A Lutheran Says What?

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

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.

 

Our Bodies Remember Sermon on Luke 22 October 30, 2020

This sermon was preached on Nov. 1, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

We are in our generosity focus and celebration of our 60th anniversary. “Rooted in our past, embracing our future.” This week’s theme is “Remember.” We also celebrate All Saints Sunday.

Texts:
Exodus: 16:1-18
Luke 22: 1-23

There have been significant insights gained in the past couple of decades on the link between our brains and our bodies. Most of this information is simply an affirmation of our lived experiences, with the science of hormonal and immune system responses, as well as the activity of our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. We all know that stress, good and bad, plays a role in our physical well-being and learning how to teach our brains to listen to our bodies is necessary for overall health. Our bodies know a lot, it turns out, perhaps more than our brains but we rarely listen to our bodies until it’s too late. So often in my life, I worked tirelessly on a big paper, project or event only to fall ill immediately following the culmination of that stressor. Our bodies know, and our bodies also remember. Our bodies remember stresses, remember feelings, remember betrayal, remember love. You know that pit in your stomach when you remember an action from several years ago of which you are ashamed? Or those butterflies you get when you think about a beloved?  Sometimes our bodies are the only parts of us that do remember significant events and use bodily responses to get our attention. How many times have we not felt well or “off” only to later remember that it was the anniversary of a beloved’s death, or relationship ending, job loss, or health diagnosis? Conversely, how often have we felt great and then realized it was because we were remembering a time when we were safe, loved and cared for? Our bodies know, and they remember.

We celebrate our 60th anniversary this year at OSLC,  and we gratefully remember the people who had the vision of a community of followers of Jesus in Salt Lake City. Nearly all these people have gone before us, I believe Janice Orme is the only charter member still with us. And while we may not remember all the names, all the faces, we remember the love and faith that they poured into this congregation and this community. We remember, not just with our brains, and hearts, but our bodies. Some of us with the pit of grief in our stomach and some of us breathing easier that these saints had such an astute sense of God’s mission and vision 60 years ago. We know that where we are today, is not by our own doing but due to the love and vision of others and their bodies. This is true in every aspect of our lives. I’m wearing a stole today that celebrates the 50th anniversary of ordination in the Lutheran church of white women, 40th of Black women and 10th of people who are LBGTQIA+. I’m here as a pastor today not because of my own vision, but because of others. The names on this stole are some the faithful women in the Bible who held fast to God’s call and vision and not what the world’s vision for them was because their bodies were female. I remember that they sacrificed much, some their very bodies, for God’s vision and call. Our bodies know and our bodies remember; our bodies know that we are part of a larger whole and remember that we cannot be whole without being together. Our vision, our faith, our calls, bring us into wholeness, and interconnection like puzzle pieces, to God, and perhaps more importantly, with each other.

Jesus exemplifies this truth in his earthly life and death. Jesus points to the power of what our bodies know and remember throughout his ministry. Jesus desires for his disciples, and us, to trust that power of what our bodies know and remember. Our bodies are part the very kingdom of God, they matter and are declared very good. Jesus wants us to watch and listen to his body so that we learn to listen to our own and others. Jesus knew that the time after his death and resurrection for the disciples would be challenging. Their bodies would also be on the line. This faith in following Jesus is not intellectual, it’s incarnational, it’s fleshy, it real and it’s risky. Jesus offered his own body for the work of God to bring eternal life and wholeness for all bodies. Jesus knows that our bodies will need sustenance for this work. So, Jesus, at that last meal with his disciples, gives bread, saying this is my body. It’s broken, it’s divided, it’s sustaining and it’s for you. Eat it, be filled, be reconnected to the body that matters, the body of Christ, to remember. And then drink, for you don’t live by bread alone, drink and know that this is my blood coursing through your veins, through your body. It’s love that runs through you, remember, be reconnected with hope, mercy and forgiveness and then fill others. Your body knows, and your body will remember.

This is why we celebrate the meal, to listen to Jesus’ body and to hear our own. Our bodies know what it is to be loved, to be valued, to be cherished. Our bodies remember every time they are violated. Jesus wants our bodies to only know love, to only remember wholeness, to only remember what it feels like to be in this body of Christ that has no end, that sustains, visions, frees, and hopes. This remembering that Jesus offers in this supper, this reconnection, gives us strength as we go out into the world.

We remember and give thanks on this All Saints Sunday, that we are never alone, we are connected and cared for by the people who have come before us, surround us and are yet to come. We are heard and filled by Jesus’ body, not for our own sake but for people who will come after us, in the next 60 years. People who will be very different, worship differently, live differently, dress differently but who’s bodies are loved all the same by Jesus. Their bodies will know and remember that they were thought of and loved by us today.

Our bodies know and our bodies remember. We remember that we are loved by God, and we are God’s love in the world. Amen.

 

Seen and Heard Sermon on Exodus 16 & 17 July 5, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 5, 2020. We continue in our summer series “I Love to Tell the Story.” It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were Exodus 16: 1-18 and 17: 1-7

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs points out that when your basic needs aren’t being met, food, shelter, clothing and safety, you can’t focus on anything else. We all know this, on a personal level, when you’re extremely hungry or thirsty, the only thing you can focus on is rectifying that situation. When there is hunger and thirst on a community level, an entire group of people are kept in a pattern that doesn’t allow for worry on a collective about the future, education, neighborhood, or anything past survival. Survival becomes the only thing you can think or talk about. And you wonder if anyone sees your needs and hears your cries for the basics of life that others seem to have. You feel invisible. Your focus on these needs might be heard as complaining, which culturally for us in our society is taboo. We are enculturated to not ask for help, that not meeting our own basic needs is a failure and to just push forward no matter the suffering.  We are taught and perpetuate the myth that it is better to not be seen or heard at all, then to be seen or heard as a problem. But the problem with that is that it leads to other problems.

Complaining has such a negative connotation in our culture that we judge and label people who complain. “Oh, that person is just complaining to complain.” Or “they should quit complaining and do something about it.” I know I’ve done it. We think complainers are weak and self-centered, and we certainly don’t want to be labeled that or around those people. When I read our two stories from Exodus for this week, my first thought is “why are the Israelites complaining to Moses and God after being liberated from the Egyptians? It seems ungrateful.” But I then I realized what the Israelites where unhappy about: they were hungry and thirsty. Their basic needs for human existence weren’t being met, they were in the middle of a desert where they couldn’t meet these basic needs themselves, they needed help and they weren’t sure if God really saw them.

The Israelites genuinely wondered what God was up to and if God was perhaps no better than Pharaoh, who had only seen them as free labor with no value. Maybe it’s better to be seen as less than, and have some food, than not seen at all by God in the desert? We might view that as a lack of faith, but again, I will admit to questioning God’s motives or lack of action every now and again too, wondering if God really sees the situation I’m in. Moses’ reaction to the demands of the Israelites is interesting. He takes it very personally and immediately deflects to God by saying, “This isn’t my problem, it’s God’s. Don’t look at me!”

God did look at Moses though, and God saw and heard the Israelites. God saw and heard their grumblings and didn’t chastise them, didn’t become annoyed, but instead said yes, I will give them what they ask for, bread from heaven, quail from the sky and water from a rock and even more, they will see the glory of God. God wanted them to know that God saw them for who’s they were-God’s. And God will give them what they need to survive, acknowledging that basic needs are a reality, not a nicety. And God gave them agency to gather their own food, to have a part in the provision. God doesn’t just give charity, God gives empowerment and dignity. God looked to Moses to provide leadership, God looked to the people to share, and God looked to the people to keep moving. God showed the Israelites to keep looking and listening for God who will meet their needs in unexpected ways.

Being seen and heard is a basic human need as much as food and water. The Israelites wanted to know that they mattered to God and so do we. Admitting that I have needs isn’t a lack of faith, it’s an act of bold faith that as someone created in God’s image, as someone with dignity and worth, these needs should be met. It’s a proclamation that if I have value and worth to be seen, heard and responded to by God, then other people do too. It’s a statement that the needs of our bodies do indeed matter, each body, are gifts that God promises to provide for. God does indeed provide, and not just for some individuals, but for the whole community. All the Israelites were included, all had what they needed.

God calls people such as Moses to lead and work with God to provide for the needs of the people. God calls to us to see, hear and act for the needs of our neighbors, their reality of what their bodies need for health, safety and life. Right now, many people are crying out for basic needs, to be seen and heard. They are crying out for us to act. We show that we see, hear and act for the care of our neighbor and to show that their bodies matter, when we wear a mask, when we say “no” to harm being done, when we protect our clean drinking water sources, when we ensure that food is not hoarded but shared, when we work to ensure fair pay for essential workers, for health care for those without, for human and civil rights for those denied, creating spaces for people who are disabled, and when we hear the words of Jesus in our ears: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it to me.” We meet basic needs, when we see Christ in people whom we dislike, fear or don’t understand. When we see and hear each other as God does, we will act how God does, for the sake of people hungry and thirsty for food, water, grace, mercy and justice. Amen.