A Lutheran Says What?

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

What Is Love? Just Watch! Sermon on John 13:33-35 May 12, 2017

*Preached on April 13, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

Love one another. We often wonder how we will know if someone really loves and cares for us, don’t we?  We watch people closely to see if their actions match their words when we wonder about their hearts and intent for us or others. These words of “love one another” we hear Jesus telling the disciples over and over in all four of the gospels. Words that we, without hesitation, throw out when someone slights us or someone whom we love. “Love one another” are words that we take very personally and internalize what that means for us. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus talks at great length about loving your neighbor as yourself. Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated. We’ve condensed that to a social platitude of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Seems simple enough. As humans, we also cling to this saying because it leaves us wiggle room to not treat kindly those who don’t treat us with kindness. We can justify transactional relationships. What does my neighbor do for me? If nothing, then that’s how they must want to be in relationship with me.

But here in this passage of John, Jesus gives us a twist: Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus takes our wiggle room, our social platitudes and our justifications and hurls them into the abyss. Jesus once again pulls us out of ourselves, widens our view of love, deepens our understanding of who and what God is about and crush our egos that interfere with God’s transformational work inside of us. How do we know if Jesus’ really loves us? Just watch. Watch Jesus become a servant and washing smelly, dirty and worn feet. Watch Jesus offer the same caring actions to the one who would betray him to the authorities. Watch Jesus forgive those who persecute him as he is dying on the cross. Watch Jesus, dying on a cross, not so that we “owe God or feel guilty”, but to show that God withholds nothing, not even his son from us in love. Jesus on the cross is love in action. Love that transcends words. Love that does what is necessary for the wholeness and well-being of all people, with no thought of reciprocation, no consideration of risk to himself or worry of safety. Love that offers freedom from what holds us back from living as people of God. Love that opens our eyes to the needs of our neighbor. Love that dies to human self-ego and lives to see beyond today, the here and now, to a vision of how God sees the world, created good, in harmony and peace. Today we reorient to this love that is a commandment, Mandatum in Latin, and why we call today Maundy Thursday. A love command that is not a suggestion because there is too much at stake.

So we watch. We watch Jesus’ actions of love and understand that the world is watching us, how we love. Jesus says that the world will know that we follow Jesus by our love. This is not easy love. It’s hard. It’s messy.  It transcends our political, social and economic philosophies and places us squarely in the realm of how we think about God’s love in our lives and what difference the loving actions of Jesus Christ make in our everyday decisions. Jesus calls the disciples past, present and future into this way of living, knowing that we will stumble, get confused and need reorienting. Jesus’ love in action also draws us into community, community that supports and reminds one another of this love shown by Jesus. Today, we come to the table of this love that Jesus prepares where bread is placed in our undeserving hands and wine flows to soften our hardened hearts. Our first communion children and youth tonight come to this table to watch, to watch love made flesh, love given as a promise, love that surrounds and encompasses them, us and all of creation. We watch in ourselves for opportunities to be love in action, to offer ourselves fully and know that the world is watching for love from us. We don’t have to wonder about God’s love for us because we can watch Jesus as God’s love in action today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.

 

But Wait! There’s More! Sermon on John 21: 1-14

*From Wednesday April 19th, 2017. I’m catching up on posting sermons! you can watch on http://www.bethany-live.org

Anyone watch the late night infomercials for knives or hoses, or protein shakes or whatever? After the host shows you all of the features of the product that you can’t live without, they say, “but wait, there’s more!” and then either offers you two of the product or bonus items to enhance your product experience. The 21st chapter of John, reminds me of these infomercials. Scholars speculate that this chapter was not part of the original gospel, it was an add on by someone in the Johannine community, an epilogue if you will. Could be the same author, but we really don’t know. It’s as if the writer of the gospel, or someone close to the writer, said, oh but there’s more!

Post resurrection, the disciples might have felt a little lost, perhaps suffering from some post-empty tomb let down. After the euphoria of the initial event wore off and they had seen Jesus and he had blown the Holy Spirit into them (a sort of Pentecost in the book of John), they were left with a “now what??” So life went back to being ordinary. They went fishing, back to their day jobs if you will and it all seemed rather dull. What does being a disciple look like now that Jesus has risen and is no longer with us day to day? They knew what day to day ministry with Jesus in their midst had been like: healing, teaching, miracles, signs. But now?

So fishing it was. But they didn’t catch anything. They had to have been frustrated and disappointed. They couldn’t even succeed at their previous vocation! Then some guy from the shore says, hey did you try the other side of the boat? Yeah, right, like 10 or 15 feet matters on the big sea of Galilea. But they did it, and it did make a difference! In the abundance of the fish, the disciples recognized that it was Jesus who had given them the instructions! Jesus was with them, even when they didn’t recognize him! But wait, there’s more! AND then to top it off, Jesus asked for some of the 153 fish they had caught and cooked breakfast for them! There was plenty for all!

Like the disciples, I think that we quickly forget that with Jesus, there is always more than we can see, more than we can imagine and more waiting for us than we can ever know. We get stuck in the day to day, the ordinary and forgetting that Jesus always meets us in the ordinary and the day to day. The disciples were fishing, not healing, performing miracles, not teaching the Torah, but fishing. Yet, Jesus came to them in that ordinary event to show the extraordinary abundance and grace of God. I don’t think that it’s an accident that the writer of this chapter wants us to make connections with Jesus’ calling the disciples to come and see, connections with God’s abundance in feeding 5,000 with two loaves of bread and five fish, and with the Eucharist meal. Perhaps those in John’s community needed a reminder that Jesus will be present, God’s abundance is real and to trust these promises in the ordinariness of their lives. Perhaps we need these reminders as well.

Reminders to wait, there’s more. What we think is the end, with Jesus, is actually only the beginning. Everyday Jesus calls us into newness of trust in his presence and abundance. How often as the church do we think that we know how to do this ministry thing, that is fish for people. We cast our nets into the waters of thinking that Sunday School, worship, or confirmation programs, or outreach programs or music is the only way to grow ourselves and others as disciples and sometimes we come up empty and we get frustrated, or disappointed. Or we get busy in our lives and become complacent our personal prayer and bible study habits and feel dry or disconnected with God? We get caught in returning to what we always know, getting stuck in ruts and forgetting to look up and see Jesus on the shore asking us to try a new thing. Something that might be as simple as casting on another side though, might make all of the difference. It makes the difference because we’re trusting in what Jesus wants us to do and not how we’ve always done it. How are we being opened up to seeing Jesus anew in a post-resurrection world where everything is different and can never be the same? How do we see that over and over, Jesus comes to us, to show us a new thing and fill our nets, for Jesus provides and provides in abundance, even if we’re not seeing it yet.

This makes me wonder if we think big enough about what God can do in our lives. When the disciples cast their nets on the opposite side of the boat, as Jesus directed them to, it says that they caught 153 fish that they hauled to Jesus on shore. Some have speculated on the importance of that number, but the crux of it is that it’s a lot of fish that they brought to Jesus. And I think that is the point, there’s more! The disciples then hauled the fish to Jesus. Our job is to bring people to Jesus, all people. The disciples didn’t have a say in what fish came, and neither do we. When we forget to look up and see Jesus asking us to do a new thing, who are we excluding from Jesus’ abundance? Jesus is about gathering all of us into his arms and this gets uncomfortable for us. It might mean gathering people whom we don’t like, or don’t like us. People who look different, eat differently, talk differently, think differently. But we’re called to catch them with Jesus’ net of love and inclusion. But wait, there’s more.

The disciples weren’t sure what to make of Jesus appearing to them in their ordinary lives. We too struggle to remember that Jesus indeed, comes to us at school,  when we’re with our friends, at soccer, at work, at home, caring for a loved one, and yes, at church, but not only at church, to show us that there is always more. It’s why we come to the table of Holy Communion when we gather, we gather in the promise that there is more, more Jesus that fills us, meets us here and out in the world. The powerful promise that the writer of the 21st chapter needed us to hear is that there is always more-over and over again, Jesus comes to us, to fill our nets, and provides abundantly. So just wait, there is more! Thanks be to God!

 

Jesus the Door Sermon on John 10: 1-10 Easter 4A May 7, 2017 May 10, 2017

 

The gospel text was John 10:1-10 for May 7, 2017. This can be viewed on http://www.bethanylive.org. The sermon is marked in the archived service.

As many of you know, Mike and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time in Paris last week. It is the first time either of us have been to Europe, although our children have been able to go a few times. The architecture there is stunning with treasures discovered at the turn of every corner. One of the surprises for me (after 28 years together!) was that Mike had a draw towards all the different types of doors that we encountered on the streets, at places such as Notre Dame or Versailles. Many people are drawn to doors and there is much study both psychologically and theologically as to why. Doors, or entry ways, can represent opportunity, protection, change, risk, and excitement. We know that doors have an impact on us, on our brains. How many of you have ever walked into a room to do something and the second you cross the threshold, you forget what that task was? We all do it! There has been research done on this and it turns out that crossing a threshold actually reorients us and transforms us! Going through a door, or entry way, causes our brains to work differently. Going through a door adds possibilities to our brains and therefore pushes whatever we originally considered important, out and allows new input to come in. Doors can broaden our vision, take us to a new place, to new people, to new thoughts.

Today we hear Jesus proclaim: I am the gate. I was struck when I learned that the word “gate” can also mean “door” and it is the same word that is used in John 20 when Jesus walks through the locked doors to the disciples and breathes the Holy Spirit into them. How cool is that! This word gets interpreted as gate here with the context around it of sheep and shepherds but door is most likely a better translation, particularly since we need remember that these ten verses are not a new story.  The beginning of John 10 is actually the end of  the story of the man born blind in John 9 that I happened to preach on March 26, so I don’t know if it’s a Holy Spirit thing that I also have the opportunity to preach on the rest of the story or just bad luck for you all! The first part of John 10 is Jesus still talking to the Pharisees-who were opposing Jesus, the disciples and the man whom he healed. To refresh your memory, there was a man who was born blind and Jesus, with his disciples, came upon him as they were traveling. To be a person with a disability meant that you were an outcast, unclean, sinful somehow and walled off from the community. This man begged for what little people would give him for sheer survival. Jesus healed him, ostensibly returning him to community, full human dignity and worth. But the Pharisees and others, were suspicious of his claim of miraculous healing from Jesus and threw him out of the community. Jesus finds the man again and tells the Pharisees and the disciples that there is more than one way to be blind and sin can separate us from God and blind us from the grace that is freely given to us and we should give to our neighbors.

Our John 10: vs. 1 is simply a continuation of Jesus explaining why God has sent him to dwell among us, why Jesus heals, brings outcasts into community, offers true sight, and true life to all people. Jesus uses all kinds of symbolic speech to broaden our vision of what Jesus came to do: He is living water, bread of life, the light of the world and here, a door. Not a door that excludes, but a door that appears in unexpected places and times, a door that offers hope, and swings wide open to for all to enter. The man born blind, heard the voice of his savior long before he saw him and Jesus spoke words of invitation to him to enter through the door of healing, a door where this man would know that he is a part of the community and love of God, a door that broke through the walls of religious and cultural law to reveal new possibilities, transformation and abundant life. The man had spent his whole life with the understanding that there was no way for him to bridge the wall of his blindness and separation from community. He would have been without much hope for anything different than what he had experienced each day of his life. Until he heard the voice of Jesus coming to him, making a way where before none existed, being a door, an entry way, to a different kind of life that included being transformed in God’s grace for the sake of sharing his encounter with the one who offered him life.

(Children’s sermon) I would like to invite the children to come up: Just like he didn’t leave the man born blind alone and in the dark, Jesus will always find you, call to you and be the door to all that God promises us: God promises that you will have what you need for your life-what do you really need? Yep! Do we really need toys or lots of clothes or the newest scooter? No! There nice to have, but being with God and each other is waaaaay more important than stuff! Jesus will always tell us to be with our family and friends before we worry about stuff-and we can listen for Jesus voice to remind us of that. What are things that we can do to help us to listen for the voice of Jesus? Jesus will call us through the door to be with him and each other! ok, I need you five to link arms tightly and make a wall. Can you do it? No, it’s hard! Now you are going to be Jesus and go delink their arms and make a doorway for the other children. Now make a doorway over here….Jesus does this for us! Jesus makes a path or a way for us when it seems that there isn’t one or it seems impossible. Through Jesus, we are brought into a community of love, life and hope. All that we need to know that we are loved and we need to share love! We’re going to talk a little more about that, so you can go back your families, Thank you for helping!

How do we know it’s the voice of Jesus calling us to walk through his door to abundant life? How do we know it’s not really the thieves or bandits Jesus warns us about? Throughout the bible, God’s story of love for us, we read that abundant life with God is all about relationship with God first and foremost. When we are in relationship with God, we recognize God’s presence, God setting the feast before us, even when enemies of disease, isolation, and fear are present. The door of peace and comfort is opened by God for us. Abundant life with God brings us into relationship with other people as well. In Acts, the community the Apostles and early followers of Jesus, called The Way, was hallmarked by worshipping together, continuing to learn about the promises of God for them and all people, breaking bread together and praying. Abundant life was not about possessions but about a life oriented on God and neighbor. Jesus as the door, ushered them into a new room, a new way of living that changed their hearts, souls and minds and caught the attention of thousands of new people day by day.

Jesus is indeed a door that to a new way of living, being and doing. Jesus calls to us over and over to walk through the door, even when it seems difficult or impossible because the thieves and bandits of the world will try and tell you that there is a wall, a divide that you just can’t cross, that you need to stay in your place or you’re not good enough to enter. Or the thieves and bandits will tell you that it’s all about you, your needs and to stay on this side of the wall where you are lured by false sense of control, need for more and more stuff, or prestige. Jesus’ voice will cut through that noise to call us to the door of himself that gathers us, loves us and transforms us in the truth that we are enough, have enough and are the beloved community. Whatever we had thought was important regarding our lives before we crossed the threshold to Jesus, is reoriented to what God proclaims is important: Loving God with our whole, entire being and our neighbor. Living in the truth that we are all God’s beloved people. We aren’t to keep this abundant life to ourselves but reveal it to people all around us.  This week look at doors in a new light. Every time you go through a door, remember that Jesus is gathering you into his arms and look for who is on the other side of the door with whom you can share the promise of that good news. We proclaim with our voices and our bodies that Jesus is here, breaking through walls that separate us from God and one another. Walls of bias, walls of fear, walls of hopelessness, walls of grief, walls of brokenness that Jesus transforms into a door that swing open wide for entry to the love for God’s diverse people, a door of joy for the promises of God that are freely given to everyone, a door of wholeness in authentic, messy community, a door of grace that proclaims that abundant life isn’t for some but for all. Jesus calls you and me and us all by name through that door. Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

Just Watch Sermon on John 13: 33-35 April 15, 2017

Love one another. We often wonder how we will know if someone really loves and cares for us, don’t we?  We watch people closely to see if their actions match their words when we wonder about their hearts and intent for us or others. These words of “love one another” we hear Jesus telling the disciples over and over in all four of the gospels. Words that we, without hesitation, throw out when someone slights us or someone whom we love. “Love one another” are words that we take very personally and internalize what that means for us. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus talks at great length about loving your neighbor as yourself. Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated. We’ve condensed that to a social platitude of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Seems simple enough. As humans, we also cling to this saying because it leaves us wiggle room to not treat kindly those who don’t treat us with kindness. We can justify transactional relationships. What does my neighbor do for me? If nothing, then that’s how they must want to be in relationship with me.

But here in this passage of John, Jesus gives us a twist: Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus takes our wiggle room, our social platitudes and our justifications and hurls them into the abyss. Jesus once again pulls us out of ourselves, widens our view of love, deepens our understanding of who and what God is about and crush our egos that interfere with God’s transformational work inside of us. How do we know if Jesus’ really loves us? Just watch. Watch Jesus become a servant and washing smelly, dirty and worn feet. Watch Jesus offer the same caring actions to the one who would betray him to the authorities. Watch Jesus forgive those who persecute him as he is dying on the cross. Watch Jesus, dying on a cross, not so that we “owe God or feel guilty”, but to show that God withholds nothing, not even his son from us in love. Jesus on the cross is love in action. Love that transcends words. Love that does what is necessary for the wholeness and well-being of all people, with no thought of reciprocation, no consideration of risk to himself or worry of safety. Love that offers freedom from what holds us back from living as people of God. Love that opens our eyes to the needs of our neighbor. Love that dies to human self-ego and lives to see beyond today, the here and now, to a vision of how God sees the world, created good, in harmony and peace. Today we reorient to this love that is a commandment, Mandatum in Latin, and why we call today Maundy Thursday. A love command that is not a suggestion because there is too much at stake.

So we watch. We watch Jesus’ actions of love and understand that the world is watching us, how we love. Jesus says that the world will know that we follow Jesus by our love. This is not easy love. It’s hard. It’s messy.  It transcends our political, social and economic philosophies and places us squarely in the realm of how we think about God’s love in our lives and what difference the loving actions of Jesus Christ make in our everyday decisions. Jesus calls the disciples past, present and future into this way of living, knowing that we will stumble, get confused and need reorienting. Jesus’ love in action also draws us into community, community that supports and reminds one another of this love shown by Jesus. Today, we come to the table of this love that Jesus prepares where bread is placed in our undeserving hands and wine flows to soften our hardened hearts. Our first communion children and youth tonight come to this table to watch, to watch love made flesh, love given as a promise, love that surrounds and encompasses them, us and all of creation. We watch in ourselves for opportunities to be love in action, to offer ourselves fully and know that the world is watching for love from us. We don’t have to wonder about God’s love for us because we can watch Jesus as God’s love in action today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.

 

More Than What We Can See Sermon on John 9 April 14, 2017

*This sermon was preached on March 29, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can watch worship online at http://www.bethanylive.org

The gospel for the day is John 9 (in it’s entirety)

 

We don’t always see what is right in front of us. We often aren’t aware of our own blurred, tunnel vision or outright blindness to people, systems and community in our midst. In this story from John 9, Jesus has great compassion and really saw the man who was born blind and knows the implications of this disability on his status in the community. Jesus saw the person, the child of God, and saw beyond a physical difference. But in the ancient world, someone born differently abled came with many questions: who sinned? What evil fell upon this person or was committed by this person or their family? It was often thought that people with an assumed disability were contagious, so they were shunned, cast out and feared by the community.

Jesus rejected these positions and simply restored the man’s sight-albeit in a gross and profane way. Mud, spit and washing in a common pool. Very messy. Jesus broke the rule of no work on the Sabbath to heal and return sight to this man as well as return him into the community and the Pharisees were quick to point out his error. But Jesus had a different vision of how that day should be for that man. Jesus saw more than rules and edicts. Jesus saw the world through a different lens than the people and the Pharisees. Jesus’ vision of the world and the people was through God’s eyes of relationship and love, not through the vision of the religious authorities of following and knowing the correct doctrine, rules, Torah or worrying about sins. When Jesus healed the man born blind, it has nothing to do with knowledge, checking off to-do boxes or following rules-it had everything to do with community, inclusion and relationship. The irony is that when the man was blind, he was an outcast, and when he was healed and professed what Jesus had done for him, he was still and outcast.

I don’t know about you, but I need my vision to be expanded and light shown into those areas of my life where I can get stuck in prioritizing rules, Bible knowledge, and doctrine understanding as the way to know God. I need to see more than what is right in front of me and the way it’s always been. In the past few years, I’ve had many conversations where many believe that the future vision of the whole Church, the ELCA and other mainline protestant denominations looks bleak. We, as this larger church, are losing youth, young adults and not seeing as many new worshippers.  These conversations always gravitate toward: maybe we need more programs, more rules, more classes, more expectations, more types of worship.  Or, I wonder, what if we, like the disciples are asking the wrong question of who sinned and need for Jesus to widen our vision?

My own experience with faith community through the seven congregations I have served in some capacity, has informed and widened my vision of how I am called to serve the church and participate in God’s transformative work in the world.  How many of us can point to important and deep relationships with peers, adults in addition to our parents in our childhood congregations as foundational in our faith formation? I know that I can. It wasn’t SS curriculum or confirmation lesson that I remember. It’s people of faith showing up and bringing Christ with them when I needed them and having the opportunity to do the same for other people. It was a pastor (the first female pastor I had even seen) putting me in the pulpit on a Sunday when I was 14. It’s when we offered a young woman from our church at the time, who had struggled with depression and suicide attempts, a position as the nanny to my children because I knew she needed to feel valued, to have a purpose and had a lot of love to give. She now also serves the Church. It was when my own family was held by our church community as we grieved the death of my son and this same nanny stepping up in ways that she nor anyone else could have imagined out of love for my children. You see, rules, bible knowledge or doctrine didn’t change my life, our nanny’s life or the man born blind. It was relationship with people who knew and loved Jesus and could see beyond what the world saw: broken, messy and real lives. This is the vision that Jesus is talking about in John 9, and this is the vision that compels me in my ministry in faith formation. Faith formation is not about content, it’s about relationship. I want our children and youth to have so many important relationships here at Bethany, that they know that they are loved and that we will catch each other when life becomes messy.

This vision is why I’m passionate about our SS age and confirmation age students and families being in relationship with one another and with all of you here and why we instituted the Milestones for every grade. Families learning and worshipping together rather than separated from each other on Sunday mornings is crucial. This is the only space in our culture where all five generations are together. We segregate by age everywhere else in our society. Yet, science is discovering that we are wired, by God I believe, to be in intergenerational community. And this community matters deeply. We need each other, we need the wonder and fresh eyes of the child and the wise, caring eyes of our elders. I have a vision of this community being a value and a priority for our young people.

This vision is why we lowered communion instruction age because Jesus doesn’t exclude anyone from the table. What happens in Holy Communion is a mystery of God’s grace that none of us truly understand and I often think that babies and toddlers who simply come to the table with their chubby little hands outstretched asking for the bread truly comprehend this posture of mystery. Martin Luther states that we all come before God as beggars.  Jesus comes to us in the bread and in the wine for relationship and draws us all to the table for relationship with one another. All are welcome, no rules, only community.

 

George Barna did some research in the early 2000’s that found values are set by age 9 and worldview by age 13. If children never or rarely attend worship by age 9, it’s very unlikely that worship will ever be seen by them as a value in their lives. If their worldview through middle school is that church is another to-do list, this is how they will view church in their lives. In my 20 years of experience, when we quit worrying about how much content we are trying to teach and shift to creating deep relationships through integrating children/youth into the life and mission of the congregation, in particular worship, such as with the milestones, worship leadership, and leadership in other areas of the church, more youth stayed engaged after confirmation. SS and Confirmation should about relationship building, not courses to check-off. Confirmation is all about relationship and integration into the life of the faith community. I have been known to say somewhat tongue and cheek that if a middle schooler attended worship 40 times in a year, I would confirm them. Don’t get me wrong, some education and content is a wonderful thing-otherwise I’m completely out of a job-but if we knew that our youth and young adults will be around after receiving the certificate? What if they were so integrated into this life of faith and community so that they would have their whole lives to learn the Bible and theology? What if the most important content our children and youth can learn is that they know that they are loved by God and us?

Vibrant Faith institute learned that it takes 5-7 Christian caring adults to raise a Christian child. That is beyond mom and dad and that means all of us. If you are a Christian adult, regardless if you have children in your home or not, you are a Christian parent. What if our vision here are Bethany was that every child and youth who walked through our doors on Sunday or Wednesday had 5-7 adults who knew their name and at least one thing about them to ask them about? Maybe a hobby, or how that math test went. How could that change the life of a teenager struggling with self-worth? Or a child whose parent is ill? What if this community and every congregation is a place where our young people can’t wait to get to each week because they are known, seen and loved? How might this change the world?

I want everyone 18 and under to come forward. If your child is under 6 please come up with them mom or dad. Hi all! Did you know that Jesus sees you? Did you know that Jesus sees you not as the future of the church but of the RIGHT NOW of the church? You are so important! Can all of you write your name on this name tag and put it on. (parents of young kids, please help). Ok I’m going to give you all five little pieces of paper. On the papers, there is a place for your name and one thing that you really love to do: My name is: I love to:
Write your name and just one thing (the same thing on each paper) that you love to do. We’ll all sing Jesus Loves Me while you do that. Now, I want you to leave these name tags on until after you go home.  Go and give those sheets to five adults in the congregation. Don’t be shy and adults reach out for one! After worship-go to the fellowship hall and adults, find the child who’s name you have and ask them about the thing that they love to do. You matter to them. You are their people and they are yours. Together we are the beloved community of Christ and in Christ.

Jesus knew the importance of community. Jesus sought out the man he healed after he had been expelled from the synagogue and made sure that this man knew that his restored vision had nothing to do with what he did or didn’t know. Knowing that Jesus is one sent to reveal God’s love to all people, especially those whom the world doesn’t want to see, is the only thing that matters. Jesus as the light of the world gives us a new way to see ourselves, to see others and to see how we are as the church together. Jesus restores our sight to see each other as valued, as brother and sister, as equals, as beloved. You see, it’s all about relationship. Relationship with Jesus who opens our eyes to a new vision of how the world, how the church, how the future will be in God’s love. Amen.

 

It’s Hard and It Matters February 5, 2017

Preached on Feb. 5, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

 

Isaiah 58:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

False and True Worship

58 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice? Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,  and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator[a] shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places,  and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Matthew 5:13-20New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The Law and the Prophets

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks[b] one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

 

Sometimes things are HARD. You know, just plain ugh. School, work, relationships, raising kids, caring for aging parents, eating kale, exercising, not eating the whole pan of delicious gluten free brownies, writing a sermon instead of watching Netflix, the list goes on and on. I don’t like it when things are hard and I’ve done some hard things in my life and my guess is that you have too. We don’t like it when things are hard, we want things to be simple, easy, enjoyable, you know focused on whatever makes us happy right here right now. Whenever possible we try and make things easy on ourselves usually with some justification of we deserve it, we couldn’t possibly do all those hard things anyway and so why try? No one will know or care if we make our lives a teeny bit easier by avoiding some hard stuff every now and again. It won’t affect anyone else.

Somethings are simply HARD. As I was preparing for the sermon today, one of the commentaries I read stated on verses 17-20: that this is the most difficult passage to be found anywhere in this Gospel. Well….Super. These verses are indeed challenging for many reasons and I considered not focusing on them for that reason, but they kept calling to me. Sometimes we have to wrestle with what is hard. It seems in verses 13-20 that the poet Jesus that Dr. Skinner introduced us to last week with the beatitudes is gone and has been replace by Jesus who has a couple of things to tell us. Jesus starts this long sermon on the mount that we will be exploring for the next couple of weeks, with words that would comfort those people for whom life was hard. Jesus eloquently pulls us in to their hard lives and then moves to make us partners with them in what is hard.

Today’s passage begins with the declaration and promise that we are salt and light, ok, that seems fine, and we hear the words that we use in our baptismal liturgy: “Let you light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Very nice indeed. And then Jesus drops the other shoe. He spells out that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and that one who breaks commandments will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven and one who does the law and teaches it will be called great and that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees or you’re not going to get in the kingdom. Anyone else feel like curling up in the fetal position and throwing in the towel at this point? What??!!! Jesus, you’re supposed to tell us again how we’re tasty salt and gentle and glorious light! Tell us how you’re with us even until the end of the age and how much you love us. Laws, righteousness and commandments? This is too hard Jesus, make it easier!

But Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook about the law. Why? Because it’s not about us at all. That might be the hardest point to hear about the gospel. All the pronouns in the beatitudes and in today’s passage are plural, not singular. It’s “you all” and not “you” individually. Jesus is reminding the disciples and us that the law is all about how we live together as the people of God-all of us. It’s all about relationship, which is Jesus’ parting words in verse 20 to us today. Be more righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees. The scribes and the Pharisees knew every little nuance of ritual and had impeccable theology. But they didn’t want anything to do with people not in their privileged clique.  Jesus isn’t concerned with right rituals and right theology: Jesus is harkening to the Hebrew understanding of righteousness. Righteousness is right relationship with God-how we live in the life of God and so by extension, with our neighbor. And this is HARD because this kind of life, being in right relationship, being oriented to God and not the world, is not about us and whatever makes us happy and gives us an easy life. Jesus doesn’t care if rituals are done correctly, the correct songs are sung, and the correct prayers are said. No, Jesus is wanting us to know that our relationship with God and one another is primary.

The Israelites in Isaiah 58 were also wrestling with this hard reality. They were returning from exile and beginning a new life in Jerusalem. Many were resuming the old rituals as prescribed in the Torah. They were fasting and were annoyed that God didn’t seem to notice them and how well they were performing the ritual. But God saw through the outward act and knew that the fast was all about them. God calls them out and reminds them of the real reason for ritual-to reorient them into right relationship with God. Why? Because their actions as God’s people mattered. Fasting only to follow the rules for the sake of the rules isn’t the point. You fast so that you can share the bread that you were going to eat with the hungry. You fast from isolationism and share your home with the homeless. You fast from materialism and share clothing with the naked. Your actions matter, but your actions are not about you or your salvation, they are about your neighbor in need. When your actions come from a place of serving God, no matter how hard it is, this is when your light shines the brightest and overcomes the darkness that is in the world.

Jesus calls us to do hard things: the life of following Jesus isn’t promised to be easy, without obstacles, without pain, without sacrifice. Jesus calls us to set ourselves, our own wants, our own perspectives, our own comforts aside for the sake of our neighbor. It’s hard, as when we follow the call of Christ out into the world we do so with the needs, dignity, and humanity of our neighbor first and foremost in our minds, hearts and spirits. This is the way of love.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t leave us alone in these hard things and simply says, “good luck!” No, the promise is that Jesus walks with us. The promise is found in our Bible Verse of the Month from Is. 58: 9a “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” Here I am with you, because your actions matter-not for your salvation-for we know the promise is that nothing will separate us from the love of God. God desires nothing more than relationship with us-all of us, even if it’s hard. Your actions matter so that this promise of God’s love and care is experienced by all people through the people of God. Jesus declares that we are beloved children of God and are already salt-we add God’s zest for abundant life to the world and we are already light-we reflect the light from Christ into the world. It means that we go to lifeless and dark places where we might not want to go but are sent, because it’s not about us but the need for our neighbor to taste, see, hear, and experience the love of Christ in a concrete way-from us. When we truly live in this promise of deep relationship with God and neighbor it will indeed exceed the scribes and the Pharisees who were more concerned about their own rituals and their own wants, than their neighbor. Our light shines because in baptism we die to our old selves and rise through the water, as Emerson will this morning, as a new creation clothed in the promises of Christ.

Jesus proclaims to us over and over again to remember that the heart of the law is love: love that flows from God and moves us in thought, word and deed to do hard things. As a disciple of Christ, I want to learn to love so deeply that these things that we are called to do don’t seem hard but are a joy. I want to learn to love so deeply that when I see people who are different, I only see Christ in my brothers and sisters no matter where they are from. I want to love so deeply that I quit worrying about how my actions may look to others or what other people may think about me. I want to learn to love so deeply that my actions are from a place of love from Christ and focus solely on my neighbor. I want to love like it matters.

Paul reminds us in Philippians 2 that we can do these hard things because God is at work in us, through us and with us. And in Phil. 4:13 he declares “I can do all things through him, Christ, who strengthens me.”

We know that it will sometimes be hard. It is a life long journey to learn to love in this way-to love how Jesus loves. Love that matters, love that feeds the hungry, love that clothes the naked, love that houses homeless, love that welcomes the stranger, love that changes lives, hearts and the world. Love that shines not so that people see us, but see God. I want to love this way, even if it’s hard. Amen!

 

 

Come to the Table: Holy Communion 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Sept. 7th, 2016 September 8, 2016

*You can go to http://www.bethany-live.org to view the worship service.

When I was interviewing for the position of pastor of faith formation here at Bethany, one of the topics of conversation came around to how to build community. My answer? It may be very simplistic but it was this: “Feed them!” I personally think that most of our Bethany Fund should be spent on food to gather people. After all, food is central in all of our lives, everyone regardless of any differences, we all have to eat! We need food to physically live, to be healthy and for children to grow up thriving. But I also think we also need food emotionally and spiritually. Eating a meal together reveals a lot about who we are, what we like or dislike, how or where we were raised, (so much of our food preference is geographical). It’s an intimate and vulnerable act, as who doesn’t at least once a meal accidentally spill a little, have something on their face or in their teeth. You can’t always be on your best behavior as you eat and as this is true for all of us, meals are also the great equalizer. The likelihood of a small faux pas is equal among us all. This is why I think so many first dates are meals, or why we invite people we want to get to know over for dinner. We’re willing to risk the vulnerability in order to find out more about people because we know over a good plate of spaghetti a good story will also be told.
Special meals also gather our families and loved ones together at points during the year. Perhaps it’s Thanksgiving at Aunt Jane’s where you know Uncle Joe will show up with questionable stories for the children and questionable behavior. Or it’s Christmas, when certain foods from your family’s heritage are concocted and served along with the stories of the recipes and the history of Great Grandma Mary’s cake. Or birthday dinners where you know an embarrassing story about when you were three is bound to be told. We might face attending these meals with some ambivalence, wondering why we go, yet go we do, to be a part of something, to be connected to the whole of your family and close friends, and to hear the stories once again.
The early church community gatherings revolved around a meal. A real, actual meal. I don’t know if it was potluck or if the host house prepared it or how that worked, but we read in the Bible over and over the importance of gathering for a meal. A meal prepared for three strangers who suddenly appeared from the desert, a meal where all shared what they had and no one had any need, a meal where food purity laws went out the window for the sake of sharing the good news of Jesus will supposed outsiders, a meal where eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread, a meal that proclaimed the promises of God, a meal that binds us as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Gathered around a table, we all sit eye to eye, elbow to elbow, nourishing our bodies together. Even when we sit with people we don’t know, or don’t like or think shouldn’t be allowed at the table. Paul was struggling with this issue with the Church in Corinth. The fledgling church was gathering for meals, but gathering under the auspices of society where some were in and some were out. They forgot the radical invitation to the table from the One who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, the unclean and the undesirable. They had prettied up their tables and were making sure that who was at the table was acceptable by the laws of society and not embarrassing in any way.
When Paul first connected with the people of Corinth, he gathered them not just around food but the story of what truly fills and satisfies, the story of Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus’ love, his love for the whole world to the point of death-not death for the sake of death-but death for the sake of not making choices out of fear, scarcity or despair. Death that could not and would not be the final word. God transformed death into life-abundant life and hope. This story brings everyone in need of this reality, this truth, to the table. All of us are in need of this story and all receive it equally-no one receives more or less, no one gets fancier dishes, no one gets it first or last-but we come as one people to the table where there is room for all and enough for all.
Paul tells the Corinthians the story of the meal that Jesus shared with all of his disciples. Those who loved him, those who would deny him, those who would doubt him and yes, those who would betray him. All were at the table. There was no pecking order, no exclusion for bad behavior or dysfunction, only open invitation into the story of unending love and grace for all no matter where you may be in your own story with God.
So, yes my answer to building community and the Kingdom of God is to feed people. Not because I think it’s a good idea, but because God does. God sent Jesus to walk around with us, turn our few pitiful loaves and fishes into banquets, to fill our nets with more fish than we can eat in a day, a week or a month. Jesus who over and over again sets the table, invites us all to join and fills us with what we need to share the table with our neighbors, coworkers and family. We share the stories of our hearts, of our experience with the difference that Jesus Christ makes in our lives. How Jesus’ love opens us up to see those whom no one else does: those who are hungry, those who are sick, those who are despised, those who no one will eat with. At the meal of Holy Communion, we are part of the story that calls to us to see and sit with on another how God does-with love, mercy, vulnerability and compassion. Every meal we eat is a continuation of the story being in the community of God’s people whether you are at home with your family, eating at work, or eating alone. The promise from Jesus is that every table is sacred space that proclaims the presence of God and God’s promise for abundant life now and forever. Jesus says, “Come. For all is ready.”