A Lutheran Says What?

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

Being Surrounded: A sermon for Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, NM December 13, 2020

I had the honor to preach for Peace Lutherand in Las Cruces NM for their midweek Advent 3 worship on Dec. 18, 2020. The text was Psalm 125.

Grace and peace to you beloveds at Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces! I am privileged and honored to share a word of God with you this third week of Advent. I serve Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Salt Lake City, Utah and my congregation sends their love and greetings to you. You might know, if you’re a geology buff, that Salt Lake City sits in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges on both sides. To the west, we have the Oquirrh’s and to the east, the Wasatch. No matter where you look, you can see mountains. It protects SLC and the valley from extreme weather for the most part but also makes it difficult for polluted air to be moved out. Being surrounded by mountains is sometimes helpful and sometimes a challenge. What we are surrounded by matters.

Being surrounded resonates with me in this time. Right now, we are surrounded by circumstances beyond our control: political divisions and conflicts in our society, the sin and injustice of racism and white supremacy, and of course from the reality of the COVID19 virus. A few months ago, I didn’t really know anyone who was affected by it, and now, I’m surrounded by people who have dealt with the disease in one aspect or another. I feel surrounded by the economic, health and death realities of a pandemic. I feel surrounded, as everywhere I look, I see the trials and challenges of our world. I crave to surround myself in what I think is safety and security.

So, I attempt to surround myself with what I think will bring protection and peace: people, environments and material objects. I surround myself with people who affirm my thinking and beliefs, I surround myself in a neighborhood where I’m comfortable, I surround myself with plenty of food, with Amazon deliveries, and with Netflix shows. I surround myself so that the realities of the world can be pushed aside, ignored, put on a shelf, and not be in my line of sight to bother me. But when I surround myself with distractions and false security, I can look past who and what I am actually surrounded by.

The psalmist who prayed Psalm 125, knew what it was to be surrounded. Ancient Jerusalem was nearly always under siege somehow and while yes, it was surrounded by mountains, the inhabitants couldn’t let their guard down and those mountains weren’t a guarantee or foolproof protection. They had to be vigilant as to who might be surrounding them at any given time. This led to living with heightened anxiety and the knowledge that their land was always at risk of being occupied by an invader. The Israelites lived most of their day to day lives surrounded by people who didn’t share their faith and belief in the one God, Yahweh, and they would have been tempted to act and take on the behaviors of the people who surrounded them.

But the psalmist offers another way to think of being surrounded. Yes, they are surrounded by circumstances beyond their control that might seem hopeless, but they are also surrounded by the love and mercy of God. The Lord surrounds them with the truth of being God’s people, that even when life looks bleak, God is at work. God has acted for them in the past and they must trust that God will act again. Being surrounded by loss, suffering and death won’t be the last word.
In Advent, we center ourselves on this truth-that we are indeed surrounded, by God’s promise of surrounding us with the love, mercy and grace as made real in the birth of Jesus. Jesus who entered the world surrounded by smelly animals and shepherds, surrounded by powers and principalities who wanted him dead from the time he was born, surrounded by the songs of angels, and surrounded by the love and care of Mary and Joseph. Jesus came into the world to surround us with the truth of God’s unending and unconditional love for humanity and all creation.
So we surround ourselves in this reality, we trust that when we feel surrounded by events and circumstances that threaten our very lives, we are surrounded by the love and care of each other, from Utah to New Mexico, and we are surrounded by God’s presence, promises and mercy through Jesus Christ. We are indeed surrounded, and we give thanks to God. You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

Good News of Great Joy!Sermon for Christmas Eve 2018 December 28, 2018

This sermon was preached on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. and Dec. 24 and 7 pm. Both can be found on http://www.bethanylive.org

The text was Luke 2: 1-20

Children’s sermon: Bring the children forward and have a plain amazon box.

I’m sure you recognize this! It’s an Amazon box! We seemed to have many of these come to our door this week! And I’m sure you did too! Every time a box came to our home, it was a reminder that someone who lived far away in our family or from our friends was thinking of us! Now, the plain box itself is one thing, but then when we open it, the gifts inside are decorated with fun paper or bows, like this, on them. When we wrap gifts, we often think of how special that person is to us and we hope that the gift we send makes them happy. But it’s not really about the gifts. Maybe in the past you’ve received a toy that you really wanted, fun new pajamas, a new bike or gaming system and that made you happy. But toys break, we outgrow pajamas or bikes and technology will stop working. Does that mean that the person who gave you those things no longer loves you? NO! Those things made us happy, being loved never stops and that is what joy is all about. Joy is about being connected to love: people who love us: moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, friends, teachers, and that we love all of those people too.

In our Christmas story tonight we heard an angel tell the shepherds good news of great joy for ALL people. What was that good news? Jesus was born!!! God loves us so much that God came to us as baby Jesus, to connect us to God’s love and to each other and this is great joy! Everyone, you, me, everyone here, everyone in the world, is connected to God and God’s love and are filled with Great Joy! God wanted the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and us to know that we are loved, and are God’s Great Joy. We are part of God forever. And God’s Great Joy can’t be put in a box or under our tree, It’s so big that it covers the whole world! And so as people who are God’s Great Joy-our job is to tell everyone we see that they are God’s Great Joy too! Just like we put bows on presents to remind the person that they are special, I have a bow for each of you tonight to remind you that you are special, connected to God and God’s Great Joy forever!

It’s easy to feel isolated and alone in our world today. Between long hours at work, everyday tasks at home, child care, caring for aging parents, and the list goes on and on, it’s difficult to find time to deeply connect with friends, family or even ourselves. Researchers have found that we are more isolated than ever in our modern times, despite technology that can connect us instantly. The greatest threat to the health of people over the age of 65 is loneliness. But loneliness isn’t only about geography, not being able to leave your home. Life situations can also make us feel lonely. Have you ever felt alone in a crowded room such as this one tonight? Things like divorce, job difficulties, money issues, health issues, depression, can all make us feel alone and can be isolating.  I remember the loneliness of being at home with very young children who didn’t speak in complete sentences and all I wanted most days was another adult to talk to about anything. I loved playgroups and my Mothers of Preschoolers group where I could actually hear sentences that consisted of more than three words about topics besides Cheerios. I loved being with my children, yet it’s hard to be a parent in the best of situations and I sometimes struggled. Going to MOPS connected me with other moms and they shared their struggles with me and we all felt less alone.

We are wired for connection as human beings. This is not an accident or a coincidence. As humans, each one of us, created in God’s own image, God embedded in our hearts, minds and bodies the need to be together in community. This is the heart of our Christmas story tonight. I can only imagine the loneliness of Mary and Joseph as just the two of them trudged along for miles with a donkey-only to arrive in a town where no one knew them or would welcome them in. The loneliness and fear of having a baby with no mother or mother-in-law, aunt or grandma to hold your hand as a family of two became three. Or the loneliness of the shepherds out in the middle of nowhere, outcast and looked down upon from society because of their vocation with smelly animals. Yes, perhaps two or three of them worked together, but it was still lonely work.

But then, it all changed. An angel appeared out of the dark and proclaimed that loneliness is dispelled, there is good news! God has come to be with you! You are not alone! God’s love, God’s great joy connects you to God and to all of God’s people, no matter what you do for a job, no matter who you are, no matter how much money you make, how much you do or don’t struggle, how large your family is, or where you live. Go and see that you are connected with God’s great love and joy! And the shepherds went to Bethlehem, to connect with Mary and Joseph, to let them know that they are not alone either, that God is connecting unlikely people, in unlikely ways, for great purpose of sharing God’s Great Joy with all the earth!

God’s Great Joy is good news for us all tonight. God’s Great Joy through Jesus connects us, to God and to each other. We matter, our neighbors near and far matter as we are all connected to God’s work of love in the world. This Great Joy is pure gift, it doesn’t depend on what we do or don’t do, because like the angels came to the shepherds, this Great Joy finds us no matter where we are.

This Great Joy is so expansive that it can’t be contained to a manger, to a stable, to the shepherding fields, to the skies filled with angels, to a cross or an empty tomb. God’s Great Joy can’t be contained to you, me, this building, Denver or Colorado. God’s Great Joy blankets the earth and connects us all so that loneliness, darkness, despair and death are no more. Jesus, who is love, light and joy made flesh to be with humanity, is God’s promise that nothing disconnects us from God, or each other. This is grace. This is indeed Great Joy. This is for us all and it is for you.

Like the shepherds, we can’t hold this Great Joy inside, and so we go to glorify and praise God with our whole lives. We share this Great Joy when we offer a smile to a stranger, write a note to someone who needs affirmation, collect food for a those in need, say a prayer for those who suffer, take time to listen to an opinion different from our own, lift our voice for those who are voiceless in our world, or simply say “You are loved” to someone who needs to be reminded.

Good news of Great Joy: God came to us, to connect with us and to connect us to each other. Great Joy is from God and overflows and for all people. You are part of God’s Great Joy, now and forever. Glory to God in the highest.