A Lutheran Says What?

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

Meeting Jesus Sermon on Romans 7 March 26, 2018

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Word Became Flesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Mary and Jesus

Luke 1: 46-55  The Magnificat

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

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

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

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

 

“Hold On: Here is your God!” Sermon for Advent 2, Dec. 10, 2017 Year B December 11, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village. To view the sermon go to http://www.bethanylive.org and go to the correct date.

Children’s time. Gather the children and ask where do you see God around you right now? Point God out to me. It can be hard to see God sometimes can’t it? And we forget that God is with us always. Walk to the font. In the bible story I just read, there was this guy, Jesus’ cousin, who was telling people that God was with them always, forgiving them when they did wrong things and holding on to them. He was splashing them with water, what’s that called? Baptism! And the water that clings to us reminds us that God clings to us too. BUT John told the people something else. That God does hold us but that through Jesus who was coming, we will be not only be baptized with water, but God’s Holy Spirit will cling to us too! This means that we have work to do with God and for God. Just as you helped me to see God right here, right now, we have to tell everyone we meet Here is your God and God holds on to you! This is why we light a candle and say to the newly baptized person, even if they are a baby “Let you light so shine before others that they might see your good works that glorify your father in heaven.” We are part of Jesus’ light and work in the world! Jesus wants us to hold on to that truth that each one of us has important work to do. Here is a glow stick to help you remember to hold on to God. I’m going to talk some more about this and every time you hear me say “Hold on Here is your God!” I want you to wave your glow stick, ok? Let’s pray:

In many facets of our life, it might seem like we are barely holding on. I know that when our children were young, I was serving full-time in a congregation, my spouse was working full-time, we had piano lessons, ballet, t-ball, church choir, and all of the school activities, most days I felt like I was barely holding on to sanity and let alone time management to get done the mundane activities such as laundry, grocery shopping and house cleaning. We grasp each day with both hands and hope that we can just hold on through another day.

And then there are the times when we hold on because we just can’t let go of someone or something even when we should. Relationships that aren’t healthy, jobs that is no longer life giving, long held beliefs about groups of people or ourselves. Or we hold on to the way life used to be or to our vision of the way life should have been, or even the way church used to be and it can be painful or harmful to continue to hold on to those ideas. Sometimes we have to let go in order to hold on to what God is doing.

And then there are times when we don’t even know what to hold on to: what we should hold on to might be risky or down right overwhelming. Maybe a new vocation at an older age, I started seminary at 36 with two young children! Maybe a move out of state away from family for an exciting opportunity. Maybe leaving what is comfortable and known for unknown and but perhaps will be meaningful and fulfilling.

Our theme for Advent is “Hold On.” Exploring how we hold on to God and God’s promises in our lives. When we are in distress or overwhelmed with our lives or the world we live in, it can be difficult to know who or what to hold on to. In Isaiah 40, the Israelites have been taken to Babylon in exile and they feel as if they have lost their grip on God or more accurately, that God has let them go. The opening lines of our Isaiah text are words of comfort to a people who are decidedly uncomfortable with their current state of affairs. They are away from Jerusalem; the Temple is destroyed and they can’t practice their religion they way they used to or think they should.

But then the voice of God breaks in with a word of hope and words of mission for the prophet and the people. Cry out! God says.  Which can translate to Preach! The prophet responds what shall I preach? Or again a better translation is Why shall I preach! The people are turning away. Why God says? Because “Here is your God!” Right here, right now holding on to you even if you can’t feel it, or see it or know it. I am here with you, even in exile, even in discomfort, even in your own lack of faith, I am here and always have been and always will be God says! Preach this good news from the highest mountain top! Hold on to this good news that God is holding on to you, to all of you, with the power of God’s mighty arms and with the tender care of a shepherd caring for his sheep.

Our gospel of Mark this morning invites us right off the bat into our theme. Mark’s gospel begins with a bang with these words: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark then immediately moves us into the mission and work of John the Baptist who essentially says to his community and to us: Ready or not, here we go! Hold on! It’s about to be a wild ride with God!

The people who were flocking to John, were desperate to hold on that perhaps their lives meant something. In first century Palestine, baptism was not a new thing. This was part of a Jewish ritual of cleansing, but John was drawing people out to the wilderness, away from the seat of government and religious authority with this message of repentance or a clearer definition is having a change of heart. Mark writes that people from the whole of Judean countryside and ALL people of Jerusalem were coming. This was extremely inclusive, it was not only the Jewish people, not only the elite, not only the poor, not only the educated, not only the religious, but all. And to this diverse crowd John proclaims something even more amazing than the forgiveness of sins: Hold on! There’s more! Not only are your sins cleansed and you can turn around to God, but through the one who is coming, all of you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit who comes and brings you all into what God is up to in the world. Here is your God! Breaking into the world, coming to you, to hold on to you, to never let you go and to bring you into the purpose and mission of the kingdom of God. Hold on!

The world around us is looking for such good news to hold on to. People are desperate for this good news, desperate for the truth, capital T truth for their lives.  As people called by God, what shall we preach to them? Or why shall we preach to them? Does it matter in a world that seems to have turned away? God tells us through our baptisms, yes! It matters that our lights shine and we hold on to our call to preach and be the good news of Emmanuel, God with us. We preach it not only to others but perhaps most importantly to ourselves. We can preach the truth of “Hold on: Here is your God” who breaks into our lives as a baby from a backwater town in Palestine. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we bridge divisions for true dialog and healing. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we speak out against injustices so that the road is level for all people and particularly for those who face discrimination based on color, religion, gender or sexual orientation. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we step outside our comfort zones and hear someone else’s story of pain and are willing to share our own. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we let go of how we think the world should be and reach out for new thing that God is up to. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we follow Jesus and stand with the poor, the marginalized and the forsaken.

We preach Hold One: Here is your God when we receive and offer to all the signs of the promises of God for us to hold onto, even when it’s hard to grasp them. Hold On: Here is your God in water, in the bread and in the wine for us to hold on with both hands to the truth of God’s presence with us no matter how difficult, treacherous, or steep the road of our lives may be. Preach this truth of the good news of Jesus Christ with me this week “Hold on! Here is your God.” Preach it with every aspect of your lives, preach it at work, preach it at school, preach it! Preach it and hold on with your whole being to the good news of God breaking into our lives and the world with promises of love, forgiveness, mercy and hope. Hold on! Here is your God.

 

Speechless A Sermon on Matthew 22: 1-14 October 21, 2017

This sermon was preached Oct. 15, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can watch it live at http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts are Isaiah 25: 1-9, Philippians 4: 1-9 and Matthew 22: 1-14

I have been left speechless more times than I would like lately. Sometimes there are simply no words for what we witness around us in the world. What words are adequate for a beautiful new baby? Or for the miracle a loved one was hoping for? What do we say about fires that rage out of control, killing people, destroying not only property, but also livelihoods. What do we say to loved ones diagnosed with cancer, Alzheimer’s, mental illness or heart disease? What do we say about teens taking their own lives believing that is the only answer despite our pleas to the contrary? What do we say about nations at war and innocent people caught in the crossfire? What do we say when dialog seems to only break down to fundamentalism, blaming and shaming? What do we say? Do our words matter? Do our actions matter?

I resonated with the man in our Matthew parable who was speechless and I  wonder if we misunderstand why he was cast out. Jesus tells a parable about a king who invites people to attend a wedding feast for his son and he is refused by people who fancy themselves too busy with their own lives and priorities to attend. Remembering that the parables that Jesus told were steeped in hyperbole, the king became enraged and burned down the city. That is the king decided to see what would happen if the peoples self-selected priorities and tasks were taken away. What happens when everything that we think is important is gone? What happens when priorities, ideas, tasks that we have built our lives around come crashing down? That can render one speechless and in despair.

Then the kings sent his slaves out again, to gather all they could find, the good, the bad and the ugly to come to this feast that the elite, the self-important and self-absorbed had rejected. The king filled his hall with people who did not refuse for whatever reason, and I don’t believe that these people were more altruistic or truly understood better than the first batch of invitees. No, more than likely, these were people of a social rank who wouldn’t normally be included and so how could they say no? This reminds us that inclusion is a tricky thing: to radically include all people regardless of social status, economic status, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, or any other human made category, means that someone else may exclude themselves so to not be included with “certain people.” The slaves of the king couldn’t help who excluded themselves when the first call came to be part of the feast of abundance and love. And the king understood this on some level as well, and so instead kept inviting and including-gathering all that he could.

Then we come to verse 11 with the unsettling tale of the man not dressed correctly for the wedding feast. Scholars have lots of theories on these verses but all admit it’s notion of judgment is troublesome. When confronted with not being dressed appropriately, the man is silent. He has nothing to say. Perhaps he knows that he should say something, but is worried that his words will be inadequate or will spark controversy. Or will his words fall on deaf ears? Or will his words not match his actions and he will be called a hypocrite? After all of this radical inclusion why now is this man excluded for a seemingly small infraction as failing the dress code? After all, he DID respond to the invitation…isn’t that enough? Is it really just about not having said yes to the dress? Or is it his lack of response that sends him to the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth?

The last three weeks we have wrestled with the parables of Jesus around what it means to fully participate in the kingdom of God and by who’s authority we are included. As good Lutherans, we focus on the unconditional grace, love and mercy of our loving God through Jesus Christ, and this is good. But Matthew is challenging us to not stop there. Our theology must not end with comfort for ourselves, peace of mind that we are ok, that since we don’t earn God’s grace, we don’t have to do anything. These parables are a corrective for that line of thinking that I know lulls me to complacency far too often. God’s grace for ME, God’s unconditional love for ME, God’s uses of God’s authority for ME. This is most certainly true and it has seismic consequences for how I am then in relationship with other people and how I am called to live. God most certainly uses her authority to include all people: people I don’t like, people I would never associate with, people I fundamentally think are wrong. It’s also clear that for God it matters how we live together. So much so that God sent Jesus to show us how. Jesus gave away his own power and authority to eat with tax collectors, prostitutes, lowly fishermen, and women. Jesus used his authority to bring the children to him. Jesus used his authority speak up for the voiceless. Jesus declared that in the coming of the kingdom, God will use her authority to free the imprisoned, give voice to the oppressed, bring light to the darkness. Jesus stood speechless before Pilate instead of using authority to save himself. Jesus suffered and died on the cross in solidarity with all who suffer and die, revealing the power, strength and authority of God to swallow up death, and as we are reminded today in Isaiah 25, and bring us all through suffering to eternal life. Jesus constantly used his authority for the sake of other people and Paul urged the Philippians and us to keep doing those things that we have learned from Jesus, using the authority of love and grace given to us from Jesus, for the sake of bringing in the peace, shalom, of the kingdom of God.

It might seem easier, like the man without the robe at the banquet, to remain silent when asked how we are included as a child of God and how we or others belong. But remaining silent is not our call-we are called to speak out against injustice, to speak out in solidarity for the oppressed, the weak, the powerless, the voiceless. To not speak is to be in the outer darkness, to be separated from the truth of God’s kingdom. But more than our words, God calls us to action. What we do matters. We wear the robe of Christ, as given to us in our baptism. We sometimes forget that baptism is not only about personal salvation but is a public proclamation for what God has already done through Jesus Christ and that we are co-workers in community with God for the sake of reconciliation, justice and peace for all people-no matter what. God wants us to use the authority that we have through our baptisms, authority that only comes from God, for the furthering of this mission. Colton, you will now have an active role in this mission from God. Your actions matter little man, not because your salvation is at stake but because God’s mission in the world is at stake. People desperately need us to not only open our mouths about God’s love and mercy, but even more desperately need us to boldly use our lives to show them God’s love and mercy.

Our busy lives distract us from our own invitation and from extending the invitation to our neighbor from God to participate in the abundance, joy and rejoicing that is offered to us all. Our busy lives tell us the falsehoods of scarcity, worry, entitlement, status, autonomy, independence and using our authority for our own gain. We lull ourselves into complacency that little ol’ us doesn’t matter. Jesus says different, you matter, because you are a part of something bigger, more abundant, more creative, more than you can ever imagine in the heart and life of God. Your actions do matter: Go to candlelight vigils, speak prayers and sing songs of healing for those who grieve from tragedies, go to a sick loved one’s bedside with tears, prayers and a casserole, go to the Red Cross to donate blood or money for fire or hurricane victims, go to the funeral, or more importantly, go and visit with the grieving several weeks later, go talk to the beggar on the street corner and ask her how she is, go to a memory care unit and listen to stories for the hundredth time with a smile, holding hands and a tear, go and offer compassion and reassurance to youth as they struggle growing up in a world that demands perfection above all else, go and bring Christ with you to the outer darkness, go to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth in order to point to the light that the darkness cannot and will not overcome.

Yes, sometimes our words may not seem eloquent, or adequate but we are not to be left speechless or powerless in the grace, mercy, love and authority of Jesus Christ. Rejoice in the Lord always, let what we have learned from Jesus be known to people around us; use our words, tasks, lives and authority for healing and uplifting of people on the margins; God’s power and strength surrounds us always with peace that goes beyond the end of conflict and moves us all into the wholeness of the kingdom of God where all are invited, included and loved.