A Lutheran Says What?

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

Communion on Guam August 12, 2017

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I’m not preaching this week, but literally, this “sermon” came to me tonight as I reflected on the events of our world. It is based on the gospel for this week, Matthew 14: 22-33.

I took my First Communion on Christmas Eve 1982 at the age of ten on the island of Guam. I moved there when I as almost 9 and it became a pivotal moment in my faith life. My dad was stationed on Guam as the public affairs officer at the Air Force Base from 1981-83. Guam, a US territory since WWII, is a strategic asset for the US and NATO and has two military bases. Guam is an island 36 miles long and 8 miles wide and has been sought after by super powers for nearly a century. The native language is Chamorro, and when I lived there, the Catholic church had a presence that were Lutheran missionaries. Guam was a shock to my system in many ways. School was not as I was used to: classrooms had concrete walls, tin roofs, and louvers were windows would be. Houses were concrete and sparse. Some supplies were rationed. There were not stores for shopping (outside of the BX) and the only American restaurant was the lone McDonalds. Oh, and it’s a SAC base, in the Cold War. Which means that in the chess game were the relations between the US and Russia, turns out where I lived, was a pawn on the board. It was not necessarily a common topic of conversation, yet we all knew that we were a first strike location. At nine, I had the realization that someone wouldn’t hesitate to kill me and not think twice and I wouldn’t even have a chance to save myself. This is a hefty epiphany for an elementary age child. I can remember lying in my bed worrying about dying, being killed and the childish concern of what would happen to my beloved stuffed animals (these were my companions as a military brat) if I was no longer around to care for them? (I didn’t really put together that they would be annihilated as well.)

The fear of death wasn’t about non-existence as much as it was about being alone or abandoned. Or perhaps it was the fear of the unknown or what I couldn’t control. I articulated some of this in a hesitant way to my parents, who tried to comfort me the best they could (in full disclosure, I didn’t share with them all of my thoughts as I didn’t want to worry them…), but in the end I internalized most of this fear.

We were a family who went to church every Sunday and even on Guam, there was no exception. We went to the base chapel and the chaplain happened to live on my street. He was a wonderful man, a Baptist, whom I remember he and his wife fondly. They were older and sort of the surrogate grandparents of the block. Many of us wouldn’t see our grandparents for years as one does not just “go to Guam.” So, Mrs. McGraw would bake us cookies, pies, and take care of us when our worn out mothers needed a break. The McGraws were stationed stateside back to the mainland after our first year into our two year assignment.

Enter the Lutheran pastor. I honestly don’t remember his name, but he quickly discovered that there were four Lutheran families on the base and we started a very early Sunday morning worship service with the Lutheran liturgy. I was fifth grade by then, and it was time for First Communion instruction. So I met with the pastor (it was only me) once a week for three months for communion class. My anxiety over living on Guam increased. I had spent most of the first six months of our tour very sick with what the doctors shrugged and chalked up to the “Guam crud.” In other words, my body wasn’t adjusting to different water, food and environment very well causing unpleasant and chronic side effects that I will leave to your imagination. I had fear in spades. The peak of this stress can be epitomized in the following episode that I remember from my fifth grade class. Now remember, there are no windows, no air conditioning, the doors on each side of the classroom opened up to the outside and really to the jungle, so critters wandered in and out and there was a constant breeze. One day we were taking a test and the wind kept blowing my paper off of my desk. After the third time or so, I had had it. In a fit, I tore up my test, waded it up into a little ball and threw it away. I then went back to my desk and as loudly and angrily as I could, sat down in my chair with my arms crossed. My very wise teacher, said nothing. At the end of the day, she called me over to her desk. She simply said, I want you to write an essay about stress this weekend.

I went home and asked my parents what stress was. They were immediately concerned and I had to come clean about my behavior. My dad (an English lit major) told me to write what worries me, what I think stress is and how to cope. I had no idea. I was completely overwhelmed by fear of nuclear war, being sick, getting hurt in a place where serious injuries meant going to Japan, away from your family, and death. And I had no idea that this level of worry was not normal for a ten year old.

But I was in communion class. I asked the pastor about stress in my next Sunday afternoon class with him. He was thoughtful and said that stress is normal but what matters is how we handled it. He asked me if I prayed to God. I did actually. I don’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t talk to God. I told God all of the things that I was ashamed to tell anyone else. The pastor asked me if I had talked to God about my stress and fear. I hadn’t. My ten year old brain parsed those things separate from my faith. Fear of death seemed not anything like faith at all. But like Peter in this week’s gospel, fear was sinking me faster than I could handle. The pastor told me that part of the story of the Last Supper is Jesus reminding the disciples that through the bread and the wine, Jesus was with them always and everywhere, and they didn’t need to be afraid. “Jesus was with us everywhere?” I thought. Even Guam?

This isn’t a nice neat story of how this revelation eased my fears and I quit worrying or being stressed. Nope. I still worried (still do!), I was still afraid (still am!), and was still stressed (yep). BUT also like Peter, I learned that keeping my eyes on Jesus in the midst of this worry, fear and stress would remind me that I am not alone in my chaos. The bread, wine, water and prayer reorient my vision to Jesus, the one who comes to us everywhere (even Guam) across chaotic and volatile waves to give us his hand, to lift us up and to speak words of “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus speaks these words to Peter and to us, not because we can simply stop being afraid, but precisely because we can’t. We can’t stop being afraid in our world where death, worry and stress are prevalent. But you see, with Jesus, our fear doesn’t paralyze us, doesn’t keep us from walking to Jesus with confidence, doesn’t become the dominant voice in our lives, doesn’t rule our decisions, and sure as hell doesn’t win.

The journey that began on that island was one that I am still on. This week has reminded me of the necessity for the message of Jesus in our world. Guam is once again a target and I pray for the military 9 year old little girl lying in her bed under the palm trees (and all people on the island) who doesn’t know why someone wants to hurt her. I pray for the black little girl in Charlottesville who doesn’t understand why someone wants to hurt her. I pray for us all and that we quit hurting each other. I give thanks for those who proclaimed the truth of the gospel to me. The truth that Jesus will walk across the most seemingly impossible terrains to come to us with hands outstretched and words of comfort. The truth that nourished and gathered in bread and wine that fear doesn’t win and death will never have victory. Thanks be to God.

 

Enough Sermon on Matthew 14: 13-21 August 7, 2017

I had the privilege of leading worship at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Denver, CO today August 6, 2017. The picture attached is everyone’s placecard with their name on it on the altar. We all have a place at the table and a role in God’s Kingdom!

I need to confess something to you: I hate to cook! Love to eat, love to eat, love to eat. But the actual process of making a meal? Ugh. So it’s ironic that as someone who is constantly trying to figure out how not to cook, my vocation as a pastor working primarily with families, requires that I figure out feeding large groups of people on a regular basis. Youth dinners, confirmation evening of honor dinner, Advent Festival, Epiphany worship and Party, we’re hosting the ELCA mission developer conference in august and they asked me to figure out catering for 300 people for four days! Food is not my gift and every time I think about having to figure out food for large groups, I want to curl up in the fetal position. It completely stresses me out! And yet, it always comes together. I don’t think that anyone I was supposed to have fed, ever went away hungry-even when you throw in all the now common food allergies. And although I have a pretty strong track record of getting people fed, each time an event arises that requires food, I have the exact same feeling of worry if I can pull it off, if it will be ok, do I have what it takes to do this?

I can so relate to the disciples in our gospel text today! The people had followed Jesus out to the desert, a place with no food, no water, no food trucks or grocery stores. The people were so hungry for what Jesus had to offer, healing, comfort, compassion despite his own weariness, that they followed him with no thought of needing food or of how long they might be away from home. After all day of being with Jesus in the desert, it was beginning to get dark, and in addition to no food, the desert would be dangerous, animals, people of ill-repute, no shelter. This situation was less than ideal and probably overwhelmed the disciples. So they very practically said hey Jesus, enough with the teaching and healing for the day, send the people home to eat, and then we can go get something to eat too! But Jesus looked at them and said, “You feed them.” But Jesus, we don’t do that! We don’t have anything that is of any real use! There are too many people, and we’re overwhelmed, Jesus!

Feeling overwhelmed and powerless is more common than not I think, especially when we recognize some of the seemingly momentous challenges in our nation and in our world. I can become either so engaged that I obsess about what I can do or so paralyzed by the weight of it all that I check out altogether. There is so much: famine in South Sudan, North Korea, healthcare, civil and human rights, homelessness in Denver and elsewhere, human trafficking. And then there are my own day to day worries of the rising cost of college now that I have two children in college, retirement, work/life balance with allowing time to volunteer with agencies that address some of the bigger issues I listed a moment ago. There seems to be not enough time, energy, resources, knowledge, to tackle these challenges with the hope of making a dent into the solution. Jesus, all I have is a little, and I am confident that it is not enough!

But Jesus looks at us all and says, what do you have? Give it to me. Trust in me. You may see the world as either all or nothing, but God doesn’t. God sees creation and us as good, as enough, possessing enough and all that we need to make a difference, to be the difference in someone’s life and in creation. Do we believe that through Jesus, God has given us enough to make a difference or are we afraid that God will let us down?

So what do you have? What does God say you have? Not what the world says you have. God declares that we do have enough, because it’s not about us as individuals. It’s about all of us together. One disciple couldn’t feed the crowds, 5,000 plus women and children. All of them together in the power and care of Jesus fed the crowds. I don’t feed large groups on my own, never, it’s a team of people who do have that gift that offer their time and talents to provide the meals and this is how it happens every time, even though I worry about scarcity. Everyone is needed and we’re called to use all that we have for the sake of people’s daily, physical needs as well as spiritual needs. The kingdom of God is not about when we die, or satisfaction of our spiritual hunger, no Jesus says, “you feed your hungry neighbor, you care for your sick neighbor, you visit the lonely.” The kingdom of God is about caring for those who are suffering right here, right now and that takes all of us. Not only the pastors, the church wide staff, the synod staff, the church council-it takes everyone.

Jesus’ banquet in the desert where all, regardless of status, gender or importance were fed equally and fully, draws us to the table of Holy Communion, where we are all gathered, filled until satisfied and nourished with the true presence of Christ. Christ’s presence in the bread and in the wine enters into us, fills us with God’s love and abundance and reveals that we don’t need to be overwhelmed, we aren’t hopeless or helpless, we aren’t alone, we have enough, we are enough and we are loved wholly and unconditionally. Even the pieces of ourselves that we think are broken and useless, like the left over broken of pieces of bread and fish, Jesus will gather up, and use to reveal the promises and glory of God to all people. God’s power is revealed in the abundance and gathering  of broken pieces. Jesus says his broken body is power to connect us together in love. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy, God sees our true value and our gifts and calls us to live into them with freedom and joy and calls us to the table over and over again to be reminded of this abundance, that we are enough and we have a place at the table. Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

 

Children’s time:

How many of you help out at home? Do you have chores? Do you do every chore that has to be done in the house? NO! You share the work! One person can’t do everything! What about here at church? Do you help out sometimes, either by singing, or reading or giving smiles or hugs? Yes! In our bible story today over 5000 people, it said 5000 men plus women and children so maybe closer to 15000 people, were listening to Jesus and Jesus was healing them, teaching them and telling them about God’s love. Then it got to be dinner time and there was only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Is that enough food for 15,000 people? No probably not! But Jesus knew that God would provide and that if everyone worked together, there would be enough. So he told the disciples to get to work, he prayed to God, said thank you for what they DID have and handed it out. Do you know what? Everyone had enough food! No one was left out. Now it could be that when some food was shared, other people who also had food shared too, that still makes it a miracle of people sharing and loving each other. But it also reminds us that God says we are to know that we have everything we already need to help people, even if it doesn’t seem like it, even if we’re little and young. How can you help people?
A reminder of having enough and Jesus being with us is holy communion. God calls everyone to the table to remind us that we are one people in God. Have you ever seen a name plate on a table at a party so that people know where they are to sit? Well, we’re all going to fill out name plates and put them on the altar to show us that God says this is where all of us, all people sit, at the table with Jesus forever! Write your name and put it on the altar before you sit down. Let’s pray.

 

Weeds, Wheat and God’s Field July 24, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on July 23rd, 2017. You can watch at http://www.bethanylive.org. I personally think that the 10:00 a.m. went better! 🙂

 

Matthew 13:24-30New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears[a]listen!

You’ve perhaps heard the saying that “a weed is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it to.”  Such as a rose bush in the middle of your cucumbers, while beautiful, can seem obtrusive and obnoxious. We like things orderly, rose bushes where rose bushes go and cucumbers where cucumbers go. Then we get this parable this morning about weeds that intrude on wheat. I think on so many levels this parable strikes at the heart of our personal fears. How do I know if I am weeds or wheat?  What about the person sitting next to me in the pew, or at work, or on the train, or my next door neighbor or the person who thinks politically differently from me, are they weeds or wheat? We want to know who’s in the correct place!

We like to think that we can discern between who is doing God’s good work and who is not, or we think that we already know, thank you very much. And it’s always the person who thinks differently from us, or what we might call “wrong” and so we don’t want to be around them. Upon first glance, this parable seems to support this kind of dualistic thinking. Those who are wheat will be gloriously gathered to God in heaven and those who are weeds will be sent to be burned where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those weeds will get what they deserve-punishment. Done. We desperately want to hang our hats on such certainty so that all can be right with the world.  The weeds and the wheat have no business together! God, fix this! Don’t let these weedy people be around me!

It would be very comforting and escapist for us to read this parable with the mindset that this is about some are right and some are wrong. But we know that life and people are not that clear cut and relationships are hard and messy. But mutual relationships with those who are different from ourselves requires us to examine and know ourselves fully. We want or need to believe that God will punish those who deserve it, and if we follow all the rules perfectly, we will be gathered as wheat. Jesus told parables to make the listener of any century do some hard work. But parables are not designed to be taken at face value. The word parable means to “throw alongside.” Jesus throws this parable alongside our daily lives to stop us in our tracks and wrestle with God for a while.

Martin Luther struggled with the dualistic thinking of his time of whom God gathers and whom God throws to the fires. Part of Luther’s genius is his epiphany that we are both wheat and weeds simultaneously and that God will continually forgives us and offers us unending grace. In our Lutheran theology, we proclaim that we are at any given time a weed, or a sinner and wheat, a saint. Sometimes an action that in one setting is saintly, can turn around and be sinful in another setting. And we don’t always even know we’ve done that!  Paul speaks of this as doing the evil he doesn’t want to and not doing the good he wants to do. No matter how we try, we can’t quite hit the mark it seems. But Paul is confident that God will use his (and our) weediness and transform it into wheat.

We desperately want to be wheat and yet, deep down we fear that we are the noxious weed. We project that fear on others-proclaiming them to be weeds, the ones not doing God’s work, the ones not following Jesus, in order to secure our own place in the field as wheat. We fear that if there are too many wheat, that there won’t be room for us. And we do this even in our church community! If I’m using my gifts, then there can’t be room for your gifts, there is only so much room in the field, you know. Our egos like to judge who are weeds and who are wheat. My actions are REALLY serving God, so your actions can’t be. What if there are different kinds of wheat and all can bear good fruit?

We also get hung up on the fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth imagery as some sort of reference to hell but in truth, I think it refers to our inward thoughts on ourselves and others. We can stir ourselves up into a frenzy comparing ourselves to others, judging other people’s decisions and actions, shaking our head at our own decisions and actions that we aren’t proud of and, if any of you have ever been awake at 3 a.m. with all these thoughts going around your head, you know what weeping and gnashing of teeth is all about. It’s that long, dark night of the soul, it’s the constant grudge holding and scorecard keeping that we do with each other. But when you let go of judging, comparing and ego, peace and grace flourish. Not only peace and grace to others, but perhaps more importantly, to ourselves.  We can’t offer others true grace and non-judgment until we can first offer it to ourselves. When we stop holding ourselves up to unrealistic standards of perfection, whether those standards are societal (wealth, health, body image, etc.) or religious (keeping all the commandments, doing whatever religious practices you believe will make you a better Christian) when we let go of that, is when we can truly live in God’s promise that God created us in God’s image and we are enough, more than enough and loved just the way we are. And so is our neighbor, co-worker, and family members even the ones who drive us crazy.

You see, this parable isn’t about who’s in or who’s out. It’s about God and God’s field. God’s field, where all are allowed to grow, no matter what. Weeds and wheat are side by side. What if when we see weeds, God sees wheat? What if we need those who seem planted out of place as we grow in God’s field? In rich diversity, we can hold each other accountable, learn from one another, forgive one another and be authentic community.  Childern’s Sermon: Invite children: cards, change cards, “does it matter who has the label weeds or wheat? Does it matter that we are all together and God loves us? Can we learn from each other, share our mistakes and our learnings to love God and each other even more?”  Explain the sermon notes.

 

The word seminary, means “seed bed.” God’s field, God’s seed bed, is about learning and going deeper into relationship with God and one another. It’s not a fancy theological degree. It’s engaging the world with all the complexity, uncertainty and gray areas through God’s vision.  It’s God’s patience and hope that floods the field, the seed bed, and everyone and everything growing in it, with love, forgiveness and grace freely poured out no matter of our actions, our status or who we think we are, weeds or wheat. We don’t have to worry about judging ourselves or others. God will come to judge, which is different from punishment by the way. Judgement is God’s proclaiming reconciliation of creation and humanity back to Godself in love. Punishment is what we do to ourselves when we try and be God, dividing ourselves out of fear, not looking with love upon our neighbor, judging actions we don’t understand, putting our own needs and wants ahead of others, allowing our ego determine our thoughts and actions.

Jesus understood that this is the human condition. We think that we know more than we do and put more trust in ourselves and our ego than in God. Jesus says, go deeper, go where it’s complex, go beyond black and white thinking, go and confront your ego, your hubris, your arrogance. Go and be confronted by the breathtaking foolishness of God’s love and grace to let weeds and wheat grow together. Audaciously live in the faith and hope of what we cannot yet see, where everyone will be gathered in God’s life-giving kingdom as adopted children of God, unconditionally loved and cared for, where none are left out, all live side by side, and God clothes all in righteousness. Go and recklessly share this reality in whatever part of the field you may live in-give your time and your resources to people not because you think they deserve it, but because God loves them (and you!) and loves the diversity  of all of us growing together in God’s field. Thanks be to God.

 

Holy Relationship Sunday June 12, 2017

Last week, I had the privilege to go up to Sky Ranch and offer staff training on child/adolescent development and faith formation stages. I’ve done this a couple of years now and even though I’m not always thrilled for the three hour drive up and back, I’m always glad when I’m there. If you have any concern or doubt about the future of the Church or our world, spend time with these gifted, bright, generous young adults who give their summers to spend with children and youth in our camp ministry for not a lot of money, and you’ll feel very optimistic! I come away each time knowing that I’ve received more from them than this old lady could possibly give them! They are very gracious with this nerdy pastor, who also has an education degree and geeks out on brain development, and gives them more information than they want or need. Now, don’t worry, I do also give them practical ideas for engaging children and youth with their summer curriculum, as well as tips and tools for discipline and caring conversations.

I always stay for a meal with the staff, talk to them, getting to know them a bit. They love having an adult who doesn’t HAVE to hang out with them, but chooses to hang out with them. They think I’m cool, and I always let my own children know that other young adults find me cool. Even after teaching for two or more hours straight, I always leave camp feeling refreshed, energized and renewed for my own ministry. Relationships that are life-giving and supportive have this effect on us. As much as I might teach them some nitty gritty concepts of brain development and James Fowler’s six stages of faith development, mostly what I spend time teaching is on how faith is all about relationships.

Faith development or even lack thereof, is grounded in the quality and depth of relationships from the people whom we are in contact with from the time we are born and our relationship with God. Erik Erickson, a psychologist, names the first stage of emotional development in infants as trust vs. mistrust: knowing whether you will be cared for or not. James Fowler’s faith stage parallel in infanthood is Undifferentiated Faith, which means your being is completely without boundaries from others and you are solely grounded in God. From our very beginning, God wired us to need caring community with God and with one another, and my time at camp exemplifies this reality.

As we heard in the Genesis creation story this morning, we are created in God’s image, every single one of us-just as we are, in beautiful and rich diversity. Created male, female, short, tall, black, white, with a variety of gifts, a variety of opinions and a variety of viewpoints. But all equally in God’s image and all equally loved, called and gathered. We’re created individually in God’s image, but we are also created communally in God’s image as well. God’s very being is relationship-this is what we celebrate today, on Holy Trinity Sunday. It’s not a day to get bogged down in dogma or doctrine or to try and explain the unexplainable, no, it’s a celebration day of who God is and who we are as the people of God. It’s really Holy Relationship Sunday, or Holy Creation Sunday. Creating is always messy, think of artist’s studios and creating community, with actual people is even messier!

God’s very existence is community: three persons or expressions that we often refer to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we also hear God described in the Bible as creator, nursing mother, caretaker, rock, anchor, redeemer, the word, lamb, light of the world, mother hen, sustainer, animator, Lady Wisdom, sender, gatherer. God only knows relationships and so this is why God’s biggest desire is to be with us and for us to be in loving community with one another.

But community is messy, it’s chaotic and it’s unpredictable. We have this idyllic picture in our mind of harmonious community, even within our own families and it pops like a balloon within about 2.4 seconds of being in a room full of people, doesn’t it? For one thing, we each have OUR own idea of what the perfect community looks like, and often it’s one that revolves around us, our own needs, our own wants, our own preferences. So, we get frustrated, we form unkind opinions of one another and decide that perhaps a deserted island is the way to go, and so we end up creating this in our lives in many ways. We sit at home and watch tv with no interaction, we segregate ourselves in activities by age, by choices, by economic status, by neighborhoods. We stay out of certain parts of town, or don’t talk to certain types of people. We explain this in a rational way to ourselves that it’s about safety, or common sense, or who is worthy of our time, but if we’re honest, it comes down to trying to keep control and maintain a façade of autonomy, not needing anyone else and having all that we need without any assistance.

But God has no concept of autonomy, singularity, or isolation. God from the beginning of creation goes all in on relationships and interdependence. The more the merrier! Sea creatures, plants, trees, birds, creepy crawly things (which I could do without but not GOD!), large animals, small animals, microscopic life, and humans! Animals that eat plants, plants that supply oxygen, water to nourish plants and animals alike, people to care for the land, which in turn cares for them-all interconnected. And God took delight in this and saw that it was very good!

Not perfect, but very good. Community in the life of God is not about perfection but about goodness, which means it’s all about forgiveness, openness, and joy in being together. God delights in creating, delights in taking on human form to dwell with us and delights in being the breath that fills us and connects us for mission in the world. This breath that sends us to indeed Be The Blessing to our neighbor, all of our neighbors, yes, those neighbors who voted for Clinton, those neighbors who voted for Trump, those neighbors who are Lutheran, those neighbors who are Catholic, those neighbors who are Muslim, those neighbors who drive a fancy car, those neighbors who haven’t worked in five years, those neighbors who can eat nothing but cake and not gain weight and those neighbors who despite best efforts are always sick.

We need to remember that conflict is nothing new! Paul had to write time and again, we think at least five times, plus a couple of more visits, to the people of Corinth because they kept fighting, they kept dividing themselves, they kept arguing which way of doing church was better, who knew more, which preacher they should the follow. Paul had some stern words for these people who I’m sure were on Paul’s very last nerve with their bickering and wayward activities. Paul wrote to them and said to the Corinthians: it’s not about what you want or what a different preacher wants or what even what I want-it’s what God wants for you-love and grace and inclusion of all through Jesus Christ-even at costs to your personal comfort.

And yet, despite the exasperation he must have felt, at the very end of 2 Corinthians that we read this morning, Paul leaves them with a blessing, words of hope. Greet each other with a holy kiss, live in peace, and the words that we hear at the beginning of worship each week: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Conflict is real but so is the reality of loving relationship that first flows from our communal God that binds us together in community. We begin with these words each week to remind us of the reality of this messy community that is grounded in the promises of God.

It’s why here in a moment we’ll baptize Violet with the words Jesus spoke in  Matthew 28: 20 and why we as Lutherans, don’t do private baptisms, we baptize into community– first and foremost the community of Godself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also the community of saints, this specific community who promises to love Violet no matter what and promises to be there for her, even when it’s messy, even when she might be an angsty teenager, and especially when she needs us the most. The promise of this kind of radical, counter cultural community is that Jesus promises to be with us always-to the end of the age and so we get to live as “Jesus People” together to witness to the world a new possibility-one where there is more that unites us than divides us and we yield to reality that we are bound up together in the life of God and we celebrate it, not just today, but every day.

We celebrate our connectedness when we listen before we speak, when we suspend judgment, when we open ourselves up to new ideas or admit that there could be more than we currently know. We celebrate our connectedness when we pour water from the font, when all people are gathered at the table for bread and wine, when we ponder the needs of our neighbors more than our own. It’s not easy, but easy isn’t the promise, the presence of Jesus with us always is.  It’s not easy but it’s worth it; it’s worth it because God says to us first that we’re worth it, that creation is worth it. Interconnected creation in unbreakable, unshakable and unconditional relationship grounded in bonds of the Father Creator, Son Redeemer and the Holy Spirit sustainer. May we live every day in this Holy Relationship and Holy Creation. Amen.

 

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!