A Lutheran Says What?

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

Don’t Look Away Sermon on Luke 10: 25-37 July 14, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Hollady, UT on July 14, 2019. The texts were Colossians 1: 1-14 and Luke 10: 25-37

Children’ s Sermon: Who do we see? We’ve been talking about different road signs for the last few weeks and sometimes talking about something makes you more aware of it in your world. For instance, you might not look for falling rocks in the mountains until you see the sign telling you about them. But sometimes the signs go by so fast that you miss them. We are going to play a little game: Let’s start here at the front and we are going to quickly walk (don’t run for safety) to the back of the church. 1-2-3 lets go! Ok, now keep facing the back of the church. I’m going to ask you about the people you saw. (Ask a couple of specific questions about people in your space. Have it be detailed enough so the children won’t get them all correct.) So, we missed a few details about people didn’t we. Now we are going to walk back to the front but more slowly and I want you to pay attention to the people. It might be uncomfortable to stare!
Once you’re at the front again: So did you notice Mr. and Mrs. ? When we slow down, we notice people and really see them don’t we? Our Bible story is about this today. Jesus wants us to see everyone…and tells a story about who we see and who God wants us to see as our neighbor. Jesus tells the story about a hurt man and two people who should have slowed down to see and help the hurt man but didn’t. But the third man who stopped, the Samaritan, was someone who most people didn’t like, and they wouldn’t have even wanted this Samaritan to stop and help them! But Jesus wants us to know that when we slow down and get close to people we see them how God sees them, as people worthy of care, compassion and love. That’s our sign for today, to “Watch for Children of God.” I want you to notice people this week, around you, on the news, in your neighborhood, and see who needs our help and love.  I have these little care kits that you can put together during the sermon to help you to remember to slow down and care for all people!

 

 

We can become conditioned to our surroundings pretty quickly can’t we? What we see and what we don’t see? When we’re just in our routine moving quickly in and out of our day we might not really see what’s around us. Such as the church clean-up day yesterday….I thought, oh, yeah, we’ll pull a few weeds that’s not too bad. I even said to Mike before we left for church, I don’t really think this will take that long…and then I arrived and started looking at ALL. OF. THE. WEEDS. Every time I pulled one, I became aware of 10 more. Where did they all come from? I mean, I walk in and out of this church at least 5-6 days a week, a couple of times a day and I didn’t notice that many weeds…But when I got close and slowed down, I really saw them. All of them. Small, large, prickly, tree like, viney, all sorts of weeds!  And we do this with people in our environment as well. We can move so fast through our days that we might not notice who is around us, or when we do see people, we make fast, snap judgments about them, their place in our lives and if they are worth slowing down for. This particularly happens with people who are not like us and make us uncomfortable.

There is a book that was published about 11 years ago I read, called The Big Sort. This book offered that in America, even as the US was becoming more diverse, we were sorting ourselves geographically into more and more homogeneous communities. People wanted to only see people whom they could relate to, was the thesis. Now, this book has it’s opponents and perhaps overstates the case a bit, but if we’re honest there might be some truth to that-even if its not as dramatic only living in certain neighborhoods or regions of the country. We do this in many ways in our daily life. Even being here on a Sunday morning is one way that we could argue that we sort ourselves. While I know that we have a rich diversity of opinions here, there is still much about us that is similar you will have to admit.

And then there is the fact that we tend to not see those whom make us uncomfortable. We see someone coming towards us on the street and if we size them up from afar as a possible threat, we pass by on the other side. I know that I do this in psychological ways too, not only physically changing my location. On my way to church every day in Denver, there was always a person with a sign asking for money at the off ramp from I-25. I learned to not make eye contact and to look away…and I justified it with my knowledge that there was a syndicate of off ramp workers in Denver and that they signed up for a shift each day. At the four entrance/exit ramps at that one intersection-each one had a person holding a sign every day and I started to realize that there was a rotation. I chose to not really see them as a neighbor but as someone to avoid-they only wanted money-and so I would look away.

But then we get this parable from Jesus to the lawyer who asked: Who must I see as my neighbor Jesus? What must I do to see my neighbor? Jesus tells this parable to lay down some truth: We see what we want to see. Or really, we see what we allow ourselves to come close to. We can see someone as a victim who caused their own woes, who shouldn’t have even been there on the road, who shouldn’t have had anything of value, who shouldn’t have left their home anyway, who shouldn’t have worn that outfit, who shouldn’t have made poor choices. We can look away as the priest and Levite did, and avoid the people who might slow us down, keep us from important work, take too much of our time or might contaminate us somehow. We can see people as problems not to get close to-and even justify that to ourselves with sound logic-as I did with the off-ramp workers and not see people as, people. It’s easier to look away than to see what makes us uncomfortable.

Or we can risk coming close. When we come close-what happens to us is what the Samaritan discovered-we see people not as their problems or circumstances, but as people like us. People who are beloved by God. But be careful, because then you will be moved with compassion. I don’t do a lot of Greek in my sermons but the Greek verb here for “moved to pity”  is fabulous “splagchnizomai.” It means moved to you guts. When we get close to people-close enough to have to slow down to see the hairs on their head, to see their face, look into their eyes, we see their humanity and their divinity. And it stops us in our tracks. We can’t look away now-for they are us and we are them.

The real scandal of this text is what if the person in the ditch is us and the someone who sees and comes close to help us is someone whom we would be embarrassed to later admit helped us. What if they are of a religion that we don’t like and find oppressive, what if they are from a different political belief, or what if they give money to places we don’t support, what if they don’t have the correct documentation, or what if they think differently than us on an equality issue such as racism, refugees, LBGTQIA, gender justice, abortion, or the list can go on and on. And we are faced with wondering if we would really see and come close to them if they needed help. Would we be moved to our guts?

Who must we see as our neighbor and how will we see them? Jesus tells us to slow down-so that we can really see people and they can really see us. This mutual seeing is all about mercy for one another amid our differences, diversity and polarization. When we see each other, we are seeing Christ.  God’s mercy became flesh in Jesus to show us that God wants to come close to us-to really see us-every part of us and wants us to come close to each other in the mercy and love. God sees us with this mercy and love-and God is moved to God’s very guts.  God sees us, God doesn’t look away and sees even the parts that aren’t so lovable, to proclaim that mercy, forgiveness, compassion and love has come close. We live daily in this mercy and it slows us down-to see other people with God’s eyes of grace. We come close and see all people as our neighbor deserving of care and compassion and this can change the world. We slow down, don’t look away and watch for the children of God. Thanks be to God.

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The Kingdom of God Is Near But the Road Might Be Rough Sermon on Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20 July 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 7, 2019. The texts were Galatians 6: 1-17 and Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

Children’s sermon: Have a large poster board with the words written largely: KINGDOM OF GOD. Have crayons, stickers available for the children to use. Ask them if they have ever felt left out. Talk about today’s gospel from Luke and Galatians where Jesus sends the 70 missionaries out to everyone about God’s kingdom being near and how that message is for everyone, even people who don’t believe it or like it. And how Paul talks about how we are to work for the good of all, we are all together. And this all together-the 70 working with Jesus and Paul telling people about the Kingdom of God, is what joy (Luke 10:17) is all about! It’s not about if everyone we tell about Jesus comes to OSLC or is our friend, but that we are all together in God’s love no matter what! Then ask the children (and adults as a prayer station) to write under each letter of KINGDOM OF GOD names of people, or groups of people who are included in God’s love (hint: everyone! This poster board should be full!)

I asked the children and now I’ll ask you all: have you ever been left out? Rejected? Yep, we all have! Sometimes it’s dramatic such as a break-up or an argument with someone you love, or you didn’t get a job you really wanted, or into a educational program you dreamed about. But sometimes it’s less obvious. You can simply be ignored, or in a place where there is an expectation that you will behave a certain way, or like certain things and when you stay true to yourself, the people around you don’t accept your differences and so don’t accept you. Being rejected, ignored or unaccepted, can make you reexamine yourself and wonder if you should change your thoughts, actions, words, or completely change who you are to fit in.  We all experiment with our identity growing up particularly in the teen years, but if we’re honest even as adults, it’s easy to think that who we are isn’t enough. Or we can judge others by their behaviors, likes and dislikes and criticize them for not being like us. We can subtly and not so subtly, send the message to people that they should change to conform to what makes us comfortable. It takes courage and vulnerability simultaneously to stay grounded in what matters and as our sign for today warns us, it can be a rough road.

Rough roads are not always to be avoided as they can also be a path that leads us to a deeper truth and can help us keep “the main thing the main thing” in our lives. Rough roads can be focusing as if you get distracted, it can lead to even bigger challenges. If you’ve ever driven or hiked on difficult terrain, you know what I’m talking about.

In our Luke passage today, the 70 are sent out to proclaim a very important message. And Jesus is clear that the road will be rough. They will be completely dependent on the people they meet, they will eat food they don’t like, stay in places for an uncomfortable amount of time (Jesus is telling them to overstay their welcome!), they will work hard, curing the sick, and they will more than likely be rejected. Sounds inviting doesn’t it? Sign me up Jesus! But Jesus is clear that the main point of their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to unequivocally declare that the Kingdom of God has come near to all-the welcoming, the strangers, the sick, the unbelieving, the unaccepting. The Kingdom of God is near to all whether they know it or not. This Kingdom is for all.

And when they return to Jesus full of joy, it’s not only because they had some successes (isn’t interesting that they don’t name their failures? Which I’m sure there were many!), but because they experienced this Kingdom of God for themselves in being together in community no matter how rough or smooth the road. Now, they also had a bit of ego tied into this: Jesus, you’re right we can do anything, even the demons submitted to us! Human nature hasn’t changed in 2000 years…Jesus tempers their egos by reminding them that their successes and failures are nothing, what is everything is that they are part of God’s mission to bring the kingdom off love to the world. This is the main thing, even in their own mission.

It seems so simple doesn’t it? All we have to do is proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. Done. And yet…We know that it’s a rough road to do so, even in the 21st century, or maybe especially in the 21st century. We set up a table at Venture Out to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near and some people love that we are there, and some people walk very quickly past our booth. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we house families experiencing homelessness and we know that four families at a time is only a drop in the bucket. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we welcome and accept all people of every race, color, gender, sexual orientation into this family of faith and there are people who will reject this promise for God’s love for all people. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near when we strive to steward the earth with care and there are people who will deny this as reality. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near with our daily lives, with generosity of time, words, talents and gifts for people we don’t know well or have never met, and there are people who will shake their head at our naivety.  But Jesus declares to us that when the road is rough, God’s Holy Spirit is guiding us and continually reorienting us-through community, bread, wine, water and word-to the main thing of God’s mercy, hope and love for the entire world.

And we can forget that we need to be grounded in God’s community and kingdom as we try and navigate the rough roads alone. We can put our own human egos, rules and boundaries into this mission work as Jesus cautions. We can get stuck in thinking that the success or failure of this message is dependent on us, our own abilities and talents. Jesus reminds the 70, and us, that all power and authority belong to God alone that God gives away for the sake of including all people into this unconditional and transformative love. We are not only recipients of this love but participant as well. This is the good news that the coming of the Kingdom of God is for all, those who accept it and those who reject it. The promise of God coming near isn’t dependent upon the ability of the person to receive it and it’s not dependent on the messenger. God has written our names in heaven, on God’s own heart to declare that our worth in God’s kingdom isn’t dependent on our abilities or gifts but is simply found in belonging to God. This is our true identity that never changes, no matter how we try or what other people might want us to be. We are never left out in God’s kingdom and neither is anyone else.

Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 6. After six chapters of breaking down why Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised to be brought into the new family of Jesus followers and being clear about the subversion of the law, at the end of the day, Paul soundly ends this letter (writing in large letters) that none of that human stuff matters. Follow the law, don’t follow the law, whatever, but just know that you are made new in the love of God through Jesus Christ simply because God loves you. This unconditional love always surrounds you  at all times and in all places-especially when the road is rough. God’s kingdom, where all are made whole, where all are included, where power and authority are turned upside down and where all names are written and known, is for the whole world, no matter what. We can rest in the peace that the Kingdom of God has come near, includes you and will stay. Thanks be to God.

 

This Moment: A sermon on what lies ahead [Luke 9: 51-62] July 2, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 30, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts were Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9: 51-62

Children’s message: Gather the children and ask them about showing God’s love. In our reading from Galatians today, Paul gave examples of showing God’s love. Love, joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Fruit of the Spirit song.

Think back on a time that you had a moment of clarity-or a defining moment in your life-where you knew that everything from that moment forward would be different. It could be a joyful one such as an engagement, or the birth of a child. Or a promotion in your career. Or it could have been a painful moment, the death of someone beloved, or the ending a significant relationship.  Or getting fired, rejected or failing. In all these scenarios-positive or negative-there was a moment when you knew that you couldn’t go back to “before,” everything going forward would be different. One could argue that we have smaller moments like these in our daily lives, but we all have experienced what I would call watershed moments. Where one moment you are living one way and the next, well, everything might seem completely different..

Even when it’s a positive shift, it’s often frightening and so to cope, we try to use the skills and ideas from what we’ve always known to help us to make sense of what could be now ahead. But often what can happen is that those skills and ideas that worked before, now are woefully inadequate or simply not helpful. Such as you suddenly move to a new job of leadership and the relationships with the people on your team can no longer be the same as you have different responsibility and accountability. Or in the absence of a loved one, your routines are disrupted and altered. Daily rhythms are not the same. “The way it had always been” simply isn’t true any more.  It’s disorienting to not be able to predict what will happen going forward and it often means resetting your entire framework of living. In other words: the usual stuff ain’t workin’ and it’s time to reevaluate for the future. It might seem painful to shift but staying in what isn’t working has a pain of it’s own.

Our Luke text is such a watershed moment in the gospel, for Jesus and the disciples. Our passage today opens  simply and yet dramatically: “Jesus set his face to Jerusalem.” This sentence isn’t to tell us geographically where he is on the map. It’s not to mention that Jesus and the disciples will need to stock up on snacks and take a potty break before the next leg of the journey. No, it’s a watershed moment of what the rest of Jesus’ ministry will be like. He’s headed to Jerusalem, his death. He is no longer just the itinerant preacher who says mysterious things like love each other, feed each other, include one another. Now Jesus is serious. There is a sense of urgency to his mission-his days are numbered. Nothing else matters but this focus on Jerusalem and the cross. Traditions are moot, material possessions are a distraction and doing what has always been done won’t work going forward.

This is shift for the disciples that they don’t seem to get. Jesus sends some of  them ahead to the Samaritan town to do reconnaissance and take the temperature of the people there. Samaritans and the Jewish people didn’t get along as they both claimed different locations for the true worship of God-which you can imagine was problematic. So naturally, Jesus and his entourage are not well received. In response to rejection, James and John wanted to do what the prophet Elijah did to the worshippers of Baal: rain down fire and brimstone on them. But Jesus says nope-this isn’t what we’re about. That won’t work any more. We’re just going to move on and not worry about them. God’s bigger than all of this and we’ll leave it with God.

Then there are the three would-be followers who each say that they want to follow Jesus but with provisions, conditions and a recurring theme of “but first.” And Jesus each time is clear, those things that they have held dear-religious traditions, family, homes, security-no longer take priority over the mission of God. And maybe they never should have taken priority. But it’s easy to convince ourselves that those things are as important as the work of the kingdom or are the same thing as God’s mission. But in Luke 9, this is a moment of clarity as to what really matters.

The 21st century Church-Church universal-is at a watershed moment in history I believe and like the disciples, I know that I sometimes don’t get it. I want things to stay the same and yet we know, in the mainline protestant churches, attendance is declining, relevancy is waning and the cultural perception of the Christian Church is that we worry more about traditionalism than the kingdom. Theologian Jarslov Pelikan said “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Jesus isn’t against tradition-Jesus is reorienting the disciples and us to the reality that the tradition that we most need to adhere to is loving and serving God and neighbor. Rituals, sabbath rules, liturgies, worship services are fine, but they are not the traditions that Jesus most wants us to follow. Jesus understands that we like things to stay the same, but that when we try and keep things the same, it leads to changes that aren’t helpful. Will we cling to those things for the sake of our own security and self-satisfaction or will we shed those “but firsts” and get on the road with Jesus, dying to our own wants and comforts for the sake of the mission-God’s reconciliation and redemption of the entire world through the love of Jesus Christ? In Christ, we are free from whatever keeps us from truly participating in God’s mission. We are free from worrying about ourselves, which is really what the list of “desires of the flesh” in Galatians is about. When we get caught in ego and self-centeredness that list is what happens to us all. But we are free to live in the gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit-which are all about focusing on loving and serving God and neighbor and not ourselves.

This is the moment we find ourselves in as God’s Church in 2019. There is indeed urgency. Not to keep the doors open, not to keep the lights on, but to flood the world with this grace, hope and mercy. This mission of the Church matters, and perhaps is more important than ever in our world. And your participation no matter how young or old, no matter what gifts you think you may or may not have, matters. Jesus says so in our baptisms, Jesus says so in the cross and the empty tomb. People of God, our mission in this time and place matters deeply. We are in a watershed moment. Which is actually not new for Our Saviour’s. We’re in a moment like when Our Saviour’s first began ministry in 1960 and people stepped out on faith that this congregation would matter to the work of God’s kingdom in Salt Lake City. We are in a moment like when Our Saviour’s almost closed a few years later but people stepped out on faith and followed God’s mission. We are in a moment where Jesus is calling us to follow where nothing will be the same, where what we have clung to for security and safety over the years will no longer suffice, where the usual stuff we knew may not work, but the Holy Spirit will guide and reveal to us God’s  grace and promise to make all things new, and to walk with us into this newness even when we doubt, are scared and uncertain. It’s a watershed moment, life will be different going forward. But we’ve been here before and went forward into God’s future, open to the newness that God offered.  Once again, we set our faces to Jesus to be on the road with him, free from what holds us back, and free to be part of the work of the kingdom of God. Thanks be to God.

 

Asked to Leave: A sermon on Deportation, Detention and Border Crossings June 25, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 23, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The Bible texts were Galatians 3: 23-29 and Luke 8: 26-39

Children’s sermon: Gather the children: Tell them that we are going to play a game similar to Simon Says, except they are going to walk through the sanctuary. You are going to call out directions using the phrase “Jesus says.” Examples: at first Jesus says walk ten steps forward down the middle aisle. Jesus says turn right and offer a high five, etc. Then regather them together. How did it feel not knowing what I was going to say next? It can be unsettling can’t it? We like to know what’s happening next. In our story today, Jesus goes to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. He heals a man who has been hurting a long time and the people were afraid of this man. Jesus heals him and makes the hurt go away, but the people were afraid of Jesus’ power to heal people who were very sick. So they asked Jesus to leave. He did and the man who was healed wanted to come with him. Jesus told him that he needed to stay and share and be a sign with the people of God’s power in his life and the man does. Jesus’ words in our life also have power. Jesus wants us to use Jesus’ words to share with people God’s love for them, even people not like us or people we would rather not be around, even if we’re afraid. They are all God’s beloved children. Jesus’s word in your and everyone’s life is always one of love. Can you remember that? Ok! Let’s pray:

Have you ever been asked to leave somewhere? Honestly, I don’t think I have…which is surprising simply because, well, you know, me. There are times when Mike and I voluntarily left somewhere as we knew our kids were being a problem, or I’ve left a meeting or gathering where I didn’t fit in or it was obvious the gathering/meeting was intended for someone else.  Now, I have asked people to leave on rare occasion. Honestly, there have been a couple of times at some of the churches I’ve served when someone has come into the office seeking assistance and when we didn’t provide exactly what they needed, they’re behavior became unpredictable, angry or belligerent. For the safety of myself and others that I am charged to care for, I have politely asked people to leave. Most have, under their own volition, but a couple of times with assistance from law enforcement. And to be transparent, those interactions never feel good to me. I mean, we’re supposed to be CHURCH, right? We’re supposed to love everyone, give them what they need, care for them, forgive them…and often when I have asked people to leave, they bring this up to me. “This isn’t very Christian! You are not a good Christian!” And I would be lying to you if I said that doesn’t sting a bit. I feel like a big hypocrite. And I don’t like feeling threatened. Often my fear of someone’s unpredictable behavior wins out over the fear of being a hypocrite. And maybe that is ok but that tension remains because often it’s not only the threat of physical harm that leads me to exclude someone. I might simply feel uncomfortable because they don’t fit a social norm, or act in a way I don’t understand or are simply different from myself.

Our Luke story hits at the heart of this complexity of this tension. We read that Jesus goes to the opposite side of Galilee-to Gerasa. This land of the Gerasenes is one where Jesus didn’t know anyone. Based on the commerce of pig raising, we can assume that there were quite a few more Gentiles here than in Galilee and/or more Jewish people not adhering to the purity laws. Jesus was a long way from home perhaps both geographically and culturally. Sometimes you don’t have to travel far, or at all, to be the outsider.

Then a man possessed by so many demons that the name they offered was “Legion,” which in Roman culture represented 6,000 troops, basically ambushed Jesus the second he and the disciples stepped ashore. This man had been ostracized from his community due to his unpredictable and erratic behavior. The people were comfortable of escorting him out of town, locking him up, and sending him to be with the dead. They might have had some guilt about his exclusion, but he was dangerous right? But Jesus engages him and recognized that this man as a beloved child of God who needed his help. Jesus immediately commanded the demons to come out of him and the demons seemingly had no choice but to follow Jesus’ command to leave the man but wanted some agency in where they went next. Jesus surprisingly grants them their choice to enter the swine, only for the demons to discover that the swine were headed for their own demise. Now a little aside, in the ancient world it was well known that water would defeat demons. The swineherds were livid at this as their whole livelihood was destroyed by the newcomer, this outsider, this migrant man ignorant of their culture and lifestyle. They told the people in the town about the crimes committed by Jesus, first even engaging the town lunatic and second at killing their herd of pigs. This guy, Jesus, might be a bigger problem than the one who was demon possessed.

And then they go and find that the man who had been excluded, ostracized and isolated sitting with Jesus. Through Jesus’s words of power over this man’s demons (whatever they might have been) and by going where everyone else feared to trod, into the tombs, this man, whose identity had been one not of his own choosing , was clothed and as clear minded as any of them. And it was too much, it was too frightening, Jesus had come too close, trespassing into territory where he didn’t belong, it was none of his business what happened to this man and clearly Jesus had to go. I doubt it was a polite invitation to leave. I’m sure that there were angry, venomous words hurled at Jesus, name calling, ethnic slurs and worse. Jesus hadn’t come to make them angry, he had come to heal and to proclaim what God can do and is doing in the world for all people. God is crossing borders even if it is for the sake of the healing of one person. God trespassed on their sense of security, good order and safety to reveal that every person is worthy of community, love and freedom from what binds them. In Jesus, God comes uncomfortably close and that will turn lives upside down and make people at the very least uncomfortable, if not angry. If Jesus’ word could make a detour in this life of this man, what would Jesus’ word do in their lives?

As Americans in the 21st century we’ve domesticated Jesus into a guy who makes us feel good about ourselves, forgetting that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The townspeople in this story were comfortable with the order they had created. If some people have to leave so that the rest can feel safe and secure, then so be it. And I know I am more like the townspeople in this story than I would like to admit. I want to know that I can ask people who make me uncomfortable or want to turn my world upside down, to leave. I want to ask people to leave who don’t look like me, act like me, talk like me, like the same things, or hold the same convictions I do. Worse yet is when my silence makes my intentions clear that I want someone to leave.

And then I am afflicted, by Jesus, for my words and actions. Afflicted that whomever I want to leave is really Christ. Jesus’ word in my life reveals that I, and us all, are to see Christ in all whom we encounter and love them. We are to see Christ in the man possessed by demons,  in the women, children and babies, some premature, being held in what we are euphemistically calling detention centers but are closer to concentration camps, in conditions that many of us wouldn’t put our cat or dog in. We are to see Christ in the people who come seeking asylum, freedom, a better life. We are to see Christ in people who think differently, want different paths for their lives, and we are to create spaces for them in our lives, churches, and hearts. Undocumented people are people: people who want to work, be a part of a community and have the right to be treated as fully human. People-who are different from you and me, and yet not. They are made in God’s holy image and Jesus is clear in Matthew 25 that whatever we do or don’t do for our neighbor we are doing or not doing to Christ himself. This isn’t a partisan political issue, it’s a theological and a humanitarian one. God’s political agenda is that we live together as the one loving people God created us to be, with no distinction as Paul writes in Galatians 3, that in Christ, neither free or slave, Jew or Greek, male and female, black or white, gay or straight, pro-life or pro-choice, democrat or republican, refugee or natural citizen, ill or well. Just as Jesus clothed the man whom the townspeople tried to deport to the tombs, Jesus clothes us all in God’s love and grace.

Jesus’ word in my life detours me from a path of excluding those who make me uncomfortable, to a path of walking with those whom I never imagined, to standing in solidarity demanding loving justice for my neighbor. A colleague on the ELCA Clergy FB page reminded us of our ordination vows yesterday: “Every ordained minister shall speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.” And we all responded, “I ask God to help and guide me.” This is not only my vow, but it is our baptismal vow when we promise to seek justice and peace. Even though the townspeople ask Jesus to leave and again surprisingly he does, Jesus doesn’t leave them alone. He sends the now healed and whole man back to them to be a sign, a witness to the town of what God’s trespassing into our lives looks like-a sign of reconciliation in community, a sign of astonishing grace that can reach us anywhere we may go. Even when we try and send Jesus away, Jesus’ word of love in our lives has the power to stay with us and to detour us for the sake of our neighbor, to clothe us in love and grace and send us out to speak out, be in solidarity with our neighbor and to be this sign of God’s healing, hope justice and solidarity with those in need. Thanks be to God.

 

Connections: Sermon on Facebook, Signs, Truth and God June 17, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 16, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31, Romans 5: 1-5 and John 16: 12-15 Holy Trinity Sunday

Children’s sermon:

Have a game, a phone, a letter, hands, cards, yarn. Gather the children and ask “Do you ever feel alone and you don’t want to be? Yes we all do! And we look for ways to be connected to our family and friends because we love them and love being with them. I have some things here that might help us think about being connected. Go through each one leaving the paper hands for last. In our bible stories today, they all talk about how God gives us signs of how we are aware of God’s connection to us. Just like the phone, or a letter bring us awareness that we can be with our family and friends in lots of ways, the same is true of God. What are ways that God might show us that we are connected to God? God connects to us such as through nature, through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, which is a little harder but is about feeling God’s presence through the air we breath and people around us. God wants to be with us and wants us to be with God! One way that we know God is with us is through other people telling us about God. Today we celebrate all of the men in our lives who tell us that God is with us always and show us God’s love. I have these hands here, just like Mother’s Day, and today we will write the names of dads, grandpas, uncles, brothers, cousins, friends who are special to us. Today we will tape them together and make a chain of hands and put them on this altar rail.

About ten maybe almost eleven years ago, I joined Facebook. Now, even in my mid-thirties, I was not known as being terribly technologically savvy or even liking tech or the internet all that much. My best friend, Leta, when I joined, commented “you are the LAST person I thought would ever be on FB!” And I honestly thought it would be a novel thing I would do for a while, I would get bored and quit. But I didn’t. FB has its ups and downs, good points and terrible points, but overall I love it! Why? Because I love that I can stay connected to people all over the world! FB allows me to at anytime, anywhere, be connected. I can connect with colleagues for advice, solidarity and empathy. I can connect with family and friends for laughs, crying and prayers. I can connect with people I have never met and will probably never meet in remote parts of the world and gain insight into what is happening globally. And yes, my dear parishioners, I get insight into you, the people whom God has called me to care for and walk beside. There’s a lot more pastoral care that happens on FB than you might realize. Believe or not, FB CAN be used for good and to broaden our worldview and doesn’t have to be an echo chamber. I didn’t expect to like FB or to utilize it for more than a few fun months, but a decade or more later, I am still there, and added Twitter and Instagram as well! Although, here’s where I am still a luddite-keeping up with all of that overwhelms me, so I mostly stick to FB. FB has become a sign in my life of how I am connected in positive and not so positive ways to so many people.  For instance, because of FB, once for a colleague out of state, I helped a family who was in Denver because their baby was life flighted from NE for cardiac treatment. I connected them to other resources, prayed with them and offered support. Because of FB, I mentor colleagues entering pastoral and faith formation ministry and I also get mentoring from colleagues who have “been there and done that.” Because of FB, I “talk” to people who are very different from me and I learn something new. Often, I am challenged and confronted about a piece of myself that I don’t want to admit to, or an action that I have done that needs reflection and repentance, such as changing my language around race, ableism or LBGTQ persons, or expanding my views on a topic beyond a right or wrong perspective. But because of this connectivity, I am pulled into the awareness and wrestling with the messy multiplicity of thought and relationships. I move from either/or thinking into both/and. Connections often bring awareness. One can see signs of the Holy Spirit at work in our world, and you might not believe me but even on social media where we don’t expect it.

Signs of God’s work are everywhere-and this week we are starting a seven-week sermon series “Give Me a Sign” and we will explore signs of God’s activity in our lives-particularly unexpected signs. Signs of God’s presence and activity are not always what we expect them to look like. Sometimes, as with our sign for today “Caution High Winds,” we are caught off guard and the sign may not seem to be good news for us at first. Signs might tell us that we are not where we think we are, or we are further or closer than we thought, or that there is potential for an event that we didn’t anticipate, or that preparations are needed. Signs don’t usually give us all the information but point us in a direction to keep going further down the road where we will encounter new experiences and new connections.

God has always provided signs of God’s activity, presence and connection in the world and in our lives from the moment that God spoke words of creation into the chaos of the void. God understands that we, as diverse humanity, need many signs, many experiences of God to expand our awareness of God. God’s deepest desire is to connect and be in constant relationship with us, as God’s very self is relationship and connection. Holy Trinity Sunday, is not a day to try and explain the three distinct expressions of God for intellectual understanding, but to point to the gift, joy and awareness of God’s diversity and connectivity in the world. The Trinity isn’t to be explained as much as it is to be lived and experienced. The core of God’s heart is abiding relationship. God as creator, Son and Holy Spirit-in unity and yet in distinction is a sign for us how God loves and craves relationships.

God’s signs of connection permeate the natural world with ecosystems both macro and micro. The relationships of plants and bees, animals and humans, rain, sun, wind and snow, reveal how God designed life to be dynamic and always transforming. Nothing stays the same and yet, the transformations are done in partnership in these systems. The more we become aware of our earth, the more we find that everything is in relationship from atoms and quarks to ice shelfs and penguin colonies.

God’s sign of connection is perhaps most personal in the coming of Jesus as a human infant, vulnerable and unprotected. God’s desire for relationship with us meant enduring risk. Through Jesus, God offered more signs of God’s connectivity to us. Water that connects us to the earth, and to the ministry and mission of Jesus, bread and wine that connect us to the seasons of planting and harvest, and also to inclusion for all into the body of Christ. And the sign of the cross, that connects us to the promises of God for presence in our suffering, connects us to the truth of the empty tomb, and life eternal with God and the people of God. These signs herald for us the truth that relationship and connection with God doesn’t remove suffering from our lives, as Paul writes in Romans, but has the power to transform it into hope- that is trust in God’s promise of abundant life.

God’s sign of connection in the Holy Spirit points us to new adventures and roads. Jesus tells the disciples in our John passage that we are connected to the Holy Spirit and so connected to the truth of God that guides our lives. Jesus doesn’t promise that this will be easy, clear or safe. The truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives witnesses to God’s power to call to us from unexpected people and places-such as in Proverbs chapter 8, Lady Wisdom calls to the people from the city entrances and crossroads-a sign of God’s connections in our daily lives. Throughout the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles God’s work among those who were different from them and challenged their embedded way of thinking about life with God. The Holy Spirit guides us to open roads and open hearts where we encounter God’s people in rich diversity, distinction and uniqueness. The Holy Spirit guides us to the truth of God’s love for us and all creation, that God is beyond either/or  thinking but reveals multiple perspectives and avenues of connection. The truth that God sends us out filled with these signs, to be living signs, with our words, actions and to be the very presence of God’s love, grace and hope to everyone that we encounter. Signs of acceptance, signs of advocacy, signs of inclusion, signs of welcome, signs of God’s gracious love that is poured out in unexpected places, to unlikely people in a multiplicity of ways. These signs open our awareness of living in grace-filled, abiding and eternal relationship with God and one another. Thanks be to God.

 

 

The Power in this Moment Sermon on Pentecost Jun 9, 2019 June 9, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are Acts 2:1-21 and John 14: 8-17, 25-27

Children’s sermon: (Have ribbons, the paper flames for the prayer station and glow sticks to give them) Gather the children and have a red ribbon and a glow stick. What’s your favorite color? Mine is red! So I love it when we have Pentecost and Reformation Sunday or Confirmation and I get to wear my red stole. Or anything red! What’s awesome about the color red, as well as orange and yellow, is that they are bright colors and you can’t miss them! This is why crossing guards at your school, or construction workers on the highway wear orange or yellow or sometimes that neon green color. They need to be seen for safety and we don’t want to miss seeing them!  In our bible story this morning in Acts, there was a strong wind that was hard to miss! And then what looked like fire appeared with the people! What colors are in fire? Red, yellow, orange. Hard to not see fire isn’t it! While we don’t see wind, we can see what wind does: it moves and blows things around as well as changes things. When the Holy Spirit shows up and we notice God’s presence and how things change. The Holy Spirit was among the people and God didn’t want them to miss it! God wants us to see that God is with us today and always in the Holy Spirit, like Jesus promised in the John story, we are never alone, and that God wants everyone to know about God’s love-no matter what language they may speak, where they live, or how old they are. For this to happen, all of God’s we must burn bright and move with the love of God. God wants us to prophesy which means to tell the truth that God’s love is for everyone today, people you like, people you don’t like or people who don’t like you. This love today will create more love for tomorrow!

And you don’t have to wait to be older to do this: God gives you gifts today to be God’s love in the world. We can see the Holy Spirit through the love that people give to each other. God’s movement and love can be seen all around us. Who shows you see God’s love in your life? How can we show God’s love to people? Family promise, food for Urban Crossroads, helping at home, being kind to a friend, inviting someone over to play this summer. I have these paper flames for you and all of us to write how we can share God’s love today and tape them to the crepe paper flames in the back. And I have a glow stick for each to you to remember to burn brightly. Let’s pray:

 

The Power in this Moment:

There is a video going viral this week of a dad and his baby sitting on the couch. Have you seen it? The baby is babbling with very animated expressions and arm movements and dad (a comedian) is responding to his son as if he’s understanding every word the baby is saying. He even occasionally initiates a new train of thought with the baby and the baby seems to respond appropriately. It’s adorable and great example of how young babies and toddlers learn to interact and communicate before they can be completely understood. The dad didn’t wait until his son was older and had complete language to have a meaningful conversation with him. He knew that the moment at hand was important and that he could show his son his love today and that his son needed him to relate to him just as he was-babbling baby and all. How they might communicate when the baby is older remains to be seen but what happened on this day will shape their relationship for the future. This dad knows there is power in the moment to shape a loving future.

It’s often hard to be in the moment. To stay grounded in the here and now. We get caught wistfully remembering the way it used to be: “the good ole days.” And in our memories, everything was perfect. And we love to project about what the future might bring. We think ahead about life will be. Such as when our children are babies we await the day when they sleep through the night. Or we can’t wait to finish school to “get on with our dreams and hopes,” or we can’t wait to retire to get to do all of things we can’t while we are in our careers. Always something to look forward to-always a way to compare yesterday, today and tomorrow and somehow “today” can seem like it’s not enough. Being in the moment today requires us to let go of the past and to suspend trying to predict what will happen in the future.

Today is Pentecost-a festival day in our church calendar that gets celebrated in many ways. Some call it the birthday of the Church, some call it the commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, some call it the reversal of the Tower of Babel (although this interpretation is falling out of favor). But I’m going to offer that Pentecost, the 50th day after the resurrection of Jesus for Christians and the festival of the first fruits of the harvest for our Jewish siblings, is about God calling us to pay attention to the moment and not miss it. To live in the now. Not the past, and not the future. But to notice that God is moving in your life and calling you to be this same movement with others today-even if it’s not totally clear and doesn’t seem coherent.

When we can live in the moment, being fully attentive to the presence of God and God’s powerful deeds, the truth is revealed. This truth of our lives, how God’s loving power enlivens and empowers us TODAY is one that we need to share in whatever language and mode we have available. Peter is so moved by the moment of experiencing God’s powerful presence, that he stands up and simply begins to speak. He doesn’t write and rehearse a fancy sermon, he doesn’t look to an expert to explain it, he uses the first words that come to him: the words of the prophet Joel. Peter doesn’t even worry about having his own eloquent statements, or getting the passage right word for word, Peter speaks what he knows to be the truth of God’s presence with God’s people. God’s promise through Jesus Christ to be present today, to bring wholeness today, to bring us abundant life today, is also a promise that does shape our future and the future of the world.

This promise of today allows us to see where the Holy Spirit is at work and where we can participate with our gifts. God has gifted us for this work of today, this sacred time and this sacred place. The Holy Spirit today, is poured out upon all people and fills us so that we may boldly speak and act as Peter did, in our community, and all will hear our prophesy, our truth telling of God’s powerful deeds of love here and now. Prophesying doesn’t predict the future but tells the truth about God’s power today to shape our future wrapped by God’s promises for salvation which is wholeness-deep connection- with God and one another. God’s most powerful deed is God’s presence with us, in us and in creation. God’s power is expressed through empowering us-pouring out God’s Holy Spirit-for the sake of this power surging throughout all of creation. This power surge is what God promised in the resurrection of Jesus and God wants us to help it go viral. The power to destroy death, the power to redeem the broken, power to make God’s diverse people one in this love and truth. This truth telling of God’s power reveals to the world that through Jesus, God, in this moment, shapes our future into one beloved community. When we are in the moment-what truth can we proclaim?  When we are in the moment of hosting, eating, talking, caring and being community with the guests of Family Promise, we tell the truth of God’s promise for wholeness today. When we are in the moment of starting a Scout Troop, when we are in the moment of serving and welcoming our neighbor who doesn’t look, think or act like us, when we are in the moment of offering peace instead of anger, when we are in the moment of supporting and partnering with our black, brown, LBGTQIA, immigrants siblings and anyone whom society claims as less value than others, we are telling the truth of God’s promise for wholeness for all today and that shapes our future in love, grace, mercy and hope.

Pentecost isn’t a day from the past to just remember. Pentecost is today and each day as we live in the moment, empowered by the Holy Spirit to tell and be the truth of God’s promise of love and wholeness for all people. Today we are empowered, we have enough, we are enough, and this moment is enough for God’s powerful love to shape our future. Thanks be to God.

 

Insurance, Mayhem and What God Sees Sermon for Affirmation of Baptism Sunday June 2, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts were chosen by the two youth affirming their baptism.

Genesis 6:11: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”

Matthew 6: 25-34:

Children’s time: What God sees.

I have worn these glasses since I was 11. They help me to see things far away and up close. Without them, I can’t see important things, like you! What are other objects that help us to see things more clearly? Yes, binoculars, telescopes, all help us to see God’s universe, near and far! We might miss seeing something unique and interesting! Well, these Bible passages read by Aidan and Katie today remind me of what God sees and wants us to see. The Genesis text seems a little hard to hear but when you put it with the Matthew text where Jesus says not to worry, we remember that it’s a good thing that God sees the hard stuff in our lives too. Good sees it all as God created it! In Genesis 1, the very beginning of the Bible, we read the creation story and every time God created something God said what? Do you remember? Is there an adult who remembers? Yes! God saw that it was Good! And when God created humans, God said that we were “very good!” God loves what God has created. God sees us as good and doesn’t want us to be hurt or unkind to one another. In the Genesis verse, people were being unkind and hurting one another and hurting the earth. God saw this and didn’t look away but knew that something had to change. This is the beginning of the Noah’s Ark story or the great flood. Now we know that the people saved were Noah and his family as well as all those animals. And when the flood was over, God sent a rainbow to let the people and animals know that they didn’t have to worry about another flood-this was a promise from God that this wouldn’t happen again. But we still worry don’t we? What do you worry about? That’s what Jesus is talking about in the Matthew story. When we worry about flooding, we worry about what to eat, drink or wear, we are worrying and seeing only ourselves. But Jesus reminds us that by not worrying, we can know that God sees us, God loves us and thinks we are very good. When we stop worrying-we can see God’s love and care all around us! the flowers bloom each year, how the birds are fed, people who care for us. We don’t have to worry about is being alone, or being afraid as God promises to be with us no matter what-even if there are scary things happening or we don’t know where food or clothing might come from. God promises good for us because we are precious to God. And Jesus tells us that if we look, we can see God’s love and care all around us, even if we don’t have a telescope! I have a blessing for you today: +You are God’s precious joy+

 

What are things that you worry about? I’m a worrier: mostly about silly things I can’t control-especially at 2 a.m. It seems everywhere we look there are reasons to worry in our community and throughout the world. Now it might seem prudent to worry about somethings such as our health, retirement, our children, as this worry can lead us to make sound choices today that we think will ensure a certain type of outcome for tomorrow, and some of these choices are a good thing! But we think that our worrying, will create some sort of guarantee of controlling outcomes-like an insurance policy that covers us. This is the heart of the insurance industry-isn’t it? I love that one commercial with the man who personifies “mayhem.” In one commercial a car owner is at a football game and gets a facetime call from Mayhem who informs the man that he is about to steal his car. All the car owner can do is watch helplessly as this happens. The company is wanting you to worry about mayhem and then claim that you can protect yourself from it with their policy. Maybe you can a bit, but truth is that mayhem is simply part of life and no insurance policy can totally protect you from it.

We don’t like to think about that reality too often as it leads to anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. But what do we do when that reality smacks us right where we live? When it’s more than just our car being stolen or our she-shed burning down. What about when it’s something a bit more substantive such as a loved one dying, a scary diagnosis, a long term relationship ending, or more systematic challenges such as lack of healthcare, climate change, wars, immigration crisis, racism or as was lifted up at the Utah Pride Interfaith Worship service, the reality of violence against those who are LBGTQI or on the margins of any kind. It’s mayhem, it’s violent and God sees it all.

But we have this God that doesn’t just watch from a distance, the Bette Midler song is incorrect. God is watching us but not from a distance, God is watching us up close and personal. All up in our grill as the kids say. We are all precious to God, so much so that God doesn’t leave us alone in the mayhem-even when it’s of our own doing. God doesn’t judge the mess-God comes down into it. That’s the scandal of Jesus. Jesus comes to us in our mess-acknowledges it and doesn’t try and explain it away. You see, the words in Matthew 6 can seem a bit Polly Anna-don’t worry! And we say, that’s easy for you to say Jesus, your well, Jesus! God’s son! And yet, we need to remember that the very human Jesus was an itinerant preacher, he relied on other people to support him-he lived in what we would consider a bit of a commune. Jesus knew that he couldn’t control the outcome of day to day life. And Jesus knew his mission-to reveal the truth of the radical, life-transforming grace and love of God is the promised outcome for the world. That world that would soon kill him for this message that breaks systems of mayhem and violence. The powers and authorities knew that worry of mayhem and violence keep the masses in line-after all, if you’re so busy making sure that no one takes your stuff, encroaches on your turf, or gets more than you then you don’t notice the powers and authorities taking advantage of your fear and worry. They want you live in the falsehood that the outcome of not worrying and protecting yourself was death. But freeing people from worry of mayhem, violence and death, would mean that people wouldn’t be afraid-they would live differently. They would live not only looking out for what’s best for them, but would be free to care about their neighbor and the world. To be clear, not worrying isn’t about not planning for the future, but it IS about not being afraid to live fully as who you are as a beloved child of God TODAY and delighting when other people do the same!

God sees the entire world: the good and the bad and loves it and us too much to leave us alone in it. Through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, normally today we would be celebrating Ascension Sunday, God acts to destroy violence and death in the. God acts to bear joyous life and calls us to see and also bear this life, abundant life, even in the midst of harm, fear and violence. Goodness and life is about what God sees and does.

Aidan and Alex, this is what your claiming your baptismal faith for yourselves today means: God sees you, just as you are as God’s precious and beloved young men. God sees you because God is with you right here, right now and always. No amount of mayhem, violence or fear separates you from God’s love and care. And so with this truth, you don’t have to worry-you are free to be who God is calling you to be through the waters of baptism and the promises made by your parents all those years ago that you now claim today: You are free to join in the mission of God in God’s kingdom with all of your gifts, passions and talents. You, just as you are, have this day and we pray so many more, to live boldly and to show God’s colorful promises in a world where all too often people only see the darkness of mayhem and violence. Be and act on Christ’s vision-God’s life, love and mercy.

This is our insurance and assurance: God sees us, doesn’t leave us hopeless or helpless but comes along side us in love and grace to move hearts and to reorient lives. God’s hands hold our todays and tomorrows. Don’t worry, live boldly, be who you are fearlessly, bloom brightly and fly freely. +You are God’s precious joy!+ Thanks be to God!