A Lutheran Says What?

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

Separation Anxiety Easter 6A May 15, 2020

This sermon was preached on May 17, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. You can view it on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 17: 22-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14: 15-21

If you’re a parent or have worked with or even just been around small children ever in your life, then you know about separation anxiety. It’s when a young child, typically from the ages of nine months to about four or five years old, will cry, or act out in some way when a parent or significant caregiver leaves them. Separation anxiety is about the fear of being alone, of not knowing what’s going to happen when these significant people whom we love aren’t present. It’s an unmooring of identity in some way too. In young children, they know who they are in relationship to other people around them, but without those other people, there’s a loss of self. What do I do? Will I be ok? Where did that person whom I love go? Two of our three children exhibited separation anxiety. Our oldest, Kayla, from the time she was two weeks old, couldn’t have cared less if Mike or I came or went, as she was pretty sure that she didn’t have much use for us anyway. So, it took us by surprise when Andrew cried whenever we went outside of his line of sight. I couldn’t even leave the room without tears for a long time. Our third child, Benjamin, also had separation anxiety, not from Mike or I, but from our nanny! Whenever we picked Ben up from Miss Trista he cried for her. While we were glad that he loved her and she loved him, we couldn’t help but to feel a little hurt. What would often calm down both Andrew and Benjamin were reminders of not being alone and of being loved. A hug, a stuffed animal, or a picture book of the people who loved them were helpful.

In some ways, we never completely ever outgrow this separation anxiety. What we learn are coping mechanisms for our fear of loneliness, isolation and loss of identity. Some of our coping mechanisms are healthy, such as telling yourself when you’ll see that person again, or the intellectual understanding of time and space. We might have treasured objects and pictures that assist us in this as well. But sometimes that fear of loneliness can get the better of us and make us insular and behave in ways that keep us from the reality of love.

Separation anxiety was rampant among the disciples as we continue through our reading of John 14 this week, more of Jesus’ Farewell speech that ends at John 17 next week. Jesus has talked about going and preparing a room for the disciples, about his death, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the disciples are struggling with what will happen if Jesus is gone. Jesus has admonished them to not be troubled, but if you’ve ever tried to be rational with a toddler screaming for their parent or nanny, then you know how effective, or not, it is to simply say do not to worry. Again, even as adults, what we may know intellectually, doesn’t always translate into our emotions. Jesus knows this too and I love that he simply and lovingly states in verse 18 “I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus then goes to tell them how they know that is true. In God’s love, we are never alone. God loves and values community, relationship and togetherness. God’s love embodies this truth: in sending Jesus to live among humanity as love in action and then in sending the Holy Spirit, or what the gospel writer John calls the Paraclete. The meaning of paraclete is someone who is called to come alongside us in our day to day lives to teach us,  comfort us, encourage us, advocate for and with us, and to love us.

Just as separation anxiety was high with the disciples, so too, is our separation anxiety high as we are separated from so much it seems: gathering in physical community with those we love and care about, daily routines, our sense of security and safety, and perhaps even separated from our own sense of identity. We focus on these separations and even some of our most helpful coping mechanisms are not enough. Sometimes all of the self-talk and comforting treasures can’t ease our troubled hearts. But we hear Jesus say, “I will not leave you; I am coming.” Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit is coming, is here, to give us community through God and each other, even when we can’t touch. Community that recalls our identity as part of God’s life. Community that reveals the love that is from God, lives in Jesus, lives in the Holy Spirit and lives in us, so that we include others into God’s community.

Jesus says that this love is the commandment, the action that he has been revealing his whole earthly ministry and is how community is built. This love that transcends separation, differences and divisions. This love pulls us from our anxieties and shows us the presence and actions of God in our lives-through one another. This reality of always being in community, even if we’re physically separated, is a promise that we can cling to and see. We can see that we don’t have to worry about being separated because the truth is that we can never truly be without God or God’s people. Yes, much of how we are connecting right now feels very inadequate and in many ways it is. But as the ancient Desert Mothers and Fathers of the early Christian faith found, solitude doesn’t have to mean loneliness or despair. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us with tangible signs, such as water, bread, wine, phone calls, texts, pictures, FaceTime, yes even Zoom to show us that we are never separated from God and always loved.  Thanks be to God!

 

“If” a Sermon on John 11 Lent 5A March 29, 2020

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This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 29, 2020. You can view it on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The text was John 11: 1-44

One of my favorite games to play when I’m ruminating on a situation that I’m unhappy about, is the “if only” game. Maybe you play this game too. You know the one where you have a fender bender and you think “ugh, if I had only not looked left when I should have looked right.” Or “if that other person had stayed in their lane.” Or “if I had stayed home.” Then all the unpleasantness could be avoided. Part of how we are wired as human beings is to be constantly vigilant for how to stay alive and out of danger. And when danger does arrive on our doorstep, as it invariable always does at some point, we want to dissect the events leading up to the misfortune, figure out who to blame, how we avoid this again and even on occasion figure out how to change the misfortune so that we don’t have to endure any of the consequences. This line of “if only” thinking lulls us into the falsehood that we have some sort of control over life events and we can logic or bargain our way to happiness, safety and security.

Don’t get me wrong, we should try and make appropriate decisions that don’t put ourselves or others in harms way, but we also know that there is no such thing as perfection. We can technically make every correct decision and take every prudent action and still have traumatic events befall us. And we’ve seen the inverse of that as well, haven’t we? When someone seems to make poor decision after poor decision and still everything comes out all right for them. It can be maddening to attempt to discern any pattern, consistency or logic out of life.

Mary and Martha and even the disciples are knee deep in this “if only” game in our John 11 story this week. Jesus gets word that Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha, is very ill. Jesus seems to brush this news off in a cavalier way that is hard for me to understand. I mean, I want Jesus to drop everything and rush to Lazarus’ bedside and save him from what ever pain and suffering he is experiencing. But Jesus doesn’t do that-he hangs out two more days wherever he was. Then all the sudden after two days, Jesus decides to go to Bethany where Mary and Martha were.  Again, why the wait, I just don’t understand.

Jesus arrived to find what I always have envisioned as a wake happening. Family and friends gathered lamenting, crying, telling stories of the deceased, eating, praying, visiting the grave all the activities that you might participate in when a loved one dies. It is interesting that the gospel writer John does let us know that the “Jews,” who are in this gospel the authorities, are here. Were Lazarus or Mary and Martha important to the authorities somehow? Were they a prominent family? Or was it that they were close to Jesus and they thought that this was another opportunity perhaps to see what Jesus is up to? It could be any or all those things, we don’t know, but I get the sense that their presence wasn’t completely altruistic. And I think Jesus knows it. Martha met Jesus on his way and the first words out of her mouth were “if you had been here.” Martha was probably replaying the sickness and death of her beloved brother over and over in her mind and now seeing Jesus was another piece in her attempt to make sense of a senseless experience. Jesus if you had done what I wanted you to do. Jesus doesn’t offer platitudes of “God needed another angel,” or “this was God’s will,” or didn’t even offer an “I’m sorry he died.” Jesus simply states: “Your brother will rise again.” Now Martha’s response is less surprising than we might think as there was a strand of Jewish Pharisaic theology that did believe in resurrection. But it wasn’t quite what we think of resurrection as followers of Jesus, it was more of a what happens on judgment day or the Day of the Lord from the Hebrew Bible. Jesus knows this and gently offers that there is more to it than that. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, not just someday in the far off future, but right now, even when we wonder “if only” and even when we don’t like or understand our current circumstances. Martha then gets Mary, and the Jews follow her as she too, goes to Jesus. Ironically, or predictably, Mary’s first words to Jesus are the same at Martha’s “if you had been here.”

Jesus sees her tears, sees the Jews and then gets mad. The gentle translation of “greatly disturbed” doesn’t do justice to the Greek, which means indignation. Jesus is angry. He is angry and moved, that is he is overcome with many emotions at once. He’s angry that the Jewish authorities are using Lazarus’ death for their own gain, he’s angry that death is a part of his dear friend’s existence at all. He’s moved to tears that this is humanity’s reality. Jesus is moved to tears amid the many emotions himself and of others around him. We have a God who is with us in sorrow and cries with us in sorrow and fear.

Jesus goes to the tomb, and when he says to roll away the stone, Martha interjects that is a bad idea, Lazarus has been dead long enough that there will be the stench of death in the air. But Jesus then offer his own “if” statement. If you believe, you will see the glory of God. Jesus then prays and calls Lazarus by name and Lazarus emerges from the tomb, bound in death wrappings. Jesus says to those present to unbind him from the trappings of death.

We find ourselves in a time when we are asking ourselves, and God “if ” questions. If someone had contained this virus sooner, if we could figure out how to cure it or treat it, if we weren’t so vulnerable from it, if this wouldn’t affect the economy, if this didn’t require so much sacrifice, if we weren’t so afraid and uncertain. But Jesus comes to us in our “ifs” and offers to us belief. Believing isn’t some naïve ascent to wishful or magical thinking, it’s not like those prayer forwards that we all get that say “if you forward this to ten friends then your prayer will be answered.” Belief is like love, it is a gift from God, and it is tenacious and foundational. Believing is how we orient our vision and hearts to live in painful times and in suffering. Believing doesn’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen, but what it does mean is that you will see God at work even when it only looks like death, you will see God who takes our chaos and brings order, you will see how God takes our attempts at logic and control and reminds us that there is more than we can see. Through Jesus, we are freed from the “ifs” of our lives. Jesus unbinds us from “ifs” to freedom, to community, to service and to love.  We are freed to hear Jesus call our names and we unbind each other, as Lazarus’ friends unbound him, for life. Life that is not certain but life where hope is alive and present through Jesus Christ. We believe because of Jesus’ love and we look for abundant life and possibility where others see finality and despair.  We believe and so we see the opportunities before us as a congregation and as individuals, to unbind each other from fear and death to freedom, for the sake of being this abundant life and freedom in our community. In the coming days and weeks and probably months, we will be called on to serve our community in ways we’ve never imagined. But this is God’s people unbound, not stuck in the “ifs” but freed to the reality of God’s love and presence no matter where we are, how isolated we might physically be. We believe and we shed the trappings of death for life. Amen.

 

We Build Up Sermon on the Faith Practice of Encouragement March 5, 2019

This sermon was preached on February 3, 2019 at Bethany Lutheran Church. You can view it at http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts are Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, 1 John 3: 18-24, Luke 12: 22-34

Children’s sermon: Do you ever have a day where everything seems hard and you worry about everything? Maybe even friends say things that aren’t kind and we feel bad. Show me what you might look like on those kinds of days. Yes, we might slump over, hang our head, make ourselves small. But what about when you are having a hard day and someone says something that makes you feel better? Such as “I’m sorry this is hard, but you can do it!” or “I’ll help you!” or “You are good at this!” Show me how you might look then: Yes, we stand up a bit taller! We feel bigger and more solid. We feel built up. We just heard three bible stories on how God wants to build us up. God wants us to have life, love and freedom from worry. All really good things and they are hard to remember. Sometimes we get confused about what is important and we worry about things.  Have you ever worried that you weren’t smart enough, or tall enough, good enough at something or had the right clothes to wear? Yeah, me too! Adults do this all the time too, we just don’t admit it.  Do you know what encouragement or to encourage means? Yep! It means we build each other up! This is the sign language for encourage. It’s the faith practice that we are exploring in worship today and in our cross + Gen faith formation. The middle of the word encourage is courage which means strength and “cour” which means “heart” in French. So when we encourage each other or God encourages us-we are building up each other’s hearts and God builds up our hearts with words of love. And there is plenty to go around! Telling someone that they are special or good at something doesn’t take away from our specialness or talents.

God builds up our hearts by giving us words of life, of remembering to love Jesus, to not worry, to trust God and to build up other people’s hearts. How can we build other people up? We happen to have a holiday that is all about hearts coming up. Valentine’s Day! We give cards and treats that remind our friends and family that they are loved by us and God! These are words and actions of encouragement that build each other up and build us together as a community of God’s people! I have Valentine’s here for each of you.

Encourage is a concept that we often water down to mean cheerleading or affirmation yet, in my own life, I’ve learned it’s so much more than that. I’ve recently discovered the Netflix show Marie Kondo’s the art of tidying up. Have you heard of this? She had a book a few years ago and now she has a show. I didn’t read the book, as I consider myself, especially at home, don’t look in my office, a tidy person. I don’t like clutter and as a military kid, living in military housing, you were not allowed to leave for school unless your bed was properly made, your things all put away and the bathroom picked up. we were inspected once a month and we never knew when. So, I never did the messy teenage room thing and when our kids were teens I couldn’t understand the piles of clothes on the floor and beds unmade. It’s completely foreign to me. So, I honestly eschewed Marie Kondo’s tidying ways at first, assuming the Air Force regulations and my time in Japan were sufficient. But the other night it popped up at the top of our Netflix stream and I was mesmerized. You see, I discovered that it’s not about just tidying, it’s about joy, gratitude, relationships and building people up, giving them courage to be all of who they really are.

Marie begins by entering the home, greeting the family, and then kneels on the floor to give thanks to the house for offering protection and safety and to honor the tidying that is about to occur. Often the home owners tear up. You see this isn’t about how big or fancy the house is or how to make the house better. It’s not Fixer Upper or My Lottery Home, it’s about focusing on the correct thing: what kind of life they want to live.  Houses are simply a place where life is in proper perspective and you can be who you truly are, a space for your heart and spirit to be nurtured and built up. Marie, with her wide, gentle smile and breezy Japanese,  asks people the hard questions about how they want to live and who they are. She tells them to connect with what brings them joy and then discard the rest. She shares with them her own imperfections and struggles, she’s quick to make sure that the families know that she’s not better than them, just on a different point on the path and can walk with them because she knows the way. She reveals her heart to them. Marie is clear that this is hard work but they are not alone. She shows them that their heart and relationships are their treasure and who they truly are, not their things. She gives them courage to be their true selves and not hide behind stuff, worry or fear.

This is the truth of building someone up or encouraging them. Building up is heart work, as I told the children.  It strikes at the very core of who we are and who God is. I was struck this week, that really any bible passage would work, as the faith practice of encourage weaves through the entirety of the biblical witness. God offers prophets such as Moses, community leaders such as the writer of 1 John and Jesus, and God’s own son, to build us up, to reveal God’s heart, to ask us hard questions about how we want to live, to point us to who we truly are and gives us each other as  community on the path of faith together. Encourage is a faith practice that can simply not be done alone. Together we are built up and reminded of the truth that we indeed have life-the joy of living in our identity as God’s children together in community but death-living in the identity of the world that focuses on self, status, material wealth, and privilege, is pulling on us too. Choosing death might seem easier in our culture, after all the world tells us that it’s all about us, our stuff, the size and expensiveness of our homes, cars and other possessions. If we don’t have those things then we are no one and we should worry, be afraid and work harder to attain those things. But it leaves our hearts deep in clutter, over stuffed and overwhelmed by things that don’t bring joy.

In Luke, Jesus encourages us and says don’t worry, don’t be afraid and focus on what matters, true treasure, offering your heart to God and neighbor. Discard everything else. This is courageous behavior and it requires our whole selves. Jesus calls us as disciples and builds us up to live as God’s people so that we can offer our hearts to build up people who need to hear of God’s love and grace-to walk with them, to point to hope and true joy. Not with only kind words but with our actions. It takes real courage, strength of our hearts, to say “no” to our own wants and desires in order to build up our neighbor in need. As God’s people we are called to build up our neighbors who do not have shelter, food or clothes by providing those things without judgment or critique. We build up our neighbors who are invisible to the rest of society: people who are the differently abled, black and brown, LBGTQ or simply different from us by seeing and standing with them. We build up our neighbors when we listen and put aside the need to be right in order to hear their perspective, we build up our global neighbor when we  reflect on how we in the US often live at their expense, and we build up people we’ve never met, even at the cost of our own wants or convenience. Jesus tells us that there is a cost to living as disciples, it takes courage, strength of our hearts, to follow God’s heart for the world. Jesus should know, he paid with his life.

The cost of following Jesus and practicing encouragement will be the death of our egos, desires and privilege but will raise us be courageous witnesses to new life in Jesus of love, joy, gratitude and grace.  Our hearts and lives are built up by what matters, joy in the promises of God for love and life through Jesus Christ, today and forever.  Okage de kami ni narimasu. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

Living Connections Sermon on John 15:1-8 April 30, 2018

*This sermon was preached on April 19, 2018 and can be watched on http://www.bethanylive.org. The texts were John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4: 7-21.

Children’s sermon: Have you ever been alone? Maybe in your room, at night, or another time? What is it like to be alone? Yes, it can be fine for a while, and sometimes being alone for a little bit is good and ok. But what would happen if you were alone ALL THE TIME? As in everyday all day, no one to talk to, no one to help with meals, no one to wash your clothes, no one to play with, no one at all. What would THAT be like? Yes, I think that would be sad, hard, lonely and ultimately, we can’t live by ourselves can we? Can you grow all your own food, raise cows for hamburgers, never go to a grocery store, because if you are alone, there is no one to put food in the grocery store! God created us to not be alone, but to be together.

Today in SS you will hear the bible story Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches. We are always connected to Jesus and Jesus wants us to always be connected to him. This is because God loves us! Let’s go look at the tree in the corner. Do you see the branches coming off the main trunk? Yep, Jesus says that he is like the trunk. The trunk of the tree sends food, water, and other things the branches need to grow and to have leaves and some trees give us fruit, like apples, peaches, pears, bananas. Jesus wants us to know that Jesus will give us what we need to grow and bear fruit. Now will you grow apples from your arms?? NO! don’t be silly, but the kind of fruit Jesus wants us to grow is love. We know that God is love and love is the most important thing to God. God knows that when we are connected to Jesus, like branches on a tree, then we are connected to love! Just like branches grow off of other healthy branches, if we are connected to love we will grow more love! And when we are connected to Jesus, we are also connected to each other and show love to each other and grow love in each other! How can we show love and help each other grow love? How about when we are kind to a friend, even if they are not being kind to us? How about helping someone in class with math, reading or science? Or how about sitting with a classmate at lunch who no one else sits with? All kinds of ways to show love! God shows us love, connects us to love in Jesus and we are this same love of God. I want you to write your name on this ribbon, and we are going to tie the ends of our ribbons to one anothers ribbons to make a chain and put it on the tree to show that we are connected to Jesus and each other. The adults will do this in a minute too. You can go back to your seat when your done, I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about this.

 

Connections. We often say in our lives that it’s not what you know but who you know. Who you are connected to. We love connections, mostly. The rise of social media is a testament to this. We can be reconnected to high school and college friends, connected to colleagues all over the world, family, even complete strangers whom we find interesting in a two-dimensional sort of way. The downside of digital connections is that they tend to replace face to face interactions and we are wired for personal connection. As neurological research continues to reveal, being in community is vital for health. There is a Ted Talk by Susan Pinker where she reveals that the secret to longevity is a social life. This is the most important factor for longevity beyond diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, positive thinking, gratitude or genetics. Close relationships, connections, belonging, community are a vital life source. Even casual interactions such as talking to your barista, or the cashier at Target are more important than any of those biological factors. Being connected is life itself.

This is a truth that is not an accident. God created us in community, saying “let us make humankind in our own image”and then: “go forth and multiply.” God’s very self is relationship and community as we proclaim in the Creeds: God father, creator, Jesus redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who gathers us as one. God became flesh in Jesus to dwell with us, to abide with us, or a more accurate translation, to make a home with us. To move in so to speak. Jesus is moving in! Better finish the basement! Jesus moved in with us to show us that this belonging in God’s community, this deep and powerful connection is all about love. 1 John 4: 8 sums up the whole of God’s being and the bible: God is love. And this love is not just fluffy, sentimental, Valentines day love, no, it’s agape love. Agape love is self-sacrificing love, resilient love, love as actions. God, through Jesus, shows us actions of healing, actions of casting out demons and fear, actions of servanthood, actions of risk, actions of dying on a cross, actions of being raised from the dead. Love that will go to great lengths, literally to death and back, to be connected to us so that we may know this love and live connected to this source of love.

The stakes are high in this love. Jesus is clear that without being connected to this source of life and love, we will wither and die. When we cut ourselves off from Jesus, we are indeed like a branch that is disconnected, dies and is only good for firewood. We cut ourselves off when we listen to the society around us that tells us that we should be able to go through life alone and not need other people to journey with us. Pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps, be smarter, quicker, and better than everyone else. Be self-made people. Worry only about ourselves. We don’t want to be dependent, reliant or co-dependent. There are times that I believe this lie from culture and think that it’s all about what I alone can produce, and what I alone can produce is a statement about my worth. When I fall into this trap of self-reliance, I project it on other people around me and that’s when real disconnection can happen. I forget that I have gifts that people need me to share and that those people have gifts that I desperately need to be all whom God created me to be. This is what it means to be connected to Jesus the true vine, the source of all life and love. Connected to this life source, we live in a state of mutual and intertwined relationship with God and each other.

I need to be reminded constantly that I am part of a bigger whole, as I bear more fruit of God’s love when I am in mutual, giving, and loving relationship with Jesus and the people of God. John 15: 5 was my confirmation verse I chose when I was 14 years old. I was an Air Force brat and when I was confirmed in May, at the end of my ninth grade year and chose this verse, I had just learned that my dad had orders for us to move again soon. I would get to finish my first year of high school but then leave shortly after school let out. I would be losing all the connections from the previous four years. We had read this verse in church after Easter and I latched onto it with a vice grip. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said. “Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” I heard “You are connected to me Jesus says, whether you like it or not and vines rarely their drop branches and as the vine grows, branches intertwine with other branches, and become so intertwined, you can’t tell which branch is which and where the vine begins and the branches end. This verse told me that I was connected to the true vine no matter where I was.

So Jesus says it is with our relationship with him and each other. The gift of being in this community of faith, based on the reality of love, agape love that flows from first from God to Jesus the vine and then to us the branches, is not only about us but about the fruits of love we bear. Love in action, not just in words. Love in action is fearless, for when we are filled with love, there simply isn’t room for anything else; no room for hate, apathy, greed or fear. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. Fear can cause us to see the world through tunnel vision and lose sight of the expansive and fearless love that we are connected to and are called to be.

Fearless love in action is when we risk our reputation to speak out for the dignity of all people. Fearless love in action is when we sacrifice our own wants so that our neighbors have what they need, whether that is safety, food, shelter, clothing. Fearless love in action is praying for those whom you don’t like and who don’t like you. Fearless love in action is working for justice and standing with people who lack power or voice in our culture due to gender, race, faith tradition, or sexual orientation. Fearless love in action is looking beyond first impressions or our own biases and seeing each other as God sees us, all branches on the vine, all useful, all with worth, all created in God’s image of love. And God’s perfect love casts out all fear.

You are already connected to this source of life and love. You are already connected to all the other branches on the vine, some that are like you and some that are very different. Some are right next to you and you can see and touch, and some branches that are so far down that vine that you don’t even know that they exist but Jesus says they matter. You already have everything you need to bear fruits of love. You have been splashed with the waters of baptism as we will do for Miles this morning, and proclaimed a branch on the vine of life, you are nourished body and soul with bread, wine and words of promise and forgiveness to grow in love and bear fruits of God’s love.

Beloved, love one another, for God’s love through Jesus Christ has moved in and this perfect love is here to stay, to cast out fear, to connect us to Jesus the true vine, and each other, now and forever. Amen

*During the hymn of the day/or communion, you are invited to come to the prayer station in the corner. Take a green ribbon and write your name on it in the center. You will tie one end of your ribbon to the end of someone else’s to create one chain of ribbons on the tree as a visual that we are connected to each other and Jesus sustains us all. When you tie your ribbon onto someone else’s, notice the name on the ribbon. Pray for that person this week to bear the fruit of God’s love.

When you leave the station, there are baskets of key tags, please take one. They have the verse of John 15:5 on one side and “We are connected to Jesus” on the other as a reminder of being the beloved community no matter where your life takes you.

 

 

Enough Sermon on Matthew 14: 13-21 August 7, 2017

I had the privilege of leading worship at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Denver, CO today August 6, 2017. The picture attached is everyone’s placecard with their name on it on the altar. We all have a place at the table and a role in God’s Kingdom!

I need to confess something to you: I hate to cook! Love to eat, love to eat, love to eat. But the actual process of making a meal? Ugh. So it’s ironic that as someone who is constantly trying to figure out how not to cook, my vocation as a pastor working primarily with families, requires that I figure out feeding large groups of people on a regular basis. Youth dinners, confirmation evening of honor dinner, Advent Festival, Epiphany worship and Party, we’re hosting the ELCA mission developer conference in august and they asked me to figure out catering for 300 people for four days! Food is not my gift and every time I think about having to figure out food for large groups, I want to curl up in the fetal position. It completely stresses me out! And yet, it always comes together. I don’t think that anyone I was supposed to have fed, ever went away hungry-even when you throw in all the now common food allergies. And although I have a pretty strong track record of getting people fed, each time an event arises that requires food, I have the exact same feeling of worry if I can pull it off, if it will be ok, do I have what it takes to do this?

I can so relate to the disciples in our gospel text today! The people had followed Jesus out to the desert, a place with no food, no water, no food trucks or grocery stores. The people were so hungry for what Jesus had to offer, healing, comfort, compassion despite his own weariness, that they followed him with no thought of needing food or of how long they might be away from home. After all day of being with Jesus in the desert, it was beginning to get dark, and in addition to no food, the desert would be dangerous, animals, people of ill-repute, no shelter. This situation was less than ideal and probably overwhelmed the disciples. So they very practically said hey Jesus, enough with the teaching and healing for the day, send the people home to eat, and then we can go get something to eat too! But Jesus looked at them and said, “You feed them.” But Jesus, we don’t do that! We don’t have anything that is of any real use! There are too many people, and we’re overwhelmed, Jesus!

Feeling overwhelmed and powerless is more common than not I think, especially when we recognize some of the seemingly momentous challenges in our nation and in our world. I can become either so engaged that I obsess about what I can do or so paralyzed by the weight of it all that I check out altogether. There is so much: famine in South Sudan, North Korea, healthcare, civil and human rights, homelessness in Denver and elsewhere, human trafficking. And then there are my own day to day worries of the rising cost of college now that I have two children in college, retirement, work/life balance with allowing time to volunteer with agencies that address some of the bigger issues I listed a moment ago. There seems to be not enough time, energy, resources, knowledge, to tackle these challenges with the hope of making a dent into the solution. Jesus, all I have is a little, and I am confident that it is not enough!

But Jesus looks at us all and says, what do you have? Give it to me. Trust in me. You may see the world as either all or nothing, but God doesn’t. God sees creation and us as good, as enough, possessing enough and all that we need to make a difference, to be the difference in someone’s life and in creation. Do we believe that through Jesus, God has given us enough to make a difference or are we afraid that God will let us down?

So what do you have? What does God say you have? Not what the world says you have. God declares that we do have enough, because it’s not about us as individuals. It’s about all of us together. One disciple couldn’t feed the crowds, 5,000 plus women and children. All of them together in the power and care of Jesus fed the crowds. I don’t feed large groups on my own, never, it’s a team of people who do have that gift that offer their time and talents to provide the meals and this is how it happens every time, even though I worry about scarcity. Everyone is needed and we’re called to use all that we have for the sake of people’s daily, physical needs as well as spiritual needs. The kingdom of God is not about when we die, or satisfaction of our spiritual hunger, no Jesus says, “you feed your hungry neighbor, you care for your sick neighbor, you visit the lonely.” The kingdom of God is about caring for those who are suffering right here, right now and that takes all of us. Not only the pastors, the church wide staff, the synod staff, the church council-it takes everyone.

Jesus’ banquet in the desert where all, regardless of status, gender or importance were fed equally and fully, draws us to the table of Holy Communion, where we are all gathered, filled until satisfied and nourished with the true presence of Christ. Christ’s presence in the bread and in the wine enters into us, fills us with God’s love and abundance and reveals that we don’t need to be overwhelmed, we aren’t hopeless or helpless, we aren’t alone, we have enough, we are enough and we are loved wholly and unconditionally. Even the pieces of ourselves that we think are broken and useless, like the left over broken of pieces of bread and fish, Jesus will gather up, and use to reveal the promises and glory of God to all people. God’s power is revealed in the abundance and gathering  of broken pieces. Jesus says his broken body is power to connect us together in love. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy, God sees our true value and our gifts and calls us to live into them with freedom and joy and calls us to the table over and over again to be reminded of this abundance, that we are enough and we have a place at the table. Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

 

Children’s time:

How many of you help out at home? Do you have chores? Do you do every chore that has to be done in the house? NO! You share the work! One person can’t do everything! What about here at church? Do you help out sometimes, either by singing, or reading or giving smiles or hugs? Yes! In our bible story today over 5000 people, it said 5000 men plus women and children so maybe closer to 15000 people, were listening to Jesus and Jesus was healing them, teaching them and telling them about God’s love. Then it got to be dinner time and there was only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Is that enough food for 15,000 people? No probably not! But Jesus knew that God would provide and that if everyone worked together, there would be enough. So he told the disciples to get to work, he prayed to God, said thank you for what they DID have and handed it out. Do you know what? Everyone had enough food! No one was left out. Now it could be that when some food was shared, other people who also had food shared too, that still makes it a miracle of people sharing and loving each other. But it also reminds us that God says we are to know that we have everything we already need to help people, even if it doesn’t seem like it, even if we’re little and young. How can you help people?
A reminder of having enough and Jesus being with us is holy communion. God calls everyone to the table to remind us that we are one people in God. Have you ever seen a name plate on a table at a party so that people know where they are to sit? Well, we’re all going to fill out name plates and put them on the altar to show us that God says this is where all of us, all people sit, at the table with Jesus forever! Write your name and put it on the altar before you sit down. Let’s pray.

 

Weeds, Wheat and God’s Field July 24, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on July 23rd, 2017. You can watch at http://www.bethanylive.org. I personally think that the 10:00 a.m. went better! 🙂

 

Matthew 13:24-30New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears[a]listen!

You’ve perhaps heard the saying that “a weed is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it to.”  Such as a rose bush in the middle of your cucumbers, while beautiful, can seem obtrusive and obnoxious. We like things orderly, rose bushes where rose bushes go and cucumbers where cucumbers go. Then we get this parable this morning about weeds that intrude on wheat. I think on so many levels this parable strikes at the heart of our personal fears. How do I know if I am weeds or wheat?  What about the person sitting next to me in the pew, or at work, or on the train, or my next door neighbor or the person who thinks politically differently from me, are they weeds or wheat? We want to know who’s in the correct place!

We like to think that we can discern between who is doing God’s good work and who is not, or we think that we already know, thank you very much. And it’s always the person who thinks differently from us, or what we might call “wrong” and so we don’t want to be around them. Upon first glance, this parable seems to support this kind of dualistic thinking. Those who are wheat will be gloriously gathered to God in heaven and those who are weeds will be sent to be burned where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those weeds will get what they deserve-punishment. Done. We desperately want to hang our hats on such certainty so that all can be right with the world.  The weeds and the wheat have no business together! God, fix this! Don’t let these weedy people be around me!

It would be very comforting and escapist for us to read this parable with the mindset that this is about some are right and some are wrong. But we know that life and people are not that clear cut and relationships are hard and messy. But mutual relationships with those who are different from ourselves requires us to examine and know ourselves fully. We want or need to believe that God will punish those who deserve it, and if we follow all the rules perfectly, we will be gathered as wheat. Jesus told parables to make the listener of any century do some hard work. But parables are not designed to be taken at face value. The word parable means to “throw alongside.” Jesus throws this parable alongside our daily lives to stop us in our tracks and wrestle with God for a while.

Martin Luther struggled with the dualistic thinking of his time of whom God gathers and whom God throws to the fires. Part of Luther’s genius is his epiphany that we are both wheat and weeds simultaneously and that God will continually forgives us and offers us unending grace. In our Lutheran theology, we proclaim that we are at any given time a weed, or a sinner and wheat, a saint. Sometimes an action that in one setting is saintly, can turn around and be sinful in another setting. And we don’t always even know we’ve done that!  Paul speaks of this as doing the evil he doesn’t want to and not doing the good he wants to do. No matter how we try, we can’t quite hit the mark it seems. But Paul is confident that God will use his (and our) weediness and transform it into wheat.

We desperately want to be wheat and yet, deep down we fear that we are the noxious weed. We project that fear on others-proclaiming them to be weeds, the ones not doing God’s work, the ones not following Jesus, in order to secure our own place in the field as wheat. We fear that if there are too many wheat, that there won’t be room for us. And we do this even in our church community! If I’m using my gifts, then there can’t be room for your gifts, there is only so much room in the field, you know. Our egos like to judge who are weeds and who are wheat. My actions are REALLY serving God, so your actions can’t be. What if there are different kinds of wheat and all can bear good fruit?

We also get hung up on the fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth imagery as some sort of reference to hell but in truth, I think it refers to our inward thoughts on ourselves and others. We can stir ourselves up into a frenzy comparing ourselves to others, judging other people’s decisions and actions, shaking our head at our own decisions and actions that we aren’t proud of and, if any of you have ever been awake at 3 a.m. with all these thoughts going around your head, you know what weeping and gnashing of teeth is all about. It’s that long, dark night of the soul, it’s the constant grudge holding and scorecard keeping that we do with each other. But when you let go of judging, comparing and ego, peace and grace flourish. Not only peace and grace to others, but perhaps more importantly, to ourselves.  We can’t offer others true grace and non-judgment until we can first offer it to ourselves. When we stop holding ourselves up to unrealistic standards of perfection, whether those standards are societal (wealth, health, body image, etc.) or religious (keeping all the commandments, doing whatever religious practices you believe will make you a better Christian) when we let go of that, is when we can truly live in God’s promise that God created us in God’s image and we are enough, more than enough and loved just the way we are. And so is our neighbor, co-worker, and family members even the ones who drive us crazy.

You see, this parable isn’t about who’s in or who’s out. It’s about God and God’s field. God’s field, where all are allowed to grow, no matter what. Weeds and wheat are side by side. What if when we see weeds, God sees wheat? What if we need those who seem planted out of place as we grow in God’s field? In rich diversity, we can hold each other accountable, learn from one another, forgive one another and be authentic community.  Childern’s Sermon: Invite children: cards, change cards, “does it matter who has the label weeds or wheat? Does it matter that we are all together and God loves us? Can we learn from each other, share our mistakes and our learnings to love God and each other even more?”  Explain the sermon notes.

 

The word seminary, means “seed bed.” God’s field, God’s seed bed, is about learning and going deeper into relationship with God and one another. It’s not a fancy theological degree. It’s engaging the world with all the complexity, uncertainty and gray areas through God’s vision.  It’s God’s patience and hope that floods the field, the seed bed, and everyone and everything growing in it, with love, forgiveness and grace freely poured out no matter of our actions, our status or who we think we are, weeds or wheat. We don’t have to worry about judging ourselves or others. God will come to judge, which is different from punishment by the way. Judgement is God’s proclaiming reconciliation of creation and humanity back to Godself in love. Punishment is what we do to ourselves when we try and be God, dividing ourselves out of fear, not looking with love upon our neighbor, judging actions we don’t understand, putting our own needs and wants ahead of others, allowing our ego determine our thoughts and actions.

Jesus understood that this is the human condition. We think that we know more than we do and put more trust in ourselves and our ego than in God. Jesus says, go deeper, go where it’s complex, go beyond black and white thinking, go and confront your ego, your hubris, your arrogance. Go and be confronted by the breathtaking foolishness of God’s love and grace to let weeds and wheat grow together. Audaciously live in the faith and hope of what we cannot yet see, where everyone will be gathered in God’s life-giving kingdom as adopted children of God, unconditionally loved and cared for, where none are left out, all live side by side, and God clothes all in righteousness. Go and recklessly share this reality in whatever part of the field you may live in-give your time and your resources to people not because you think they deserve it, but because God loves them (and you!) and loves the diversity  of all of us growing together in God’s field. Thanks be to God.

 

Holy Relationship Sunday June 12, 2017

Last week, I had the privilege to go up to Sky Ranch and offer staff training on child/adolescent development and faith formation stages. I’ve done this a couple of years now and even though I’m not always thrilled for the three hour drive up and back, I’m always glad when I’m there. If you have any concern or doubt about the future of the Church or our world, spend time with these gifted, bright, generous young adults who give their summers to spend with children and youth in our camp ministry for not a lot of money, and you’ll feel very optimistic! I come away each time knowing that I’ve received more from them than this old lady could possibly give them! They are very gracious with this nerdy pastor, who also has an education degree and geeks out on brain development, and gives them more information than they want or need. Now, don’t worry, I do also give them practical ideas for engaging children and youth with their summer curriculum, as well as tips and tools for discipline and caring conversations.

I always stay for a meal with the staff, talk to them, getting to know them a bit. They love having an adult who doesn’t HAVE to hang out with them, but chooses to hang out with them. They think I’m cool, and I always let my own children know that other young adults find me cool. Even after teaching for two or more hours straight, I always leave camp feeling refreshed, energized and renewed for my own ministry. Relationships that are life-giving and supportive have this effect on us. As much as I might teach them some nitty gritty concepts of brain development and James Fowler’s six stages of faith development, mostly what I spend time teaching is on how faith is all about relationships.

Faith development or even lack thereof, is grounded in the quality and depth of relationships from the people whom we are in contact with from the time we are born and our relationship with God. Erik Erickson, a psychologist, names the first stage of emotional development in infants as trust vs. mistrust: knowing whether you will be cared for or not. James Fowler’s faith stage parallel in infanthood is Undifferentiated Faith, which means your being is completely without boundaries from others and you are solely grounded in God. From our very beginning, God wired us to need caring community with God and with one another, and my time at camp exemplifies this reality.

As we heard in the Genesis creation story this morning, we are created in God’s image, every single one of us-just as we are, in beautiful and rich diversity. Created male, female, short, tall, black, white, with a variety of gifts, a variety of opinions and a variety of viewpoints. But all equally in God’s image and all equally loved, called and gathered. We’re created individually in God’s image, but we are also created communally in God’s image as well. God’s very being is relationship-this is what we celebrate today, on Holy Trinity Sunday. It’s not a day to get bogged down in dogma or doctrine or to try and explain the unexplainable, no, it’s a celebration day of who God is and who we are as the people of God. It’s really Holy Relationship Sunday, or Holy Creation Sunday. Creating is always messy, think of artist’s studios and creating community, with actual people is even messier!

God’s very existence is community: three persons or expressions that we often refer to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we also hear God described in the Bible as creator, nursing mother, caretaker, rock, anchor, redeemer, the word, lamb, light of the world, mother hen, sustainer, animator, Lady Wisdom, sender, gatherer. God only knows relationships and so this is why God’s biggest desire is to be with us and for us to be in loving community with one another.

But community is messy, it’s chaotic and it’s unpredictable. We have this idyllic picture in our mind of harmonious community, even within our own families and it pops like a balloon within about 2.4 seconds of being in a room full of people, doesn’t it? For one thing, we each have OUR own idea of what the perfect community looks like, and often it’s one that revolves around us, our own needs, our own wants, our own preferences. So, we get frustrated, we form unkind opinions of one another and decide that perhaps a deserted island is the way to go, and so we end up creating this in our lives in many ways. We sit at home and watch tv with no interaction, we segregate ourselves in activities by age, by choices, by economic status, by neighborhoods. We stay out of certain parts of town, or don’t talk to certain types of people. We explain this in a rational way to ourselves that it’s about safety, or common sense, or who is worthy of our time, but if we’re honest, it comes down to trying to keep control and maintain a façade of autonomy, not needing anyone else and having all that we need without any assistance.

But God has no concept of autonomy, singularity, or isolation. God from the beginning of creation goes all in on relationships and interdependence. The more the merrier! Sea creatures, plants, trees, birds, creepy crawly things (which I could do without but not GOD!), large animals, small animals, microscopic life, and humans! Animals that eat plants, plants that supply oxygen, water to nourish plants and animals alike, people to care for the land, which in turn cares for them-all interconnected. And God took delight in this and saw that it was very good!

Not perfect, but very good. Community in the life of God is not about perfection but about goodness, which means it’s all about forgiveness, openness, and joy in being together. God delights in creating, delights in taking on human form to dwell with us and delights in being the breath that fills us and connects us for mission in the world. This breath that sends us to indeed Be The Blessing to our neighbor, all of our neighbors, yes, those neighbors who voted for Clinton, those neighbors who voted for Trump, those neighbors who are Lutheran, those neighbors who are Catholic, those neighbors who are Muslim, those neighbors who drive a fancy car, those neighbors who haven’t worked in five years, those neighbors who can eat nothing but cake and not gain weight and those neighbors who despite best efforts are always sick.

We need to remember that conflict is nothing new! Paul had to write time and again, we think at least five times, plus a couple of more visits, to the people of Corinth because they kept fighting, they kept dividing themselves, they kept arguing which way of doing church was better, who knew more, which preacher they should the follow. Paul had some stern words for these people who I’m sure were on Paul’s very last nerve with their bickering and wayward activities. Paul wrote to them and said to the Corinthians: it’s not about what you want or what a different preacher wants or what even what I want-it’s what God wants for you-love and grace and inclusion of all through Jesus Christ-even at costs to your personal comfort.

And yet, despite the exasperation he must have felt, at the very end of 2 Corinthians that we read this morning, Paul leaves them with a blessing, words of hope. Greet each other with a holy kiss, live in peace, and the words that we hear at the beginning of worship each week: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Conflict is real but so is the reality of loving relationship that first flows from our communal God that binds us together in community. We begin with these words each week to remind us of the reality of this messy community that is grounded in the promises of God.

It’s why here in a moment we’ll baptize Violet with the words Jesus spoke in  Matthew 28: 20 and why we as Lutherans, don’t do private baptisms, we baptize into community– first and foremost the community of Godself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also the community of saints, this specific community who promises to love Violet no matter what and promises to be there for her, even when it’s messy, even when she might be an angsty teenager, and especially when she needs us the most. The promise of this kind of radical, counter cultural community is that Jesus promises to be with us always-to the end of the age and so we get to live as “Jesus People” together to witness to the world a new possibility-one where there is more that unites us than divides us and we yield to reality that we are bound up together in the life of God and we celebrate it, not just today, but every day.

We celebrate our connectedness when we listen before we speak, when we suspend judgment, when we open ourselves up to new ideas or admit that there could be more than we currently know. We celebrate our connectedness when we pour water from the font, when all people are gathered at the table for bread and wine, when we ponder the needs of our neighbors more than our own. It’s not easy, but easy isn’t the promise, the presence of Jesus with us always is.  It’s not easy but it’s worth it; it’s worth it because God says to us first that we’re worth it, that creation is worth it. Interconnected creation in unbreakable, unshakable and unconditional relationship grounded in bonds of the Father Creator, Son Redeemer and the Holy Spirit sustainer. May we live every day in this Holy Relationship and Holy Creation. Amen.