A Lutheran Says What?

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

Desperately Seeking Connection Sermon on Luke 15 Pentecost 15 Year C September 15, 2019

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on September 15, 2019.
The texts were Psalm 51: 1-10, 1 Timothy 1: 12-17, Luke 15: 1-10

Children’s sermon: gather the children and have them stand in a line. Invite them to link arms and then have them pass a balloon using their hands. When they pass it all the way down rejoice! Then remove one child in the middle or so. Have them pass the balloon again. What happens when there is a gap? You can’t pass it! Being connected and together matters! Our bible texts are like that today. Some people are complaining that Jesus is hanging out with people he shouldn’t have been, people who weren’t considered nice and ok. The people complaining wanted to stay separate from those people whom Jesus was hanging out with but also kinda wanted to be near Jesus. Jesus says nope! If you want to be near me, then you have to be near everyone-even people you may not like or think you shouldn’t be around. Why? Because belonging and togetherness is what God values most! God wants everyone gathered into God’s love and grace-that’s why God sent Jesus-to show us what God is like and how we are to act since we are all made in God’s image. That’s really hard and a bit mind blowing even for adults. I’m made in God’s image, you are and so are the people you don’t like! BUT the good news is that Jesus invites us each day to look for what is precious to God-other people. This week is God’s Work, Our Hands weekend and part of that is realizing that everyone-even people we’ve never met, need to be included in God’s love and need to belong in God’s community. We’ll keep working at it and try not to complain when there are people who are different from us or we don’t like-as complaining keeps us separated. But when we can rejoice with everyone and FOR everyone- we are connected! Let’s practice rejoicing: This person has a blue shirt: yay! This person has glasses: yay! This person is the smallest: yay! This person is the biggest: yay! We are a people of joy and rejoicing in God’s love! YAY!

Let’s pray:

We all have stories of getting lost in stores or losing our own children in stores…our joke with Andrew isn’t don’t get lost but here’s what to do when you do get lost. We’ve lost him nearly everywhere we’ve gone. At all ages. At the age of two in the Phoenix airport (before 9/11) he almost got on a plane going to London! We were in line to get something at the gate agent desk-Mike went to the restroom leaving me with Kayla-4 and Andrew 2-who was supposed to be sitting nicely in his car seat. I look down, he was there, I look up for a minute and then look down again, and he was gone. Seriously. I start to scan the area only to see my red headed boy running for the open door to the plane to London. I quickly scooped him up and was relieved that I had found him. Currently, he’s somewhere in Zanzibar and we’re not really sure exactly where…but he’ll turn up! Or there’s the story from Mike’s childhood of a family road trip where they stopped at a rest area. They piled back in the car and were a little bit down the road when the realized they had left Mike’s younger brother Dave at the rest area. Now why Mike didn’t speak up earlier is a question…but their parents noticed Dave was missing and they immediately turned around. Fortunately, Dave didn’t even know he’d been lost! Despite what Mike might of thought of leaving his little brother behind, I’m sure that their parents rejoiced that they were all together again. When we notice that we are separated from people we love, we stop and focus only on searching for them. But what about the separation we create or uphold from people whom we don’t even know or want to know?

This being connected, disconnected and reconnected is part of the human experience it seems from the beginning. From Genesis on, we see this pattern of connection, disconnection and reconnection, over and over. From the first people in the garden, to Joseph and his family, to the Israelites in Egypt and then in the desert, and then to the promised land, and then in exile, and then the return to Israel. And there are some common behaviors that accompany this pattern. People needing to know where they rank, people ensuring that others aren’t elevated over them, people making sure that they get their fair share so that no one impedes on their wants and desires. Or as the pharisees and scribes in the Luke story this morning, there is much grumbling and complaining about other people. Now I don’t want to pick on the pharisees and scribes, as they are us-right? How many of you have ever complained or grumbled? OOO me! Me! It seems that this is not a new phenomenon or one that we have solved in the past 2000 years. I don’t know if you know this, but sometimes people even complain and grumble about stuff at church. Weird, I know.

Why do we do this? Church, in particular, is supposed to be all about connections. Complaining and grumbling is about being disconnected. The pharisees and scribes were grumbling behind Jesus’ back (which is hilarious when you think about it!) because he was connecting with people who had been disconnected by the rest of society, for seemingly good reasons. I mean, tax collectors and sinners? People who are unclean and don’t follow all the traditions, or maybe don’t even know all of the traditions, are excluded, lest something change or not be the way it had always been. And the word that the pharisees and scribes use that we translate as “welcomes” really means “seeks.” Jesus seeks out those whom everyone else grumbles and complains about, those whom should be held at arms-length, are a lost cause and are not part of the group.

Jesus does overhear this grumbling and tells them three parables about connections-two of which we hear today. A shepherd who leaves his other 99 sheep to go after the one-the black sheep if you will-to ensure that it is brought to safety with the others. Or the woman who loses a coin and spends hours looking high and low until she finds it. You see, God is like this, Jesus is saying. In God’s vision, there is nothing that can separate us from God or each other. God will go to great lengths to connect with us. And what’s more, when we connect, or reconnect with God, there is rejoicing! Rejoicing is all about belonging and connections! Jesus’ response to complaining is to draw the complainers into God’s joy! Jesus is redefining the laws that separate and repentance means recognizing our distance from God and trusting in God’s connections with us. Sin is anything that separates us from God and each other-sin tears at the fabric of community. Sin is complaining that not everyone thinks like us or acts like us and we want them to change. Sin is not challenging the idea that some people are a lost cause and not worth our time. Jesus came to declare that this sin, sin of separation from God and each other, is not God’s will. God values wholeness, and redemption, and God’s work in the world, is to return us to wholeness, to oneness with each other, creation and God. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, has a deeper meaning of being one with God and everything/everyone God created. When we pass the peace in worship, we are living into the idea that we all belong here-we are one with God, with one another and one with all people beyond this space.

Just as this connection and rejoicing is part of God’s nature, as creatures created in the image of God, being one with God, we are to be joyful connectors to all people. Our work in God’s kingdom is to be those who seek people who are disconnected from the rest of society, the outcast, the picked on, the object of internet jokes, the so-called weird, and find them and bring them into the wholeness and unity of God’s people. Our work is to seek relationship with all people even with those who ascribe to different political, religious, or social beliefs. In today’s world, I think that is the harder task. It’s easy to grumble about those whom we think are wrong or a lost cause, we can ignore them, we can just unfriend them on FB, change the channel, not make eye contact in the neighborhood, refuse invitations. But this is the radical, countercultural work we are called to. This work for wholeness is risky, people will grumble about us, call us lost causes and demand that we follow the rules for society as set up by those in power and authority. But there are people everywhere desperate for us to search for them and rejoice over them. They have been disconnected for so long they have given up hope of joy and belonging. And so as people connected to the good news of Jesus, focusing on the joy of wholeness, we can set aside our own grumbling, live in gratitude that God’s love, grace, and mercy through Jesus Christ is where all belong, whether we think they are worthy or not. None of us has earned it, but every one of us receives it, connected by Jesus into this new reality, and we are all joyfully found and loved by God. Thanks be to God.

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Do you have the guts to be a disciple? Sermon on Luke 14: 25-33 September 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on September 8, 2019.

Texts: Psalm 1, Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Luke 14: 25-33

Children’s sermon: It’s Rally Sunday! Today is a day that we celebrate the beginning of SS for the year and being together. Being together is fun and important. Do we have to be together here at Our Saviour’s? Can we choose something else? Yep we can! What two things do I have here: yep, a marshmallow and an apple. How are they similar? Both food, both kinda sweet. What happens if we eat a lot of marshmallows? We don’t feel good, we get sick! They are not nutrition and are not really good for us. If we eat them every day, it’s not good for our bodies long term is it? How about the apple? We can eat an apple everyday (along with other good foods) and it’s ok for our bodies. Apples have nutrients that we need to be healthy. So in order to have a healthy body, which one should we choose most often? Yes, the apple. That give our bodies a good foundation to run around, play, have fun and help others! We know that our bodies work better when we make good choices, even though it’s hard. In our bible lessons today, Jesus has some hard things for us to hear. Jesus knows that we have lots of choices in our lives: things that are good for us and things that aren’t. But Jesus says that God offers us only good things for a good life. Now, a good life doesn’t mean an easy one, things might be hard sometimes. What’s hard for you? Yep, those things are hard. And Jesus says that hard things are even harder when we don’t have God as the most important thing in our lives. Coming to church isn’t the only way to put God first. Jesus says that putting God first means that we don’t worry more about our stuff, our houses, even our friends and family than following Jesus. That seems really weird, because God wants us to love and care for people too, but sometimes we get confused-like we might think that eating marshmallows is ok instead of apples because they taste better to us.  Just as putting healthy foods first into our bodies makes us feel good, so does putting God first in our lives. God has put us first in God’s life and has promised to be with us in our lives no matter what and we can trust that, even when we don’t make good choices, God is with us and loves us. At OSLC we are going to focus on that this year and that is worth celebrating today! Let’s pray:

Have you seen the show on HGTV “Fixer Upper” or at least know the premise of it? A couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines, help people in Waco, TX take the worst house in the best neighborhoods and fix them up. The families tell the Gaines’ their budget, their hopes and dreams for the house, how that will improve their lives and how long they want the renovation to take. The Gaines show them several properties, list out the work that needs to be done to get the house remodeled to what the family wants, details the budget and the timeframe. The renovation always starts with demolition day. This is when everything is deconstructed so that the house can be transformed. Walls come down, flooring comes up, cabinets are removed from the walls. Now of course, it’s not good tv unless something goes wrong, and if you’ve ever done any home improvement yourself, you know that something always does go wrong. As demolition happens things are revealed: a wall that was to be removed turns out to be load bearing, pipes are too old, the electricity was done incorrectly 50 years ago, subflooring that has water damage, the list goes on. The families are stressed and worried that their budget isn’t enough or they can’t get done what they really want done. But in the end, Chip and Joanna always come through and the house comes together and is reconstructed in ways that the family never imagined. They are always moved to cries of joy and excitement for their lives ahead in their home, the deconstruction and hard work was all worth it. I love the ending line of their opening credits: DO you have the guts to take on a fixer upper? After all, it’s not easy and not for everyone.

We could say the same of Jesus from today’s gospel lesson. Here we get an all too real, honest and perhaps cranky Jesus. After all, he’s been traveling now towards Jerusalem for a while, going to dinner parties, teaching in synagogues, healing, telling parables, and maybe he needs a nap or maybe Jesus just doesn’t like crowds. The opening lines of our text are sharp and piercing as he says to the large crowd, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” The disciples had to be thinking two things 1) do I hate everyone and myself? And 2) this is not going to look good on a billboard or t-shirt. Jesus, there is a huge crowd following: say something inspirational and tweetable! Something pithy that we can make a meme out of! But instead Jesus appears to be saying, “Do you have the guts to be my disciple?” How is this helpful?

This is one of those texts that makes us uncomfortable and that is exactly the point. Jesus is deconstructing everything we know about life. Can we walk away from our only means of survival-which in Jesus’ time was your family? Can you get rid of everything you own-again even if it’s a means of survival? What happens when all that’s left are the gapping holes where you can see the pipes, the wires and we’re left completely vulnerable? Do we have what it takes to do this?  Jesus knows that choosing what really matters each day means confronting our own impulses for what’s easy, cheap and fast. We need to do a little demolition work to reveal what’s important, or load bearing if you will. To say that we put survival, our comforts as primary in our lives sounds perfectly acceptable and maybe even holy until we realize that those things aren’t a strong foundation. Those are human foundations that will fall.

What we focus on matters and Jesus is clear that true disciples have one focus, one foundation: God. Our Deuteronomy text highlights the Israelites struggle with this as they wandered around for 40 years waiting to go into the promised land. They made idols, they got cranky about food, they tried assimilating to other cultures. Moses laid it out plainly for them: what will you focus on-life or death? And then he admonished them to choose life. Why? Not because choosing life with God is easy, it’s not. But choosing life means that you acknowledge that it is God who is our foundation and rebuilds us when everything falls apart. Choosing life is about being connected to something that is more than about mere survival but is about what Jesus tells us in John 10: that God comes to us to give us life and to give it abundantly. Death is separation from God and God’s promises of a transformative life.

As Jesus tells us in the parables, God has already done the budget, God already knows how much the cost of redemption, resurrection, restoration, and relationship is and comes to us with the word of peace amid the battles in our lives. We tend to think it’s up to us to count the costs but we need to focus on God as the builder and the king. The creator who decided at the beginning of time that relationship with creation and humanity was worth any price, even the price of God’s own son. That’s not a guilt trip by any means! It’s a reassurance that God will never leave us. When we truly follow Jesus, we do the hard work of demolition, distancing ourselves from the idols of possessions, status quo, and mere survival. We live with God as our foundation. God will be with us, over and over coming to us with a word of peace, hope and the promises of new life, no matter where we are.
We begin a new program year today at Our Saviour’s and it’s a year where we will proclaim this foundation in God.  We will live our mission statement: “A Spirit filled community that reaches out and cares for all.” We boldly step out in faith and keep our focus on following Jesus. We don’t get caught in clinging to the worry of survival but each day pick up the cross of Christ-the cross that transforms our old lives into new ones. The promises of new life that God is building right here, right now. It might be hard some days, and we might think that we don’t have the guts to be a disciple, but Jesus calls us through the waters of baptism and says that we have everything we need for this mission. We won’t be perfect disciples, but each day we are renewed to try again, together, as community, to choose life on this day and every day. The old life will be demolished and the new life of God’s wholeness, love, mercy and grace wil transforms us and the world. Thanks be to God.

 

God’s Power of Love Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14 September 1, 2019

This sermon was preached on Sept. 1, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.
The texts were Psalm 112, Hebrews 1-8, 15-16 Luke 14: 1,7-14

Children’s sermon: What are your favorite super heros? Or movie/tv characters? Why do they do that no one else can? Do you wish you could do that? Yes, we can often want to be someone else, or want to be around certain people because they make us feel good about ourselves or safe and secure. Did you know that you, each one of you, have a superpower? Yep! We all do! Jesus talks about this superpower in our bible story today. Now it doesn’t seem like Jesus is talking about superpowers-but he is! Jesus gets invited to a dinner by some people who want to know more about him-they want to see if Jesus is really who he says he is-they have heard he has powers. Jesus Heals people, touches people who are sick and doesn’t worry about getting sick himself, he talks to people whom no one else will, hangs out with people who no one else likes, loves all people no matter who they are. Jesus did have power-the power of God’s love! Jesus knew that he was being watched at this dinner and do you know what he did? Showed God’s love! At this dinner party Jesus watched the other people too. In Jesus day where you sat for dinner mattered. The really important people all sat at the head of the table together and less important people sat further away. He watched as some pretended to be more important than they were, more popular than they were and made other people feel less important by not having a place at the table for them. But Jesus told them a story to help them and us realize that we have a superpower that makes sure everyone is important: God’s Love! Jesus said that when we invite people who no one else wants to be around-make all people feel included, make room for them, we show God’s love. When people know that they are loved, then they can use their superpower of love too! This is a power that we all have through God no matter what we can do or not do, even if we are little and young. Here’s a way for you to use your superpower right here, right now. Here are cards and markers, draw, write notes of love or friendship (which is a form of love) to your family, friends, someone here today that you think needs to be told that they are loved and have this same superpower of love. Let’s pray:

They come into the fellowship hall a few at a time. Many walking independently, some in wheelchairs, some guided by care givers. They are people whom most assume are powerless over much of their lives and so are treated as powerless and unimportant most of the time. But on this afternoon, they feel valued and important. Everyone eats together around tables sharing food and tidbits from their week. After eating, they offer their gifts, creating cards of care for Habitat for Humanity families or those in assisted living facilities, gifts to share with friends, blessings bags to hand to those who are hungry, creating prayer reminders, and materials to help share information about this unique gathering with others. Then the community gathers in the sacred space of the chapel, a worship space where many have never been invited into or are have never been truly welcomed into just as they are. And if they are in those spaces, there are not accommodations for their visual or hearing differences, their verbal outbursts, unpredictable movements, noise and visual sensitivities, and other physical realities. But in this space, on this afternoon, everyone is invited, accepted and accommodated. Noise canceling headphones are available, there is a corner with dimmed lights and a tent for visual sensory deprivation, prayers, songs, scripture readings are communally and imperfectly led, the gospel is proclaimed through conversation, games, activities. Offerings are collected: words and pictures are put on laminated cards with dry erase markers that proclaim what of themselves will be offered to God this day and then the cards are read out loud as the prayers of the people. Bread and grape juice are distributed by those whom are usually excluded from the table, by people whom most assume don’t have the capacity to understand the gifts of God’s grace or distributed by children whom the adults assume are too young to understand. The words aren’t exact, “Jesus bread is for you,” or “juice of Christ to drink” but the intent and the love are clear and the power of those words and actions moves many to tears. All have a place at the table.

Songs are led by anyone who desires to lead and an occasional solo is spontaneously offered. Throughout the worship there is random talking, walking around, times when everything stops to answer a question, times when what was planned to happen doesn’t, something else does and it’s better. In this sacred space and time, all who are gathered matter, have a voice, and are part of the power of authentic community. The guests are given power to unabashedly share their gifts of love, joy and presence, the care givers who bring the guests feel the power in their holy work for caring for those whom society ignores and pushes to the side, the caring support people, people like me, are shown what true power, true love and true worth look like in God’s kingdom. We are changed by the presence of those who are usually not in our daily lives or in our supposedly sacred spaces of worship. We see clearly that God’s kingdom comes when those who seemingly have all the power, share it, give it away to those whom society hides, ignores, and deems unworthy and unimportant. When all are invited, included and given their own power as God’s beloved people, the power of love through Jesus is unleashed to reveal true community in God’s love. This community we call Rejoicing Spirits is all about the power of love, God’s love that flows through us all, and the strength of this love that has power to change the world. Rejoicing Spirits does the hard work of love in action, revealing the truth that all are important and have a place in God’s kingdom.

Jesus knows this power, Jesus sees that when not everyone is included, when some claim more power for themselves, pushing others to the outside, that our collective power is diminished and some people are harmed. When we assume that we are more important than other people, when we place value on human lives-whether that is through economic status, gender, age, ability, citizenship, or when we think that being close to people who have worldly status and power gives us status and power and that being with people whom society deems without value reflects on our own worth, we misuse our power of love. It becomes love of self and not love of neighbor. The shadow side of power is revealed.

God is the source and originator of this power of love and pours it out into us all and the world through Jesus. God is not afraid to share God’s power with us through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry is one of showing how God’s power works in the world. God’s power is always used for wholeness, joy, dignity and worth for all creation. Jesus shows that God’s power that grows stronger when it is shared and is mutual. It’s power to live as our authentic selves not worrying about what someone might do to us-as God’s power removes fear. This power opens us up to awareness-awareness of who is sitting in a lower place at the tables in our community, and power to unabashedly point to the value and worth of all people.  On Friday, some of the Salt Lake City community, clergy, lay people and a couple of state legislators, gathered in loving power to support Cecelia, a woman who advocates for women of color in her community to receive healthcare and educational opportunities, a woman who lifts others up and is vital to her family and her neighborhood. The group pointed to the love she shows and that she should not be deported to Mexico where she faces certain violence, trauma and possible death. She has worth and importance right here despite paperwork. Worth is not a piece of paper or a label, worth is being loved by God. Jesus proclaims that labels are not statuses of worth, and the power of God’s love flows to those who feel powerless in our society: not only Cecelia but all immigrants, refugees, the sick, the differently abled, the under employed, the unhoused. Our scriptures over and over recall that God welcomes all and we are to imitate that welcome. Love is the power to do the hard work to change the circumstances that denies anyone their worth. And we can’t just talk about this hard work of love, we have to do it.

We have this power. With the power of God’s love, we include and invite those who are missing from our sacred worship spaces. With the power of God’s love, we offer radical hospitality and welcome to people whom others ignore. With the power of God’s love, we value all people ahead of our own wants, needs and fears. With the power of Gods’ love from Jesus, we act to love to all around us, even when we are uncomfortable, even if we are mocked, dismissed, uninvited and marginalized ourselves. We trust in this power of love from Jesus that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Jesus who invites us to claim this power of love that changes us, transforms our actions, our hearts and turns the whole world upside down. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Seeing Changes Everything Sermon on Luke 13: 10-17 August 25, 2019

This sermon was preached on August 25, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

The texts were: Psalm 103: 1-8, Hebrews 12: 18-29 and Luke 13: 10-17

Children’s sermon: When I was in sixth grade, we had an assignment of writing the vocabulary words off the blackboard onto our paper and then looking them up. So, I did. The teacher then had us take turns reading the words and the definitions from our papers. When it was my turn, I dutifully read the word “crestfallen” and the definition. The teacher stopped me, looked confused for a minute and said, where did you get that word? It’s on the board I said. The teacher said, “is that what it looks like to you?” Turned out, the word I had written, was NOT the word on the board. I couldn’t really see the word on the board, so I had filled in with what I thought was correct. It was most decidedly not…I needed glasses! So, my parents got me glasses and then I could see! My glasses changed how I saw my world around me! I could see the correct words on the board! I discovered that there were trees far off in the distance that I didn’t know existed! So exciting! I was missing so much!  And once I could see life around me, I saw my entire world differently! I saw details people, more trees, dogs, etc. In our story today, Jesus is in the synagogue and sees a woman whom no one else sees, or if they see her, they pretend that she is not there. You see, her back has been bent for 18 years from age, or maybe a disease, we really don’t know, but in Jesus’ time, and even today sometimes, when someone looks different or acts different, people can be afraid of them. Kinda like they are afraid that they might catch having a bent back from her. Sounds a little silly, but we all do sometimes worry about things like that don’t we? If you were bent over what could you see? Yes, not everything around you!  But Jesus saw her, called her over to be in the middle of all the people! That would have made the people nervous! And he said to her, “you are set free from your ailment.” He touched her, which we call laying hands on her, and she stood up! She could see what was in front of her! She had only been able to look down for all those years! Can you imagine! And then with her new way of seeing the world around her, she praised God! The way she saw her life and her life with God and people was changed forever as was how people saw her! Jesus came to change the way we see the world, our lives, each other and God. Jesus shows us that we need to see the world how God sees the world and all people: as loved, important and so very special!  When we see the world how God sees the world, it changes us and other people. Let’s pray:

 

The woman had only been able to see her feet and perhaps just a bit in front of her feet for 18 years. In that time her children had grown, had children of their own, there were celebrations, sorrows, all kinds of firsts and lasts-many of which she missed from her stooped over vantage point that separated her from the life around her. She could twist her head and with great strain and pain see a little side to side, but it could never last very long and most often she saw only a glimpse of life around her that she had to decipher the snippets of view and what people told her. That is, when they talked to her or if they even saw her at all. Afraid of catching whatever evil had stooped her over and bound her to this life, the people in her community avoided this woman and she was essentially, invisible. Yet, she faithfully attended synagogue each week. Eagerly hearing the texts of the ancient scrolls, the stories of freedom, justice and grace. From the edges of the synagogue she would listen, sing the psalms, smell the candles, and dream about what God’s coming messiah might mean for her and change her life.

This Shabbat morning was no different, she carefully shuffled in, only seeing the dirt floor of the synagogue, and her own feet and she took her place on the edge where she wasn’t noticed and wouldn’t be in the way. Nothing new. But at this shabbat there was a teacher, a visiting rabbi, who seemed to have quite a following and seemed to cause quite a stir. His teaching was familiar and somehow very different. He read the same scrolls, but his interpretations were unique. She was pondering all of this while staring at her feet when she suddenly realized that he was addressing her. He saw her in the corner and called her to him in the middle of the synagogue. This can’t be. For so many reasons, this really can’t be happening in the middle of the very formal and predictable worship. Yet, she cautiously made her way to this rabbi, surrounded by all the attendees to the synagogue and his followers. Then he told her that she was freed from this spirit! What? He placed his hands gently on her back and told her to stand. How can this be? Again, without any rational reasoning, she did as he said, and stood! Suddenly she could see everything and everyone around her! Those dear ones who’s faces she had not gazed upon in 18 years, new face to meet, and the face of the one who now saw her face to face and told her that she was loosed from had kept her down. In the wake of this new perspective-she rejoiced! She sang, “O bless the Lord my soul! O praise God’s holy name!” Her response was unfiltered joy that would not be contained! Everything for her had changed!

The leader of the synagogue nervously looked out at the congregation and realized that the iterant street preacher and his followers where in attendance for Shabbat. He, himself, didn’t have a problem with this man, but he knew several who did. He had heard some of what this rabbi had been saying about God’s kingdom, and he didn’t disagree with all of it. But there was something that did make him a bit leery…Worship began without incident and the visitor began to teach. But then the street preacher called the woman who had a spirit into the middle of the synagogue. The leader felt his heart race as he looked around to see that all eyes were on this visiting rabbi. Then this man had the audacity to lay hands on the woman and heal her! On the Sabbath! In clear violation of the fourth commandment! As the leader of the community, he knew he had to offer the correct teaching as he saw fit. The people he was charged to teach and set an example for couldn’t view him as complicit in this man’s disregard for the laws. How could he see himself as a conduit for the word of God if he allowed this to go unchecked? It would change everything.

Jesus walked into the synagogue that morning and saw the people gathered there. He saw the tired parents wrangling toddlers, the awkward teens who didn’t want to be there, the widow, the young couple, the weary traveler, the single man, the hungry worker, the leader of the synagogue and the woman on the edge who was bent over. He saw them all and with the words from the Torah, began to tell them about God’s love for them. Jesus saw the people as made in God’s own image of goodness and promise. Jesus saw that they struggled with seeing each other as connected and seeing God’s abundance. They saw one another as competition for limited resources, including God’s love and grace. Jesus also saw that they were having a hard time believing that God’s unconditional, love, mercy and grace are indeed true and really for them. Jesus saw that the people needed to see that this was true. He saw the look of incredulity on the woman’s face who was bent over and knew that more than her just physical ailment was binding her up. Jesus called her over to him, brought her to the center so that all could see her, she was no longer invisible. He then laid hands on her and God’s healing power surged and then all who were gathered saw her stand up straight. Jesus saw the look of joy on the woman’s face. He saw the leader of the synagogue blinded by the law. He saw the people unsure of what to think amid the tension of what they had witnessed. They somehow understood that everything had just changed in that moment.

Jesus called them to see something new on this day of Sabbath. He called on them to see beyond how they have always done things, to see people who had been invisible because of disease, social status, abilities, gender, where they lived and whom they lived with. Jesus called on them to change their perspectives and to see the world how God sees the world: with love and compassion. Jesus saw the people in the synagogue and deeply loved them, all of them. Love that was strong enough to say what needed to be said, love that saw past rules that harmed some people while keeping others in power and privilege. Love not as a sentiment but as action and justice, love that changes everything.

The crowds saw, even if just briefly, a  glimpse God’s kingdom: people loosed from what keeps them apart from healing community, people offered not laws but relationships, people freed by God’s love and grace to be who God created them to be and to see each other face to face as God’s beloved creatures, people part of the new life in God, people who were changed. The crowds saw it and rejoiced at what Jesus was doing to heal, love and offer God’s vision of the world where all belong and are loved. Once you see the kingdom of God, it changes how you see everything and everyone. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

Peace: It’s not what you think A sermon on Luke 12: 49-56 Pentecost 10 Year C August 23, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 18, 2019 in Holladay, UT.

Children’s sermon: Blessing of the Backpacks: Invite the children, adults, anyone forward who would like a tag. What time of year is it? School time! How did we know that it is school time? Stores have school supplies, you get a letter or email from your school or teacher, summer has gone on a long time and the weather should start to cool off soon, all signs that it’s time for something new! Now, it’s hard to say good-bye to summer, more time with friends and family, and more time for fun and vacations. But it’s time to go back, summer changes into fall. And we have a way to mark this change, we have these tags to go on your bags this morning. One side says “peace be upon you” and the other side has the name of our church. What do you think it means to wish someone peace? Yes, it can mean those things! So what’s weird is that Jesus says this morning that he didn’t come to bring peace to the earth, but division! What Jesus? Jesus often confuses me…Do you think that means that Jesus wants us to fight? NO! Here’s what Jesus knows, that peace is hard. And God’s peace doesn’t mean letting other people be mean to you, take things from you, say unkind things, call you names, and not saying no, just to get along. Peace doesn’t mean doing what other people want you to do, just to make them like you. Peace doesn’t mean letting everyone have their own way and keeping everything exactly the same so that everyone is comfortable. No, Jesus didn’t come for *that* kind of peace, but the kind of peace that is actually naming things in the world that harm other people and trying to change it. Jesus’ peace means change. Peace is being excited about all the new things that you will learn this year. Jesus’ peace is looking for where God is changing the world and us! Right now, you all are still physically growing, getting taller, stronger-and even adults, we grow too! We learn new things, see all the ways God is working for change/peace in the world and it causes us to change too! This tag can remind us to look for God’s peace, God’s change that changes the world so that everyone is whole, everyone is safe, everyone is loved! Let’s pray: God of peace, we are so excited for a new school year! You are with us always as we learn new things, meet new people, grow and change. Thank you for teachers, school admins, custodians and our friends at school. Thank you for a world that is always changing through your love and may we care for your creation and your people. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trained that keeping the peace is very important. I’ve been conditioned that I shouldn’t rock the boat with my opinion if it might cause someone to disagree, that I should strive to make everyone comfortable and happy, so no one feels uneasy. But then we discover that is impossible. Not speaking up can leave someone feeling uneasy if hurtful statements are left unchecked. Making everyone comfortable, turns out, is not possible, as everyone has a different definition of comfortable and ease. So we run from situation to situation, person to person, attempting to put out the fires of discontent, only to have hot spots smolder and spark back up over time. It’s exhausting isn’t it? And we also discover in this pursuit of false peace, that it’s not honest. In order to keep this level of peace, of status quo, we end up being untrue to someone, and it’s usually ourselves.

Being true to who we are is difficult as we have a world trying to make us into something else. People around us have expectations, rightly or wrongly, of how we are to act, think and be. Especially, when we layer the word “Christian” on top of those definitions. That word has become a loaded one in our country and in the world in the last 30 years. And just like the word “peace,” it doesn’t mean what people think it means. It doesn’t mean judgment, exclusion, self-righteousness, being perfect, having it all together and it doesn’t mean status quo. Being a Christian literally means being one who follows Christ and attempts to model their life after Christ’s example. Being a Christian, means we give ourselves over to Christ’s life-changing work in us and in the world. It means that we look for where God is changing the world, upending status quo and transforming hearts and minds. And as Lutheran Christians, we add that we are always reforming. We are part of a tradition that calls for everything to be reexamined and reformed for the sake of our neighbor to experience the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives. Just like peace, it is hard, and forces us to reexamine who we really are in our daily lives and what that means for our relationships and how we live. We listen for God’ voice, that voice that calls us to authenticity, vulnerability, risk, openness and seeing each other as Christ. And we discover, that God’s voice will often be antithetical to the world’s voice of Christianity or peace.

We get some insight into what this journey in following Jesus and listening for God’ voice might be like in our Luke and Hebrews passages today. This gospel text is one of the most challenging in the four gospels, maybe the NT, as Jesus upends our ideas of why Jesus came. We tend to think of Jesus coming as a little sweet baby with an angelic choir singing “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Idyllic, comfortable, sweet and easy. We love to dwell in that pastoral scene hoping that it will never end and will stay the same forever. But Jesus is clear that is not what the reign of God looks like.  From the beginning of Luke’s gospel, Mary sings the Magnificat, a manifesto of political change where the powerful are knocked off thrones, the lowly ones lifted up, the rich are sent away empty, the hungry fed, the proud are scattered and a poor, nobody Jewish girl from a backwater town will be called blessed for all generations to come. At Jesus’ presentation in the temple Simeon proclaimed that Jesus will be opposed, and a sword will pierce Mary’s heart. As Jesus began his ministry, he read from Isaiah and proclaimed the release of the captives, sight to the blind and the oppressed with go free. He called disciples who left family businesses as well as walked away from family. Jesus broke sabbath laws by healing, he broke purity laws by cleansing lepers, he took on demons. His actions did anything but kept worldly peace, Jesus was true to who he was, God’s son, and to his purpose, bringing change that would bring healing, wholeness and hope to all people, not just those at the top. God’s kingdom coming means nothing will be the same.

Jesus’ coming, God’s word made flesh, isn’t about comfort and maintaining systems. Jesus came to bring God’s peace to the earth-peace that enacts change and justice for the sake of wholeness in the world. The irony, is that when status quo is disrupted and people whom the world had silenced have a voice, divisions do occur. When oppression of people of different colors, economic status, religions, genders is no longer tolerated and people speak up, it’s uncomfortable indeed. When people on the outside are brought to the center and given leadership, it’s unsettling. When people begin to live as God created them and not in societal norms, it’s challenging to our held beliefs. But Jesus says that change is inevitable, how can we not see it? The weather changes and we see the storm and wind coming, we see how fire transforms objects, but why can’t we see the changes and transformations that God is up to?

It’s fine for some changes to happen, particularly if they don’t affect us. But Jesus is clear that God’s kingdom comes-to spark the fire of the Holy Spirit that is in us-to change our hearts, our minds and our lives. What is not truly divine in us will be burned away, leaving in each of us and in all creation, God’s goodness, God’s divine image. In God’s kingdom, nothing stays the same, even if it means that mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, in-laws disagree and are divided on what it means to follow Jesus and be changed by the peace that he brings. This kind of division won’t feel good and we will want to avoid it at all costs. But when Jesus’ peace is upon us, drawing us into God’s transformations, we become part of God’s work and we can let go of trying to keep a false peace. We can go toward the discomfort of divisions as we also live in the faith and witness of those who have gone before us, those who risked and brought God’s change and healing into the world. We trust in God’s protection into this death to false peace and being resurrected into the promises of abundant and full life in transforming peace. This is the race that is before us as Christians in the 21st century. It’s hard, challenging and moves us beyond ourselves. And the fire of the Holy Spirit is in us, with us and sparking us daily to live in the God’s true radical love, hope and mercy that breaks all systems of oppression, heals the broken and brings us into community with one another and God. We rise up with God, together, deeply loved, never alone, part of God’s transforming and life-altering work in creation. Thanks be to God!

 

Planning on the Promise Sermon on Luke 12 August 11, 2019

This sermon was preached on August 11, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Psalm 33: 12-22, Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12: 32-40.

 

 

 

Children’s sermon: School is starting soon and so are all of the activities at church…here is my planner where I try and keep it all straight, so that I have everything under control. I like to think that if I plan, then I won’t have to worry. But even planning makes me worried about everything going on! How do you get ready for things such as the first day of school? You set an alarm to remember to get up. Get dressed: Do you wear shorts in the winter or a heavy coat in August? No, you check the weather. You might take a shower, brush your teeth, pack a lunch maybe a snack, make sure you have your homework in you backpack…Why do you do all of those things? I mean you pack a lunch at 7 a.m. and lunch isn’t until much later…but you do these things because on some level you’re afraid of not having what you need for your day. If you didn’t you would get to lunch time and be hungry, or get to math class and not have your homework. This thing about my calendar and how we plan our day, is that it’s all about ourselves. We spent a lot of time last week getting ready for VBS, not because we were afraid of all you kids coming but because we were excited and wanted you and all the children to feel welcomed and loved! Our bible stories remind me today that being ready is important but I don’t have to be afraid or panic. Jesus tells us to not be afraid for God gives us God’s kingdom! What do you think is in God’s Kingdom? Well, God’s kingdom probably includes lots of things that I don’t understand about but here’s one thing that I do know is included in God’s kingdom: God’s promise to love us, to keep us together as a community, and that we are with God always-right here, right now and when we someday die. And God GIVES it to us-to all of us together! Do you know what a promise is? Yes, it’s a gift to do something. We can’t earn it or lose it! God gives the kingdom to us simply because we are loved. And so we live our lives being ready, not out of fear, not out of worry of what will happen next, but ready to receive all that God will give us and to share it! Let’s pray:

There seems that there is a lot to fear in our lives right now! Perhaps there always has been, but it seems in hyperdrive. Especially in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton last weekend. We can be fearful about even going to the grocery store or other retailers to do back to school shopping knowing that spaces we once held as public, safe and communal now cause us to be on constant guard and vigilance. I was reading where some parents are buying their children bullet proof backpacks out of fear…that never would have occurred to me or been on my radar as a parent of young children or a teacher. And that’s not the only fear that seems prevalent: fear of the stock markets, trade wars and economy, which might lead of never being able to retire or maintain retirement (I’m personally not planning on being able to fully ever retire), fear of actual wars and rumors of wars, fear of the mass deportations that are occurring, fear of global warming and the effects on the environment and on our health as a people. And then you layer that with what I call fears that persist at an underlying hum in our lives: health, family, day to day finances, relationships, work, childcare and we spend much of our day to day lives mitigating or coping (in productive or unproductive ways)  those fears by financial planning or plain old calendar planning, following the stock markets daily, checking the weather, knowing the news, mapping out our children’s future, working out, dieting, organizing, and we fool ourselves into the illusion that that we can on our own know everything and be ready for any eventuality in our lives. But really all that happens is what psychologists call being in a state of hypervigilance, which is a leading cause of anxiety and depression, both conditions of which are skyrocketing in our society, particularly among our children. And this doesn’t only effect mental status but anxiety and depression have real physical symptoms as well. And it feels the more we try to plan and control, the more anxiety we can have.

And then we get a passage like this one in Luke. And in our current state of affairs, what do we hone in on in these nine verses? The being ready part! We bypass the first couple of verses and our hearts go straight to where our own treasured anxieties lead us: We must be ready! If we’re not something bad will happen! We must do all that WE can to be ready, it depends on us! If we don’t prepare-we have no one to blame but ourselves.

But that’s where we have to back that train up. Jesus says in this passage and so many times throughout the gospels “Do not be afraid.” Yeah, right, Jesus, easy to say in bucolic ancient Palestine when times were simpler…well, Jesus was on the way to the cross, the Empire and the religious authorities were after him. The people he was talking to were poor, oppressed, marginalized and lacked power over their own lives. They had much to fear. They never knew when a Roman solider would enter their home demanding money, food or to take them away to be conscripted. They never knew when disease would strike. They never knew if the food would hold out or where they could get what they needed to survive. Don’t be afraid? Fear was in the very air that they breathed.

What follows from Jesus is the heart of the gospel: “For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” As I told the children, this is the promise. God loves us as a parent adores a child and gives us, no matter what, God’s kingdom. With this promise in mind we read the next verses on being ready. God’s promise permeates all that we think, say and do. Any planning that we do isn’t wrong or bad, and it’s also not a command that is up to us to follow. We plan out of faith, what we hope for in God’s kingdom, that the promises of God cling to us more tightly than fear clings to us. When we focus on God’s promises, this is where our heart will be and so our treasure.

When we plan and live out of this promise and faith that is part of God’s kingdom, we live differently than those around us. Living out of fear will always seek to divide, hoard, worry, terrorize and polarize us. Living out of faith and promise witnesses to sharing, including, welcoming, contentment and loving. God’s promise isn’t just to us as individuals, but to us as a whole people. How we are prepared to receive God’s kingdom is about how we live together. We live together from faith when we support Urban Crossroads, when we offer VBS to children as a place of hope and love. When we support Linus Project to offer hope to children with something as simple and meaningful as a blanket. When we for God’s Work, Our Hands, work at Family Promise. We live from faith of God’s promises, anytime we walk with people on the margins to make visible this assurance of hope. This week at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in WI-a memorial was passed that the ELCA would be a sanctuary denomination-which means essentially that we will walk in meaningful and purposeful ways with people in this country who are marginalized due to their immigration status. While some would worry this a partisan stance-it’s not. It’s a political stance-one the highlights God’s politic-God’s heart-that we all love and care for one another despite paperwork or human made borders. We forget that politics are not bad, as Jesus was highly political. The word politics comes from the Greek word “polis” which means “city” or “living together in a city.” God cares very much how we live together. When we follow God’s politics, God’s heart, we also care how we live together, our heart will be with whom we treasure, when we serve one another as Christ. This will make us, as the writer of Hebrews states, “strangers and foreigners on the earth.”

We will be very strange and foreign indeed, to live fully into the gospel of promise of being ready to receive God’s kingdom, not from fear but from hopeful anticipation. God calls us to live together and to be ready for God’s transforming presence in our lives-not by our own deed but by the work of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews also states, “God has prepared a city for them/for us.” God has already prepared what we need to live together in peace and we are ready to participate in God’s work of  God’s heart for the world, clinging to faith and not fear, hope and not despair, promise and not worry.

We cannot know the future, and fear will continue to swirl around us. But so do the promises of God, so do the words of Jesus, “do not be afraid little flock,” and so does the gift of faith from God who prepares our hearts, minds and souls with what we need to live together, to live into the promises and to receive the kingdom that is already here and is still being revealed. Amen.

 

Revealing the Truth Sermon on Luke 12 and Colossians 3 August 4, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on August 4, 2019.

The texts were Psalm 49: -1-12, Colossians 3: 1-11 and Luke 12: 13-21

Children’s sermon: Two truths and a lie. Tell three statements and have the children guess which of the three statements I give about my life is the lie. Do it a couple of times, if there is an adult or older child present, then ask them to offer two truths and a lie about their life. What is true about our lives? Sometimes, we don’t even know! Have you ever known someone who wasn’t completely honest about themselves or maybe you told a lie about yourself? We have all done it because we want to fit in, or be someone we are not, or not get in to trouble. But being honest about who we are is important. When we aren’t honest, we can get focused on only ourselves, keeping the lies going and start to believe our own lies! I start to believe that maybe I can be something or someone I’m not. But our bible passages for today talk about what is true: that our lives are meant for  focusing on loving God and each other. That God is the one who gives us all that we have and is with us all the time. When we only listen to ourselves, we just keep hearing the lies that we tell and forget that God wants us to be who God created us to be. And that God created us to live together and to care for each other, no matter what. How can we do that? Should we be honest with each other? Should we share what we have? Yes! I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about that but first let’s pray:

You might remember the movie the Truman Show with Jim Carey from several years ago. The premise was that there was a man who lived his whole life at part of a reality TV show and didn’t know it. But then some pieces started to not add up for him and he discovered that his whole existence wasn’t what he thought it was. Everyone in his life were actors, the town was a sound stage and everything revolved around him. His entire life was a lie, essentially. Nothing was real, and he didn’t even have a concept of what an authentic existence outside of the controlled TV environment might be like. Nothing had ever been demanded of him. His relationships were all centered around him, his job was catered to him and even the weather was controlled. Everything was carefully scripted to present one story only. In some ways, it should have been idyllic and perfect. But when the truth was revealed, Truman realized his isolation, his separateness and the emptiness of his life. At the end he asks of the creator of the show “Who am I?” and then walks through the door to the real world, to his new, authentic and unscripted life.

Now this movie is of course fiction and an exaggeration of inauthenticity, but it begs the question of us all: what is true in our lives? Where do we find value, meaning and truth? Psalm 49 and Luke 12 seem to be taking on greed and our relationship to money and possessions, but I think that there is more here than that. What is demanded of us in our lives, who are we, and as we read in Colossians, what life will we live?

The demands of modern life are many and perhaps not that different than in Jesus’ time. We have the demands of survival, the demands of family relationships, the demands of work, and of our friends. And all these demands can make us greedy. Maybe not only greedy with our money and possessions, but greedy with our time, our status, our security or safety, and greedy with our sense of power and autonomy. And greed is indeed idolatry-that is something that we give a higher value and priority to than anything else in our lives. The truth of greed is that is turns our focus inward-to me, myself and I. Like the rich man in the parable, we start to talk only to ourselves, think that our accomplishments were done only by ourselves and scarier yet, we only listen to ourselves. We live our lives in isolation and separation, afraid to hear anyone else because to do so might reveal the delusions that we live in, such as the delusion that we don’t need anyone else, that we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and that the perspective we have, is the only one. Much like in the Truman Show, we follow a script that we tell ourselves is necessary, needed and even holy, yet if we are honest, we are really following the script that the world has offered us. It’s easier to simply follow the script that everyone else seems to be reading from, than to ask the harder questions, isn’t it?

To be clear, Jesus isn’t saying that planning for the future and being good stewards with resources is a problem-not at all! The foolishness comes in when we do follow society’s script, thinking is all about us and up to us and we always need more. Protect what you have, worry about something being taken from you, whether it’s money, material possessions, status, power or privilege. Build a bigger barn, bigger walls, to keep it all to yourself. But for what? Is that what life is all about? Is that the story we want for our lives?

But then God interrupts, speaks into the life of the rich man and into our lives. God flips the script if you will, calling us to remember that there is more than just us, more at stake than our own individual futures. Living in God’s demands, in God’s story for our lives, is a revelation of truth, a pulling back of the camera shot to see what is really happening and the truth that God is the author of our lives. God’s story for us is clear: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. God is the one who provides all that we have and is still with us even when we try and go it alone. We are part of a larger story, part of a whole where love for God, love for each other and mutual loving community is the mandate. Through Jesus, God interrupts our regularly scheduled program to reveal to us the work of God’s kingdom, the truth of Christ in us all and in all of creation. The truth of our lives, that Jesus gathers us all together as one people and through Christ we are interconnected, even if we don’t recognize it or like it. Our actions and inactions send ripples through the body of Christ and matter to our neighbor. This is why we must stand up and speak out against the lies that divide us, most notably in recent weeks and months, the lies that propagate racism and white supremacy. The lies that the man in El Paso believed and led him to kill 20 people and injure dozens more must be denounced and brought to the light. We don’t know what lies the shooter in Dayton believed but we can guess that they were powerful. These lies can’t be allowed to masquerade as truth.

In our baptisms we promise to live among God’s faithful people, to be a part of God’s work of reconciliation in the world that is for all people. This means that I must listen to more than myself, I end my monologue and enter into the dialogue, into the story with God and with others. I must die to those things that don’t bring me into mutual connection and life with my neighbor-I need to look out beyond the walls of safety and security I have built up, to see what God sees. When I look at God’s people and God’s creation with the eyes of Christ, I can be rich, generous toward my neighbor and therefore rich and generous toward God. Martin Luther is quoted as having said “God doesn’t need my good works but my neighbor does.” God doesn’t write a script that we have to follow word for word for us to have value, worth and love, we’re not puppets on a string. But God offers us a role, a chance to improv, to help write the story and use our gifts wherever we can to flip the script for other people around us who are caught trying to live by the world’s script and don’t know how to set it down and walk off stage to what God has waiting for them in life through Jesus Christ.

Our lives are being demanded of us this very day, to live into the story of Christ’s love and grace loose in the world. We live in the truth that we and all people are clothed in God’s image of love, renewed by grace and brought into the community of Christ where all lives have meaning, worth and value. The truth of who we are, is how we live. We listen for God and for one another, we plan for the future with God’s mission of radical love in mind, we focus on what matters, we care for people and relationships more than things and we live lives of generosity of time, spirit, gifts, privilege and possessions so that the world may see Christ in us and we may see Christ in the world. This is the truth and the demand of our lives in the life of Christ. Thanks be to God.