A Lutheran Says What?

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

Burned Out An Ash Wednesday Sermon March 6, 2019 March 7, 2019

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO on March 6, 2019. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts for the day were Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 6: 1-21

 

We live in what many psychologists call a “burn out” culture. We have 24 hour news cycles, constant connectivity, the ability to work from anywhere, anytime, the mentality of “work hard, play harder,” the idol of busyness, the pressure to have the perfect home, family, physique, diet, the list goes on and on. We have never ending “to-do” lists and feel the pressure of not being worthy or enough. So we put on masks to cover up our unworthiness, the pressure, the tension and even figure out how to glorify the masks. “Oh I’m so busy!” we say! Translated, that means, “aren’t we so important to people and without us it all falls apart.” Another translation could be “I need to be needed and without being busy, needed and noticed by everyone, I’m a nobody.” So, with that tape running through our minds, we think we have to hustle for our worth, we keep on our masks of self-importance and perfection-until we can’t. We burn out. Sometimes it’s subtle and we simply become exhausted and take a break and try to reorder our priorities. But sometimes, it’s more insidious, isn’t it? It’s a health diagnosis, it’s depression, it’s destructive relationships, it’s doubling down on power and control in our own lives or tightening that mask of the image that we show the world, while internally we are literally dying, becoming ashes, dust.

We’ve all experienced some form of “burn-out,” I know that I have. I reach a point where I’m not really me, not the best version of myself to anyone, anywhere. I slip on the mask of strength, perfection, having it all together, the perfect wife, mother, pastor. But here’s the thing about masks: they aren’t built to stay on. Eventually, it will slip, and then I’m grateful for family, friends, trusted colleagues who see beneath my mask and say, “hey this mask isn’t really you. This isn’t who I know you to be. How can I help you recover your true self, your true identity and come into new life?”

On Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, we start with the reality of our masks. We admit that we are burned out of the masks we wear, of trying too hard, and we are afraid of being a pile of ashes. We are weary of being in the dark of our masks. We long for light, life, freedom, truth, grace. We long to be reassured that we are loved but we cling to the fear that we need to earn love. So we end up sliding those masks right back on, even though we know that they aren’t really us.

These masks are not new to modern times. Jesus names these masks in our Matthew reading as hypocrisy. Jesus points out the masks of religious piety, of putting on a mask of self-importance, worth, and pride are as much an issue as the other masks that we might try on. Religious rituals themselves are not the issue, doing religious rituals to prove your worth is wearing the mask of false identity. You are not created to serve you, you created for relationship with God and neighbor. You were created to bring your true and whole self into the light, to be the light of Christ.

Giving alms publicly means nothing if you withhold basic needs from your neighbor in private. Praying out loud with eloquent words and complex sentence structures means nothing if your everyday words to your neighbor are cruel, unloving, oppressive, homophobic, racist, sexist, classist, and hurtful. Showing that you are fasting means nothing if in the rest of your life you serve your own interests, as Isaiah writes, you hoard and take more than you need with no thought of others. It’s a lot of energy and work to act one way in public and be someone else in private. It can burn you out.

Jesus invites us to take off the masks of hypocrisy, to expose our true identity, to be God’s own people of light. The return to our authentic selves, unmasked, vulnerable and beloved. This is a rich gift that never fades, never breaks, and can never be taken from you. It’s from where true life flows. This new life is what God promises to do with the ashes of our masks, the pieces of us that burn away when we turn again to trust God for all of who we are and all that we need. This is why Jesus teaches what we now call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, Mark and Luke. This prayer has simple and unpretentious words that names us as God’s own, names us as worthy, grounds us in accountable and beloved community and reorients us to the reality that we can’t control our lives, we can’t hide behind our masks of independence, autonomy, busyness, perfection or ego. They are words with which we can cry out from the dark to the Lord, our parent, and God responds: Here I am. They are words that each time we say them together as the people of God, breathe new life into our ashes, the dust of who we are and remind us that the promise is indeed there is abundant life in being who God created us to be, instead of trying to be someone else. The Lord’s Prayer names our treasure that we are God’s here on earth and for all of eternity.

We all come to a place where we burn-out, we are a nothing more than dust and ash. As our masks slide off, we call out to God and God responds with the light of Christ and the truth of being sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. This cross that is placed on our foreheads is dirty, messy, and imperfect, but it reveals the truth of what is behind our masks: that we are worthy just as we are, deeply and unconditionally loved and set free to be who God truly created us to be. We are reflections of Christ’s light and love to a world that is hiding in the darkness of their masks and to hear the words: Remember you are God’s and to God you shall return. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Divine Dust Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016, Year C February 11, 2016

False and True Worship

58 Shout out, do not hold back!
    Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
    and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

 

Maybe these phrases resonate with you tonight: “I don’t know how much more studying I can do, I’m so burned out.” “I’m exhausted from arguing with my teenaged daughter. I’m burned out on the fights.” “My supervisor just keeps piling on the requirements without allowing enough time or resources for the project. I’m burned out on her not listening.” “I can’t listen to any more political commercials. I’m burned out on the nonsense.” “I keep going back to drinking, gambling, overeating. I’m burned out on trying to change.” “I’m never going to be as good as my friend, colleague, classmate, neighbor. I’m burned out on not feeling good enough.” “I don’t know if I can make it one more day without my husband, wife, mother, father, child. I’m burned out on being sad.”

“I’m burned out.” It’s become a phrase that we throw around with our friends, family and colleagues pretty casually. Sometimes we use it as a badge of honor in relation to our busy and so obviously important schedules. Being burned out means that we’re so vital in whatever little kingdom we inhabit and so of course all of our resources are simply not only crucial but must be depleted. Otherwise, nothing will get done, right?

We also use this phrase to highlight our distaste and the repugnancy of whatever situation we are witnessing or are caught in. Politics, religion, money, taxes, are just a few venues in our lives where its seems that our capacity for engagement has a limit. We gaze out at the socio-economic-political landscape and what catches our sight is often less than hopeful, less than joyful, and less than secure. It’s difficult to near impossible to hear past the rhetoric and posturing of the political candidates to uncover anything of substance, anything that might be life-giving or anything that we might be able to grab on to for security and hope. We yearn for conversations of integrity, honesty and truth. We optimistically listen for what the future might bring for our children, grandchildren and even ourselves and then gut wrenchingly realize that perhaps we’re the only ones who are concerned for those who come after us. We begin to wonder that maybe change isn’t possible and this is the best that we can expect from our systems of government, education and yes, even the Church.

Or maybe you’ve used this phrase as a whisper of desperation for a relationship with a loved one or….yourself. When we’ve hit rock bottom and all we have left is the crippling knowledge that we are caught in a cycle that we alone, all by ourselves without any help, can’t break. When we’ve cried the last tear, because we’ve cried so hard, for so many days, that there is nothing left but long, dry, heaving sobs. When our hearts are not just broken, but shattered into so many pieces that we’re fairly sure that not only will it never go back together again but that there WILL be pieces forever missing. You’ve screamed the words in the car, in the woods or in the bathroom, “God, I’m burned out! I can’t do this anymore!”

God, we’re burned out. We’re depleted. We’re spent. Some days it seems that there is nothing left of our lives but ashes. Those dusty, dirty remnants of an object or thing that used to be, that used to be something of substance, of importance, of usefulness. Now, a pile of ashes, useless, easily scattered and easily blown away. What good are we as ashes and where is God when we are burned out, burned away to what feels like nothingness?

Isaiah writes, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” God hears us, listens to us, walks with us, cries with us, and sees us. God sees that we are burned out, that we are stuck in only going through the motions, that we spin our wheels and only send more dirt and muck flying up into the air, covering ourselves and those around us with the grimy specs of our attempts to take care of ourselves, go it alone, tricking others and ourselves into thinking that we have it all together, and that we can clean ourselves up at any time.

Ash Wednesday is the intersection of our dust, dirt, mess and fear of death and the reality of God’s promises for life . It’s when we admit not only our humanness and mortality but that we are being killed each day in millions of little and big ways. It’s when we run smack into the what it means when we pray “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from evil.” God promises to be our rescue. Not in a super hero sort of way swooping in at the last minute to take care of the bad guy or to fix a helpless situation and then dashing off until needed again. God’s rescue is on-going relationship with us each and every moment of our lives. God’s rescue involves a cross, suffering, death and then an empty tomb. God’s rescue is the promise to witnesses our ashes, the ashes that we keep hidden and secret from the rest of the world, and proclaim our beauty, love, and worth. God’s rescue is a return to our true identity as God’s very own children as well as a return to wholeness for all people as one people and creation.

God doesn’t see us as spent or used up but proclaims that we are created in God’s image, we are made from dust, dust that created the earth and all of the cosmos, divine dust. As divine dust creatures, it means that in baptism our lives and our deaths meet God’s promises for soaking love and for eternal life with God where sorrow and suffering is no more. We are showered with these promises so that we shower the dusty world with this life-quenching reality. There is enough in the river of life for all to be fed, clothed, housed and treated with justice and dignity. God’s justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an every-flowing stream (Amos 5: 24) and we are swept up in that tide. That tide that transforms us and the world, that tide that demands that we do not ignore God’s vision for wholeness but participate in radical justice and peace for the sake of our neighbor, who is also burned out on being pushed aside, transparent and scapegoated.

God takes our ashes and re-creates us, molds us, and enlivens us to shine with Christ’s light through our dust, to bring love and life into a world that is dying, dying to hear that brokenness is not the last word. Burn-out is not the last word. Oppression is not the last word. Death is not the last word. It is God who speaks the last word into our days spent in the messiness and chaos of life as God spoke the first words into the nothingness, chaos and dust and brought forth all of creation and life. God’s word always brings life; God’s word always brings hope; God’s word always whispers in your ear when you are screaming that you are burned out: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. I can do a lot with dust. You are mine, I see you, I love you and I am here.” Thanks be to God.