A Lutheran Says What?

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

Never Torn Apart August 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 1, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Exodus: 16: 2-4, 9-16
Ephesians 4: 1-16
John 6: 24-35

Young Friends message: I have here a Lego car from my son’s Lego collection. In order for this to look and work like a car, it took many pieces to be joined together. What happens when I take the wheel off? Is the wheel by itself a car? Can the car work without all four wheels? Nope! What happens in your family if someone doesn’t do their chores, then the rest of the family has to either do them or maybe dinner doesn’t get made, or laundry done. Church is like that too! Without people serving here in worship, or this Friday at Millcreek when we all helped to put up bulletin boards, it takes us all doing a little bit for great things to happen. God loves this, when we work together and this is what we’re reading more about in the letter to the Ephesian people today. God wants us to work together, to be like one object like this Lego car, for God’s love to shine. And so we put away our worries about ourselves. Which is hard, and sometimes we have to work with people we don’t like, or think differently than us, or have different needs. But God tells us that we are to look out for people who need something different and make sure that everyone is included. When we are missing someone or missing you, it’s like missing a piece of this Lego car, and then we don’t work as well. We need everyone, all ages, all stages, all sizes, all talents. And we need you! You matter in our community and I hope that you know that. It’s a hard concept called unity and we’re going to talk a little more about that as it’s hard for adults too!

I have a confession to make: I’m not sure what true unity is supposed to look like. I don’t. I want to know what unity looks like, and I find myself pondering and searching for how the words in Ephesians chapter 4 could be true. I desperately want them to be true. I shake my head every day at the lack of empathy in our society and wonder how in the world are we ever going to live into the oneness that Jesus prays for in John 17 and is laid out for us in the letter to the Ephesians. I looked up the Websters definition for unity and here’s what I found: “the quality or state of not being multiple, a condition of harmony, continuity without deviation or change as in for purpose or action, and finally, a totality of related parts, an entity that is a complex or systematic whole, being joined as a whole.” Never was it mentioned that unity meant all being the same, but the focus was on how pieces worked together as one. Perhaps what we need as a people is to review this definition from time to time. I know that I get caught in the false belief that unity is about sameness. Yet, oneness and sameness, are not the same thing and not even to be desired, Jesus says.

Unity is a hard reality for us to live into, as we tend to fear what or who is different. Fear makes unity, joining together for a common purpose, harder. Fear fragments us internally and propels us to cause external division and fragmentation. This week someone attempted to fragment us by cutting our RIC banner in half. Who it was is unknown and honestly, maybe it doesn’t matter all that much. Whomever it was is a child of God, who may feel that this sign of division instead of radical inclusion, they may confuse unity with sameness, and they felt a need to visually represent this fear by cutting the banner in half. They reacted to the idea of radical togetherness, after all being joined to people is scary stuff. Being joined to people who you know and don’t know is vulnerable. Being joined in purpose, action and life to people is indeed complex and may not always work how we think it should. When we’re joined together, our purpose or role might shift. This banner being cut in half could lead us to wonder if we’re cutting people off who believe that differences in sexual orientation, gender, or race either don’t exist and shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith. After all, isn’t one faith everyone believing the exact same thing? There are some who have a list of what or who shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith as “good Christians.”  Should “good Christians” be politically active? Support secular peace and justice movements such as BLM? Talk about sexuality, big business, climate change? Should “good Christians” hang out with people who listen to death metal, swear, drink or are into slasher movies?

 First off, I’m not sure what a “good Christian” even means as we are all saints and sinners and Jesus never really addresses this. Second, I believe we’re more comfortable figuring out how to be disjointed from certain people and activities than joined as one people with God as Jesus prays in John 17. When Jesus feeds the 5,000, he is joining them as one people, he is taking their fragmented lives and knitting them together. We rarely think about who was in that crowd being fed together, but statistically speaking, there were probably thieves, outcasts, sex workers, beggars, manipulators, shepherds, carpenters, moms, dads, surly teenagers, cute babies, grandmas, grandpas, addicts, essentially people of all kinds. I wonder if the miracle, the work of God, that Jesus is pointing in our gospel today, is less about the bread and fish, and more about everyone sitting down together. Sitting and standing next to people is very different. When you stand next to someone, you have a quick escape if you will. But we all know the angst of deciding who you’re going to sit with in the school cafeteria or in the south wing at fellowship time or here in worship. Maybe it’s why no one will sit up front with me? Once you sit down with someone, you’re stuck. You’re in this meal/fellowship/worship time together whether you like it or not. You’re joined together.

The irony is that our deepest fear as humans is being alone, cut off from what and who matters most. We want to be joined in relationships, just on our own terms. Jesus shows us that we are joined as one, but on God’s terms, and for God, everyone and everything is joined together. Nothing is excluded from God’s life and so, too, in our lives, including our lives of faith. As Lutherans, our heritage is built on the truth that every aspect of our lives is holy and belongs to God, even the parts we might be ashamed of. This is the work of God, Jesus says, that faith, belief in Jesus leads us to be joined together, even if it’s uncomfortable. God’s work is drawing us together as one body, to be one in faith, in the Spirit, in baptism, in love. That is the bread of life that sustains, as when we are joined to each other and God, our fragments are made whole, and we join one another ensuring food, shelter, health, and community to promote growth, flourishing, and thriving for all.  This is the action of unity, of love. This is the joining all aspects of our lives: the secular, the mundane, into our lives of faith. If harm is happening to any part of the body, we must speak that truth in love for our neighbor. Even if it’s unpopular and people try and cut us off. We are called to build each other up, not tear each other down.
Perhaps this is the unity that I am searching for. Perhaps this is the unity that whoever damaged our banner was searching for. The unity we aspire to in our welcome statement. True unity where we can’t cut each other off, even if we want to. True unity sitting together in tension and discomfort for the sake of the purpose of including everyone into God’s kingdom. True unity of together looking into the wilderness, into the uncertainty, as the Israelites did, and seeing the unwavering presence of God, who promises to always be joined to us, building us up in love each moment of each day. Love that joins us and refuses to let us be torn apart. It is unifying love that is above all, through all, is in all, joins all and builds us all up. Amen.

 

Beyond Our Imagination Sermon on Ephesians 3 and John 6 July 25, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 25, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

2 Kings 4: 42-44
Ephesians 3: 14-21
John 6: 1-21

Young Friends message: I’ve got a fun thing to show you to help us talk about how being together with people, impacts us. I have this plain jar of water and some water colors. If I put in the blue, what happens to the plain water? Yep, it combines with the blue and becomes a new color, one color together, they don’t separate. How about if I put in some yellow with the blue? Yep, it changes to green, do you know exactly what shade of green? Dark or light do you think? It’s hard to imagine the exact color isn’t it? Let’s see….yep its green! Not clear, blue and yellow, but a new color. Well, God created us, people, to be like this water. Every time we come together, we make a new thing. New experiences, new ideas, happen. Every time! We’re always new! We don’t stay the same, we don’t separate and stay our own self, but the parts of us combine. Sometimes we fight that and don’t like it as we don’t always know exactly what we will look like, or what we will do. But God wants to us to imagine, to dream about how we can combine our beautiful colors together and be even more beautiful. God wants us to use our imaginations about how to live together, how to do new things together that help each other, how to remember that God is making us more beautiful than we could ever imagine! We’re going to talk more about that.

“I just can’t imagine…” It’s a common phrase we use, isn’t it? Typically, we use it or hear it around events that seem completely beyond our experiences, positive or negative. It’s an expression that admits that our imaginations are limited, or perhaps that we intentionally limit our imaginations. After all, if we imagine too much, too wildly, too boldly, we could be labeled as unrealistic, a dreamer, or a problem. When we were young, many of us we had vivid imaginations didn’t we? We didn’t try and fit the world into neat categories. We imagined games, imagined that we were superheroes, imagined stories and songs, imagined what life was like on Mars or in the time of dinosaurs. We imagined that life was expansive and without limits. We imagined quite a bit. But then we stopped. We got older and became more practical and pragmatic. We felt foolish letting our imaginations run wild, so we imagined less for ourselves, for the world and yes God. And it seems when we imagine less, less is what we get.

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand people is in all four gospels and in three of the gospels, it’s followed by the story of Jesus walking on water. Two stories side by side that are fantastical, mysterious, and beyond our imagination, which I think is the point and why each gospel writer decided that these stories mattered in the life of their communities. Perhaps they too were constantly underestimating, under imagining what God can do.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of realism and insist that everything must be grounded in human reality and in what is humanly possible, instead of what God can do. Jesus sees the great crowd and tests Philip. Now, I get itchy with the word test, as tests always seem punitive to me, but that is not how Jesus means the question here. It’s not a trick, it’s a reflection. How will we feed all these people? Philip answers from his limited imagination that it’s not possible. Andrew does a little reconnaissance work and brings up the balance sheet of a young boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish and says there’s not enough. No imagination there either. I picture in my imagination Jesus sighing with compassion. In response to “how can we feed them?” Jesus basically says, “watch me.” And does. All by himself. In John’s gospel, the disciples don’t help. Jesus alone has the power, the imagination, the will to do what needs to be done, with or without human help. That’s not to say that the disciples aren’t important or not needed, but they won’t stand in the way of God’s power either. God is going to do what God is going to do. It’s better if we have the imagination to wonder and participate with God, but it’s not necessary.

Over the past 20 plus years of ministry, with a decade in pastoral ministry, I find myself wondering what God is up to and if my imagination is too limited. I need to take the prayer in our Ephesians passage to heart. This prayer is for the people to be grounded in the love and power of Jesus, not in human reality, or humanly possibility, but Jesus’ unrealistic, radical love. The prayer also proclaims that we will see God’s power to do more than we can ever ask or imagine. There is no talk of limitations, cost benefits, return on investments, risk management or the other ways that we limit ourselves and God.

How can we spark our own imaginations about the future, what God is doing in our own lives and as a faith community? Our council is embarking on some strategic planning in August, to prayerfully discern who God is calling us to become as OSLC. Part of the difficulty of imagining, I believe, is that we must imagine beyond ourselves and even our lifetimes. Over 60 years ago, a fledging congregation did just that and here we are today. It’s not about us and yet it is about us. God’s imagination for our futures and creation’s future, always encompasses us and is beyond us simultaneously. What do we imagine OSLC to be in five years? Ten? Twenty years? Who are we imagining will be here serving and loving God? Who will be in this room? How do we imagine them here in our midst today?

The disciples found it difficult to understand that Jesus’ imagination was always beyond their own, that Jesus comes to them and to us all, gathers and offer himself to people whom they would rather scatter and not deal with. Jesus sparked the disciples, and our, imaginations of what God is up to whenever two or three are gathered. We will do things differently, respond to different needs, create different ministries and let other ministries cease. We’ll have to reimagine relationships, what it means to dwell, with our neighbors and with Jesus. Jesus coming to us, moving into to our hearts, minds, lives, WILL change us, much like roommates change us, children change us, spouses change us. Dwelling together forces us to consider and to imagine different life patterns. God’s power is at work gathering community right here, right now, and we can’t stop it. That is good news my friends; our limited imagination can’t stop God. And how will we respond? We can double down on how things used to be or be imaginative and excited about what could be. Maybe its worshiping on Sunday evenings with dinner church, instead of Sunday mornings, maybe it’s using our land for unhoused youth or families, maybe it’s considering using our building for immigration assistance, childcare, or elder care. What if God’s call is beyond our imagination?

Jesus will come to us, will walk through any obstacle to meet us where we are in our fear, in our limited imaginations, in our uncertainty. Jesus’ powerful love that is for all people, imagines us as connected as one body, through his body. Jesus will work through us, in us and with us, and around us if necessary, to transform us and the entire world. We are a witness to God’s imaginative, abundant and powerful love for the people of God today, and tomorrow. We pray to imagine and be grounded in this truth. Amen.

 

Memory Loss Sermon on Ephesians 2: 11-22 July 21, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 18, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Young Friends Message:

My grandmother died of early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 69. I was 22. The last time I had a chance to visit with her was about seven months before she died on Easter Sunday, 1995. She was already in a memory care facility where she spent her days walking the horseshoe shaped hallway over and over. I went and walked with her for awhile one day not sure how that would be. She didn’t seem to know who I was and spoke mostly of events that happened in her early childhood. I simply listened and kept pace, as she was still quick and spry! Her muscles remembered what to do it seemed, even when her brain could not. Except, occasionally she would look at me or say something that made me wonder if a glimmer of memory was seeping through the cracks of the disease. As our visit was wrapping up, she suddenly and almost dramatically turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, “I love you.” And then just as quickly as that came, it was gone. I don’t know if she really knew who I was. I suspect she had a sudden gut feeling that I was someone she loved even if she couldn’t remember my name, our relationship, why I was there or why she was in a facility. All she knew was on a bodily level was a certitude of love. I think of this experience with her often as in my vocational life as a pastor, as I have similar encounters with folks who have memory loss. The moment I put bread and wine in their hands, their bodies remember what to do. They may not remember their own names or families, but when I begin the Lord’s Prayer, they immediately pray with me, word for every holy word.  Or the sing the words of a favorite hymn. What their brain forgets, their body and heart remember what is true at a core, DNA, base level.

I admit to having spiritual memory loss most days. I go about my day just keeping pace with what needs to happen in my assessment to “get things done.” I see the tasks laid out in my planner: the emails, the sermon prep, the worship prep, planning for faith formation, bible studies, setting up zoom links, keeping the building maintained and the loops that can feel so important, and maybe some of it is. The tasks cause me to think that I’m making progress somehow, that I’m building something that will last with my busyness. Yet, I return to the same thing over and over and maybe that’s not where I’m supposed to be going. I forget that my worth isn’t in my doing but in my being. I forget that at the end of the day, my checked off task list won’t remind me of what really matters at a core, DNA, base level. Maybe you have a similar experience some days.

When my days are filled to the brim of frenetic movement from one task to the next, there are times when my body will indeed remember what my brain forgets is at the core: love. Love that remembers that my heart, brain and body are all connected, love that remembers that I am connected to all of you and your hearts, brains and bodies, love from God that is indeed here to build, but not through a task list, but through love in Jesus. Love that is strong enough to tear down any dividing walls of hostility whether it’s diseases of mind, body or spirit, social diseases, or our own egos and need to be right. Love that remembers that any rule or law that excludes or separates isn’t from God. Love that remembers that buildings don’t contain God, our bodies do. Love that remembers temples and sanctuaries aren’t human made but God created. Love that remembers God’s purpose, plan and will is for humanity, creation and God to be one, to be whole, to be in peace. Love that is at the core, in the DNA at the base level of all creation. Love that is built on the love of Jesus that refused to play the memory game of the world and constantly shook people to remembering that we are not to be pitted against each other for resources, or status or worth. Jesus called us to remember him, to remember that we are his body, wholly and holy his body, on earth and can’t be, won’t be separated by powers and principalities. Remember me, Jesus says, and remember that you are one.

I don’t want to forget this; I need to remember those who have gone before us and left us deep reminders of this truth. Yesterday, I was reminded that it was the one year anniversary of the death of John Lewis, the great civil rights activist, who fought his whole life, literally putting his body on the line, for voting rights for Black people, Indigenous people and other marginalized people. He never forgot that his life was to build a memory of love and justice that would outlive him. Yet, I’m guilty of letting my comfort and privilege give me amnesia and forgetting what Lewis, King, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and so many others risked their lives to spark our memories that we are to remember that we are all part of God’s kingdom, and we all have worth. I want to remember to get into “good trouble” and not worry about my own reputation, but remember the divinity of my neighbor oppressed by racial, social, gender, economic or any prejudice. I want to remember that Jesus never acquiesced to unjust religious or civil laws but worked to overturn them at every opportunity. Jesus never shrugged his shoulders and figured nothing could be done, but always reminded people that the power of God is at work in them and through them and yes, when they act for love, radical love, injustice can be undone. I want, I need, to remember this truth. I need to remember that God’s love isn’t a nice phrase we say, but a call to action for the coming of God’s kingdom.

I thank God for this memory of love that my grandmother had on that day, as it reminded me of the promise of love from God. I thank God for the memory of love that Jesus poured out to us in the bread and wine and from his own body on the cross. I thank God for the memory of love that lives in all of you. I thank God for God’s memory of love that never waivers, never leaves us, and never forgets, even when we do. Thanks be to God.

 

Never Afraid to Love Sermon for Frank Elwart

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We celebrated the life and baptismal journey of Frank Joseph Elwart on Saturday, July 17, 2021
The texts were: Psalm 121, Romans 8: 31-35, 37-39, 1 John 4: 7-19

Frank Joseph Elwart was born on September 3, 1939 to Frank and Josephine Elwart in Chicago, IL, his kind of town. He was so proud of being from Chicago! He loved to tell stories of living in Chicago, and well if we’re honest, Frank just loved to tell stories! And he was a gifted story teller who told it like it was, he never sugar coated anything and yet always had you laughing. That is truly a talent. And you always knew where you stood with Frank. I loved that about him right away! Anyone who starts teasing me from the moment we meet, is my kind of person. Frank was a person who didn’t take himself too seriously, didn’t try to put on a façade, a person who embrace who he was and will fully embrace who you are, imperfections and all. One of Franks requests for his memorial service is that it told the truth of his life. He didn’t want anyone standing up and pontificating on how perfectly wonderful he was all the time. He had a word for that, and I won’t repeat it here, but come see me during the reception.
Frank understood that he wasn’t perfect, that you’re not perfect, and life isn’t perfect. Since he understood this, he didn’t try to push a square peg into a round hole and I think it’s what made him so joyful. He had let go of falsehoods of perfection that most of us, or me anyway, hold onto and make ourselves miserable trying to attain. He didn’t seem to harbor much fear about anything either. Even the morning before he died, he and I were sitting and chatting, he was jovial and yes, regaling me with stories. He knew his death was coming, maybe not how soon, but he wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t looking for a perfect ending, just an honest one. Frank was confident not in his own abilities, but in God’s. Frank knew that God’s perfect love was enough for him, it would be enough for Robin, Jeff, Kim and Anne, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren in their grief and it’s enough for us all.

A perfect life might be what we all dream about and strive to attain in some way. And we all have different visions and perspectives on what perfection might be like for us. But the writer of 1 John wants the people in the community to know what truly makes for a perfect life: living, abiding, in the love of God through Jesus Christ with each other. This love is the love that Frank lived his whole life, it’s love that sustains us and promises to never leave us. God understands that we do occasionally fear, and it’s ok to fear, and yet God says don’t allow fear to overcome love and hold you captive. Frank never let fear hold him captive; he always let love lead him. He might have been afraid a time or two, but he lived deeply in a love that cast his fear where it belonged, not in control. He trusted in God to watch his going out and coming in. Frank loved fully without fear, whether that was his family, his friends, his church, or his beloved sports teams.

Frank abided in this perfect love, love that now makes him perfectly whole in the life of God. Frank now claims his baptismal promise that God’s love grasps him now and forever and grasps each of us too, all the time. We abide in this love that Jesus perfected in being human, in suffering, and in death. Love that is honest about what matters, love that demands more from us, love that brings joy; love that we share with one another. Love that can’t be conquered by fear, death, division or the world. Love that always comes to us, again and again. This love never ends, and so our love for Frank and his love of us, never ends. This is the promise that each day we proclaim, not perfectly, but boldly. We love, because God first loved us. Amen.

 

Remarks for the CORC Press Conference July 8, 2021 July 9, 2021

This speech was offered at the Salt Lake County Government Building CORC press conference on the American Rescue Plan funding coming to Utah for affordable housing. Below are my remarks:

There is a well-known and loved scripture in my faith tradition that are the words of Jesus to his followers: In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. This passage highlights for us that there is room for everyone, a space of love, security and dignity. Moreover, that each person is seen and valued. Room for all and a room for all. It matters, in my faith worldview, to God and so it matters to me and as a community who professes to care for one another that people have a dwelling place. We try to live this out from our diverse and varied perspectives, and yet, I know that I and we fall short despite good intentions. But we are given opportunities to try again.
We are in such a space right now to try again. We have an opportunity to create dwelling places for our neighbors who are unhoused with the $225 million dollars coming to the state to address the complexity of housing needs the American Rescue Plan. We know from the data that the initiative of Housing First, that is offering housing before other wrap around intervention services, is effective. In particular, stabilizing families with housing allows for the other layers to be addressed, such as health and mental health concerns. Both of which are typically a leading cause of chronic homelessness and without intervention, can perpetuate the cycle. In recent studies over 20% of people experiencing homelessness was diagnosed with a mental illness and 50% were living with a disability.
Data from the Housing First initiative in Utah county reported that 89% of families housed under a Housing First program remain housed 12 months later. SL County and Utah county have both witnessed the success of this initiative, and yet, we are still in need of a deeper commitment to additional housing availability for Housing First programs. Additional dwelling places are needed. This commitment will require outlay of funding at the onset but the county and state will reap the benefits long term when more families are stable, working, receiving education, productive and have dignity and value. Long term, affordable and accessible housing allows the health and mental health challenges to be effectively addressed and mitigated, thus offering a healthier population.

The gift of SL County that I see each day, is the value of community and the health of the people. Now is the time to invest in that value, to say yes to a dwelling place for each family and person, to say yes to a safe, loving space where we all thrive and flourish as intended by our loving God. How we spend our time, our resources and yes, our money, speaks to this value. Let’s value our siblings in need of a dwelling place.

 

Called Out: Sermon on Amos 2 June 15, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 13, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. We continue our sermon series on the prophet Amos: Let Justice Roll Like Waters.

The texts were:
Amos 2: 6-16
Mark 11: 15-19

Young Friends Message: Gather the younger members together (if you’re doing that right now!) and tell them that you have 11 fingers. They will tell you that you are wrong. But do the old trick: “See I’m going to count them! One, two, skip these three, (start counting fingers on the other hand) four, five, six, seven, eight, (move back to the three fingers you skipped), nine, ten, eleven!” They will probably get all riled up and tell you that you did it wrong. You can egg them on a little and do it again if you want! But in the end, let them teach you that yes, you do only have 10 fingers….(unless you really have eleven and then congrats!) Talk about how you are grateful that they taught you how to count correctly and sometimes we need someone to tell us when we’re off course. Our Amos and Mark stories are about this. It was more serious than just counting, the Israelites were not treating each other very well and needed God to point it out. Amos was the person God sent to them to point this out and of course, God sent Jesus too! Jesus not only told us what we should do but showed us. Jesus actions in turning over the tables and wanting to stop people from being cheated and losing their money that they needed for food tells us that sometimes you have to not only need words but actions to show us how we can learn differently and do better. We’re going to talk a little more about that.

I heard a song this morning from Cold Play called Clocks. A line in it always hits home for me: “am I part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?” One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my life, is how to be wrong. Maybe it is for you as well, but as a self-proclaimed, always in recovery perfectionist, it is really quite devastating to not know something or to get something wrong. To be wrong on one thing, to me, feels like negating everything I do know, or the things I do get correct. As I look around the social media and even just the mainstream media landscape, I don’t think I’m alone. And what I have learned is that there are times when I NEED to know that I have messed up, to hear the truth that I have harmed someone, that I have made a situation less safe or have been unhelpful. To only give me participation trophies doesn’t help me either. Some of the most difficult learning I have had to do has come in the past couple of years around my privilege as a well-educated, white upper middle class woman in the US. When someone first made me aware of this, I bristled. My immediate response (that thankfully I didn’t voice out loud) was one of indignance, to list off the ways I have had to work hard, make smart choices, lift myself up by my bootstraps and to defend that my privilege wasn’t an obstacle for me to unlearn. I mean, I didn’t grow up rich, I’ve had some sort of job since I was 12 and I worked really hard in school to get good grades. I deserved everything I have, right?
Well, maybe not so fast, I have since unraveled. Through classes where I had to confront my whiteness and economic privilege, to immersion experiences that revealed how much I didn’t know, to personal conversations where friends of color loved me enough to tell me the truth of what they were experiencing from me. All these situations were indeed uncomfortable, devastating in some cases, and they were necessary. I had to hear the truth, to be reminded that the privilege isn’t who I truly am, that someone’s lack of privilege and resources isn’t who they truly are either. And all these situations are ones that I now know were holy ones. Holy in that they were set apart, consecrated experiences where God’s Holy Spirit could find a crack in my façade to invade me for the sake of transforming my thoughts, words and actions into ones that told the true story of who I am as a child of God, part of God’s work on earth. And as part of that true story, I also have accountability to tell it, to live it. I’m not saying that we have to earn God’s love and grace, oh no, far from it. I am saying that in order to honor God’s love and grace that God so generously and with abandon pours out on us all, we have something at stake in responding to it in kind. Often, this is where I fall short, where I don’t want to do the hard work of living in a way that honors other people’s dignity and human flourishing. I want what is cheap, easy and fast, even if it is to the detriment of someone else, and it often is.

We have the current public debate if this is “call-out culture” or “cancel-culture.” People’s feathers get ruffled when they are held accountable for actions and words that publicly disrespect or harm another human being. I mean, they said or did those things before with no consequences. Why does it matter now? I personally think the move towards holding people accountable for their actions and words is a good and healthy thing. Without consequences and accountability, we lose the ability to live in true community where life flourishes for all, not just for some. And we must possess the humility to realize when we are the ones that need to be held accountable and experience consequences.

Amos knows that the people of Israel would have a hard time with this call-out of their actions and deeds. It’s why, as we read last week, he started with the other nations, circling around Israel and zeroing in like a bullseye on the northern kingdom. Israel might have had a sense of satisfaction as they heard Amos skewering their enemies for war crimes. When they heard the oracle against their kin nation of Judah, they might have been a bit more nervous, but were still ready to point the finger at them. And then the boom lowered here in chapter 2, verse 6: And for three transgressions of Israel and for four, I will not revoke the punishment. But instead of a list of crimes that they have committed against other nations, like what was previously stated, it was a long laundry list of how they were treating each other in their own nation. They were abandoning the covenant in the commandments, those with privilege, voice and status were not caring for their neighbor but were getting richer, ensuring self-comfort, and securing their own futures at the expense of fellow Israelites. High taxes on wine, keeping cloaks from people who were in poverty and would sleep outside at night, worshiping at other altars, denying justice for those without means, perverting family relationships. Amos reminds them of their identity, who they are and who’s they are: God’s. God who freed them from slavery, who protected and cared for them in the desert. God who brought them to the promised land, God who gave them all that they have. God whom they now ignore, neglect and want to relegate to only one day a week, and a few festivals throughout the year. God wasn’t going to let them off the hook; God loved them too much for that.

The consequences were coming, and they would be severe. We have to be clear that God isn’t causing the consequences, the people of Israel were, just as we cause the societal consequences we are experiencing today. God uses Love and Logic parenting, i.e. natural consequences. When you don’t take care of those who need it, eventually, you too will need care, and there won’t be anyone to help you. A society that refuses to acknowledge and reconcile the harm perpetrated on any segment of the population, is setting itself up to be conquered eventually. Perhaps not a military conquest as in the history of Israel, but conquered by hate, fear, division, greed and perhaps the deadliest, our egos. We send ourselves into exile. We cause our own demise. We think that we can prepare: create an army, build a wall, drive the stock market higher, hoard our finances, deny our vulnerability, or the vulnerability of the environment, or outsmart, outwit and outplay God. But God is clear that none of those things stand a chance against the truth of God’s power in the world for love and wholeness. Nothing can bear the magnitude of God’s grace.

God sends Jesus right into the thick of humanity’s injustices to call us out to another way. Not to let us off the hook, but to call us out to respond to God’s love and grace for us. Jesus calls us out-for God simply won’t stand by while we literally kill ourselves and each other-God cares too much about us all to let that happen. Jesus calls us out and we listen and then respond. We respond-not with defensiveness and contempt for the messenger but with humility, love and grace. We respond how Jesus showed us to respond: with actions that yes, might put our actual lives on the line, by giving up our comfort, our status quo, our standard of living, our privilege, our ego, to give up everything we might know. To flip the tables on our own thinking, words and actions, so that we can flip the tables of society to live as God envisions. As followers of Jesus, we are indeed called out, called out for justice, called out for love, called out for grace, called out for mercy, called out for hope in the Kin-dom of God. Thanks be to God.

 

Loaded Words: Sermon on Amos 1 (Beginning of our sermon series on Amos)

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 6, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. It is week one of our sermon series on Amos: Let Justice Roll Like Waters

The texts were:
Amos 1:1-2:5
Mark 6: 1-6

Young Friends Message: Have the first verses of John 1 (as many as you need for the number of children/youth you have or solicit some adult help! I only used the first two verses.) printed out. I broke them down into small phrases and numbered the phrases 1-6.  Distribute them to the children/youth randomly. Make sure they are not in numerical order! Go around your circle or group randomly and ask the children/youth to read their phrase. It will be all jumbled! Then ask them to read in numerical order. It will make sense! We have to start at the beginning for things to make sense, and sometimes that’s hard for us! But God always starts at the beginning with us, which is the story of life that is about love and wholeness for all. We’re learning about Amos for the next few weeks and we’re starting with his words on how God is the Lord of all nations, everyone no matter what. It’s a good place to start and a reminder for us that God is STILL the Lord of everyone in the world, and loves us all. We’re going to talk more about how we can tell the story of God’s love for the world, even if the words are hard and might sound scary.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start isn’t it? There is so much that you want or need to say that it’s hard to not blurt every thought inside your head out at once. Particularly when there is a lot of emotion involved, or when it’s words that have been welling up inside of you for a long time and the dam that is your filter can’t contain them anymore. The last time I preached on Amos was kinda like that! I love the prophetic literature in the Bible so much that I get really excited when I get to preach on them. I fancy myself a solid preacher/writer but even I forget basics from time to time. When I was on internship, Amos 5 came up in the lectionary on my week to preach. I was fresh off of a class on the prophets so I had ALL THE WORDS about Amos. I felt the pressure of having to say everything, to convey the importance of it all at one time. And to the chagrin of the congregation, for about 25 minutes, I indeed told them all the words on Amos. After church my dear, supportive, husband, looked at me and said, “that was a fabulous sermon SERIES on Amos.” Yes, I had preached a whole sermon series in one sermon…not recommended by the way. We have since referred to it as the “Amos incident” and when I muse that I am concerned my sermon might be too long, Mike will say “it’s not the Amos Incident again is it?” He’s looking out for all of you! I promise that this sermon won’t become a hostage situation. The good news for you is that this IS a sermon series on Amos for the next six weeks so I don’t have to tell you everything today! I can filter all my words.

The gift of a prophet, as we see in our biblical literature, is that they too often filter their words, they speak to a specific people, in a specific time, with a specific message. They actually don’t try and give people all the information all at once and it’s why God sent multiple prophets. Each one has a message from God that only they can tell with their particular personality and skill. Prophets have laser focus that cut through the curtains that veil the people’s vision from seeing what God sees and what God wants the people to see. Prophets offer a lay of the cultural landscape, a truth telling that is hard to hear and hard to ignore. And true prophets speak hard things out of love and concern for people, not out of spite, hate or division. Prophets tell people what is really happening, even if the people don’t like it, even to their own risk, demise and ostracization. We are blessed with many prophets throughout the ages into today. Amos, Elijah, Isaiah, Paul, Martin Luther, MLK Jr. Lenny Duncan, and more.
Like most prophets in the OT, Amos wasn’t a full-time religious person. Amos was a 8th century BCE, middle-class herder, and orchard owner. He knew a bit of the geopolitical landscape around him, but he was basically an ordinary person who lived in the southern kingdom of Judah. But Amos heard the voice of God, heard words from God he couldn’t ignore and a message that was too important to keep to himself. He had a loaded message of repentance and devastation for the people of God. His very name hallmarks this as Amos means “to load or to carry a load.” Martin Luther said of Amos: “He can well be called Amos, that is ‘a burden,’ one who is hard to get along with and irritating…” Prophets, as Jesus said, are not without honor, except in their hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house. Amos, like most prophets, was probably not well-liked for his messages. Amos did prophesy in Israel, not his own country of Judah, but Judah and Israel are siblings, still connected by the common identity of worship of Yahweh, the Torah, and the Commandments. Amos’ words from the Lord, were to bring the people back to this truth, this reality and were to point out where they were falling short on this basic of their communal lives.
            At this time in history, Israel and Judah were experiencing relative peace and prosperity, or at least the upper echelons were. Yet, Israel and Judah had grown complacent in their worship, in their prosperity, confident that their security was due to their own abilities, skill and doing. Israel and Judah were more interested in being like other kingdoms in the ancient near east, more interested in their own well-being, wealth, and military might, than in being the people of God. Worship focused on self-gratification and affirmation, and rituals were acts of piety for performance. They had abandoned their true identity as God’s people and the real tragedy was who was being oppressed, harmed and marginalized because of this lack of identity. They didn’t care for the orphaned or the widow, they didn’t provide for the poor, they didn’t welcome the stranger. They were striving to fit in with the nations around them. This is why Amos starts his proclamation by pointing out the transgressions of the kingdoms around Israel, including Judah. God is indeed interested in Israel, but God is also the Lord of all kingdoms. Israel is supposed to be the beacon, the witness, the example to the other nations, not assimilate to them.
But it’s hard to see wealth, status, power and not want that for ourselves. It stokes our egos; it provides momentary contentment. Until, as Amos will point out, it is not contentment for all. Wealth, status and power in our world for some, tends to mean a lack of those things for others. When wealth, status and power are shared, we get itchy as we worry that there won’t be any or enough for us. Jesus came to proclaim that God wants wealth, status and power evenly distributed to and for all people and those with wealth, status and power didn’t like it. It is loaded with all kinds of implications that mean a change in how we all live together, particularly those of us who can admit that we have a disproportionate amount of wealth, status and power. We forget that when we share wealth, status and power, it increases not diminishes. Diminishment leads to diminishment; abundance leads to abundance. Jesus had a hard time offering healing power to people who didn’t want it shared. It was too much for the people to bear that Jesus proclaimed a message that went against conventional wisdom of hoarding. Unbelief is not wanting to see what is true, what is real and what is healing. Unbelief is turning away from the loaded message that is a hard burden to bear.

But God doesn’t give up. God’s word that we need to hear, even if it’s hard, comes to us, embraces us and doesn’t let us go. God is willing to bear the burden of the message, all the way to the cross, for the message of healing, wholeness and justice to roar through creation like a lion. A message that shakes us to our core, shakes us out of complacency, shakes us to action for belief in what is true, shakes us to also bear that message to the world. And this is where we begin each day, where we start: open to the word of the Lord that is loaded with transforming implications not only for the world, but for us and our lives. Thanks be to God!