A Lutheran Says What?

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

The Ordinary Reveals the Extraordinary Work of God Luke 2:22-40 Christmas 1, 2014 December 29, 2014

Many of you know that I was a teacher before seminary. When I lived in Lincoln, NE, I did some substitute teaching after graduation and a Roman Catholic school, Blessed Sacrament, liked me so well that I taught there nearly everyday for a year, doing both long term (several weeks in a row) and short term substitute positions. Before this I had limited experiences with the Catholic Church. I had attended one wedding when I was 10 and my college roommate is a devout Catholic but I had never attended mass with her.
Blessed Sacrament students and staff attended mass each day at 3 p.m. Now, I had been a part of a fairly pious Lutheran congregation in ND, but nothing prepared me for the level of ritual and piety that is the Roman Catholic Church. I was completely fascinated with the Rosary, the differences in the Lord’s Prayer, communion practices and liturgy (which I was not able to be a part of) and the candle lighting with the saints particularly was interesting to me. It seems that the Catholic Church has a ritual for everything and for everything a ritual. I watched as many of the older children and adults participated in these rituals, praying, singing, standing and kneeling as seamlessly as breathing. Young mothers with babies crawling all over them could recite the Rosary and keep track of their toddlers without missing a beat. It was all very ordinary and common to them, as well as giving them a laser-like focus on what was important in their lives. Honestly, I was a little jealous of all of this. Going to mass each day was like stepping through a spiritual portal where, while I was an outsider, I was being swept in and enfolded by their singing and speaking words of praise and confession that proclaimed Jesus presence as the central pivot in their lives. Mass allowed me to experience the ordinary rituals of my Lutheran tradition in new and extraordinary ways that revealed Jesus as central in my life.
Now, I am a (good?)Lutheran girl and I know why Martin Luther critiqued some of these rituals and why they can be actually in the way of a meaningful and authentic relationship with God. But in attending mass at Blessed Sacrament and witnessing what was for this congregation, ordinary and common practices that oriented them to God, I glimpsed something that made me think differently about God in my life, differently about my own spiritual practices and differently about what God was doing in the world. I was also made aware of all of the things that I did day to day that were “rituals” but not necessarily ones that connected me to God and the love of Jesus Christ. What part of my day made me stop and look for the love of Christ around me? Where did my ordinary life intersect with the mystery of God? What practices did I have that revealed God to other people?
Mary and Joseph didn’t think that they were doing anything extraordinary by going to the temple with two pigeons for Mary’s purification after childbirth. This would have been as natural and rote for them as the Rosary is for Catholics and saying “The Lord be with you. And also with you” is for Lutherans. Nothing to see here but two sleep deprived parents of a five week old baby. But they went to the temple for the purification ritual, just as they had taken their baby boy for circumcision when he was eight days old. They were following all of the rituals of their tradition as they had themselves witnessed since birth, brought up in homes where God was the focus of their lives. Mary and Joseph assumed that this trip to the temple would be quick and then they could go home and maybe catch a nap before baby Jesus got cranky.
But in the ordinariness of this ritual, something extraordinary happened. An old man Simeon, arrived at the temple as he did each day but knew that this day was different, this baby was unlike any other baby presented to the priest. This baby revealed God’s salvation, light and glory to all people. Mary and Joseph had to have been shaken from their complacency of the ritual by his words and his blessing. It’s not every day a complete stranger sings God’s praises while holding your child, blessing him and proclaiming your son’s role in God’s activity in the world. And for Simeon it was not every day that his life intersected the revelation of God’s promise for creation.
And if Mary and Joseph were not already struck by the difference of this day, Anna, a prophet whose whole life was focused on praising God, echoed Simeon’s words of who this child was, is and will be. This ordinary ritual act of coming to the temple that had been done by thousands of families, on this day revealed God’s extraordinary work, love and mercy for the world. Mary and Joseph must have had the sense of being swept up into something beyond themselves. This simple ritual refocused them to what God was doing through them and Jesus.
We view so much in our lives as ordinary. We go to our ordinary jobs, ordinary schools, run our ordinary errands, take our children to ordinary activities, go to our ordinary homes, see ourselves as ordinary and assume that nothing much is significant in all of that ordinariness. But in Luke today we hear that there is extraordinary in the ordinary and it is in these seemingly innocuous intersections where we are reminded that God is the focus of our lives and swept up into the mystery of God. Rituals have the power and the ability to orient our minds, souls and bodies to the one who created them. It’s not just about rituals in a church building, but it’s about the church as the people of God pointing to God in the world wherever and whatever they are doing.
This morning we celebrate the ritual of baptism with Owen and Cooper. Through ordinary water and words spoken by ordinary people, God’s love, mercy and promises for eternal life are revealed and proclaimed. God declares that in the ordinary water washing over their heads, Owen and Cooper belong to God, belong to the community of God’s people, are swept up into the mystery of life with God and are extraordinarily beloved. Their lives and our lives, reflect and proclaim the promises of God for everyone-no place, person or circumstance is too ordinary for God to be present. Today we are all promising to help teach and include Owen and Cooper in rituals such as The Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, Apostles Creed, Holy Communion, daily prayers, scripture reading, faith conversations and blessing. We are promising to each day reorient our lives to center on Jesus as we walk with them in their faith journey. But even our day to day “ordinary” rituals also have the capacity to remind us, to reveal to us and others around us, that we are surrounded by the love of God in our lives.
The Holy Spirit reveals for us that in the life of God, all is extraordinary, as God has created us, all of us, to participate in God’s work of redemption in the world. With each breath, we are a part of the mystery of God’s presence and love. We may not always understand this or even recognize it as so, which is precisely why we gather to share in rituals of the ordinary earthly elements that point to so much more than we can see today, here and now. Through songs, words, water, bread and wine we focus ourselves on the reality of Jesus’ presence and love. Like Simeon and Anna, we offer with one another praises to God and speak, share and reveal to one another Jesus in our lives, the one who dwelt among us, sweeps us up into eternal life with God, with one another and who came to redeem us all. Amen.

 

Rooted for change and growth, John 15: 1-5, Nov. 23rd, 2014 November 25, 2014

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(This Sunday both Pastor Rob Moss and I preached on the same text. Please read his sermon at http://pastorrobmoss.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/what-the-fruit-john-151-5/)
Many of you know that I grew up in the Air Force and moved around quite a bit. In many ways, there was much instability in my early life, I suppose. I had 10 homes, five elementary schools, one jr. high and two high schools before I was 18. I was at a conference not long ago where the small group activity was to describe your bedroom from your childhood! I was deeply confused. Which one? So, it’s also no surprise that we went to quite a few churches. Most often the local Lutheran church closest to the base (lots of other military families), overseas we attended the base chapel, and sometimes we did a combination of the two. The churches were places of community and stability. Even from state to state, some aspects were familiar in each church. When we moved to Omaha, my parents were slightly amused as that the first thing I did at 15, was get out the yellow pages (it was the ‘80’s after all) and started calling churches to ask about worship times and other activities. I found one I liked and informed my family that we would be attending that Sunday. We were there for my last three years of high school and many of my close friends (some of whom I am still friends with) attended there. Not Mike. He was LCMS-that was a different problem. ☺
It wasn’t just the stability of church as a building that I was seeking, it was the idea that God was the same everywhere I went. It was the sense of rootedness in God regardless of wherever I was that provided my stability. John 15:5 was my confirmation verse and I think the appeal of it to me, at 14, was the idea that Jesus was never going to move on me, change location or be different. I knew that everything in life was movable, changeable and fluid and that was ok because Jesus stays constant and with us always. Being rooted in God wasn’t about sameness or stagnation for me (I didn’t have a concept of that) but was about my source of foundation and deeper truth about the world. Roots don’t necessarily hold you down, roots keep you centered and give you what you need to grow, bend and change with the seasons. To be rooted is to also be a part of a larger organism. Roots connect all of the branches, leaves and fruit. One root system provides life for all of the extensions of the vine and branches. I like being a part of that larger whole.
Jesus tells us that he is that root-the true vine. Jesus connects us all and gives us life, not just life in the here and now but promises life forever with God. These promises fill us with what we need to bear fruit not for ourselves, but for those who need what God is growing in us. We do this together as one vine rooted in the centeredness of Jesus’ love and grace. Each branch is necessary and is important to the overall health of the vine, but it’s when all of the branches come together that there is a rich harvest and enough for all. Just as we need to be rooted in Jesus to bear fruit, we also need each other to be fruitful. When we work together at the Action Center, Habitat for Humanity, Green Mountain Elementary or Molholm Elementary, in your work places, schools, or activities, we offer the world the very love and life of Christ that runs through our branches. It’s more than just doing good deeds: we offer fruit that provides more than sustenance for today, but offers all people true life-hope, love and joy for tomorrow and for eternal life with God.
This morning we celebrated those promises to Dean. We welcome Dean into the community of those rooted in Jesus Christ, the true vine. No matter where Dean goes in his life-he is always connected to this community and to the whole of God’s people-roots that will allow him to know that Jesus is with him always, a community of God’s people will always welcome him and his very life is in the life of God who loves him forever. It will allow him to bear fruit-to bring the love of God that shines through him to all people that he meets.
Rooted in our baptism we are interconnected, we matter to one another, we matter to the world and we matter to Jesus the vine. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves and bigger than our imaginations. Jesus abides with us and we can do nothing separate from Christ or one another. And the promise is that we are never separated from God or the people of God no matter what changes in our lives, no matter where we are today or where we may go tomorrow. Thanks be to God.