A Lutheran Says What?

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

These Are Days Sermon on Mark13 November 27, 2020

This sermon was preached on Nov. 29, 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 were:
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Isaiah 64: 1-9
Mark 13: 24-37

I’m a date person, and by that, I mean that I am typically fairly conscious of special dates, either as anniversaries or in anticipation of a significant date. This has its pros and cons. In the “pro” column, I’m a planner and I’m rarely caught by surprise of something happening that I wasn’t in some way ready for. In the “con” column is that I can become so hyper focused on what’s coming that I’m not fully present in day to day life. I suppose I could be accused of “wishing days away,” from time to time and waiting “for the day to come.” Such as I couldn’t wait for the day to come when four years of graduate school would end (who can blame me?) Or couldn’t wait for the day to come when pregnancy would end and I would hold my babies (again, who can blame me?). Or today, waiting for the day to come that ends the COVID19 mess and we’ll be able to get back to living our lives the way we want. It doesn’t seem all bad to look forward for the day to come does it? There are sometimes that waiting for the day to come is exciting and expectant such as holidays, graduations, weddings, or births, but for most of our lives that “waiting for the day to come” is much more nebulous and anxious, such as the waiting for the day to come when children are grown and moved out, or when age or disease might take a loved one, or we ourselves will die. In many ways, the harsh and frightening days to come are the ones that preoccupy us the most, as we try to predict when that day might come, how to avoid it or make it less devastating. We can be so preoccupied with the days coming that we forget to notice the days that are already here. Worrying about the days to come can cloud our vision of the right now and paralyze us from living today. We miss the joy and wonder that is present. We miss the people who are right in front of us. We turn the days we’re in into nothing more than obstacles to be overcome. Yet, when I look back to graduate school, or pregnancies, yes, the day mattered, but the days leading up to it are also precious in my memory. All those days made the culmination more meaningful. To quote singer/song writer Natalie Merchant “these are days you’ll remember.” (10,000 Maniacs, “These Are Days” 1992)

We’re in a liturgical and a cultural season where we can easily become focused on the day to come, that is December 25. From Thanksgiving Day forward the whole trajectory of the next four or so weeks points to that day. We light candles each week as a way to mark the time, we might have a chocolate Advent calendar to count down, we check to do items off our Christmas lists, all in view of a day to come. And yet, often that day comes, we wonder where December went, or why we’re so tired, or behind in other tasks. I can get to Dec. 25 unable to really remember much from the previous frantic month. I wonder what it would be to mark this season without being preoccupied with the end date to come.

As humans, worrying about the day to come, the end, is well documented. In our Isaiah passage, the Israelites are preoccupied for the day when God’s presence will be known in their midst. They are concerned about the day when God will show up and make everything the way that they want it to be. They wanted God’s hand to cause the mountains to tremble and quake, the earth to boil, and for God to perform wonderous and mighty deeds such as in the Exodus story with plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. They wanted that day to come when other nations will be at the Israelites mercy, and they were vindicated. They wanted no more days in exile and only looked for that end day to come.

The gospel writer of Mark’s fledgling community of Jesus followers were also looking for an end day to come. They were living through an extremely violent and volatile time when the Israelites had won some independence from Rome for a bit only to have Rome come in and completely devastate Jerusalem, including destroying the Temple. Mark’s community was in grave peril, low on life’s necessities, safety and hope. Mark bolstered his community with the words and stories of Jesus. Many in the community were simply passively praying for Jesus to return, for God to take care of all this, for at this time many people believed that Jesus’ return was imminent.  And some were growing discouraged of waiting and completely gave up on following Jesus at all. These two responses to the day to come when Jesus would return, Mark knew that wasn’t the point of Jesus life, death or resurrection. So he recounts in chapter 13 a corrective to what Jesus says we do while we are waiting for the day to come.

Jesus is clear that God’s kingdom is indeed coming but in focusing on the end, like the Israelites, we actually might miss what God is doing in these days. Preoccupation with Jesus’ return date, or for a date of a vaccine or a date of change of leadership, will seduce us to thinking that today, these days, don’t matter. But these days do matter, Jesus says, as these are days when we can see God’s work continuing around us. These are days we work with God to ensure that no one is denied adequate healthcare, housing, or food. These are days when we do God’s work to amplify marginalized voices whom some in power want silenced. These are days where we work with God to reveal where God’s kingdom is already here: in the Holladay interfaith worship service, in Crossroads Urban Center distributing over 3000 turkeys, in OSLC supporting ELCA Good Gifts, in writing cards for immigrant children with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, in Zoom calls with loved ones, less focus on materials things, and more focus on people. Jesus says be awake, aware to these days and notice with our eyes, our ears, and our hearts God’s work in our midst and join in. Don’t wait for the end days to experience and share God’s love, hope and mercy, that’s already here in these days. God is here in these days for us all.

 

Out of the Mud Sermon on John 9 Lent 4A March 21, 2020

This sermon was preached/recorded at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church for Lent 4A March 22, 2020 in Holladay, UT

The text was John 9: 1-41

I’ve always wondered about those mud wrap spa treatments, maybe you’ve had one. Or use the mud masks on your face. Some people say that it is good for their skin, that it’s relaxing and when the mud masks are washed away, their skin looks different, glows, is radiant and is smoother. That might be, I’ll probably never know. I will admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of mud on me, anywhere on me. Living in OR and WA, I have encountered plenty of mud in my time, mostly that which my children dragged in, but I would also run trails in OR that were often muddy. But I mostly spend a good amount of time avoiding mud, muck and general icky. I mean, someone will have to eventually clean that up and that someone is usually me. And as we enter spring and spring rains, things are getting muddy. But I’ve also noticed this week how out of mud, bursts forth colorful flowers, plants, worms for birds and other sorts of life.

So it’s not shocking that what stood out to me this week in our John text was all the mud. And on top of that, mud mixed with spit. That is NOT Coronavirus approved by the way. Jesus encounters this man who was born blind and the first question that the disciples wonder is who or what is to blame for this man’s mucky predicament? Who messed up Jesus? Jesus responds that no one messed up. Some things just are BUT watch and see what God is up to. And with that, he spits on the ground, totally gross even if there wasn’t a pandemic, and makes mud. I can imagine that maybe Jesus made mud pies as a little boy, as little boys do, proudly offering one to his mother who would smile politely as she accepted this treasure wondering how she would dispose of it without hurting her little boy’s feelings. Jesus scoops up this mud and smears it without permission on the mans eyes and says go wash. The man washes and can see! His life is changed forever. We would assume that this miracle would simply return him to what we think of as status quo, the way things should be for him had he been born with sight.

But that doesn’t happen. With the new vision, comes a new role in the community. He had been known only by his ailment and his position as a beggar, but now, now there was no going back to any semblance of what was for him or the people who knew him. This is alarming to those who are tasked with keeping everything in order, clean, neat and sanitized, in this text, called the Jews, which in John always refers to the Jewish authorities. This man was no longer in his place, his transformation muddied the social structure, not to mention the fact that he had been healed on the Sabbath day. This is a direct violation of the rules. The pharisees interrogate the man, and when they don’t like his answer, they interrogate his parents, who out of fear bounce that ball back into their son’s court. A second time they ask this healed man, about who healed him on the sabbath, only to hear that this man simply testify to his experience with Jesus. “Here’s what I know! I was blind but now I see.” But the infuriated pharisees, drove him out of the synagogue. It seemed cleaner to cut him off from the community than to allow his testimony and experience with Jesus dirty the theological waters.

Jesus finds this man again but remember the man has never seen Jesus up to this point, he has only heard his voice. So, when Jesus tells him that he has seen the Son of Man, the human one sent by God, the man suddenly sees everything. He sees the love for the world shining as bright as the sun in the form of the Son of God. The man sees that the world, not just his own world, but the world for everyone, is now changed. What was clear before is now muddy and what was muddy before is now clear.

Sometimes it takes getting covered in mud to really see. We are in a time of muddiness, murky waters and we long for clarity. It feels as if we should be able to just wipe the mud from our eyes and then we can go back to the way things should be, before we were covered in the muck of this pandemic. Yet, in the mess, we see things differently. We see how important connections really are. We see how interconnected we are locally and globally, and that one action impacts us all. We see our interconnectedness with the earth-I don’t think that it’s an accident that pollution levels are falling where people are being told to stay in. The water in Venice is clear enough for the first time in decades to see the fish and dolphins have returned. Our eyes are opened to how important retail and restaurant workers and truckers are in our society. Our eyes are opened to the needs of those who are already on the edge financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Our eyes are being opened to what we thought was clarity and vision was perhaps never all that clear. Maybe we’re in the process of being healed from the vision we had for how life should be just a few weeks ago, to what God desires for us and creation. Maybe we’re being healed from what we saw as important for our communal life together for seeing God’s vision of the beloved community. The pharisees saw only rules, order, traditions and authority. Jesus showed them that what matters is love, compassion, and community. Jesus showed them that they had been blind to the needs, the dignity and the divinity in the people around them, but that healing was available for them too. People, real people, mattered more than contrived rules, order or traditions. To bring people to the fullness of life, to be healed and made whole in the love and grace of God, sometimes those things that we see as the only way to live together have to be circumvented and abandoned, they might have to die.

As we willingly physically distance for a few weeks, we know that this is about people, real people, and not about our own comforts, wants and preferences. As we wash the mud of how life used to be from our eyes to be healed to see what is now, we see that church, God’s people was never about a building. It’s nice, but what clearly matters is our relationship to God and one another. Just as the man’s life was changed, so will ours going forward. We’ve seen too much in the past few weeks to just go back. Healing isn’t always easy, sometimes healing is painful, messy and hard. It requires rest, new patterns, the washing of wounds and often care from one another.

What if this is time of healing? What if Jesus is saying to us, go and wash the mud off your eyes and tell me what you then see? Can we see that Jesus is the light of the world and we are to reflect that light too?  Out of abundant and steadfast love, God sent Jesus to heal us and make us whole now, not someday but today. Maybe not in our physical bodies, but to heal our hearts, minds, spirits and our relationships. And not only heal us but the entirety of creation, for we are intertwined. Yes, things are muddy right now, but out of mud comes growth. Out of mud comes new life. Out of the mud comes the promises of God through Jesus that nothing can drive us away from God’s love and care. Amen.