A Lutheran Says What?

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

Filled Sermon on John 6 August 15, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 15, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Proverbs 9: 1-6     Ephesians 5: 15-20       John 6: 51-58

Young Friends Message:
Which flavor of Skittles is your favorite? I like orange. It’s interesting to me that they make candy that is supposed to remind us of a fruit flavor. Shouldn’t we just eat the fruit instead of the candy? The fruit is better for us than that candy. The fake sugar and colors in candy aren’t good for our bodies, and can make our bodies sick as a matter of fact. But real fruit is good for our bodies and has what you need to grow and be healthy and has what adults need to age well and be healthy. But we tend to really like the fake stuff don’t we? I wonder why? There’s a lot of complicated brain biology that is why we crave the fake, but it’s mostly because the fake stuff, fools our bodies and brains into thinking that this is good when it’s not. The real fruit doesn’t make us feel as good instantly, but it doesn’t make us feel horrible later. The real fruit doesn’t fool us. It’s honest that we don’t get the immediate feeling good of sugar. Instead, we just feel, well normal for lack of a better word. The candy is faster and easier to eat and real fruit or vegetables, take more work and we eat them slower. No immediate gratification. When we stick with what’s real, it’s better for us, even if we don’t feel good immediately or even if it’s more work.
In our Bible story from the gospel of John, Jesus is talking to the people about eating what is real, what matters. It sounds very strange doesn’t it? Eating and drinking Jesus! And it is strange. But here’s what Jesus wants you to know: Jesus is never about making you feel bad. Jesus is always about making you feel the truth, that you are loved. It might not always seem like it, but Jesus wants people to know they can have Jesus actually in them, like an orange or an apple, to take care of them from the inside out. Jesus cares for every part of you! Your brain, your heart, your lungs, your skin, everything. You’re entire body matters to God just the way it is. Jesus says that he will give you everything you need. We help each other remember this truth each Sunday with a little piece of bread and wine or grape juice, the truth that we know Jesus and so we know God’s love. We’re going to talk a little more about this.

We have the cold storage room in our basement right off of our laundry room that many Utah homes have. We use it for the storage of items such as baby clothes, baby toys, some camping items, etc. It’s also a convenient location to put items that you need to donate. When the pandemic started and basic items fell prey to supply chain issues, we bought a few things in bulk, yes, toilet paper (ok an aside from my Guam story last week, TP was one item that was rationed, so I’ve always had a thing for Costco bulk TP), paper towels, rice, beans, other canned goods and some cleaning supplies. We’ve never really been ones to have that kind of emergency food stocked up, but between the earthquake and COVID, we realized maybe it’s not horrible to have something. Because of this stocking up, Mike started calling the cold storage “The Apocalypse Room.” As the past year or more has gone on, that room began to fill with items that we no longer were using, or had replaced such as the coffee maker that constantly overflowed, the ceiling lights we replaced with ceiling fans, some stuff from our son, etc. We weren’t careful about how we threw stuff in and didn’t pay much attention to it until “The Apocalypse Room” began to overflow. It became so full that you had to dig to get to said TP or other things you might need. And it began to overflow into the laundry room. It was embarrassing. And overwhelming. And annoying. So last week, Mike and I gathered all that stuff up and he took it to Goodwill and then I organized what was left. What was left was less but exactly what we need. All that other stuff that filled the room, were things that were, well, just that, things. Things that didn’t fill any particular need or want, things that didn’t offer us anything other than covering up the things we really needed. It’s ironic that Mike calls it “The Apocalypse Room” as the word apocalypse means “to reveal.” What was revealed is that we didn’t need that room filled with all that other stuff.
I am often tempted by the lie of our consumer culture that our pantries, homes, lives need to be full to be happy and I even fall for it from time to time. Oh, that shirt will make my wardrobe complete, or that bag will make commuting so much easier and keep everything I need handy, or that protein shake will help me feel full to lose weight and be content with my appearance. But that kind of fulfilment never lasts. It turns out that I’ll always find that there is a reason to not be fulfilled. The more I try and fill myself, to get what I need for me alone, the emptier I feel. I long to be filled with what matters, with what sustains. I want a fulfilling life.
I know that left to my own devices right now, I could fill myself with the world’s goods. I could fill myself with cheap, snarky comments at people who disagree with me; I could fill myself with hoarding supplies; I could fill myself with self-righteous rage; I could fill myself with apathy; I could fill myself with the lie that I’m the only one who matters; I could fill myself with the delusion that I don’t have to change my behaviors for creation. I could fill myself, with well, me.

Luckily, I, nor you, are left to our own devices. God wants us filled with what matters as well. The gospel writer of John wants his community to trust that Jesus will indeed pour life into them; life that will over flow the fear, persecution, isolation and uncertainty the late first century people were experiencing. Jesus offers the shocking words to the crowds, disciples and religious leaders that filled with his very life blood, their lives will no longer be empty. Jesus had indeed given them food that filled their stomachs, but Jesus wants to fill them and us with so much more. When we are filled with Jesus, by Jesus, we become truly alive. We see life for all it is, the hard truths in our world and we are more careful about how we live; we pay closer attention to what matters. We live in God’s life and see the world with God’s eyes and heart.

Filled with the living Jesus, we notice that our earth, God’s creation, is literally on fire and know that it will take each of us changing how we live, both individually and corporately to stop the exploitation and destruction to the earth. It’s scary to pay attention to what is happening to the world, the report that just came out from the United Nations isn’t good. We’re past the point of stopping the earth’s warming but maybe if we all live carefully, we can keep it from getting too warm. We can reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, single use plastics, minimalize our consumer habits, reduce water waste and more.
Filled with the living Jesus, we pay attention to the crumbling healthcare systems and do what we can to slow the spread of COVID. We can all live carefully, and lovingly, together, wearing our masks, making hard decisions to not gather in large groups, or do indoor activities. We work to support medical staff.
Filled with the living Jesus, we live carefully with our words and actions in person and in on-line spaces. We can offer words that give life, dignity, worth and humanity to all people, we can use the correct pronouns for one another. We can not allow labels, name calling or other harmful behavior in our presence. We name vicious lies for what they are and not allow the truth to be buried.
Filled with the living Jesus, we pay attention to our own souls, we notice what is really, truly filling us. Is it fear, rage, worry, anxiety? And if so, how do we ensure that we make the most of our time to be filled with Jesus and the Holy Spirit? We can live carefully with how much social media, television and other distractions fill our days versus time in prayer, in faithful community, in scripture reading or other spiritual reading, in silence to listen for God’s wisdom.

Filled with the living Jesus, we live carefully trusting in God and responding to God’s pouring out of the Holy Spirit into us, into the world, with praise. That praise can be a simple “thank you,” music, a poem, a painting. Praise can be food for the hungry, shelter for the unhoused, accompaniment for the lonely, welcoming the refugee and the immigrants. Praise is being so filled with the living Jesus that it pours from us and fills other people with Jesus too.
When we are filled with the living Jesus, we fill others with Jesus, and true life that matters abounds. What is revealed is that eternal life is already here, for Jesus is already here. Yes, a day will come when our flesh and blood will be gone, but Jesus’ flesh and blood will still be filling God’s people who come after us and are yet, connected to us. Filled with the living Jesus, we give thanks to God, at all times for everything that

 

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.