A Lutheran Says What?

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

Jesus says #TimesUp It’s All About Love: Sermon on Mark 1:21-28 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 January 29, 2018

This Sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on Jan. 28, 2018. You can view it at http://www.bethanylive.org and look it up by the date.

The texts for the day were Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Mark 1: 21-28

 

Sometimes things are not always what they seem. The issue at hand is not really the issue at all. The toddler refusing to put a shirt is not about wearing a shirt, but about making their own choices. Or a teenager telling a parent that they don’t want them around, isn’t about overprotective or clingy parents, it’s wondering how much freedom their parents will allow. How much time do their parents really have for them, or how much do their parents really care?  Or in a marriage relationship, we don’t really dig in our heels about what time dinner is, or who should do the dishes or laundry, we’re wondering if we are in true partnership, heard and cared for. We tend to spend an inordinate amount of energy worrying about the wrong things and the actual issue can never be addressed. Often, every conflict boils down to fear. Fear of losing control of personal or communal boundaries.

I’ve noticed quite a bit of conversation in the air about boundaries. We encounter the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements as well as conversations about who is allowed to cross boundaries of countries, neighborhoods, etc. Boundaries communicate expectations and safety, we have boundaries for healthy relationships, boundaries that protect futures. Boundaries mostly seem positive but sometimes the question must be asked, positive for whom? Boundaries or the illusion of boundaries can also be used to control people or situations and when boundaries are in the hands of those with the most power and the most to lose from boundaries changing, damage can be done. We know that when someone crosses boundaries of our human worth, dignity and agency that person is suspect and dangerous. Personal boundary crossing raises red flags in our consciousness and we can even feel it in our bodies.

Damaging boundary crossing might be when people offer unsolicited opinions about us, harsh critiques, or words of how we make them uncomfortable, and when this happens, especially under the cloak of anonymity, it’s a boundary that has been crossed to the detriment of all involved. Sometimes our very existence can cross a societal norm boundary, and this makes people question the truth about boundaries and our human need to keep people in certain categories.

Our Mark 1 and 1 Corinthians 8 texts are not what they seem. In Mark, we might say this passage is about Jesus teaching with authority, or about demons, or an exorcism. In 1 Corinthians we might say that passage is about food, meat, idols or culture. But both passages are actually about boundaries. Jesus first public act in the gospel of Mark, reveals what God thinks about boundaries. We got a foretaste of that from the baptism story when the heavens were torn open and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. God’s love couldn’t even be contained by the boundary of heaven! Jesus wrestles with Satan, calls some disciples and then goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, like any good Jewish person. But Jesus did something that the ordinary person entering synagogue did not do: he taught with authority. Boundary crossed. Only the rabbis and scribes had any religious authority-but the people were caught by the nature of Jesus’ teaching. It was different, it was authentic, it revealed something about God and God’s nature. It was so revealing that a man also in the synagogue with an unclean spirit called Jesus by his true identity: Holy One of God! An unclean spirit in the synagogue is indeed another boundary crossed, in case you are wondering! We don’t know if no one knew this man had an unclean spirit or if the man had been outside and came in when he heard Jesus, we just don’t know. What we do know about Jewish purity laws is that this would have been a cause for great concern. The man should have been cast out away from everyone else for safety, but Jesus didn’t do that, he crossed the boundary and went toward the conflict, the uncleanliness, he took the issue head on.

He saw the man not as a someone to keep boundaried, but as a beloved child of God needing to be freed from a harmful boundary. Jesus leapt over the human boundary of cleanliness to bring this man into community. Jesus does this. Jesus declares that boundaries that harm us and keep us from being all who God created us to be are no more.

Jesus call us out of our human boundaries for the sake of proclaiming the gospel. God says that nothing should separate us from God and so whatever cultural norms we do or do not adhere to are irrelevant. That might mean we have to let go of worrying about how other people think we should act or how we think people around us should act. I encounter this often in my day to day life. Society tells us that women are to be small, meek and quiet. Culture tells us that we can’t take up much room, we have to leave room for the men. My spiritual director calls that spiritual anorexia. We tend to think that anorexia is about food and body image, and while that is a piece of it, it’s actually about infantilism. Encouraging women and girls to look younger is more about control. Children are helpless, lack agency and voice, women can be boundaried in this way. It’s dangerous not just to bodies but to minds and souls of girls and women as well as boys and men. We know that God calls women to be equally bold, big and loud as our brothers for the sake of proclaiming the love of God. Society tells us that men are to be tough, non-emotional, or grandiose. Plus the pressure of soul wage earner. We know that God also calls men to be equally gentle, emotional, and true partners with their sisters in the proclamation of the gospel. It’s not an either/or it’s a both/and. There’s room for all and we have to shed the worry of fitting into a boundary that is human made and not God made.

In 1 Cor. Paul is not worried about who eats what food from idols but about the boundaries that have arisen in the community. Some in the Corinth church were elite, educated and thought mostly of their own needs. Paul recognized that some in the community were struggling to understand the freedom in this pure grace from God and were still tripped up by the gods and idols of their culture around them. The elite and educated didn’t see that their eating meat from idol worship was confusing for some and frankly, the elite didn’t care. They had what was making them comfortable and what they understood, so that’s all that matters. But the dichotomy of the haves and the have nots was straining the relationships within the community and Paul beautifully lays waste to this human made boundary: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” If a boundary isn’t about love, it’s not a real boundary. And not the kind of love where you might say to someone, “I’m lovingly telling you to stay in a boundary that makes me comfortable.” No, it’s a boundary of selflessness where you put your own comforts and needs aside for you neighbor. Boundaries, Jesus declares throughout the gospels, are always about your neighbor in need. Boundaries often do make us uncomfortable as they are almost rarely about us.

But boundaries help us to name fear and anxiety when we feel it and to know that poor boundaries are often the core of conflict. Jesus proclaims that we go towards the conflict, towards the fear and anxiety to walk together, to learn from one another, to peel back the outward layers where we can get stuck in useless debate and never get to the real issue. Jesus very existence erases human boundaries. God creates boundaries for healing, wholeness, community, and living as the beloved body of Christ. God draws us all into the boundary of unending, abiding and steadfast love in the kingdom of God. This is good news indeed, and not just for some, but for all people. Amen.

Advertisements
 

Exposed John 13: 1-17, 31-35 Maundy Thursday Year C March 24, 2016 March 25, 2016

005-jesus-washes-feet

A video of the entire worship service can be accessed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

When I began my seminary journey several years ago, I started out at Iliff School of Theology here in Denver. I joined a group called the Beatitudes Society whose focus was service. One of the service opportunities included an event that DU hosted to help people who are homeless receive assistance such as a haircut, dental work, resume/job assistance, interview clothing and a medical check-up. The Beatitudes Society was there to offer foot washing to the people as they waited for medical care. Now before you think that I’m so altruistic, humble and pious, let me lay down some truth. I signed up in a moment of “This will be good for me to get out of my comfort zone.” I woke up that day thinking, “What am I doing??!!! I’m a germ-a-phobe who will be touching feet that haven’t seen soap and water in a long time and who knows what diseases they have!” I’m not super proud of that thought or that moment when I considered calling in sick. I was so uncomfortable even thinking about this, how was I ever going to make it through my two hour shift? My own preference for comfort and keeping supposedly safe boundaries rather than connecting with people who were different than myself was exposed and it didn’t feel that great. Here I was in seminary, training be a church leader to proclaim the gospel and I found myself saying, “Ummm only within certain boundaries, Jesus. Only in my comfort zone.” My own hypocrisy was exposed that day.

But I showed up, and I was handed a basin, towels and some soap. I was told to walk around and offer to wash the feet of the people who had been bused from various shelters or from the street for this event. So, taking a deep breath, I set out into the crowd. What happened in those next two hours, I never could have anticipated or even guessed. I washed the feet of a gentleman whose feet where so mangled from years on the street that I was actually afraid I would hurt him if I wasn’t careful. Most often I was turned down. I had one woman take one look at me (an obviously white, middle class woman with the resources for graduate school) and laugh that I would even dare ask her-did it make me feel good to offer her charity she asked me? That stung a bit as I realized the complexity of my own discomfort, of other people’s discomfort and the vulnerability of humanity. I was once again feeling exposed.

After that experience I was a bit hesitant to even ask again, but I did. I asked a woman about my age, if I could wash her feet. She protested and said no, but I persisted. Finally, she allowed me to proceed. We talked for a bit as I washed her feet and she began to cry. I asked her why she was crying, and she replied that this was the first time in a long time that anyone had actually treated her like a real person. I began to tear up too, as I looked up at her from my position of being at her feet, I was even more ashamed of my selfish thoughts on this task, and how I had been too afraid to get this close to someone on the margins of our society. This woman in front of me, the woman who had rightly called me out as a hypocrite and those who had turned me down, had all exposed the tension of following Jesus. They revealed the messiness of humanity, the fear of vulnerability, our inability to really be connected to one another, our preference for comfort and stability, and our human need for knowing our role and our place, and the risk of boundary breaking love for one another. They also revealed Jesus to me. In the uncomfortable exposure of all of the ways I am broken, they pointed to our mutual need for Jesus. I am forever changed and humbled by those two hours. I will admit that it turned my world of privilege and comfort upside down.

Our John story draws us all deep into the brokenness of humanity, the vulnerability of our relationships with each other and even Jesus. Jesus stoops to wash his disciples, encountering them in a most uncomfortable and intimate way; unafraid to break worldly boundaries and get too close to their messiness. This closeness was too much for the disciples and this exposed all of the ways that they were afraid of getting too close to Jesus. This fear led them to say no to Jesus, to deny Jesus and yes, even to betray him. This great love was just too much for them to bear and understand.

But Jesus washed them all, equally and together. In spite of how the world might see them or later judge them, Jesus shows them abundant love that can only come from God. This uncomfortable and all too intimate act is one that Jesus does for the disciples and for us all. It’s difficult because it exposes all of the ways that we are not Jesus and yet are still called to follow him, even though we fear, even though we are uncomfortable, even though we are imperfect.

Jesus’ act of love, exposes that no matter how stinky, broken or unlovable we might seem to one another, we also cannot detach from one another. No matter how much we want to run, call in sick or not deal with those who might scare us, deny us or even betray us, Jesus bathes us all with love to expose that we are all interconnected whether we like it or not and whether we understand it or not. In our exposed brokenness, Jesus’ purpose of unconditional love and mercy is also exposed. Revealed for all of the world to see is how Jesus’ love matters deeply; Jesus’ love heals us; Jesus’ love nourishes us; Jesus’ love binds us together so that more love can be exposed for the sake of the reconciliation of all creation.

This love is also exposed at the table through the promises in bread and wine. In these common everyday objects, extraordinary love transcends earthly boundaries and is made real. Extraordinary love that exposes grace for all, reconciliation for all and Jesus’ promise to show up in our lives each and every day in the ordinary and in the mysterious. The children celebrating first communion tonight will sit at this table, close to Jesus who welcomes them and all to the table of abundance and boundary shattering love. When Jesus’ love shows up at our feet, it moves us past our own needs, wants and comfort zones in order to connect with people whom we wouldn’t on our own connect and risk relationship. When God’s love exposes the reality of our lives, we see other people, people with disabilities, people with differing political views, people who suffer from mental illness, people who we consider unworthy, or people who we simply don’t like, we see them through the love of God, who comes close to us, even when we resist. Jesus’ love removes the boundaries that we set for ourselves and for others.

God isn’t afraid to infringe on our boundaries and come too close to us or to be exposed. Jesus’ presence among us does expose us, turn us upside down and transforms us for the sake of love made perfect in servant hood, love made perfect in suffering, love made perfect in discomfort, and love made perfect in vulnerability. God proclaimed that we are worth the risk, worth the exposure, worth breaking boundaries and worth unconditional love. The experience of Jesus’ love doesn’t leave us alone, but gets too close, breaks our human boundaries, transforms us and makes us new so that everyone whom we encounter is exposed and has an experience of this same love in Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.