A Lutheran Says What?

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

Living Connections Sermon on John 15:1-8 April 30, 2018

*This sermon was preached on April 19, 2018 and can be watched on http://www.bethanylive.org. The texts were John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4: 7-21.

Children’s sermon: Have you ever been alone? Maybe in your room, at night, or another time? What is it like to be alone? Yes, it can be fine for a while, and sometimes being alone for a little bit is good and ok. But what would happen if you were alone ALL THE TIME? As in everyday all day, no one to talk to, no one to help with meals, no one to wash your clothes, no one to play with, no one at all. What would THAT be like? Yes, I think that would be sad, hard, lonely and ultimately, we can’t live by ourselves can we? Can you grow all your own food, raise cows for hamburgers, never go to a grocery store, because if you are alone, there is no one to put food in the grocery store! God created us to not be alone, but to be together.

Today in SS you will hear the bible story Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches. We are always connected to Jesus and Jesus wants us to always be connected to him. This is because God loves us! Let’s go look at the tree in the corner. Do you see the branches coming off the main trunk? Yep, Jesus says that he is like the trunk. The trunk of the tree sends food, water, and other things the branches need to grow and to have leaves and some trees give us fruit, like apples, peaches, pears, bananas. Jesus wants us to know that Jesus will give us what we need to grow and bear fruit. Now will you grow apples from your arms?? NO! don’t be silly, but the kind of fruit Jesus wants us to grow is love. We know that God is love and love is the most important thing to God. God knows that when we are connected to Jesus, like branches on a tree, then we are connected to love! Just like branches grow off of other healthy branches, if we are connected to love we will grow more love! And when we are connected to Jesus, we are also connected to each other and show love to each other and grow love in each other! How can we show love and help each other grow love? How about when we are kind to a friend, even if they are not being kind to us? How about helping someone in class with math, reading or science? Or how about sitting with a classmate at lunch who no one else sits with? All kinds of ways to show love! God shows us love, connects us to love in Jesus and we are this same love of God. I want you to write your name on this ribbon, and we are going to tie the ends of our ribbons to one anothers ribbons to make a chain and put it on the tree to show that we are connected to Jesus and each other. The adults will do this in a minute too. You can go back to your seat when your done, I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about this.

 

Connections. We often say in our lives that it’s not what you know but who you know. Who you are connected to. We love connections, mostly. The rise of social media is a testament to this. We can be reconnected to high school and college friends, connected to colleagues all over the world, family, even complete strangers whom we find interesting in a two-dimensional sort of way. The downside of digital connections is that they tend to replace face to face interactions and we are wired for personal connection. As neurological research continues to reveal, being in community is vital for health. There is a Ted Talk by Susan Pinker where she reveals that the secret to longevity is a social life. This is the most important factor for longevity beyond diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, positive thinking, gratitude or genetics. Close relationships, connections, belonging, community are a vital life source. Even casual interactions such as talking to your barista, or the cashier at Target are more important than any of those biological factors. Being connected is life itself.

This is a truth that is not an accident. God created us in community, saying “let us make humankind in our own image”and then: “go forth and multiply.” God’s very self is relationship and community as we proclaim in the Creeds: God father, creator, Jesus redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who gathers us as one. God became flesh in Jesus to dwell with us, to abide with us, or a more accurate translation, to make a home with us. To move in so to speak. Jesus is moving in! Better finish the basement! Jesus moved in with us to show us that this belonging in God’s community, this deep and powerful connection is all about love. 1 John 4: 8 sums up the whole of God’s being and the bible: God is love. And this love is not just fluffy, sentimental, Valentines day love, no, it’s agape love. Agape love is self-sacrificing love, resilient love, love as actions. God, through Jesus, shows us actions of healing, actions of casting out demons and fear, actions of servanthood, actions of risk, actions of dying on a cross, actions of being raised from the dead. Love that will go to great lengths, literally to death and back, to be connected to us so that we may know this love and live connected to this source of love.

The stakes are high in this love. Jesus is clear that without being connected to this source of life and love, we will wither and die. When we cut ourselves off from Jesus, we are indeed like a branch that is disconnected, dies and is only good for firewood. We cut ourselves off when we listen to the society around us that tells us that we should be able to go through life alone and not need other people to journey with us. Pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps, be smarter, quicker, and better than everyone else. Be self-made people. Worry only about ourselves. We don’t want to be dependent, reliant or co-dependent. There are times that I believe this lie from culture and think that it’s all about what I alone can produce, and what I alone can produce is a statement about my worth. When I fall into this trap of self-reliance, I project it on other people around me and that’s when real disconnection can happen. I forget that I have gifts that people need me to share and that those people have gifts that I desperately need to be all whom God created me to be. This is what it means to be connected to Jesus the true vine, the source of all life and love. Connected to this life source, we live in a state of mutual and intertwined relationship with God and each other.

I need to be reminded constantly that I am part of a bigger whole, as I bear more fruit of God’s love when I am in mutual, giving, and loving relationship with Jesus and the people of God. John 15: 5 was my confirmation verse I chose when I was 14 years old. I was an Air Force brat and when I was confirmed in May, at the end of my ninth grade year and chose this verse, I had just learned that my dad had orders for us to move again soon. I would get to finish my first year of high school but then leave shortly after school let out. I would be losing all the connections from the previous four years. We had read this verse in church after Easter and I latched onto it with a vice grip. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said. “Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” I heard “You are connected to me Jesus says, whether you like it or not and vines rarely their drop branches and as the vine grows, branches intertwine with other branches, and become so intertwined, you can’t tell which branch is which and where the vine begins and the branches end. This verse told me that I was connected to the true vine no matter where I was.

So Jesus says it is with our relationship with him and each other. The gift of being in this community of faith, based on the reality of love, agape love that flows from first from God to Jesus the vine and then to us the branches, is not only about us but about the fruits of love we bear. Love in action, not just in words. Love in action is fearless, for when we are filled with love, there simply isn’t room for anything else; no room for hate, apathy, greed or fear. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. Fear can cause us to see the world through tunnel vision and lose sight of the expansive and fearless love that we are connected to and are called to be.

Fearless love in action is when we risk our reputation to speak out for the dignity of all people. Fearless love in action is when we sacrifice our own wants so that our neighbors have what they need, whether that is safety, food, shelter, clothing. Fearless love in action is praying for those whom you don’t like and who don’t like you. Fearless love in action is working for justice and standing with people who lack power or voice in our culture due to gender, race, faith tradition, or sexual orientation. Fearless love in action is looking beyond first impressions or our own biases and seeing each other as God sees us, all branches on the vine, all useful, all with worth, all created in God’s image of love. And God’s perfect love casts out all fear.

You are already connected to this source of life and love. You are already connected to all the other branches on the vine, some that are like you and some that are very different. Some are right next to you and you can see and touch, and some branches that are so far down that vine that you don’t even know that they exist but Jesus says they matter. You already have everything you need to bear fruits of love. You have been splashed with the waters of baptism as we will do for Miles this morning, and proclaimed a branch on the vine of life, you are nourished body and soul with bread, wine and words of promise and forgiveness to grow in love and bear fruits of God’s love.

Beloved, love one another, for God’s love through Jesus Christ has moved in and this perfect love is here to stay, to cast out fear, to connect us to Jesus the true vine, and each other, now and forever. Amen

*During the hymn of the day/or communion, you are invited to come to the prayer station in the corner. Take a green ribbon and write your name on it in the center. You will tie one end of your ribbon to the end of someone else’s to create one chain of ribbons on the tree as a visual that we are connected to each other and Jesus sustains us all. When you tie your ribbon onto someone else’s, notice the name on the ribbon. Pray for that person this week to bear the fruit of God’s love.

When you leave the station, there are baskets of key tags, please take one. They have the verse of John 15:5 on one side and “We are connected to Jesus” on the other as a reminder of being the beloved community no matter where your life takes you.

 

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“Come All Is Ready, Hear the Story of Life” Sermon on Mark 14 Maundy Thursday March 30, 2018

What story do we tell ourselves about our purpose, meaning and fulfillment in our lives in the 21st century? Is the meaning of life different today than say 2000 years ago? The banter at our house about the meaning of life comes from the Douglas Adams book “Life, the Universe and Everything: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” The question is asked in the book what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything? And the answer? 42. Clean, neat and simple. Unfortunately, the answer of 42 doesn’t hold up in our day to day lives that involve real quandaries, crises and suffering. And it certainly doesn’t give us a framework to make meaning of our complex lives. We have all probably tried to tell ourselves a story that gives our lives meaning. Maybe it’s the story of over working, overeating, drinking, over shopping, smoking, drugs. Or even a story that might seem more positive: yoga, or focus on exercise and diet, reading self-help books, sports. But at the end of the day, these are all human made concepts that we use to attempt to control the world around us and to have it all make sense. These stories might help us for a while. But eventually… they don’t. Other stories creep in: illness of mind or body, layoffs, violence, accidents, discrimination, broken relationships and suffering of all kinds. What story will we live in?

As modern people, we are not unique. This has been the age old existential crisis of humanity from the beginning of time. All the stories that humanity tried to tell themselves in the past also failed: conquering other cultures, oppression of some people while elevating others, gathering riches, or worshipping whatever seemed to give them happiness, however fleeting. None of these stories helped our ancestors make meaning of their lives either. Even with their best efforts, they couldn’t keep suffering and chaos at bay.

The Israelites also wrestled with how their lives made sense, particularly when they were in exile. It was while they were in exile that they began to write down the stories of their history that they had been telling each other, and their children, for generations. The story of Creation, the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Exodus, Passover, King David, King Solomon, division of the kingdoms, psalms, proverbs. These stories gave them a framework from which to live their lives in joyous and difficult times. In all these stories are realities of living as a human: joy, fear, contentment, success, ego, mistakes, lament and suffering. These stories also gave them the foundation of their source of meaning for their lives: God. These stories that became the Hebrew scriptures, shaped how the Jewish people knew themselves and the meaning of their life. To love and praise God, to know that suffering is inevitable, they belonged to God and God is always present. They took seriously the word of God and the call to embed these stories into the flow of their life. The Passover, as we read in Exodus, was one such story.

It is a story of the Israelites suffering in slavery in Egypt. God heard their cries and acted. God affirmed Moses as leader and sent plague after plague to get Pharaoh to let the slaves go. Finally, it took one last terrible plague where first born children would be killed. Those homes with blood of a lamb over the doorway would be passed over from the horrible event. Suffering would occur that night and it’s horrific to consider how the Egyptian families, innocently caught in this geopolitical/cosmic showdown, would pay the price. But the Israelites, would be spared. This is part of their identity as God’s people. God led them out of Egypt to the desert to go to the Promised Land, where they would live in peace and abundance. But first they had 40 years of manna, quail and water from a rock; first  God leading them with a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night; first God forged them as God’s own people, and this story of Passover each year gave them again the story to live into that God will save them, God will provide for them, God gathers them as God’s beloved people and God promises to be with them no matter where they are. It’s a story of living as God’s own people.

Jesus celebrated this story each year of his life. His whole life and ministry is framed by scripture, the story of God’s love for God’s people. Jesus lived solely into this story. And on the last Passover that Jesus would celebrate with his friends on this side of the cross, he added to the story, added meaning, richness and depth. He gave his friends and us something to help us make sense of our lives no matter what year it is or where we are. Jesus and his friends, including Judas who would succumb to another meaning and betray Jesus, heard the story again of God’s love, protection, provision and promise. Jesus then told them another chapter of this story: once again we live under occupation from an Empire, once again it seems that suffering and oppression abound, once again it appears that might, hate and betrayal will win, but that isn’t the story of who you are and it isn’t the story of who God is. Here is bread, bread that God provides, bread that sustains, bread that gathers you as one. It is my body, it is my life, not only for yours but with yours. My body that tells the world that you belong to God and no one else. Here is wine, wine that reminds us of God’s abundance and joy. Wine that is red, the color of my blood and yours, that will be shed. Blood shed to invoke selflessness, sacrifice and promise that God withholds nothing from God’s beloved people. Tell this story over and over. Do this story over and over. Tell this story when you are filled with joy and hope, tell it when you are suffering and in distress. Tell it to your children, tell it to strangers, tell it every time you gather. Tell this, do this, experience this  and live this.

This story is unlike any other story for us. It’s a story that re-members, reconnects, you, all of you, into the body of Christ, into the community of God. It is your meaning for life, life here on earth and life eternal. This story makes sense of joy from suffering, hope from despair and life from death.

We share in this story that began thousands of years ago, created meaning for our Jewish brothers and sisters, created meaning of the early Christian communities, created meaning for the Medieval reformers and creates meaning for us today. We continue this story here in 2018 and tonight during Holy Week: The story of mercy, promise, abundance, forgiveness, hope and radical, selfless love. It’s story that we take in with all our senses: we hear it, we see it, we smell it, we touch it and we taste it. This story truly lives within us as Christ lives in us too. We receive this story with open hands and open hearts. We receive to live it and to tell it. We do this story when we accompany someone who is hurting from disease, suffering from discrimination, lamenting in grief. We tell this to those whom we think deserve to experience this great love and to those whom we think don’t deserve this truth and joy. We tell it because it is really Jesus who tells the story, Jesus who makes meaning from bread and wine, Jesus who frees us to live as people of God and Jesus who gathers us all to the cross and makes meaning of our lives in the story of God’s promises for life now and forever. Come to the table to hear the story once again, for all is ready. The gifts of God for the people of God.

 

Meeting Jesus Sermon on Romans 7 March 26, 2018

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This is part of our Lenten sermon series at Bethany on “Meeting Jesus.” On this last Wednesday of Lent, we explore what happens when we meet Jesus as ourselves?
Reading from Romans 7: 15-19: 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
So, confession time, who has ever done something and thought, ugh why did I do that? I do! All the time! Things we do…
This is human nature! What do we typically do though when we do things that we know are not good things to do…do we tell people? Do we announce it to everyone we know? NO! We bury it, we hope no one notices, we hope that people forget. There are many politicians and celebrities that operate this way, what always happens? Yep! It gets revealed! And when we try and spin it, it often gets worse! Cover up is never good. And the root of cover up is mostly fear and shame. Fear that we will be unlovable and shame that we ARE unlovable. We can’t even admit it when we do something wrong to ourselves most of the time, or we convince ourselves that we are correct to act that way, someone deserves it, or it really isn’t THAT bad….
But shame is real, vulnerability with our imperfections is hard. Brene Brown is a well known researcher and author on shame and vulnerability and hear is a nugget of her learning in studying shame and vulnerability for about a decade. Guilt is an emotion that tells us we have done something bad, shame is an emotion that tells us we are bad. When we can’t be authentic and vulnerable with ALL of who we are, then we can get stuck in shame. Mostly shaming ourselves. This is a powerful emotion that only causes us to go into a complete tailspin and keeps us from being all of who God created us to be.
The apostle Paul knew this. Paul had been who previously? Saul! Yes and what did he do as Saul? Persecuted believers and followers of Jesus! He was a Pharisee who knew the Torah and all of the purity laws inside and out. And he did really bad things! He killed people. But then he met Jesus. Jesus struck him blind, made him reflect on himself, made him look introspectively at his actions, sent him to Ananias who laid hands on him and told him that he would see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul saw himself through Christ differently. Jesus law of love revealed to Saul what the law he espoused could not: his need for grace, mercy and forgiveness through Jesus. He saw his deeds as heinous and yet, those deeds didn’t define who he is to God. God says that we are more than our deeds, right or wrong, we are simply God’s children, created in God’s divine image. When God created the world God declared it GOOD but do you remember what God declared when he created humanity? That we were VERY GOOD! VERY GOOD! Not just ok, not sub par, but in God’s own image and worthy of relationship and love.
We can’t get stuck in shame because the bad things we do are not who we are. Our spiritual journey with Jesus is about this growing awareness and need to be our authentic and vulnerable selves, bad things and all. Sin is real and we must deal with it head on and know that Jesus collided with the sin of humanity head on in the cross and yet, didn’t let that real sin and violence control his love for us. We will live in that tension our whole lives, doing the evil things that we know we shouldn’t and not letting sin take over. Knowing that who we truly are to God is a beloved people, knowing that God’s Holy Spirit dwells within us and brings to the light our actions and thoughts that are not who we truly are. And not only as individuals, this is not a individualistic journey, we will need to be Ananias to one another to remove scales from each other’s eyes to reveal who we are, where we are going, to reveal Jesus to each other and to know that Jesus will meet us on the road over and over again to walk with us and to love us. The real us.

 

We Wish to See Jesus sermon on John 12: 20-33

Sermon on John 12: Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Jesus Speaks about His Death
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Children’s sermon: Ok, I’m going to teach you about skipping today. Skipping uses both of your legs, most people can skip at about 3 miles per hour and it much like hopping. Ok based on that show me how to skip. What that doesn’t work? Ok how about if I show you. Now do it with me. Oh it’s easier to SEE it isn’t it? We can learn facts in a book but watching someone else do something is better! Practicing it ourselves with that person who knows how to skip well, is the best! And then we can practice over and over and it just becomes part of how our body can move and we don’t have to think about it. Riding a bike is like that, or ice skating, skiing, all kinds of activities. We might know facts about biking, skating or skiing, but that doesn’t give us an experience of it or how it feels to do those things. We are reminded today in our bible passages that our relationship with God is like that too! Learning facts about God is ok and we do that, but the most important is our relationship with God and seeing how Jesus acts. How Jesus loves people, cares for those who no one else cares about, how Jesus gives his own life, a scary thing, in order to give us life with God forever. Jesus says some hard things today about losing your life, and we don’t like to think about that do we. But what Jesus wants us to know, is that Jesus understands that loving people whom the world doesn’t love, caring about other people more than yourself is HARD! And Jesus is with us when life is hard, scary and we have to make decisions that make life better for our friends, or people who aren’t our friends, or people who may not like us. We practice these things together to get better so that it just becomes who we are. we show God’s love to the whole world and just like Jesus, show that love is better than hate, kindness is better than hurting and speaking up against wrong is better than silence. Jesus shows us that by dying on the cross and trusting in God to bring new life. And so we trust in God too that we can do hard things. Let’s pray:
The passages from Jeremiah and John are hard ones for us in the 21st century. We like to think that we can rely on knowledge, skills, memorization, and training to further our own agendas and to build certainty that we can have life all figured out and we are in control. Our institutional education and religious systems are also constructed on this foundation of concrete knowledge. I don’t know about you, but I like to create neat little bunkers of information around myself that holds chaos and uncertainty at bay. Oh occasionally I might peek over the top of the fox hole to see what the dangerous landscape of emotions and close personal relationships might look like, but generally that is too frightening and messy for me. Someone might need more of my time or might ask me to do something. Nope it’s far safer with books, computers, and facts.
I can construct a nice neat version of God in this scenario that is all theology and philosophy. Like the Greeks, I can say I wish to see God or Jesus but what is it I really wish to see? If I’m honest, I want to see God who becomes an abstract concept who makes me feel better about myself, validates my beliefs on the world and the people in it, agrees with my viewpoints, and is completely domesticated. Jesus is a nice man who died so that I can do whatever I want and am forgiven. If I do good things, then Jesus will give me blessings and if I don’t then I get what I deserve. A nice predictable quid pro quo, self validating God about whom I can learn the facts, follows the law and be safe from any shenanigans.
But inevitably, God refuses to be held by my constructs and invades my bunker of safety. God shows up in real and messy ways that force me to realize that it’s never been about the facts I’ve been taught, or the facts I teach or what I want to see in Jesus, but about who God is and who God is, not just with me but with everyone. God doesn’t believe in personal space bubbles. God gets too close and throws my whole life upside down. Dead and gone is my safety in facts and teaching and alive and thriving is the new life that comes from God pulling me into scary and risky relationship with a neighbor I’ve never even seen or wanted to see! Jesus comes too close when I go New Beginnings and worship with women who are serving prison sentences. Jesus comes too close when I’m confronted by my own bias about people who are unhoused and on the street. Jesus comes too close when I hear the pain of my Muslim brothers and sisters at being targeted. Jesus comes too close, gets into my heart, pulls me away from my comfort zone and reorients me to what matters, and as it turns out, through my baptism and relationship with Christ. Jesus comes too close and shines light on my life and the world and drives out the rulers of the world from my heart. The rulers of status quo, comfort, self interest, greed, ego and safety. Relationship with Jesus is anything but that.
From the beginning of creation, God deeply desired a relationship with us, humanity in God’s own image. God has chased humanity throughout millennia to be with us and to come uncomfortably close. When Jesus as God incarnate comes uncomfortably close, we do indeed really see. We see Jesus die because of empire, rulers and violence. We see Jesus meet these horrors of the world with love, peace and courage. We see Jesus heal the sick, bring the outcast into community, touch the unclean, speak truth to power, speak love to the unlovable and forgiveness to all. But that’s not all we see. We see Jesus drawing us all uncomfortably close to him, all of us together, the Jew, the Greek, men, women, the healthy, the sick, the rich, the poor, the liberal, the conservative, the educated, the uneducated, the housed, the unhoused, white, black, brown, straight, LBGTQ, Jesus draws us all uncomfortably close to him and so to each other. So close that we can’t ignore each other, we can’t build up barriers of safety, so close that we can smell and touch each other and recognize ourselves in one other and recognize Christ in each other too.
We then die to the notion that any person doesn’t belong. We then die to the world’s and our own agendas of hate, violence, apathy, and polarization. We die to our own ego, our greed, our arrogance. God kills these things in us when Jesus draws us close to him, so close that all that the sin separates us from God and each other is squeezed out like toxic sludge from us. What is left is Christ in us. What is left is life, abundant life that is so vibrant that words can’t describe it, it can only be lived. Lived as actions of peaceful protest against violence to anyone, lived as actions of love such as building a habitat home, writing a card of encouragement for the students of Parkland, FL, lived as actions of mercy for our brothers and sisters who are unhoused because of mental illness, lack of education or addiction. We see Jesus’ living faith and so we live our faith.
We see Jesus, we see his death on a cross for what it really is: love that reveals God’s peace from the world’s violence, love that reveals divine power from what the world calls weakness, love that gets too close and personal when the world demands segregation. We see Jesus constantly turning the world upside down, refusing to meet violence with violence but going straight to the heart of the matter, head on to witness to his trust in God and in God’s glory to bring newness. We see Jesus’ actions glorifying God in heaven and so we pray for our actions to glorify God, as we will proclaim to Peyton Rose in her baptism this morning. We are called to let our actions glorify our Father in heaven, not for our own sake but for the sake of being in messy, uncertain and risky loving relationship with each other, the world and Christ. We are people of life and light, we bring this light of Christ to the world.
We wish to see Jesus. We wish to see the world how God sees the world. We wish to die to ourselves and live in Christ. We wish to see each other how God sees us-as beloved. We wish God to be our God and for us to be God’s people. We wish to see Jesus.

 

Jesus says #TimesUp It’s All About Love: Sermon on Mark 1:21-28 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 January 29, 2018

This Sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on Jan. 28, 2018. You can view it at http://www.bethanylive.org and look it up by the date.

The texts for the day were Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Mark 1: 21-28

 

Sometimes things are not always what they seem. The issue at hand is not really the issue at all. The toddler refusing to put a shirt is not about wearing a shirt, but about making their own choices. Or a teenager telling a parent that they don’t want them around, isn’t about overprotective or clingy parents, it’s wondering how much freedom their parents will allow. How much time do their parents really have for them, or how much do their parents really care?  Or in a marriage relationship, we don’t really dig in our heels about what time dinner is, or who should do the dishes or laundry, we’re wondering if we are in true partnership, heard and cared for. We tend to spend an inordinate amount of energy worrying about the wrong things and the actual issue can never be addressed. Often, every conflict boils down to fear. Fear of losing control of personal or communal boundaries.

I’ve noticed quite a bit of conversation in the air about boundaries. We encounter the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements as well as conversations about who is allowed to cross boundaries of countries, neighborhoods, etc. Boundaries communicate expectations and safety, we have boundaries for healthy relationships, boundaries that protect futures. Boundaries mostly seem positive but sometimes the question must be asked, positive for whom? Boundaries or the illusion of boundaries can also be used to control people or situations and when boundaries are in the hands of those with the most power and the most to lose from boundaries changing, damage can be done. We know that when someone crosses boundaries of our human worth, dignity and agency that person is suspect and dangerous. Personal boundary crossing raises red flags in our consciousness and we can even feel it in our bodies.

Damaging boundary crossing might be when people offer unsolicited opinions about us, harsh critiques, or words of how we make them uncomfortable, and when this happens, especially under the cloak of anonymity, it’s a boundary that has been crossed to the detriment of all involved. Sometimes our very existence can cross a societal norm boundary, and this makes people question the truth about boundaries and our human need to keep people in certain categories.

Our Mark 1 and 1 Corinthians 8 texts are not what they seem. In Mark, we might say this passage is about Jesus teaching with authority, or about demons, or an exorcism. In 1 Corinthians we might say that passage is about food, meat, idols or culture. But both passages are actually about boundaries. Jesus first public act in the gospel of Mark, reveals what God thinks about boundaries. We got a foretaste of that from the baptism story when the heavens were torn open and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. God’s love couldn’t even be contained by the boundary of heaven! Jesus wrestles with Satan, calls some disciples and then goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, like any good Jewish person. But Jesus did something that the ordinary person entering synagogue did not do: he taught with authority. Boundary crossed. Only the rabbis and scribes had any religious authority-but the people were caught by the nature of Jesus’ teaching. It was different, it was authentic, it revealed something about God and God’s nature. It was so revealing that a man also in the synagogue with an unclean spirit called Jesus by his true identity: Holy One of God! An unclean spirit in the synagogue is indeed another boundary crossed, in case you are wondering! We don’t know if no one knew this man had an unclean spirit or if the man had been outside and came in when he heard Jesus, we just don’t know. What we do know about Jewish purity laws is that this would have been a cause for great concern. The man should have been cast out away from everyone else for safety, but Jesus didn’t do that, he crossed the boundary and went toward the conflict, the uncleanliness, he took the issue head on.

He saw the man not as a someone to keep boundaried, but as a beloved child of God needing to be freed from a harmful boundary. Jesus leapt over the human boundary of cleanliness to bring this man into community. Jesus does this. Jesus declares that boundaries that harm us and keep us from being all who God created us to be are no more.

Jesus call us out of our human boundaries for the sake of proclaiming the gospel. God says that nothing should separate us from God and so whatever cultural norms we do or do not adhere to are irrelevant. That might mean we have to let go of worrying about how other people think we should act or how we think people around us should act. I encounter this often in my day to day life. Society tells us that women are to be small, meek and quiet. Culture tells us that we can’t take up much room, we have to leave room for the men. My spiritual director calls that spiritual anorexia. We tend to think that anorexia is about food and body image, and while that is a piece of it, it’s actually about infantilism. Encouraging women and girls to look younger is more about control. Children are helpless, lack agency and voice, women can be boundaried in this way. It’s dangerous not just to bodies but to minds and souls of girls and women as well as boys and men. We know that God calls women to be equally bold, big and loud as our brothers for the sake of proclaiming the love of God. Society tells us that men are to be tough, non-emotional, or grandiose. Plus the pressure of soul wage earner. We know that God also calls men to be equally gentle, emotional, and true partners with their sisters in the proclamation of the gospel. It’s not an either/or it’s a both/and. There’s room for all and we have to shed the worry of fitting into a boundary that is human made and not God made.

In 1 Cor. Paul is not worried about who eats what food from idols but about the boundaries that have arisen in the community. Some in the Corinth church were elite, educated and thought mostly of their own needs. Paul recognized that some in the community were struggling to understand the freedom in this pure grace from God and were still tripped up by the gods and idols of their culture around them. The elite and educated didn’t see that their eating meat from idol worship was confusing for some and frankly, the elite didn’t care. They had what was making them comfortable and what they understood, so that’s all that matters. But the dichotomy of the haves and the have nots was straining the relationships within the community and Paul beautifully lays waste to this human made boundary: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” If a boundary isn’t about love, it’s not a real boundary. And not the kind of love where you might say to someone, “I’m lovingly telling you to stay in a boundary that makes me comfortable.” No, it’s a boundary of selflessness where you put your own comforts and needs aside for you neighbor. Boundaries, Jesus declares throughout the gospels, are always about your neighbor in need. Boundaries often do make us uncomfortable as they are almost rarely about us.

But boundaries help us to name fear and anxiety when we feel it and to know that poor boundaries are often the core of conflict. Jesus proclaims that we go towards the conflict, towards the fear and anxiety to walk together, to learn from one another, to peel back the outward layers where we can get stuck in useless debate and never get to the real issue. Jesus very existence erases human boundaries. God creates boundaries for healing, wholeness, community, and living as the beloved body of Christ. God draws us all into the boundary of unending, abiding and steadfast love in the kingdom of God. This is good news indeed, and not just for some, but for all people. Amen.

 

Words Matter Sermon on John 1: 1-14 Christmas Day December 31, 2017

This sermon was preached on Dec. 25, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO.

John 1:1-14New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth.

We’ve all heard the phrase “words matter.” As a trained educator, I learned early on to never underestimate the power of words. When I was a student teacher 25 years ago, I remember my mentoring teacher telling me that for each one negative word a child heard about themselves, it takes 10 positive words to counteract the one negative word. That is a very daunting reminder for all of us who work with children and youth or speak to others for a living. Words matter. Even as adults, in important conversations we search for just the correct word to say, or avoid using certain words for fear of being misunderstood. We tend to think of words as lifeless, inanimate objects just sitting on a page waiting to be read, or things to be glibly offered and then discarded. How often have we heard the words of a poem or a book read out loud and we synthesized it differently, had the words hit us more emotionally in our hearts and in our souls than just reading them silently by ourselves? Words do matter, words are powerful, and words given life by human utterance matter.

Words matter. We wait to hear words of reassurance from a loved one when we are worried about them, or we listen for words of reconciliation after a fight, or words of hope in a dire situation, or words of love from someone whom we love. Words matter because they fill in gaps of who we are and who others are to us. Words matter because they intertwine to tell a story about our lives together. Words matter because one simple word has the power to uplift us or crush our spirits. Words spoken to us offer us an experiential encounter with another person. Words connect us.

God created us people of words, people of stories, and people of The Story, the story of God’s love. In the passage from John this morning, we hear the importance of this truth. The Word was present from the beginning with God because words and The Word matters. The Word that speaks life and light into chaos and darkness matters and this word speaks to us over and over again connecting us to this truth in every time and place. The Word from God that tells us the story that we belong to God and are deeply loved by God. The Word from God that offers us life altering encounter and deep connection with God.

God speaks this word in a myriad of ways because the world speaks words of fear, scarcity, and unimportance to us all day long. God sent Jesus to us to be the alive, fleshy, embodied word of God’s love and abundance to us, in order to counteract whatever else we might hear from the world. Jesus as God’s very Word with us, not just in the past as the human Jesus, but right here, right now, fills us with this story of truth of who we are and who’s we are.

This Living Word that promises to be with us always even to the end of the age and to be living water, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the true vine, comes to us as every word of love, mercy and hope. This Living Word goes beyond mere words to be a living encounter in the waters of baptism. We will speak these words of God’s promises today on Brynn, Emma and Deacon and they will live in the words of God’s Story that began at creation and continues through time. This Living Word comes to us in bread and wine and has the power to gather us as one people, in abundance, inclusivity and joy; as Jesus’ very body and blood reminds us that bodies do indeed matter as each one of us are bodies who contain the Living Word of God.

Jesus as God’s Word of love, joy, mercy, forgiveness and hope to the world matters more than ever. Jesus as God’s Living Word matters to those who only hear negative things about themselves because the world tells them that they aren’t good enough, aren’t important and have nothing to offer. Jesus as God’s Word matters for us, so that like John, we testify to people who need to hear they are part of God’s story, the truth of the Word that is for all people in all times and in all places. Jesus as the Living Word matters to illuminate the darkness of our world, to cast out the words of fear and death that try and negate the life that God freely gives us. Jesus as the Living Word matters as this is a Word that lives in us for the sake of our neighbors encountering Jesus through us.

Words matter. Jesus as God’s Word of love, grace and truth to the world, matters. There is power in this Living Word, power to heal, power to love, power to speak truth, power to cast out all darkness, power to turn despair into joy and power to turn death into life. God displays this power by speaking transformational words of mercy, hope and love into unexpected people and places: an unwed teenage girl, lowly shepherds outside an unimportant town, an outcast prophet in the wilderness, and a tiny vulnerable baby born in a smelly, dirty stable.  Words matter. Words have power.  Jesus Christ as God’s living Word with us and in us, is all that matters. Amen.

 

“Blessed: Life and Death” Mary’s Song December 14, 2017

This sermon was preached on Wednesday Dec. 13, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church.

Mary and Jesus

Luke 1: 46-55  The Magnificat

What do you know about Mary? We tend to know the most about her from the birth narratives and from the passion story. We have snippets of normal mom stuff throughout, but Mary takes on multi-dimensions at Christmas and Good Friday in our church year. And these two days are inextricably linked for her, even from the beginning of her pregnancy. Mary is often portrayed as meek, mild, obedient and nurturing. I wonder about this. She was a young woman, a peasant, part of a minority religion, in an occupied territory, who was unwed and pregnant, ran away to the hills to a distant relative, who never says one word to her parents or about her parents in this whole narrative. Sounds like a head strong, defiant and stubborn teenager to me!

And then we have her song here in Luke: not a lullaby, not a sweet song of love for Joseph or her child, but a song that proclaims a political manifesto, a rearranging of the social system, a reversal of power, hope for the down trodden and a God who walks with those whom the rest of the worlds casts away. This is no ordinary birth announcement! A song of freedom that bursts forth from an ordinary young woman who would be considered a disgrace, a nobody, possibly even a problem. She has nothing and is nothing in the eyes of the world, but in her heart, she has everything-she is blessed.

When have you felt blessed? What does it mean to you to be blessed? What do you think it meant for Mary to say “from now on all generations will call me blessed?” Mary demonstrates how even in seemingly imperfect circumstances, God’s blessings abound. Mary is blessed by new purpose, relationship with God and part of God’s work of reconciliation. Mary’s purpose is not an easy road, she is taking on one of the most dangerous activities in the ancient world: childbirth. There was a very high maternal mortality rate and an even higher infant mortality rate. Life and death inextricably bound together.  Joy and grief, hope and despair. Mary would know the joy of holding her son only a few minutes alive and the soul shattering heart break of holding her son only a few minutes dead. Yet, all generations will call her blessed. Not because her life was easy or without risk or heart break, but precisely because she took this risk to be a part of what God was doing in the world, through her, and through her child even if it pierces her heart.

Mary’s song sings into our lives today with this powerful melody of blessings, not from the world’s perspective of being first, the best, and with the most but from God’s perspective of humility, self-emptying love and justice. Our lives sing like Mary’s when we live into the blessings of following God despite the risk, the blessings of pointing to God’s work in the midst of discomfort, the blessings of proclaiming God doing a new thing that is good news for the poor, the hungry and the lowly as they will be freed from injustice and the good news for the rich, the powerful and the proud as they will be freed from the oppression of being controlled by money, status and self. God’s blessings are sung in the midst of confusion and chaos by a peasant girl, by a mute prophet, by an old barren woman now pregnant, by angels, by shepherds and sheep, and by God as Jesus Christ, God with us, to save us, to heal us, to free us and to call us into the song God’s promises for us and all creation of hope, mercy and joy.