A Lutheran Says What?

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

Worth Our Salt Sermon on Mark 9: 38-50 September 26, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 26, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’ Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Psalm 19
Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Mark 9: 38-50

Young Friends message:
Have some salt to show them. Ask them and the adults, how much money do you think is in this little packet of salt? Yes, probably only a few cents worth. If I were to give you some salt for your birthday or Christmas, you probably wouldn’t be impressed. It’s not worth very much in money but it’s worth a whole lot in our lives. What are some things that salt does? Salt does many important things, but we actually need a good balance of salt in our bodies to live. Without it, our bodies don’t work properly. Even though it’s not worth much, you can’t buy anything with it, it’s very valuable to us.  But in Jesus’ time, salt was like money, and was more valuable than gold. People were paid for jobs in salt. In our bible story today, it starts out with the disciple John being very worried that someone else was good at casting out demons, or helping people in Jesus’ name, and he was jealous. Jesus tells him that anyone who is helping people and loving people in God’s name is valuable. Jesus then goes on to say some very scary things about body parts being cut off. Jesus does not mean for us to cut off or harm any part of our body. But Jesus is trying to get our attention that what we may think is valuable or impressive may actually be harmful to someone else, and that our mission in God’s kingdom is to make sure that everyone knows that they are included in God’s love and promises. That no matter what they look like, what they do, where they live, what they do or don’t have, they are more valuable to God than salt and should see each other as valuable too. The saying you might have heard that derives from this is “someone is worth their salt.” You are valuable to God and to us here at OSLC, more valuable than money, gold or salt. I have a reminder for you of this-a baggie with some salt and the saying “you are worth your salt.” We’re going to talk a little more about this.

If you had one hour to pack up your car and leave because of a fire, or some other disaster, what would you take? Outside of important legal documents, for me, I would grab pictures. Not a piece of china or crystal, not a piece of furniture or another object that might have monetary value. I would take items that are probably only valuable to me, because they offer me a connection to someone and something that can’t be replaced by money or other material means. Most of what I own, doesn’t have monetary value, only sentimental value. A saying I’ve heard is “something only has value if someone else wants it.” That’s a hard fact for most of us. We think our children will want some of our things one day, but the truth is that they often don’t. Our material things don’t have any meaning to anyone outside of us. No matter how much we want other people to place value on the same things that we do. This can happen with traditions as well. Such as sending Christmas cards used to have meaning for me, but it honestly no longer does since with social media, I keep up with the folks that I want to throughout the year. It’s a tradition that many have given up as it no longer holds the value that it once did. And it frees up time, worry and money in a season that is already fraught with stress and removed an obstacle from focusing on what really matters.
What’s truly valuable is a hard conversation, whether it’s material objects, or traditions. We like to think that what we find meaningful is meaningful for everyone else, in all times and in all places but sometimes we find that what we think is meaningful, can be a stumbling block for someone else. In the 21st century church, we’re wrestling with this truth. Traditions that seem immutable and monolithic aren’t valuable to different generations, demographics and cultures. As a matter of fact, they are a stumbling block for them to even consider being a part of a Christian community. It can be a stumbling block that worship is Sunday mornings, or that communities aren’t racially diverse, or mainly accessible to able-bodied, neurotypical folks, or when churches are more concerned about who they keep separate from than seeking authentic partnerships. Or more personally, I can be a stumbling block for others to experience the healing of Jesus, when I don’t advocate for my Haitian siblings on the border, or I’m too afraid of tarnishing my reputation or being called radical that I don’t stand firm to support the human rights of bodily autonomy of pregnant people and LBGTQIA+. I can be a stumbling block when I’m more worried about myself, what I might lose, than what my neighbor has already lost. I can be a stumbling block when I succumb to my privilege, being “nice” and quietism instead of living for the good news of Jesus Christ in the world. I have to wonder if part of the decline in participation in mainline Christianity, such as the Lutheran church, is linked to that we refuse to wrestle with and cut off what is no longer valuable for people in our church systems, that we cling to what we like, are comfortable with and are used to, instead of focusing on what is truly valuable to bring in the kingdom of God. Something only has value if someone else wants it.

Many people, particularly younger people, are searching for true value, authentic community, community who accepts them just as they are and doesn’t make them hustle for their worth. Community that exists to transform the world, to care for creation, community that clearly sees the hard realities of our society and faithfully engages. Community that is rooted in something beyond themselves, something more precious than much fine gold or honey as the psalmist writes. A community that is worth its salt: people are looking for life, for peace, as Jesus offers his followers today in this gruesome passage of amputations, and the fires of hell, Gehenna. This talk of hell isn’t about the afterlife, it’s about being in the garbage heap outside of Jerusalem where refuse, objects with no use or value were disposed of by fire. But there is good news here for us in this horror story.

Jesus names the reality that we think we need to compete for our worth, and Jesus counters that because of the word of God, the name of Jesus, the promises of the good news of wholeness, abundant life, connection and love we are already worthy. Or is as valuable as salt, which as I mentioned to our young friends, in the ancient world was used as currency and was more valuable than gold. What and who has value in God’s economy isn’t the same as the world’s economy, Jesus says. You have worth because you are God’s, AND so does everyone else.
But we worry about what we might lose if we cut off the things and traditions that we love and know, as dearly as we love and know our own appendages. Will the church have value if it no longer looks like what we grew up with, or doesn’t have all the programs we’re used to, or doesn’t use a building, or has leadership that looks different than in the past? Or will we then clearly understand what has true value: God’s living word of love for us and our neighbors.  We can see how people around us are also worth their salt to God and understand that in removing stumbling blocks, even if we love the stumbling blocks, we gain so much more than what we gave up. We gain wholeness in ourselves, in our community and in God. We gain peace with each other. We gain life beyond arbitrary traditions and human rules to freely live as God’s people in God’s economy valued and beloved. We live as people worth our salt. Thanks be to God.

 

Drawn In Sermon on Mark 9: 30-37 September 19, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 19, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Jeremiah 11: 18-20
Psalm 54
Mark 9: 30-37

Young Friends Message: I am sharing the book today: “Maybe God Is Like That Too” by Jennifer Grant, illustrated by Benjamin Schipper and published by Sparkhouse Family 2017.

When was a time when you felt truly welcomed to a new place or event? One such time for me was when I was still in seminary and I was taking a class in Chicago through the Seminary Consortium for Urban Parish Education (SCUPE), on Faith Based Community Organizing. It was in January 2012 and over MLK Jr. Weekend. Two of my roommates and I learned that Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King, MLK’s youngest daughter, would be preaching at mostly Black St. Sabina Catholic Church on the south side of Chicago that Sunday. St. Sabina was one of the parishes we were studying on community engagement. We took the El and a bus that cold Sunday morning and ended up entering the sanctuary through a side door. But a wonderful, warm woman saw the three middle aged white women enter the wrong door into an all Black church and she swooped over, put her arm around me and drew me in close to her and said, “child, I’m so glad you are here, I’ve been waiting for you. Let me show you three to the best pew for worship today.” And she did. She drew us into the center of the sanctuary literally smack dab in the middle and sat us in the best vantage point to see Rev. Dr. King preach. She brought us a bulletin, made sure that we knew that we knew where the restrooms were, and this church had a Sunday morning snack bar in the basement. She drew us into the community. She didn’t seem surprised to see us, it was as if she had been looking for us to arrive. This woman made sure that we knew that we belonged there that morning.

Belonging is a basic need for us humans. We are wired for connection; without that connection, we wither. Yet the feeling of belonging often feels like a surprise or a shock to us. When we belong, we share many aspects of our lives with a certain group of people such as dress, speech, rituals, days of worship, music, doctrines, traditions, and commonly held beliefs. Some of these aspects are what drew us in and connected us, but the irony is that these aspects can leave people out. We rarely seek out new or different. Like the woman at St. Sabina’s we don’t make a beeline toward a new and different face. Part of our wiring is also to be suspicious of new and different. It’s a loop that is hard to short circuit.

The idea of who belonged and who was accepted is as old as Genesis 3 when the first people first realized that they were separate from God. The Bible is a story of God drawing God’s people back into full belonging and oneness with God and each other. No separation. Jesus is God as human, the one who holds divinity and humanity together, who draws us all into oneness with God and one another.
The disciples had a front row seat to this project, and it caused them fear. Their whole lives had been one of figuring out where and to whom they belonged and to whom they belonged. Their religion? The Romans? Their vocations? Jesus over and over says, no, you belong to someone and something grander: God. But it’s not what you think. Jesus tells them that Jesus belongs to God and will suffer, be killed by the other communities, but will rise again. The disciples aren’t exactly drawn into dig deeper into this news. It’s not the kind of belonging that they want. They want to belong to something and someone who is powerful, great, has authority, and status. They want belonging that brings worldly security.
Jesus patiently, again, tells them that what and who they belong to is one who serves, one who supports, one who draws people into abundant life. This is what belonging to God is like: it’s knowing that when we are drawn in by God’s love together, there is so much more than the world can offer. To shock the disciples into fully grasping this, Jesus draws a child into their center. A child, in the ancient world, had zero value. Children were the most vulnerable and least worthy in Jesus’ time. For Jesus to draw this child into his arms, is scandalous. Jesus declares that accepting, centering, connecting, belonging to this child is the point, that welcoming Jesus, is welcoming God. Belonging to God is belonging to the weakest, least valuable person in the community. It’s drawing yourself to people with whom you would rather not be connected. They might need something from you.
This is still scandalous today, and I know that I, like the disciples, struggle with this radical belonging. It means that I am drawn to the person I walk past sleeping on a bench. I am drawn to the person with differing political persuasions. I am drawn to the person who is fleeing their country to escape poverty, war and oppression, like the 14,000 Haitians on our border needing refuge. I am drawn to the person whose gender or sexual identity expression is new to me. I am drawn to the person with a differing faith tradition. I am drawn to the person working tirelessly in hospitals who need me to do my part to alleviate their strain. I am drawn to the person who is grieving, celebrating, or unsure what is next for them. I am drawn to the person who has differing health needs, such as our unvaccinated children who need protection from the community around them. When Jesus puts his arms around me and draws me close, he is also drawing close all the people from whom I desire a great distance. Jesus draws me in, and draws you in, just as we are, Jesus doesn’t care if we are great by the world’s standards. We are great because God is greater, because we belong to and are loved by God, not what for what we do, not for what we don’t do. God says that what and whom God creates and draws close to is great too: you, me, people whom we haven’t met yet, and may never meet.  
This is God’s hope, vision and call to us all: be drawn to each other, welcome one another, to see God in all people. Jesus draws us in to God’s kingdom where we belong to one another with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.

 

Talking the Jesus Talk and Walking the Jesus Walk: Sermon on Mark 8 September 13, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 12, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:

Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Psalm 166: 1-9
Mark 8: 27-38

Young Friends message:

Ok I’m going to have you call out some actions for me to do and I’ll do them! (But when they call out for instance jumping, I’ll snap my fingers instead, or if they say clap, I’ll jump.) They will probably get frustrated with me. So we’ll try again. This time I’ll do what they call out correctly. Ask: Does something like this ever happen in your life where someone will say one thing and do something else? Or misunderstand what you mean? Yes! It happens all the time! Sometimes, it’s not a big deal like our fun just now, but sometimes it matters that what we say and what we do match. We call that “talking the talk and walking the walk.” When we say we’ll do something, we’ll actually do it. Such as when you say to your parents that you’ll be kind to your friends or siblings but then you might not share or use kind words with them. Our Bible story reminds me of this today. Jesus is teaching his disciples and he asks them who people say he is, and they give him a bunch of responses but none are who he really is. But then Peter says: You are the Messiah! Which means Jesus is the anointed one of God. Jesus then does a curious thing and tells them not to tell anyone that. But then tells the disciples some hard things about being a messiah, that he will be hurt and killed, which is not what they think being a messiah is about. The word messiah for them is like being powerful king, and kings are considered special aren’t they? They live in a big castle away from other people, they are served by people, and don’t usually work the way other people do. But Jesus says that is not who he is. He is someone who is just like us in many ways, except he talks and walk in the love of God for us all to see. Even if it gets him hurt. Peter tells Jesus to stop talking that way, because Peter wants Jesus to be the special king who is separate. But Jesus says no, Peter, stop thinking I’m special because I’m separate from you, I’m special because I’m with you and you will be with me. Jesus is talking the talk and walking the walk of loving us. We’re going to talk and hopefully walk, more about this power of words and actions matching.

I can remember when I was a little girl and my mom would be eating a treat or drinking her diet coke and I would want to do the same. She would tell me, “do as I say and not as I do.” That phrase was well intentioned enough as she didn’t want me eating sugar or drinking soda at all. As a parent there were plenty of times I did or said something that I wouldn’t want my children to do or say. I remember clearly the first time Kayla said a swear word, in the church nursery, to the associate pastor’s child. Sigh. She was only doing and saying what she had witnessed me doing and saying. Kayla, at the age of four, didn’t understand the difference between me doing those things and her doing those things. I felt terrible, guilty, and maybe a bit ashamed, that what I wanted to do and say but what I actually did and said was on display in the form of my daughter. Not my finest parenting moment but not my worst either. I was after all someone trained in teaching children, I talked all the time about boundaries, language development, discipline techniques, all of it. And parents at the church would come to me with parenting challenges and questions. And then here is my own child behaving in a way that didn’t seem congruent with a parent who had knowledge and experience in child development and had children of their own. I needed to remember that my talk and walk were not only about myself, but about everyone around me.

 I admire people who truly talk the talk and walk the walk. I think of the obvious, Jesus, the early martyrs of fledging Christianity, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther as historical figures, but even more contemporary such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa, John Lewis, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, and the list can go on. And we all know people who quietly and without much notoriety live in such a way that their words and actions are held together to create a holistic life. They can cut through all of the talk of the world that is about self, scarcity, fear and power and hear the talk of community, abundance and connection. Not only that, but they can talk that talk and then walk in that truth. They take the path that might label them as weird or a troublemaker for not talking and walking the way the world demands. They talk and walk they way they do for others to be freed from the lies and paths of deception. Their talk and walk are not for themselves.

Peter was only considering his own talk and walk when he pulled Jesus aside and told him to stop the downer talk. Suffer and die? Take up a cross, a sign not only of death and torture, but of ridicule and criminality? What? It would be akin to Jesus telling us today to purposely go to death row at prison and sit in the electric chair. This wasn’t the word or the action that Peter, any of the disciples, or if we’re honest, any of us want to hear from Jesus either. Peter wanted Jesus to talk about how he and his followers were special, different from everyone else and would be treated as such. Jesus realized that Peter wanted to say and do what helped Peter, but ultimately, deceived Peter. Peter was confused about divine things and human things. Peter needed to lose his own talk and walk and pick up Jesus’ talk and walk.

Jesus is clear about what he says and does. Jesus gives us straight talk that his walk is one that focuses on community, truth and creating the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ talk comforts the outcast with words of inclusion and hope. Jesus’ talk empowers women and children with identity and worth.  Jesus’ talk blesses the poor, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely. Jesus’ talk calls out misuse of power from leaders, every time. Jesus’ walk touches the unclean, and the dead. Jesus’ walk crosses into territories where he is a stranger. Jesus’ walk flips rules, and tables of social order, upside down. Jesus’ walks to the cross to die to reveal the truth of the violence of the world and truth of God’s love for the world, no matter what.

As followers of Jesus, this is also the talk we talk and the walk we walk. Who we say Jesus is needs to be matched by our actions.  This is our baptismal call, this is the cross that we carry, the full weight of losing our own talk and walk for Jesus’ talk and walk. We can’t be silent or paralyzed. Our Jesus’ talk speaks life into a world that loves to rally around death and fear. We talk the Jesus’ talk that pregnant people have rights over their own bodies, healthcare and lives. We walk the Jesus’ walk of welcoming the children of all ages with this playground and Little Library. We walk the Jesus walk of ensuring healthcare, housing, equal pay and support for all people. We talk the Jesus talk of ending the unnecessary daily deaths of thousands from a disease that is being used to divide and conquer us. COVID19 yes, but the disease I’m talking about is the lie of individualism and consumerism that drives our societal policies and culture. We talk the Jesus talk to flip the tables on racism and classism to make room for unheard voices. We walk the Jesus walk with our refugee and immigrant cousins to safety, freedom and a future. We walk the Jesus walk in caring for creation and walking in humility with nature. We talk the Jesus talk, we walk the Jesus walk, and not our own. We lose ourselves and gain the truth, gain peace, gain the abundant life of our neighbor and creation. We gain oneness with God and each other.

Jesus’ talk and walk is for you, for me, and for us all. Jesus’ talk and walk goes before us, beside us and guides us each day. Amen.

 

Doing What Jesus Does Sermon on Mark 7 September 6, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 5, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 146
Isaiah 35: 4-7a
Mark 7: 24-37

Young Friends message: Follow the leader.

What does the word discipleship mean to you? (Accept all answers) I have to admit that it’s a word that even as a pastor, can seem nebulous. I mean that is one of my roles, is to help form disciples of Jesus. And as simple as that sounds, in practice, it feels very complex and I wonder if I don’t understand fully what discipleship is.
I took a class with the Southwest CA synod in August where we read the book “The Rediscipling of the White Church” and the definition of discipleship in that book struck me as poignant. On page 15, the author David Swanson writes “our definition of a Christian disciple: following Jesus to become like Jesus, in order to do what Jesus does.” [i]This definition is rooted in St. Augustine of Hippo’s theology of “becoming more like Jesus.” And our own Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, very much adheres to this theology as well when he purports that it’s how we live each day that changes us and the world. This seems simple enough, but it’s quite complex, messy and anything but easy. I feel the weight of trying to be a disciple of Jesus, to do what Jesus does, and it’s overwhelming. For one thing, it feels hubris to claim to be anything like Jesus, and for another, what would Jesus do? I often sigh, and think maybe it’s easier to do nothing, than get it wrong, or maybe my actions don’t matter all that much. After all, I can’t change whole systems, and I can’t control a virus, I can’t control governmental systems oppressing people, I can’t control world affairs. This discipleship thing, is hard. Becoming like Jesus is daunting, as we forget that Jesus wasn’t particularly liked by people in power. He wasn’t considered nice. I get caught in liking being liked and wanting to be nice, but if I’m taking discipleship seriously, it’s not that easy.

Our text from Mark today is anything but easy, and it shows us a not nice Jesus. This text flows from last week’s where Jesus was sparring with the religious leaders over rules and what defiles, and it’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s in our hearts. Jesus disciples were being challenged that they weren’t following the religious rules by following Jesus. Jesus didn’t tell people to follow rules, he told people to follow him. So that makes our passage today even more complex. Jesus leaves the supposed safety of Jewish territory and crosses over into Gentile territory. There were some Jews living there, but not many. It seems that Jesus was ready to be out of the spotlight for a while. But it didn’t last. A Syrophoenician woman found out about Jesus’ presence and falls at his feet begging him to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Jesus responds not with compassion or empathy, but an insult. We can’t soften what he says to her-yes, he calls her a dog. Honestly, I don’t like this from Jesus, it messes with my simplistic mindset of Jesus as passive, soft and mushy. But that’s my problem and not Jesus’. The woman isn’t deterred and retorts to his insult with “fine, call me a dog, but even dogs eventually get taken care of too.” Jesus is snapped out of whatever funk he was in and realizes that he was wrong. The easy thing for Jesus would have been for him to double down and insist that she was wrong, and he was right, after all, he is God made flesh. But Jesus does the hard thing, he listens, and is changed by her need. He realizes that this woman is as important as his mission to the children of Israel and maybe more so. He acts and heals the girl without even being in her presence. Jesus doesn’t have to meet the girl to ensure that she is able to flourish and be a part of her community.

Jesus is so changed by this encounter, that he goes deeper into Gentile territory, where there are fewer Jews. A group of people bring their friend to Jesus who is deaf and doesn’t speak. They beg him for help, as anyone with a disability in Jesus’ day, and even our own, is ostracized from community and wholeness. Jesus takes him aside in private, I think to keep the focus on the man and not his own power. Jesus doesn’t just offer a prayer, he acts. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears, spits on him and touches his tongue. That is considered gross in nearly every time, place, and culture. And a definite crossing of a boundary. And not COVID safe. Then Jesus does something that I deeply resonate with, he sighs. Jesus sighs. Maybe at himself, maybe for the man, maybe Jesus is overwhelmed by the systems in society that led to this man needing help. He says, “Be opened.” Again, maybe to himself, maybe to the man, maybe to all creation. The man is then able to hear and speak. And more importantly is returned to community. He’s opened to the presence of God.

As complicated and unflattering of Jesus as these stories are, they are good news for us as people who strive to follow Jesus to become like Jesus, in order to do what Jesus does. Following Jesus, means that we will be confronted by people who demand things of us that we don’t like, or hadn’t considered before. We will be called out for our own hypocrisy, given an opportunity to listen, learn, change and do better for our neighbor. Following Jesus, means that we may not be considered nice as we cross borders and boundaries and go to places and people where we aren’t comfortable and may want to hide. Following Jesus means that we don’t fall for what is easy or simplistic and we are opened to a new reality, and we admit when we were wrong.

Doing what Jesus does leads us to change the world with building relationships and offering mercy and real life, physical help sometimes one person at a time. As disciples, we follow Jesus, to become like Jesus to do what Jesus does: we feed the hungry, even if it’s one person, one family at a time. We house the unhoused, one person, one family at a time. We support Black people and POC one person at a time. We support women’s flourishing, dignity and worth, one woman at a time. Yes, systems need to change and yes, that feels overwhelming, but we act, we do what Jesus does. Like Jesus, we cross boundaries and we open ourselves up to risk. We follow Jesus into the heart of God’s mission of reconciliation, that is bringing all people and creation back into deep relationship with God where there is no separation from God, creation or one another. What happens to one of us, happens to us all and like Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, we are transformed by that radical connection.  
Discipleship, following Jesus to become like Jesus, in order to do what Jesus does, isn’t easy. That’s not the promise. What is promised is that we have a God who has experienced and understands the complexity, who listens, hears our cries, and acts with mercy. What is promised is that we will be opened, our hearts, our eyes, our ears and our tongues, to do and say what Jesus does and says. Thanks be to God.



[i] Rediscipling the White Church, David W. Swanson, InterVarsity Press, 2020, page 15