A Lutheran Says What?

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

One in Christ February 5, 2017

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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

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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.

 

Come to the Table: Holy Communion 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Sept. 7th, 2016 September 8, 2016

*You can go to http://www.bethany-live.org to view the worship service.

When I was interviewing for the position of pastor of faith formation here at Bethany, one of the topics of conversation came around to how to build community. My answer? It may be very simplistic but it was this: “Feed them!” I personally think that most of our Bethany Fund should be spent on food to gather people. After all, food is central in all of our lives, everyone regardless of any differences, we all have to eat! We need food to physically live, to be healthy and for children to grow up thriving. But I also think we also need food emotionally and spiritually. Eating a meal together reveals a lot about who we are, what we like or dislike, how or where we were raised, (so much of our food preference is geographical). It’s an intimate and vulnerable act, as who doesn’t at least once a meal accidentally spill a little, have something on their face or in their teeth. You can’t always be on your best behavior as you eat and as this is true for all of us, meals are also the great equalizer. The likelihood of a small faux pas is equal among us all. This is why I think so many first dates are meals, or why we invite people we want to get to know over for dinner. We’re willing to risk the vulnerability in order to find out more about people because we know over a good plate of spaghetti a good story will also be told.
Special meals also gather our families and loved ones together at points during the year. Perhaps it’s Thanksgiving at Aunt Jane’s where you know Uncle Joe will show up with questionable stories for the children and questionable behavior. Or it’s Christmas, when certain foods from your family’s heritage are concocted and served along with the stories of the recipes and the history of Great Grandma Mary’s cake. Or birthday dinners where you know an embarrassing story about when you were three is bound to be told. We might face attending these meals with some ambivalence, wondering why we go, yet go we do, to be a part of something, to be connected to the whole of your family and close friends, and to hear the stories once again.
The early church community gatherings revolved around a meal. A real, actual meal. I don’t know if it was potluck or if the host house prepared it or how that worked, but we read in the Bible over and over the importance of gathering for a meal. A meal prepared for three strangers who suddenly appeared from the desert, a meal where all shared what they had and no one had any need, a meal where food purity laws went out the window for the sake of sharing the good news of Jesus will supposed outsiders, a meal where eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread, a meal that proclaimed the promises of God, a meal that binds us as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Gathered around a table, we all sit eye to eye, elbow to elbow, nourishing our bodies together. Even when we sit with people we don’t know, or don’t like or think shouldn’t be allowed at the table. Paul was struggling with this issue with the Church in Corinth. The fledgling church was gathering for meals, but gathering under the auspices of society where some were in and some were out. They forgot the radical invitation to the table from the One who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, the unclean and the undesirable. They had prettied up their tables and were making sure that who was at the table was acceptable by the laws of society and not embarrassing in any way.
When Paul first connected with the people of Corinth, he gathered them not just around food but the story of what truly fills and satisfies, the story of Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus’ love, his love for the whole world to the point of death-not death for the sake of death-but death for the sake of not making choices out of fear, scarcity or despair. Death that could not and would not be the final word. God transformed death into life-abundant life and hope. This story brings everyone in need of this reality, this truth, to the table. All of us are in need of this story and all receive it equally-no one receives more or less, no one gets fancier dishes, no one gets it first or last-but we come as one people to the table where there is room for all and enough for all.
Paul tells the Corinthians the story of the meal that Jesus shared with all of his disciples. Those who loved him, those who would deny him, those who would doubt him and yes, those who would betray him. All were at the table. There was no pecking order, no exclusion for bad behavior or dysfunction, only open invitation into the story of unending love and grace for all no matter where you may be in your own story with God.
So, yes my answer to building community and the Kingdom of God is to feed people. Not because I think it’s a good idea, but because God does. God sent Jesus to walk around with us, turn our few pitiful loaves and fishes into banquets, to fill our nets with more fish than we can eat in a day, a week or a month. Jesus who over and over again sets the table, invites us all to join and fills us with what we need to share the table with our neighbors, coworkers and family. We share the stories of our hearts, of our experience with the difference that Jesus Christ makes in our lives. How Jesus’ love opens us up to see those whom no one else does: those who are hungry, those who are sick, those who are despised, those who no one will eat with. At the meal of Holy Communion, we are part of the story that calls to us to see and sit with on another how God does-with love, mercy, vulnerability and compassion. Every meal we eat is a continuation of the story being in the community of God’s people whether you are at home with your family, eating at work, or eating alone. The promise from Jesus is that every table is sacred space that proclaims the presence of God and God’s promise for abundant life now and forever. Jesus says, “Come. For all is ready.”

 

Changed by Water: Baptism August 31st, 2016 Romans 6: 3-4

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*You can go to http://www.bethany-live.org to watch the worship service.

Have you ever walked in the rain? Being from WA and OR, I have a lot. When you walk in the rain, you see how water changes things. Water makes plants and crops grow, water sustains our lives, water cleans the earth, water cleans us. We also know that water causes things to be destroyed: water erodes rocks, in LA we see how too much water destroys homes, water even causes death to animals and people. The news rarely shows us the good that water does, only the harm. Water is everywhere on earth, even if it’s just small amounts, water is powerful and is a source of death and life, it’s constantly changing the world. We use water in our sacrament of baptism (a sacrament is an action that we do as a community to reveal God’s promise of love and life) and it’s a curious thing isn’t it that we pour water, something that can cause us harm, on babies and young children (sometimes older youth and adults).
We tend to think of baptism as part of God’s promise of something a long way off-when we die from this body and earth and live with God. It’s easy to think of this as not something that affects our daily life-today Wednesday August 31st, 2016. Baptism IS partially about what happens when we die from our earthly bodies-baptism reminds us that we are never separated from God and God will gather us up in God’s arms when we die and offer us resurrection-life with God forever. But baptism is even more than that! The new life that Paul is writing to the church in Rome about is about our lives today, right here, right now. Baptism changes our todays, not just our tomorrows.
Baptism is a public proclamation for what God has done for us and for all people. When we pour water over a baby, child, youth or adult, we are saying to the whole world that God names them as a child of God, claims them forever as belonging to and being in the life of God, and is sent out with the love of Christ to be a part of a Christian community, what we call Church, and into the world reflecting the light of Christ. It’s not that before we poured the water, they weren’t part of God’s promises for life, love and belonging, they were, God has taken care of that, we don’t have to worry about who’s in or out. Baptism is important, though, because it’s not about how we die, but it’s all about how we live, how we are changed by God to share love with the world.
Some of this is about earthly death, but it’s also about how sometimes things have to die in us in order for us to do something new. For those of you who are middle schoolers, right now some of your habits are changing, what’s dying is that you’re no longer a young child, but are a new youth. You’re changing! When you were born, your parents way of living without children died and they took on a new life as your mom and dad. Their life changed. Or when you realize that something you do isn’t helpful to you or people around you, you quit doing that habit, or it dies, and you do a new thing, you change. Baptism declares that God wants us to be new, changed people every day. God says to each of us, “I love you and I want selfishness, hate, and fear to die, to be changed to love, sharing, and joy that will grow in you so that other people can be changed by your drenching them in love, sharing and joy.” And here’s the cool thing: God says that we get to try again to change every day, even if we didn’t do that well the day before!
Water poured over us at baptism washes away, destroys, the messages from the world that tells us to look out for only ourselves, keep all our stuff to ourselves and get more stuff, and to be afraid of not being perfect, of not having enough, of all kinds of stuff. Water not only destroys these messages, but also opens us up like a cavern to be filled with what God wants to grow in us. And not someday, but every day! And we do this together, we live in faith together to ensure that all people in the world know the power of what God offers everyone: belonging, love and hope.
Baptism declares that we are changed from grave people to grace people. We don’t look for death in water like the world does, but life. God’s love poured out on us, brings us to life. When we say we’re grace people, not grave people, it means that we look for life, new life, everywhere. After Jesus died and was buried, the women went to the tomb expecting to see death but instead saw that God had raised Jesus to life! Jesus told the women and later the disciples to not look for death when God’s promise of life is everywhere. The followers of Jesus, men, women, boys and girls, saw this new life clearly in their everyday lives, and we too look for new life in all of the seemingly ordinary places we go.
We look for new life in our friendships at school. I’m sure you have all had the experience of not getting along with a classmate or a friend for a while-grace people look for how to pour out forgiveness to change the relationship. Who has fought with their parents, or brothers or sisters? Yep! We all have! Grace people look for ways to say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” in order to pour out a new beginning, new life with those family members. When you think that you’ve messed up beyond a second chance, remember that God says “new life is always here for you. Just as water is everywhere changing what the world looks like, so am I.” There is no where you can go that God won’t be there with the good news that your past mistakes, sorrow and worries die in the promises of God for new life, love forever and joy that grows in us all each day, over and over no matter what to change us and the world. Walk as grace people: wet in new life, drenched in love, and changed by joy. Amen.

 

Who’s Story? Daniel 3 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego

I invite you to turn to page 916 in your pew Bibles, Daniel 3, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace. It’s more than about being rescued from earthly death.
We are exposed to more media in the 21st century than any other time in history and are sent more messages, both subtle and overt of how we ought to think, dress, eat, shop, live, drive and the list goes on and on. We are bombarded by commercial decrees that want us to bow down at their altars of consumerism, immediate self-gratification, egoism, every time we hear their blaring jingles, tag lines or see their logos. By worshiping their goods, services and lifestyles that the corporations offer, their claim is that we will be safe, secure, and right where we should be in relationship to all of our neighbors-you know the ones with the nicest stuff, newest car, and so higher status. All we have to do is remember that money makes the world go around, being comfortable is what life is all about and going along with the masses will make us happy. We are sold the lie that those things will be our foundation, our security, our roots.
This might even kinda work for a while, until it doesn’t. Until we lose our dream job, until we buy more and more and still feel empty, until our spouse leaves us and we’re alone in a culture that supports couplehood, until we don’t have 2.2 children and a dog, until we get sick, until we don’t measure up to the social standards of beauty, until, until, until… Then what? The corporations will tell you that the answer will lie in more things, a new house, a new spouse, just replace your health with something that makes you happy. But then we’re caught in the cycle of measuring up to others, fear, scarcity, and loneliness. We wonder what is wrong with us that we can’t seem to keep it together by the standards of the world. We wonder if God is listening at all, if God is really with us because we don’t seem to be saved from the disasters, maladies and disappointments of life. We want God to do what we want God to do. We begin to wonder if our faith is enough, if we believe or if God’s promises are true. What we are asking is: what is it that really roots us?
The prophetic book of Daniel tells of hope rooted in God. When the southern kingdom of Judah fell in about 587/6, the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and took many of the Israelites away to captivity. In the ancient near east, to have your nation captured meant that your god was not as powerful as the other gods and had lost. The Israelites were influenced by this thinking and so when Jerusalem fell, it might have shaken their faith. So it stands to reason that when a Babylonian king says, “worship this statue,” it would be easy to get distracted away from God and towards the golden image-after all, everyone else was doing it. But there were three men refused King Nebuchadnezzar’s decree-Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Now, I’m sure that they had doubts about their wisdom in refusing king Neb, as they had already lost their homeland, their connections to family and friends and a whole way of life, but for S, M, A to lose their sense of identity as God’s people would have been far worse than everything else they had already lost. Grounded in their trust of God, they stayed focused to the primary roots of their faith, despite siren songs and frightening decrees to find rootedness in golden images.
But you see, they didn’t do this alone, as individuals, but as a community. S, M and A had another friend struggling to stay rooted, Daniel. I imagine that they would have told each other the stories, the same stories we have heard all summer: of God’s word creating the heaven and earth, God’s breath creating humans, God saving Noah and his family through the flood, God’s presence with the Israelites in the wilderness, God providing manna, quail and water, God bringing them into the promise land. Daniel, S, M, A knew these stories from childhood and that these stories all pointed to God’s actions and love from the very beginning. God over and over claiming the Israelites as God’s own, caring for and staying with them. These stories were alive in these men and so when king Neb commanded that they denounce their faith or be burned alive, S, M, A had the words, the courage, the foundation to proclaim that no matter what, whether God saved them from this earthly peril or not, they were rooted in something bigger, something beyond what the world considered being saved. They knew that whether they lived through the fire, or died in the fire, they were God’s own beloved and God would be there. Their rootedness wasn’t dependent on what they thought God should or should not do.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did indeed go into the fire, naively, or foolishly proclaiming the trust that even if they were about to die, God was with them. Into the incinerating furnace they went, dressed in their finest clothes, hats, tunics, trousers and other very flammable garment. Three went in. Neb couldn’t resist peeking in on them…would they denounce their faith now? Were they dead already? Three went in…and four were seen in the blaze. God had sent an angel or a messenger not only to be with S, M, and A in the fire but also to send a message to the king and all of the king’s courtiers that God indeed is there, is here, is in the world, with God’s people, offering life with God, whether they are in a fire, or in historic floods in LA, or in disease, or in pain, or even caught in the lonely cycle of consumerism and materialism.
The promise isn’t that believing or faith saves us from the scary realities of the world or that God will be like a cosmic magic 8 ball giving us all of the answers. No, God promise is to love us at all times and in all places. God’s promise is to be present when it’s the most bleak. God sent Jesus to proclaim the love song that drowns out the jingles and siren songs that distract us-the love song of good news that the kingdom of God is not just near but here but here for all people. The good news that we can step out of the cycles that proclaim only death, pain, fear and scarcity in which we are all too easily entrapped. We can step away from the golden images, and step into the love, life, abundance and hope rooted in God. We may walk through fire, we might get singed but we walk confident that God walks with us and we walk together, in community, telling each other the stories of God’s promise of life, the story of the empty tomb-God refusing to let death be the last word for us. In the celebration of baptism, we pour water and profess like S, M, and A, that no matter what we experience in this life, we trust in God’s promise to name us, claim us and to never leave us. This morning Kayla and Kyle will profess this faith and we will promise to be part of their community to tell them the stories over and over in order to drown out the stories the world will try and tell them. Ron Swanson claimed this promise this week and his witness to telling the story of God’s love, will live on in each of us.
Like S, M, and A, together as God’s people we witness to this good news and help keep each other from being distracted. I invite the children, and anyone who has a bag to bless this morning. You may have noticed or heard that we will have a Bible Verse of the Month. Beginning today, every four weeks or so we will all together learn a new Bible verse that we will allow to dwell in us, grow, ruminate and live with us in our daily lives. We will experience the verse in worship, meetings, bible studies, the Beacon, our Facebook page, in our Friday email, through music, all kinds of practices. Our first verse you will find on the front of your bulletin, Romans 10: 15b, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.” We take the good news of Christ with us into our daily lives no matter where we go. We come to church to hear the story of God so that we can learn it really well and can tell our friends, neighbors, teachers, anyone about God. How many of you are beginning school and fall activities? It’s good to remember that our feet that God created, take the love of God everywhere we go. We are giving cross keychains to go on your bags so that other people in your schools, soccer teams, grocery store, dentist or dr offices, work places, will know that your feet bring something special. The cross will remind you to tell people about God’s love and that God is always with them. If someone is sad, or worried, or sick, you can say to them: you may not know it, but God loves you and is with you right now! Just like God was with S, M, A in the fire, (and don’t you think that they were scared?), God is everywhere with you. Even scary places, especially scary places. Really. How many of you think you can tell two people about God this week? (Hand out the keychains)
Prayer: God, we tell your story so that everyone will hear it. Thank you for sending us out with our beautiful feet to be your love in the world. Amen.

 

Wrestling with the Gods Love Sermon on Genesis 32:22-31 July 10, 2016

*You can watch at http://www.bethanylive.org

 

I’m wrestling this week with the simple fact that there has been an awful lot of law in the world in the past few weeks. By “law” I mean events that seemingly violate the Great Commandment from Jesus of “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” There has been much that has the potential to drive us to despair, hopelessness and weariness. It seems that there is more that divides us than unites us. It seems that this week in particular has been difficult. I’m simply heartbroken at all of the loss of life on all accounts. I’m also aware of the complexity of all of these events and my own complicity in systems of privilege, power, and security. I pray and hope for the world to be different and yet, that means a huge change in how I experience my day to day existence and that complexity can be paralyzing and frightening.

Evident in all of this brokenness and violence is the reality that we view all of these events through our very human lens of either/or. Either you agree that all Muslims are terrorists or you don’t. Either you are pro-police officers or not. Either you support LBGTQI rights or you don’t. Either you are pro #blacklivesmatter or you not. Not to invoke an inappropriate metaphor, but we see the world as black and white, yes or no, in or out, win or lose, us or them. Social media and mainstream media help to perpetuate this type of thinking in our culture and we get caught in the loop that this is the way the world works and are the only choices that we have. And once we supposedly make that choice it means a certain type of behavior and mindset. If there is an “us” then “them” must be feared and mitigated.

But this is not the reality of the kingdom of God. God is not about either/or but what I have learned as the “third way” or “both/and.” In the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus is ushering in “third way” thinking. Jesus is pointing out that those whom many would assume might not be a part of what God is doing in the world because they are not what the world would declare as people of power, privilege and authority are exactly who God proclaims as included in God’s kingdom. Jesus declares that there is not an “us or them” paradigm, only one people in the kingdom of God.

Jesus is also turning on its head what it means to be blessed. We throw that word around and connect it to our own good fortune and comfortableness. We’re blessed with material possessions, vocations, health, family, and the list goes on and on of all of the ways that we think we’re blessed. But Jesus doesn’t connect blessedness with any of these comforts of the world. You see, the promise from God isn’t that we would be “blessed” with any of those things, as a matter of fact, all of that, possessions, vocation and health are all temporary, not guaranteed and certainly not signs of God’s kingdom. We worry about losing wealth, status and health and live in the false dichotomy and fear of scarcity or abundance and not the reality that there is only abundance in God’s kingdom and enough to go around for us all.

 But God breaks this either/or as well with what being blessed is really about: What God actually promises is that God is always with you and will call you by name-beloved child of God. God’s blessings of love and grace surround you and me and all of us no matter what and these blessings flow abundantly. Jesus declares that God’s way, the third way, is not that some are in and others out, some are valued more than others, and some lives are worth more than others, but that God’s blessing reaches all, gathers us all and redeems us all regardless of what the world says.

I’ve been pondering this reality, this third way, a lot this week. To live in the both/and of the blessing and love of Christ is not an easy endeavor. It means real sacrifice and yes, pain. It means giving up this either/or worldview and stepping out into the realm of faith, God’s invitation into a life focused on serving my neighbor and not myself. It also means that stepping into this reality of the incarnation of Jesus Christ is God’s way of abolishing either/or requires something of me. As Lutherans we get itchy about anything that smacks of “works righteousness” but I think we miss the boat when we sit comfortably with the notion of “Christ died for me and I don’t have to do anything to earn it.” That is true that the gifts of God are free but that fact that the tomb is empty is life altering, transformative and yes, a painful experience. The empty tomb propelled the women to run. To run and proclaim all that they had seen, even though they didn’t understand, except they knew that now everything is different. The tomb empties all that we know about how the world works, even the reality of death. We’re decentered and put out of joint by God’s reality that when the kingdom of God comes near, we can’t stay the same or in the same place-we have places to go and people to serve. The kingdom of God means that we can’t put everyone and every event into neat little categories because the death and resurrection of Jesus annihilates and defies categories. No longer does death mean death, no longer is the end really the end, no longer is anyone excluded, no longer are we on our own to figure stuff out, no longer is there us or them, no longer are we separated from love, no longer can we be silent, no longer can we accept comfortableness at the expense of others.

This transformation of all that we know, means that we might walk with a limp in the eyes of the world because we’re learning to walk in a new way with God. It means that we value the life of our brothers and sisters more than our own, more than our comfort, more than our security, more than the status quo, more than our privilege, more than our power. This limp will slow us down so that we can listen, learn, educate ourselves and change our day to day words and behaviors to value all of our neighbors. This limp will make us seem weak in the eyes of the world, but it will allow us to walk beside those who are limping under the strain of oppression, fear and hate. It’s painful to walk with a limp, it’s slow, it’s tedious and yet, as Paul writes, it’s in this limping that we find our strength. Our strength is the love of Christ that comes to us like no other love that the world can offer. Not with strings, conditions, rewards, or demanding reciprocation, but with openness, mercy, and the power to make us new in love so that we can respond to the need of our neighbor for such love. This isn’t sappy “Kum by yah” love-it’s love that’s strong enough to wrestle and stay in the relationship, even when it’s hard and it hurts. This is love from Christ that says, “I love you too much to let you stay the same.”

Walking with Christ means walking in the way of embracing the tension of this third way. When the world demands a yes or a no, we offer love for all people. When the world demands an in or an out, we offer love that includes all people. When the world demands black or white, we offer love that values diversity and all whom God has created in God’s very own image. We offer this unconditional love to those who suffer in Orlando, Syria, Istanbul, Iraq, to the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, the Dallas police officers: Michael Krol, Brent Thompson, Michael Smith, Patrick Zamarripa, Lorne Ahrens. (*post sermon addendum: I didn’t realize the Dallas shooter, Micah Johnson, had also been killed. I would have mentioned him as well.)  When violence erupts again, and it will, we offer not just words of love but actions that reveal that God is at work in the world, through the world for the sake of the world.

This will not be easy, simple or a once and for all endeavor. It’s a journey, a process and the way that we live as life long disciples of Jesus Christ. But Jesus promises to be on the road with us, opening up the scriptures time and again to reveal the new thing that God is up to in our midst, even when we don’t see it, or don’t want to see. But Jesus will time and again, drown our preoccupation with self in the waters of baptism and will reveal in bread and wine that all are part of the body of Christ-he begged us to break the bread in remembrance of him, which is not about nostalgia but about literally be “re-membered” put back together as one humanity at the table of abundance where there is room for all. It means sitting with those whom you may not like, be afraid of or even disapprove. It means sitting with those whom don’t like you, are afraid of you or disapprove of you. It means sitting in the tension of God’s love truly being for all-the tension of the both/and of God’s third way for the world. God’s way of radical wholeness, peace, justice, mercy and love. Amen.