A Lutheran Says What?

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

Connections: Sermon on Facebook, Signs, Truth and God June 17, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 16, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31, Romans 5: 1-5 and John 16: 12-15 Holy Trinity Sunday

Children’s sermon:

Have a game, a phone, a letter, hands, cards, yarn. Gather the children and ask “Do you ever feel alone and you don’t want to be? Yes we all do! And we look for ways to be connected to our family and friends because we love them and love being with them. I have some things here that might help us think about being connected. Go through each one leaving the paper hands for last. In our bible stories today, they all talk about how God gives us signs of how we are aware of God’s connection to us. Just like the phone, or a letter bring us awareness that we can be with our family and friends in lots of ways, the same is true of God. What are ways that God might show us that we are connected to God? God connects to us such as through nature, through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, which is a little harder but is about feeling God’s presence through the air we breath and people around us. God wants to be with us and wants us to be with God! One way that we know God is with us is through other people telling us about God. Today we celebrate all of the men in our lives who tell us that God is with us always and show us God’s love. I have these hands here, just like Mother’s Day, and today we will write the names of dads, grandpas, uncles, brothers, cousins, friends who are special to us. Today we will tape them together and make a chain of hands and put them on this altar rail.

About ten maybe almost eleven years ago, I joined Facebook. Now, even in my mid-thirties, I was not known as being terribly technologically savvy or even liking tech or the internet all that much. My best friend, Leta, when I joined, commented “you are the LAST person I thought would ever be on FB!” And I honestly thought it would be a novel thing I would do for a while, I would get bored and quit. But I didn’t. FB has its ups and downs, good points and terrible points, but overall I love it! Why? Because I love that I can stay connected to people all over the world! FB allows me to at anytime, anywhere, be connected. I can connect with colleagues for advice, solidarity and empathy. I can connect with family and friends for laughs, crying and prayers. I can connect with people I have never met and will probably never meet in remote parts of the world and gain insight into what is happening globally. And yes, my dear parishioners, I get insight into you, the people whom God has called me to care for and walk beside. There’s a lot more pastoral care that happens on FB than you might realize. Believe or not, FB CAN be used for good and to broaden our worldview and doesn’t have to be an echo chamber. I didn’t expect to like FB or to utilize it for more than a few fun months, but a decade or more later, I am still there, and added Twitter and Instagram as well! Although, here’s where I am still a luddite-keeping up with all of that overwhelms me, so I mostly stick to FB. FB has become a sign in my life of how I am connected in positive and not so positive ways to so many people.  For instance, because of FB, once for a colleague out of state, I helped a family who was in Denver because their baby was life flighted from NE for cardiac treatment. I connected them to other resources, prayed with them and offered support. Because of FB, I mentor colleagues entering pastoral and faith formation ministry and I also get mentoring from colleagues who have “been there and done that.” Because of FB, I “talk” to people who are very different from me and I learn something new. Often, I am challenged and confronted about a piece of myself that I don’t want to admit to, or an action that I have done that needs reflection and repentance, such as changing my language around race, ableism or LBGTQ persons, or expanding my views on a topic beyond a right or wrong perspective. But because of this connectivity, I am pulled into the awareness and wrestling with the messy multiplicity of thought and relationships. I move from either/or thinking into both/and. Connections often bring awareness. One can see signs of the Holy Spirit at work in our world, and you might not believe me but even on social media where we don’t expect it.

Signs of God’s work are everywhere-and this week we are starting a seven-week sermon series “Give Me a Sign” and we will explore signs of God’s activity in our lives-particularly unexpected signs. Signs of God’s presence and activity are not always what we expect them to look like. Sometimes, as with our sign for today “Caution High Winds,” we are caught off guard and the sign may not seem to be good news for us at first. Signs might tell us that we are not where we think we are, or we are further or closer than we thought, or that there is potential for an event that we didn’t anticipate, or that preparations are needed. Signs don’t usually give us all the information but point us in a direction to keep going further down the road where we will encounter new experiences and new connections.

God has always provided signs of God’s activity, presence and connection in the world and in our lives from the moment that God spoke words of creation into the chaos of the void. God understands that we, as diverse humanity, need many signs, many experiences of God to expand our awareness of God. God’s deepest desire is to connect and be in constant relationship with us, as God’s very self is relationship and connection. Holy Trinity Sunday, is not a day to try and explain the three distinct expressions of God for intellectual understanding, but to point to the gift, joy and awareness of God’s diversity and connectivity in the world. The Trinity isn’t to be explained as much as it is to be lived and experienced. The core of God’s heart is abiding relationship. God as creator, Son and Holy Spirit-in unity and yet in distinction is a sign for us how God loves and craves relationships.

God’s signs of connection permeate the natural world with ecosystems both macro and micro. The relationships of plants and bees, animals and humans, rain, sun, wind and snow, reveal how God designed life to be dynamic and always transforming. Nothing stays the same and yet, the transformations are done in partnership in these systems. The more we become aware of our earth, the more we find that everything is in relationship from atoms and quarks to ice shelfs and penguin colonies.

God’s sign of connection is perhaps most personal in the coming of Jesus as a human infant, vulnerable and unprotected. God’s desire for relationship with us meant enduring risk. Through Jesus, God offered more signs of God’s connectivity to us. Water that connects us to the earth, and to the ministry and mission of Jesus, bread and wine that connect us to the seasons of planting and harvest, and also to inclusion for all into the body of Christ. And the sign of the cross, that connects us to the promises of God for presence in our suffering, connects us to the truth of the empty tomb, and life eternal with God and the people of God. These signs herald for us the truth that relationship and connection with God doesn’t remove suffering from our lives, as Paul writes in Romans, but has the power to transform it into hope- that is trust in God’s promise of abundant life.

God’s sign of connection in the Holy Spirit points us to new adventures and roads. Jesus tells the disciples in our John passage that we are connected to the Holy Spirit and so connected to the truth of God that guides our lives. Jesus doesn’t promise that this will be easy, clear or safe. The truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives witnesses to God’s power to call to us from unexpected people and places-such as in Proverbs chapter 8, Lady Wisdom calls to the people from the city entrances and crossroads-a sign of God’s connections in our daily lives. Throughout the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles God’s work among those who were different from them and challenged their embedded way of thinking about life with God. The Holy Spirit guides us to open roads and open hearts where we encounter God’s people in rich diversity, distinction and uniqueness. The Holy Spirit guides us to the truth of God’s love for us and all creation, that God is beyond either/or  thinking but reveals multiple perspectives and avenues of connection. The truth that God sends us out filled with these signs, to be living signs, with our words, actions and to be the very presence of God’s love, grace and hope to everyone that we encounter. Signs of acceptance, signs of advocacy, signs of inclusion, signs of welcome, signs of God’s gracious love that is poured out in unexpected places, to unlikely people in a multiplicity of ways. These signs open our awareness of living in grace-filled, abiding and eternal relationship with God and one another. Thanks be to God.

 

 

I gave up Facebook for a week and lived to tell about it October 15, 2016

About two three weeks ago, I took a sabbatical from media, mostly internet media to be honest. I had been facilitating a book club on Wednesday evenings at the church I serve as pastor in Denver, CO, Bethany Lutheran on Jen Hatmaker’s book, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” Hatmaker identifies seven areas of her comfortable first world life (clothing, possessions, food, stress, waste, media, and spending) and annihilates the down to nothing. Eating only seven foods for a month, getting rid of seven possessions a day for a month (this one goes waaaaaay beyond the seven a day), praying seven times a day, well you get the idea. What happens to your faith and spiritual life when you no longer worry about what to wear? Or what to eat? Or have more money to actually give more than 10%? How can we create less room for our egos and more room for Jesus? The book is not perfect and our group vacillated between devastating recognition of our consumptive, hoarding, selfish, egoist ways of living and the absurdity of how far she takes the experiment, mostly in the name of a book deal. Well, that might be a bit harsh, but sometimes it’s the question that popped up for us.

So we decided about week two into our six week book study that the last week together we would each choose one of the seven areas to mutiny against. I know that I have a Facebook problem, so I chose media. I immediately wondered what in the hell was I thinking??? Give up political rants, what people are eating for dinner and voyeuristic peeks into other people’s lives that are apparently waaaaay more fab than my own? Ok, I’m in. I also gave up tv this week as well. And email and text was only for work purposes, following Hatmaker’s guidelines in the book.

So on Wednesday evening, I posted the obligatory “Hey, as if any of you care, but I won’t be on FB, email or much media for week because blah, blah, blah…” I then turned off all With notifications on twitter, FB, Instagram and Pintrest (Oh my God do I LOVE Pintrest!!!) and took all the apps off my phone. Then I went to bed, convinced I had just severed all connections with human life.

The first couple of days went very smooth and honestly, I didn’t miss it much. With the apps off my phone, the battery lasted FOREVER and I didn’t constantly have notifications coming through distracting me from whatever it was I was doing. Now, I would love to say that I was more productive off of social media, but I’m not sure that is true and I can’t really measure that in a couple of days. I can say, no tv however, meant that read more in the evenings, and went to bed earlier. These are two very good things for this middle aged, tired, brain starting to turn to mush, momma. Unlike Hatmaker, whose children are younger, I have a 17 almost 18 year old son still in the home. So I have to admit that the tv was on-just to the stuff he was watching which mostly doesn’t interest me. My big vice is tv in the morning as I get dressed for work. The Today show is my “stories.” I like to think I’m watching “the news” but….yeah, I know. It’s like saying The Office is a real documentary. (Ahem-If you are a colleague reading this or my lead pastor, kindly skip down to the next paragraph. This next bit doesn’t concern you, at all…) With no tv in the morning, I found that I was generally about 10 minutes faster getting ready for work and to work a bit earlier. And I was less rushed and prepared a better lunch/dinner for later in the day at work.

So, all in all it was going pretty well until…Monday….dun, dun dunnnnn. What happened Monday you ask? Well, this little thing of a conference call Birthing Cross + Gen Eduworship started in Estes Park. As a pastor of Faith Formation and someone who has worked in the faith formation arena in the ELCA for about 15 years and was part of the Killing Sunday School Birthing Cross Gen think tank in 2012, and had presented at the 2014 conference and knew about 80% of the people at this conference (these are MY PEOPLE!) it took the conference being in session for about 30 minutes before emails rolled in (I was at work ya’ll so yes, I was checking email.) pinging me on FB and Twitter for questions, insights, and shout outs. Oh No. I was like a deer in headlights! What do I do?? Is this work? Is this connectivity? Is this ego?? (Um yes, BTW.) I came home that evening and looked at Mike (my spouse of 22 years who seriously is a saint with all of the crazy crap I come up with) and said, “Now what?” He looked at me with patience, love and exasperation and said, “oh for goodness sake just answer them! The world will not end because you tweeted or posted!” So I did. With guilt. With pleasure. With relief.

I did not go on any social media other than that however. I did not scroll, search, or “like.” I don’t think anyway. It’s been three weeks now. But I held the fast in the other areas.

Ok, nitty, gritty, what I learned:

1) I love social media! Not for controversy, not for voyeurism, but because I love reading what other people think, do, give, wonder, and yes, even get upset about.

2) I realized that I use social media for ministry much more than I would have pegged going into the experiment. Pintrest, ya’ll. Pintrest.

3) I genuinely missed you all. Yes, you.

4) I love baby pictures. All of you youngsters keep having babies and putting their gorgeous pictures and videos into my feed please. It keeps me from being too annoyed with my young adult children.

5)The TV can probably just go. Seriously, with the exception of Portlandia, nothin’.

6) This connectivity thing is tricky and messy. It can consume you and it can be an idol like anything else, but it also reminds us that the world is flat. What happens in Syria impacts me, or should. I can know that a friend needs a prayer, yes, an electronic prayer from half way around the country or down the street. We are called into community and social media broadens what that community looks like and how it’s shaped. After a week off, I will with gusto proclaim that social media is not evil! I think, no, I know, it’s where Jesus is. I see Jesus at work in your lives as you work out trying to take kids on fabulous vacations. Not to flaunt wealth, but to make memories from a time that flies by all to quickly. I see Jesus at work as we share ministry, faith, foibles, missteps, prayer, laughter, tears, sorrows, joys and love together even though we’re apart. I see Jesus even in the political rants as I remember to breath, love, and know that God’s kingdom is bigger than our partisanship and divisions.

7) I learned that I learn from all of you. Each and every day. I need other voices to keep from being stuck in my own voice in my head.

8) Because of number 7 above, I learned gratitude for all of you who I read, interact with and learn from. Thank you.

I’m aware that none of these revelations and learnings are earth shattering or “book deal” worthy, but they are mine. I encourage you to try this! What do you learn about yourself and your consumption of media?

May you see the love of Jesus every where you go: In others, in media, in situations, at work, in prayer, at church, and in you.

 

Risking it all-Matthew 25:14-30 Nov. 16, 2014 November 17, 2014

Filed under: sermon,Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 3:57 am
Tags: , , , ,

(This is the sermon I preached at the first worship service this morning, 11-16. The second worship service went, well, differently…)

I posted this question to my Facebook page about risk-risks you’ve taken and how did it go, and what’s the one risk you wish you had taken. I had several responses in the course of a few minutes! It was crazy how the conversation about risk just kept going! Over 20 diverse people (from all walks of life, professions and denominations) told me about the risks of vocational decisions, moving, leaving harmful situations, marriage, having children, changing one’s mind about something, divorce and leaving family and friends. Risk is a part of life. They commented that these things were HARD. These weren’t calculated risks like which carpet to choose but risks that altered the way they lived their daily lives. Yet, I didn’t hear one person regret a risk that they actually followed through on. Some even commented that the risk they took that initially felt and looked like failure (such as their divorce) turned out to be a meaningful step to wholeness and joy. The only regret talked about was for risks not taken.
Risk is often an invitation to something that we’ve never done before or to think differently about our lives and the world around us. When we take a risk, when we step out beyond our fears, we are stepping into a vision that is bigger than ourselves. We are stepping into a vision that is beyond what we can imagine, explain or fully grasp. Many people on the FB conversation pointed to the fact that it was because of risk that they took, they grew, they were transformed and they now live with people differently. Risk is an acknowledgment that maybe there’s more than what we can presently see. The apostle Paul names this in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, as seeing in mirror, dimly. We don’t know exactly where the risk will take us, only that it will indeed move us from where we are now.
Risk also forces us to explore who were really are and often forces us to redefine what success means for us. When you are uncertain about the future, you begin to know more about yourself, your identity, your gifts, and your short-comings. Success, in the face of risk, ceases to be measured in dollars earned, our title or position but takes on a quality of being true to who we are. Success becomes about living out of our gifts and passions and not into material things. Taking risks also makes us vulnerable and exposed to judgment, and yet, often risk connects us with others around us in ways that are not possible when we shelter ourselves and don’t step out into the unknown. Risk drives us to community-finding other risk takers for partnership on the journey. The conversation of risk brought 20 people (many who don’t know each other) into honest conversation about risk and the reality of fear.
Matthew’s community would have been wrestling with risk. Things would not have been easy for these early Christians. Their risk was not about being given a funny look when they mentioned their church or Jesus in the grocery store line or at a dinner party(as it is for us) but risk was that their community could dissolve at any time, they could be arrested and put to death for their belief in this radical God who risked everything to be with humans, who hung out with the unclean and the criminals, who spoke truth to power, who gave up life on a cross to show forgiveness, mercy and love, and who was resurrected to break the barriers of death and despair.
Matthew places this story about three slaves right before Jesus begins his journey to the cross and uses it to turn the definitions of success and risk on its head for his community and for us. Matthew is making the point that the greatest risk with this precious story of the love of Jesus Christ, is to bury it and not do anything. The greater risk is to do nothing, accept the status quo, be safe and be sure that no one is inconvenienced or uncomfortable. Matthew doesn’t spend a lot of time on the first two slaves other than to point out that their only reward is more work in the master’s realm and they have the joy of relationship with the master. But Matthew spends some time telling us about the third slave and his issues. The third slave proclaims his fear of the master but really that fear is about himself. In his fear, he couldn’t see beyond himself or see a bigger picture outside of his own perspective. He was afraid to fail and so did nothing. In the doing nothing, he had already failed.
Matthew knew that his community had been given much already. They had received the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, they had each other for support to live their identity as beloved children of God and they had all of this in abundance. They were people who had absolutely nothing to lose and by living their daily lives proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in their neighborhoods and towns, the world had everything to gain. God’s abundance is to be shared and not buried underground. Yet, it seems fear was rampant in this early Christian community. Fear was overtaking the joy of living in relationship with God and with one another.
What is it for us here as the gathered community of LCM to live in the joy in our relationship with God and each other? Like Matthew’s community, we have been given much. We, too, have been given freedom from sin and death, freedom from worrying about messing up, unconditional love, we have been given our core identity as a child of God, we have been given each other, this gathered community, no matter what time you worship, for deepening our faith, caring for each other and the neighborhood. God has provided us everything we need to risk sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. We know that we are called to take this risk: we know that we will not be comfortable, we might be afraid, we know that our risk might seem like failure, and we know that success in God’s kingdom is nowhere near the same as the worlds.
While we here at LCM, may not risk our physical lives to proclaim the gospel, we are living in a time not unlike the early church. The culture and society around us is suspect of Christianity and Christians. We believe crazy stuff like unconditional love from God, resurrection from the dead and eternal life, forgiveness for all, the primacy of community and living one’s life for their neighbor, and caring for those whom society neglects. Living out our core identity as followers of Jesus Christ, makes us different than the rest of the world. It means decentering our personal preferences, it means we gather with other to read and wrestle with ancient texts that still speak truths, we serve and care for those in need daily, we truly believe that continuing the ministry that Jesus began of revealing God’s love to the world makes a difference. Following Jesus means risking not being popular, risking not being comfortable, risking not worrying about ourselves, risking being part of a community that will change us, risking that we will no longer be who we were before we began the journey. But in that risk is the deep joy of being who God created us to be. It turns out that living from a place of deep joy in the life of God with the people of God is the definition of success the world needs to hear.
God has trusted us with much in God’s kingdom. God calls us to be faithfully risky with the treasure of God’s unconditional love, grace and God’s vision of success for the world. We are called to be faithful-not perfect. We are free to do whatever is necessary: love with great risk, share generously with great risk, offer peace with great risk, connect to the neighborhood with great risk, or whatever God calls us into participation with her. It will transform us, not leave us the same, move us beyond ourselves and our own preferences, deepen our faith yet fill us with joy. Thanks be to God.

 

Facebook, gratitude and joy November 28, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 5:31 am
Tags: , , , ,

I have to admit that I have kinda rolled my eyes all month at the 30 days of gratitude on Facebook for November. I know, I know, this makes me a bit unfeeling and callous. I don’t disagree. If you don’t know me well, let me clue you in here that I am not the most touchy feely person you will ever meet. It’s not that I am completely heartless but I am not given to spontaneous emotional outbursts and I am not by nature one to be overly affectionate. And as my best friend will tell you, I don’t cry in public. Ever. Period. And if I do you know it’s really bad. REALLY BAD.

Being thankful for the little and big things in your life is fine and a good thing. But one of the reasons I didn’t jump on that band wagon (and believe me it would have been easier than this whole blog post a day stuff), is that to me it can sound a little self righteous or smug. I didn’t want to be posting on how I am grateful for my smart children or great house or great job. I mean I have all those things, but do I need to put it on Facebook?

But then I also saw on Facebook today a saying, “The root of joy is gratitude.” It occurred to me how much I take for granted, little things and big things. What am I joyful about? Do I focus too much on what is not going well versus what is? Do I tell people how much I appreciate what they do? Do I offer grateful prayers for all that I have? Do I take for granted my creature comforts? On a day to day basis, I suspect so. Maybe the point of the 30 days of gratitude is to help us to keep perspective in our lives. I know that I can lose perspective pretty quickly. I can lose joy pretty quickly as well.

What is ironic is that there is so much that I am grateful for and so much that brings me pure and simple joy. (Emotional outburst alert!) My children, my husband, a sunrise, a sunset, seeing deer on my morning runs, meaningful work, supportive and loving friends, serving my community, neighbors and so much more! One of the aspects of life that I have actually been more aware of over the past few years is that of moments of pure joy in the midst of the ordinary, beauty in the everyday and the sense of God’s love that I believe undergirds all of humanity.

So maybe this gratitude thing is less about what we have and more about where we find our joy, beauty and love. Where is you joy? What brings you a sense of deep satisfaction makes your soul sing? What makes you notice God in your neighbor? These are things to truly be grateful for.

 

Connecting November 8, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 3:36 am
Tags: , ,

When I joined Facebook in 2008 many of my friends nearly dropped dead. My best friend commented that I was “the last person” she would have guessed to see on Facebook. You see, I am not always the most technologically gifted individual on the planet. Also, I am not always quick to adapt to new technology. I didn’t get a cell phone until 2002 and had a flip phone probably waaaaay longer than what was acceptable. BUT being part of an on-line format for seminary and had the requirement of starting a blog for a class (this one), I quickly caught up and found that I can figure more out than I thought.
Now as an extrovert, I LOVE Facebook. I have reconnected with high school friends, cousins, and college friends. I can talk to friends and family almost anytime and anywhere. What I also love about it (as well as Twitter and my other blog www.faithformationjourneys.org) is that I am “friends” and connect with people not just all over the country but all over the world. How amazing is it that just tonight I shared ministry ideas around the Bible with people from around the country all while sitting on my couch and watching the Big Bang Theory?
I do think that it has changed the face of pastoral ministry and I think mostly for the better. Yes, you can argue that now parishioners can “get to me” in multiple formats and 24 hours a day but just as pastors have boundaries around the phone or face to face visits, you can have healthy boundaries around social media as well. What amazes me is the number of “casual” Facebook or even text conversations that end up delving into some important theological questions and deeper relationship. I often think that there is a level of safety in being able to ask these kind of questions of your pastor via your computer, tablet or phone. Many of these people would not for various reasons “stop by the church to chat” or request a “pastoral visit.” But they will shoot me a text saying “hey, I have been wondering something….” This is a new reality in the community of God’s people. It’s a reminder that God uses all that we do, every piece of culture and technology to reveal love, grace and community in the world. It’s also a reminder for me to continue to keep learning new technologies and ways of communication because I never know how God will be revealed to me in a new way.