A Lutheran Says What?

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

Figuring Out Jesus Sermon on Transfiguration Sunday Year A February 23, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on February 23, 2020 in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Exodus 24: 12-18
2 Peter 1: 16-21
Matthew 17: 1-9

Children’s sermon: (*I ran from one spot in the sanctuary to the next stopping only long enough to do something silly like dance, jumping jacks, etc. without giving the children much direction at all except to follow me.)  How was that to follow? It might have been confusing at first because I didn’t tell you to look for something new. But once you caught on to the new thing, you got it! Our bible story talks about seeing something new. The disciples went up the mountain with Jesus, and they thought that Jesus was special, but they didn’t know how special. They just thought he was a good rabbi, teacher, healer. But then they saw Jesus in a new light! Jesus shined with God’s glory! We don’t really know how that happened, only that God made it happen. The disciples were afraid and fell down-but Jesus touched them and said, get up, don’t be afraid. Just because you saw something new, doesn’t mean you need to be afraid! Jesus says: Now you have seen me differently, now you know that there is more to come, and you will follow me in a new way, on a new and different path than you first thought. It’s not only about teaching, healing and praying. It might not all be easy, but God is with you. Jesus helps us to see the world around us in a new way and to do new things-even if they might scare us. Have you ever been afraid to try something new? I have! It’s scary to talk to a new person, or to help someone in need, especially if it means that we go to places that we don’t know or we might think are unsafe-sometimes that true but sometimes it’s not and we’re just unfamiliar. Jesus says when you are afraid to do something new, I am with you! All the time! Let’s pray:

You’ve heard the saying, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” I’m not always great at remembering that, as I tend to start a journey with the end already in mind. When we go up into the mountains hiking, I have a hard time not worrying about how much further to the top, especially if I’m on a new trail. I’m not much of a enjoy the journey kind of personality. I’m more of a “are we there yet?” kind of person and I really like to know where I’m going, exactly how long it will take to get there, what the path will be (hard or easy?) and if I have everything I could need for the journey.  I’m working on letting go, enjoying the journey and trusting the path. BUT sometimes the destination will shift and not be what I think it is. There have been times in my life, not just hiking, when I thought the destination was in one place, only to find out that it’s not. Such as when I was 21, I thought when I graduated with my teaching degree that was the end, I was a teacher forever. Well, my journey changed as did my destination. As my vocational journey changed, I had to let go of some things from my past journey and be open to a destination that was unknown to me.

We started the Epiphany season with the story of the Magi on their journey of following a star. They had a destination in mind, but didn’t know exactly where. They knew it involved finding where the baby king was, and they followed a star-a star to the sweet little baby Jesus, God now with us in the world. But that wasn’t the end of their journey or ours in Epiphany. The path led to the stop of the Jordan river, where Jesus was baptized and claimed as God’s own son, but that also wasn’t the end. The path then led to the mount where Jesus taught the crowds of the upsidedownness of God’s kingdom where the poor, meek, peaceful, grieving, hungry, are pivotal and important. But that, too, wasn’t the end.

And today the path is literally up a mountain, with three disciples (Peter, James and John) and Jesus. And once at the top, the supposed destination, the unimaginable, the unexplainable, the unbelievable happens. Jesus is no longer who the disciples think Jesus is. The path they had been on with Jesus was one that the disciples had become comfortable with, they could predict with some accuracy what their day to day with Jesus would be like. Jesus will do some teaching, feed some people, heal people, maybe say some weird stuff, but overall, basically they thought that they had Jesus figured out.

But then it all changed. Just when they thought they had Jesus figured out, Jesus transfigured! They saw him in a new light! Jesus revealed a new path on the journey. Much ink has been spilled on why Jesus shines, and the meaning of being up on the mountain and such, but honestly, this isn’t an event to scientifically explain, figure out or dissect-it simply is. Jesus is more than we thought we had figured out and Jesus will continue to reveal to us along the way more and more about what God’s promise to be with us means for us and the world. The journey continues. Peter attempted to make some sense of this event by offering to build the dwellings-one for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. And before we ridicule Peter for this action, Peter was simply applying his previous journey to the current one. Peter was recalling the Jewish celebration of the Festival of Booths or Sukkot, in which temporary shelters are built to give thanks to God for the harvest. It was instituted after the exodus to honor that everything comes from God. Peter is recalling the journey of the Israelites. God’s voice interrupts Peter and puts him, and the other disciples on a new path. They fall down in fear and Jesus comes to them, touches them, tells them to rise and don’t be afraid. And when they look up: all they see is Jesus. Jesus who is the way, Jesus who is their guiding light, and Jesus who will lead them to a new destination that they couldn’t and wouldn’t imagine: the cross. But Jesus says, that destination, the cross won’t be the end of the journey either. There will be more to the journey, for with God what may look like the end, isn’t really the end. There is always more, the journey will always continue and path is one where we are never alone.

Like the disciples, it’s hard for us to imagine the next part of our journey. It’s tempting to simply fall down in fear from the change in direction and the uncertainty or want to figure out how to stay exactly where we are. But Jesus comes to us, touches us, tells us to rise and not be afraid. And when we look up, we will see what the disciples saw: Jesus. Jesus who has always been with us on our journey, whether it’s a mountain top experience that we can’t explain or our path down the mountain, to the valley, to the everyday mundaneness  of our lives where the next stop isn’t always clear. Jesus’ voice rings in our ears, in our hearts and in our souls to guide us on the path. And we listen.

It is good that we are here, and it is good that we don’t stay here. There is more to our journey, for us as individuals, for the community here at OSLC, and for all of God’s people in the world. Just when we think we have our journey with Jesus figured out, Jesus will shine God’s light on a new path, with new people, new experiences and new places. We will see our relationship, our mission here in new light. What may look like an end, is only the beginning to a new part of our journey. Our journey isn’t something to figure out, but our journey is to rise up, be unafraid and to walk with Jesus on the path. Amen.

 

Planning on the Promise Sermon on Luke 12 August 11, 2019

This sermon was preached on August 11, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Psalm 33: 12-22, Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12: 32-40.

 

 

 

Children’s sermon: School is starting soon and so are all of the activities at church…here is my planner where I try and keep it all straight, so that I have everything under control. I like to think that if I plan, then I won’t have to worry. But even planning makes me worried about everything going on! How do you get ready for things such as the first day of school? You set an alarm to remember to get up. Get dressed: Do you wear shorts in the winter or a heavy coat in August? No, you check the weather. You might take a shower, brush your teeth, pack a lunch maybe a snack, make sure you have your homework in you backpack…Why do you do all of those things? I mean you pack a lunch at 7 a.m. and lunch isn’t until much later…but you do these things because on some level you’re afraid of not having what you need for your day. If you didn’t you would get to lunch time and be hungry, or get to math class and not have your homework. This thing about my calendar and how we plan our day, is that it’s all about ourselves. We spent a lot of time last week getting ready for VBS, not because we were afraid of all you kids coming but because we were excited and wanted you and all the children to feel welcomed and loved! Our bible stories remind me today that being ready is important but I don’t have to be afraid or panic. Jesus tells us to not be afraid for God gives us God’s kingdom! What do you think is in God’s Kingdom? Well, God’s kingdom probably includes lots of things that I don’t understand about but here’s one thing that I do know is included in God’s kingdom: God’s promise to love us, to keep us together as a community, and that we are with God always-right here, right now and when we someday die. And God GIVES it to us-to all of us together! Do you know what a promise is? Yes, it’s a gift to do something. We can’t earn it or lose it! God gives the kingdom to us simply because we are loved. And so we live our lives being ready, not out of fear, not out of worry of what will happen next, but ready to receive all that God will give us and to share it! Let’s pray:

There seems that there is a lot to fear in our lives right now! Perhaps there always has been, but it seems in hyperdrive. Especially in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton last weekend. We can be fearful about even going to the grocery store or other retailers to do back to school shopping knowing that spaces we once held as public, safe and communal now cause us to be on constant guard and vigilance. I was reading where some parents are buying their children bullet proof backpacks out of fear…that never would have occurred to me or been on my radar as a parent of young children or a teacher. And that’s not the only fear that seems prevalent: fear of the stock markets, trade wars and economy, which might lead of never being able to retire or maintain retirement (I’m personally not planning on being able to fully ever retire), fear of actual wars and rumors of wars, fear of the mass deportations that are occurring, fear of global warming and the effects on the environment and on our health as a people. And then you layer that with what I call fears that persist at an underlying hum in our lives: health, family, day to day finances, relationships, work, childcare and we spend much of our day to day lives mitigating or coping (in productive or unproductive ways)  those fears by financial planning or plain old calendar planning, following the stock markets daily, checking the weather, knowing the news, mapping out our children’s future, working out, dieting, organizing, and we fool ourselves into the illusion that that we can on our own know everything and be ready for any eventuality in our lives. But really all that happens is what psychologists call being in a state of hypervigilance, which is a leading cause of anxiety and depression, both conditions of which are skyrocketing in our society, particularly among our children. And this doesn’t only effect mental status but anxiety and depression have real physical symptoms as well. And it feels the more we try to plan and control, the more anxiety we can have.

And then we get a passage like this one in Luke. And in our current state of affairs, what do we hone in on in these nine verses? The being ready part! We bypass the first couple of verses and our hearts go straight to where our own treasured anxieties lead us: We must be ready! If we’re not something bad will happen! We must do all that WE can to be ready, it depends on us! If we don’t prepare-we have no one to blame but ourselves.

But that’s where we have to back that train up. Jesus says in this passage and so many times throughout the gospels “Do not be afraid.” Yeah, right, Jesus, easy to say in bucolic ancient Palestine when times were simpler…well, Jesus was on the way to the cross, the Empire and the religious authorities were after him. The people he was talking to were poor, oppressed, marginalized and lacked power over their own lives. They had much to fear. They never knew when a Roman solider would enter their home demanding money, food or to take them away to be conscripted. They never knew when disease would strike. They never knew if the food would hold out or where they could get what they needed to survive. Don’t be afraid? Fear was in the very air that they breathed.

What follows from Jesus is the heart of the gospel: “For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” As I told the children, this is the promise. God loves us as a parent adores a child and gives us, no matter what, God’s kingdom. With this promise in mind we read the next verses on being ready. God’s promise permeates all that we think, say and do. Any planning that we do isn’t wrong or bad, and it’s also not a command that is up to us to follow. We plan out of faith, what we hope for in God’s kingdom, that the promises of God cling to us more tightly than fear clings to us. When we focus on God’s promises, this is where our heart will be and so our treasure.

When we plan and live out of this promise and faith that is part of God’s kingdom, we live differently than those around us. Living out of fear will always seek to divide, hoard, worry, terrorize and polarize us. Living out of faith and promise witnesses to sharing, including, welcoming, contentment and loving. God’s promise isn’t just to us as individuals, but to us as a whole people. How we are prepared to receive God’s kingdom is about how we live together. We live together from faith when we support Urban Crossroads, when we offer VBS to children as a place of hope and love. When we support Linus Project to offer hope to children with something as simple and meaningful as a blanket. When we for God’s Work, Our Hands, work at Family Promise. We live from faith of God’s promises, anytime we walk with people on the margins to make visible this assurance of hope. This week at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in WI-a memorial was passed that the ELCA would be a sanctuary denomination-which means essentially that we will walk in meaningful and purposeful ways with people in this country who are marginalized due to their immigration status. While some would worry this a partisan stance-it’s not. It’s a political stance-one the highlights God’s politic-God’s heart-that we all love and care for one another despite paperwork or human made borders. We forget that politics are not bad, as Jesus was highly political. The word politics comes from the Greek word “polis” which means “city” or “living together in a city.” God cares very much how we live together. When we follow God’s politics, God’s heart, we also care how we live together, our heart will be with whom we treasure, when we serve one another as Christ. This will make us, as the writer of Hebrews states, “strangers and foreigners on the earth.”

We will be very strange and foreign indeed, to live fully into the gospel of promise of being ready to receive God’s kingdom, not from fear but from hopeful anticipation. God calls us to live together and to be ready for God’s transforming presence in our lives-not by our own deed but by the work of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews also states, “God has prepared a city for them/for us.” God has already prepared what we need to live together in peace and we are ready to participate in God’s work of  God’s heart for the world, clinging to faith and not fear, hope and not despair, promise and not worry.

We cannot know the future, and fear will continue to swirl around us. But so do the promises of God, so do the words of Jesus, “do not be afraid little flock,” and so does the gift of faith from God who prepares our hearts, minds and souls with what we need to live together, to live into the promises and to receive the kingdom that is already here and is still being revealed. Amen.