A Lutheran Says What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The texts were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The texts were:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We Are a Sign: Sermon on Luke 21 year C November 17, 2019

This sermon was preached on Nov. 17, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Malachi 4: 1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13
Luke 21: 5-19

Children’s sermon: Gather the children and have some different kinds of signs printed off. Ask what the signs say. Why are there signs all around us? Some are safety, some want us to buy things, some are confusing, some are scary, some are old and aren’t relevant anymore. But there are signs all around us. Signs are not only words on a board and a stick, but can be actions or words of people, or some people see signs around us of what God might be trying to tell us. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes, it’s not-so it’s very difficult to know. But Jesus tells us that signs aren’t always what they seem to be and so not to get too concerned-pay attention, but don’t worry too much. That when life seems scary or sad, or hard or confusing, look for signs of God’s love, because signs of God’s love and care are already all around us. AND we are to be signs of God’s love in the world with the words we say, with our actions, with our whole lives. We are a sign from God to the world! If you had to wear a sign about God’s love, what would it say? I have this poster board and some materials for you to make a sign to share about God’s love in the world. Let’s pray:

There are signs everywhere and we like to try and interpret them or to make sense of them. As I talked with the children, signs are a common part of our lives and most of them are easy to understand, such as traffic signs, which door to use at a restaurant, where the exits or restrooms might be in a building. But then there are signs that we’re not sure about. The stock market going up and down, nations invading nations, genocide, unpredictable weather causing floods, fires, droughts, and crop failures, buildings crumbling, our own health changes (what does that new ache mean?), off-hand comments from a supervisor or colleague that make you take notice, changes in your child’s behavior, changes in your parent’s behavior, is it a sign of something serious? Is it a sign of ominous things to come? Or a sign that life will get better? Which is it? I need to plan! I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, if “A” happens then will “B”? What’s a sign that I can make sense of and trust?

This wondering leads us to put our faith in objects and institutions that we feel will help us to interpret all the other signs. We want to find what will never change and never crumble. Our trouble comes when we choose objects and ideas that indeed inevitably will and have to change because they always have been changing, albeit perhaps so slowly that we don’t notice. This was the case with the disciples in our Luke text today. They had just witnessed the faith of the widow placing all that she had into the temple treasury-despite her poverty-a testimony of her trust in God. The very next thing the disciples did, where we pick up the story today, was to comment on how the temple was so beautifully adorned from all the gifts dedicated to God. The temple was a sure and steadfast sign, a testimony, of God’s presence and sovereignty and seemed so stalwart that nothing could ever destroy it. But Jesus, probably shaking his head a bit, says, all of this, what you think is a sign of God’s reign, is not. It all can and will come down. These would be concerning words for the listeners, for what they were hearing, questioned the very presence of God in the world. The belief in Jesus’ time was that the Temple is where God was so the Temple coming down would be a huge cause for concern and planning. When will this happen? What are the signs?

Jesus acknowledges that life is unpredictable. Jesus doesn’t try and sweep under the rug the realities of war, famine, health crisis, discrimination, human suffering, human impacts on creation, even the destruction of the temple, which would herald an end to the Israelite/Jewish tradition as they knew it. Jesus says yes, those things will happen and we will need to face them head on. But they are not a sign of the end, they are not a sign of God’s disfavor with us or creation, these hard realities are a sign that our testimony, our witness of God’s presence and love in all times and in all places is more important than ever. When death and destruction seem to have won the day, this is when testimony to God’s promise of life matters most.

Bearing testimony is not a common topic for conversation or a sermon in the Lutheran church, which is interesting because it’s the very foundation of our denomination. Martin Luther bore witness to God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness in a social and political climate that was antithetical and hostile to his testimony of the word of God. He didn’t do it perfectly, let’s be clear, he also did and said some things that were harmful and hurtful to our Jewish siblings and to those in poverty during the peasants uprising, but Luther didn’t back down from doing what he knew was right-bearing witness to God’s love for all and freeing people from the worldview that hardships and difficulties in your life are signs of God’s punishment and you have to earn God’s favor with your actions. Luther’s very life became one of bearing witness to God’s grace and mercy in the world for all people. Luther’s testimony meant that church hierarchies and political systems were in jeopardy, status quo was no longer an option. It was doom and gloom for those in power and authority and out of self-preservation the powers and principalities condemned Luther’s witness. But despite fear, Luther held fast to the promises of God. He understood that things would look bleak before real transformation could occur. Luther trusted in God’s ongoing creative work of redemption, that God was always doing a new thing in people and in institutions and that God would never leave him.

We get so caught up in trying to interpret the threatening signs in the world that we forget, that like Luther, we too are signs for God’s transformational work in the world. How we live, how we treat each other, how we sing a new song in every time and in every place as the psalmist writes, bears witness to signs of God’s love for the entirety of creation. Ominous happenings in the world, the toppling of institutions, wars, diseases, hardships are never about God’s wrath, or punishment, they are part of life in a broken creation where the full reign of God has not yet been revealed. Jesus reminds us that we aren’t to be frightened and isolate ourselves or think that we’re too insignificant or unimportant to make a difference. As the people of God, we don’t live in idleness, we live boldly proclaiming to all, including powers and principalities the good news with whatever words of wisdom God gives us. And more than only words, God will also give us the actions of wisdom we need for this proclamation. Wise words and actions can bring down stone by stone unjust systems that discriminate against some while privileging others. Wise words and actions from God feed the hungry, ensure clean water for all communities, meet the needs of youth in our neighborhoods, offers safe, loving and affirming community for people of all genders, sexual orientations, race, color, socio-economic status, ability and health. With God’s wisdom, we won’t grow weary in doing what is right, of what builds up and cares for our neighbor despite risks to ourselves. Let us make up our minds to let our lives will sing a new song of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness through Jesus Christ. Jesus time and again witnessed to God’s love, reconciliation and healing of humanity and creation with more than words but with his actions and on the cross with his very life. Jesus, God in our midst, is a sign of what radical love can do. Jesus’ love transforms religious and political systems, creation and our lives today and every day, so that there will indeed be the Day of the Lord, a day when no one is oppressed, marginalized or discriminated against. A day when God’s justice rolls down like waters, a day when all people are protected, cared for and not one hair on anyone’s head is harmed, a day when all that divides us comes down stone by stone, and a day when every life will be a testimony, a sign, of God’s healing, love, and transformation of all hearts, minds, souls and the world through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

 

Renewed for Life: Dangerous Hope Sermon on Luke 20: 27-38 November 14, 2019

This sermon was preached on November 10, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Job 19: 23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17
Luke 20: 27-38

Children’s sermon: Do you ever worry about something? What do you worry about? Yeah, we worry about lots of things don’t we. Worry can be ok, as worry can sometimes help us to make decisions, but often worrying can keep us from focusing on what is actually important. Have you ever worried about the wrong thing? Such as worried about what a friend thinks of you to the point that you ignore other friends who then might get upset with you? Yeah, we can worry about the wrong stuff as people of any age. Our bible stories for today are kinda odd, but they are essentially about worrying about the wrong thing. We heard some questions from people worried about what happens when we die, or when Jesus comes again-but Jesus says, don’t worry about that! We don’t have to worry because no matter what, God loves us, is with us and never leaves us. So if we don’t have to worry what should we do? Jesus says we should do what God does, offer life! God offers life to us in so many ways-how do you see God in your life? Yep! All great things! God wants us to spend our lives offering this same life to other people. Today we are talking about offering life as the church to the community around us. We can offer life to people by spending time with them, by working with people with a special gift we have or with our money. The adults will be turning in what we call a pledge card and it’s about how we will offer life with all of who we are as well  our money. You have something to offer too. I have these cards that say “I offer to God” and you can write or draw with this dry erase marker how you will share God’s gift of life with people. When the adults come forward with their cards, you can drop yours in the basket too! Every gift matters! Let’s pray:

This might seem like a counter intuitive statement, but we live in a culture preoccupied with death. Now, the real challenge is that we don’t talk about it or acknowledge in healthy or forthright ways, we dance around the deeper questions to worrying about our physical bodies. Watch tv for five minutes and you’ll see products to make you look younger, take away gray hair, exercise programs to keep you thin, products that make your joints less creaky (ok that one is speaking to me some days), whiten your teeth and even more invasive medical procedures to give you back the body you had when you were young. Sucking out fat, removing wrinkles, lifting things, and the list goes on and on. We worry about our aging bodies, we worry about the future and we worry about dying. We are really trying to control the future. We want to control what happens next in our lives, we want some certainty about how our lives play out and ultimately what happens when we die. We’re afraid of the unknown, and when we’re left to our own speculation, we try and shape what happens next. We’re preoccupied with death-but so much so that I’m not sure how many of us are really living.

This is also true in religious institutions. In the ELCA, we’ve heard the alarm bell clanging of “we are a dying institution.” And not just ELCA but all mainline protestant churches (UMC, UCC, Presbyterian, Episcopal). As mainline, we’ve watched rapid decline of attendance and participation in the past 20 years and in response a whole slew of books, speakers, conferences, blog posts, and FB conversation threads have popped up all with the idea that if we could just find the right answer, find the key, the silver bullet, then we could return to the good old days and we could be comfortable knowing that we’ve got this church thing under control. If the church could just look like it used to, it would be great! We wouldn’t be living in fear of the “what happens if all this goes away,” what if it looks different and wondering if there is life for Church after the death of the institution.

It turns out that this has been our tendency for thousands of years, being preoccupied with death but for all the wrong reasons! We speculate ourselves into a corner so to speak where we then concretize these vague ideas as truth. Both the letter to the Thessalonians and our gospel from Luke today capture this challenge of wanting certainty about the unknown. The Thessalonians were stressed out about the second coming of Jesus and wondering if they would know when it  happened and make the cut. Paul attempted to calm them down reminding them to not get caught up in people who run around saying the sky is falling, you’d better be doing or not doing certain things and everything is terrible. Don’t focus on what is going wrong, stay focused on the truth that God chooses us, all of us, loves us and promises that we will be with God always, in this life and in the next, no one is left behind. What God is doing in your midst today, may not look like the past, but our God, through Jesus Christ, is always renewing, transforming and nurturing life in unexpected places and in unexpected people.

The Sadducees were looking to discount Jesus’ teachings on resurrection and life with God, when they approached Jesus with what they thought would be a way to ensnare him in a conundrum. Most Sadducees denied that there was anything after death-no resurrection-and they only acknowledged the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah or writings of Moses. The Pharisees did have a theology of the resurrection long before Jesus, as they acknowledged the history books, the prophets and the writings that make up our OT. This is why Paul, a Pharisee, could so easily articulate how God, through Jesus Christ, promises resurrection and saw the support for the resurrection in the Hebrew Bible. The Sadducees ask Jesus this ridiculous question about seven brothers and this one poor woman. Since they don’t even believe that there is an afterlife, they don’t really care, they just want Jesus to contradict Mosaic law and tradition so that they could label him a heretic. They are looking to kill this Jesus movement that was bringing people so much hope because people with hope are dangerous. They live differently. They think differently and see more than others. But Jesus elegantly leaps over the tripwire to move them and us beyond worries and preoccupations with being right-to God’s truth.  The truth that women are not property to be batted about among men-we have our own worth and God will affirm that worth in this life and in the next. The truth that God is a God of love and relationships and wants us to be in healthy, safe and affirming relationships, and not alone. The truth that we must move beyond worrying about death into order to see there is life all around-Moses even said so! When Moses at the burning bush calls God the God of Abraham, God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, Moses affirms that in God, all life is connected, God is not a God who worries about death but creates life when the rest of the world proclaims finitude and hopelessness. God is a God of the living and the hopeful!

Resurrection life is not only about the transformation of our lives when we die, it’s a process that starts right here right now. In God, resurrection isn’t status quo and more of the same of this life, it’s so much more! It’s transformation, God’s grace that won’t leave us devoid of hope or in the same ruts on either side of the kingdom. It might not feel good, as resurrection does first mean death, death to the preoccupations of the world: death to our fears of not being in control and being comfortable. Death to the traditions that stifle our imagination and hope about God’s work in our midst. Like the Sadducees, we must die to thinking that we have the all answers and can manipulate God into affirming them. When we die to our fears, worries, and preoccupation with getting it right, then we focus on being alive in Christ, we try something that we’ve never done before, we stop doing things that aren’t bringing life to ourselves and our neighbors, and we know that being alive in Christ, is moving forward even when we’re unsure of the path because of our confidence of who is on the path with us. God who calls us beloved, renews us, transforms us, resurrects us and declares us alive.
While we’re preoccupied with the details of death, God is preoccupied with life-our life with God today and forever. Being children of the resurrection means that we focus on life, abundant life, right here, right now. We quit worrying about dying and start living! Being alive in God means that we embrace that with God, our lives will look different in the coming years, personally, in the larger church and here at Our Saviour’s. We don’t have to know the details but we can wonder with hope, promise and confidence that God is present with us in this life and the next. Alive with God’s presence, we can offer this resurrection life, transformational life through how we live our lives, to people in our midst today and every day. Thanks be to God.

 

Renewed by Love-Saints Build for the Future Sermon for All Saints Day Year C November 3, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on Nov. 3, 2019.

The texts were:

Psalm 49
Ephesians 1: 11-23
Luke 6: 20-31

Children’s sermon: I have some rocks here, what can we do with them? We can build, decorate, all kinds of things. Have you been hiking and saw rocks stacked up along the trail? Those are called cairns and they are made by people who have walked that way before, realized how difficult it could be and marked the path for people who came after them. These people took time to point others in the right direction so that they could be safe, enjoy the hike and know that they are on the right path. I think that God puts people in our lives that do that same thing, maybe not with rocks, but with their love, power and their whole lives. We call these people saints. They are not perfect people, but they are people who love others so much that they use their time and power to show God’s love to others. Sometimes we think about these saints and they are people who have died, they now live with Jesus, but some are with us each day. Who might be a saint in your life? Today we remember all the saints, particularly those who have died. That can make us sad, and it’s ok to be sad and cry! Tears are holy and are signs of how much we love people. In our story today, Jesus is giving examples of how we need to focus on loving each other and not worrying about what we may have for stuff, or if people like us or not, or if we use our power to only care for ourselves. Jesus says, when we love, we use our power to care for other people. We call this the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you want done to you.” Jesus wants us to know that God loves us and uses God uses power to love us-to keep us safe, to give us family and friends who love us and to hold us when we are sad, hurt and need help. In the bible, rocks are important ways to show God’s love and power to people who come later. Just like on hiking trails people stack rocks, Jacob stacked rocks at the Jordan river so that people in the future would remember God’s care of the Israelites, and the rock that was removed from Jesus’ tomb tells all people of all time of God’s love and power in Jesus resurrection. I have rocks here for us to write the name or initials of some saint in your life who shows you God’s love and power today and for the future. Let’s pray:

I come from a long line of strong women. I have been blessed by grandmothers and great grandmothers who were a force to be reckoned with in their own way. They each have given me a gift that is still with me today. My maternal grandma, Grandma Fouts, was a woman of deep faith. Going to church, Sunday school, youth group, bible studies were not optional, even when we were only visiting for only a week. Her denomination was not Lutheran, it was Church of God, but her commitment to passing on the faith, to ensuring that her grandchildren knew God’s love and power in their lives was always present.  She wanted faith in God built in my life. My grandma Emmons-paternal grandmother-was not deeply religious, but only wanted her grandchildren to know that she was a safe person for all kinds of conversations and challenges. She never judged or offered pedantic advice, but she asked good thought provoking and reflective questions-to build our critical thinking skills. My great grandmas were also both women who had vision beyond themselves. My sweet great grandma Tone from Norway, (we called her Gung) who was about four foot ten inches, would feed you, sing Lutheran hymns to you, care for you and make you feel special and at the same time, we knew who was in charge. Her. To say she was feisty is an understatement, but we all knew that for her, building family was important. My great grandmother Emmons, again paternal, was the original feminist. She wrote several books and plays and was one of the first authors to write about an important moment in history strictly from a feminist perspective: The Lewis and Clark expedition. Her book was that expedition from Sacajawea’s point of view.  When I was a little girl, and we would go visit her, she would whisper in my ear, remember, “you’re smarter and better than the boys, don’t forget it!” She was building a better future for all women but particularly her daughter, granddaughters and great granddaughters. What I learned most from these four women was not to get stuck in what was happening today, my actions were not about me only and pointing people in the right direction and building someone up for their future matters. They exemplified using their own power-no matter how limited that might have been with age, gender roles, etc.-to show God’s love to their family. They innately understood that power was to be given away, that love isn’t a sentimental emotion but actions of tenacity, courage, justice and building to make the world better for those who came after them. They weren’t perfect, but they are saints, set apart for God’s work of love. I am connected to them as their descendant and I build on their lives to offer actions of love to others in my life for today and for tomorrow.

We tend to think of saints as people who are somehow infallible. But in our scripture passages today, we get a different glimpse of the kind of saints that God calls us to be. If we take a deeper look at saints, we discover that they are not always comfortable people to be around. They are those who aren’t important by the world’s standards, they are on the edges of “respectability,” and status, we might even call them trouble makers because their actions reveal the power and control in our society run amok. Saints often point to life in the here and now while building something beyond that for the future.

Jesus says, blessed are those who are poor, hungry, mourning, excluded, reviled and defamed, not to say those are the only saints, but Jesus is pointing out that in God’s kingdom and economy, they are equal to those who seem to have everything by worldly standards. In Jesus day, the poor, hungry, grieving, outcasts, were to be avoided. Whenever we avoid someone, look down on them, we are using our power for ourselves and our comforts. No wonder Jesus then says “woe” which means “yikes” or “look out!” Look out if you are rich, satiated, laughing, and beloved by everyone (is that even a thing?) because you’ve built a world all about you in the here and now. You’ve placed your trust in yourself and things that are fleeting and what we don’t have control over in this life. If you have power, privilege and material wealth, fine, but look out for what you are actually building.

Saints point to the truth that whether we are poor or rich, hungry or full, laughing or grieving, part of the “in-crowd” or not, that God, through Jesus Christ, shares power and love with us. This is the promise. Our response is to treat everyone with this same power and love from God and build them up. When someone tries to exert their power over us, curses us, mocks us, takes our things without permission, disrespects us, we don’t respond to power with power, we respond with powerful love-not the emotion but the actions. To be clear, being abused is not ok, and is not to be glorified in anyway. Loving actions also look like clear and firm boundaries. Boundaries in many ways are like turning the other cheek. It’s calling out abusive words and actions. As saints, we reveal God’s reversal of powers in the world, that Jesus’ ministry and mission points to building up people and building up the kingdom of God for today and for tomorrow. It’s love that shows what God is building. This love can’t be lost, swept under the rug or denied. God’s love and power through Jesus is about transforming the world from the bottom up, the inside out, from today to tomorrow and from death to life. God’s love renews us when we think that we can’t keep going, when we’ve messed up, it’s hard and we are uncertain. God’s love pulls us to see beyond ourselves and the systems in which we are caught, to the vision that God’s inclusive love changes us and changes the world.

We are building, oh saints of God. We are building here at OSLC not only for us today, but for those who will come after us. We will use our power and love we have from God to build in unlikely places with unlikely people-we will build a community of radical inclusion where all are safe, we will build a community that bridges partisanship,  we will build a community that values civil dialogue and collaboration with all our neighbors regardless of differences, we will build a community where we get at the roots of hunger, poverty and homelessness for all people to thrive. This will not make us popular, but God will be present. We will not do this perfectly, but we will build with God as saints for those who come after us. We will point to the importance of Jesus Christ, and the empty tomb-God’s loving actions for creation and we will point to the power of God to transform, renew and love us all today and tomorrow. Thanks be to God.

 

Renewed by Grace-We can’t unsee it! Sermon for Reformation Sunday Year C October 27, 2019

This sermon was preached on Oct. 27, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were:
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3: 19-28
John 8:31-36

 

Children’s sermon: masks-I have these masks here: It’s fun to wear masks and pretend to be someone or something else isn’t it? It’s not really who we are but we like to try out being different. We do this in other ways besides at Halloween-don’t we? We pretend to like something we don’t or don’t like something we do like to make friends. Sometimes that’s hard as we want to be something different-maybe act differently because we think that people will like us more, or wish that we had different abilities like in sports, or school or music. But God says that who we are is just right we are and that we always belong to God. And the truth is that you are loved by God just as you are-the good things and the not so good things. Today is called Reformation Sunday and it’s a day when we celebrate the truth of who we are as God’s people and we don’t have to pretend to be someone else. A man named Martin Luther, struggled with the fact that many people didn’t know the truth about how much God loved them no matter what and people can’t earn God’s love, it’s for everyone! That’s called grace. But this truth of grace was also hard…it meant that everything had to change with this truth. The Church had to change with this truth that God loves everyone. The church did change, but many people didn’t like it and were mad at Luther. Everything changes, God created the world to change: the seasons, plants growing and us growing and learning, the only thing that doesn’t change is God’s love for us and creation. Martin Luther knew that the truth of our lives is that things need to change so that more people can know God’s unchanging grace and love! Because of this grace and love we are free to share this with everyone we know to make sure that everyone knows this truth-that no matter what they do, say, who they pretend to be, or what other people think of them, they are God’s forever. That is the truth. Let’s pray:

I love mind benders: such as a friend pointing out that if you hear the words “big pharma” in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger it sounds like Arnold talking to a large farmer. You can’t unhear that can you? Or someone posted a picture of the famous painting by Edvard Munch “The Scream” and said maybe he was trying to draw a cocker spaniel…the hands are floppy dog ears…you can’t unsee that either! Or a pastor friend setting the “Lamb of God” to “Baby Shark.” (You’re welcome!) We’ve all had the experience that once someone points out an absurd perspective about something you can’t see or hear anything else! Whether it’s a painting or learning the correct lyrics to a song, these new perspectives shift us as you can’t go back to what you didn’t see, hear, know before. It can be all in fun such as the examples I just gave, or its life altering. It could be the moment you look at someone and realize you love them, or you see your loved one dying and you can’t deny that truth any longer, or the revelation that someone has lied to you, or hiding something from you, or you realize that a relationship is no longer viable or you admit you need help. Moments when you know some deeper truth than you did before and everything changes.

There are monumental periods in history built around these perspective shifts. Martin Ludder was a man who was a product of his time, he believed everything the Church taught him, even though it made him miserable and austere. But he lived within those rules thinking that was the truth of life-one had to earn love, especially the love of God, everything depended on one’s actions, thoughts and one was never going to get ahead. Right relationships meant doing all the right things. Until one day he was reading scripture and saw something that he hadn’t before-no not a puppy in a famous painting-but the truth of God’s grace that had nothing to do with his own works, only God’s unconditional love. It so altered his entire worldview and relationship with God that he couldn’t unsee it or unhear it. And like all good revelations-he had to share it on the social media platform of his time, the cathedral door. Now this wasn’t the first time Ludder had done this, but this time it went viral. Other people couldn’t unsee it or unhear it either. Powers and principalities tried to get Ludder to go back to before, or admit that he altered it, photoshopped this revelation in some way, but he couldn’t and wouldn’t and others stood with him in this truth. He was so convicted that he changed his name to the Greek word for truth Eleuthera-or Luther.

The truth of God’s love and grace for all people that set Luther free from his enslavement to his ego and works, he unleashed on the world.  Luther wanted this truth of God’s word of grace accessible for all people and translated into the language of the people. The truth that set Luther free wasn’t freedom to do whatever he wanted but freedom to live as God created him, freedom from the lies he told himself about his worthlessness, freedom from the lies of the Church that his relationship with God was dependent in his obedience to the rules, freedom from the lies of the world that told him his value was in his status. Luther experienced the truth that Jesus speaks of in John: the truth that Jesus dwells with us in the world revealing God’s gifts and glory through Jesus, because God loves us, cares for us and wants to be with us above all else. Once we see this, we can’t unsee it and it changes how we see everything.

The truth of God’s grace also means that we can’t unsee or unhear that we are not in control, we can’t save ourselves, we can’t hide behind the lies that we tell ourselves that give us the illusion of power in our lives. We can’t unsee ourselves as slaves to the individual and corporate sins of culture, our own egos, our greed, our addictions to self-righteousness, status quo and comfort. We can’t unsee that we are caught in the lies of systemic racism, economic injustice, homophobia, and poverty. We can’t unsee the damage that we do to one another trying to live in the lies of the world and not the truth of freedom in Jesus. The truth that Jesus says sets us free, is a hard truth. One that we aren’t always sure that we can handle seeing or hearing. It’s a truth that freedom isn’t only about us and our ability to do whatever we want. It’s the truth that God’s grace demands we act for our neighbor in this freedom. The truth is that God’s grace is for us all, renews us all and connects us all. It’s a truth that calls us at OSLC to vision, wonder and risk how we will be what the community needs. It’s a truth that means we might do what the world might consider foolish, to serve our neighbor. Yep, it doesn’t always make sense, but God in God’s kingdom, it’s always worth it. This is the heart of Luther’s revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not freedom if it’s only about ourselves. God’s unending and unconditional grace in our lives transforms us from slaves to the lies of the world, to people free in grace to serve others with all that we have to the glory of God.

Reformation isn’t only a day-Luther wouldn’t want us to even celebrate today because reformation happens daily-it’s living our lives refusing to unsee or unhear the truth of God’s renewing grace at work in the world for all people. It’s boldly proclaiming and translating the truth for 21st century hearts, ears and eyes that in God through Jesus Christ, everything has changed and will keep changing for the sake of freeing God’s people and creation so that God’s promises will be made known in the world. This grace renews us all and the world, and we can’t unsee it or unhear it. Thanks be to God.