying their human right to care and wholeness. I forget that what I assume is my success because of my intellect, or skill, and I’m negating the powers that have privileged me and oppressed my neighbor. I even wonder when I forget to not offer a smile or a hello to a stranger on my walk or run if I’m denying their connection to me and humanness. I forget that small actions matter.  I forget that my decisions affect other people around me, I forget that it’s not about me.
Peter had quickly forgotten that the good news of Jesus wasn’t just for him and others who were like him. He heard Jesus say it over and over and would get it and remember it for about three seconds before he’d forget. But God reminded him over and over. The Holy Spirit interrupted him, interrupted his perhaps sanitized and clinical retelling of the good news of Jesus and messily poured out grace, love and mercy to all gathered there, jogging Peter’s memory that God’s presence doesn’t stay in human order. These alleged outsiders (no one is an outsider to God, that’s a term solely based on human faulty memory of connection) received God’s promises BEFORE they were baptized! God’s promise of flourishing and abundant life for all people always is a something that God never forgets.
Jesus tries to give the disciples images, metaphors, prayers, anything he can to help them remember that they are attached, connected to God, the life source that never forgets. Jesus calls them friends, which means being attached to someone. People will remember that we are attached to Jesus when we remember this too. We can jog each other’s memory by lying down our life, which here in the Greek, doesn’t necessarily mean our physical life, it can, but just like there are different words for “love” in Greek, so there are different words for “life.” The life Jesus wants us to remember here, is our soul, our ego, our being. We lay down our need to be right, our forgetfulness that we’re connected. Our forgetfulness that when we look at any other human being, we are looking at Christ, himself. Our forgetfulness that when we look in the mirror, we are looking at Christ.

We’re going to take a few minutes in small groups to ponder this with the following questions. If you don’t get to them all, it’s ok:

  1. How can we as Church (God’s witness on earth), use our voice, actions and finances to promote and ensure human rights and flourishing?
  2. How do you define solidarity? Give an example of solidarity from your own experience or what you’ve witnessed.
  3. How might we be proactive to ensure that human rights abuses don’t manifest to begin with?

We are indeed a forgetful people. But God always remembers this. God sent Jesus to jog our memories back to the garden when we dwelled with God. Jesus wants us to remember that we live together, we are interconnected whether we like it or not and whether we remember it or not. We must be each other’s memory of every person created in God’s very image. We must use every gift, skill, effort, time that we have to jog the memory of Church and community leaders, neighbors, that we are not strangers, we are all friends, attached to each other, attached to the planet and creation. We can’t forget that we are attached. It’s why gathering as God’s people each week matters, not for us, but for God to remind us through water, wine and bread, that as we go back to our daily lives, we’re attached, for the sake of reminding the world of who and what matters: The good news of Jesus that interrupts our amnesia, that pours this love out on people whom we’d never suspect, who don’t share our backgrounds, status or beliefs, and we are invited by the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ, to stay with these new friends, be connected, not through what we do or say, but through who God is, our memory of love and life for all. Our memory that can spur us to ensure that all people remember and live in unity, dignity, and worth. Amen.


United States of Grace-Don’t miss this sacred love story May 4, 2021

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Rev. Lenny Duncan begins his memoir with these words: “Whenever I tell my story-how I grew up in West Philadelphia, left home at the age of thirteen, lived onthe streets doing sex work and dealing drugs, got my GED in prison, and somehow wound up a preacher-I describe my life as a trajectory of grace.” This opening sentence pulls you into Duncan’s story, what will unfold in the coming pages, a love story. Not just any love story, but a love story that reveals the truth, the sometimes ugly truth, of love. Love that bleeds, love that screams, love that caresses, love that holds on when it should let go, love that runs, but most of all love that endures despite all odds that say it shouldn’t. Duncan offers us his very soul, his inner loving and lover being, freely, courageously, perhaps naively, and fully. You’ll blush at his tender, initmate sensual words of to you, and sink into the despair of love unrequited, and worse, love abused, only to be pulled out by grace. Yes, Duncan’s grace for America, white America, and us all and the grace that flows through the world from the Divine, God, the One, the Source of LOVE. I couldn’t look away, I didn’t want to look away, and I am grateful that now, thanks to Rev. Lenny Duncan’s latest gift to us, I look at America, myself and us all with Duncan’s lens of this unshakable, unquenchable, tenacious grace.


Rooted Sermon on Acts 8 and John 15 May 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed for the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 2, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Acts 8: 26-40
John 15: 1-8
ELCA Social Statements: Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust
Faith, Sexism and Justice

Young Friends message:

You might remember or know that I grew up in the military, in the Air Force to be exact. My family moved quite often, we would uproot and go to a new place. I went to five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools. So I was the new girl all the time. And to be honest, I was a bit odd, maybe because of moving so often, but really, probably because I was me. I was a kid who loved to sing and did so everywhere I went. I loved playing my violin, was horrible at sports, loved reading books, and was the opposite of cool in so many ways. I was also a bit odd as I loved church, I mean, I LOVED Church! Everywhere we moved, it turned out that God was the same and there! I was that teenager that sang the liturgy, attended every church function even when my parents didn’t, and started teaching Sunday school at 15. I mean I loved Church. I felt rooted there, I felt like it was the only place where I was loved for being odd, and for being well, me. When I was in confirmation, we picked our own confirmation verses. I was in the youth choir, of course, and we had a piece we were singing called “Vine and Branches” based off of our Gospel story for today. I fell in love with those words, “I am the vine and you are the branches, you who abide in me and I in them.” I picked that verse because I am connected to that vine whether I live in CA, ND, Guam, NE or here in Utah. A few weeks after I was confirmed at First Lutheran in Minot, we uprooted again and moved to NE. But I knew that I stayed connected to Jesus no matter what. And so are you! I want you to know that no matter what, what you grow up to do, who you grow up and choose to live with and be a family with, how you dress, cut your hair, no matter what, you can’t be uprooted from Jesus. God says so. Here’s a piece of twine to remind you that you are connected and rooted in Jesus’ love.

I’ve spent a lot of my life uncomfortable, so you’d think I’d be good at it. Like I shared with our younger friends, it has been most of my living experience. I actually don’t like being uncomfortable, do you? When I’m in an uncomfortable place, or conversation, my instinct is to separate myself from that discomfort. Maybe it’s physically relocating, or not speak my truth, or assume my discomfort is not important, or blame the other person for my discomfort. The end result is the same, separation, disconnection feeling cut off. It’s harder when I’m uncomfortable with myself, maybe I’m ashamed of a feeling, how I look, my thoughts, my actions, my dreams. And I try to forget, push away, or ignore that discomfort-I separate or compartmentalize pieces of myself, I don’t want to get to the hard truth, the root of my discomfort, as then I would have to deal with it, and who wants to do that hard work? But as I’ve gotten older, and maybe wiser or at least gained some experience, I realize that separation within myself, denial of who I am at my root, at my core is a dangerous thing. When I’m not fully connected to myself, I can’t connect authentically or in a healthy way with others. Yet, this isn’t how we operate day to day is it? We deny and shy away from anything that makes us uncomfortable: people, conversations, situations, feelings, etc. What’s the old adage? Never discuss religion or politics? Well, we’re going to do a bit of both this morning, so hold on. If we can’t practice having hard conversations here among each other, as God’s people, then how are we going to do this in our day to day lives? And to make this even harder, you’re welcome, we’re going to add sexuality into this mix. Don’t leave! It’ll be ok, I promise.
The Bible is filled with these uncomfortable conversations and stories, but we ignore the parts that make us uncomfortable, until we can’t. I love this story in Acts 8 today for so many reasons. First, let’s just name that it’s kinda weird and uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit talks to Philip who actually listens and obeys, (What?) goes to the wilderness (this was a road through nowhere),and encounters a stranger, a person only named by their physical traits, an Ethiopian Eunuch. So much to unpack here and I’ll give you a sliver. Ethiopian doesn’t refer to the country of Ethiopia as we know it today, it only refers to the geography south of Egypt. It refers to his dark skin color and would be used to highlight that he is indeed “not from around these parts.” We’re told he’s a Eunuch, ok stay with me, that can mean one of a few things: he was born without male sexual organs, he is a slave who was castrated for the purpose of serving the King and his harem of women without fear of sexual promiscuity, or he was not castrated but had an effeminate manner that allowed him to move in more female dominated spaces. We don’t know which it is, but we know this: in ancient Roman times, he would have been mocked, bullied, considered nonmale, nonbinary, and not accepted. We read that he was returning from worship in Jerusalem: and we know from Levitical law, that being a eunuch, he would have been excluded from being in the inner courts of the Temple. It’s possible that he was a practicing Jew, and it’s also possible that he was what was referred to as a “God-fearer.” Someone who is not a full practicing Jew but liked the idea of God.
We also know that he had access to money as he had a chariot and a scroll of Isaiah. Philip encounters him reading the scroll aloud, a common ancient practice, and asks him if he knows what he’s reading about? The Ethiopian Eunuch responds with a question: How could I since no one will interpret for me? We don’t have the details of what Philip tells him, other than he tells him of the good news of Jesus. We do know the Ethiopian Eunuch’s next question: What prevents me from being baptized right now? He got right to the root of following Jesus.It can be heard as rhetorical, as the answer is, of course, nothing. But we need to uncomfortably admit that we also know that isn’t always true. The Church, yes, the supposed beloved people of God, has given a myriad of answers to that question throughout history, that is anything but a yes. You want to belong? First dress appropriately (according to whom?), pray correctly, know the same hymns that we do, stand up and sit down at the correct times, stay in your gender or age role, don’t be a different color, sexual orientation, or partisan persuasion, like all the same food we do, all the same books, all the same music. Fit in this box and cut yourself off from everything that doesn’t fit in the box. Then you’re welcomed, then you belong, then you are loved.
I’ve been told that. Disconnect from the part of me that isn’t feminine enough, acts too confident and bold. Don’t think that you have an equal say, don’t be bossy, but you should speak up more, don’t dress so girly, or masculine or dowdy. Why do you wear make up? Why don’t you wear some lipstick? My daughter who is queer and marrying a wonderful young woman has been told even uglier things. LBGTQIA+ people in our society and yes, in churches, have been told to cut off the part of themselves that might make others uncomfortable or we mistakenly think are in the bible. An aside: the word “homosexuality” didn’t appear in the English bible until 1946, it’s a bad translation from the Hebrew and the Greek. Jesus says nothing about same gender relationships, and to really make you uncomfortable, the gospel of John talks about the “beloved disciple of Jesus” who leaned on his bosom. Maybe that was Jesus’ partner? We don’t know. But Jesus does say love and care for your neighbor, over and over and over and over again. Yet, we focus on a handful of passages that are badly translated to ensure some sort of hierarchy in the church and world. Just sayin’.

In 2009, the ELCA, at Churchwide assembly, adopted the social statement: Human sexuality a gift and trust. It removed the barriers, the disconnection for our siblings who are LBGTQIA+ to serve in the Church as rostered leaders. I will personally add, that the part of “bound conscious” in this document I find problematic. It means that if a congregation doesn’t want a woman or an LBGTQIA person to serve as their pastor, they can reject such a candidate. I don’t think that is faithful or biblical. Jesus came to unbind us from such sin. I don’t think we should affirm people who are indeed bound and determined to exclude, judge and cut off anyone from the community of Jesus followers.
And in 2019, the ELCA adopted the social statement Faith, Sexism and Justice. These documents answered the question: what is to prevent me from following God’s call to serve in my life for women, femmes and LBGTQIA+ folks with the words, “nothing.” And what’s more, affirmed that all people are created in Imago Dei, in God’s very image. We gloss over in Genesis 1:26 where it states, “let US make humanity in OUR own image.” Plural. We have a God of diversity, pluralism and variety. We have a God who wants wholeness, unity and hope not only between all parts of creation but within ourselves. These documents got to the root of the issue, and challenge us to recover God’s mission of wholeness, that we can’t cut off or compartmentalize aspects of ourselves for comfort or convenience. That includes our sexuality. It’s part of who we are as much as our personality, hair color, height, likes, dislikes, gifts, and foibles. We are challenged to fully live into our baptismal promises to seek this wholeness, God’s justice for all people. We can’t change who God created us to be, God calls us to be the most authentic, loving, whole and holy version of who God created us to be.

We’re going to chat about this now for a few minutes in small groups. If you don’t get to all the questions, no problem!

  1. All humans are made in the image of God. How does the variety of people you know/interact with reflect who God is for you? Does your image of God change when you consider this?
  2. How does our language for God perpetuate our images of God?
  3. Talk about how our theological convictions (that is what we think about God and how God works in the world) shape how we might understand and live into justice for LBGTQIA+ people in our society.

The Ethiopian Eunuch more likely literally had parts of him cut off by a power structure to make him useful to the powers and yet outcast from the power structure. It had its desired effect, to dehumanize him and make him separate, to uproot him from society. What he heard from Philip, is that is not God’s will and Jesus came to connect, to not have anyone deny that the root of who they are is connected to the root of all creation, God. And that connection didn’t depend on him changing anything about himself first. He was connected to the root of life just as he was. Jesus is indeed the vine, that connects and nourishes us all. And not only to one another but to connect us to ourselves, the real us whom God created in God’ own image. The Ethiopian Eunuch heard this, he already knew that he belonged no ifs, ands, buts or rules. His sexuality, his body, was as important to God as his spirit and heart. They were one in the same and couldn’t be separated. And were fully loved. He should be called by his root identity, child of God. Philip needed to hear this as much as the child of God before him did, as much as we do. Philip went toward the discomfort of the wilderness, of the stranger, of the person considered less than, and was reminded of his own humanity, of God’s vast welcome and affirmation of all who and what God has created and of being connected to the true vine, that connects all the branches of every shape, kind, and purpose, to the root of all life, love and mercy for all people and all creation: God.