A Lutheran Says What?

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

Broken Pieces Sermon on Mark 10: 2-16 October 9, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on Oct. 7, 2018. It can be viewed on http://www.bethanylive.org.

The texts for this Sunday were Mark 10: 2-16 and Genesis 2: 18-24

Gather the children up front and ask them if they have ever had a favorite toy or other object break. How did they feel about they broken toy/object? Was it able to be fixed? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Not all things can be fixed. This is a bracelet that a dear friend made for me about 14 years ago. I loved it so much and wore it all the time! But then it broke. I didn’t fix it but I’ve kept all the pieces all these years. I sometimes feel like this bracelet looks, all scattered in lots of pieces. Do you ever feel that way? Feel like one of your broken toys? What helps you to feel better?  We all get sad about things breaking, friends moving, or someone no longer being our friend. Things break, sometimes our friendships break and our hearts break too. In our Bible story this morning, there were some people who wanted to Jesus to tell them that some people are too broken for God to love and accept. Jesus instead says that God is all about putting us and our broken hearts back together. Jesus says God wants our hearts, our lives and US to be whole, to be loved and to know that we are important to God. In our Genesis story we heard about God creating people to be together. I handed out to some of you pieces of a big puzzle, let’s put it together: it’s a big heart! We needed all the pieces to make a whole heart! What happens if I take a piece away….yep, it’s not whole. We all matter to God, God understands that our hearts get broken and sent us Jesus show us how God’s love makes us whole again. God, through Jesus, takes broken people and the broken world and makes us whole. We tell each other about this promise of God, like Jesus did in our story, by giving blessings. Jesus blessed the children by a safe touch-on the head or hand-and said words of love to them. Can we say words of love to each other this morning? How about “you matter and are loved by me and by God.” As you go back to you seat, tell the adults around you “you matter and are loved by me and by God.”

We all know what it is like to be broken and we can feel like this bracelet. And we live in a society that tells us to throw away broken things as they don’t have any value and we then extrapolate that to ourselves. It’s been a long week for me of hearing about brokenness. I had jury duty on Monday and the case was sexual assault on a child and those of us in the jury pool were asked to disclose our personal or familial experiences with sexual assault or abuse. All day long stories of pain and brokenness were spoken. I wanted to cry at many points overwhelmed by the sheer preponderance of pain. Then there are the two young people who died by suicide this week from Arapahoe High School. We can only guess at the brokenness that those young people were experiencing and our hearts break with their families and friends. And then the Lutheran Church of Australia once again voted down the opportunity for women to be ordained revealing the brokenness of even religious institutions. And then there is the brokenness being played out on the national stage this week. No matter where you may be on the judicial hearings, we can all agree that this is human brokenness and pain spilling out into the hearts and minds of an entire nation and it’s not what God intends for anyone. I won’t lie, my pastor heart is weary this week.

We all want to have value, worth, to be heard and believed and so we work hard to hide our brokenness or pretend like we’re not. We cover up our pain with anger, blame of others, or we over work, over eat, over drink, over shop, over exercise, or over sleep. Yet, we have these passages this morning that make us look differently at what God does with broken pieces, our pain and systems that devalue some people while over valuing others.  Unfortunately, this Mark passage, as well as the Genesis text, has been misused in the Church and culture to perpetuate brokenness and pain. We forget that these are ancient texts from a particular time and place and aren’t meant to be taken literally in our context today. Marriage simply doesn’t work the way today that it did 2000 years ago, as it was about clan alignment and property.

It also helps to remember that these stories are a part of a bigger story, God’s love story to us. The creation story of humans in Genesis was never meant to form a hierarchy of importance or to limit what people or relationships could look like and our English translations aren’t overly accurate. “Helper” or Ezer in Hebrew, is used in the OT several times and most often refers to God. It means “divine help”, not subordinate help. And “partner” better translates to “correspondent” or “equal.” This is a story of the creation of togetherness in humanity. God takes a piece from the first human, adamah which means dirt, and isn’t actually gendered as male, and creates a second human. Only with the creation of the second human do we get the creation of gender. God creates community from pieces. The now male and female, created equal, are also created for one model togetherness, but not the only model of togetherness.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus questions about divorce, they are looking to test him about this “togetherness.” What happens in divorce Jesus? They were trying to isolate Jesus from gaining any more traction with the crowds, as Mark tells us that people are listening to Jesus and flocking toward him. Jesus’ ministry addresses the isolating pain of ordinary people’s everyday challenges, personal and systemic, head on-healing the sick, casting out demons, returning the unclean to community, providing abundant food from scarcity to fill bellies. Jesus is creating community, togetherness, and not just any kind of community, but community where all matter, all have a voice (especially those who are on the outside of society-women and children), no one is isolated by social or religious laws and brokenness and fear don’t have the last word. You see, Jesus takes the question of divorce and turns it into a statement about God’s desire for togetherness-for all people. In God’s definition of togetherness-all matter, all are needed to create the whole. There is not anyone who is outside of God’s community and it matters how we treat one another.

Jesus is also pointing the people and us to the cross. Jesus knows this is where he is headed because of the brokenness of humanity as both the Roman Empire and the religious institution are more concerned about power, authority and control than on the dignity and flourishing of God’s creation. When Jesus gathers the children to him for a blessing, Jesus is foreshadowing the gathering of all creation through the cross. Jesus himself will be bodily broken, holes in his feet and hands, pierced in his side. Jesus tells his disciples this fact at the last supper, when he says, this is my body broken for you. My body broken so that you and all of creation can be made whole. Redemption and reconciliation, means God using pieces, broken pieces of us, of our neighbor, of systems, to create wholeness, Shalom wholeness where all people know that they matter, that their brokenness does not make them outside the beloved community of God, but central to it. Our brokenness becomes the beautiful mosaic of creation where God is at work healing systems of injustice and pain bringing us together for the sake of the wholeness of one another. I am not whole without you, and you are not whole without me. We are not whole without the people in Denver, and they may not know it, but they are not whole without us. This is the blessing from Jesus, the words of love offered from a manger, from the cross and from the empty tomb. This is the blessing that Jesus gives the children and we are called to give each other and to all people no matter if we agree with them, can accept their brokenness and pain or not. We might feel like this bracelet today, but this brokenness is not the last word from our redeemer, healer and savior.  We are created for wholeness and to be together in love for the blessing of each other and the world. Hear Jesus say to you: You matter and are loved by me and God.

 

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Don’t Be Distracted: Sermon on Mark 7: 24-37 September 10, 2018

This sermon was proclaimed at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO on September 9, 2018. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

Distractions…Children’s sermon: Gather children and say that you have something really important to tell them. Then get a text, say “oh wait, let me look at this…ooo very cool. Do you all want to see this picture of the bouncy house outside? It’s so awesome! Oh look here’s more pictures of my daughter’s cat…oh wait a minute…are we supposed to be looking at pictures on my phone or doing something else? Oh that’s right! I wanted to tell you about Jesus but I got distracted by my phone! Does that ever happen to you? You go to do something or your mom, dad or teacher asks you to do something important and you then you walk by the tv, a game, or a toy and get distracted and don’t do that thing? Yep! It happens to everyone, even adults! What do you think is more important– these pictures on my phone or telling or showing you about the love of Jesus? Love of Jesus! In today’s bible stories, we are reminded not to get distracted by stuff going on in our lives from showing people that Jesus loves them. Sometimes we get distracted. Do you ever get distracted in school? Or by how people look, or act, or what they say, but Jesus wants us to remember that THE most important thing in our lives is to show everyone love by putting people first, not toys, games, or something that we want to do, but what our friends and families NEED us to do so that they feel loved. What are ways to show your friends and family Jesus’ love? Yep! I’m going to talk to the adults some more about that, but let’s pray first.

I am so easily distracted! How many of you here have picked up your phone to maybe text a family member and then get sucked in to social media or another message from someone else, put down your phone 30 minutes later only to realize you never actually sent the text/email you picked your phone up to do! I have found myself doing that.  It can make me worry I’m losing my mind! That’s rhetorical btw, you don’t get a vote on that. But I get distracted by the email or text that is right in front of me and so seems so urgent that I forget the first thing I wanted to do. I get tunnel vision and can miss what is truly important and has value.

We live in a time and culture where someone or something is always trying to pull our attention and distract us: media, technology, politics, hobbies, “to-do” lists,  sports, school activities, jobs and our social lives! And distractions aren’t bad, they can be good and wonderful things. But distractions can keep us from being present in the moment and can keep us from remembering what really matters.

Our scripture texts for today reorient us to what is important, although on the surface, we can get distracted by some other stuff going on. In Mark, it’s easy to get distracted by the uncomfortable exchange between the Syrophoenician woman and Jesus. Jesus makes a very harsh comment to this desperate mother who only wants to save her daughter. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” I spent a great deal of time distracted this week trying to explain this away and make Jesus sound less harsh, as let’s be clear, this is an insult. We can’t pretty up that Jesus called her a dog. And I don’t think we should let Jesus off the hook either. Jesus is fully human and a product of his culture and time. And Jesus is in a foreign land, he is the outsider in Tyre and the woman is the insider, however, she knows that she shouldn’t speak to a strange man by herself, she knows that there are deep tensions between the Hellenized Gentiles in this region and the Jews that they regularly oppress. But she boldly asks for what she needs from Jesus, and it seems, this is exactly the response she expected because she had a quick comeback “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She didn’t deny or argue with what Jesus said, she didn’t get distracted by the slur. She stood her ground, spoke her truth to the person in power and stayed focused on why she was there: She knew that Jesus could cast the demon out of her daughter. Fine, I’m a dog, whatever, save my child, this is what matters. You can do it Jesus. You’re the messiah!

Jesus was awakened from his own distractions by this woman and her bold, faithful actions. Yes, Jesus came to proclaim God’s redemption and God’s kingdom here on earth to the Israelites first, first being the important word here, but yes to Gentiles too. Please don’t forget that, the woman asks. Jesus had been distracted by the urgent need of the Israelites but now Jesus reorients to the vastness and inclusivity of God’s kingdom-and he doesn’t just say this, he acts on it by healing from afar. Jesus doesn’t even have to be near to heal and offer new life to the little girl.

And again, in the healing of the man who was deaf and couldn’t speak, Jesus doesn’t get distracted by the fact that this man too is a Gentile and therefore unclean, and not only touches him, but uses his own spit and touches the man’s tongue, (who here would do that?), to not only free him from his condition but also free him to be included back into the community. Despite Jesus saying not to speak of this healing, the man and his friends can’t help but to proclaim the power of Jesus. Their words affirm Jesus’ actions of risk, boundary crossing and faith. They can’t be distracted from what they have experienced in Jesus, their faith is focused on sharing the new life that Jesus offered this man.

I know that I often get distracted in my everyday life and in my faith life. I get caught, like Jesus, in the tunnel vision of the things I think are more important, or as the passage from James states, focusing on the people and things that are comfortable, easy and don’t challenge me. I can see suffering, hunger, loneliness, pain, and say, well, I’ll offer a word of hope and prayer, but I’ve got to get ready for Bible study, Rally Day, or this sermon or Confirmation. I’m distracted by what seems important at the time, but perhaps is not really what I should be focused on. James’ community is struggling with this too, the people are distracted by what is comfortable, easy and they don’t want to get their hands dirty. Certain people are given more importance, value and attention than others. Those who appear to have no worldly resources or status are pushed aside while the people are distracted by those who seem to have money and social status. I love that the writer of James names these worldly and cultural distractions for us so plainly and reminds us in these well-known and well discussed words “Faith without works is dead.”

This makes us itchy as Lutherans as we know that we are saved by God’s grace and not our own works, but we need the reminder, that just like we can’t let Jesus off the hook for his words, nor are we off the hook for ours. James brings us to task that what we actually DO matters. We can’t simply offer kind and trite words of “I’ll pray that you find food.” Or “I’ll pray that you get housing.” Or “I’ll pray that you aren’t judged by your gender, race or sexuality.” No, we are called, dear siblings in Christ, to bold, risky and loving actions for the sake of those whom society throws away and doesn’t value. Don’t be distracted by political rhetoric, don’t be distracted by wealth, don’t be distracted by those who seem to have power or authority, don’t be distracted by social status, don’t be distracted by your own comfort and wants, don’t be distracted by flattering words and don’t be distracted by harsh, critical words either. Stay focused on what matters: the kingdom of God, where God works through us, yes us, in bold and unexpected ways, to ensure that all people have voice, dignity, value, are included, are cared for and all people are deeply and unconditionally loved.  Faith is a loving gift from God and our works bring this faith alive in Christ for the sake of the world without distraction.

As we kick off a new program year today, may we as the people of Bethany stay focused on what matters, on what has true value. May we offer bold words that speak this truth to the powers that need to hear them and may our faithful actions  reveal the kingdom of God in our very midst. But most of all, may we live undistracted, undeterred and uninhibited in the grace of God’s love that is for us all people. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

Growing Pains Sermon on Ephesians 4: 1-16 August 5, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village,CO on August 5, 2018 and can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

The text is Ephesians 4: 1-16

We all know about growing pains in one form or another. Growing pains in teenagers as their bones and ligaments stretch, change and move to accommodate the new height and shape of their maturing bodies. My son in particular suffered from these as he grew into his 6 foot frame. And besides physical growth, we experience growing pains as we learn about ourselves, the world and relationships. Such as the growing pains in a family of a new baby or any relationship with a friend, coworker or spouse. We learn to give and take, to stretch ourselves for the sake of the other or to learn how our lives shift and are impacted simply by the presence of this other person whom no matter how much we love them, simply because they aren’t us. And I want to be clear, that I am talking about healthy mutual relationships and in the name of Jesus, hear that abuse of any kind, mind body or spirit is not ok. But most of our relationships are simply uncomfortable as we learn to accommodate each other. If we can be honest about the disappointment and the pain of the realization of imperfection, the relationship can grow deeper and stronger.

Spiritual growing pains are real as we encounter suffering, questioning, doubting.  But these dark nights of the soul also have led me to transformation, growth and new perspective. Growth of any kind always widens our vision from our own narrow view-whether it’s concretely getting taller and acquiring more motor skills-to understanding that growing pains in our spiritual life and relationships can lead to authenticity, connections, joy and a new vision of ourselves and the world.

This growth isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to see the world with new eyes and an open heart.

The writer of Ephesians, maybe Paul, maybe not, is shifting the vision from the first three chapters which laid out the reality of the good news of a new creation, and of community where we are all connected through Jesus Christ. Yay! Seems so simple and now all we have to do is well, do it! Hmmmmm not so fast says the writer…here’s the reality of a new creation which at first blush seems so idyllic and all unicorns and cotton candy for all-is that it involves real people and so it’s going to be hard and possibly painful. Yippee! Oh we love that as human beings!

Chapter four opens with the reminder from the writer of being a prisoner. How does being a part of this new creation sound so far? You might be jailed for it. And for the next 16 verses he lays out that yes, we are united in the oneness of God: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all.

Then we hear of all the different types gifts that this one God gives us and it sounds like a job opening in any local congregation but we need to remember that my job as a paid professional didn’t exist 2000 years ago in the early Christian church-as a matter of fact Paul cautioned against it—as if one’s livelihood is tied to the gospel proclamation, how does that truncate the message? The gospel is good news for the poor, the oppressed, the suffering, the disenfranchised. It’s not necessarily good news for those who have something at stake in status quo and are very comfortable and not interested in change.

What we consider today as professional church jobs, were merely gifts that Paul knew that people possessed from God. And that all of those gifts were needed to work in concert for the revealing of God’s kingdom. Notice what those gifts are supposed to be used for: to equip the saints (all the baptized) and for building up the body of Christ. They’re for our neighbor both in and out of the church. Not for personal gain, personal preference, for one’s ego, status quo or security of livelihood or one’s financial future. This will mean some growth and maturity from those in the church.

And so here’s what the writer knows and we know: this kind of growth is hard and painful. As children, we only worry about ourselves, but as mature Christians, we are called grow beyond ourselves, we are called to exude humility, patience and kindness. We are joined and knit together, and it’s not a grandma knitted fuzzy, comfy blanket that gently swaddles us. The word “knit” from the Greek really means, “to set” as in to set a bone. How many of us have broken a bone and/or had to get it set? How did that feel? Like a comfy blanket? NO! It HURT! LIKE HE…Right? We are being “set” together as followers of Christ, we are being forced together in a new way for the health of the body and it will hurt! Because it’s not about only us as an individual anymore. The growth that we must experience will cause us some growing pains.

But this growth, just like when a bone heals, will cause us be stronger, and not stronger for our own sake but for building up the body of Christ in love. Our vision of what the community should look like will be broadened: who is included, who matters, who we should serve, who we should love, will be focused in God’s love. Our vision will begin to align with God’s vision. Unity will come from these growing pains, as we, like a kaleidoscope, will see all of the beautiful and diverse people made in God’s image, click together in a stunning mosaic of one community of love. We will catch a glimpse of what God sees: that all belong together, that all people matter, have worth and dignity. When we build up other people to live their gifts, we set aside our judgments and biases to be in relationship and to ensure that all people are valued and engaged for ministry.

There will still be the growing pains of realizing that human made doctrines, people’s manipulation of the gospel and their scheming of how this message of love can benefit themselves over others, is a reality even in the beloved community that God is renewing, as sin is still a reality in our lives and the world. But this is where we are admonished to speak the truth in love, to put aside our own need to be right in order to be in relationship with one another even if it’s hard. It does NOT mean being a doormat and allowing abuse of ourselves or others but speaking the truth in love, is a posture of confession and forgiveness. It means we continue to reorient ourselves to the grace of God through Jesus and to point to this grace for our neighbor. Speaking the truth in love is getting clear about saying no to those things that are sin in the world, saying no to anyone being harmed through our institutions. Saying no to sin of racism, saying no to violence, saying no to hate. Speaking truth in love is saying yes to inclusion without conditions, saying yes to accountability for our actions, saying yes to suffering for the truth of the gospel, saying yes to caring for our neighbor even if it doesn’t benefit us.

Through Jesus Christ, we are set together in unity, in love and in the “oneness of God”, and when we are together in this “oneness” we navigate the difficulties of life together as diverse and different people, made stronger in Christ’s love-love that transforms our growing pains into God’s vision of how we are to live together. God’s vision of this love for all people and creation is happening right with us, we are growing into it every day. Can you see it? Can you feel it? It might hurt, it might break your heart, but it’s worth it, because our neighbors, community, and  world are crying out for God’s vision of unity and love to be made real. In God’s vision we are growing together in love, we are growing together in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. And all God’s people say: Amen.

 

You Belong Here! Sermon on Ephesians 2

You can watch this sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org. It was proclaimed on July 22, 2018 at Bethany Lutheran Church at Cherry Hills Village, CO.

The text is Ephesians 2: 11-22

Have kids come forward

You belong here. Those are words that we all ache to have said to us. We want to be known and to know others. We want to have all the parts of us that we like and those parts of us that we don’t, loved all the same, no matter what. It’s a basic human need. We all have stories of times when we deeply belonged whether it was family or a social group as well as stories of when we knew that no matter what we would never belong. Worse yet, to think that you belong to group only to find out that you really don’t. This need to belong drives us in many ways. It can drive us to build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt by rejection.  To build walls around institutions that we love to ensure that nothing will harm it or change it. We build walls to give ourselves a sense of safety and identity in what seems to be a chaotic and lonely world. We yearn to know exactly where we belong.

Kids, I have two tables of duplos here. Choose which table you want to be at, but you can’t all be at the same table, you’ll be in two groups. This group is named “Echahd” and this group is “ena.”  Ok, with these duplos on your table, build something together while I keep talking with the adults. I’ll check in with you in a minute. You can build anything you want as long as you work together. Does that sound good?

So the children just quickly sorted themselves into groups and science tells us that even at this young age, they probably sized the other children up and if we had time to go deeper with them and if they could even articulate it, sorted themselves pretty well into like-minded groups. We could probably find something that they have in common. We do this all the time consciously and unconsciously.

 

And once we find that niche of people, our tribe if you will, we rarely look outside of that group, or more specifically, we almost never ask, “who is missing from our group?” “Whom should we let in?” Most of the time, we belong to closed groups, this is who we are, these are the people who belong and that’s that.

But the flip side is of course, at one point your now best friend or spouse was at one time a stranger to whom you gave a chance. You opened up and risked getting to know them and connecting with them. What was created was a new relationship, a new partnership or a new family. When you risked learning about one another you discovered pieces that were in common, pieces that could be a foundation for the new created relationship.

We are continuing our Ephesians sermon series this week and in Ephesians 2, we read about the real struggle of forging a new community. There was apparently a separation problem, those who were Jewish followers of Jesus and those who were Gentile followers of Jesus. To be Jewish was a very specific identity. It involved more than just belief but your whole way of living. It wasn’t only about going to synagogue or Temple, no it was what you ate, what you wore, where you went, what you touched or didn’t touch. The Jewish converts really accepted Jesus, but being human, still held on to their embedded traditions about how one lives as a believer and how one belongs to a faith tradition. In case you didn’t know, change is hard! Change in how you worship, live and think about God? Well, how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Why would we change it? We like the dark! Seriously…

(Give kids a one minute warning.) And then you had the Gentiles, people who were not Jewish. They lived very differently and followed none of those prescribed actions. The Jewish people had been taught to tolerate the Gentiles to a point, maybe more to pity them that they aren’t Jewish, but to maintain a safe distance to not have them rub off on them, as they didn’t really belong. Sort of like how as parents we teach our children know that they should love everyone, but subtly let them know that if they don’t want to invite that kid who always breaks stuff over to play, you’re fine with that, as your kid will talk to him at the bus stop and that’s good enough. Now the Gentiles weren’t always so fond of their strict new brothers and sisters in Christ either. I would imagine that the Jewish followers of Jesus would seem well, draconian and a serious buzzkill to any get together in this fledgling Christian community called The Way. The Way was radical community, radical generosity, radical collaboration, radical inclusion, radical love, which would blow the mind of any good rule follower!

How can these two groups learn to live together? Ok, kids, how are the creations coming? Let me see group “Echahd” : Tell me how you all worked together?  Ok Let’s look at group Ena: Tell me about how you worked together? These are great! Ok, pull the tables together and now I want you to take these two creations and make one creation together. Using every piece of the two existing creations, so you will probably have to take some of what you already built apart. Ok go!

Jesus wasn’t a rule freak, he didn’t care about the religious rules, the civil laws, Jesus only cared about people. Jesus cared so much that he wasn’t afraid to come near to our messiness, our brokenness and our sickness. In Mark we read when Jesus saw the people coming to them on the countryside, he had compassion for them. Compassion means “with suffering.” Jesus suffered with them in their desperation, as they were separated from the community, sheep without a shepherd they were aching to belong and be known, but their physical diseases, their brokenness and being outside the religious rules kept them from belonging. The scandal of Jesus’ ministry is that Jesus takes people whom the world says don’t belong together and makes them one. It’s more than coexisting, which is simply tolerance. The Coexist bumper sticker we’ve all seen doesn’t quite get it right. Jesus is about more than tolerance. Jesus brings people who are near, far, rich, poor, healthy, sick, Jew, Greek, slave, free, male female, rural, urban, black, white, native, immigrant, straight, gay, and pulls us all together as the cornerstone of a new community that abolishes all labels and shows us another way-the new beloved people/body of Christ where all people belong. Cornerstones not only connect two dimensionally, but connects the structure to the foundation. Jesus as our cornerstone connects us not only to one another but to God our foundation, the foundation of the One Body of Christ.

This is what makes us truly one, we are one in the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of a God who crushes all divisions. No matter how many walls that we put up, Christ with compassion, breaks down. Over and over again. Not someday in the future, but right here right now. The cross of Jesus is strong enough to break walls of fear and hostility, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls of our egos, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls around our hearts wide open for compassion and solidarity of our neighbor. When our hearts are broken open by the cross, Jesus can take those pieces and tightly connect us like these duplos, who need one another, to build the kingdom of God where every piece belongs. A holy place right here on earth where God dwells in our hearts, in our homes, in our community and in the world. God dwells here because we dwell here with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.

The names of the groups I gave the children are the words echahd “one” in Hebrew and Ena-“one” in Greek. They took their separate “oneness” and combined to be one new creation here in Christ where each duplo piece had a place and belonged. I love what you have built! This creation reminds us that together we build love in the world for Jesus and tell everyone that they belong to God. How can you show or tell your friends that they belong to God?

In the cross of Jesus, walls are broken, hostility ends, peace pervades and love, well, love builds us as One In Christ and God proclaims: YOU BELONG HERE. And all God’s people say: Amen.

 

Ordinary Gifts, God’s Extraordinary Love or How I got in trouble at PrideFest June 22, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can view the sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts for the day were Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Mark 4: 26-34.

Yesterday, I volunteered a shift at the Episcopal and Lutheran Reconciling Ministries booth at Pridefest. We handed out “Love your neighbor” stickers, rainbow bracelets, rainbow heart temporary tattoos, and those little “Dum-dum” suckers with a note attached saying “God knows that UR fabulous.” Nothing overly exciting but it sparked conversations with people. I had on my clergy shirt and stole, so I was asked lots of questions and being fairly extroverted, I also talked to a lot of people. Ask me later how I got in trouble with the Pridefest security for being too extroverted. I wasn’t supposed to wander from our booth and I was blocking the foot traffic by the people stopping to talk to me. “Hmmm Reverend, we really need you to stay by your booth, we can’t have you in the middle…” Mostly, people wanted to say thank you for being out there and being Church who loved no matter what. Most said it with tears in their eyes. All we did was show up with some cheap swag, talk to people and offer lists of congregations who are officially Reconciling in Christ, to refer them for safe and welcoming places to worship. Yet, time after time, we were told thank you, we were told sacred stories of harm, powerlessness and dismissal, from both Church and society, and how simply our presence in the love of Jesus was healing.

Small actions that matter and make a difference. But I have to admit, I tend to equate my actions to my worth. I believe society’s message of: “What we do, is the same as who we are.” By extrapolation, the more grandiose, the more public, the more popular, greater our status, our actions or our jobs, then the more important, significant, and powerful we are. This is what we tell ourselves, this is what we see in the media. We all think that we need to be somebody, somebody important. And not just somebody, we have to be THE body, the person who is the most significant, the most important, the most powerful-or we don’t matter at all. All or nothing.

The kingdom of God, Jesus says is as if some farmer without a name scatters the seeds and then simply does nothing but goes to sleep and get up the next morning like the other 7 billion people on the planet. Or the kingdom of God is like a tiny seed that grows into a bushy weed that spreads everywhere and isn’t good for much, other than some birds might use it for shelter. Interestingly, there is no one or nothing of any power, significance or importance in these parables. No kings, no Harvard educated economist, no super farmer who can grow any kind of seed overnight into a crop that will feed every hungry person on the planet. No pine beetle resistant tree, no giant redwood, or sequoia tree that could give shelter to hundreds of birds. Nope. Just ordinary, everyday people and plants, small shrubs, and no named farmers. Yet, Jesus says the kingdom of God is found here. In the ordinary, in the mundane, insignificant, those without power by worldly standards.

Jesus doesn’t want us to miss that power isn’t the goal. Being noticed, being the best, the tallest, the richest, the biggest isn’t necessarily where God is at work, Jesus says. Look for the small, the everyday, the ordinary. Look where the world won’t look. Look on Colfax Ave. Look at the volunteer hospital receptionist. Look at the sanitation workers. Look at the public school teachers. Look at the people helping those seeking asylum from unsafe countries. Look at who or what almost seems invisible, insignificant, powerless.

We have an epidemic for the need of power and significance in our culture and it’s literally killing us. We are told, and we believe that we must exude power, importance, and control, to be loved, have worth and significance. And when we don’t believe that we measure up, it’s devastating for us. What if we were to realize our significance in being ordinary and yet deeply loved? How would that change how we see ourselves and others? Martin Luther King Jr once said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” We won’t all do great things, but we can do small things with great love. The love of God that permeates our ordinariness with God’s greatness. We simply live our lives, doing what we do, not worrying about being the best, God doesn’t necessarily need what the world considers greatness or the best of the best. God needs our courage to be faithful in whatever it is that we do. God worked in a small shepherd boy to take down a giant and become king; God worked in man with a speech impediment to free the Israelites from Egypt; and God worked through a teenage girl to bear the Messiah to gather all of humanity back to God. Ordinary people, God’s extraordinary work.

Simple acts of caring, such as giving respect to all people, giving a smile, a word of encouragement or kindness, advocating for the voiceless in our world, is God’s love at work through us. Living with honesty and integrity so that people know our hearts and not just our ambitions is God’s love at work through us. God works through even our smallest, most ordinary gift to show God’s great love.

This week at VBS we talked about God Sightings with the children and youth. We asked them each day where they saw God at work. We wrote them on these sand dollars, small little sea creatures that have great beauty to remind us that small things are very important. Here are some of their answers: Kids saw God when someone refilled their water bottle for them, when they helped to pick up trash, when they were playing football with their papa, at bible story, at snack, at crafts, singing, playing together at games, when they were hugged by their mom, in prayer, in the trees, and yes, in silence.

Not THE best snack, or the most fun game, nope just everyday activities infused with the activity of God.

I’ve asked two of our youth Abby Mortinsen and Jeremiah Brayton to share with you where they saw God this week:

 

I’m going to ask the children to come forward and share where you saw God this week? How can you share God’s love? Who has shared God’s love with you? Today we celebrate the men in our lives who do ordinary things for us everyday that show us God’s love. They might teach SS, VBS, read to you, make you food when your hungry, give you hugs, play games with you, all kinds of things! We have a cross pin to give them today to remind them that they do all of these ordinary things with the great love of Jesus in their hearts.

But first lets pray:

 

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.

 

 

“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.