A Lutheran Says What?

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

Cross Gen Experiment: Vision for Tomorrow April 15, 2017

On March 26th, I preached on John 9 and invited the congregation of Bethany Lutheran Church into an experiment. It was risky, fraught with danger and yet, we had nothing to lose. I invited every youth under the age of 18 to come forward and if they were four or under, a parent type person to come with them. I also had caring adults staged to come up and help as well. I handed each youth five little yellow slips and a name tag. I told them to write their first name on the name tag and put it on. Then I asked them to write their first name on each of the slips of paper and had a sentence prompt for them to finish: “I love to….” I asked them to write one thing that they love to do. I talked to the adults about how I had a vision for each youth to have 5-7 adults at church who knew their name and could talk to them about what was going on in their lives. As the children and youth were finishing up, I told them that as they returned to their seats, to hand out their slips to adults whom they didn’t know. Then I said after worship, everyone go to the fellowship hall and adults, find you youth! Youth, keep your name tags on and be available to be found!

Here’s what happened after church: the fellowship hall was brimming (the fullest on a Sunday morning I have seen it in the 18 months I have served here) with adults and youth interacting! They did it! Some stories I heard in subsequent days are as follows:

One young man named Hunter had an older couple Jan and Dennis get his name. Jan and Dennis had a son named Hunter who died two years ago. With tears in their eyes they told me how even the handwriting of this Hunter was similar to their deceased son’s handwriting. They were thrilled to hear all about Hunter’s life and they are staying connected as this is healing for them. They don’t talk about Hunter much (our culture has no place for those of us who parent from the graveside) but now they feel as though their grief was validated. Hunters parents were very moved as well.

Olivia is a young lady who wrote on her slip that she loves to write. The caring adult who received her slip is a librarian who suggested that they should write letters back and forth to one another.

Abby is a high school student who loves to dance and be in theatrical productions. Her caring adult, an 87 year old woman, loves to ask her about her theater time. The 87 year old recently had a health scare and when Abby’s mom, our parish nurse, went to visit her, Joayne was more interested in how Abby was than her own recent incident.

An empty nest couple who had raise four boys (!!!), received a name of a young man who loves to play basketball. The couple’s youngest son had played basketball in High School and they miss going to games. They are now attending this young man’s bball games.

An 18 month old came up for communion with his mom on this day I preached the sermon and he reached his hand out for the wafer. I asked mom if he received communion and she said, well, sure! I put it in his chubby little toddler hand and he immediately dipped in the wine chalice!! Why? Because he had witnessed this since birth! His mom said to me, I guess he takes communion now!

Things that we learned: Suggest that if you cannot stay after worship, please do not take a slip. I think that we had a little of this, but if a child or youth didn’t have an adult talking to them, we watched as other adults “filled in the gaps.” Also, suggest that if you have already received a slip to have the youth invite another adult or pass it on to someone who doesn’t have one. We are a large congregation and so the people on the aisles received them more versus in the center.

So now what do we do to keep this going? We have a youth carnival on May 21 that I would like some similar engagement that is organic. Ok, internet family, help me out! Ideas?

 

 

One in Christ February 5, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 7:06 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Preached Wednesday Feb. 1, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran

Galatians 3:27-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

What are some labels that we give each other or even ourselves? What about when you’re born, what’s the first label that you often receive besides perhaps your name? We get many labels from the first day we are born don’t we? Why do you think we do that? Lots of reasons-are they all “bad” reasons per se? No, of course not, but can labels be taken too far? Yep! Have you ever been given a label that you don’t like but it’s hard to shake it? Or perhaps, it’s not that you don’t like your label, but it’s not always helpful or other people may not appreciate your label. We tend to label people, even for good and right reasons, and the take it too far. We point out distinctions in each other, not to celebrate diversity and gifts, but often to decide who’s in and who’s out, who has power and control and who doesn’t, who’s weird and who’s “normal.” And before any of you start feeling guilty, my point is not guilt, it’s to point out the universalism of this behavior-we all do it! If someone says to you that they don’t see distinctions in people, they are lying. Of course we see distinctions! That’s not the issue! The challenge comes with what we do with those labels and distinctions.

The people of Galatia were so excited about this good news of being loved by God that they wanted to learn everything that they could about it. And they stumbled upon the laws from the OT. All of the laws of what to eat, what to wear, how to act, etc. They began to think that doing these laws was what made them faithful and matter to God. And if you followed the laws better than other people, well, then you were like a super mega Christian and you would matter even MORE to God. Maybe you would get a special cape or hat to signify how special you were in the community.  And the people of Galatia were no different than any of the rest of us and they were also using these laws to label people, how to sort out who has power, who is a real follower of Jesus and who is in or out of this new community. They were competing for status with one another. Who’s the cool kid, the smart one, the best behaved, the most loving, etc.

So Paul writes to them to say no! I can almost see Paul’s eyes rolling as he writes to them. He says, you guys! You are all important to God not because of what you do but because of who Christ is! And Christ is the one who gives us faith, who freely gives us grace, forgiveness, who showers us with love and reminds us that our labels, our distinctions, don’t matter to God and don’t matter in the body of Christ. The Galatians have forgotten that faith is not about what you do, the laws you keep, but who are as part of the body of Christ. Paul writes in v. 27 that in baptism we are clothed with Christ, and that means that we now ALL look like Christ!! You’re a female? You look like Christ. You’re a male, you look like Christ. You’re short? You look like Christ. You’re black? You look like Christ. You struggle to read or do math? You look like Christ. You struggle to speak or walk? You look like Christ. And the list can go on! Do you get it? Jesus says in Matthew 25… when you feed the hungry, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned, you do this to Christ. Christ’s love and grace makes our differences strengths and our diversity into equality. It’s not an eraser of who we are, but a bold proclamation of what unity through diversity looks like in God’s kingdom and how we are to be with one another. This is what our baptism means! Not only do we put on Christ but we put on Christ’s eyes to how we see every person how God sees them. If we all look like Christ to one another, then how do we treat our neighbor? How do we see Christ in our neighbor?

This is what being one in Christ means and why it’s important as part of our baptismal promises. God’s kingdom is full of promise for us to truly be all who God created us to be-to know that our gifts, or identity, even those things that the world might label as disability or less worthy, are exactly what is needed in God’s kingdom of peace and wholeness. In our baptismal liturgy we shout this reality from Galatians 3 to the world so that all may know that God is doing a new thing through Christ and we get to participate in this work. God is exploding all the boundaries that we erect as humans, so that the truth of worldly labels, division and distinctions no longer grant privilege to some and not to others, and those whom the world has dismissed are now on equal footing with everyone else. It’s not easy, this eradication of boundaries and it will mean for most of us in this space, to set aside our own privilege, power and mindset to look at our neighbors in our communities, schools, workplaces, grocery stores, with the eyes of Christ to see them as Christ too. This is the work of the kingdom.

There is nothing easy about this life of faith. The good news is that Jesus promises to be with us each step, each day, each moment and each breath. Jesus offers us sign posts on the way in the form of water in a font with words of love and grace, a table of abundance where bread and wine are offered for us and for all people-to know that we are gathered as one body through Jesus’ body. Yes, there’s mystery of things we can’t understand, and we don’t have to understand all of it. The mystery of faith through Christ Jesus isn’t a paper to be written or a book to be read, but a life of love, mercy and hope to be lived. Labels, laws, and systems don’t save us. Jesus does. Jesus saves us not because of what we do or don’t do, but because of who and who’s we are: God’s beloved children-one body in diversity and unity, in this love of Christ where there is room for all.

 

Holding It Together-sermon on Matthew 2 January 11, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 11:14 pm

Happy New Year! Today is the first Sunday of Christmas in our liturgical calendar and the first day of 2017 in our common calendar. And what a way to begin with this text from Matthew that is often referred to as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” It’s very incongruous with the festive season that we’ve been celebrating and is certainly jarring from the seemingly peaceful, serene and joyful nativity story. It’s a difficult reckoning and it’s hard to hold these stories together. We want to hold on to the Silent Night and the Joy to the World and stay there a bit longer, if not forever. We want to gaze at the adorable baby, Mary the new mother and Joseph the doting stepfather. All is calm, all is bright. God has come to dwell with us and now everything is perfect.

Except it’s not. If you’ve had babies, or know someone who has, you know that the first few days of parenthood are chaotic and you feel like you’re barely holding it together. Lack of sleep, constant worry, crying (and that’s the parents!) can all weave together to raise the anxiety of the most laid back people. And then life happens on top of the stresses of a newborn. Joseph is warned in a dream by God that Herod is out to kill this new baby out of fear of being usurped off his throne and they must run. Now.

Herod declared that all baby boys under two were to be killed in Bethlehem just to be certain that he could hold on to his power and his kingdom. Bethlehem was a small village and so historians estimate that it would have meant that less than 20 babies were executed. There is no historical record of this massacre and the relatively small numbers are probably why. Plus, they were more than likely babies of peasants, and some lives mattered more than others in the Roman Empire. Those 20 or so baby boys’ deaths didn’t register as something important to document. But Matthew knew that those babies mattered to their families and to God and wrote it down and we remember those babies today. We hold together the tension of the Christmas season of the good and joyful news that God is indeed with us, coming to us in a baby, with the reality that suffering is still happening and not all babies are safe. Jesus’ birth reveals God’s promise to be with us not just in our joyful times but in our sorrowful and fearful times, as well. It can be difficult to hold all of those emotions together.

Joseph and Mary had to hold it together as they fled to refuge in a foreign land, a land where their ancestors had once been slaves, Egypt. The incongruity of being refugees to a country who had once committed genocide on their own people had to have been difficult to hold together. We don’t know much about their time in Egypt, but we can assume that their new neighbors welcomed them and kept them safe on some level. I imagine some older women willing to help with baby Jesus and reassuring Mary that she was doing an excellent job of mothering in these early months. The Holy Family had to have relied on the community around them in this stressful time. God’s presence must have been palpable for Mary, Joseph and Jesus through their new neighbors as they made their home in a different culture, with a different language, different food and a different landscape.

It’s difficult to hold all of this together. We hold together the innocence of the manger scene of the Holy Family, Jesus’ birth heralded by an angelic choir, and the baby Messiah adored by shepherds and magi with the reality of innocence all to quickly lost to tyrants, loss of homeland, babies being killed, fear of your baby being killed, and lack of power to control life around you. Holding together the joy of the newborn king, who came to proclaim God’s promises in the world for all people, for all time and the knowledge that we still live in a broken world.

We hold this together ourselves each day. I don’t think that 2016 was necessarily a year worse than any other, I think in the age of global media and social media, we are more aware. This awareness makes it more imperative that we hold together the promises of God with the violence, fear, pain and sorrow we witness all around us in the world. We lament the 20 babies Herod slaughtered and we lament the 50,000 children slaughtered in Syria this year, the 35 people killed in Istanbul overnight, the lives lost in Orlando, Dallas, Nice, Berlin, Chicago, and unfortunately the list can go on and on. We hold together the reality that God is our true king in whose image we and all people are created, with the prayer for just leaders in our country and in every country. We hold together the fear of scarcity of power and resources in our lives with the truth that in Christ there is enough for all people to not only survive, but to thrive. We hold together that sickness and death are part of our earthly experience with the promises of God for wholeness, eternal life and love.

We have a lot to hold together as we enter 2017. I think we had a lot to hold together as we entered 2016. Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus had a lot to hold together in those early years as refugees in a foreign land and then with the realization that they could never really go home again but had to start over in a backwater town of the Roman Empire. It may seem that we do have a lot to hold together: but you see, this is where the promises of God jump in, shake us out of despair and buoy us with hope, real hope, not the false hope the world tells us of figuring life out on our own, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and if we only believe and do the right thing, then we’ll be fine. No, we cling to the hope that is found in God: God who will do anything to be with us, who will never leave us no matter what we do, say or think. God who became flesh, in solidarity with us. God holds together our humanity and the truth of God’s kingdom that not even death has the final say. You see, we don’t hold it together, God does! God holds us together in God’s own hand. God binds us to one another in love, peace and hope so that together we share these truths each other because on any given day we all feel like we are barely holding it together.

Matthew quickly pulls us from the serenity of the manger scene because we need to be reminded of the reality of God holding us through our entire lives. God who holds together our joy with our fear, our wonder with our reality, and our simplicity with our complexity. Matthew knows that for his readers, including us, Immanuel, God with us, is not naiveté, is not about someday by and by, but is about today whether the year is 17 AD or 2017 AD. It’s about God who gets in the trenches with us, knows what it is to be afraid, dirty, hungry, despised, hurt, and on the run. It’s right here, right now holding together the truth that God is really present! Do you see God at work in the world? Do you see God at work in you, and in your neighbor? Do you see God holding us all together as redeemed and beloved? Do you see God holding us all together for the sake of comforting the hurting and proclaiming God’s love? I do. I see you. I see God’s love in each of you, my neighbors. I see God at work in my refugee neighbor, my immigrant neighbor, my neighbor of color, my differently abled neighbor, my neighbor of a different faith, my homeless neighbor, my LBGTQ neighbor, my rich neighbor, my poor neighbor: all of my neighbors and all of God’s children. I see God at work. God’s got us, holding us together today, this year and forever. Thanks be to God and Happy New Year!

 

I gave up Facebook for a week and lived to tell about it October 15, 2016

About two three weeks ago, I took a sabbatical from media, mostly internet media to be honest. I had been facilitating a book club on Wednesday evenings at the church I serve as pastor in Denver, CO, Bethany Lutheran on Jen Hatmaker’s book, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” Hatmaker identifies seven areas of her comfortable first world life (clothing, possessions, food, stress, waste, media, and spending) and annihilates the down to nothing. Eating only seven foods for a month, getting rid of seven possessions a day for a month (this one goes waaaaaay beyond the seven a day), praying seven times a day, well you get the idea. What happens to your faith and spiritual life when you no longer worry about what to wear? Or what to eat? Or have more money to actually give more than 10%? How can we create less room for our egos and more room for Jesus? The book is not perfect and our group vacillated between devastating recognition of our consumptive, hoarding, selfish, egoist ways of living and the absurdity of how far she takes the experiment, mostly in the name of a book deal. Well, that might be a bit harsh, but sometimes it’s the question that popped up for us.

So we decided about week two into our six week book study that the last week together we would each choose one of the seven areas to mutiny against. I know that I have a Facebook problem, so I chose media. I immediately wondered what in the hell was I thinking??? Give up political rants, what people are eating for dinner and voyeuristic peeks into other people’s lives that are apparently waaaaay more fab than my own? Ok, I’m in. I also gave up tv this week as well. And email and text was only for work purposes, following Hatmaker’s guidelines in the book.

So on Wednesday evening, I posted the obligatory “Hey, as if any of you care, but I won’t be on FB, email or much media for week because blah, blah, blah…” I then turned off all With notifications on twitter, FB, Instagram and Pintrest (Oh my God do I LOVE Pintrest!!!) and took all the apps off my phone. Then I went to bed, convinced I had just severed all connections with human life.

The first couple of days went very smooth and honestly, I didn’t miss it much. With the apps off my phone, the battery lasted FOREVER and I didn’t constantly have notifications coming through distracting me from whatever it was I was doing. Now, I would love to say that I was more productive off of social media, but I’m not sure that is true and I can’t really measure that in a couple of days. I can say, no tv however, meant that read more in the evenings, and went to bed earlier. These are two very good things for this middle aged, tired, brain starting to turn to mush, momma. Unlike Hatmaker, whose children are younger, I have a 17 almost 18 year old son still in the home. So I have to admit that the tv was on-just to the stuff he was watching which mostly doesn’t interest me. My big vice is tv in the morning as I get dressed for work. The Today show is my “stories.” I like to think I’m watching “the news” but….yeah, I know. It’s like saying The Office is a real documentary. (Ahem-If you are a colleague reading this or my lead pastor, kindly skip down to the next paragraph. This next bit doesn’t concern you, at all…) With no tv in the morning, I found that I was generally about 10 minutes faster getting ready for work and to work a bit earlier. And I was less rushed and prepared a better lunch/dinner for later in the day at work.

So, all in all it was going pretty well until…Monday….dun, dun dunnnnn. What happened Monday you ask? Well, this little thing of a conference call Birthing Cross + Gen Eduworship started in Estes Park. As a pastor of Faith Formation and someone who has worked in the faith formation arena in the ELCA for about 15 years and was part of the Killing Sunday School Birthing Cross Gen think tank in 2012, and had presented at the 2014 conference and knew about 80% of the people at this conference (these are MY PEOPLE!) it took the conference being in session for about 30 minutes before emails rolled in (I was at work ya’ll so yes, I was checking email.) pinging me on FB and Twitter for questions, insights, and shout outs. Oh No. I was like a deer in headlights! What do I do?? Is this work? Is this connectivity? Is this ego?? (Um yes, BTW.) I came home that evening and looked at Mike (my spouse of 22 years who seriously is a saint with all of the crazy crap I come up with) and said, “Now what?” He looked at me with patience, love and exasperation and said, “oh for goodness sake just answer them! The world will not end because you tweeted or posted!” So I did. With guilt. With pleasure. With relief.

I did not go on any social media other than that however. I did not scroll, search, or “like.” I don’t think anyway. It’s been three weeks now. But I held the fast in the other areas.

Ok, nitty, gritty, what I learned:

1) I love social media! Not for controversy, not for voyeurism, but because I love reading what other people think, do, give, wonder, and yes, even get upset about.

2) I realized that I use social media for ministry much more than I would have pegged going into the experiment. Pintrest, ya’ll. Pintrest.

3) I genuinely missed you all. Yes, you.

4) I love baby pictures. All of you youngsters keep having babies and putting their gorgeous pictures and videos into my feed please. It keeps me from being too annoyed with my young adult children.

5)The TV can probably just go. Seriously, with the exception of Portlandia, nothin’.

6) This connectivity thing is tricky and messy. It can consume you and it can be an idol like anything else, but it also reminds us that the world is flat. What happens in Syria impacts me, or should. I can know that a friend needs a prayer, yes, an electronic prayer from half way around the country or down the street. We are called into community and social media broadens what that community looks like and how it’s shaped. After a week off, I will with gusto proclaim that social media is not evil! I think, no, I know, it’s where Jesus is. I see Jesus at work in your lives as you work out trying to take kids on fabulous vacations. Not to flaunt wealth, but to make memories from a time that flies by all to quickly. I see Jesus at work as we share ministry, faith, foibles, missteps, prayer, laughter, tears, sorrows, joys and love together even though we’re apart. I see Jesus even in the political rants as I remember to breath, love, and know that God’s kingdom is bigger than our partisanship and divisions.

7) I learned that I learn from all of you. Each and every day. I need other voices to keep from being stuck in my own voice in my head.

8) Because of number 7 above, I learned gratitude for all of you who I read, interact with and learn from. Thank you.

I’m aware that none of these revelations and learnings are earth shattering or “book deal” worthy, but they are mine. I encourage you to try this! What do you learn about yourself and your consumption of media?

May you see the love of Jesus every where you go: In others, in media, in situations, at work, in prayer, at church, and in you.

 

Intersectionality and the Reality of Hope April 16, 2016

Swirling around us on Facebook, television, and all other media seems to be the conversation on intersectionality. Yes, this word will be underlined in red by Microsoft Word, but trust me, it’s a real thing. It’s a word that delves us deep into complexity, brokenness and uncertainty and yet, I believe is also the source of our healing amidst great divisiveness. Intersectionality names all of the places where pain can be inflicted, where we must confront our own biases, privileges and where truth can be named. I’ve been personally drawn into this sacred space in the past couple of years as I wrestle with white privilege, gender bias, and all of the “isms” in which I live and I am deeply complicit. To name my own privilege: I am white, upper middle class, well-educated, heterosexual, married woman, who happens to also be ordained clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This gives me great privilege and a voice in our culture in ways that I know some of my brothers and sisters of color do not share. I am compelled as a follower of Jesus to name my brokenness, my division from others and yet risk my voice and privilege for the sake of those without.

While my “whiteness” affords me great privilege, my gender (especially in my vocation) often, in subtle and not so subtle ways, can be where I experience the brokenness of humanity. I have my fair share of stories of seemingly benign comments and “joking” remarks by male colleagues, people in the pews and in the community at large, that I won’t bore you with, but trust me when I say that misogyny is alive and well in as well as outside of the Church. It may not be overt as in catcalls or outright, blatant denial of my “right” to be seen as equal, or as “good as the men” but it’s much more subtle, nuanced and  so much more difficult to call out without be “a bitch” or “one of those feminists.” (By the by, a feminist is someone who believes that men and women are truly equal and deserve actual parity in every sphere of everyday life. Feminism is good for men as well!)

But I want to turn back to intersectionality for the rest of this post. I see white males writing posts about the “Black Lives Matter” movement and adding their voice to the conversation. This is a very important dialog in all of our communities and is, in my opinion, one of life and death for our brothers and sisters of color, as well as the whole of society. (We are inextricably bound to one another as the body of Christ and when one part of the body is not honored and treated with respect, we are all damaged.) White males lending their privilege and voice to the “Black Lives Matter” movement is crucial and one that I applaud. But here is what I wonder: why do these same men not affirm that their male (and often heterosexual) privilege is also an issue alongside their white privilege? I’ve had many a conversation with white males who say things such as “I can only deal with one thing at a time, and I’m going to deal with my whiteness first.” That statement alone is so steeped in entitlement and privilege that it makes my head spin. White men can and do wake up every morning and decide which aspect of their privilege that they will deal with today. Is it being white? Is it being male? Is it having every privilege known in the free world? Why not all three? Oh, because that’s hard, complex, overwhelming  and may require giving away too much of themselves. So, they can compartmentalize their privilege and go about their day. (I want to add that white women are also writing and contributing to the “Black Lives Matter” conversation but they often do not separate it from gender bias. But yes, some do.)

What about the black woman who also is gay? A Latina woman? Or an Indigenous woman? Or a transgender woman? She does not get to wake up and say, “Today, I will only worry about being oppressed as a black person.” Or, “Today I will only have to worry about being female in all my interactions.” Or, “Today I will only have to deal with being gay.” NO. She is all of those things each and every day and cannot choose how society will view her or how others will treat her. I can only imagine that it’s overwhelming and exasperating. Intersectionality requires these women to be conscious each and every second of their day all of the ways that they are seen when they walk in a room, speak up at a meeting, or even drive down the street. They do not get to compartmentalize themselves. They bring the whole of who they are into every situation. (Thanks be to God!)

At the church I currently serve, we are in the nascent stages of conversation around radical inclusion. A large part of our wrestling has been around where to begin and the reality of intersectionality.  Do we first enter into this call from Jesus with only one population, dealing with only one area at a time, such as people who are differently abled or white privilege? Is it too much to try and think about the physical and cognitive differently abled, racism, gender bias, LBGTQI biases, socio-economic differences, etc. right from the start of this ministry? Should it even be a separate ministry as it’s actually who we’re called to be as people who follow Jesus Christ who shows no partiality and includes all people, in all times and in all places in God’s love? What if  Jesus’ definition of intersectionality is different from ours?  If so,  what if this is where we find our hope and our voice going forward?

God intersects with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ; coming to humanity, being human, suffering human sorrows and experiencing human death. Jesus intersected with those whom the rest of society threw away, thought of as second or even third class. Jesus didn’t only focus on one marginalized population, but gathered women, gentiles, lepers, tax collectors, the unclean into his mission of redemption, love and complete wholeness. Jesus didn’t compartmentalize God’s redemption to one step at a time but intersected with all of creation with risky leaps and unfettered bounds. The cross is the place where this intersectionality of God takes on its deepest meaning and continues to draw us into intersections with one another. It is only when we are caught in the intersection of relationship in the Trinity and God’s work of redemption in the world that we can truly know radical inclusion, healing, peace and restoration of our divisions, our brokenness and our fear of the other. This relationship with God, requires us to die to our own privilege, our own false sense of security and safety and trust in the promises of God that ALL truly means ALL in God’s wholeness (salvation). It requires us to be in deep relationship with all whom God gathers. When we rest, trust, find our life, breath and purpose in that promise, we don’t worry that lifting up our brothers and sisters (all of who they are as created in the image of God) might diminish who WE are. We expand our idea of “we” and know that we are not “us” without whom we might now label “other.”

This is difficult work, this is risky, potentially life-ending work.It’s the end of our false identities given to us by a fearful world and the beginning of living into our true selves as people of God, wholly created in the image of pure love for sacred relationship with God and one another.  It’s where we are confronted with the reality of God’s vision for wholeness and our own fears and need for control. It’s where we find that there are more options than in/out, included/excluded, me/you, and us/them. It’s where we find the third way in the cross of Christ: hope in radical oneness, gifted with beautiful, messy and  God-created diversity.

 

 

Divine Dust Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016, Year C February 11, 2016

False and True Worship

58 Shout out, do not hold back!
    Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
    and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

 

Maybe these phrases resonate with you tonight: “I don’t know how much more studying I can do, I’m so burned out.” “I’m exhausted from arguing with my teenaged daughter. I’m burned out on the fights.” “My supervisor just keeps piling on the requirements without allowing enough time or resources for the project. I’m burned out on her not listening.” “I can’t listen to any more political commercials. I’m burned out on the nonsense.” “I keep going back to drinking, gambling, overeating. I’m burned out on trying to change.” “I’m never going to be as good as my friend, colleague, classmate, neighbor. I’m burned out on not feeling good enough.” “I don’t know if I can make it one more day without my husband, wife, mother, father, child. I’m burned out on being sad.”

“I’m burned out.” It’s become a phrase that we throw around with our friends, family and colleagues pretty casually. Sometimes we use it as a badge of honor in relation to our busy and so obviously important schedules. Being burned out means that we’re so vital in whatever little kingdom we inhabit and so of course all of our resources are simply not only crucial but must be depleted. Otherwise, nothing will get done, right?

We also use this phrase to highlight our distaste and the repugnancy of whatever situation we are witnessing or are caught in. Politics, religion, money, taxes, are just a few venues in our lives where its seems that our capacity for engagement has a limit. We gaze out at the socio-economic-political landscape and what catches our sight is often less than hopeful, less than joyful, and less than secure. It’s difficult to near impossible to hear past the rhetoric and posturing of the political candidates to uncover anything of substance, anything that might be life-giving or anything that we might be able to grab on to for security and hope. We yearn for conversations of integrity, honesty and truth. We optimistically listen for what the future might bring for our children, grandchildren and even ourselves and then gut wrenchingly realize that perhaps we’re the only ones who are concerned for those who come after us. We begin to wonder that maybe change isn’t possible and this is the best that we can expect from our systems of government, education and yes, even the Church.

Or maybe you’ve used this phrase as a whisper of desperation for a relationship with a loved one or….yourself. When we’ve hit rock bottom and all we have left is the crippling knowledge that we are caught in a cycle that we alone, all by ourselves without any help, can’t break. When we’ve cried the last tear, because we’ve cried so hard, for so many days, that there is nothing left but long, dry, heaving sobs. When our hearts are not just broken, but shattered into so many pieces that we’re fairly sure that not only will it never go back together again but that there WILL be pieces forever missing. You’ve screamed the words in the car, in the woods or in the bathroom, “God, I’m burned out! I can’t do this anymore!”

God, we’re burned out. We’re depleted. We’re spent. Some days it seems that there is nothing left of our lives but ashes. Those dusty, dirty remnants of an object or thing that used to be, that used to be something of substance, of importance, of usefulness. Now, a pile of ashes, useless, easily scattered and easily blown away. What good are we as ashes and where is God when we are burned out, burned away to what feels like nothingness?

Isaiah writes, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” God hears us, listens to us, walks with us, cries with us, and sees us. God sees that we are burned out, that we are stuck in only going through the motions, that we spin our wheels and only send more dirt and muck flying up into the air, covering ourselves and those around us with the grimy specs of our attempts to take care of ourselves, go it alone, tricking others and ourselves into thinking that we have it all together, and that we can clean ourselves up at any time.

Ash Wednesday is the intersection of our dust, dirt, mess and fear of death and the reality of God’s promises for life . It’s when we admit not only our humanness and mortality but that we are being killed each day in millions of little and big ways. It’s when we run smack into the what it means when we pray “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from evil.” God promises to be our rescue. Not in a super hero sort of way swooping in at the last minute to take care of the bad guy or to fix a helpless situation and then dashing off until needed again. God’s rescue is on-going relationship with us each and every moment of our lives. God’s rescue involves a cross, suffering, death and then an empty tomb. God’s rescue is the promise to witnesses our ashes, the ashes that we keep hidden and secret from the rest of the world, and proclaim our beauty, love, and worth. God’s rescue is a return to our true identity as God’s very own children as well as a return to wholeness for all people as one people and creation.

God doesn’t see us as spent or used up but proclaims that we are created in God’s image, we are made from dust, dust that created the earth and all of the cosmos, divine dust. As divine dust creatures, it means that in baptism our lives and our deaths meet God’s promises for soaking love and for eternal life with God where sorrow and suffering is no more. We are showered with these promises so that we shower the dusty world with this life-quenching reality. There is enough in the river of life for all to be fed, clothed, housed and treated with justice and dignity. God’s justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an every-flowing stream (Amos 5: 24) and we are swept up in that tide. That tide that transforms us and the world, that tide that demands that we do not ignore God’s vision for wholeness but participate in radical justice and peace for the sake of our neighbor, who is also burned out on being pushed aside, transparent and scapegoated.

God takes our ashes and re-creates us, molds us, and enlivens us to shine with Christ’s light through our dust, to bring love and life into a world that is dying, dying to hear that brokenness is not the last word. Burn-out is not the last word. Oppression is not the last word. Death is not the last word. It is God who speaks the last word into our days spent in the messiness and chaos of life as God spoke the first words into the nothingness, chaos and dust and brought forth all of creation and life. God’s word always brings life; God’s word always brings hope; God’s word always whispers in your ear when you are screaming that you are burned out: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. I can do a lot with dust. You are mine, I see you, I love you and I am here.” Thanks be to God.

 

What You See Depends Upon Where You Sit December 14, 2015

Luke 14: 7-11 *This was a homily for the XYZ senior gathering Tuesday morning worship as well as for the Executive and Ministry joint council meeting worship on Dec. 8th at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

When I was in seminary I took a class in Chicago where we experienced congregations that had significant community organizing and outreach as part of their ministry model. Many were in impoverished areas of Chicago and dealt with the social justice issues of the context: poverty, joblessness, homelessness, elder care, gang violence, etc. Our professor or spiritual guide as she referred to herself for the two week class as Dr. Yvonne Delk. She had marched with MLK, she had rallied with Jeremiah Wright, and protested with Malcolm X. The phrase that she kept using with us to get us out of our comfort zone and to orient us in our experiences was “what you see depends upon where you sit.”

11 out of our class of 12 were white, middle class students. People of privilege most definitely, so this phrase helped us to gain insight that where we’ve been sitting in society gave us only one view of the culture and of the world. We had only seen the world and ourselves from the position of power, if we were completely honest. Had we really ever sat with the homeless? Or the racially oppressed? Or the undereducated? Or the lonely? Or the abused?

“What you see depends upon where you sit.” In our Luke 14 story, it seems that where one sits is of primary importance and risky all at the same time. Jesus notices where people were sitting, he tells this parable. Now it’s easy to hear these words through a self-righteous or a self-denigrating lens but I don’t think that either of those lenses is what Jesus really had in mind. Yes, we can think too highly of ourselves and think that we deserve a more honorable place than we do and often get our comeuppance when that happens (pride goes before a fall as they say). And yes, we can think lowly of ourselves and put ourselves last. In worse case scenarios allow ourselves to be a doormat. But what if those were not the two choices that Jesus had in mind?

“What you see depends upon where you sit.” Jesus is perhaps inviting us to reflect on ourselves and our role in community in a through a different lens. When we sit in a new place at church or anywhere what happens? We might see someone new, notice a room or building differently, think about ourselves in relationship to new people or new spaces differently. What if we were to sit on a street corner in our neighborhood? What about a street corner in a different neighborhood? What if we went grocery shopping in a different neighborhood? What would we see with new eyes? How would we view our own lives with new eyes? How might we view our neighbor with new eyes?

Jesus came to sit, to dwell with us. God wanted to sit with us on earth and let us know that God really sees us, really is with us and really cares for us by being in relationship with us. Jesus, fully divine, didn’t have to sit with humans in our suffering, in our mess, in our brokenness but knew that sitting with us would reveal how much God cares, would reveal how loved we are, would reveal that we are never alone. Jesus wants us to see ourselves and our neighbor as God sees us-connected to one another, bound by love and grace. God sits with us now and always to see us for who we really are: created in God’s very image and created for unending love. Amen.