A Lutheran Says What?

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

It’s Been a Year Sermon on Ephesians 2 March 12, 2021

This sermon was offered to the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 14, 2021, one year after the COVID19 shutdown. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Numbers 21:4-9
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Children’s message: Have a battery operated candle or flashlight. Have the batteries out or placed incorrectly so that it doesn’t work. Say, “It’s been a long year hasn’t it? It’s been a year of learning about stuff we never knew like social distancing, masks, vaccines and so much more! I’ve learned how much I miss all of you for one thing! I miss singing with you, dancing with you, playing games and praising Jesus with you! What have you learned this year? I’ve also learned that being alone is hard and that being alone isn’t what God wants for us and our lives. It made me think of this battery operated candle. When the batteries are out or not in correctly, it doesn’t work. It can’t work without the power from the batteries. But when the batteries are in place and correctly connected, it lights up! Then we can see clearly around us. In our Ephesians story today, Paul is writing to people about how we live together. How we have to act how God acts with love and grace. Kind like how the batteries and the candle all have to work together to give light.  If we’re not connected to each other and God, we can’t give off light for others to see God’s love and grace. That’s why we gather, even on Youtube or Zoom, to connect to God, to remember that God will love us forever no matter what and that is what grace is. AND God wants us to live together, our way of life, in this same forever love and grace. Think about how you can shine with God’s love this week! We’re going to keep talking about this….

It’s been a year. It’s been a year since our whole way of life was disrupted.  It’s been a year since we’ve worshiped in person in the sanctuary together. It’s been a year of hardship, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, turmoil, revelations, transformations and learning. It’s been a year for me of doing ministry in a way that I never imagined. It’s been a year of digital worship, or small groups outside. Many, many phone calls, texts and FaceBook messenger. It’s been a year of difficult conversations as we navigate differing perspectives and experiences. It’s been a year of clarifying what really matters, how we care for one another and our neighbors. It’s been a year that has revealed where our society is healthy, and where it most certainly is not. It’s been a year for me, of gratitude for you the beloved people of OSLC and all who have partnered with us. It’s been a year where I witnessed your compassion, generosity, graciousness, and love for one another and myself. (And as an aside, oh my how I love you all and I’m so grateful for God to have called me here!) It’s been a year, and now we embark on another year, another Lent, another Easter of navigating something new, a new way of life.

It’s not what we imagined, wanted or bargained for. We yearn to go back to the way life was just a little over a year ago, before we knew what was to be, before we knew the hardship, the sickness, the death, the fear. We yearn to go back to when we were comfortable, or at least thought we were. But the truth is that COVID19 wasn’t the true reason for our hardship, it was the catalyst, but we were all experiencing a sickness of one sort or another before March of 2020. We were and still are, soul sick. We were already afraid of the future, even when we thought that future didn’t entail a deadly pandemic. We were afraid of how the world was changing, how we were changing, how we weren’t in control. We were already suspicious of our neighbor and the decisions they made. We were already competing for resources, power and privilege.

The truth is that COVID19 revealed that our way of life, wasn’t working. COVID19 revealed a crisis, a need to re-evaluate how we live together and what it means to live in response to God’s grace. There were a few voices that tried to assert that COVID19 was God’s judgment against some group of people with whom the disagreed, that God was condemning non-Christians, or LBGTQIA+ folks, or people who wanted to allow immigrants across our borders, or some other made-up distinction and compartmentalizing of human beings. But as Jesus tells Nicodemus in their cover of darkness meeting, God doesn’t condemn the world or the people whom God lovingly created. God’s judgment, the crisis, is that God desperately loves us and creation and desires nothing more than for us to love God and each other. God sending Jesus into the world to live in our midst as one of us, is a sign of this love, for God’s desire for abiding connection with us. Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ raised on cross for the world to behold the power of sin, Jesus raised from the dead for the world to behold God’s “no” to death, and Jesus’ raised to God’s side, for the world to behold that heaven and earth are connected, are one in the life and Kin-dom of God and separation is no more.
And this is all a gift from God freely given, God’s grace is given despite our actions or inaction. Through the faith of Jesus, the trust in God’s will and desire, we are connected to this flow of love for the world. And God wants love to be our way of life, Paul writes to the Ephesians. Quit worrying about yourselves, your salvation, it’s already done. Your way of life in now one of response to God’s grace and love. Yes, this is a disruption of how we are living now. Yes, it will mean a hard look at the truth of the world around us. Yes, what will be revealed will be painful, and we will not be able to go back to our old way of life, and it wasn’t working anyway.

It’s been a year, a year where God has so loved the world and Jesus has been present. It’s been a year where God’s presence was not one of condemning us or offering God’s wrath, but of revealing where healing, wholeness, justice and mercy are desperately needed in our communities and in our world. It’s been a year that exposed that we were dead a year ago in status quo, in comfort, in security and now we’ve been made alive in truth. We now look at the truth head on, we see the snakes that are biting and killing and say no. We see the truth that worrying about ourselves, making decisions that are about our own wants and not for the health, well-being and safety of our neighbor brings harm to us all. We see the truth that much of our society, our way of life together, needs to be disrupted by God’s grace and love. We see the truth that this is our baptismal life, to be this graceful and loving disruption of sickness, separation and death.
It’s been a year, and I pray that it’s a year that we don’t try and sweep under the rug, simply forget, or try and ignore. I pray that it’s a year that we recognize that our way of life has been and will continue to be disrupted by God’s love, grace and mercy through Jesus. I pray that it’s a year that we hold on to as a witness that our way of life together is intertwined to God’s life and God’s desire for abundant life for all humanity and creation. It’s been a year, a year that has changed everything and exposed that our way of life is always held in God’s eternal presence and grace. Amen.

Prayers of the People:

Prayers of the People

Let us lift up our prayers today for ourselves, our neighbors, our community and our world.
A brief silence.

God of all, it has been a year. A year since we have worshiped in our usual spaces, a year since we have sung together praises of love, a year since we could freely have human contact, a year of change, a year of uncertainty. Hear our laments and our grief, God, as we now recall our experiences of this year.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Creative God, it has been a year. It has been a year of newness, change, creativity, and worshiping how we never thought possible, gathering how we never thought possible and doing ministry in ways that we never thought possible. But you saw the possibilities and called us into them with you. Thank you for the strength and courage in the past year to join you in bringing creation alive in our midst.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Healing God, it has been a year. A year of bodies hurting, of minds suffering, of hearts breaking and death mounting. It’s been a year for the medical teams who have worked tirelessly and we pray for sabbath rest for them. It’s been a year for the essential workers and we pray for economic justice for them. It’s been a year for our educators and we pray for a society that supports them. It’s been a year for those who work for racial justice and we pray to be part of the transformation with them.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Listening God, it’s been a year. And we begin a new year with tender hope, hope that things may return to normal and a desire for a new normal. As we go forward from this year, remind us to bring with us all that we have learned and experienced. As we go forward from this year, may our hearts be more open, may our ears more attentive and our eyes clearer to the revelation of your kin-dom. As we go forward from this year, may we refuse the normal that was oppressing and harming people of color, immigrants, refugees and our LBGQTIA+ siblings. As we go forward from this year, may it be for justice and peace.

Lord in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Loving God, It’s been a year and you have been always near. You hear our prayers, you give us strength, courage for the journey and hold us in love.

Amen.

 

Let It Be With Me Sermon on the Annunciation Luke 1 December 18, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Dec. 20, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
Luke 1: 46-55
Luke 1: 26-38

“How can this be?” is a question I’ve asked nearly everyday in 2020. Sometimes I’ve whispered it in fear or sorrow, sometimes I’ve expressed it in relief or acknowledgment of my relative safety and security, sometimes I’ve said it between clenched teeth of anger and incredulity. My emotions have run the gamut, as I’m sure yours have, as well. “How can this be?” pretty much sums up most of the world right now. How can it be we be losing over 3,000 people a day to COVID19 in this country? How can it be that racism and white supremacy are rampant, how can it be that we still be fighting over the basic human rights of people of color, women and LBGTQIA, how can we be this divided as a people trying to live together? How can it be that working people can’t afford housing and food, the basics of life, in the richest country in the world? How can it be that I haven’t seen any family for over a year? How can it be that while so many are struggling, I’m actually doing ok? How can it be that I’ve avoided this virus so far? How can it be that I’m so tired and perplexed?

This question on the lips of Mary in our Luke 1 text is a beloved passage known as the Annunciation. The announcement from the angel Gabriel is that God finds favor with this young, unwed, lowly woman from nowhere Nazareth. An announcement that she is so favored with God that the most dangerous thing that can happen to a first century Palestinian woman is about to take place: pregnancy. And not just any pregnancy, but out of wedlock pregnancy of God’s son. “How can this be?” is the kindest way for Mary to question the wisdom of this. Mary knows that she could be stoned to death for pregnancy out of wedlock. She knows that the maternal and infant mortality rate is at least 50% as more than likely she has witnessed women and babies dying. She knows how physically and socially vulnerable she is about to be.

The fact that we have this story at all should lead us to ask, “How can this be?” Luke is the only gospel writer to let Mary tell her own story in God’s story of redemption and salvation. John barely mentions Mary the mother of Jesus, and Matthew and Mark, talk about Mary, but never let her speak for herself. It is very typical in a highly patriarchal society for the stories of women to be ignored and forgotten. Mary’s only status is attached to her father, her husband, or her son. So, the fact that the writer of Luke gives such extensive space to not only Mary, but Elizabeth, is remarkable. Luke’s very gospel gives insight as to what God is up to in and through Jesus Christ. God is upending the structures and societal norms of the world and uncovers the truth behind our questions of “How can this be?” The truth of how it should be and how it will be in God’s kin-dom, if we let it.

Gabriel responds to Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God,” and Mary’s perspective shifted. In that moment, Mary could see beyond her own questions, her own legitimate worries and fears, and enter into the mystery of life with God. She realized that whatever God was up to needed to start with her. I like to think that it wasn’t that she was no longer afraid but was afraid and said yes anyway. Mary isn’t braver than we are, or more intuitive. I really don’t think she’s that different from us. What makes Mary the exemplar of discipleship, is that she shows us what simply taking the next faithful step looks like, even when you don’t have all the information or you are afraid. Mary takes her “How can this be?” and turns it into “Let it be with me.” In her response of “let it be with me,” Mary is opening herself up to the possibilities of God’s past actions of liberation and redemption breaking into the world again. Mary’s “Let it be with me” is an acknowledgment of all that she doesn’t know and understand about God’s vision for the world but her willingness to be moved forward. Her “let it be with me” is followed by her song of praise, the Magnificat, where she names what God has done before and will do again to right the world for justice, peace, equity and wholeness. Mary’s “let it be with me,” is rooted in her faith in God’s promises from the past and for the future.

“Let it be with me,” is not often a phrase that falls from my mouth. I get stuck in the “how can this be?” and find it hard to move forward. I want to simply rail against the structures and systems that cause me to ask the “how can it be?” and forget that I’m part of those structures and systems. I don’t stop and look for what God is up to, to trust that “nothing will be impossible with God.” What would happen if I shifted and prayed, “Let it be with me”? How does that change my perspective to see that I am enough to make a difference in the world? How does that move me forward to participate in God’s kin-dom?

So God, let it be with me that I speak out for those being harmed by economic disparities. Let it be with me to stand against greed and consumerism. Let it me with me to give generously what I have. Let it be with me to offer grace when I’m feeling uncharitable. Let it be with me to trust you even when I don’t. Let it be with me to take the next faithful step when I’m feeling vulnerable. Let it be with me to step aside for other voices to be heard. Let it be with me to not be sucked into pettiness and fear. Let it be with me for your mercy and grace flood the world. Let it be with me for hate, bigotry and anger to be no more. Let it be with me to love people how you do, completely and fully, just as they are. Let it be with me to be moved by your love. So God, let it be with me. Amen.

 

Being Surrounded: A sermon for Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, NM December 13, 2020

I had the honor to preach for Peace Lutherand in Las Cruces NM for their midweek Advent 3 worship on Dec. 18, 2020. The text was Psalm 125.

Grace and peace to you beloveds at Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces! I am privileged and honored to share a word of God with you this third week of Advent. I serve Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Salt Lake City, Utah and my congregation sends their love and greetings to you. You might know, if you’re a geology buff, that Salt Lake City sits in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges on both sides. To the west, we have the Oquirrh’s and to the east, the Wasatch. No matter where you look, you can see mountains. It protects SLC and the valley from extreme weather for the most part but also makes it difficult for polluted air to be moved out. Being surrounded by mountains is sometimes helpful and sometimes a challenge. What we are surrounded by matters.

Being surrounded resonates with me in this time. Right now, we are surrounded by circumstances beyond our control: political divisions and conflicts in our society, the sin and injustice of racism and white supremacy, and of course from the reality of the COVID19 virus. A few months ago, I didn’t really know anyone who was affected by it, and now, I’m surrounded by people who have dealt with the disease in one aspect or another. I feel surrounded by the economic, health and death realities of a pandemic. I feel surrounded, as everywhere I look, I see the trials and challenges of our world. I crave to surround myself in what I think is safety and security.

So, I attempt to surround myself with what I think will bring protection and peace: people, environments and material objects. I surround myself with people who affirm my thinking and beliefs, I surround myself in a neighborhood where I’m comfortable, I surround myself with plenty of food, with Amazon deliveries, and with Netflix shows. I surround myself so that the realities of the world can be pushed aside, ignored, put on a shelf, and not be in my line of sight to bother me. But when I surround myself with distractions and false security, I can look past who and what I am actually surrounded by.

The psalmist who prayed Psalm 125, knew what it was to be surrounded. Ancient Jerusalem was nearly always under siege somehow and while yes, it was surrounded by mountains, the inhabitants couldn’t let their guard down and those mountains weren’t a guarantee or foolproof protection. They had to be vigilant as to who might be surrounding them at any given time. This led to living with heightened anxiety and the knowledge that their land was always at risk of being occupied by an invader. The Israelites lived most of their day to day lives surrounded by people who didn’t share their faith and belief in the one God, Yahweh, and they would have been tempted to act and take on the behaviors of the people who surrounded them.

But the psalmist offers another way to think of being surrounded. Yes, they are surrounded by circumstances beyond their control that might seem hopeless, but they are also surrounded by the love and mercy of God. The Lord surrounds them with the truth of being God’s people, that even when life looks bleak, God is at work. God has acted for them in the past and they must trust that God will act again. Being surrounded by loss, suffering and death won’t be the last word.
In Advent, we center ourselves on this truth-that we are indeed surrounded, by God’s promise of surrounding us with the love, mercy and grace as made real in the birth of Jesus. Jesus who entered the world surrounded by smelly animals and shepherds, surrounded by powers and principalities who wanted him dead from the time he was born, surrounded by the songs of angels, and surrounded by the love and care of Mary and Joseph. Jesus came into the world to surround us with the truth of God’s unending and unconditional love for humanity and all creation.
So we surround ourselves in this reality, we trust that when we feel surrounded by events and circumstances that threaten our very lives, we are surrounded by the love and care of each other, from Utah to New Mexico, and we are surrounded by God’s presence, promises and mercy through Jesus Christ. We are indeed surrounded, and we give thanks to God. You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our Piece Sermon On Ruth July 10, 2020

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This sermon was preached on July 12, 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:
Ruth 1: 1-17, 3: 1-5, 4: 13-17

It’s been heartbreaking and perhaps a bit frustrating witnessing and experiencing how our cities, states and nation is wrestling with being community right now. It seems that we are fracturing into several pieces at a time when we need to be cohesive. We know that our actions don’t happen in a vacuum, we know that we impact one another, we want people valued, we want people cared for, we want people to be safe and we want those things for ourselves. We hear the words of Jesus echo in our ears from Matthew 25: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it to me.” As people who follow Jesus, who take seriously the mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves and to lay down our life for our friends, we often ask ourselves, “what does that really look like in my every day life to care for people whom I don’t know, who aren’t like me, and think and live differently from me? What does unity look like when there are so many pieces?” The challenges in our communities loom large and finding common story, identity and unity is paramount.

How we live together as people has been a struggle since, well, there were people! We have lots of examples in the news, history, literature and our own Bible of how it most often goes poorly. But every now and again we get a glimpse of what it looks like to live together well in community and when we see it, we cling to it. Such as the book of Ruth in our biblical witness. The book of Ruth is beloved by both Jewish and Christian believers because it is an example of what living together out of true love, love that God has first shown us, can look like. How people with many different traditions, nationalities, religions and identities bring their pieces together for a vision of a unified future and story.

Our first glimpse of caring community in Ruth occurs when Naomi’s husband and sons die, she and her daughters-in-law are left alone and childless. Naomi decides to return to her homeland that they had fled ten years earlier, because of famine. Naomi’s daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, are Moabites, enemies of the Israelites and would be not welcome in Judah, so she sends them back to their homes-which is the safe and expected thing to do. Orpah goes, but Ruth, stays with Naomi, perhaps recognizing that the older woman shouldn’t be alone in her grief, shouldn’t be alone period. Ruth cared for Naomi more than she worried about her fate as a Moabite in Judah. Ancient tradition didn’t dictate that Ruth had any obligation to Naomi, but she went with her anyway, together is better than alone.

Naomi in turn, realizes that Ruth should be remarried, as in the ancient world, women were protected and only had value in connection with male relatives. Helping Ruth connect and marry Boaz, was a gesture of care that Naomi certainly didn’t have to do either. And then we meet Boaz, who immediately recognized the vulnerability of Ruth, a foreign immigrant, poor widow gleaning food from the fields and gave her protection, extra food and status among his own people. That was also not necessary or expected. But it was the kind and righteous thing to do, Boaz seemed to recognize that anyone in need in the community would impact the community. Ruth and Boaz’s relationship was also unlikely as she was a Moabite. Although we find out that Naomi and Boaz are related, Boaz doesn’t have any obligation to Ruth, and marrying an outsider, was not accepted. But the community seemed to support their marriage as when Ruth gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David, the townswomen offered Naomi the affirmation that Ruth was worth more than seven sons-that alone is remarkable. Ruth’s piece in the community was valued.

People caring for one another’s safety, health and welfare even if we’re not related, are outsiders, different social statuses, is what God desires for us. This story gives us a glimpse of what it looks like when people live God’s commandments out of love and not from fear. When we live from the promises of God’s unwavering, unending and unconditional love, we can live for each other. As we see in this story, it’s actions that connect us to our own humanity that make a difference, such as staying with someone in their grief, offering food to someone in need from our plenty, welcoming and befriending people from different lands, different faiths and different viewpoints. The book of Ruth shows us that our everyday lives rooted in God’s love, can ripple through the community and the generations. These caring people had a piece in God’s larger story of salvation, wholeness and redemption through Jesus. Jesus calls us to offer our piece in the story too, rooting ourselves in God’s love to live in care for others, to show the world that life together in harmony and unity is possible. We are the beloved community.

We, as followers of Jesus, witness that our identity is not who we are as individuals, but our identity is found in whom we belong, God. We do things that might inconvenience ourselves because as part of God’s people, we care for our neighbor who needs us. Right now, we wear masks, we pay attention with our in person interactions and the places we decide to go, we create welcome and care for immigrants and refugees, we listen to voices that are grieving and despondent from death, suffering and injustice. We don’t act or speak from fear, self-interest or scarcity but like the townspeople, offer our voices of affirmation and value for people who typically are not affirmed or valued in our community.

In our baptism, we are set apart to do this work that Jesus calls us to do: to identify with the outcast, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the foreigner, the thirsty, the poor and to care for them as though they were Christ. Jesus knows that when we live in this way, caring for each other today, we are also determining our future. Together, we can write and tell a story of a future, like Ruth, that points to God’s work of collecting the fractured pieces of ourselves today and creating community that is loving, hopeful, safe and unified. And we offer our piece in God’s work so that humanity and creation can be whole. Thanks be to God.

Blessing of the Masks:

You are invited to hold or wear your mask as we bless this object that signifies caring community at this time:

Holy God, throughout history you have provided us with items, knowledge and science that witness to your care and attentiveness to our bodies. You stitched clothing for the first people, you instructed Noah to build an ark, you gave food and water to the Israelites, your Son Jesus, fed 5000 with a few loaves and fishes, healed suffering bodies and minds and he broke bread and poured wine so that we may be one with Christ. These masks are a sign of this oneness, of selfless love and care for our each other. Bless all who wear and all who see them, and may they be a reminder that together, we build a strong community of love and care for all. May your peace that passes all understanding be with us all. Amen.

 

Don’t Miss the Obvious Sermon on John 10 Easter 4A May 1, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 3, 2020. You can view it on our YouTube Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC or go to oslcslc.org

The texts were:
Acts 2: 42-47
Psalm 23
John 10:1-10

Have you ever been to a carnival or an amusement park where that have that weird house of mirrors or other type of maze? I’ve been in one exactly once and frankly, its’ not for me. You enter that mirror room or hall and you can’t figure out what’s real, what the next step should be, if what you think you should do is correct. For me, it incites a little panic that I’ll never get out and be stuck there forever. You can get so flustered that you miss things that should be obvious. But once you start to cut through the distractions, and false information, you can recognize what you might be missing. You see the path or the door that has always been there.

Maybe right now, you feel how I do, that we are being inundated with a bazillion pieces of information all day long and somehow, we are to sift through it, figure out what’s relevant and helpful and then use it to go forward in our lives in some sort of meaningful way. What media outlet is least biased? What voice is the most logical? What’s the truth? There’s so much that we can’t understand or make sense of.  It’s decentering, exhausting and leaves us overwhelmed with all of the distractions and voices to choose from. It’s like living in that giant hall of mirrors.  I think this is true about our lives in general in the 21st century, but then you add a pandemic to the mix, the whole thing seems up for grabs. I think this is why verse six from our John 10 reading this week has been ruminating around in my brain, “but they did not understand what Jesus was saying to them.” Ah ha! THIS I actually understand! Not understanding is the ONLY thing I understand right now!

We think we understand this passage in John 10 as the Good Shepherd text but really Jesus is still addressing the situation we read back in Lent in John 9, regarding the man born blind whom he had healed and whom the religious authorities had subsequently thrown out of the community. You might recall that Jesus found the man after he had been expelled and the man professed his belief in Jesus, even though up until that point, he had only ever heard his voice. Jesus affirms this and talks about how blindness is beyond physical sight. Jesus doesn’t stop talking at the end of chapter 9, he simply switches tactics. Jesus offers many metaphors and figures of speech, confusing those who are still listening. They’re just not getting it. And I wonder if I really get it either.

This metaphor packed passage is one that has been used for centuries as fodder to make distinctive claims about being a follower of Jesus. Jesus speaks seemingly exclusionary statements about who listens to him, as well as who he is and who others are. Jesus says that his sheep will listen to his voice and not that of the stranger or those who will rob, destroy, and kill. Jesus says that he is the gate, which can also mean the door. This leads us to assume that Jesus is saying that not everyone listens, some get lost in the other distractions and not everyone can be in the fold, so to speak. We worry if we belong, if we are listening and if we will find the right path through the distractions. But just like we get distracted and lost in the information piled on us each day, we get lost in the images that Jesus is using and miss the words of promise that Jesus offers.

We miss the other things that Jesus says: such as the sheep do listen. Jesus is the gate or the door. Jesus came to give us abundant life. We miss the promise in this passage that no matter what happens, no matter who tries to rob us of our dignity, worth, or voice, Jesus is there. No matter what or who tries to divide us from each other or the love of God, Jesus is there. No matter what stranger may try and come along and tell us that they can offer us an easier, better life, Jesus won’t let us go. No matter if we come or go out to the pasture, Jesus is always there as the door that opens wide to let us in or out as we need. The door is for us, and for all. It’s not about who’s in or out, the point is that with Jesus, the door is always there and will open. We can’t get lost. We don’t have to understand why, we only have to keep listening to the promise. We will listen to our shepherd because Jesus’ voice is the only one who calls us by our name, our true name as beloved child of God. Jesus’ voice is the only one who will lead us to what really matters, the truth of our lives: it is God who gives us true abundant life: pastures of peace, protection of our spirits from harm, steadfast presence with us no matter how deep and dark the valley might be. We are in relationship with Jesus and so we are whole and holy.

Living in abundant life means that we cling to these promises from God in the midst of what we don’t understand, in what is painful, hard and uncomfortable. The promise of this abundant life  is for you, for me and for all people. The promise is that with Jesus, we don’t navigate life alone, we are gathered in loving community and we together, follow the voice of love that calls to us: love of God, love of our neighbor, and the love of creation. This voice of love is only one we hear, the only one our hearts respond to, this voice of love cuts through all of the other distractions and false promises, this voice of love leads us to Jesus, the door that is for all people, the door that opens to truth, love, grace and life.