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.

 

Comfort Food Sermon Matthew 14 August 14, 2020

This sermon was preached on August 16, 2020 at OSLC in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21
Isaiah 55: 1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

Like many of you, I’m sure, I have many memories tied up with food. Some joyous, some not. I remember Thanksgivings, Christmas’ or birthday meals with family and friends. And I remember a plate of chicken, rice and broccoli being shoved in front of me on the day of my son’s funeral by loving friends who knew that I hadn’t eaten in four days. I remember the meals that poured in for months to support us when Ben was in the hospital and after he died. I remember how people expressed that only sending mac and cheese and fruit seemed inadequate in the wake of what we were experiencing. And yet I can tell you that those simple homemade meals from people who loved us were worth more than any sumptuous, high end feast from a celebrity chef could ever matter. Many times, people just made a double recipe of whatever they were cooking for their own families, as it didn’t take that much more to feed two families. Those meals from and sometimes with the people who cared for us and stuck with us  even though it was hard, brought comfort. Often the phrase was “we’ll bring you some comfort food.” Food that not only satisfies our bellies but our souls. Comfort food is categorized as food that not only tastes good, but evokes memories of feeling safe, secure, loved and protected. Comfort food reminds us that our bodies and our souls are connected, and we have to feed both. Comfort food is compassion in action.

Jesus’ compassion is on full display in our gospel text for today. He gets into a boat to get away by himself for a bit, as he has just heard about the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod at a lavish dinner party where John’s head was served on a silver platter. Jesus was grieving and needed some time away. But the crowds heard of John’s death too, and of Jesus’ leaving town, so they followed him. Why we’re not quite sure, other than by now the connection between John and Jesus was evident to the people, and what Jesus offered people for their lives was a stark contrast with what Herod and the Roman Empire was offering them. Jesus saw this large crowd and their desperation. He had compassion, which in the Greek is far more descriptive, as it means, Jesus was moved to his guts. Jesus’ body ached for these people. This story isn’t only about food, or how Jesus feeds us spiritually, it’s about bodies, and that to God, bodies, our physical selves matter. We tend to gloss over in this passage that Jesus cured their sick. Jesus attended to their physical bodies. And Jesus must have healed for a long time as then it was evening. So here is as large crowd, in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat or drink. The disciples correctly suggested that the hungry crowds be dispersed to go get food in the towns. That is a practical and loving decision. But Jesus turns to them and says no, they can stay, you feed them. I love the disciples reaction, as I’ve had it a time or two in my life as well, “we’ve got nothing here.” Well, except this little bit but it doesn’t count. So many times when I am faced with deep need, deep sorrow, I worry that I don’t have enough to offer that person in need. How can I help someone grieving a death? How can I feed all the starving people of the world? How can I help so many people dying of cancer, heart disease, mental illness? How can I house all those experiencing homelessness? It’s too many. And so I tell God that I’ve got nothing here.

But Jesus takes the little bit of bread and fish that the disciples do have (the simple standard meal in first century Palestine) and blesses it, breaks it into pieces, gives it to them and says, what little you have, give away, it will be enough. And it was. Five thousand men plus women and children (who weren’t normally counted in ancient times) were filled– with leftovers collected, nothing was wasted. The disciples were able, with Jesus’ blessing, to feed probably close to 15,000 people. It’s a miracle, but not because of the food distribution, it’s miracle because it shows us that when we come together, we can comfort one another, we can provide for the actual bodily needs of each other. This is the ultimate comfort food story. Jesus reveals that God does indeed care about people and their daily bread, their sick bodies, and their hardships. The powers of the world, like Herod only care about their own power and themselves. This would be revelatory to the people and it’s still revelatory to us today. God cares about us, each and every part of us, yes, our hearts and our souls AND our bodies too.
We instinctually know this, which is why when someone is experiencing a hardship, our “go to” is to offer meals, comfort food. It’s why we donate food to Crossroads Urban Center, its’ why as a denomination we have a whole ministry of ending world hunger. When we feed people, we are Jesus’ compassion in action. When we feed people, we are in solidarity with them as we all know on some level hunger pains. When we feed people, it’s our prayers in action. It’s a bold declaration that with Jesus’ blessing we can see past our own scarcity and know that what little we may we have to offer, is enough. It’s a bold declaration that great things happen with ordinary things. It’s a bold declaration against the excesses of this world where some have more than they will ever need while other people struggle for morsels to keep going. It’s a bold declaration of hope that when we come together, people are healed, people are fed and people are comforted. It’s a bold declaration of the promises of God not for someday but for today and for all bodies. And that is a comfort we can trust. Thanks be to God.

 

We Have Seen the Lord! Easter Year A 2020 April 13, 2020

This sermon was preached for Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on April 12, 2020. In light of the pandemic, this sermon was offered from my backyard at sunrise. It can be viewed on Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC YouTube channel.

The texts were:

Acts 10: 34-43
Colossians 3: 1-4
John 20: 1-18

One of my favorite musical groups is a trio called the Wailin’ Jenny’s-it’s a play on Waylon Jennings of course, and their music is folk. On their album entitled 40 Days, there is a song called “Beautiful Dawn.” The words are poignant and speak to the mysteries of our lives. The opening verse is:
Take me to the breaking of a beautiful dawn.
Take me to the place where we come from.
Take me to the end so I can see the start.
There’s only one way to mend a broken heart.

Beginnings and endings. Just mere hours ago we once again were immersed in the story of Jesus’ death and burial, what the witnesses at Jesus’ crucifixion assumed was the end. After all, this what we are all told. Death is final. Certain. And forever. The disciples were working off this paradigm, despite what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead. Their hearts were broken, their friend and teacher had been killed by the Roman Empire. They were afraid too, what had just occurred was dangerous. They were all implicated in the previous days events and logic told them that their deaths could be next. So, they hid behind locked doors, separating themselves from the rest of the community for their own safety and future. They hoped that this would blow over in a few days or couple weeks at most.

Mary Magdalene though, left the safety of the room in the cover of darkness and alone for the essential task of caring for Jesus’ body. When she arrived and saw the stone removed, she was shocked and perplexed. Mary ran back to tell the others. Peter and the beloved disciple returned with her to the tomb. Why they were running, I don’t know. I would have thought that running would attract attention, but maybe they were hoping to go to the tomb and back before sunrise, or maybe they were giddy with being out of the house for the first time in a few days. The disciples entered the tomb to find the linen wrappings discarded and the head cloth, rolled up and set aside. The beloved disciple believed that Jesus was resurrected, but it is clear from John’s commentary that he was still in the dark, so to speak. Then they both returned to their homes. They saw the empty tomb and just went home. No shouts of alleluia, or Christ is risen, no trumpets or fanfare. Maybe it felt like an anticlimactic ending to the crucifixion? Or maybe more like an epilogue? You know where at the end of a movie based on true events you get a snapshot of what the characters are doing now? Something to tie up loose ends nicely.

But Mary stays in the garden and also looks into the tomb. Instead of linens, she saw angels, only she didn’t seem to recognize them as angels, as she seems unafraid. They ask her “why are you weeping?” and unabashedly she simply states what must be the truth, someone has taken Jesus.

Just then Jesus appears. But again, in her raw grief, her vision is clouded as to who is in front of her. Jesus asks here the question that runs throughout John’s gospel: “who are you looking for?” Mary, misunderstanding that the one she is looking for is right in front of her, asks where the body of Jesus might be. Jesus calls her name and she clearly sees. It’s Jesus! He’s alive as he’s said! Instead of sitting with her and chatting, or hugging her, Jesus states not to hold on to him but go and tell the others that he is returning to the Father, to God, and not only his Father and God but theirs as well. Jesus’ resurrection is more than just a second chance at life, only to die again, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension affirms that we belong to God, we belong to a different kind of life that can’t be taken away.

This seems wrapped up nicely-Jesus comes from God and returns to God. The End. But what if I told you that what we are celebrating today isn’t the end, but the beginning. Easter is where our story with God begins. The resurrection and the ascension of Jesus that seems like the end to us is really the beginning of the only way to mend our broken hearts.

On this Easter Sunday we have more in common with the first Easter, that first resurrection day. Like the disciples, our hearts are broken. Our hearts are broken by what looks like endings around us: gathering in person for worship for a while, handshakes, feeling secure at the grocery store, taking for granted grocery workers, delivery people, truckers, gas attendants sanitation workers, healthcare workers. Our hearts are broken by the death, the sickness and the fear all over the globe. Like the disciples, we may not recognize this as a new beginning today. The beginning of what God is doing in the world through Jesus to mend our brokenness, our broken society, our broken relationships and our broken hearts. Jesus resurrection and ascension points to the truth that God is all about new beginnings, the truth that life and love will prevail, even when it looks like the end.

Like the  first resurrection morning, ours today is filled with unknowing, isolation, weeping and fear. We’re not gathered to shout Alleluia or Christ is risen. No songs of praise by choirs and children. No Easter brunches, no egg hunts, no lilies. And like that first Easter Jesus comes to us. Jesus meets us right where we are and asks who we are looking for? Are we looking for organ music, lilies, certainty, comfort and familiarity? Or are we looking for Jesus? Jesus, who lives because God’s love and life force overpowers death and destruction. Jesus who meets us in weeping and calls us by name. Jesus who assures us that he’s going to OUR Father and OUR God. Jesus who draws us all into God’s life and makes us one in God’s abundant life, even if we aren’t all in the same room. Jesus who tells us don’t hold on to what we know, to what’s safe and comfortable, because our new beginning is to go out and proclaim to the world: “We have seen the Lord!”

We have seen the Lord dear ones of OSLC, we have seen the Lord in how we have adapted to being community quickly in this new way. We have seen the Lord in cards, phone calls, texts and technology. We have seen the Lord in how we stay home so that others may live. And people around us will see the Lord as we serve our neighbors in need such as with our new OSLC Community Support Initiative constructed by your council. This is a new beginning of partnerships in the wake of the pandemic to be a part of God’s healing work in our community. Using funds that we no longer need, we will offer Utah United Way COVID 19 Relief Fund, the Fourth Street Clinic Humanitarian Fund and Utah Food Bank Mobile Pantry each a minimum of $3600 over the next three months as our community recovers. We will pledge to continue to support our existing partnerships such as Family Promise, Crossroads Urban Center and others at our 2019 levels regardless of our 2020 offerings. This is only the first phase the beginning of what we will do as God’s people for our neighbors. We invite you to join in this initiative through prayer, presence at these agencies when it is safe, and/or giving to this initiative at any level. We trust that our whole lives, our whole community at OSLC is held in God’s promises to hold our endings and to bring us to new beginnings, to new life.

We see beginning. We see Jesus who meets us and calls our name. We see Jesus who mends our broken hearts with unending love, mercy and grace. We see Jesus who shows us new life and launches us on a new beginning, to proclaim God’s promise, God’s word of life is final. The empty tomb is the beginning of the fullness of life for us and all creation. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!