A Lutheran Says What?

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

Rooted Sermon on Acts 8 and John 15 May 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed for the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 2, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Acts 8: 26-40
John 15: 1-8
ELCA Social Statements: Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust
Faith, Sexism and Justice

Young Friends message:

You might remember or know that I grew up in the military, in the Air Force to be exact. My family moved quite often, we would uproot and go to a new place. I went to five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools. So I was the new girl all the time. And to be honest, I was a bit odd, maybe because of moving so often, but really, probably because I was me. I was a kid who loved to sing and did so everywhere I went. I loved playing my violin, was horrible at sports, loved reading books, and was the opposite of cool in so many ways. I was also a bit odd as I loved church, I mean, I LOVED Church! Everywhere we moved, it turned out that God was the same and there! I was that teenager that sang the liturgy, attended every church function even when my parents didn’t, and started teaching Sunday school at 15. I mean I loved Church. I felt rooted there, I felt like it was the only place where I was loved for being odd, and for being well, me. When I was in confirmation, we picked our own confirmation verses. I was in the youth choir, of course, and we had a piece we were singing called “Vine and Branches” based off of our Gospel story for today. I fell in love with those words, “I am the vine and you are the branches, you who abide in me and I in them.” I picked that verse because I am connected to that vine whether I live in CA, ND, Guam, NE or here in Utah. A few weeks after I was confirmed at First Lutheran in Minot, we uprooted again and moved to NE. But I knew that I stayed connected to Jesus no matter what. And so are you! I want you to know that no matter what, what you grow up to do, who you grow up and choose to live with and be a family with, how you dress, cut your hair, no matter what, you can’t be uprooted from Jesus. God says so. Here’s a piece of twine to remind you that you are connected and rooted in Jesus’ love.

I’ve spent a lot of my life uncomfortable, so you’d think I’d be good at it. Like I shared with our younger friends, it has been most of my living experience. I actually don’t like being uncomfortable, do you? When I’m in an uncomfortable place, or conversation, my instinct is to separate myself from that discomfort. Maybe it’s physically relocating, or not speak my truth, or assume my discomfort is not important, or blame the other person for my discomfort. The end result is the same, separation, disconnection feeling cut off. It’s harder when I’m uncomfortable with myself, maybe I’m ashamed of a feeling, how I look, my thoughts, my actions, my dreams. And I try to forget, push away, or ignore that discomfort-I separate or compartmentalize pieces of myself, I don’t want to get to the hard truth, the root of my discomfort, as then I would have to deal with it, and who wants to do that hard work? But as I’ve gotten older, and maybe wiser or at least gained some experience, I realize that separation within myself, denial of who I am at my root, at my core is a dangerous thing. When I’m not fully connected to myself, I can’t connect authentically or in a healthy way with others. Yet, this isn’t how we operate day to day is it? We deny and shy away from anything that makes us uncomfortable: people, conversations, situations, feelings, etc. What’s the old adage? Never discuss religion or politics? Well, we’re going to do a bit of both this morning, so hold on. If we can’t practice having hard conversations here among each other, as God’s people, then how are we going to do this in our day to day lives? And to make this even harder, you’re welcome, we’re going to add sexuality into this mix. Don’t leave! It’ll be ok, I promise.
The Bible is filled with these uncomfortable conversations and stories, but we ignore the parts that make us uncomfortable, until we can’t. I love this story in Acts 8 today for so many reasons. First, let’s just name that it’s kinda weird and uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit talks to Philip who actually listens and obeys, (What?) goes to the wilderness (this was a road through nowhere),and encounters a stranger, a person only named by their physical traits, an Ethiopian Eunuch. So much to unpack here and I’ll give you a sliver. Ethiopian doesn’t refer to the country of Ethiopia as we know it today, it only refers to the geography south of Egypt. It refers to his dark skin color and would be used to highlight that he is indeed “not from around these parts.” We’re told he’s a Eunuch, ok stay with me, that can mean one of a few things: he was born without male sexual organs, he is a slave who was castrated for the purpose of serving the King and his harem of women without fear of sexual promiscuity, or he was not castrated but had an effeminate manner that allowed him to move in more female dominated spaces. We don’t know which it is, but we know this: in ancient Roman times, he would have been mocked, bullied, considered nonmale, nonbinary, and not accepted. We read that he was returning from worship in Jerusalem: and we know from Levitical law, that being a eunuch, he would have been excluded from being in the inner courts of the Temple. It’s possible that he was a practicing Jew, and it’s also possible that he was what was referred to as a “God-fearer.” Someone who is not a full practicing Jew but liked the idea of God.
We also know that he had access to money as he had a chariot and a scroll of Isaiah. Philip encounters him reading the scroll aloud, a common ancient practice, and asks him if he knows what he’s reading about? The Ethiopian Eunuch responds with a question: How could I since no one will interpret for me? We don’t have the details of what Philip tells him, other than he tells him of the good news of Jesus. We do know the Ethiopian Eunuch’s next question: What prevents me from being baptized right now? He got right to the root of following Jesus.It can be heard as rhetorical, as the answer is, of course, nothing. But we need to uncomfortably admit that we also know that isn’t always true. The Church, yes, the supposed beloved people of God, has given a myriad of answers to that question throughout history, that is anything but a yes. You want to belong? First dress appropriately (according to whom?), pray correctly, know the same hymns that we do, stand up and sit down at the correct times, stay in your gender or age role, don’t be a different color, sexual orientation, or partisan persuasion, like all the same food we do, all the same books, all the same music. Fit in this box and cut yourself off from everything that doesn’t fit in the box. Then you’re welcomed, then you belong, then you are loved.
I’ve been told that. Disconnect from the part of me that isn’t feminine enough, acts too confident and bold. Don’t think that you have an equal say, don’t be bossy, but you should speak up more, don’t dress so girly, or masculine or dowdy. Why do you wear make up? Why don’t you wear some lipstick? My daughter who is queer and marrying a wonderful young woman has been told even uglier things. LBGTQIA+ people in our society and yes, in churches, have been told to cut off the part of themselves that might make others uncomfortable or we mistakenly think are in the bible. An aside: the word “homosexuality” didn’t appear in the English bible until 1946, it’s a bad translation from the Hebrew and the Greek. Jesus says nothing about same gender relationships, and to really make you uncomfortable, the gospel of John talks about the “beloved disciple of Jesus” who leaned on his bosom. Maybe that was Jesus’ partner? We don’t know. But Jesus does say love and care for your neighbor, over and over and over and over again. Yet, we focus on a handful of passages that are badly translated to ensure some sort of hierarchy in the church and world. Just sayin’.

In 2009, the ELCA, at Churchwide assembly, adopted the social statement: Human sexuality a gift and trust. It removed the barriers, the disconnection for our siblings who are LBGTQIA+ to serve in the Church as rostered leaders. I will personally add, that the part of “bound conscious” in this document I find problematic. It means that if a congregation doesn’t want a woman or an LBGTQIA person to serve as their pastor, they can reject such a candidate. I don’t think that is faithful or biblical. Jesus came to unbind us from such sin. I don’t think we should affirm people who are indeed bound and determined to exclude, judge and cut off anyone from the community of Jesus followers.
And in 2019, the ELCA adopted the social statement Faith, Sexism and Justice. These documents answered the question: what is to prevent me from following God’s call to serve in my life for women, femmes and LBGTQIA+ folks with the words, “nothing.” And what’s more, affirmed that all people are created in Imago Dei, in God’s very image. We gloss over in Genesis 1:26 where it states, “let US make humanity in OUR own image.” Plural. We have a God of diversity, pluralism and variety. We have a God who wants wholeness, unity and hope not only between all parts of creation but within ourselves. These documents got to the root of the issue, and challenge us to recover God’s mission of wholeness, that we can’t cut off or compartmentalize aspects of ourselves for comfort or convenience. That includes our sexuality. It’s part of who we are as much as our personality, hair color, height, likes, dislikes, gifts, and foibles. We are challenged to fully live into our baptismal promises to seek this wholeness, God’s justice for all people. We can’t change who God created us to be, God calls us to be the most authentic, loving, whole and holy version of who God created us to be.

We’re going to chat about this now for a few minutes in small groups. If you don’t get to all the questions, no problem!

  1. All humans are made in the image of God. How does the variety of people you know/interact with reflect who God is for you? Does your image of God change when you consider this?
  2. How does our language for God perpetuate our images of God?
  3. Talk about how our theological convictions (that is what we think about God and how God works in the world) shape how we might understand and live into justice for LBGTQIA+ people in our society.

The Ethiopian Eunuch more likely literally had parts of him cut off by a power structure to make him useful to the powers and yet outcast from the power structure. It had its desired effect, to dehumanize him and make him separate, to uproot him from society. What he heard from Philip, is that is not God’s will and Jesus came to connect, to not have anyone deny that the root of who they are is connected to the root of all creation, God. And that connection didn’t depend on him changing anything about himself first. He was connected to the root of life just as he was. Jesus is indeed the vine, that connects and nourishes us all. And not only to one another but to connect us to ourselves, the real us whom God created in God’ own image. The Ethiopian Eunuch heard this, he already knew that he belonged no ifs, ands, buts or rules. His sexuality, his body, was as important to God as his spirit and heart. They were one in the same and couldn’t be separated. And were fully loved. He should be called by his root identity, child of God. Philip needed to hear this as much as the child of God before him did, as much as we do. Philip went toward the discomfort of the wilderness, of the stranger, of the person considered less than, and was reminded of his own humanity, of God’s vast welcome and affirmation of all who and what God has created and of being connected to the true vine, that connects all the branches of every shape, kind, and purpose, to the root of all life, love and mercy for all people and all creation: God.

 

Living Connections Sermon on John 15:1-8 April 30, 2018

*This sermon was preached on April 19, 2018 and can be watched on http://www.bethanylive.org. The texts were John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4: 7-21.

Children’s sermon: Have you ever been alone? Maybe in your room, at night, or another time? What is it like to be alone? Yes, it can be fine for a while, and sometimes being alone for a little bit is good and ok. But what would happen if you were alone ALL THE TIME? As in everyday all day, no one to talk to, no one to help with meals, no one to wash your clothes, no one to play with, no one at all. What would THAT be like? Yes, I think that would be sad, hard, lonely and ultimately, we can’t live by ourselves can we? Can you grow all your own food, raise cows for hamburgers, never go to a grocery store, because if you are alone, there is no one to put food in the grocery store! God created us to not be alone, but to be together.

Today in SS you will hear the bible story Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches. We are always connected to Jesus and Jesus wants us to always be connected to him. This is because God loves us! Let’s go look at the tree in the corner. Do you see the branches coming off the main trunk? Yep, Jesus says that he is like the trunk. The trunk of the tree sends food, water, and other things the branches need to grow and to have leaves and some trees give us fruit, like apples, peaches, pears, bananas. Jesus wants us to know that Jesus will give us what we need to grow and bear fruit. Now will you grow apples from your arms?? NO! don’t be silly, but the kind of fruit Jesus wants us to grow is love. We know that God is love and love is the most important thing to God. God knows that when we are connected to Jesus, like branches on a tree, then we are connected to love! Just like branches grow off of other healthy branches, if we are connected to love we will grow more love! And when we are connected to Jesus, we are also connected to each other and show love to each other and grow love in each other! How can we show love and help each other grow love? How about when we are kind to a friend, even if they are not being kind to us? How about helping someone in class with math, reading or science? Or how about sitting with a classmate at lunch who no one else sits with? All kinds of ways to show love! God shows us love, connects us to love in Jesus and we are this same love of God. I want you to write your name on this ribbon, and we are going to tie the ends of our ribbons to one anothers ribbons to make a chain and put it on the tree to show that we are connected to Jesus and each other. The adults will do this in a minute too. You can go back to your seat when your done, I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about this.

 

Connections. We often say in our lives that it’s not what you know but who you know. Who you are connected to. We love connections, mostly. The rise of social media is a testament to this. We can be reconnected to high school and college friends, connected to colleagues all over the world, family, even complete strangers whom we find interesting in a two-dimensional sort of way. The downside of digital connections is that they tend to replace face to face interactions and we are wired for personal connection. As neurological research continues to reveal, being in community is vital for health. There is a Ted Talk by Susan Pinker where she reveals that the secret to longevity is a social life. This is the most important factor for longevity beyond diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, positive thinking, gratitude or genetics. Close relationships, connections, belonging, community are a vital life source. Even casual interactions such as talking to your barista, or the cashier at Target are more important than any of those biological factors. Being connected is life itself.

This is a truth that is not an accident. God created us in community, saying “let us make humankind in our own image”and then: “go forth and multiply.” God’s very self is relationship and community as we proclaim in the Creeds: God father, creator, Jesus redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who gathers us as one. God became flesh in Jesus to dwell with us, to abide with us, or a more accurate translation, to make a home with us. To move in so to speak. Jesus is moving in! Better finish the basement! Jesus moved in with us to show us that this belonging in God’s community, this deep and powerful connection is all about love. 1 John 4: 8 sums up the whole of God’s being and the bible: God is love. And this love is not just fluffy, sentimental, Valentines day love, no, it’s agape love. Agape love is self-sacrificing love, resilient love, love as actions. God, through Jesus, shows us actions of healing, actions of casting out demons and fear, actions of servanthood, actions of risk, actions of dying on a cross, actions of being raised from the dead. Love that will go to great lengths, literally to death and back, to be connected to us so that we may know this love and live connected to this source of love.

The stakes are high in this love. Jesus is clear that without being connected to this source of life and love, we will wither and die. When we cut ourselves off from Jesus, we are indeed like a branch that is disconnected, dies and is only good for firewood. We cut ourselves off when we listen to the society around us that tells us that we should be able to go through life alone and not need other people to journey with us. Pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps, be smarter, quicker, and better than everyone else. Be self-made people. Worry only about ourselves. We don’t want to be dependent, reliant or co-dependent. There are times that I believe this lie from culture and think that it’s all about what I alone can produce, and what I alone can produce is a statement about my worth. When I fall into this trap of self-reliance, I project it on other people around me and that’s when real disconnection can happen. I forget that I have gifts that people need me to share and that those people have gifts that I desperately need to be all whom God created me to be. This is what it means to be connected to Jesus the true vine, the source of all life and love. Connected to this life source, we live in a state of mutual and intertwined relationship with God and each other.

I need to be reminded constantly that I am part of a bigger whole, as I bear more fruit of God’s love when I am in mutual, giving, and loving relationship with Jesus and the people of God. John 15: 5 was my confirmation verse I chose when I was 14 years old. I was an Air Force brat and when I was confirmed in May, at the end of my ninth grade year and chose this verse, I had just learned that my dad had orders for us to move again soon. I would get to finish my first year of high school but then leave shortly after school let out. I would be losing all the connections from the previous four years. We had read this verse in church after Easter and I latched onto it with a vice grip. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said. “Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” I heard “You are connected to me Jesus says, whether you like it or not and vines rarely their drop branches and as the vine grows, branches intertwine with other branches, and become so intertwined, you can’t tell which branch is which and where the vine begins and the branches end. This verse told me that I was connected to the true vine no matter where I was.

So Jesus says it is with our relationship with him and each other. The gift of being in this community of faith, based on the reality of love, agape love that flows from first from God to Jesus the vine and then to us the branches, is not only about us but about the fruits of love we bear. Love in action, not just in words. Love in action is fearless, for when we are filled with love, there simply isn’t room for anything else; no room for hate, apathy, greed or fear. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. Fear can cause us to see the world through tunnel vision and lose sight of the expansive and fearless love that we are connected to and are called to be.

Fearless love in action is when we risk our reputation to speak out for the dignity of all people. Fearless love in action is when we sacrifice our own wants so that our neighbors have what they need, whether that is safety, food, shelter, clothing. Fearless love in action is praying for those whom you don’t like and who don’t like you. Fearless love in action is working for justice and standing with people who lack power or voice in our culture due to gender, race, faith tradition, or sexual orientation. Fearless love in action is looking beyond first impressions or our own biases and seeing each other as God sees us, all branches on the vine, all useful, all with worth, all created in God’s image of love. And God’s perfect love casts out all fear.

You are already connected to this source of life and love. You are already connected to all the other branches on the vine, some that are like you and some that are very different. Some are right next to you and you can see and touch, and some branches that are so far down that vine that you don’t even know that they exist but Jesus says they matter. You already have everything you need to bear fruits of love. You have been splashed with the waters of baptism as we will do for Miles this morning, and proclaimed a branch on the vine of life, you are nourished body and soul with bread, wine and words of promise and forgiveness to grow in love and bear fruits of God’s love.

Beloved, love one another, for God’s love through Jesus Christ has moved in and this perfect love is here to stay, to cast out fear, to connect us to Jesus the true vine, and each other, now and forever. Amen

*During the hymn of the day/or communion, you are invited to come to the prayer station in the corner. Take a green ribbon and write your name on it in the center. You will tie one end of your ribbon to the end of someone else’s to create one chain of ribbons on the tree as a visual that we are connected to each other and Jesus sustains us all. When you tie your ribbon onto someone else’s, notice the name on the ribbon. Pray for that person this week to bear the fruit of God’s love.

When you leave the station, there are baskets of key tags, please take one. They have the verse of John 15:5 on one side and “We are connected to Jesus” on the other as a reminder of being the beloved community no matter where your life takes you.