A Lutheran Says What?

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

Anger Management Sermon on Ephesians 4: 25-5:2 August 8, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 8, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

1 Kings 19: 4-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6: 35, 41-51
Young Friends message

When I was in fifth grade, my military family was stationed on Guam. It was not the most stress-free environment for a 10-year-old. Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific, in the middle of the Cold War, isolation from family, basic supplies rationed, lack of many amenities that one takes for granted on the mainland, disease was common, and even school was very different. We went to school off base, in a building that had concrete walls, tin roof, louvers instead of windows, no air conditioning, the door to the classroom opened straight to the outside, and families took turns providing a box fan for the classroom. The school property had been clear cut out of the jungle, so finding a jungle critter in your classroom or desk was not uncommon. Yes, kids are resilient and yes, I was a hyperaware, perfectionist, intuitive kid who was very stressed out. So basically, this personality you see before you today in a child. It was not good times for anyone in my family.

One day we were taking a test in my fifth grade classroom, and there was a breeze coming through the louvers that repeatedly blew my paper off my desk. After about the fourth or fifth time, I had had it. I snapped. I took my paper, tore it up into little pieces and stomped over to the trash can and threw them away, muttering under my breath with each step. My teacher, Mrs. Lucio, was stunned. Needless to say, my parents were called in with the concern that perhaps I needed to learn a little anger management. I remember being made to do a research paper on stress. I’m not sure that helped. But it did make me aware for the first time in my ten short years that stress was a thing and it was not a thing I was handling well. And this was when my dad introduced me to running. Unfortunately, what my ten-year-old self took away from that experience was that anger was bad, something to be pushed away, and a cause of shame. I spent a lot of years in my life thinking that I wasn’t allowed to be angry, which ironically, made me angry. It really hasn’t been all that long in my adult life that I’ve reconciled that anger is an ok emotion, just as all our emotions are neither good nor bad, but just are. What’s important about our emotions is how we act or don’t act on them. Or as theologian Father Richard Rohr says, “pain that isn’t transformed is transmitted.” Hurting people, hurt people.

What I also didn’t learn until I was an adult, is that anger is a secondary emotion. Anger often masks other emotions such as fear or sadness. Anger is a response to any other emotion. Anger can seem less vulnerable than admitting your sad or scared. Anger is part of our armor that we hope protects and separates us from what is sad or scary. It’s also one of the phases of grief. Clearly, I wasn’t angry at the wind or the test. I was grieving that my life wasn’t what I was used to living in the US. I was moving through the phases of grief, the shock of a different culture, the denial that I couldn’t force my life to be the same, anger that I couldn’t control anything, bargaining wasn’t even a possibility for my young self, and yes, eventually some acceptance that there were gifts in this phase of life too. This wouldn’t be the last time I moved through these waves of grief, and I have learned to recognize them a bit sooner. And I have learned to recognize when others are grieving. That recognition of someone’s grief allows my anger to be transformed and can lead me to come to the comfort and aid of others. Anger can be transformed.

There’s a lot of anger in our society right now because we’re a grieving society. And it’s ok. We have a lot to grieve, I would affirm. We’re going through the stages of grief around a virus, racial injustice, economic stress and more. So, we’re angry. We’re angry at the people denying the virus and the science. We’re angry that some people are willing to bargain their own convenience over the health of others. We’re angry that people aren’t willing to care for and love their neighbor. We’re angry at the exposed wealth and equality gaps. We’re angry at the death toll. We’re angry that we can’t even grieve, come together as a community for support and love the way we are used to.
So. what do we do with our grief: with our shock, denial, anger, bargaining for what can’t be, and get to some reconciliation or acceptance of what is? I don’t have a prescriptive plan for you such as five ways to deal with your grief or an anger management program. I don’t think a research paper will help this heart problem. But here’s what I do know: we are created in God’s image and called to imitate God our creator. You might recall from the biblical witness that God gets angry too. And we don’t have time today to dig too deeply into some of those traumatizing and problematic stories, and yes, the Flood narrative is difficult, the plague of the killing of the first born is horrific, the exile stories are puzzling, and my intent this morning is not to deal with the paradox or gloss over it but simply to say yes, those are hard stories and yes, God’s anger is real. I would offer that perhaps even God recognized that God’s anger wasn’t always handled well. But here’s the good news for us on imitating God: For God so loved the world. God’s anger always kindled greatest when we were harming each other, not loving each other, and separating ourselves from one another and ultimately God. But God never stopped loving us or creation. God never gave up on relationship with us, God didn’t use anger as an armor to separate from us. God’s anger was transformed by God’s love. God’s love for us moved God past anger, to covenants with God’s people over and over. God sent Jesus to be the final promise of never letting us go. And yes, Jesus got angry too, flipping over tables and systems that harmed people. God never tolerates oppression, harm, separation, or evil. Never. So, when we are admonished to imitate God, we are to love the world, both humanity and creation, with tenacity.

We are to take our anger, our grief, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us to act out of love for our neighbor. We recognize our own waves of grief, so that we can support and empathize with others in their waves of grief. We are in a scary time, which is why we are angry. And God accepts us just as we are, imperfections, anger and all, and loves us. God doesn’t want our anger to cause us to sin against our neighbor, God wants our anger to open us to love and care for our neighbor. Our anger moves us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and foreigner without conditions, house the homeless, ensure clean water and air for the next generation, and act for the care of all creation. That is eternal and abundant life. Life together, messy life together, fully accepted by God who loves the world. This is our baptismal promise from God. That our grief, our anger is held and transformed by God’s love.

We are going to practice letting go of anger, allowing it to transform our hearts and continue in our process of imitating God. You have a card in your bulletin, and if you don’t, please raise your hand and one will be brought to you. Take a moment and write what is making you angry right now. Then you can tear it up, and place the pieces in the font. God promises to accept our anger and transform our anger into love for the world.

 

Never Torn Apart August 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 1, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Exodus: 16: 2-4, 9-16
Ephesians 4: 1-16
John 6: 24-35

Young Friends message: I have here a Lego car from my son’s Lego collection. In order for this to look and work like a car, it took many pieces to be joined together. What happens when I take the wheel off? Is the wheel by itself a car? Can the car work without all four wheels? Nope! What happens in your family if someone doesn’t do their chores, then the rest of the family has to either do them or maybe dinner doesn’t get made, or laundry done. Church is like that too! Without people serving here in worship, or this Friday at Millcreek when we all helped to put up bulletin boards, it takes us all doing a little bit for great things to happen. God loves this, when we work together and this is what we’re reading more about in the letter to the Ephesian people today. God wants us to work together, to be like one object like this Lego car, for God’s love to shine. And so we put away our worries about ourselves. Which is hard, and sometimes we have to work with people we don’t like, or think differently than us, or have different needs. But God tells us that we are to look out for people who need something different and make sure that everyone is included. When we are missing someone or missing you, it’s like missing a piece of this Lego car, and then we don’t work as well. We need everyone, all ages, all stages, all sizes, all talents. And we need you! You matter in our community and I hope that you know that. It’s a hard concept called unity and we’re going to talk a little more about that as it’s hard for adults too!

I have a confession to make: I’m not sure what true unity is supposed to look like. I don’t. I want to know what unity looks like, and I find myself pondering and searching for how the words in Ephesians chapter 4 could be true. I desperately want them to be true. I shake my head every day at the lack of empathy in our society and wonder how in the world are we ever going to live into the oneness that Jesus prays for in John 17 and is laid out for us in the letter to the Ephesians. I looked up the Websters definition for unity and here’s what I found: “the quality or state of not being multiple, a condition of harmony, continuity without deviation or change as in for purpose or action, and finally, a totality of related parts, an entity that is a complex or systematic whole, being joined as a whole.” Never was it mentioned that unity meant all being the same, but the focus was on how pieces worked together as one. Perhaps what we need as a people is to review this definition from time to time. I know that I get caught in the false belief that unity is about sameness. Yet, oneness and sameness, are not the same thing and not even to be desired, Jesus says.

Unity is a hard reality for us to live into, as we tend to fear what or who is different. Fear makes unity, joining together for a common purpose, harder. Fear fragments us internally and propels us to cause external division and fragmentation. This week someone attempted to fragment us by cutting our RIC banner in half. Who it was is unknown and honestly, maybe it doesn’t matter all that much. Whomever it was is a child of God, who may feel that this sign of division instead of radical inclusion, they may confuse unity with sameness, and they felt a need to visually represent this fear by cutting the banner in half. They reacted to the idea of radical togetherness, after all being joined to people is scary stuff. Being joined to people who you know and don’t know is vulnerable. Being joined in purpose, action and life to people is indeed complex and may not always work how we think it should. When we’re joined together, our purpose or role might shift. This banner being cut in half could lead us to wonder if we’re cutting people off who believe that differences in sexual orientation, gender, or race either don’t exist and shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith. After all, isn’t one faith everyone believing the exact same thing? There are some who have a list of what or who shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith as “good Christians.”  Should “good Christians” be politically active? Support secular peace and justice movements such as BLM? Talk about sexuality, big business, climate change? Should “good Christians” hang out with people who listen to death metal, swear, drink or are into slasher movies?

 First off, I’m not sure what a “good Christian” even means as we are all saints and sinners and Jesus never really addresses this. Second, I believe we’re more comfortable figuring out how to be disjointed from certain people and activities than joined as one people with God as Jesus prays in John 17. When Jesus feeds the 5,000, he is joining them as one people, he is taking their fragmented lives and knitting them together. We rarely think about who was in that crowd being fed together, but statistically speaking, there were probably thieves, outcasts, sex workers, beggars, manipulators, shepherds, carpenters, moms, dads, surly teenagers, cute babies, grandmas, grandpas, addicts, essentially people of all kinds. I wonder if the miracle, the work of God, that Jesus is pointing in our gospel today, is less about the bread and fish, and more about everyone sitting down together. Sitting and standing next to people is very different. When you stand next to someone, you have a quick escape if you will. But we all know the angst of deciding who you’re going to sit with in the school cafeteria or in the south wing at fellowship time or here in worship. Maybe it’s why no one will sit up front with me? Once you sit down with someone, you’re stuck. You’re in this meal/fellowship/worship time together whether you like it or not. You’re joined together.

The irony is that our deepest fear as humans is being alone, cut off from what and who matters most. We want to be joined in relationships, just on our own terms. Jesus shows us that we are joined as one, but on God’s terms, and for God, everyone and everything is joined together. Nothing is excluded from God’s life and so, too, in our lives, including our lives of faith. As Lutherans, our heritage is built on the truth that every aspect of our lives is holy and belongs to God, even the parts we might be ashamed of. This is the work of God, Jesus says, that faith, belief in Jesus leads us to be joined together, even if it’s uncomfortable. God’s work is drawing us together as one body, to be one in faith, in the Spirit, in baptism, in love. That is the bread of life that sustains, as when we are joined to each other and God, our fragments are made whole, and we join one another ensuring food, shelter, health, and community to promote growth, flourishing, and thriving for all.  This is the action of unity, of love. This is the joining all aspects of our lives: the secular, the mundane, into our lives of faith. If harm is happening to any part of the body, we must speak that truth in love for our neighbor. Even if it’s unpopular and people try and cut us off. We are called to build each other up, not tear each other down.
Perhaps this is the unity that I am searching for. Perhaps this is the unity that whoever damaged our banner was searching for. The unity we aspire to in our welcome statement. True unity where we can’t cut each other off, even if we want to. True unity sitting together in tension and discomfort for the sake of the purpose of including everyone into God’s kingdom. True unity of together looking into the wilderness, into the uncertainty, as the Israelites did, and seeing the unwavering presence of God, who promises to always be joined to us, building us up in love each moment of each day. Love that joins us and refuses to let us be torn apart. It is unifying love that is above all, through all, is in all, joins all and builds us all up. Amen.

 

Growing Pains Sermon on Ephesians 4: 1-16 August 5, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village,CO on August 5, 2018 and can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

The text is Ephesians 4: 1-16

We all know about growing pains in one form or another. Growing pains in teenagers as their bones and ligaments stretch, change and move to accommodate the new height and shape of their maturing bodies. My son in particular suffered from these as he grew into his 6 foot frame. And besides physical growth, we experience growing pains as we learn about ourselves, the world and relationships. Such as the growing pains in a family of a new baby or any relationship with a friend, coworker or spouse. We learn to give and take, to stretch ourselves for the sake of the other or to learn how our lives shift and are impacted simply by the presence of this other person whom no matter how much we love them, simply because they aren’t us. And I want to be clear, that I am talking about healthy mutual relationships and in the name of Jesus, hear that abuse of any kind, mind body or spirit is not ok. But most of our relationships are simply uncomfortable as we learn to accommodate each other. If we can be honest about the disappointment and the pain of the realization of imperfection, the relationship can grow deeper and stronger.

Spiritual growing pains are real as we encounter suffering, questioning, doubting.  But these dark nights of the soul also have led me to transformation, growth and new perspective. Growth of any kind always widens our vision from our own narrow view-whether it’s concretely getting taller and acquiring more motor skills-to understanding that growing pains in our spiritual life and relationships can lead to authenticity, connections, joy and a new vision of ourselves and the world.

This growth isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to see the world with new eyes and an open heart.

The writer of Ephesians, maybe Paul, maybe not, is shifting the vision from the first three chapters which laid out the reality of the good news of a new creation, and of community where we are all connected through Jesus Christ. Yay! Seems so simple and now all we have to do is well, do it! Hmmmmm not so fast says the writer…here’s the reality of a new creation which at first blush seems so idyllic and all unicorns and cotton candy for all-is that it involves real people and so it’s going to be hard and possibly painful. Yippee! Oh we love that as human beings!

Chapter four opens with the reminder from the writer of being a prisoner. How does being a part of this new creation sound so far? You might be jailed for it. And for the next 16 verses he lays out that yes, we are united in the oneness of God: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all.

Then we hear of all the different types gifts that this one God gives us and it sounds like a job opening in any local congregation but we need to remember that my job as a paid professional didn’t exist 2000 years ago in the early Christian church-as a matter of fact Paul cautioned against it—as if one’s livelihood is tied to the gospel proclamation, how does that truncate the message? The gospel is good news for the poor, the oppressed, the suffering, the disenfranchised. It’s not necessarily good news for those who have something at stake in status quo and are very comfortable and not interested in change.

What we consider today as professional church jobs, were merely gifts that Paul knew that people possessed from God. And that all of those gifts were needed to work in concert for the revealing of God’s kingdom. Notice what those gifts are supposed to be used for: to equip the saints (all the baptized) and for building up the body of Christ. They’re for our neighbor both in and out of the church. Not for personal gain, personal preference, for one’s ego, status quo or security of livelihood or one’s financial future. This will mean some growth and maturity from those in the church.

And so here’s what the writer knows and we know: this kind of growth is hard and painful. As children, we only worry about ourselves, but as mature Christians, we are called grow beyond ourselves, we are called to exude humility, patience and kindness. We are joined and knit together, and it’s not a grandma knitted fuzzy, comfy blanket that gently swaddles us. The word “knit” from the Greek really means, “to set” as in to set a bone. How many of us have broken a bone and/or had to get it set? How did that feel? Like a comfy blanket? NO! It HURT! LIKE HE…Right? We are being “set” together as followers of Christ, we are being forced together in a new way for the health of the body and it will hurt! Because it’s not about only us as an individual anymore. The growth that we must experience will cause us some growing pains.

But this growth, just like when a bone heals, will cause us be stronger, and not stronger for our own sake but for building up the body of Christ in love. Our vision of what the community should look like will be broadened: who is included, who matters, who we should serve, who we should love, will be focused in God’s love. Our vision will begin to align with God’s vision. Unity will come from these growing pains, as we, like a kaleidoscope, will see all of the beautiful and diverse people made in God’s image, click together in a stunning mosaic of one community of love. We will catch a glimpse of what God sees: that all belong together, that all people matter, have worth and dignity. When we build up other people to live their gifts, we set aside our judgments and biases to be in relationship and to ensure that all people are valued and engaged for ministry.

There will still be the growing pains of realizing that human made doctrines, people’s manipulation of the gospel and their scheming of how this message of love can benefit themselves over others, is a reality even in the beloved community that God is renewing, as sin is still a reality in our lives and the world. But this is where we are admonished to speak the truth in love, to put aside our own need to be right in order to be in relationship with one another even if it’s hard. It does NOT mean being a doormat and allowing abuse of ourselves or others but speaking the truth in love, is a posture of confession and forgiveness. It means we continue to reorient ourselves to the grace of God through Jesus and to point to this grace for our neighbor. Speaking the truth in love is getting clear about saying no to those things that are sin in the world, saying no to anyone being harmed through our institutions. Saying no to sin of racism, saying no to violence, saying no to hate. Speaking truth in love is saying yes to inclusion without conditions, saying yes to accountability for our actions, saying yes to suffering for the truth of the gospel, saying yes to caring for our neighbor even if it doesn’t benefit us.

Through Jesus Christ, we are set together in unity, in love and in the “oneness of God”, and when we are together in this “oneness” we navigate the difficulties of life together as diverse and different people, made stronger in Christ’s love-love that transforms our growing pains into God’s vision of how we are to live together. God’s vision of this love for all people and creation is happening right with us, we are growing into it every day. Can you see it? Can you feel it? It might hurt, it might break your heart, but it’s worth it, because our neighbors, community, and  world are crying out for God’s vision of unity and love to be made real. In God’s vision we are growing together in love, we are growing together in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. And all God’s people say: Amen.