A Lutheran Says What?

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

Peace: It’s not what you think A sermon on Luke 12: 49-56 Pentecost 10 Year C August 23, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 18, 2019 in Holladay, UT.

Children’s sermon: Blessing of the Backpacks: Invite the children, adults, anyone forward who would like a tag. What time of year is it? School time! How did we know that it is school time? Stores have school supplies, you get a letter or email from your school or teacher, summer has gone on a long time and the weather should start to cool off soon, all signs that it’s time for something new! Now, it’s hard to say good-bye to summer, more time with friends and family, and more time for fun and vacations. But it’s time to go back, summer changes into fall. And we have a way to mark this change, we have these tags to go on your bags this morning. One side says “peace be upon you” and the other side has the name of our church. What do you think it means to wish someone peace? Yes, it can mean those things! So what’s weird is that Jesus says this morning that he didn’t come to bring peace to the earth, but division! What Jesus? Jesus often confuses me…Do you think that means that Jesus wants us to fight? NO! Here’s what Jesus knows, that peace is hard. And God’s peace doesn’t mean letting other people be mean to you, take things from you, say unkind things, call you names, and not saying no, just to get along. Peace doesn’t mean doing what other people want you to do, just to make them like you. Peace doesn’t mean letting everyone have their own way and keeping everything exactly the same so that everyone is comfortable. No, Jesus didn’t come for *that* kind of peace, but the kind of peace that is actually naming things in the world that harm other people and trying to change it. Jesus’ peace means change. Peace is being excited about all the new things that you will learn this year. Jesus’ peace is looking for where God is changing the world and us! Right now, you all are still physically growing, getting taller, stronger-and even adults, we grow too! We learn new things, see all the ways God is working for change/peace in the world and it causes us to change too! This tag can remind us to look for God’s peace, God’s change that changes the world so that everyone is whole, everyone is safe, everyone is loved! Let’s pray: God of peace, we are so excited for a new school year! You are with us always as we learn new things, meet new people, grow and change. Thank you for teachers, school admins, custodians and our friends at school. Thank you for a world that is always changing through your love and may we care for your creation and your people. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trained that keeping the peace is very important. I’ve been conditioned that I shouldn’t rock the boat with my opinion if it might cause someone to disagree, that I should strive to make everyone comfortable and happy, so no one feels uneasy. But then we discover that is impossible. Not speaking up can leave someone feeling uneasy if hurtful statements are left unchecked. Making everyone comfortable, turns out, is not possible, as everyone has a different definition of comfortable and ease. So we run from situation to situation, person to person, attempting to put out the fires of discontent, only to have hot spots smolder and spark back up over time. It’s exhausting isn’t it? And we also discover in this pursuit of false peace, that it’s not honest. In order to keep this level of peace, of status quo, we end up being untrue to someone, and it’s usually ourselves.

Being true to who we are is difficult as we have a world trying to make us into something else. People around us have expectations, rightly or wrongly, of how we are to act, think and be. Especially, when we layer the word “Christian” on top of those definitions. That word has become a loaded one in our country and in the world in the last 30 years. And just like the word “peace,” it doesn’t mean what people think it means. It doesn’t mean judgment, exclusion, self-righteousness, being perfect, having it all together and it doesn’t mean status quo. Being a Christian literally means being one who follows Christ and attempts to model their life after Christ’s example. Being a Christian, means we give ourselves over to Christ’s life-changing work in us and in the world. It means that we look for where God is changing the world, upending status quo and transforming hearts and minds. And as Lutheran Christians, we add that we are always reforming. We are part of a tradition that calls for everything to be reexamined and reformed for the sake of our neighbor to experience the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives. Just like peace, it is hard, and forces us to reexamine who we really are in our daily lives and what that means for our relationships and how we live. We listen for God’ voice, that voice that calls us to authenticity, vulnerability, risk, openness and seeing each other as Christ. And we discover, that God’s voice will often be antithetical to the world’s voice of Christianity or peace.

We get some insight into what this journey in following Jesus and listening for God’ voice might be like in our Luke and Hebrews passages today. This gospel text is one of the most challenging in the four gospels, maybe the NT, as Jesus upends our ideas of why Jesus came. We tend to think of Jesus coming as a little sweet baby with an angelic choir singing “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Idyllic, comfortable, sweet and easy. We love to dwell in that pastoral scene hoping that it will never end and will stay the same forever. But Jesus is clear that is not what the reign of God looks like.  From the beginning of Luke’s gospel, Mary sings the Magnificat, a manifesto of political change where the powerful are knocked off thrones, the lowly ones lifted up, the rich are sent away empty, the hungry fed, the proud are scattered and a poor, nobody Jewish girl from a backwater town will be called blessed for all generations to come. At Jesus’ presentation in the temple Simeon proclaimed that Jesus will be opposed, and a sword will pierce Mary’s heart. As Jesus began his ministry, he read from Isaiah and proclaimed the release of the captives, sight to the blind and the oppressed with go free. He called disciples who left family businesses as well as walked away from family. Jesus broke sabbath laws by healing, he broke purity laws by cleansing lepers, he took on demons. His actions did anything but kept worldly peace, Jesus was true to who he was, God’s son, and to his purpose, bringing change that would bring healing, wholeness and hope to all people, not just those at the top. God’s kingdom coming means nothing will be the same.

Jesus’ coming, God’s word made flesh, isn’t about comfort and maintaining systems. Jesus came to bring God’s peace to the earth-peace that enacts change and justice for the sake of wholeness in the world. The irony, is that when status quo is disrupted and people whom the world had silenced have a voice, divisions do occur. When oppression of people of different colors, economic status, religions, genders is no longer tolerated and people speak up, it’s uncomfortable indeed. When people on the outside are brought to the center and given leadership, it’s unsettling. When people begin to live as God created them and not in societal norms, it’s challenging to our held beliefs. But Jesus says that change is inevitable, how can we not see it? The weather changes and we see the storm and wind coming, we see how fire transforms objects, but why can’t we see the changes and transformations that God is up to?

It’s fine for some changes to happen, particularly if they don’t affect us. But Jesus is clear that God’s kingdom comes-to spark the fire of the Holy Spirit that is in us-to change our hearts, our minds and our lives. What is not truly divine in us will be burned away, leaving in each of us and in all creation, God’s goodness, God’s divine image. In God’s kingdom, nothing stays the same, even if it means that mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, in-laws disagree and are divided on what it means to follow Jesus and be changed by the peace that he brings. This kind of division won’t feel good and we will want to avoid it at all costs. But when Jesus’ peace is upon us, drawing us into God’s transformations, we become part of God’s work and we can let go of trying to keep a false peace. We can go toward the discomfort of divisions as we also live in the faith and witness of those who have gone before us, those who risked and brought God’s change and healing into the world. We trust in God’s protection into this death to false peace and being resurrected into the promises of abundant and full life in transforming peace. This is the race that is before us as Christians in the 21st century. It’s hard, challenging and moves us beyond ourselves. And the fire of the Holy Spirit is in us, with us and sparking us daily to live in the God’s true radical love, hope and mercy that breaks all systems of oppression, heals the broken and brings us into community with one another and God. We rise up with God, together, deeply loved, never alone, part of God’s transforming and life-altering work in creation. Thanks be to God!

 

Life Together in Focus Sermon on Luke 10: 38-42 July 22, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 21, 2019.

Children’s Sermon: Have a hoola hoop, gather the children forward and have the hoola hoop laying on the ground. “We are going to pick this hoola hoop up with each of us only using one finger. Ok here we go!” Let them work together and see if they can do it. Offer hints and help if necessary. Once they have it lifted to waist level have them stop and hold it. “You did it! Working together and focusing on the same task, made this possible. Now that you have it lifted- I’m going to ask you some questions: If you don’t like to hoola hoop, or don’t know how, let go and step back. Ok come back and hold the hoola hoop again. If you like to read instead of watch tv step back. Ok come back. If you like to play outdoors more than video games step back. If you like video games more than playing outdoors, step back. What happens when we lose someone from our hoola hoop? It drops. We need everyone to keep it up off the ground don’t we? And despite the differences we just talked about-we all liked to do different things-we worked together to get the hoola hoop lifted. Our bible story reminds me of this working together, how we live together, even though we are different people. Martha and Mary were sisters who liked different things. Mary wanted to sit and learn from Jesus to show her love for him and Martha wanted to make sure that everyone had enough food to show that she loved Jesus. They both loved Jesus and both had good gifts to share. But Martha on this day, wanted Mary to be just like her and help serve and cook. And she was mad about it. Has that ever happened to you? When you wanted someone to like the same things and do the same things as you, but they wouldn’t? Yep. It’s happened to me! Martha was so mad that she told Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus knew that Martha loved him, and had many gifts as did Mary, but at this time was so worried about small details that didn’t matter, that she lost her focus on Jesus. Jesus reminds Martha that Mary is staying focused on what matters, Jesus, and so should she and so should we. Just like when we focused together to lift the hoola hoop, we can stay focused on Jesus by not worrying about who likes what, or is like us or different from us but how we work together to show Jesus’ love in the world. When we focus on Jesus, this is what we do. We focus on Jesus’ message of God’s love, grace and forgiveness for everyone. What helps you focus on Jesus? Prayer? Reading the bible? Helping people in need? This week say this blessing to one another in your house : +Jesus holds all people together in love+

A few years ago, I added yoga to my fitness routine mostly because as a distance runner, I needed something that would help me to stretch my tight hammies. And I need to work on balance. I have the grace and balance of a water buffalo, which is to say, none. I can trip and wipeout on a perfectly safe floor-and have! My mom recognized this in me at an early age and put me in every ballet class she could find but to no avail. I’m just not very coordinated. My mom used to say that I stood behind the door when God was passing out gracefulness. So, I took up yoga. What a train wreck I was at first. I would wobble and bobble, fall, look at certain poses and just laugh as there was no way that was ever going to happen. And I was certainly self-conscious. I would be trying to get into a pose and I would look up to see all the graceful people around me and inevitably, I would fall. The teacher would gently remind us all (probably mostly me) to find a focal spot and don’t look anywhere else to help you center. At first that didn’t even help me, as if I’m honest, I only focused on it for a bit and would become frustrated that I still wasn’t doing the pose like everyone else. The teacher would also say annoying things like “don’t compare yourself to others, this is your body, do what you can do and focus on that.” Sigh. You mean it’s not a competition to see who is the best at yoga? Mind. Blown. I kept going to yoga classes for some reason, even though I was uncomfortable, usually couldn’t wait for them to be over, and it only seemed to remind me of all my bodily weaknesses.

Then over time, something shifted. I started focusing on what I was doing and (mostly) quit looking around me at what other people were doing. When I did that, I could hold those uncomfortable and tricky balance poses. Now the second I looked over at the Gumby person on the mat next to me, I would fall. It’s all about focus, letting differences, competition, and worry, go. It’s about trusting in what God has given me, sinking into the promise that it’s enough, and that through Jesus, who I am is enough as are all the other people around me in that space. When I simultaneously focus and let go, not only in yoga class but in life and ministry, I can surrender to the flow of the Holy Spirit that surrounds me and us all that sweeps us up into what Jesus tells Martha is the only needed thing: Focusing on Jesus.

Focusing on Jesus seems so simple doesn’t it? We come to worship, we pray, we read the scriptures, the word of God, experience the Eucharist and then…we look up and get distracted and fall out of the balance of seeing people around us how Jesus sees them. We worry that not everyone looks like us, thinks like us, values the same activities that we value. We see other people’s differences as a problem or competition instead of a gift. We see change as threat and not as promise of a vibrant future. We see life together in a community as conflict and division and not beautiful diversity and unity.

The Martha and Mary story has been much maligned in interpretive history. It’s been touted as one sister is right and the other one is wrong, or as a model of discipleship for all women for some weird reason, or that Jesus is scolding Martha. But I would offer that those interpretations are not actually in the text. Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she is wrong in serving. After all, just a chapter before, Jesus sends the 70 out and tells them to rely on people like Martha for hospitality. And last week we heard Jesus say go and serve your fellow humans. No service isn’t the issue. Focus is. Where do you want to focus Martha? On other people? On details of lunch that don’t ultimately matter? On your anger and self-righteousness? Focus on me, Jesus says.

And what do we see when we focus on Jesus? We see what life together can look be. When we focus on Jesus, we begin to see people and creation through the eyes of Jesus, who sees us all as created in God’s image, as the beloved community. Not in sameness or homogeneity, but in a myriad of the diverse gifts needed to proclaim the kingdom of God in a world that is so set on the either/or of life instead of being open to a both/and mindset. Who’s in and who’s out, who’s like me, who’s different. When we focus on Jesus, we truly see each other and we see the truth of life together as the writer of Colossians stated in our reading this morning, verse 17 “[Jesus] himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus holds all things-things we like and things we don’t like-together so that each day, we begin anew to let go of details, fears, worries, anxieties of changes, differences, what distracts us from loving our neighbor and proclaiming the good news of God’s love and grace. Jesus holds our tensions, holds the paradox and holds the mystery of life in the 21st century. Jesus holds our lives and holds us in life together, not for our own comforts and preferences, but so that as the people of God, our lives together through Christ make the word of God fully known to a world that is dying of division, anxiety and fear. Jesus holds us to each other and to God.

When we focus on Jesus, we witness the promise that began at creation: All creation in richness and diversity is good, humanity is very good and Jesus as Christ, the one who is, was and is still coming to us over and over for all time, holds us all together and hold us in the flow of the life  of the Holy Spirit and tethers us to the promises of God for abundant and eternal life, not someday but beginning today. So, we focus, we center our lives on the one needed thing for life together: Jesus. Amen.

 

Jesus Doesn’t Cross the Line But Erases It, Mark 3: 20-35, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 7, 2015 June 7, 2015

Living with people is hard. How many of you remember, or still do it, as a kid going on a car trip with your family and friends and it wasn’t too far into the trip that you and your siblings divided up the car space? You drew that imaginary line down the middle of the back seat and said “Don’t cross this line!” You all wanted your own space and usually by five minutes into a trip someone was already annoying someone else. Even though you were supposed to be on a fun family trip! But it seems that siblings are always jockeying for space, differentiation and to get their fair share.  As human beings, we are constantly sorting ourselves. Whether it’s our co-workers, family members, friends, acquaintances, we make distinctions between one another around beliefs, convictions, values and morals. We like to draw imaginary lines in the sand and firmly plant ourselves on the side opposite of those with whom we disagree, don’t quite see eye to eye, or just think we need distance from. It gets even muddier when people don’t neatly fit into one category or stay on their proper side of the line.

Living with people is hard! So as humans, we tend to divide things up, we sometimes call it sharing, but in reality it’s dividing. We divide up everything and everyone into categories, we divide up our time, we divide up our resources, we divide up our love, and we divide up our compassion. We think that without dividing up, without sharing, we won’t have enough, there won’t be anything left for us or we won’t know where we or others fit in the bigger picture. We operate from a sense of scarcity. We like order, neatness and control. We assume that with divisions and categories in place, we can control the world around us, our families and our friends. We know exactly where we stand on our side of the line.

Jesus’ family was desperately trying to control this situation in Mark 3. Jesus had returned home, always a contentious thing as a young adult and much had happened to Jesus while he had been gone. He had been baptized by his cousin John, spent 40 days in the wilderness with Satan, called disciples, cast out demons on the Sabbath, and had done some healing, essentially, Jesus has spent the last couple of weeks completely bucking the system and revealing this new thing that God is up to among humanity, even among people whom society shuns and declares outside of God’s reach. So, now we catch up with Jesus in the story of Mark just trying to eat dinner.

Living with people is hard and as soon as Jesus returns to his neighborhood, trouble brews. Jesus was no longer the quirky but cute son of a carpenter but had moved beyond that category, he crossed the line and was now someone that no one recognized, not even his family! People were calling Jesus crazy, which was and still is a serious thing.

Scribes arrived on the scene and immediately drew a line in the sand that clearly put Jesus on the opposite side of all good law abiding Jewish people. If the scribes could just convince everyone that Jesus is on the side of the line with evil, with Satan, then the order of life as they knew it could continue. “Nothing to see here, the scribes and Sanhedrin are still in control, God is God as contained in the rule book and all is right with the world.”

But Jesus wouldn’t allow that line to be drawn. Jesus is clear with the crowd that has gathered, that division, drawing lines of who’s in and who’s out, claiming that only some are worthy to be called family, that only some will be gathered to God– is not what God is about, is not what Jesus came to reveal about God’s love and mercy in the world.

Jesus states that people will be forgiven no matter what they say or do but then offers us this tricky statement about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, which has had many hurtful and dividing interpretations over the past 2000 years. This extreme statement from Jesus should not be taken out of context but placed firmly in the midst of this story of family, divided houses that cannot stand, all being included in the family of God and the whole of God’s love story for creation. A blaspheme is a statement showing a lack of respect or a claim that one possesses the same divine powers as God. Jesus is pointing out the fallacy of humans to think that they control God, or control God’s kingdom, or know God’s will with certainty. We like to think that we can somehow know or interpret what “God’s will” is but if we’re honest we throw that phrase around to justify our own behavior or to try and explain the unexplainable in our lives.

But if I may be so bold, I wonder if  it’s in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s son, that we do get a glimpse of “God’s will.”  What if the will of God is the radical inclusivity and love that Jesus proclaimed, taught and lived? What if the will of God is that division of any kind is forever erased? Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reveals who God is and what God is doing: loving and including everyone in the kingdom of God. We, as God’s people, are invited in by God to reveal what God is doing by loving, including and erasing all divisions around us. It’s tempting for us to assume that we know who God does or doesn’t love, who is included in grace and mercy or not and draw a line to keep “those people” away from us. But I’ve heard it said somewhere that anytime you draw a line between you and someone else, Jesus is always on the other side.

But here’s the good news, even in this seemingly harsh statement on a so-called “eternal sin”, God’s grace is still extended. The bigger picture is that Jesus in his death and resurrection forgives all sin, all of the times we try to be God or guess the mind of God for our own comfort or control. On the cross, Jesus gathers us all to him, and declares that nothing that we do, say or think can separate us or draw a line in the sand, between us and God. Jesus’ love erases all of our lines between God and each other. In the kingdom of God, there is only unity, forgiveness, love and mercy, even when living with people is hard.

What would it look like if we here at LOTH (Lord of the Hills) declared that lines, divisions and categories are no more and that in our gift of diversity we are one people of God, unified, one family, proclaiming God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for the entirety of creation? What if we reflected only the love of Christ to one another so that no one is on the outside but the circle of welcome is widened for all? What if we went out to the neighborhood around us with this message of radical inclusivity in the kingdom of God? Look at all of the ways that we already to do that! Preschool, supporting New Beginnings, VBS, opening our building up to other congregations and organizations, just to name a few. Where is God calling us next to erase a line and include people?

Living with people is hard and messy, there is no denying that. But God promises to live in our midst and reveal that in that difficulty is renewal, unity and love for all. In the bread and in the wine that we share each time we gather for worship, Jesus proclaims that we are gathered in one community, to be God’s one holy people for the sole purpose of gathering all of God’s people to the table; where God’s kingdom of forgiveness and grace breaks into the world with a force that can’t be ignored or explained away. Jesus declares that we are one people, one house united and the lines between us and God are erased, Thanks be to God, amen.