A Lutheran Says What?

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

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes Sermon on Acts 9 August 28, 2020

The sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 30, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 30
Acts 9: 1-19

“You’re never going to change anyone’s mind.” “No one ever changes.” Common phrases that I’ve heard and personally used over the past few years. How many of us have posted a meme or an article on social media thinking “oh if people just read this, their minds will completely change and they will understand.” I have! And it turns out, I’m wrong. There are so many conversations right now where it seems that we talk just to state our positions, doctrine, and dogma and not to expand our understanding. Just spend about 1.5 seconds on any social media platform and I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. When opinions are truths and religion is a weapon, we know that this is going to go downhill quickly. We get set in our own thought patterns and we assume, with good reason, that others are set too.  So we reverberate in our own echo chambers and continue on our way. Until something happens that forces us to do, think and see differently. And it’s rarely a meme from Facebook. So what does change us? What does move us into new patterns, new thought processes, new understandings?

Saul was a man who knew what he believed, who knew what was right and knew what to do about people who were wrong. He had been raised as a devout Jew, a second generation Pharisee leader and had much invested in ensuring that nothing ever changed, that the religion remained pure and adhered to the truth. So this movement that had sprung up of John the Baptist and Jesus was a huge problem. All of the sudden people were challenging both the Roman and Temple authorities, and were gathering in groups by the thousands demanding that those whom those in power devalued, marginalized, oppressed, abused and murdered by the state and the religious authorities mattered. It was frightening indeed. Ordinary people, people who should just stay in their place in society, be quiet and be glad they are allowed to live in the Roman Empire, were hearing this message that God said they deserved equality, justice and an opportunity for an abundant life. They protested and shouted Hosanna as Jesus paraded into Jerusalem and after Jesus was crucified and allegedly came back from the dead, they grew in numbers and power. These people of The Way, who shared, cared and spoke out against injustice were dangerous, they were upsetting the status quo and they needed to be stopped at any cost, even death.

So Saul began a campaign of misinformation to rile up people who would be willing to confront The Way people. And he had pretty good success. He pushed people to stone one of these apostles who were keeping the memory of Jesus alive. He got the temple authorities in Jerusalem to give him official papers to root out followers in Damascus. Anyone Jew who was off track with this Jesus stuff needed to be silenced. Ensuring that the religion was followed correctly was more important than people’s lives. And really, it was their own fault if they were imprisoned, harmed or killed. Afterall, they were wrong. For Saul, his religion and beliefs meant that some people didn’t matter or worse yet, shouldn’t exist.

But then on the road to Damascus, there was a flash of light, a voice and darkness. “Why are you persecuting me?” It was Jesus. The Christ, the spark of God’s love who lives in us all, proclaiming that harming any person is harming Godself and that if his religion was causing him to hate someone, he needed a new religion. Saul was suddenly confronted by his own hypocrisy and previous inability to see what he was really doing. Saul’s companions escorted him the rest of the way to Damascus, where Saul sat in darkness, hunger and thirst for three days and waited for Ananias.

Ananias had heard about Saul of Tarsus, who among The Way hadn’t? Saul was hunting them down like prey and apparently had the backing, even if unofficially, of the Temple authorities. Suddenly, Ananias himself had a vision, he was to go help him to see. Ananias was appropriately afraid and voiced what he had heard about Saul. Could this man really be changed? But God tells Ananias that there is more than he knows about Saul, God is going to work through Saul, and work through Ananias. So a nervous Ananias goes to Saul, lays his hands on him and his vision is returned. Saul is baptized, eats and recovers. Saul had changed indeed.

We might say that the miracle is the flash of light, Jesus’ voice and Ananias’ vision. But I don’t think it was those experiences that changed the hearts and minds of Saul or Ananias. I don’t think it all happened in a flash. What if it was the journey? What if what changed those two men, is what can also change us? What if we need to stop looking for the miraculous flash of light when suddenly all is made clear and everyone lives in harmony singing Kum By Yah? What if the point of this story is that God indeed can change us but we have to do the hard work? God equipped Saul and Ananias with what they needed to see how a religious viewpoint that compels you to hate certain people or live in fear can be transformed. God equipped them to change and gave them everything they needed, each other. But they still had to do the hard work. They still had to give something up, their sight, food, drink, comfort, and safety, vocation, thought processes, and deeply held convictions.

We are having our Damascus Road moment my friends, Jesus is calling out to us-why are we persecuting him? This pandemic, the racial reckoning, the #blacklivesmatter movement, the destruction and death from wildfires, hurricanes and derechos from climate change is the flash of lightening and the vision and now we have to do the hard work of change-we have to go. We have to do the hard work of change so that not one more Black beloved person of God is murdered by our institutions, the hard work of caring for God’s creation, the hard work to see those who disagree with us not as an enemy to silence, the hard work of setting aside previously incorrect religious teachings regarding gender justice and our LBGTQIA siblings. This is hard work of the gospel, of truly loving our neighbor my friends. You and me, together, on this road and it will take more than three days and we may feel inadequate to see everything clearly but we keep doing the hard walk. We have to for there is no going back, and we have a new road, for we know God’s grace ourselves and that it is for all.

Saul changes his name to Paul to mark his transformation in the promises of God. Paul will suffer for the gospel it says, and what that means is that he gives up his own control over his life and turns it over to Jesus. We too, will suffer, we will give up our control, power, ego and our very lives so that the gospel of Jesus can be lived and proclaimed. We will have to change, transform, stop doing what we have done before particularly what denies life to any person, for in status quo and living in the past is only death. We go out, new people, with new hearts, renewed minds and we know that life will not, cannot ever be the same. But God is always the same with love, grace, mercy, strength, courage and plenty of ways to keep transforming us for the journey. Thanks be to God.

 

It’s Raining Sermon on Noah and the Promise June 14, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 14, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The text was Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18, 8: 1-12, 9: 8-13

“When it rains it pours” the old saying goes. And it feels to me like it has been pouring for a long time. And every time I think that there might be a break in the clouds, another storm moves in. So much rain all the time can be wearying. I’m from Seattle and lived in OR for many years, and day after day of rain and clouds is just the norm about nine months out of the year. So you start to look for any glimpses of sun. The meteorologists called them “sun breaks.” They would give you time frames during the day when you might see some sun so that you could go out and soak it in, or get your kids outside for a bit. Usually, the window was narrow, just a couple of hours, and it could be easy to miss.

For the past few months, it’s been pouring down rain with few sun breaks. I feel as though I’m drowning in information, crisis, emotions and worries and I’m not sure I’m that great a swimmer. When the pandemic hit, we all scrambled making decisions based on preliminary data and sorting out experts from opinions. And we’re still doing that nearly four months in because, it turns out, we’ve never seen this virus and we have no idea what the short term or let alone long term consequences of COVID 19 might be. How many will die? Who will have complications with limited quality of life? And how long will nearly 20% of our working population be unemployed? What about those with no health insurance or savings?
Then we had an earthquake, because, well, why not, and then something about murder hornets that never fully materialized, but the super volcano at Yellowstone stepped in nicely into that anxiety void.  And the strongest cyclone on record devastated the Bay of Bengal, reminding us of the earth’s fragility. And then the murder of George Floyd nearly three weeks ago, pulled the curtain back on centuries of the oppression and devaluing of black and brown bodies on this continent and sparked a movement of people of all colors proclaiming that this will no longer be accepted. And with the backdrop of these global and national events, everyday challenges continue for many us: chronic illnesses, broken relationships, isolation from family and family events canceled, and more. It just keeps raining.

The truth is that this pandemic has made us all look up and see the weather for what it is. It’s been raining, flooding for many people for a long time before the pandemic and the water levels have now risen to a point where we can no longer ignore the little bit of water seeping into the basement from time to time, such as we remember the Emanuel 9 martyrs from five years ago this week, and the 49 people killed at the Pulse nightclub massacre four years ago this week. The water is rising, and the foundation is now under water and we can see that we need to either learn to swim, get some life preservers, or build an ark. The truth is that we can’t do any of things on our own. Trying to do things on our own is what has led to this flood. We keep trying to just bail out just enough water until we’re comfortable again. But the water isn’t going away, and we feel aimlessly adrift.

The flood narrative in Genesis 6-9 has many layers to it but the truth of this story that again, has many counterparts in other ancient near east cultures, is that God acts in the flood, with the water, for new life and mercy. Yes, God does allow the flood to come, and yes, it’s very hard to think about all the people and living creatures who drowned, and we tend to gloss over that part. We need to name that this part of God’s action in the story is uncomfortable and incongruent perhaps with how we want God to act. God decides to save a few humans, whom we assume are better than us, but as we learn later, turn out to be typical messy people, and a sampling of every living creature. God shuts them into the dark, damp and smelly ark where they float on top of the flood waters for 40 days while the rains pour down. Then God remembers them, now this doesn’t mean that God forgot them, no not at all. In Hebrew literature, divine remembering is God being moved to act with compassion. God acts on behalf of the living creatures and sends God’s own breath, Spirit, ruah, drying the land, sets them on top of the mountain and after a total of 190 days, lets them out. I’m sure the people had begun to wonder if they were ever going to survive the flood themselves, if they were going to drown or what would happen when the flood was over.

The people and the animals entered into a new world. God had decided to create again,  and for Noah, his family and the creatures, it was a second chance, God offered them new life.  God recognized that the destruction of the flood isn’t the only way to create new life, and so God offered a covenant, a promise to act on the behalf of people and creatures in new way going forward. God placed a bow in the sky as a sign of this promise, and the word for bow, is for the weapon, bow and arrow. But God takes something that is used to harm and made it a multi-colored promise for new life with all creatures and creation. No matter how much rain comes, no matter how high the flood waters get, God will act with compassion, mercy and love, for us all, this is the truth in which we can place our faith and hope. God’s promise of life destroys death.

It’s raining beloved in Christ, and the flood waters are rising. God is calling us to imagine what this flood might be washing away and what new life is springing forth. God is washing away systems of racism, white supremacy, homophobia, violence and hate to bring forth new life that honors diversity, inclusion of all as created as divine, beloved and interconnected. God is acting on our behalf, and we need to step out of our arks of safety that we’ve created for ourselves to see the new creation that God is revealing, to see the rainbow, the promise that God, through Jesus, wraps us in mercy and love. We see the sun breaks, where the storm clouds work with the light to create something astonishing and gorgeous. It’s raining and the Son shines through. Amen.

 

What We Are Becoming Sermon on Genesis 1 June 5, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 7, 2020  at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.  It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please see our website oslcslc.org for a bulletin.

We are in our summer sermon series, “I Love to Tell the Story.”

The text was Genesis 1-2:4

These past few weeks (ok, months, years) have had me wondering “What are we becoming?” Chaos and disorder prevail and there’s not much that we can do about it. We are caught in a void, a nothingness where we can’t make heads or tails of what to do next or what should happen next. Each day seems like the previous day didn’t happen, as something new arises. This constant state of newness, each day, is unsettling to say the least, I mean we just get used to one thing and then along comes something else. What is coming tomorrow? What will we become in the whirlwind of constant change? What will life look like? Will we flourish?

My pondering, I know, isn’t unique or revelatory, I’m simply re-asking the question that has be considered since the beginning of humanity and a question that the Israelite people wrestled with particularly while in captivity in Assyria and Babylon. It’s not a surprise that in the atmosphere of living in a foreign country as captives, hearing the origin and identity stories of the Babylonians and other ancient Near East cultures, that they told one of their own. The creation story, or song as some scholars have noted, in Genesis 1 and 2, is the story of the earth and a people becoming. Only this story is unlike any other origin story of any other culture in the ancient Near East. All those origin stories, how the world and humans came to be, were violent, all aspects of life born from battles, embedding in the culture of the people that life was a fight, becoming a people meant conquering others and the land, and winning was everything.

But not so for the Israelites. When they tell the story of how everything comes to be, they start with God. And God began creating with what in Hebrew is called tahu and wabohu, that is chaos and disorder. Nothing that made any sense. But God’s Spirit, ruah, a wind, hovered over this chaos and disorder like a watchful mother bird. And then God spoke. God used God’s very breath and word to declare something new. Light, darkness, waters, land, plants, trees, stars, sun, moon, seasons, days, living sea creatures, cattle and creeping things, and birds. But God’s word didn’t create those things alone, no, we read that “the earth brought forth.” God’s word spurred on the earth itself to become life, good life, multiplying life, flourishing life. And then, and then…Humanity. Humans created, crafted, delightfully in God’s very image from the earth, and if you notice it’s plural there “Let us make human-kind in our image.” God expressed relationship and community from the very beginning of all things and all time. And this day, that humanity, formed by God who loves to get God’s hands dirty, and arose from the mud and muck, was very good. And then, God looked at all that had been formed with and from the earth, all the life that had been put in motion and rested. What was embedded in the Israelites was that life with God was goodness, interconnectedness and flourishing.

In Genesis, Israel names many truths about life and relationship with God: God hovers over us and reaches into the chaos and disorder and envisions life. Every day is something new. Today isn’t like yesterday and something new will be formed tomorrow. That creation and newness isn’t a once and for all activity, it’s always becoming, being brought forth. Light became day, darkness night, waters became homes for sea creatures and dry land home for land creatures. Sky became a place for birds, and weather, rain, snow, sun. People became part of creation, became part of the very life of God and life intertwined with the earth. Nothing stagnated, nothing was the same, each day, with each word, God brought forth newness and life. Life that keeps changing, growing, learning, and moving towards becoming more life. Life, it turns out, is never the same one day to the next.

This story, this truth of our origins, begs us the question, dear siblings in Christ: what are we becoming? How are we promoting flourishing? What’s embedded in us? I watched as George Floyd’s life was taken from him by force from other human beings. His breath, his life, and all the black and brown people who have been killed, can no longer bring forth more breath and life. They can’t breathe and were denied the opportunity to flourish as part of God’s creation. The systemic sin of racism and white supremacy is not what we were created to bring forth and become. In this system no one flourishes. Those of us who are white must repent of bringing this systemic sin forth and upholding it in conscious and unconscious ways every day. We must be clear that anything that denies life, breath and flourishing for any part of humanity or creation, is not of God. We must bring forth life for our siblings who’s black and brown bodies are created in God’s divine image, to flourish as God’s beloved. As well as any of our siblings who are denied life and breath for any reason, particularly as we begin pride month our siblings who are LBGTQIA. We must bring forth life with words and actions that put aside our own power, privilege, and entitlement for the flourishing of black lives that all too often haven’t mattered in world. When we say that black lives matter, that love is love is love matters, we harken to God speaking God’s word calling each part of creation into being by their specific name, seas, land, sun, moon, stars, trees, animals because they each matter specifically to God. We are to steward all of God’s creation, because our lives depend on it, to bring flourishing and vibrant life, not for our own sake but for those who lack access to it.  God’s word of life speaks goodness that God desires for all of God’s creatures.

God’s word of life as embodied and embedded in Jesus Christ, is God’s word of who we are to become as people of God. The story of life that becomes liberation, justice for those on the margins. Jesus’ life became one that scared the authorities of the Empire and of the religious institution because Jesus’ actions and words showed people that they too specifically mattered to God: Samaritan lives mattered, women’s lives mattered, children’s lives mattered, Canaanite lives mattered. And Jesus invited them into what they too could become and bring forth: God’s work and mission of the flourishing of life, not only for the rich, the powerful, for white people, for straight people, for able bodied people, but for the people who are rarely specifically named.

The people with every power and authority took Jesus’ life and breath, hoping his life could no longer become anything. But God reached into the chaos, the disorder, the void of the grave, and brought forth new life. Jesus’ new life became fully expressed in God’s power and love. And this is what is embedded in us. Our lives bring forth witnesses in the midst of tahu and wabohu, to God’s promise of new life each day. We bring forth the promise of transformation, and action to bind ourselves to each other as the body of Christ to dismantle systems of injustice that harm that deny flourishing to any in this body, for all the George Floyd’s in our society. What we are becoming, are people who bring forth God’s word and actions of flourishing life so that all may breathe. Thanks be to God.