A Lutheran Says What?

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

Changed by Water: Baptism August 31st, 2016 Romans 6: 3-4 September 8, 2016

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*You can go to http://www.bethany-live.org to watch the worship service.

Have you ever walked in the rain? Being from WA and OR, I have a lot. When you walk in the rain, you see how water changes things. Water makes plants and crops grow, water sustains our lives, water cleans the earth, water cleans us. We also know that water causes things to be destroyed: water erodes rocks, in LA we see how too much water destroys homes, water even causes death to animals and people. The news rarely shows us the good that water does, only the harm. Water is everywhere on earth, even if it’s just small amounts, water is powerful and is a source of death and life, it’s constantly changing the world. We use water in our sacrament of baptism (a sacrament is an action that we do as a community to reveal God’s promise of love and life) and it’s a curious thing isn’t it that we pour water, something that can cause us harm, on babies and young children (sometimes older youth and adults).
We tend to think of baptism as part of God’s promise of something a long way off-when we die from this body and earth and live with God. It’s easy to think of this as not something that affects our daily life-today Wednesday August 31st, 2016. Baptism IS partially about what happens when we die from our earthly bodies-baptism reminds us that we are never separated from God and God will gather us up in God’s arms when we die and offer us resurrection-life with God forever. But baptism is even more than that! The new life that Paul is writing to the church in Rome about is about our lives today, right here, right now. Baptism changes our todays, not just our tomorrows.
Baptism is a public proclamation for what God has done for us and for all people. When we pour water over a baby, child, youth or adult, we are saying to the whole world that God names them as a child of God, claims them forever as belonging to and being in the life of God, and is sent out with the love of Christ to be a part of a Christian community, what we call Church, and into the world reflecting the light of Christ. It’s not that before we poured the water, they weren’t part of God’s promises for life, love and belonging, they were, God has taken care of that, we don’t have to worry about who’s in or out. Baptism is important, though, because it’s not about how we die, but it’s all about how we live, how we are changed by God to share love with the world.
Some of this is about earthly death, but it’s also about how sometimes things have to die in us in order for us to do something new. For those of you who are middle schoolers, right now some of your habits are changing, what’s dying is that you’re no longer a young child, but are a new youth. You’re changing! When you were born, your parents way of living without children died and they took on a new life as your mom and dad. Their life changed. Or when you realize that something you do isn’t helpful to you or people around you, you quit doing that habit, or it dies, and you do a new thing, you change. Baptism declares that God wants us to be new, changed people every day. God says to each of us, “I love you and I want selfishness, hate, and fear to die, to be changed to love, sharing, and joy that will grow in you so that other people can be changed by your drenching them in love, sharing and joy.” And here’s the cool thing: God says that we get to try again to change every day, even if we didn’t do that well the day before!
Water poured over us at baptism washes away, destroys, the messages from the world that tells us to look out for only ourselves, keep all our stuff to ourselves and get more stuff, and to be afraid of not being perfect, of not having enough, of all kinds of stuff. Water not only destroys these messages, but also opens us up like a cavern to be filled with what God wants to grow in us. And not someday, but every day! And we do this together, we live in faith together to ensure that all people in the world know the power of what God offers everyone: belonging, love and hope.
Baptism declares that we are changed from grave people to grace people. We don’t look for death in water like the world does, but life. God’s love poured out on us, brings us to life. When we say we’re grace people, not grave people, it means that we look for life, new life, everywhere. After Jesus died and was buried, the women went to the tomb expecting to see death but instead saw that God had raised Jesus to life! Jesus told the women and later the disciples to not look for death when God’s promise of life is everywhere. The followers of Jesus, men, women, boys and girls, saw this new life clearly in their everyday lives, and we too look for new life in all of the seemingly ordinary places we go.
We look for new life in our friendships at school. I’m sure you have all had the experience of not getting along with a classmate or a friend for a while-grace people look for how to pour out forgiveness to change the relationship. Who has fought with their parents, or brothers or sisters? Yep! We all have! Grace people look for ways to say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” in order to pour out a new beginning, new life with those family members. When you think that you’ve messed up beyond a second chance, remember that God says “new life is always here for you. Just as water is everywhere changing what the world looks like, so am I.” There is no where you can go that God won’t be there with the good news that your past mistakes, sorrow and worries die in the promises of God for new life, love forever and joy that grows in us all each day, over and over no matter what to change us and the world. Walk as grace people: wet in new life, drenched in love, and changed by joy. Amen.

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Don’t Get Distracted (And Don’t Cut Off Any Body Parts Either!) Mark 9: 38-50 Pentecost 18B Sept. 27th, 2015 September 28, 2015

In seminary I took a class in Chicago for two weeks where we studied different urban ministry settings-mostly in impoverished and struggling communities. We went to St. Sabina where Fr. Pfleger had focused on the church building up the community to provide social services and combat racism. We went to Trinity UCC with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III (formerly the congregation Jeremiah Wright served) where the focus was on building up people to be faithful followers of Jesus no matter what their struggles might be. We visited a small Lutheran congregation that ran an assisted living facility for elderly who were low income. We visited soup kitchens, programs to move people off the streets to self sufficiency and several other kinds of ministries. But the one that hit this (at the time) fledging soon to be pastor was a UCC congregation in the Latino part of Chicago.
This congregation ran a soup kitchen that fed lunch to 150 people from the streets every single day. They partnered with a nearby Catholic school for the youth to help serve; they coordinated massive food donations each week; they offered counseling for those in need, not to mention prayer and love. They were not a large congregation, maybe an average worship attendance of 100 or so and certainly not a wealthy congregation by any means. But they were focused on living out the gospel by whatever means necessary. What was more striking to all of us in the class was that this congregation had not had a pastor for two years. None, not even an interim. They had some supply pastors float in and out but no consistent pastoral presence. They deeply desired that presence, they wanted a pastor but it’s difficult to get one to come for what they were paying in that part of Chicago.
A parishioner named Rosaria had decided that the soup kitchen would be her ministry and while she had another full time job, she managed to put together a team of people both within and without of the congregation to work with her. She greeted us at the door and proudly told us all about that ministry and congregation. We sat and listened to how each member of this congregation played a role, how they had put aside the anxiety and fear of no pastor in place and just got on with the ministry that God had called them too, and they did it well. They were the busiest people I have ever seen and yet the calmest people I have ever seen. When something didn’t go exactly how they had planned, they readjusted and just kept moving around, over or through the obstacle not worrying about who is getting credit, or who is in charge. I marveled at the calm, as my personal M.O. is to worry about all of the things that could go wrong. I actually found myself concerned for them! But they ignored all of the possible distractions and were simply focused on God’s children who needed food for the day and a word of God’s love, mercy and grace.
“Be at peace with one another.” We tend to think that peace looks like serenity, rest, status quo, an easy life, or no hardships in our path to whatever we think we need to do to be at peace, happy or content. But peace is not any of these things. Peace in this text comes from the Hebrew word “Shalom” which means wholeness. Wholeness. Peace in God’s kingdom is about all people being whole: being wholly loved, wholly included, and wholly equal. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes when the disciples come to tattle tale that someone else is doing what they perceived to be solely their work. “Jesus this person is casting out demons! That’s what we do! We should stop him!” I mean heaven forbid that all of the demons get cast out and then everyone is healthy! Then we won’t be special! The disciples, and us, like to over think situations and make them more complex and more fearful than they really are.
Jesus then goes on to talk about whoever is not against us is for us, don’t put up obstacles, and then some gruesome words about cutting off body parts that keep you from fully participating in God’s work of peace in the world. Now we know that we can’t take such language literally, Jesus does not want us to cut off body parts or put a millstone around our necks but does want to get our attention and to think deeply about what distracts us from God’s peace, God’s wholeness and being part of God’ work that reveals God’s love in the world. What obstacles do we put up to keep out some of God’s children who make us uncomfortable? We love distractions from our real work at hand and we spend much more time creating them than actually just getting to the task of God’s work given to us. We worry about what other people are thinking or doing, we worry about what other people say about us, we worry that some people may not believe the same way, or will get mad, or not like us, or something may not work as well as we want. We worry, and in our anxiety and fear we create obstacles, we look for pitfalls and failings. What we don’t do is look to Christ who works in our midst, in our mess and promises to be forever present.
Hell is separation from God (it is not a place and no one is being sent there!) and we create our own hell. We create ways to exclude hope, joy and love so that we can say “I told you so” when things don’t quite work out how we envisioned. God desires for everyone to be close to God and wrapped in God’s love with no separation-hell is not God’s judgment or punishment; it’s how we punish ourselves. * But God never leaves us and never wants us separated from God or God’s loving community, yet we look for ways to resist God’s desire, thinking it’s safer to go it alone than to participate in the reckless abundance, generosity and love of Christ. Christ opened the way for all –removed every single obstacle that the world could provide-even death-in order for all creation to be in God’s peace, God’s Shalom and God’s love now and forever.
What distractions need to be navigated in your life, here at LOTH or in the community? How are we caught up in our own worry and anxiety and miss what God is doing right here, right now in our midst? We have the Prayer and Care ministry that offers mercy, hope and community right when people need it the most. We have all of our education opportunities that dive us all at any age deep into God’s word of love for us all. We have Habitat for Humanity and Prayer Shawl ministries. We have our buildings that offer safe places for our brothers and sisters in Christ to meet. God is at work here-no matter what obstacles we perceive!
Jesus removes all obstacles and simply calls us to do the same. The UCC Church in Chicago learned that Christian community isn’t about a pastor, a church building, a budget or anyone of the things with which they could have distracted themselves. Christian community is recognizing that Jesus has already removed all distractions, has already given us all that we need for the journey and has gathered us all into one body for the sake of loving God and our neighbor. “Be at peace with one another, for God is with you.”
*My own personal view point on Hell is that it is not a place where those who are “bad, evil or don’t make the cut get in.” God’s salvation is for all and all are in! All means all! That person right now you’re saying to yourself ‘not them’…yes them too! This is good news as nothing separates us from the love of Christ, not even our own attempts at self-sufficiency! If your head is hurting-good! God’s love and mercy are that mysterious and that overwhelming!