A Lutheran Says What?

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

Memory Loss Sermon on Ephesians 2: 11-22 July 21, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 18, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Young Friends Message:

My grandmother died of early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 69. I was 22. The last time I had a chance to visit with her was about seven months before she died on Easter Sunday, 1995. She was already in a memory care facility where she spent her days walking the horseshoe shaped hallway over and over. I went and walked with her for awhile one day not sure how that would be. She didn’t seem to know who I was and spoke mostly of events that happened in her early childhood. I simply listened and kept pace, as she was still quick and spry! Her muscles remembered what to do it seemed, even when her brain could not. Except, occasionally she would look at me or say something that made me wonder if a glimmer of memory was seeping through the cracks of the disease. As our visit was wrapping up, she suddenly and almost dramatically turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, “I love you.” And then just as quickly as that came, it was gone. I don’t know if she really knew who I was. I suspect she had a sudden gut feeling that I was someone she loved even if she couldn’t remember my name, our relationship, why I was there or why she was in a facility. All she knew was on a bodily level was a certitude of love. I think of this experience with her often as in my vocational life as a pastor, as I have similar encounters with folks who have memory loss. The moment I put bread and wine in their hands, their bodies remember what to do. They may not remember their own names or families, but when I begin the Lord’s Prayer, they immediately pray with me, word for every holy word.  Or the sing the words of a favorite hymn. What their brain forgets, their body and heart remember what is true at a core, DNA, base level.

I admit to having spiritual memory loss most days. I go about my day just keeping pace with what needs to happen in my assessment to “get things done.” I see the tasks laid out in my planner: the emails, the sermon prep, the worship prep, planning for faith formation, bible studies, setting up zoom links, keeping the building maintained and the loops that can feel so important, and maybe some of it is. The tasks cause me to think that I’m making progress somehow, that I’m building something that will last with my busyness. Yet, I return to the same thing over and over and maybe that’s not where I’m supposed to be going. I forget that my worth isn’t in my doing but in my being. I forget that at the end of the day, my checked off task list won’t remind me of what really matters at a core, DNA, base level. Maybe you have a similar experience some days.

When my days are filled to the brim of frenetic movement from one task to the next, there are times when my body will indeed remember what my brain forgets is at the core: love. Love that remembers that my heart, brain and body are all connected, love that remembers that I am connected to all of you and your hearts, brains and bodies, love from God that is indeed here to build, but not through a task list, but through love in Jesus. Love that is strong enough to tear down any dividing walls of hostility whether it’s diseases of mind, body or spirit, social diseases, or our own egos and need to be right. Love that remembers that any rule or law that excludes or separates isn’t from God. Love that remembers that buildings don’t contain God, our bodies do. Love that remembers temples and sanctuaries aren’t human made but God created. Love that remembers God’s purpose, plan and will is for humanity, creation and God to be one, to be whole, to be in peace. Love that is at the core, in the DNA at the base level of all creation. Love that is built on the love of Jesus that refused to play the memory game of the world and constantly shook people to remembering that we are not to be pitted against each other for resources, or status or worth. Jesus called us to remember him, to remember that we are his body, wholly and holy his body, on earth and can’t be, won’t be separated by powers and principalities. Remember me, Jesus says, and remember that you are one.

I don’t want to forget this; I need to remember those who have gone before us and left us deep reminders of this truth. Yesterday, I was reminded that it was the one year anniversary of the death of John Lewis, the great civil rights activist, who fought his whole life, literally putting his body on the line, for voting rights for Black people, Indigenous people and other marginalized people. He never forgot that his life was to build a memory of love and justice that would outlive him. Yet, I’m guilty of letting my comfort and privilege give me amnesia and forgetting what Lewis, King, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and so many others risked their lives to spark our memories that we are to remember that we are all part of God’s kingdom, and we all have worth. I want to remember to get into “good trouble” and not worry about my own reputation, but remember the divinity of my neighbor oppressed by racial, social, gender, economic or any prejudice. I want to remember that Jesus never acquiesced to unjust religious or civil laws but worked to overturn them at every opportunity. Jesus never shrugged his shoulders and figured nothing could be done, but always reminded people that the power of God is at work in them and through them and yes, when they act for love, radical love, injustice can be undone. I want, I need, to remember this truth. I need to remember that God’s love isn’t a nice phrase we say, but a call to action for the coming of God’s kingdom.

I thank God for this memory of love that my grandmother had on that day, as it reminded me of the promise of love from God. I thank God for the memory of love that Jesus poured out to us in the bread and wine and from his own body on the cross. I thank God for the memory of love that lives in all of you. I thank God for God’s memory of love that never waivers, never leaves us, and never forgets, even when we do. Thanks be to God.

 

It’s Been a Year Sermon on Ephesians 2 March 12, 2021

This sermon was offered to the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 14, 2021, one year after the COVID19 shutdown. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Numbers 21:4-9
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Children’s message: Have a battery operated candle or flashlight. Have the batteries out or placed incorrectly so that it doesn’t work. Say, “It’s been a long year hasn’t it? It’s been a year of learning about stuff we never knew like social distancing, masks, vaccines and so much more! I’ve learned how much I miss all of you for one thing! I miss singing with you, dancing with you, playing games and praising Jesus with you! What have you learned this year? I’ve also learned that being alone is hard and that being alone isn’t what God wants for us and our lives. It made me think of this battery operated candle. When the batteries are out or not in correctly, it doesn’t work. It can’t work without the power from the batteries. But when the batteries are in place and correctly connected, it lights up! Then we can see clearly around us. In our Ephesians story today, Paul is writing to people about how we live together. How we have to act how God acts with love and grace. Kind like how the batteries and the candle all have to work together to give light.  If we’re not connected to each other and God, we can’t give off light for others to see God’s love and grace. That’s why we gather, even on Youtube or Zoom, to connect to God, to remember that God will love us forever no matter what and that is what grace is. AND God wants us to live together, our way of life, in this same forever love and grace. Think about how you can shine with God’s love this week! We’re going to keep talking about this….

It’s been a year. It’s been a year since our whole way of life was disrupted.  It’s been a year since we’ve worshiped in person in the sanctuary together. It’s been a year of hardship, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, turmoil, revelations, transformations and learning. It’s been a year for me of doing ministry in a way that I never imagined. It’s been a year of digital worship, or small groups outside. Many, many phone calls, texts and FaceBook messenger. It’s been a year of difficult conversations as we navigate differing perspectives and experiences. It’s been a year of clarifying what really matters, how we care for one another and our neighbors. It’s been a year that has revealed where our society is healthy, and where it most certainly is not. It’s been a year for me, of gratitude for you the beloved people of OSLC and all who have partnered with us. It’s been a year where I witnessed your compassion, generosity, graciousness, and love for one another and myself. (And as an aside, oh my how I love you all and I’m so grateful for God to have called me here!) It’s been a year, and now we embark on another year, another Lent, another Easter of navigating something new, a new way of life.

It’s not what we imagined, wanted or bargained for. We yearn to go back to the way life was just a little over a year ago, before we knew what was to be, before we knew the hardship, the sickness, the death, the fear. We yearn to go back to when we were comfortable, or at least thought we were. But the truth is that COVID19 wasn’t the true reason for our hardship, it was the catalyst, but we were all experiencing a sickness of one sort or another before March of 2020. We were and still are, soul sick. We were already afraid of the future, even when we thought that future didn’t entail a deadly pandemic. We were afraid of how the world was changing, how we were changing, how we weren’t in control. We were already suspicious of our neighbor and the decisions they made. We were already competing for resources, power and privilege.

The truth is that COVID19 revealed that our way of life, wasn’t working. COVID19 revealed a crisis, a need to re-evaluate how we live together and what it means to live in response to God’s grace. There were a few voices that tried to assert that COVID19 was God’s judgment against some group of people with whom the disagreed, that God was condemning non-Christians, or LBGTQIA+ folks, or people who wanted to allow immigrants across our borders, or some other made-up distinction and compartmentalizing of human beings. But as Jesus tells Nicodemus in their cover of darkness meeting, God doesn’t condemn the world or the people whom God lovingly created. God’s judgment, the crisis, is that God desperately loves us and creation and desires nothing more than for us to love God and each other. God sending Jesus into the world to live in our midst as one of us, is a sign of this love, for God’s desire for abiding connection with us. Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ raised on cross for the world to behold the power of sin, Jesus raised from the dead for the world to behold God’s “no” to death, and Jesus’ raised to God’s side, for the world to behold that heaven and earth are connected, are one in the life and Kin-dom of God and separation is no more.
And this is all a gift from God freely given, God’s grace is given despite our actions or inaction. Through the faith of Jesus, the trust in God’s will and desire, we are connected to this flow of love for the world. And God wants love to be our way of life, Paul writes to the Ephesians. Quit worrying about yourselves, your salvation, it’s already done. Your way of life in now one of response to God’s grace and love. Yes, this is a disruption of how we are living now. Yes, it will mean a hard look at the truth of the world around us. Yes, what will be revealed will be painful, and we will not be able to go back to our old way of life, and it wasn’t working anyway.

It’s been a year, a year where God has so loved the world and Jesus has been present. It’s been a year where God’s presence was not one of condemning us or offering God’s wrath, but of revealing where healing, wholeness, justice and mercy are desperately needed in our communities and in our world. It’s been a year that exposed that we were dead a year ago in status quo, in comfort, in security and now we’ve been made alive in truth. We now look at the truth head on, we see the snakes that are biting and killing and say no. We see the truth that worrying about ourselves, making decisions that are about our own wants and not for the health, well-being and safety of our neighbor brings harm to us all. We see the truth that much of our society, our way of life together, needs to be disrupted by God’s grace and love. We see the truth that this is our baptismal life, to be this graceful and loving disruption of sickness, separation and death.
It’s been a year, and I pray that it’s a year that we don’t try and sweep under the rug, simply forget, or try and ignore. I pray that it’s a year that we recognize that our way of life has been and will continue to be disrupted by God’s love, grace and mercy through Jesus. I pray that it’s a year that we hold on to as a witness that our way of life together is intertwined to God’s life and God’s desire for abundant life for all humanity and creation. It’s been a year, a year that has changed everything and exposed that our way of life is always held in God’s eternal presence and grace. Amen.

Prayers of the People:

Prayers of the People

Let us lift up our prayers today for ourselves, our neighbors, our community and our world.
A brief silence.

God of all, it has been a year. A year since we have worshiped in our usual spaces, a year since we have sung together praises of love, a year since we could freely have human contact, a year of change, a year of uncertainty. Hear our laments and our grief, God, as we now recall our experiences of this year.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Creative God, it has been a year. It has been a year of newness, change, creativity, and worshiping how we never thought possible, gathering how we never thought possible and doing ministry in ways that we never thought possible. But you saw the possibilities and called us into them with you. Thank you for the strength and courage in the past year to join you in bringing creation alive in our midst.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Healing God, it has been a year. A year of bodies hurting, of minds suffering, of hearts breaking and death mounting. It’s been a year for the medical teams who have worked tirelessly and we pray for sabbath rest for them. It’s been a year for the essential workers and we pray for economic justice for them. It’s been a year for our educators and we pray for a society that supports them. It’s been a year for those who work for racial justice and we pray to be part of the transformation with them.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Listening God, it’s been a year. And we begin a new year with tender hope, hope that things may return to normal and a desire for a new normal. As we go forward from this year, remind us to bring with us all that we have learned and experienced. As we go forward from this year, may our hearts be more open, may our ears more attentive and our eyes clearer to the revelation of your kin-dom. As we go forward from this year, may we refuse the normal that was oppressing and harming people of color, immigrants, refugees and our LBGQTIA+ siblings. As we go forward from this year, may it be for justice and peace.

Lord in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Loving God, It’s been a year and you have been always near. You hear our prayers, you give us strength, courage for the journey and hold us in love.

Amen.

 

You Belong Here! Sermon on Ephesians 2 August 5, 2018

You can watch this sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org. It was proclaimed on July 22, 2018 at Bethany Lutheran Church at Cherry Hills Village, CO.

The text is Ephesians 2: 11-22

Have kids come forward

You belong here. Those are words that we all ache to have said to us. We want to be known and to know others. We want to have all the parts of us that we like and those parts of us that we don’t, loved all the same, no matter what. It’s a basic human need. We all have stories of times when we deeply belonged whether it was family or a social group as well as stories of when we knew that no matter what we would never belong. Worse yet, to think that you belong to group only to find out that you really don’t. This need to belong drives us in many ways. It can drive us to build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt by rejection.  To build walls around institutions that we love to ensure that nothing will harm it or change it. We build walls to give ourselves a sense of safety and identity in what seems to be a chaotic and lonely world. We yearn to know exactly where we belong.

Kids, I have two tables of duplos here. Choose which table you want to be at, but you can’t all be at the same table, you’ll be in two groups. This group is named “Echahd” and this group is “ena.”  Ok, with these duplos on your table, build something together while I keep talking with the adults. I’ll check in with you in a minute. You can build anything you want as long as you work together. Does that sound good?

So the children just quickly sorted themselves into groups and science tells us that even at this young age, they probably sized the other children up and if we had time to go deeper with them and if they could even articulate it, sorted themselves pretty well into like-minded groups. We could probably find something that they have in common. We do this all the time consciously and unconsciously.

 

And once we find that niche of people, our tribe if you will, we rarely look outside of that group, or more specifically, we almost never ask, “who is missing from our group?” “Whom should we let in?” Most of the time, we belong to closed groups, this is who we are, these are the people who belong and that’s that.

But the flip side is of course, at one point your now best friend or spouse was at one time a stranger to whom you gave a chance. You opened up and risked getting to know them and connecting with them. What was created was a new relationship, a new partnership or a new family. When you risked learning about one another you discovered pieces that were in common, pieces that could be a foundation for the new created relationship.

We are continuing our Ephesians sermon series this week and in Ephesians 2, we read about the real struggle of forging a new community. There was apparently a separation problem, those who were Jewish followers of Jesus and those who were Gentile followers of Jesus. To be Jewish was a very specific identity. It involved more than just belief but your whole way of living. It wasn’t only about going to synagogue or Temple, no it was what you ate, what you wore, where you went, what you touched or didn’t touch. The Jewish converts really accepted Jesus, but being human, still held on to their embedded traditions about how one lives as a believer and how one belongs to a faith tradition. In case you didn’t know, change is hard! Change in how you worship, live and think about God? Well, how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Why would we change it? We like the dark! Seriously…

(Give kids a one minute warning.) And then you had the Gentiles, people who were not Jewish. They lived very differently and followed none of those prescribed actions. The Jewish people had been taught to tolerate the Gentiles to a point, maybe more to pity them that they aren’t Jewish, but to maintain a safe distance to not have them rub off on them, as they didn’t really belong. Sort of like how as parents we teach our children know that they should love everyone, but subtly let them know that if they don’t want to invite that kid who always breaks stuff over to play, you’re fine with that, as your kid will talk to him at the bus stop and that’s good enough. Now the Gentiles weren’t always so fond of their strict new brothers and sisters in Christ either. I would imagine that the Jewish followers of Jesus would seem well, draconian and a serious buzzkill to any get together in this fledgling Christian community called The Way. The Way was radical community, radical generosity, radical collaboration, radical inclusion, radical love, which would blow the mind of any good rule follower!

How can these two groups learn to live together? Ok, kids, how are the creations coming? Let me see group “Echahd” : Tell me how you all worked together?  Ok Let’s look at group Ena: Tell me about how you worked together? These are great! Ok, pull the tables together and now I want you to take these two creations and make one creation together. Using every piece of the two existing creations, so you will probably have to take some of what you already built apart. Ok go!

Jesus wasn’t a rule freak, he didn’t care about the religious rules, the civil laws, Jesus only cared about people. Jesus cared so much that he wasn’t afraid to come near to our messiness, our brokenness and our sickness. In Mark we read when Jesus saw the people coming to them on the countryside, he had compassion for them. Compassion means “with suffering.” Jesus suffered with them in their desperation, as they were separated from the community, sheep without a shepherd they were aching to belong and be known, but their physical diseases, their brokenness and being outside the religious rules kept them from belonging. The scandal of Jesus’ ministry is that Jesus takes people whom the world says don’t belong together and makes them one. It’s more than coexisting, which is simply tolerance. The Coexist bumper sticker we’ve all seen doesn’t quite get it right. Jesus is about more than tolerance. Jesus brings people who are near, far, rich, poor, healthy, sick, Jew, Greek, slave, free, male female, rural, urban, black, white, native, immigrant, straight, gay, and pulls us all together as the cornerstone of a new community that abolishes all labels and shows us another way-the new beloved people/body of Christ where all people belong. Cornerstones not only connect two dimensionally, but connects the structure to the foundation. Jesus as our cornerstone connects us not only to one another but to God our foundation, the foundation of the One Body of Christ.

This is what makes us truly one, we are one in the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of a God who crushes all divisions. No matter how many walls that we put up, Christ with compassion, breaks down. Over and over again. Not someday in the future, but right here right now. The cross of Jesus is strong enough to break walls of fear and hostility, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls of our egos, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls around our hearts wide open for compassion and solidarity of our neighbor. When our hearts are broken open by the cross, Jesus can take those pieces and tightly connect us like these duplos, who need one another, to build the kingdom of God where every piece belongs. A holy place right here on earth where God dwells in our hearts, in our homes, in our community and in the world. God dwells here because we dwell here with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.

The names of the groups I gave the children are the words echahd “one” in Hebrew and Ena-“one” in Greek. They took their separate “oneness” and combined to be one new creation here in Christ where each duplo piece had a place and belonged. I love what you have built! This creation reminds us that together we build love in the world for Jesus and tell everyone that they belong to God. How can you show or tell your friends that they belong to God?

In the cross of Jesus, walls are broken, hostility ends, peace pervades and love, well, love builds us as One In Christ and God proclaims: YOU BELONG HERE. And all God’s people say: Amen.