A Lutheran Says What?

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

Don’t Look Away Sermon on Reign of Christ Sunday November 20, 2020

This sermon was proclaimed on Nov. 22, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts for Christ the King Sunday were:

Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Matthew 25: 31-46

Have you heard of the “red car” phenomena? It goes something like this: You decided that you want to buy a red car, and suddenly, it’s all that you see. You notice how many red cars are in your neighborhood, at work, for sale, etc. This psychology works in all kinds of ways. Once, as a child, I wanted a certain doll and that commercial for the doll was on all the time so I thought that meant I should have it. That is not what that meant, by the way.But something gets your attention and then it’s all that you can see. And once you notice, you can’t unsee it. Often it is positive such as an object that might truly be useful to us and other times, it’s something we wish we had never seen, such as a tragedy. We might think that it’s not good to see those negative situations and try to sweep it under a rug. But often, once we know, it doesn’t just go away. And we all know that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
This year has given us much that we can’t unsee. Things that we didn’t or refused to see before now. We can’t unsee disparity of responses to a deadly disease, where often money was prioritized over health and well-being of people. We can’t unsee communities of color, Native American and immigrant communities ravaged at an alarming rate from COVID19 versus white communities. We can’t unsee low wage workers suddenly become essential or unsee the growing numbers of infected and or the dead stacked up in morgue trailers or put in unmarked graves. We can’t unsee the final straw in institutional racism and white supremacy break as people can’t unsee George Floyd calling out to his mother as he was murdered. We can’t unsee the long lines at food banks, or the people facing losing housing or the effects of climate change destroying communities. And maybe that’s the point.

In our gospel text today, there is a lot going on, and to add more freight to the passage, it’s Christ the King Sunday. As a fairly new liturgical holiday, (and if I’m honest, not my favorite as the “king” language seems a bit patriarchal, colonial and hierarchal and gives me hives) it originated less than 100 years ago by a Pope Pius XI in an attempt to build a coalition of resistance to the rise of fascism he was witnessing in the world. He declared a Sunday (originally in the spring) to be Christ the King or the Reign of Christ Sunday. He was very concerned about what he was seeing with people professing their faith in and allegiance to authoritarian charismatic leaders rather than to God. Or worse, conflating that leader with God’s will. The intent was a Sunday to reflect and confess that God is sovereign and people are not. A day to recalibrate political views and hearts to what God sees and desires for God’s creation. The Pope’s hope, perhaps naïve hope, is that people would see and understand the harm happening and remember that they follow a God of love. It was his attempt to halt what would take place in the 30’s and 40’s with xenophobia, genocide, racism, homophobia, war, and hate, all supported and even sanctioned by many institutional churches. Not all churches, it’s true, but too many stayed silent or spoke out too late against these atrocities. In the end it was clear that the Church was complicit in the suffering and oppression that the church is supposed to alleviate. The Church looked away while 6 million people: Jews, LBGTQIA, refugees and supposed traitors went to death camps. They looked away while whole countries and communities were decimated. They looked away while people went hungry, unclothed, and languished from disease and torture. They look away from the rising black smoke from burning bodies in the crematorium. They looked toward their own comfort, safety, and security. They looked toward proximity to power and authority. They looked to ensure their own future and prosperity. They looked to be their own king in their lives. This is what Pope Pius didn’t want to see.

They forgot, as we do, that they serve a different kind of king, or really the anti-king. A king who renounces his own power and authority, a king who is put to death for boldly hanging out with the powerless and seeking to protect them from suffering, a king who sees the world not for what it can offer him but what he can offer the world. A king who sees the world as it should be, not as it is. Most of the world, particularly those with power and status, clearly didn’t truly see Jesus. To see Jesus is to see the world differently. It’s to look beyond oneself and not look away when harm is being done.

Interestingly, in Matthew 25 neither the sheep nor the goats, knew when they had seen Jesus. They both asked, “When did we see you and when did we not see you?” Jesus simply states that we see Jesus when we see people whom we don’t want or refuse to see. You see, when we see Jesus, we have to see everyone who comes along with Jesus. Jesus was always with the wrong crowd, the authorities said, the people who weren’t considered upstanding members of society, according to arbitrary rules. But it’s those people who Jesus saw, and knew by name. People who have been incarcerated, who live without housing, people on borders shoved together in overcrowded cells, people who suffer from addiction, people with disabilities. We can’t see Jesus and not see the whole community of Jesus. And not just see them, but be in relationship and learn their names, their lives, their wisdom and work together to relieve the suffering of all.

What we forget is that Jesus sees us, too, our wholes selves, each intricate piece of us, the part of us that is a sheep and the part of us that is a goat. Jesus doesn’t want us to be separated into categories or separated within ourselves. Jesus wants us to be whole, to be one, as that is how Jesus sees us-all people and creation-together. Not as sheep or goats, or rich or poor, or hungry or too well fed, healthy or sick. Jesus understands that we all suffer when we separate and categorize one another and ourselves. We languish in our own incompleteness in not recognizing gifts in people whom we assume don’t have anything to offer us. Jesus is an “anti-king” who can give us the vision of how we should see and understand the value not only in ourselves but in all people and the world. Jesus sees and calls us to this God vision.

Yes, it’s hard, yes we will be uncomfortable. It is risky to see the world this way, as it will compel us to act and others may try and separate from us. But that’s what it is to see, be a part of Christ’s reign of fulfilling love and belong to Jesus’ anti-kingdom, it’s to see and belong to the one body of Christ, a living, breathing, acting and loving force that refuses to not look away from who and what matters to Jesus and in Christ’s kingdom and kin-dom. May we only see Jesus.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

When we have more questions than answers November 24, 2013

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 8:35 pm
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There are many things in life that we don’t understand or that don’t make sense to us aren’t there? Things that just don’t quite jive or questions that don’t have a nice, logical and feel good answer. On Facebook this week there was a beautiful video on Huffington Post about a premature baby boy named Ward. Ward’s dad is a photographer and a videographer by vocation and so when he and his wife’s baby was born at 25 weeks at 1 lb. 5 oz. he began to record Ward’s life-however long it may be. On the one year anniversary of Ward coming home, he took all that footage and made a 6 minute video of Ward’s journey to date for his wife. There is no dialog, just some frames with a little background on the situation and a simple song by the Fray. It begins with the first time mom holds Ward at four days old in the NICU. She doesn’t speak even one word as she holds her tiny baby up to her chest but her facial expression speaks volumes. How did we get here? Why are we here? What did we do wrong? What will happen now?

The video goes on to document Ward’s fairly miraculous improvement in NICU, going home after 107 days and the transition to being at home. There are moments of pure joy, amazement and wonder along with the harsher realities of life with a preemie whose future is less certain than most babies. There are still questions and that hang over this little boy and his parents. Questions to which there are not satisfying answers. They daily live in the paradox of what they can know and what they can only hope for.

Our gospel text for this morning-Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday is the crucifixion of Jesus with two criminals. And these ten verses are also ripe with questions for which there are no easy answers. The women and other people who followed Jesus to the cross had to have been asking, “how did this happen? How did we get here? Jesus has not done anything to deserve this.” Essentially why do bad things happen to good people? We hear the soldiers questioning Jesus’ kingship-this is what a king looks like? Hanging on a cross with the common thief? And one of the criminals upon hearing who he was being killed with asked the rather snarky question of “Aren’t you the messiah? Then fix this!” And then there is the other criminal’s rebuttal question of “Don’t you fear questioning God since you have done something wrong and getting what you deserve?”

This short narrative encompasses our daily and real struggle with God in our life and what our culture thinks of God in the world. We struggle because on the one hand we think that in order to be faithful to the idea of Jesus as king, we have to lift up some sort of super hero image of Jesus for society to believe it. Jesus is the victorious king over everything and so therefore Jesus will save the day and my life will be all sunshine and roses. And if I don’t project that idea but question where this king is when I am suffering, then maybe I am denying Jesus as Peter did or I am not grateful.

Yet, as do all the people in this story-we have questions-deep, difficult, “long night of the soul” kind of questions. We read this story and can’t help but to wonder about suffering. We can proclaim to believe that Jesus did die, was raised again and rules this world but yet it can feel like that belief doesn’t put food on the table, finds a job, or heals cancer, or saves a marriage. Like the first criminal we ask: If you are the messiah then save me-fix this immediate mess. And we might even have friends trying to be helpful who say: ” You somehow messed up and deserve your suffering, don’t blame or question God! Aren’t you afraid of what God will do with your doubt?” Someone said to me once that it is ok to be mad at God because we have a big enough God who can take it.

This is the reality of our daily journey with God I think. We wonder, are amazed, question, wrestle, believe, doubt, sometimes all before breakfast! We live in the tension of our questions to God and the truth of the promise that is offered to us by the very one we question. In the midst of the chaos and tension, Jesus offers these words: Today, this day, you will be with me in paradise. Jesus doesn’t condemn the questioners or the questions or try to give pat answers but proclaims the promise of loving us so much that Jesus will be with us in our suffering, pain, even if it is self inflicted. Jesus wants to be with us no matter what and in that presence we can catch a glimpse of what paradise might be like: living in God’s eternal promise of hope and reconciliation.

There is nothing about proclaiming Christ’s reign in the world that is clear or simple. We proclaim a king that the world can’t grasp. Jesus’ kingdom has nothing to do with fanfare, parades, extraordinary buildings, wealth or earthly love of power but Jesus’ kingdom is in the ordinary: the sinners, the tax collectors, the poor, the sick and the lame. Jesus didn’t use weapons to proclaim his presence or power but used water, wine and bread-everyday stuff to show us that God is here. Like baby Wards parents, we are still caught in the brokenness of a creation not yet healed and yet we live in the hope of what we know to be true but can’t fully see, because we can catch glimpses of God’s presence and Jesus’ reign-this promise of paradise right here and right now. We see preemies who go home, food boxes distributed to hungry households, housing, meals and assistance for homeless families, food, water, medical aid, love and support to the people of the Philippines or the people of Illinois, who have lost everything including loved ones. We can wonder and ask why these things happen or why there is not a Disney happy ending for these situations and yet we can also proclaim that Christ’s reign is real in these places and times. We can point to the one who endured real suffering, real death and real resurrection and promises that reality for us all. Christ’s reign encompasses and holds all of these paradoxes in our lives together.

It’s not neat, it’s not clean, it’s not simple but it is real and God’s promises are true and come to us today-this day and everyday through the kind of king who loves us unconditionally and without a second thought is in the suffering with us, walks beside us, holds our questions and doubt and who promises that we will be with him forever. Thanks be to God.