A Lutheran Says What?

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

Pay Attention! Sermon on John 1: 29-42 Year A January 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on Jan. 19, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9
John 1: 29-42

 

Children’s sermon: Have a tray (or a cookie sheet) of objects (have them be varied and as many as you can fit on the tray). Have the tray of objects covered by a sheet. Gather the children forward and say: “I have some fun objects covered up on this tray. I’m going to remove the cover for 30 seconds and I want you to see how many you can remember when I put the cover back on. Ok Go!” remove the sheet count to 30 in your head and then recover the tray. “Ok what was on the tray!” You can write them on a large sheet of paper if that helps or simply have a list of what is on the tray beside you that only you can see and check off as they name the objects. More than likely, they will not name all the objects and more than likely if they do, it will be a team effort. “Ok, I’m going to remove the cover again for 15 seconds and see how many more you can see.” Repeat the exercise. Now they might have all the objects. (Even if they got them all the first time, ask if they are sure and repeat the exercise.) You got them all! Great job seeing all of the things on this tray! You really paid attention and what you didn’t see the first time, you might have seen the second time, particularly if a friend had seen it and pointed it out to you. We don’t always notice everything around us all the time-it’s hard to pay attention to details or sometimes we don’t pay attention to the things we should-and family and friends and our church help us to do that! Our bible story today is all about paying attention. John tells his disciples to pay attention to Jesus, and points to Jesus a couple of times in our story-in case his own disciples missed Jesus the first time. And Jesus pays attention to the disciples and tell them to come and see what he is doing. They may not get it the first time, the second, third or fourth, but Jesus knows that they need to keep looking and that in a group of friends, each person will help the other see Jesus and not miss something-like we helped each other to see all the objects on the tray. Seeing Jesus can be hard for us as it’s not like in the bible story with Jesus right in front of them. So where do we see Jesus today? I want you to go and ask someone in the congregation-right now-where they see Jesus in the world and then you tell them where you see Jesus. We need each other to see Jesus and to pay attention to what God is up to! Jesus calls us to be together to point to God’s work in the world. Let’s pray:

It’s amazing what we can miss when we’re not paying attention. Paying attention is being aware of our environment, what’s around us, or who’s around us. How many of you have ever been driving somewhere familiar, from home to work, or work to home, grocery store, etc. and arrive at your destination with no real recollection of how you got there? Maybe you were lost in your own thoughts, or a good song on the radio. For me this week it was U2’s “I still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” I think it should have been our hymn of the day! Or perhaps you notice something new on your daily route and wonder to a friend “has that always been there?” and the answer is yes! I noticed that after I had lived in Denver for awhile and had my routines, how little I paid attention to anything outside my routine. Someone newer to town would ask me “do you know where such and such is?” and I would have to stop and think or look it up as I had never paid attention before.

We get comfortable in our routines, what we see, hear, think, and do and we don’t notice what’s really going on around us, until someone points it out or something happens that awakens us to perhaps to what has always been there but we’ve never seen. Often, seeing something new in our environment can be good and helpful-such as discovering that someone on your street has similar interests, or there is a convenience nearby that you need, such as when Mike and I just discovered a movie theater four minutes from our house. Sometimes, seeing something new or for the first time can be difficult as it might reveal something that needs work and our full attention-such as the first time I experienced the inversion here in Salt Lake in December. My reaction was that this needs to get fixed immediately! This needs our full attention!

To pay attention is to notice the complexity and intersections of life together. What and who we pay attention to matters. We can seemingly sleepwalk through our days and not notice what God is doing in our midst. Our default is to pay attention to ourselves, what matters for us today or this minute and not notice that there is more to see. John the baptizer wanted his disciples and others to pay attention to the light that had come into the world, not to himself or his own ministry. Repeatedly in our text he points to Jesus and says “look! See! Behold!” to anyone who will listen. John pointed Jesus out every chance he got. John isn’t worried about being in competition with Jesus for followers, John is concerned that people pay attention to Jesus and see him for who he is. John knows that this is the one for whom the whole world has waited. This is the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the one who will take away the sin of the world! Jesus is the one who will shake us awake from complacency and self-interest and show us what really matters. But it might be challenging and uncomfortable when we see it.

Jesus asks two of John’s disciples a pointed question “What are you looking for?” and the disciples deflect it with a question in return “where are you staying?” Jesus simply responds “come and see” and they follow Jesus. The disciples of John knew that they were looking for something, someone who would change everything. They knew that they wanted to see a revolution, they wanted to see the nation of Israel given it’s due, they wanted to see freedom. They thought that they would know it certainly when they saw it. Jesus’ invites them to come and experience first-hand, to see what God is doing in the world and that God, in Jesus, sees them as well. God has come looking for us.

God sends Jesus to look for us, see us and invite us to see the world with the eyes of God. To pay attention to what is happening in the world that brings harm, injustice and death to our neighbor. To be witnesses and pay attention to God’s vision of wholeness and freedom for all people and nations. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow and King was a man who saw the world through the eyes of Jesus and paid attention to what was broken and where God’s healing was taking place. In his “I have a dream” sermon, King invited us to come and see Jesus through a nation and a people who can stand hand in hand, break bread together, who know that our futures are bound up in one another and so we must see each other as created in God’s very own image. King invited us to pay attention to Jesus who liberates us from the tyranny of fear, hate, scarcity, selfishness and ego. King pointed us to Jesus and called us as a nation to pay attention that when any of us are harmed, we are all harmed. But seeing the truth is hard and requires us to be willing to keep paying attention, even when it breaks our hearts. Paying attention means staying in the difficult conversation and the hard work when others shut their eyes and walk away. We have a perception that seeing Jesus will make us feel good, warm, and comfortable but when we see Jesus, and realize that Jesus sees us, with all our brokenness, imperfections and doubt we are made uncomfortable. Being seen by Jesus reveals our need for grace, mercy and presence of God in our lives and reveals the work that we are to be a part of for the sake of bringing this same transformation throughout the world.

When we see Jesus and know that Jesus sees us, we then see those whom the rest of the world doesn’t. We see the destructiveness of ignoring white supremacy for our siblings who are black, we see the pain of erasure in our siblings who are LBGTQIA, we see the unraveling of truth in our institutions as a means to personal gains, we see those who are in systemic poverty and lack stable housing, and we don’t just see it to see it, we see it to name it, and then at the invitation of Jesus, to join in the work for all people to be truly seen as beloved, valuable and wanted.

Jesus looks for us, wants to see us fully for who we are and calls us to be renewed and transformed by his gaze. Simon was not only given a new name, Cephas, Peter, but Jesus also gave Peter a new life. Peter will try and shut his eyes and walk away, but Jesus will continue to gaze on him from the cross and then from the empty tomb and call him to see God’s people and care for them. We, too, might try and shut our eyes and walk away when what we see is too much, too painful and too hard, but Jesus looks at us, with love, compassion and mercy. Jesus looks for us to give us new life and new hope and calls us to “come and see,” pay attention, for God’s love sees you today and always. Amen.

 

So Many Questions, Baptism of Our Lord Sunday Year A

This sermon was preached on January 12, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 42: 1-9
Acts 10: 34-43
Matthew 3: 3-17

Children’s sermon: Play 20 questions with the answer being Jesus.(FYI a little girl asked the very first question: “Is it Jesus?” Ha!) Asking questions helped you to realize that I was thinking about Jesus. Asking questions helps us to learn things and understand things differently. Do you think you know everything there is to know about God? What do you wonder about God still? I have a lot of questions about God too! Well, really I have a lot of questions for God if I’m honest. Our bible story today is about Jesus being baptized. Now that seems like a straightforward thing but when Jesus came to John for baptism, John had a question for Jesus! Why do you come to me for baptism, you’re Jesus! John asking Jesus a question reminds us that even people who we think know a lot about God, still have things to learn and so do we! John didn’t quite understand that Jesus’ baptism shows that we don’t have to go to God, God always comes to us-every day.  We are baptized like Jesus to know that God is with us always and that every day is a new beginning to learn more about God in our lives and in the world. God doesn’t expect us to know everything, and our baptism isn’t about having answers but loving God and sharing God’s love with other people. Baptism gives us a job to do, and that job is to love. To splash other people with God’s love-that is our most important job-no matter what you grow up to be a teacher, a doctor, an accountant, a musician, our big job is to make sure that everyone knows God’s love: what are some ways that we can do that as children and adults? Those are all great ways to share God’s love! Let’s pray:

I’m noticing an interesting trend in our culture in the past few years: everyone wants to claim that they have all the answers, even if it’s not possible. From celebrities, to athletes, to nation leaders, to religious leaders, to random people on the internet. Someone always has the answer-for weight loss, younger skin, better relationships, to more complex issues such as wage equity, taxes, foreign policy, civil rights, and the list goes on. When these answers are shouted loudly enough, with certainty, and projecting that other people’s certainties are wrong, it has a devastating side effect: it shuts down relationships. When we are dug in about what we know and won’t ask questions of one another, we aren’t willing to learn something new or be in hard conversations we are cutting ourselves off from each other.

For me, and maybe most of us, asking questions is a posture of vulnerability, of admitting that we don’t know something. Not knowing something can leave me feeling useless, or that I have nothing to contribute. And as a pastor, people expect me to have all the answers about God. And the truth is that I don’t! I have as many questions as you, maybe more! You will also hear me say, “I don’t have answers, but I have some responses” as responses invite others to respond as well.  I tend to get into a lot of conversations with people who are very certain what the Bible says or what God is thinking and that to be a “Christian” I have to understand the Bible or God in a specific way-their way. And when I question their certainty-their response is to claim that I don’t have faith. Faith for many is to have all the answers, certainty and to never question. I love the Anne Lamott quote “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.”

John in our gospel story and Peter in our story from Acts, remind us of the importance of questions, curiosity, wonder and that certainty has never been part of the faith equation. The story of Jesus’ baptism from our Matthew gospel this morning was an embarrassment in the early church because of all the questions it raised. Why would Jesus, who is supposed to be without sin, need a baptism for repentance? What would Jesus need to repent from? And how could an ordinary person such as John, be worthy of baptizing the son of God? Jesus needed John?

The other gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism offer a picture that doesn’t raise as many questions. But Matthew wants us to be uncomfortable, to wrestle and to float in the questions and uncertainty of what we think we know about Jesus and baptism. John’s question to Jesus of “how can I baptize you?”, sparks more questions of what John did or didn’t understand about Jesus, his own cousin, whom he, himself, had been paving the way for all these years. Shouldn’t John have been certain in his role by now? Shouldn’t he have faith in who Jesus is? Yet, when the reality of God coming close, when the reality of being pulled into the work of God’s kingdom was palpable, John realized perhaps in a split second everything he didn’t know and that he might be in over his head. And Jesus didn’t offer John an answer or certainty but simply relationship and connection into God’s mission.

And then in Acts we drop in on Peter, oh dear Peter, right after his certainty rug had been pulled out from underneath him. This mini sermon in Acts 10, is the culmination of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and God opening Peter up to question what he knew about who was included in God’s grace and love through Jesus Christ. Peter had been praying and during that prayer time God confronted him with a vision of animals to eat that were forbidden by Jewish purity laws. Peter was greatly puzzled by this vision as it brought into question his whole understanding of living as God’s people and his faith. Cornelius, at God’s bidding, sent people to bring Peter to him. Peter went and in the interaction with Cornelius and his household, Peter was opened up to God’s work in all people, Gentiles and Jews alike. What we read for scripture this morning is Peter working out that there were things he didn’t understand and maybe still doesn’t, but he is learning a new way through Jesus. Peter had to set aside his certainty and ego to see what new thing God was doing, that God had a role for him in this kingdom expanding work, and that faith in Jesus, ultimately is a gift from God and not in his to control. When Peter let go of his certainty, he was able to fully witness to God’s radical inclusion, care and grace for all people, even those whom Peter had previously considered outsiders. God and God’s law was no longer in Peter’s image but had taken on the image of the Gentiles in his midst. God used Peter’s confusion and uncertainty to proclaim the good news of Jesus and to bring Peter into deep relationship with people different from himself.

It’s hard for us to admit when we’re in over our head or that what we thought we knew with certainty perhaps has another response. But God coming to us in Jesus pulls us into relationship with God where questions, wonder and curiosity are the heart of our faith and the heart of baptism. Baptism isn’t about our certainty and our answers-baptism is a response from God of who we are and whose we are. This is why we baptize infants in the Lutheran tradition, baptism is all about God and not about us or what we know. The scandal of the Matthew text is that Jesus was baptized by an ordinary and questioning human to reveal God’s extraordinary love and need for relationship with us. Jesus came to John to be baptized because that is the promise of baptism-God comes to us wherever we are, nothing separates us from God, and we simply float in the waters of faith and love. Baptism frees us from needing to have pat answers, from worrying if we have enough or the correct faith or wondering about our worth. Baptism frees us for relationship with God and one another. Baptism frees us to live into our true identity: beloved. Baptism washes our eyes and our hearts so that we see all people how God sees them, in God’s very image. Through our baptisms, God takes us by the hand and brings us into the beloved community and into the work of proclaiming God’s grace, peace, mercy, hope and love to a world who is in bondage to the need to be certain and right instead of in relationship with each other. Baptism is the promise that God comes to us through Jesus Christ to be with us, to connect us and to draw us all into new life today and always.

Jesus fully immerses himself in our humanity to dwell with us in the questions of life and to open to us the reality of God’s loving response to us and creation. God’s response to Jesus’ baptism says it all “this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We have worth because we are God’s. We are important in God’s kingdom not because of what we know or what we do but because of what God does through us. Amen.

 

 

Word in Action Sermon for Christmas 2 On John 1:1-18 January 9, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Jan. 5, 2020. The texts were:

Psalm 147: 12-20
Ephesian 1: 3-14
John 1: 1-18

Children’s sermon: Have a list of words that are actions: walk, sit, stand, hop, high five, etc. These are words that are also actions. Words that when we hear them or say them they can make us or someone else move. Sometimes for fun, or safety. Words are important because they are how we communicate all kinds of things. Well, God uses words too. In the creation story, God spoke words and things happened like light, the sun, moon, stars, plants and animals were created. And people! Words matter to God because God’s words are actions that bring life into the world. In our bible story this morning we heard how Jesus is God’s Word. The words that we hear for Jesus are light, truth, grace, life. These aren’t words that are easy to act out are they? But that’s the point! God came to earth as Jesus to show us how God would act out these words with us. How did Jesus act out the word grace? When he included people whom everyone else wouldn’t talk to. How did Jesus act out the word light? When he showed us God’s love! How did Jesus show us truth? When he told us that God wants to be with us always! How did Jesus act out the word life? Do you know the story of bringing Lazarus to life after he had been dead for four days? And of course, Jesus’ own resurrection with the empty tomb! God’s Word in action is always one of showing us love and life. Let’s pray:

We’ve all heard the phrase “actions are louder than words.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement as we’ve all experienced in some way. Maybe it’s someone who rarely says much at all, but you know a lot about them by their actions. Or people who say one thing but then their actions are the opposite of their words. And sometimes those people are us. Words are thrown around quite a bit in our modern society, especially with the rise of social media and all electronic communication where you can share your words but there’s no evident connection between your words and your actions on those platforms. Even the visually driven social media site Instagram isn’t always a reliable insight into how someone-any of us-really act. The pictures we see of people’s lives on social media are rarely the real story or the full story. This can be both a positive and a negative. How many of us have ever acted in a way that really isn’t us, but we felt some sort of pressure from within ourselves or from others to act in a way that isn’t consistent with who we are? Sometimes that can lead us to try something new and daring, which could be a positive, or sometimes it can betray our own integrity and ethics. People will forget our words of integrity, ethics and love if our actions are the opposite. The people whom we tend to admire the most are those whose words and actions are, for the most part, consistent and congruent.

Another phrase that many of us probably heard growing up was “do as I say and not as I do.” This phrase is often employed by adults to children. And often it’s adults not wanting children to imitate what they perceive as their own bad habits or an action not suitable for their child. As a child, I instinctively understood that what my mom meant by that phrase was to not follow her “bad habit” (mostly involved diet coke, a Reese’s peanut butter cup and other such minor infractions) and that she hoped that I could do better than she did. It was out of love that those words were spoken. But the challenge with that concept is that the words would seem hollow next to the action. What we take in as a lived experience has far more impact than mere words disconnected from what we see. Words and actions cannot be separated no matter how convenient that might be.

In our John text this morning, what scholars call the Prologue-the first 18 verses of the gospel, words and actions take center stage. The unofficial title of Prologue itself means, “before the word.” The opening verse of John bring us back to the creation story in Genesis 1, where God’s word was all that there was. God’s word rang out in the chaos and began to bring order and life where before, there was none. God’s word echoed and things happened, actions took place. It’s not by chance that the first thing that God’s word created was light. Light that reflected off the chaos to reveal it and to then bring life from it. God’s word was all that was needed for seas, fish, plants, animals and even yes, humans to be brought into existence. God’s word is powerful and with God’s powerful word, God’s powerful actions occur. And God’s words and actions are congruent. God said light and light happened, God said life and life happened. God’s word and action cannot be separated and are always about bringing light and life into the world and into our lives.

Jesus is God’s most powerful Word and action. Jesus, as God’s living Word, has been part of creation from the beginning, because God is one and also cannot be separated. Jesus as God’s Word, came to earth, to dwell with us, or the exact translation from the Greek is “to tent or tabernacle” with us. This recalls when God tabernacled with the Israelites in the desert for 40 years and God spoke God’s Word of the commandments, how we are to live together and bring life to one another. My favorite translation of verse 14 is from Eugene Peterson’s The Message where he writes “God moved into the neighborhood.” God’s Word and Action in Jesus is in the neighborhood! And not just in our neighborhood but every neighborhood!

Jesus as God’s Word and Action brings light, life, truth and grace to all people in the world. After John’s opening 18 verses, the word grace is never mentioned again in his gospel. Why? Because to see God’s word of grace, all you have to do is watch Jesus’ actions. Jesus who cleanses the temple of human preferences, greed and rules. Jesus who meets Nicodemus at night and tells him that God sent him out of love for the world and that Nicodemus is born of the Holy Spirit. Jesus who gives a no named woman at the well living water that will quench her thirsty soul. Jesus who heals a man born blind and returns him to community and relationship. Jesus who brings Lazarus four days dead back to life. Jesus who tells the disciples that people will know that they belong to Jesus by how they love. Jesus who stands face to face with Pilate and doesn’t back down to bullying and abusive power. Jesus who goes to the cross, not as a scapegoat or a substitution for us, but as God’s Word of reconciliation, redemption and truth in action. Jesus, as God’s Word, knows that suffering is real, death will come and God’s Word will speak into that chaos and bring us to life. This is what it means to live in the truth-truth is our unending and unconditional relationship with God-nothing separates us from God’s Word and Action in our lives.

We live in God’s Word and Actions through Jesus. As people who belong to and follow Jesus, we, like John the Baptist, witness to the light that God’s Word and Action bring to the world. We strive to have our words and actions congruent with God’s Word and Actions. Our words and actions must always bring light, life, love, truth and grace to people. Our prayers are hollow if our actions are disconnected. This is a challenge, dear siblings in Christ-for our prayers for creation, for peace, for unity are hollow if we continue to abuse God’s creation, wage war and divide ourselves. The actions of our planet, such as the massive fires in Australia, are telling us that our words are indeed disconnected. The actions in our world of killing, hate, wars, abuse, exclusion are disconnected from God’s Word as God’s Word only brings actions of life, abundant life to all people.

Jesus coming to our neighborhood means that God’s Word is for all, in all times and in all places. Jesus didn’t move into the neighborhood he liked, or that was safe, or where everything was comfortable and just the way he liked it, no, he moved in with the very people whom everyone else was trying to keep out, he moved into the neighborhood with those who didn’t understand him, like, or accept him. Jesus moved into a world that wanted to change him, make him more palatable, tame, safe, and socially acceptable. But God’s Word and actions are anything but those things in our world. God’s Word and Action loose in our world turns everything on its head. God’s Word and Actions illuminate the darkness so that injustices are brought to the light and can be transformed. God’s Word and Actions are not simplistic, they are not status quo, and they are not meant to be easy. Jesus never did what was easy, but what brought life-even to those who didn’t know him or like him.

In Jesus, God says, “do as a I say and as I do.” Love without boundaries, conditions or fear, live for the sake of others, be generous so that justice prevails, speak truth so that people are drawn into relationship with God, and exude grace so that in all things God’s glory is revealed for all to see.  God’s Word and Actions are louder than hate, fear, lies, discomfort, and death. God’s Word and Actions promise to bring life out of chaos and light into darkness. God’s Word and Action through Jesus connect us to unending life, light, love, truth and grace forever. Amen.

 

 

Inconvenient Love: Story of God’s Love Advent 4 Year A December 23, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Dec. 22, 2019. The texts were:

Isaiah 7: 10-16
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Matthew 1: 18-25

Children’s sermon: How many of you have heard story about yourself from when you were really little, from before you can remember or even a story that you do remember and you remember it differently? Such as when my sister and I talk about Christmas’s when we were growing up, she has different memories than I do. She remembers what we ate for the meal, and I remember who was there, or she’ll remember having fun sledding and I’ll remember being cold and wet. What’s cool about that is between us, we have more pieces of a story and important parts are remembered. I have this book to read to you “Room for a Little One,” Jesus’ birth story told from the perspective of the animals. This story reminds us that there are different ways to hear and tell a story. Today we hear from the gospel of Matthew the story of Jesus being born. If you come back to church on Tuesday, you’ll hear a different story of Jesus’ birth from the writer of Luke. They remember different pieces of the story and sometimes that might seem confusing. But both stories tell us that the important piece is that Jesus was born to be God’s love with us. The details of both stories help us to connect with how much God loves us and the world. Here are crayons and paper. If you were going to tell the story of Jesus birth to someone what would you say? Let’s pray:

This really isn’t convenient at all. This makes my life more complicated and messier. Pregnant before I’m married by the Holy Spirit? Who’s going to believe that? And if no one believes that, then the message that this baby is the Messiah is going to be a really hard sell. As it is, everyone in town is talking about this-well about me. I see the side glances and hear the whispers behind my back. The people shaking their heads at me in judgment. Friends pretending to not know me. My family too embarrassed and angry to even leave the house, as this isn’t how they raised me to act and they think I’m bringing shame to the family name and legacy. I wonder if they’ll let me live with them still, especially since I’m was supposed to go live with my husband soon and not even be in the household any longer. And Joseph…he’s such a good, God-fearing man who lives his life by the law and would never dream of doing anything scandalous. What is he going to do? By law, he could have me stoned and then none of this will matter. At the very least, the marriage has to be off and I will be alone and expecting a baby.  Why God is choosing this way to bring the Messiah? Surely there is an easier way that would be more convenient and believable. If only I understood the whole plan.

This really isn’t convenient at all. This makes my life more complicated and messier. But I can’t shake this dream of the angel speaking to me. It’s hard to believe that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit…yeah right. Who is going to believe that? I hear what everyone in the town is saying, the names that they are calling her and how they look at me with disbelief. I never thought that I would be involved in a scandal like this, that’s not who I am or how I’ve lived my life. Following God’s law matters, the law keeps just these sorts of things from happening, you know. People were surprised when I simply went to her father to quietly end the marriage when many thought that Mary should receive the full punishment of stoning, but that is also not who I am.

Don’t be afraid the angel said. Well what does this angel know? Afraid doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what life will be like if I continue with the marriage. We’ll always be “that family” and I’ll always be the guy who is raising a child that isn’t mine-a son none the less. Not really my heir, not technically from my lineage which does come from King David himself. I am supposed to just ignore that truth? But what if the angel is right, that this baby IS the one who will live up to his name that comes from our ancient history-Joshua or as some would say Jesus-the one who saves from sin. God doesn’t give names lightly. I remember from the reading from the prophet Isaiah who spoke of this that there would be a child who will be God with us. I never thought that I would be connected to such a thing or that God would really come as a helpless child. Babies aren’t convenient in most cases, but God as a powerless baby? How will that save us?

This whole experience is inconvenient. But what if this isn’t only about me and my reputation and future? What if there is something beyond myself and Mary? Is marriage or any relationship ever convenient? God is mysterious and doesn’t always seem interested in convenience in how God acts, I mean look at our history as Israelites, wandering around in the desert for 40 years wasn’t super convenient and neither was placing the law on heavy stone tablets or our exile experience. Being Israelite and belonging to God has never been convenient and has often been cause for hardship. But in those experiences, we did learn to trust God, and that God’s love never leaves us. We learned that God keeps God’s promises. What if this isn’t an inconvenience but an opportunity for me to trust God? No matter what choice I make, my life is forever changed, as is Mary’s. Maybe this is living life faithfully, not by the rules I’ve always known, but by trust and love of God. Love is rarely about what’s the easiest but is about what matters in the big picture for living and trusting in God’s love. The easiest thing is for me to walk away, the loving thing is for me to believe that God loves me, Mary and this baby who God says will transform the world, even though I don’t fully understand. Perhaps one day this will all make sense to someone and God’s promise will be clear.

This really isn’t convenient at all. It’s more complicated and messier than we like. We want God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus to makes our life easy, comfortable, and predictable. God at work in our lives and in the world should mean that everything in our life will be respectable to the outside world, that following whatever rules we think matter will mean that we are protected from chaos and hurt. But that is not the promise. God works through the inconveniences to reveal God’s transformational presence and love with us and for us through Jesus, an inconvenient birth, in an inconvenient place to fill our lives with God’s forgiveness, mercy and life forever. Jesus, as God incarnate, enters the real everyday messiness of our lives, the strained or broken relationships, the worry of our reputations, the fear of harm and rejection, and hardships that come when we focus on only ourselves. It might seem inconvenient for God to decide to meet us in the form of a fallible human with grace, mercy and love, but God has never been interested in convenience. God has always been interested in you-in offering love and abundant life to you, and us all, in whatever way possible, no matter what the cost. Love that comes in words of encouragement and words of reflection. Love that is tenacious and vulnerable. Love that moves us beyond rules and the past. Love that comes from people whom we like and from those whom we don’t. Love that comes to us in memories or dreams. Loves that comes to us whether we want it or not. Love that calls us to trust and step forward into a future we don’t fully understand to reveal God’s promise, healing and embracing of all. Love that might be inconvenient but with us always. Amen.

 

God’s Story of Joy: Unmet Expectations Advent 3 Year A December 18, 2019

This sermon was preached on Dec. 15, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

Children’s sermon: I have these two boxes (one beautifully wrapped and one that is very plain). Which one would you pick if you could? This nice one? Yep, I would too. We would expect that whatever is in this box to be wonderful and we would expect what is in this box to be plain. This time of year, we have what we call expectations-which means we have an idea about how things should be. As in Christmas morning we expect that we will have presents to open and to eat a yummy meal. We think we know how the day should go. In our bible stories today we are thinking about how things should go. Mary, Jesus’ mother, is so excited that she is going to have a baby that is God’s son that she sings a song that is about how she expects God will  change the world with her son. And then we hear a story about John, Jesus’ cousin (do you have any cousins?) who also had expectations for what the Messiah would do and Jesus wasn’t necessarily doing those things. John thought that the Messiah from God would totally change the world and be a little more like a worldly king. But Jesus tells him that the world is changing, just not quite the way John expected. Instead of big events and Jesus directly taking on kings and rulers, Jesus is with the people whom no one else wants to be with and is taking care of them-and this is what changes the world. It’s hard to us to see this sometimes as we expect little things to not matter. But Jesus says-they do! And that’s what joy is! Joy is when we realize that things may not be what we expect but God is at work and loves us.  Let’s open both boxes: Hey there was a treat in the plain box! We didn’t expect that did we? Nope! So let this candy cane remind you to always look with joy for God doing things differently that what we expect. Let’s pray:

One of our favorite go-to holiday movies is Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase. It sums up every holiday challenge in one hilarious over the top movie. One of the early scenes in this movie is a conversation between Clark and Ellen around the whole extended family coming for Christmas and Clark is so excited with planning and details. Ellen says to him: “Clark you build these events up in your head with expectations that no one can fulfill.” Clark says “oh honey when have I ever done that?” She replies deadpan, “birthdays, weddings, funerals, family dinners, vacations, anniversaries, holidays…” and the scene closes with her unending list of when Clark has put a high expectation and it doesn’t work out. And in this movie everything goes wrong: the tree catches on fire, dinner is ruined, the house is destroyed and they are all almost arrested and yet, at the end joy is had as the big expectations gave way to the overlooked importance of being together. The movie is funny because it’s true for many of us, I think. This is a time of year that is loaded with expectations, some of which are obvious, and some that are unspoken. We all feel the expectation of gift buying, house decorating, baking or big meal prep, attending parties, Christmas cards (an expectation I dropped about 14 years ago), and other trappings of the season. And then there are the underlying expectations: no tension in family relationships, people will get along, we will feel festive and happy, everything will be exactly how we planned it and joy will abound.

And it’s not just the expectations that I have for myself or others around me, this season also reminds me of the expectations that I have of God and my relationship with God. After all, this is the season where we talk about the coming of Christ, of hope, peace, love and joy. It’s the season where we have to come face to face with our expectations that aren’t met and how we cope with and negotiate that reality. If I’m honest, I have some very specific expectations of what God should be doing in my life and in the world. Expectations of injustices being righted, expectations of people caring for one another in whole and loving relationships, expectations of miracles, and the list goes on-I have a lot of expectations! And if I continue to be honest, most of them aren’t met and it can leave me wondering what to think or do. How can I be joyful when what I’ve expected for my life and of those I love, hasn’t worked out?

Our Bible passages today are filled with expectations and the question of are they being met. Isaiah lays out a vision of the expectation of deserts blooming with flowers and lush vegetation, miraculous healings and a holy, sacred path so obvious that even a fool can’t miss it! This is an expectation of God’s presence in the midst of Israelite exile and uncertainty about the future. Is God going to rescue them as they expect?

In Mary’s song-the Magnificat-we hear the young woman’s expectation of what God is up to in her life and in the world. And it’s some fairly high expectations. The powerful and rich overthrown, the lowly, the poor, the hungry lifted up and exalted, and an unmarried, pregnant, poor teenager will be remembered forever as blessed. Idealistic to say the least. But she sings this song of expectation with all her heart and soul, with confidence that God will indeed do these mighty things for God keeps God’s promises.

John has high expectations for the Messiah and God’s redemptive work in the world too. But John is struggling to see it. John is in prison for speaking truth to power when Herod wanted to marry his own brother’s wife and John condemned him. From behind bars, John is beginning to wonder if his calling as a prophet has been for nothing. Herod still seems to be able to do whatever he wants with no real consequences (which for John ends very badly when he is beheaded at the whim of Herod’s wife), the rich are getting richer, the Roman Empire is still calling all the shots, the people without voice and power are still getting kicked around and life is still very dangerous. John begins to doubt his own prophecy and expectations for God’s Messiah. So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, are you really the one? Are you the real Messiah or are we still in a holding pattern as we’ve been for about 1000 years.

John’s proclamation and confidence in what he thought was coming was shifting to despair. What if he had been wrong? What if his work didn’t matter? The hope of the Jewish people for a Messiah, a savior, was very much one of a mighty king who would take over, enter the ring like Hulk Hogan and start tossing aside anyone in their path to make way for God’s Kingdom where the descendants of Abraham will never live in fear, will have all that they need, with prosperity and safety forever. If we’re honest this is what we expect of God in our lives too. God who uses power and might for our personal expectations. We look for God to do grandiose and unilateral acts.

Jesus’ response to John’s question is loving and gentle. John, I know that this isn’t what you expected. But the lame are walking, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, and the poor have good news. No, it’s not a complete overthrow from the center of power, it’s not a complete coup d’état. What else would you expect? Jesus asks. God’s justice and redemption are not blooming from where the worlds center of power. God’s work gestates in the weak, from the margins, from the edges, from the darkness, from the ignored. God’s at work in places were few dare to tread, in wombs and tombs.

God’s greatest work isn’t always seen but it matters. God’s kingdom comes from underground to bloom in dry, desolate places. Joy bubbles up in helpless babies, in country stables, in deserts, and bursts from darkness into the light.

When we can shift our expectations, of ourselves, of those around us, of events, and yes, even of God, we can see this joy. It’s difficult, I’ll grant you, as it’s easier to see the despair, the unmet expectations of people, family, organizations, and government, to see the harm being done and sometimes, like John, the joy is held in the promises of God that are given not in this life but in the next. But also like John, we can turn that kaleidoscope, get a different picture, and we can see what God sees. God at work underground, God percolating transformation in people and places that most consider ignoble or don’t notice at all. In the homeless shelters, in the food pantries, in underfunded classrooms, in crisis centers, in assisted living facilities, God’s joy abounds, in the people who refuse to let despair, isolation, and hopelessness prevail. Joy shines so that we will see the world as it could be, with God’s expectations of life, love and community. Joy shines to hold our doubts and our faith together and we are freed from our prisons that hold us back from exuding that same joy and shifting the expectations of the whole world. We can see, hear and walk in God’s joy that shines on us in Jesus who is the one to fulfill all expectations. Joy to the world indeed. Amen.

 

God’s Story of Righteousness: God’s Love in Action Advent 2 Year A December 8, 2019

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

The texts were:

Isaiah 11: 1-10
Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19
Matthew 3: 1-12

Children’s sermon: How many of you have made a new friend, or remember when a new baby sibling came home? New relationships in our lives change us don’t they? Most of the time, those things are good-we learn that we like different foods, or we like having a sibling to play with. Or sometimes we have to change how we do things, like if we now share a room, we can’t have the light on whenever we want it or with a friend, we have to do things that they like and not just what we like. It can be hard to be in relationships and we’re never the same after we meet different people!

There’s a church word for that and we are talking about it today: righteousness. It’s kind of a long word; can anyone tell me what they think it means? And it has a couple of different ways it can be used. Yep! It’s about God. We hear the word righteousness in two of our lessons this morning and although it’s not in our gospel story, it’s at the heart of our gospel story. The word righteousness is about being in right relationship with someone-to care for one another, which God says is holy-or important. Righteousness is about “love in action.” So, when we talk about God’s righteousness, we’re talking about God’s love in action with us. God loves us so much and wants us to always know that God cares for us more than we can ever know. John the Baptist in our gospel story is telling the people to look for God’s love in action in their lives, that’s why he tells them to repent, which is another big word we’re talking about today. It can mean to be sorry for things we’ve done that we shouldn’t AND it means to “turn around and change our minds.” John says to the people, turn around and see God’s love in action coming to your life through Jesus! Jesus brings us into relationship with God and you will never be the same! Jesus shows us how to be God’s love in action with everyone we meet, even if it’s really hard, but we can’t do this love thing alone.  One way that we are going to practice that today is I have these Christmas cards. You can each have one and give to someone who you think needs to know that God loves them. It can be anyone-even someone you don’t really know. You can write a little note and you don’t even have to sign your name. What matters is the message of God’s love. Let’s pray:

A spiritual practice for me is to occasionally take the time to unsubscribe from emails that I don’t really want to get and junk up my inbox. In my personal email account-I would never delete any important OSLC business. 😊 It’s a spiritual practice partially because many of the emails tend to be consumer related. It’s amazing how many emails I get from retailers and most I’m not even sure how I ended up on their list! So, I go through and unsubscribe from the ones that are of zero interest to me and with all of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails, I decided to even unsubscribe from the ones who were of interest to me! I realized that the bold letters with the exclamation points of discounts caught my attention far more often that I would like to publicly admit right now…OOOO it’s 50% off…maybe I DO need one more pair of my favorite comfy yoga tights…the reality by the way is that I do not! It would be altruistic for me to think “well maybe a good idea for a Christmas gift for someone will pop up in my email…” yeah right. And then Giving Tuesday hit, and don’t get me wrong it’s a good thing to highlight all of the non-profits doing great work, once again, my inbox was inundated by organizations that I didn’t even know had my email! So, unless it seemed a true interest, I unsubscribed from a bunch of those too. My hope is that fewer emails, fewer distractions, will allow me spend less time on things that don’t really offer me substance or connections and to spend more time on things that matter. I’m finding for myself, more and more, I want to focus on what matters in every aspect of my life, listen to the voices that matter. Even in my email.

This email dilemma is really a microcosm of my life in 2019 almost 2020 and I wonder if you feel it too. There is so much and so many people pressing for our time and attention that mindfulness and focus are the casualties of 24 hour news cycles, smart phones, social media, shopping apps, and even our simultaneously beloved and hated emails. And let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, many of these things are needed, helpful and can be powerful forces for good…in proper balance. The reality is that I sometimes intentionally use these devices to drown out that lone voice that is trying to call me to what matters, it’s as if I can cocoon myself and ignore the hard things in my life and in the world with just a click of the tv remote, the FB app, or Amazon. I can pretend that what the world tells me is important, whether it’s getting just the right gift, outfit, house remodel, can make me feel less overwhelmed, fix my relationships, ease my grieving, make me eat healthy and make me happy. Sometimes it works, for a while anyway….

The specific distractions might have changed, but the experience of not paying attention to the things that matter and getting caught up in worldly schemes, seems to be ancient. John the Baptists cry cuts through 2000 years of human distraction to rudely awaken us to the truth of what God is up to. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, was sent to get our attention for God with harsh words and images. He proclaimed repentance, as I told the children, which means to turn around, to change our minds, to see ourselves differently than we have before. We tend to think of that word as negative, as an act of abject unworthiness, but John never says that. John baptizes people to help them unsubscribe from what is separating them from what really matters in their lives. To the Pharisees and Saducees, groups of people who thought that they were focused on what mattered, their connection to Abraham, John says, bear fruit worthy of repentance, that is, you are already worthy, you can turn around and try again. You can be righteous, God’s love in action-you can be pay attention to what matters and show others this love too.

God’s love in action, is coming, in Jesus. Jesus baptizes to not only turn you around and cut through the distractions of your life, Jesus baptizes to connect you to what matters-God’s love and presence in your life through the Holy Spirit. The very breath of God that fills you and brings you to true life. And the reality that somethings about your life will need to go, be burned away and it won’t be easy or comfortable. When we listen for what matters in our lives, other concerns such as ego, self-image, our emotional armor, addictions, whatever is not our true selves created in God’s image, are all drowned out by God’s loving voice.

When we turn around and know that we are already immersed in relationship and righteousness with Jesus, we can hear that voice cutting through the noise and distractions. That voice will call us to live differently, to care about what God cares about-to know what is truly important as we live in the time when the Kingdom is indeed near but not yet. We bear fruit that serves our neighbor, that creates the bold vision of Isaiah that there is indeed life and hope where the world proclaims all is lost. Transformation of both predator and prey can happen. Those who benefit from the weak will turn around, be content with less and sacrificially offer care, dignity and equity for all and those who have been hurt and oppressed will turn around to see trust, safety and affirmation restored. Fruit that all can partake in and no one is left hungry, without or neglected.

No, we’re not there yet, and this is hard and uncomfortable work. And it might seem overwhelming and not possible so we might as well just worry about our own happiness. Only, that’s not how it works. Whether we like it or not our futures, our lives, our joy and our happiness are bound up in one another. Jesus gathers us all with his winnowing fork for what matters, to call us and the world to turn away from death and destruction, to sift out of our lives what distracts and from what we need to unsubscribe in order to hear God’s voice of love, mercy and hope that cries out to us.  Thanks be to God.

 

Tied to God’s Story of Welcome Advent 1 year A

This sermon was preached on Dec. 1, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

The texts were:

Isaiah 2: 1-5
Psalm 122
Matthew 24: 36-44

 

A couple of weeks ago I read a story about a young woman, 23, who’s father had died four years earlier. When he was alive, she used to call or text him every day about her day. When he died, she continued these nightly texts. How she had been diagnosed and beat cancer, how she went to college, about her first job, apartment, ups and downs of her life. Of course, she never had a reply and she assumed that these texts were just going to digital void. But these texts made her feel that she was still connecting to her dad, tied into his love that she had known from him while he was alive. On the fourth anniversary of his death, she sent her usual daily update but with a note of how much after four years, she still loved and missed him. But on this night, she received a reply…her texts had not been going into a void but to a man who had been given her dads cell phone number not long after his death. This man had lost a daughter about the same time that this young woman had lost her dad. He began to wait and watch for those nightly texts not knowing if they would continue to come or not. He never responded until that anniversary text, and he doesn’t know why. But he texted her “sweetheart, I’m so sorry that your dad died and that you miss him. My daughter died a few years ago too. If she were still alive today, I would want her to be like you. You are amazing.” They connected in real life, and the man said that the nightly texts are what kept him alive when he felt that he couldn’t go on without his daughter.

He and this young woman, though strangers, were tied together, connected into something bigger than their grief. They both felt left behind and lonely from the deaths of their loved ones and were trying to make sense of a senseless situation. And while, they still didn’t have pat answers, one thing was clear, that they had needed each other and this young woman who thought that she was only sending messages into nothingness, was tying someone into a bigger story of love, connection and welcome. And on the night the man texted back, he included her into a bigger story as well. There is no such thing as strangers or outsiders, only people who don’t realize that they are connected to one another yet for purpose, affirmation and walking together, even if the path isn’t always clear.

I love this story so much as it exemplifies the heart of the good news from God as we enter into the Advent season. We wait and watch for messages from God about Jesus coming to us-returning to finish what was begun at creation. But we don’t like the unknown and waiting much as humans and we grow impatient. In our current culture of immediate gratification, and with all our technology and learning, we think that we should be able to predict an exact time and place. We also want to know who will be included in the coming of God’s kingdom-some people? Which people? Why? Our need to know everything, to think that we can play God and should be on par with God isn’t new, it’s as old as the story from the garden of the first people wanting to know what God knows about right and wrong.

Jesus reminds us that we aren’t God, and that’s a good thing. We don’t know when Jesus will return, not even Jesus knew that when he was with the disciples here on earth. Partially, I think because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when Jesus will come again because we should always be living with purpose and with mission for God’s work, not to ensure that we are not “left behind” but because we already are left behind. All the cultural appropriation of the “end times” throughout history has been based on fear of not making the cut, of not being good enough, of not being included. But Jesus says that’s not how any of this works. The person left in the field and the woman left grinding meal, aren’t excluded from God’s promises, not at all, they are left to continue the work of connecting more and more people into God’s welcome of love, grace and mercy. God needs people, needs us, to reveal these promises all over the world. Maybe through text messages, or maybe in person, merely by our presence.

Isaiah points to the reality that all people will come to God’s house and will be welcomed! No one is left out, all will learn the ways of God’s peace and mercy for the sake of living lives of praise, joy and gratitude for the work that God has put before us all. All people are tied to this story. We may not understand this story fully on this side of the kingdom, and the good news is that we don’t have to. Being tied to God’s story of welcome means that we can let go of knowing all the details when, who and why, and we can focus on being that light in the void, the people who keep awake, not for worrying about ourselves, but keeping awake to see whom God is including and so we can too. Being awake allows us to see people for whom they really are: beloved by God made in God’s image. We can learn from God to love all people-which is more than only tolerance and acceptance but is about relationships. We are to learn peace from God, which is to move beyond our fears of those different from us and work side by side with people for the good of all creation.

War, hatred, divisions, borders, fear are not of God. When Isaiah sees people streaming to the house of the Lord, it means that people will cross geo-political human made boundaries, people will gather with different customs, food, thoughts and rituals. And God will gather them all, judge them, not with anger but with love and trust. God’s judgment of love and peace transforms weapons of war to instruments of cultivating newness, life and growth. God brings life from death and destruction. Our personal weapons may not be ones of guns, swords or tanks but we wield weapons of war and hate with our words, our actions, or inaction and even the bible, the story of God’s unending love, has been used for division and destruction. Keeping awake allows us to see and learn to turn our words to compassion, our actions to peace and inclusion, our scriptures to welcome, wholeness and love. We then can see what God sees, humanity and creation bound together in the God’s promises for peace, abundant life and love forever. We can see that our purpose is to share God’s welcome even when we can’t see the outcome, even when we don’t have all the answers, or can’t understand God’s timing. God sees that we can walk together in the light of Jesus who illuminates our path and reveals that we are all tied to God’s story of welcome forever.

I’m going to invite the children forward to talk some more about this. You wondered when I was going to do the children’s sermon, didn’t you? It’s like our bible story today! What are some of your favorite stories, either books or on tv or a movie? What makes those stories good? There are all kinds of reasons, but often times, really great stories, pull us in and make us a part of the story somehow. We’ve been talking about that this morning and how the bible is God’s love story to us, and how God wants to welcome us and everyone into this story. And when we are a part of this story, it’s so good that we will want to share it with everyone we meet! That’s part of our work here in our lives, to share the story, not just with words, but with actions. It’s sometimes hard to remember that we are tied to God’s story though, isn’t it. We can worry that maybe we’re not part of God’s story or worry that someone else isn’t. But we just heard that we don’t have to worry about that-everyone is included-even if they haven’t heard the story yet. To help us remember this I have these blue ribbons. We use the color of blue in Advent to remember the night sky when Jesus was born and it represented royalty in Jesus’ time-and we know that Jesus is a special kind of king. So we have these blue ribbons that we are going to tie on our wrists to remind us that we are tied and welcomed into God’s story of love and peace for the whole world. I’m going to have you help me hand these out to everyone here and we will tie them on one another and offer this blessing: +You are tied and welcomed into God’s story forever+