A Lutheran Says What?

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

We Can Learn a New Trick! June 1, 2016 Wednesday Worship: Pondering the Parables Luke 5:33-39 June 23, 2016

A friend of mine has embarked on a new vocational adventure after years as a CIO of large corporation. He took his observations and learning from his many years of leadership in the technology world and created a company with his wife called People Before Things. After all his years in corporate America, Chris observed that when you put people and their needs first in an organization, change was smoother. That didn’t mean catering to individual agenda’s or preferences, but acknowledging that collaboration, community, and relationships deeply mattered. It also doesn’t mean that you back down from change or trying something new, but understood that some would get it and some would not. You can’t make everyone happy and it’s very difficult to combine new technology into old technology. The two systems often couldn’t speak to one another. A new system meant, just that, a new system. You could maybe patch it together for a while, but that would never be a sustainable long term solution. New required full by-in. So the tension of leadership is inviting people into a vision of the new, affirming that change is hard and yet, uncompromisingly moving forward in a direction that is life-giving for all.

I’m often struck as a church leader how sometimes the supposed “secular” world has better paradigms and strategies for change than the Church, whose whole reason for being is to declare that God is doing a new thing and we’re an important part of it. We are people of resurrection, newness, life from death and yet we cling to “the way we’ve always done it” like it’s an oxygen mask on a decompressing plane. What are somethings we think we have to do? We have to do: Sunday morning worship, confirmation, Sunday school, youth group, kneel for confession, etc.

What if I told you that really none of those things might matter to the new generation? What if welcoming those who are not born and raised Swedish/Norwegian/German Lutheran meant that we don’t worry about some of the practices that are really ethnic or geographical in tradition and not actually theological or necessary? What if I told you that ten years from now Sunday morning expression of worship may not be the most central part of being Church? Crazy right?

Here in Luke 5, Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry but already he is catching flak from the institutional leaders. Jesus, pure Jewish people don’t eat with the poor, the diseased, the outsiders, the tax collectors, the unclean. We’ve never done that. Jesus, we always fast and are very pious with our prayers. This is what we do. Your disciples aren’t doing it right. Even John’s disciples are better versed in the traditions than yours. You had better take care of this!

The religious establishment and my guess even some of the everyday lay folk, were deeply confused and genuinely worried about this itinerate, street preacher and healer who didn’t seem to understand the way it has always been done. Someone had better set him straight before too many people began to think that not fasting, and hanging out with unclean people were ok activities!

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is one that pierces at our hearts today. God is doing a new thing. You can’t take a patch of the new kingdom and simply graft it onto the old one. The integrity of the new kingdom is lost. And you can’t take new wine and put it in old wineskins. The old wineskins simply can’t handle the growth of the new wine-they will burst and then all is lost. New wine needs new wineskins. God’s new kingdom needs new structures and new rules. Rules that don’t exclude certain people and require certain behavior to fit in, but rules that allows for all to be included and invited into because the only rule is love. Complete and whole love of God and neighbor.

But Jesus knows that it’s not as simple as telling the Pharisees or us, that preserving traditions that aren’t rooted in God’s love for all people in all times and in all places is not what God is all about. Jesus knew that we would have to witness first hand that this kingdom of God is not about being comfortable, status quo, resting on laurels and security. Jesus very presence was a new garment and new wineskins. Jesus came to show us that God’s primary concern is for the wholeness of all people and creation over the things of worldly structures that kept some people on the margins and not in full community. Jesus very presence heralded God’s proclamation that nothing can stay the way it is. It’s not that traditions are bad, but rituals and traditions unexamined and done just for the sake of doing them and not for the sake of love of God and neighbor, always need to be rethought. When we put our neighbor first, ahead of our own comforts and preferences, we proclaim the good news of the God’s structure of new life, unconditional love and unleashed hope for all people.

Jesus knows that as humans we will always revert to what is easiest, comfortable and what we know. But Jesus loves us too much to leave us in our comfortableness. Jesus calls us and invites us into this new kingdom where transformation brings wholeness, freedom from what binds us to sin and death and ushers in life, true life where all are valued and loved. Jesus calls and invites us to be the new garment for all the world to see and the new wine for all the world to taste. Jesus calls us to move beyond our culture, our preferences, our own hang-ups to be truly alive in the truth that the gospel, the good news of God’s active Holy Spirit in the world can’t and won’t be hindered by our human brokenness. God’s kingdom transcends those human structures and bursts them like old wineskins for a new thing to grow. It might at first taste bitter, like new wine, or not be as comfy as an old, worn garment, but God created us with the capacity for new, to grow, to participate in what God is up to around us. God promises to never leave us alone as we step out into this newness and is always on the road with us, even when we can’t recognize God’s presence.

Even while we have ancient traditions that announce the in-breaking of the kingdom of God-water, bread and wine, God is always doing a new thing through them to guide us and call us into this new economy where there is only abundance and room for all. Water, bread and wine are not exclusionary markers of God’s kingdom but radical inclusionary markers that no one is left out of the newness that God is pouring into the world. God is pouring that newness into each of us every single day. We are sent into the world as workers with God in this newness. God continues to work in us, through us, and with us for the sake of love. God’s promise is that you, all people and all creation will always come before the things of this world. No structure, tradition or rule will keep you or anyone else from the love of God. Thanks be to God for that!

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OS 2.0 God’s Operating System Mark 1: 21-28 February 1, 2015

I always am amused when the newest iPhone or iPad or gadget de jour is released; everyone waits in line for hours or days, with excitement that rivals that of Christmas or their birthday, and the confidence that THIS newest version of technology will be awesome, exactly what they want it to be and will change their lives for the better. And then it’s released and people have a day or two learning their new gadget and then the complaints start rolling in. “Why doesn’t my iTunes sync like before? Where is the weather app? Oh I really don’t like the new keyboard layout. I have no idea how to actually answer a phone call. The map app drove me into a lake!” While many features of the new technology are wonderful, what people inevitably focus on is the newness of the operating system that causes them to have to do something different from before. Some will complain, but learn from someone else (like a grandchild) and adapt, some will go back to their old technology and operating system and some will keep the new technology but ignore whatever it is they don’t understand about the new system.
This is the human cycle around something new in our lives. We are bombarded with “new” at an ever increasing rate in our 21st century world. Something “new” is discovered, revealed, and integrated nearly daily thanks to social media, the inter-webs, television, and our global networking. It can be exhausting, even for this Gen Xer. Luckily, I have teenagers all around me who will coax (ok, harass) me into learning, growing and embracing the newness when I think I’ve reached my capacity for change.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, this cycle of how we adapt to new isn’t new. In the educational psychology realm it’s referred to as “disequilibrium” and it’s actually necessary for learning. Our brains have to be a little thrown off, if you will, in order to absorb and integrate (that’s key in education) new information or experiences. Alongside disequilibrium is the necessity of group think. If you experience disequilibrium in a vacuum all by yourself, odds are you won’t integrate as much information, reject more of it and frankly, have better odds of becoming stagnate and resistant to new information. Our brains are actually wired for community. So upsetting whole systems of people is the quickest way to integrate new ideas. Apple and Facebook are the reigning champions of this in our culture. They keep pushing new ways of thinking on us and we keep accepting it-albeit sometimes begrudgingly.
The gospel of Mark heralds what change can do to a large group of people quickly. I love the gospel of Mark. Pastor Rob asked me if it was my favorite gospel and I realized, yes, yes it is. Couple of reasons: 1) it’s the Reader’s Digest version of Jesus-16 chapters-neat and tidy. 2) Things happen quickly! Jesus gets stuff done! Hallelujah! 3) Status quo is so blatantly ignored and challenged that it makes your head spin. Yes, this is the gospel for me. And this episode from Mark 1 highlights all of these things-eight verses and the whole world changes for a group of people in a synagogue.
Jesus, fresh from baptism and gathering a few companions for the journey, decides to go to synagogue on the Sabbath. Status quo enough, right? But the second Jesus opened his mouth to talk and teach; status quo was disrupted. The system was altered. His teaching was different, new, astounding, and de-centering. It was so new that an unclean spirit in a man took notice and was immediately aware that it’s time was up. Jesus teaching was so different that people began to talk amongst themselves and wondering what to do not just with the teaching that they had heard with their ears, but the teaching that they had seen with their eyes. The people were used to coming to synagogue and hearing about God and being taught, but for the words of God’s presence to be made into actions right in front of them? No real framework for that! This was not a magic trick or an illusion of a demon being exorcised-Jesus’ commanding word made healing, freeing and life-giving stuff-happen. What is this, they kept asking each other? What do we do with this new information? Who is this? Is Jesus the Holy One of God as the unclean spirit said? Can you hear the den of conversation in that synagogue on a Saturday as they grappled with this new operating system? The man who was freed from the demon was changed forever, right there in everyone’s presence. Abundant life was offered him freely, the man didn’t participate or promise to do anything to be freed from his demon. Jesus simply did it, revealing that something new in the earthly system was happening and everyone was confused.
Jesus’ very presence on earth, God dwelling among us, sets the whole world into disequilibrium. Jesus reveals that the world’s system of what separates us from God: the demons of fear, scarcity, consumerism, ego, self-preservation, materialism, (what are other demons you deal with?) are no longer the dominate system that we live in. God proclaims that the system of love, abundance, wholeness, community, and joy is now being revealed and available to all. But this system will change us, we will have to do things differently. God’s system is one of transformation, being made new every day, constant integration of our identity in God’s system as a beloved child of God above and before anything else. God’s system isn’t afraid of change and confronting what demons need to go, in order for this new way of being the people of God to be not just heard, but seen, lived, and experienced by all.
God’s system will and does transform us-it throw us into disequilibrium here at LCM in Lakewood, CO in 2015. Each and every day we are invited into the newness of God’s operating system through the love and mercy of Jesus Christ to be amazed at what God is up to and we wrestle as a community with the questions “what is this? Did you see what Jesus did?” We might be swept up into this system and try to ignore what we don’t understand, try to adapt and realize that we need all the voices of all the generations and demographics around the table to reveal to one another how astounding God’s new system is compared to the world’s operating system.
We might be tired and unsure if we have the capacity for much more to be new. But Jesus assures us that he is leading the way in this new operating system and has done the hard work of removing the demons of fear and death that keep us from God’s offer of abundant life. Instead of being pushed along as the world tries to, the Holy Spirit accompanies us and walks with us so that as we live our lives we are participating in God’s work of loving our neighbors, feeding those who are hungry, being with the lonely, standing with those who others ignore, and all of the ways that our very lives are a new way of operating in the world. Jesus’ new teaching promises that God’s system of love, mercy and forgiveness can be accessed, experienced, and lived into by all and will make us different. Jesus teaches us that God is transforming us and the whole of creation right here, right now and each and every day; revealing who God is and who we are as God’s people for the sake of the whole world. Thanks be to God!

 

Welcome to the Twilight Zone January 3, 2015

I’ve written before about the female clergy experience so, if you’re bored or over that topic, then I would move on from this. But if you’re still here, indulge my ramblings for a bit and I promise I move beyond gender towards the end.
It’s a well known fact that the vocation of clergy can be a lonely one, regardless of gender. You just quite don’t fit anywhere. I don’t want to diminish or negate that experience for my male colleagues as it is true and is difficult to navigate. But in conversations with other female colleagues (including an extensive one with my best friend who is also clergy), as well as watching and experiencing what can happen on-line to female clergy, I offer that we have an added unique layer to our experience. What makes this particularly challenging is that God’s very vision for humanity, the vision that many of us daily participate in, espouses radical equality and relationships. Yet, for many, our experience is anything but that. (I want to say up front that I think these challenges exist for women in the secular workplace as well.)
You Don’t Quite Fit in with the Women’s Groups
If you assume that as female clergy, we would have this whole set of people who would welcome us to be a part of their circle because women are so much more relational than men, you would be wrong. Reality is that many of the parishioners have been in the congregation for years, decades even, they have a fairly tight bond and so adding this “new girl” in isn’t on the radar. After all, we are the pastor so our main role is to pray or lead worship at the Women’s Retreat, right? Who wants the pastor at their Bunco or dinner out nights? We get it. But don’t assume that we would say no to an invite. Many people make friends at their jobs….need I say more? Many clergy, of any gender, have few if any opportunities to make friends outside of church.
Now, we don’t want to bust up bestie girl times, but just be aware that your pastor likes that too, and probably really likes you!

You Have Other Colleagues to Hang Out With
Yes…..and no….Whether we like it or not, clergy is still a male heavy vocation. (In my denomination, ELCA, only 20% of clergy are female.) Now, female clergy do get together and I, for one, want to give a shout out to all my sisters in ministry who love and support me everyday! But there is still a “good ol’ boys” club that exists and, again, we’ve noticed. Men have had the seat of power for essentially 2,000 years and we still live a in a primarily patriarchal culture, in and out of the Church. Many men are simply unaware that they, just by being male, possess more power than women. So their behavior matters-a lot.
There is still a stigma associated with hanging out with female colleagues-you might get labeled as “feminist,” “weird,” or it might raise an eyebrow that opposite gender colleagues can hang out. Sigh…are we all still in Jr. High? So, the men will go for beer with each other or they will go out together with their wives and not even consider that it might be nice for the pastor and her husband to be part of the crowd. Once again, we get it. A pastor and a pastor husband doesn’t fit the cultural norm or paradigm. Our lives and way of being in ministry are very different and frankly, new. Now, in fairness, what the church expects of pastors wives is ridiculous. They think that they are essentially getting two employees for the price of one. Interestingly enough, no asks or expects my husband to bake cookies for Sunday morning, arrange altar flowers, lead a ministry or teach SS. Which is good, as he has a job. I don’t volunteer at his job (can you imagine?) and he volunteers only sporadically at mine.
And Then There Are the Haters
Oh yes, there are men (and sometimes other women) who “believe in the Bible” and assert that women can’t and shouldn’t be clergy. After all, we are missing very important anatomy that enables us to be rationale and intelligent. On social media, it’s not uncommon for female clergy and particularly female clergy of color to be personally and professionally attacked for following God’s call for their lives. I witnessed this just yesterday and when I offered support to this colleague, a male colleague cautioned me for being to bold and outspoken about my support and own experiences with this same issue! Can a girl get a little overt support from her male colleagues? They all talk a great talk about affirming their female colleagues ministries and give great private pep talks. But when the rubber meets the public road? Crickets. What if the “guys” see that they might support any aspect of the “feminist agenda”? Will they lose some power?
Welcome To the Twilight Zone
Here we are, caught somewhere between our deep love for our call to ministry, the context in which we serve, and the people with whom we serve and the brokenness of human relationships as a whole. The Twilight Zone of female clergy is that we have even fewer places in the Church and in society where we fit in. I often wonder if the addition of female clergy in many denominations is a microcosm of how the Church is or isn’t adapting to changing culture and norms. In my more philosophical and theological moments I can theorize away how being and living part of the change in God’s Church and being a part of what the Holy Spirit is up to in the world is a gift and a privilege. I can convince myself that all of my colleagues, male and female, are doing the best we can and it just is what it is. I can reassure myself that all of my, and my sisters in ministry, uncomfortable moments are part of change, part of revealing Christ at work in us all and in the world. Change is hard, change is scary, change is unsettling. Change questions power, personal identity, and status quo.
This is not just change for the male clergy, but change for the female clergy too. We are just as complicit in all of the above challenges and uniqueness as the other players. We don’t always handle the situation in the best way and let our humanness get the better of us. We don’t speak up for ourselves for fear of not being liked. We don’t remember that the only person we can change and control is ourselves. We don’t practice the 8th Commandment as often as we should.
How can we as the intentional people of God name these pieces in healthy and productive ways for conversation? How can we finally move beyond conversation to self-examination and truth telling about our own fears: fear of loneliness (as the common human experience), fear of loss of identity, fear of loss of power, and fear of the unknown? How can we truly live with one another in our primary identity as children of God?
I am hopeful, honestly. I think we will together wrestle with these questions and realities and then realize that it’s our commonalities as people and people of God that has the power to over come these challenges. This is not just about those on the “inside” of the Church-this is about God’s mission for all people to know the love of God in their lives. What if we as “being the Church” could really live together in such a way that people were naturally drawn to this community of faith? What if we let go of our need for power and control in our own lives and gave into the power of God’s radical love?What if the only power we need to consider is that of the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, make us new creations and move us from where we are today? What if we all truly believed in God’s promises that we all fit in?
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3: 28

 

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

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 6:38 pm
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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.

 

Google, the apostles and who we are January 13, 2014

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 1:48 am
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It’s probably not going to shock anyone if I tell you that our world and culture has undergone radical change in the past 50 years or so. We have experienced massive shifts in nearly every aspect of our lives and it has molded, shaped and reoriented how we think, relate to one another, our vocations and how we communicate . In these shifts, we have learned to take in information at a rate that was unthinkable 50 years ago. Today’s teenagers absorb more data in a day than those of us that are over 30 did in a month at their age. We have these powerful computers that we carry in our pockets. Don’t know something? Google it! Want people to think you know something? Google it! We can know almost anything for our selves and the idea of “experts” is a thing of the past. We can find out how almost anything works in a matter of seconds and we love it! We are now our own expert and because of this we now think that we can control more of our lives and able keep up with the all the changes around us.
Some of the side effects, if you will, of the ability to see and know how everything works, is that we get overwhelmed by the amount of information, by the amount of change, the amount of what we can’t control and we begin to doubt what it is that we actually DO know. So, we put on blinders and think that if we can just figure out how to control our little corner of the world, our daily lives, then we might be able to navigate all of this. But question that I think remains is, if everything around us is changing rapidly then who are we in all of this? What is our role and identity?
All of these massive culture shifts have impacted the institutional church in profound ways and the clash of culture and institutional church has caused many to completely rethink or walk away entirely from a relationship with God. Many people now claim that any sort of God or deity, holy scriptures or faith community doesn’t make a dimes worth of difference in their daily lives and any identity as a child of God is irrelevant. They can just be good people, living a good life, and they don’t need the hypocrisy of Christianity or so called Christian people. Here’s the rub-in some ways that’s all true. It is possible to just toodle along in life without reading ancient words, praying, eating, sharing joys and sorrows with a community of people who proclaim that above all the technology, science, medical advancements is a God who simply wants to love all people and draw all people into relationship. It’s possible to think that this life is all that there is and nothing more. It’s possible to rationalize anything that can’t be explained readily by science and to ignore the mystery of our full humanness-physical and spiritual. It’s possible to just think as people, we are who we are and nothing can change that. I think if we were all honest, we have to admit to at one point or another wondering what difference Jesus makes in our lives and in our identity.
I don’t think our time is so different than that of the early church that we read about in Acts this morning. The first apostles were now dealing with the fact that they were proclaiming a messiah that was now no longer visible-God’s son that had come to dwell among them in the flesh had been crucified, buried, raised and had returned to God. The tangible evidence was gone and so now it rested on them to tell people were about their experiences with Jesus, the difference he had made in their lives, the importance of the community together, how Jesus had changed their whole outlook on themselves, and the world around them. And in doing this, their very identity had shifted from disciple of Jesus to apostle-sent into the world.
The early apostles were struggling with how and to whom to tell this story of God’s amazing love and grace to a world that didn’t really want to hear it, couldn’t understand it but was desperate for it at the same time. Initially, they shared it only with other Jewish people. Kinda an easier sell because the Jewish people already believed in God and knew the prophets and the story of God. But here in chapter 10, Peter and the others have a new problem: they discover that God is working outside of their expectations and their comfort zone. They discovered God started working in the secular, Gentile, unbelieving world. Now what? Can God work through these people who have never even read the Torah or the prophets? But what if they don’t believe and act the same way as us? They will eat different food and use different language and just are…different.
An existential crisis for sure. The apostles probably intrinsically knew that these Gentile’s differences were bound to rub off on them and cause them change somehow too. How much change is ok while still being faithful to the core message? What were they to do?
In a rare moment of clarity for Peter, he catches a glimpse that this message of love, grace and mercy cannot be contained and kept neat. That the love of God in Jesus Christ has been let loose in the world and DOES make a difference in the world-more than he could even realize! So much so that even Gentiles-gasp-wanted to know more, wanted to care for those who are on the outside of society, wanted to hear the story and know that they were loved. In Jesus, they realized there is a hope that can’t be found anywhere else. Not just hope for life after death, but hope for the world not to always be what it is, hope for peace to be the rule, hope for the sick to be whole, hope for the hungry to be fed and the lonely to be in community. What difference Jesus made for the Gentiles was that God offered them, these supposed outsiders, the opportunity each and everyday to participate fully in this hope. They were a part of something beyond themselves.
The apostles themselves were awakened to how much Jesus does make a difference– because in Jesus Christ, God says that all people are loved and have worth, not just those with whom the apostles were comfortable. In Jesus Christ, God showed us how we live together as God’s people. The Gentiles grasped that in midst of everything else in their lives– what was foundational was this love and belonging and opened up the apostles to the depth and breadth of Gods love.
In Acts 10, we hear Peter’s moment of suddenly realizing that God was truly for all, no matter what. Just when we think that we know how God will work in the world, God will do a new thing. Peter and the apostles and later Paul, recognized this shift, that God was working in questioning, in wondering, in the secular, in the stranger, in the outsider and in the unknown. God’s love was transforming the world in ways that looked like shifting sand to the apostles but was more certain than ever to those experiencing it for the first time.
Our culture and society has changed and is still changing and it is important that we acknowledge that and, like the apostles, learn how to proclaim the good news of Gods love in this particular place and time. But our basic identity of beloved children of God is the unchangeable promise that we all share. We know from the Bible that God’s love and grace transcends culture and that God promises to be with us always. We are reminded of this in the waters of baptism, in the bread and in the wine, in the hearing together of the story of God’s unconditional love. This is what we know will never change even when everything else around us does. Thanks be to God.

 

I am grateful for friends, family and strangers November 29, 2013

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So, as I wind down this month of blogging, I have to admit my plan for today was to take the “easy way out” and write about what I am grateful for. And I do plan to talk about that but perhaps not in the way I had originally intended. As I blogged about yesterday, I am grateful for so much in my life and this gratitude is the basis for experiencing and knowing pure joy in our everyday lives. I could give the litany of what I am grateful for but I am going to narrow it to relationships past, present and future.

As I wrote about early in the month, my grandma died a month ago. When my family and my sisters family made our Thanksgiving plans in September, we had assumed grandma would be a part of our celebration. While she was not physically present today, she was most definitely present in other ways. My mom is still in the process of sorting through her things and she has found a refugee family from Africa to give her furniture, she found a single mom with two kids to give away food, and the rest has come back to her house. Today she brought out my grandma’s everyday jewelry for my sister, daughter and I to look at. Now my grandma had nothing of real value but she LOVED to wear dangle earrings and matching necklaces. She also had some beautiful scarves. My sister, daughter and I picked out a couple of things (the rest will be shipped to my aunt and her daughter) and told stories of grandma.

When we gathered around the table this year it was wonderful that my parents had both of their children as well as all of their living grandchildren present. The cousins got along (my children are a lot older so they just do whatever the little girls want) and had a great time drinking hot cocoa and eating pie. My daughter goes to college next year so who knows when all of the cousins will be together again?

The family gathering alone was great but I was also honored with several text messages, emails and Facebook messages from friends from the past, friends from my congregation and friends who are also colleagues of well wishes for this Thanksgiving day. I was struck by how many people I intersect with and how they each bring an important relationship into my life for different reasons. God has brought all of these people into my life and I am more than grateful, I am joyous over their presence. It also reminded me how if I sat and texted or emailed everyone in my life who brings me joy, it might take me more than a day! I have a friend who decided to pray through her list of Facebook friends this year. She would contact each person and ask how she could pray for them that day. When she contacted me, I was so moved and grateful for her prayers that day.

This leads me to ponder who I have yet to meet that will grace and bless my life? How can I be prepared for their presence and be prepared to be a blessing in their life as well? How does God open us up to the stranger for relationship? As a military brat, I have been the new girl more times than I can count and I am acutely aware of how hard it is to break into established groups even if you are invited in. Regardless of how well you get along, or how wanted you might be, just the fact that you are now there changes everything for those established relationships that were there before you. This is true even in places or systems that claim to be inviting or welcoming or whatever hospitable word you use, which in my experience would be church. We say we want new people and we welcome, call, send a letter, invite to a class or into a ministry and we may mean it when we invite, until they cause us to share our established friendships, or change how we move in our daily lives. Human nature causes us to not like to be uncomfortable or uncertain of our primary relationships and so when this happens our tendency is to pull in and draw tight boundaries to keep the newness and change at bay or in control.

We are all guilty of wanting status quo and opening ourselves up to a bit of chaos and change is daunting for even the most bold risk taker-especially when it comes to new relationships. So as we are grateful for the familiarity around our dinner tables today-and we should be!-how can we be grateful for new people yet to be met, for the changes they might bring, for the presence of God that they will be in our lives and for how they might change our lives and maybe God’s world.