A Lutheran Says What?

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

Drawn In Sermon on Mark 9: 30-37 September 19, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 19, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Jeremiah 11: 18-20
Psalm 54
Mark 9: 30-37

Young Friends Message: I am sharing the book today: “Maybe God Is Like That Too” by Jennifer Grant, illustrated by Benjamin Schipper and published by Sparkhouse Family 2017.

When was a time when you felt truly welcomed to a new place or event? One such time for me was when I was still in seminary and I was taking a class in Chicago through the Seminary Consortium for Urban Parish Education (SCUPE), on Faith Based Community Organizing. It was in January 2012 and over MLK Jr. Weekend. Two of my roommates and I learned that Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King, MLK’s youngest daughter, would be preaching at mostly Black St. Sabina Catholic Church on the south side of Chicago that Sunday. St. Sabina was one of the parishes we were studying on community engagement. We took the El and a bus that cold Sunday morning and ended up entering the sanctuary through a side door. But a wonderful, warm woman saw the three middle aged white women enter the wrong door into an all Black church and she swooped over, put her arm around me and drew me in close to her and said, “child, I’m so glad you are here, I’ve been waiting for you. Let me show you three to the best pew for worship today.” And she did. She drew us into the center of the sanctuary literally smack dab in the middle and sat us in the best vantage point to see Rev. Dr. King preach. She brought us a bulletin, made sure that we knew that we knew where the restrooms were, and this church had a Sunday morning snack bar in the basement. She drew us into the community. She didn’t seem surprised to see us, it was as if she had been looking for us to arrive. This woman made sure that we knew that we belonged there that morning.

Belonging is a basic need for us humans. We are wired for connection; without that connection, we wither. Yet the feeling of belonging often feels like a surprise or a shock to us. When we belong, we share many aspects of our lives with a certain group of people such as dress, speech, rituals, days of worship, music, doctrines, traditions, and commonly held beliefs. Some of these aspects are what drew us in and connected us, but the irony is that these aspects can leave people out. We rarely seek out new or different. Like the woman at St. Sabina’s we don’t make a beeline toward a new and different face. Part of our wiring is also to be suspicious of new and different. It’s a loop that is hard to short circuit.

The idea of who belonged and who was accepted is as old as Genesis 3 when the first people first realized that they were separate from God. The Bible is a story of God drawing God’s people back into full belonging and oneness with God and each other. No separation. Jesus is God as human, the one who holds divinity and humanity together, who draws us all into oneness with God and one another.
The disciples had a front row seat to this project, and it caused them fear. Their whole lives had been one of figuring out where and to whom they belonged and to whom they belonged. Their religion? The Romans? Their vocations? Jesus over and over says, no, you belong to someone and something grander: God. But it’s not what you think. Jesus tells them that Jesus belongs to God and will suffer, be killed by the other communities, but will rise again. The disciples aren’t exactly drawn into dig deeper into this news. It’s not the kind of belonging that they want. They want to belong to something and someone who is powerful, great, has authority, and status. They want belonging that brings worldly security.
Jesus patiently, again, tells them that what and who they belong to is one who serves, one who supports, one who draws people into abundant life. This is what belonging to God is like: it’s knowing that when we are drawn in by God’s love together, there is so much more than the world can offer. To shock the disciples into fully grasping this, Jesus draws a child into their center. A child, in the ancient world, had zero value. Children were the most vulnerable and least worthy in Jesus’ time. For Jesus to draw this child into his arms, is scandalous. Jesus declares that accepting, centering, connecting, belonging to this child is the point, that welcoming Jesus, is welcoming God. Belonging to God is belonging to the weakest, least valuable person in the community. It’s drawing yourself to people with whom you would rather not be connected. They might need something from you.
This is still scandalous today, and I know that I, like the disciples, struggle with this radical belonging. It means that I am drawn to the person I walk past sleeping on a bench. I am drawn to the person with differing political persuasions. I am drawn to the person who is fleeing their country to escape poverty, war and oppression, like the 14,000 Haitians on our border needing refuge. I am drawn to the person whose gender or sexual identity expression is new to me. I am drawn to the person with a differing faith tradition. I am drawn to the person working tirelessly in hospitals who need me to do my part to alleviate their strain. I am drawn to the person who is grieving, celebrating, or unsure what is next for them. I am drawn to the person who has differing health needs, such as our unvaccinated children who need protection from the community around them. When Jesus puts his arms around me and draws me close, he is also drawing close all the people from whom I desire a great distance. Jesus draws me in, and draws you in, just as we are, Jesus doesn’t care if we are great by the world’s standards. We are great because God is greater, because we belong to and are loved by God, not what for what we do, not for what we don’t do. God says that what and whom God creates and draws close to is great too: you, me, people whom we haven’t met yet, and may never meet.  
This is God’s hope, vision and call to us all: be drawn to each other, welcome one another, to see God in all people. Jesus draws us in to God’s kingdom where we belong to one another with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.

 

You Belong Here! Sermon on Ephesians 2 August 5, 2018

You can watch this sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org. It was proclaimed on July 22, 2018 at Bethany Lutheran Church at Cherry Hills Village, CO.

The text is Ephesians 2: 11-22

Have kids come forward

You belong here. Those are words that we all ache to have said to us. We want to be known and to know others. We want to have all the parts of us that we like and those parts of us that we don’t, loved all the same, no matter what. It’s a basic human need. We all have stories of times when we deeply belonged whether it was family or a social group as well as stories of when we knew that no matter what we would never belong. Worse yet, to think that you belong to group only to find out that you really don’t. This need to belong drives us in many ways. It can drive us to build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt by rejection.  To build walls around institutions that we love to ensure that nothing will harm it or change it. We build walls to give ourselves a sense of safety and identity in what seems to be a chaotic and lonely world. We yearn to know exactly where we belong.

Kids, I have two tables of duplos here. Choose which table you want to be at, but you can’t all be at the same table, you’ll be in two groups. This group is named “Echahd” and this group is “ena.”  Ok, with these duplos on your table, build something together while I keep talking with the adults. I’ll check in with you in a minute. You can build anything you want as long as you work together. Does that sound good?

So the children just quickly sorted themselves into groups and science tells us that even at this young age, they probably sized the other children up and if we had time to go deeper with them and if they could even articulate it, sorted themselves pretty well into like-minded groups. We could probably find something that they have in common. We do this all the time consciously and unconsciously.

 

And once we find that niche of people, our tribe if you will, we rarely look outside of that group, or more specifically, we almost never ask, “who is missing from our group?” “Whom should we let in?” Most of the time, we belong to closed groups, this is who we are, these are the people who belong and that’s that.

But the flip side is of course, at one point your now best friend or spouse was at one time a stranger to whom you gave a chance. You opened up and risked getting to know them and connecting with them. What was created was a new relationship, a new partnership or a new family. When you risked learning about one another you discovered pieces that were in common, pieces that could be a foundation for the new created relationship.

We are continuing our Ephesians sermon series this week and in Ephesians 2, we read about the real struggle of forging a new community. There was apparently a separation problem, those who were Jewish followers of Jesus and those who were Gentile followers of Jesus. To be Jewish was a very specific identity. It involved more than just belief but your whole way of living. It wasn’t only about going to synagogue or Temple, no it was what you ate, what you wore, where you went, what you touched or didn’t touch. The Jewish converts really accepted Jesus, but being human, still held on to their embedded traditions about how one lives as a believer and how one belongs to a faith tradition. In case you didn’t know, change is hard! Change in how you worship, live and think about God? Well, how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Why would we change it? We like the dark! Seriously…

(Give kids a one minute warning.) And then you had the Gentiles, people who were not Jewish. They lived very differently and followed none of those prescribed actions. The Jewish people had been taught to tolerate the Gentiles to a point, maybe more to pity them that they aren’t Jewish, but to maintain a safe distance to not have them rub off on them, as they didn’t really belong. Sort of like how as parents we teach our children know that they should love everyone, but subtly let them know that if they don’t want to invite that kid who always breaks stuff over to play, you’re fine with that, as your kid will talk to him at the bus stop and that’s good enough. Now the Gentiles weren’t always so fond of their strict new brothers and sisters in Christ either. I would imagine that the Jewish followers of Jesus would seem well, draconian and a serious buzzkill to any get together in this fledgling Christian community called The Way. The Way was radical community, radical generosity, radical collaboration, radical inclusion, radical love, which would blow the mind of any good rule follower!

How can these two groups learn to live together? Ok, kids, how are the creations coming? Let me see group “Echahd” : Tell me how you all worked together?  Ok Let’s look at group Ena: Tell me about how you worked together? These are great! Ok, pull the tables together and now I want you to take these two creations and make one creation together. Using every piece of the two existing creations, so you will probably have to take some of what you already built apart. Ok go!

Jesus wasn’t a rule freak, he didn’t care about the religious rules, the civil laws, Jesus only cared about people. Jesus cared so much that he wasn’t afraid to come near to our messiness, our brokenness and our sickness. In Mark we read when Jesus saw the people coming to them on the countryside, he had compassion for them. Compassion means “with suffering.” Jesus suffered with them in their desperation, as they were separated from the community, sheep without a shepherd they were aching to belong and be known, but their physical diseases, their brokenness and being outside the religious rules kept them from belonging. The scandal of Jesus’ ministry is that Jesus takes people whom the world says don’t belong together and makes them one. It’s more than coexisting, which is simply tolerance. The Coexist bumper sticker we’ve all seen doesn’t quite get it right. Jesus is about more than tolerance. Jesus brings people who are near, far, rich, poor, healthy, sick, Jew, Greek, slave, free, male female, rural, urban, black, white, native, immigrant, straight, gay, and pulls us all together as the cornerstone of a new community that abolishes all labels and shows us another way-the new beloved people/body of Christ where all people belong. Cornerstones not only connect two dimensionally, but connects the structure to the foundation. Jesus as our cornerstone connects us not only to one another but to God our foundation, the foundation of the One Body of Christ.

This is what makes us truly one, we are one in the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of a God who crushes all divisions. No matter how many walls that we put up, Christ with compassion, breaks down. Over and over again. Not someday in the future, but right here right now. The cross of Jesus is strong enough to break walls of fear and hostility, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls of our egos, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls around our hearts wide open for compassion and solidarity of our neighbor. When our hearts are broken open by the cross, Jesus can take those pieces and tightly connect us like these duplos, who need one another, to build the kingdom of God where every piece belongs. A holy place right here on earth where God dwells in our hearts, in our homes, in our community and in the world. God dwells here because we dwell here with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.

The names of the groups I gave the children are the words echahd “one” in Hebrew and Ena-“one” in Greek. They took their separate “oneness” and combined to be one new creation here in Christ where each duplo piece had a place and belonged. I love what you have built! This creation reminds us that together we build love in the world for Jesus and tell everyone that they belong to God. How can you show or tell your friends that they belong to God?

In the cross of Jesus, walls are broken, hostility ends, peace pervades and love, well, love builds us as One In Christ and God proclaims: YOU BELONG HERE. And all God’s people say: Amen.