A Lutheran Says What?

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

Getting Our Attention: Sermon on Transfiguration Sunday, Epiphany 6B February 12, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 14, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

2Kings 2: 1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Mark 9: 2-9

I will admit to you that my planner is my life. Many of you have heard me say: If it doesn’t get into my planner, it doesn’t exist. Each day, I look at my calendar to see what should get my attention. Is it emails? Pastoral care calls? Holy Week planning? Sermon prep? Paying bills? House maintenance? Or the now complex task of procuring groceries without contracting a disease? And then there’s the stuff that creeps up that I DON’T plan for: the so-called “emergencies” that suddenly grab my full and complete attention, whether they should or not. And if I’m honest, then there are the things that grab my attention because they are simply distractions from what I should really be doing.  TV programs, my phone, social media, and more can get my attention. I am self-aware enough to know that what gets my attention is not always what SHOULD get my attention. I also know that left to my own devices, I will give my attention to situations and distractions that aren’t life-giving, or feed my ego, or keep me from what truly matters. For this reason, I bought a different kind of planner for this year. It’s a liturgical year calendar, which is church geek speak for it starts at Advent and ends at Christ the King Sunday. Each day there is a one sentence prayer, the daily office scriptures, and a reminder to keep the main thing the main thing. I wanted a planner to remind me that it is God who should get my attention each day. I would love to tell you that it’s working beautifully and each day I give my full attention to God and listen for God’s word in everything I do. But if I said that, I would be lying. Even with this planner, what tends to get my attention is whoever is the most demanding in my email, texts or ear, or the outrageous Twitter thread, or our national drama, or whatever is shinier, easier, and self-gratifying in my day, or whatever Amazon’s deal of the day might be. (But have you seen some of those deals?)

I can convince myself that I am giving my attention to God through my to-do lists, as giving those distractions my full attention seems far safer than truly giving God my full attention. I know that giving God my full attention, would mean a focus not on myself and what I want or what I think is important. And yet, there have been times that God has commanded my full attention. Usually, it’s when I’m at my most confused, exhausted, fearful or angry. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth. And even then, my ego works overtime to put the attention back where I think it belongs, on me. But God doesn’t give up and is ok even with the negative attention I offer. God knows that as a human, I’m a hard sell on giving my full attention to anyone but myself, so God goes to great lengths to lure me into God’s love and care.

Evidence of God’s desire to get our full attention is in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus, God with us, is God’s ultimate attention grabber and yet, as we read in the gospels, humanity, even or especially the disciples, still miss it. Healings, casting out of demons, inclusion of the outcasts, all are easily dismissed, and people focus not on the care and mercy offered, but the rules broken, the human hierarchy dismantled and the need to control what they can’t understand. This story that we call the Transfiguration of Jesus is no exception. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain, a place in Jewish cosmology where one experiences the divine. He glows, like he swallowed radium and even his clothing was bright enough to get the attention of someone miles away. And if that wasn’t enough, Elijah and Moses appeared, both of whom were servants for God, but God had to work really hard to even get their attention from time to time. God grabbed Moses’ attention by manifesting as a talking burning bush that wasn’t consumed and had to get Elijah’s attention that God could be in the sheer silence, not only in big grand theophanies of wind, fire and earthquakes. Moses and Elijah constantly had their attention pulled away from what really mattered.

But dear Peter’s attention couldn’t be so easily persuaded away from himself. “It’s good we’re here! Let me build something!” I would love to criticize this, but I recognize myself in this reaction, so I’m going to give Peter a pass. But God, God tries again. This time a cloud overshadows them, and God speaks through the cloud “Hey, this is Jesus my son, could you do me a solid and please pay attention! Listen to him!” For me, the most poignant part of this story is verse 8, “Suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” Everything that could have taken their attention elsewhere, was gone. Their attention had be on Jesus, because at the end of it all, Jesus was the only one there, and nothing else mattered. Only Jesus.

This is what God wants for us, for our attention to be so focused on Jesus that Jesus, is all that we see. It’s Jesus’ love, care and mercy that get my attention each day. I have to admit that God sometimes has to work hard to get my attention as I don’t always want to notice. I have to listen to God’s voice as it whispers in the tears and heartbreak of my neighbor; as God’s voice thunders through the chants of my neighbor demanding justice and dignity; as God’s voice crackles in storms, wildfires and destruction of ecosystems; as God’s voice sings out the love that longs to be free in all people of every gender and orientation; as God’s voice heralds’ true life, life that is attentive to God’s love for us all through Jesus.

God’s attentive and loving gaze on us and creation craves to be seen, heard and noticed, not for God’s sake but for our own sake, and for our and creation’s healing and wholeness. But giving God our full attention brings risk, for then we will see ourselves and each human being we encounter in light and truth, through the gaze of Jesus. It means that we can’t look away from the suffering, pain and fear, for our own safety and comfort, but like Jesus, we will fully give our attention to the people and places in our community who need to know that they are worthy of God’s and our, full attention. We will give our attention to the full inclusion of each person in God’s promises. Giving God our full attention will mean less attention on ourselves, and that is part of our journey in Lent where we admit this truth of self-absorption and ask for God’s grace and help in returning God’s attentive gaze of love. When we return God’s loving gaze, we see Jesus Christ and see the life Jesus promised us all and that will hold our attention. Thanks be to God.

 

God’s Power is Love! John 14:1-14 (VBS Sermon) August 2nd Pentecost 10B August 3, 2015

(*This sermon (preached at Lord of the Hills Lutheran Church in Centennial, CO)  was based on the VBS stories from Group’s Everest VBS curriculum. The texts were 1 Kings 17: 1-7, 1 Kings 18:9b-12, 2 Kings 5: 1-14, 2 Corinthians 9: 7-9 and John 14: 1-14. This sermon was written to be intentionally “cross + generational”  for the VBS Sunday where we invited VBS families to worship. The children sang a VB song, sat down up front and helped me with sermon and then sang another song. We showed a slide show of the week during offering. It was great fun!)

At VBS we all talked about and learned that God is powerful. Not the kind of power that we see in super hero movies, God doesn’t use x-ray vision, slings webs everywhere or turns objects into gold. God COULD do those things if God wanted but that’s not how God works. We learned that God’s power is love, and that love is expressed in lots of different ways. We learned from our two Elijah stories that God has the power to provide (HOLD ON!), God as the power to comfort (HOLD ON!), from our Namaan and Elisha story that God has the power to heal (HOLD ON!), from our stories of Jesus that God has the power to forgive (HOLD ON!) and God has the power to love us forever (HOLD ON!). Hmmm, it seems to me that all of these powers of God have very little to actually do with God but have everything to do with US! God’s power is one that God gives away, uses for God’s beloved people and tells us about God’s love for the whole entire world.

We also talked about how Elijah didn’t see God, Namaan didn’t see God and the disciples were confused about who Jesus was and what Jesus was talking about when he says that if you’ve seen Jesus then you’ve seen God. Elijah asked to see God (Did God come in a violent wind? An earthquake? A fire? NO!) but God only came to him in a whisper on the mountain, Namaan experienced God in the healing waters at the Jordan river and the disciples didn’t realize that they were in God’s presence until after God raised Jesus from the dead. But Jesus tells the disciples and us that we have indeed seen God because we have seen Jesus. Now the disciples actually walked around with Jesus, watching him heal the sick, comfort those who were sad, provide bread for everyone, forgiving people of whatever was separating them from God, and offering people God’s love unconditionally. Yet, they still asked Jesus, like Elijah and Namaan, “show us God.”

I can just see Jesus smiling as they asked him that question as they were standing right in front of God! Jesus was showing them God and God’s love every single second of the day! And better than that, Jesus showed them how THEY, the disciples and us, reveal God to the whole world every single second of the day. We think that we don’t see God in our everyday lives, but we do! We see each other and we know that each of us are made in the image of God-not just our bodies but our hearts too! Our hearts are created in the image of God’s heart and so we share God’s love. When the disciples ask or we wonder about seeing God-all we have to do is look around at each other! What are ways that we show each other what God looks like? (God’s Work, Our Hands with all of the other ELCA churches, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald house, In-Stitches, prayer shawls, school supplies for LFS, supporting the earthquake victims in Nepal, our preschool, sharing our building with other churches, Youth in Detroit doing service,) Yes, I think Jesus smiles when we wonder what God looks like, because all we have to do is look at all of the love around us!

It’s confusing, isn’t it, to remember that we are made in God’s image and can reveal God to each other? We forget, we sometimes just don’t feel like it or just plain old don’t do it. Someone might treat us in a way that we don’t like, or disagree with us, or not think the same way that we do and so we don’t show them God’s love. I do that sometimes and we all do that sometimes. But that’s ok because God says in the waters of baptism that we soaked Calla Lily in this morning that we are all loved and made brand new in God’s image of love EVERY SINGLE DAY and we can try again. God has the power to forgive (HOLD ON!) and promises to forgive us over and over no matter what because God created us to belong to God and to be loved by God forever.

God also promises that we are never alone. Jesus says in our story from John, that there are many rooms in God’s house, which means that everyone is invited into God’s house and no one is ever left out for any reason. Jesus tells us that he is God with us and the only way to God. Some people hear that as prohibitive, which means leaving some people out or that you have to believe exactly the right things about Jesus to go be with God and God’s people forever. But what Jesus is saying is that God sent Jesus so that the whole world is brought to God through Jesus. Jesus died and was raised not just for some people but for all people-even those people who aren’t sure about Jesus. We don’t have to worry about being left out-God leaves no one out. God’s power of love is enough to gather everyone into God’s house forever. God never leaves us and God’s people never leave us.

This morning we promised that to Calla too. We all promised to show her Jesus each and every day and to make sure that she knows the promises of God to provide for her, comfort her, heal her, forgive her and love her forever. We promise to be her community that shows her God.  We may not always understand God’s power but we can trust it and share it with the world because we know that God’s power of love is given for us each and every day, no matter what. Thanks be to God!