A Lutheran Says What?

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

We Build Up Sermon on the Faith Practice of Encouragement March 5, 2019

This sermon was preached on February 3, 2019 at Bethany Lutheran Church. You can view it at http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts are Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, 1 John 3: 18-24, Luke 12: 22-34

Children’s sermon: Do you ever have a day where everything seems hard and you worry about everything? Maybe even friends say things that aren’t kind and we feel bad. Show me what you might look like on those kinds of days. Yes, we might slump over, hang our head, make ourselves small. But what about when you are having a hard day and someone says something that makes you feel better? Such as “I’m sorry this is hard, but you can do it!” or “I’ll help you!” or “You are good at this!” Show me how you might look then: Yes, we stand up a bit taller! We feel bigger and more solid. We feel built up. We just heard three bible stories on how God wants to build us up. God wants us to have life, love and freedom from worry. All really good things and they are hard to remember. Sometimes we get confused about what is important and we worry about things.  Have you ever worried that you weren’t smart enough, or tall enough, good enough at something or had the right clothes to wear? Yeah, me too! Adults do this all the time too, we just don’t admit it.  Do you know what encouragement or to encourage means? Yep! It means we build each other up! This is the sign language for encourage. It’s the faith practice that we are exploring in worship today and in our cross + Gen faith formation. The middle of the word encourage is courage which means strength and “cour” which means “heart” in French. So when we encourage each other or God encourages us-we are building up each other’s hearts and God builds up our hearts with words of love. And there is plenty to go around! Telling someone that they are special or good at something doesn’t take away from our specialness or talents.

God builds up our hearts by giving us words of life, of remembering to love Jesus, to not worry, to trust God and to build up other people’s hearts. How can we build other people up? We happen to have a holiday that is all about hearts coming up. Valentine’s Day! We give cards and treats that remind our friends and family that they are loved by us and God! These are words and actions of encouragement that build each other up and build us together as a community of God’s people! I have Valentine’s here for each of you.

Encourage is a concept that we often water down to mean cheerleading or affirmation yet, in my own life, I’ve learned it’s so much more than that. I’ve recently discovered the Netflix show Marie Kondo’s the art of tidying up. Have you heard of this? She had a book a few years ago and now she has a show. I didn’t read the book, as I consider myself, especially at home, don’t look in my office, a tidy person. I don’t like clutter and as a military kid, living in military housing, you were not allowed to leave for school unless your bed was properly made, your things all put away and the bathroom picked up. we were inspected once a month and we never knew when. So, I never did the messy teenage room thing and when our kids were teens I couldn’t understand the piles of clothes on the floor and beds unmade. It’s completely foreign to me. So, I honestly eschewed Marie Kondo’s tidying ways at first, assuming the Air Force regulations and my time in Japan were sufficient. But the other night it popped up at the top of our Netflix stream and I was mesmerized. You see, I discovered that it’s not about just tidying, it’s about joy, gratitude, relationships and building people up, giving them courage to be all of who they really are.

Marie begins by entering the home, greeting the family, and then kneels on the floor to give thanks to the house for offering protection and safety and to honor the tidying that is about to occur. Often the home owners tear up. You see this isn’t about how big or fancy the house is or how to make the house better. It’s not Fixer Upper or My Lottery Home, it’s about focusing on the correct thing: what kind of life they want to live.  Houses are simply a place where life is in proper perspective and you can be who you truly are, a space for your heart and spirit to be nurtured and built up. Marie, with her wide, gentle smile and breezy Japanese,  asks people the hard questions about how they want to live and who they are. She tells them to connect with what brings them joy and then discard the rest. She shares with them her own imperfections and struggles, she’s quick to make sure that the families know that she’s not better than them, just on a different point on the path and can walk with them because she knows the way. She reveals her heart to them. Marie is clear that this is hard work but they are not alone. She shows them that their heart and relationships are their treasure and who they truly are, not their things. She gives them courage to be their true selves and not hide behind stuff, worry or fear.

This is the truth of building someone up or encouraging them. Building up is heart work, as I told the children.  It strikes at the very core of who we are and who God is. I was struck this week, that really any bible passage would work, as the faith practice of encourage weaves through the entirety of the biblical witness. God offers prophets such as Moses, community leaders such as the writer of 1 John and Jesus, and God’s own son, to build us up, to reveal God’s heart, to ask us hard questions about how we want to live, to point us to who we truly are and gives us each other as  community on the path of faith together. Encourage is a faith practice that can simply not be done alone. Together we are built up and reminded of the truth that we indeed have life-the joy of living in our identity as God’s children together in community but death-living in the identity of the world that focuses on self, status, material wealth, and privilege, is pulling on us too. Choosing death might seem easier in our culture, after all the world tells us that it’s all about us, our stuff, the size and expensiveness of our homes, cars and other possessions. If we don’t have those things then we are no one and we should worry, be afraid and work harder to attain those things. But it leaves our hearts deep in clutter, over stuffed and overwhelmed by things that don’t bring joy.

In Luke, Jesus encourages us and says don’t worry, don’t be afraid and focus on what matters, true treasure, offering your heart to God and neighbor. Discard everything else. This is courageous behavior and it requires our whole selves. Jesus calls us as disciples and builds us up to live as God’s people so that we can offer our hearts to build up people who need to hear of God’s love and grace-to walk with them, to point to hope and true joy. Not with only kind words but with our actions. It takes real courage, strength of our hearts, to say “no” to our own wants and desires in order to build up our neighbor in need. As God’s people we are called to build up our neighbors who do not have shelter, food or clothes by providing those things without judgment or critique. We build up our neighbors who are invisible to the rest of society: people who are the differently abled, black and brown, LBGTQ or simply different from us by seeing and standing with them. We build up our neighbors when we listen and put aside the need to be right in order to hear their perspective, we build up our global neighbor when we  reflect on how we in the US often live at their expense, and we build up people we’ve never met, even at the cost of our own wants or convenience. Jesus tells us that there is a cost to living as disciples, it takes courage, strength of our hearts, to follow God’s heart for the world. Jesus should know, he paid with his life.

The cost of following Jesus and practicing encouragement will be the death of our egos, desires and privilege but will raise us be courageous witnesses to new life in Jesus of love, joy, gratitude and grace.  Our hearts and lives are built up by what matters, joy in the promises of God for love and life through Jesus Christ, today and forever.  Okage de kami ni narimasu. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

Only For God Jeremiah 1: 4-10 Epiphany 4, Year C, January 31st February 11, 2016

 

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

 

Some of you know that before I went to seminary I was a director of a Lutheran early childhood center. When I started the school in 2003, one of the visions for the school was to proclaim God’s work in the community around St. Matthew Lutheran located in a first ring suburb of Portland, OR, one of the least churched areas of the world. Surveys have shown that if every pew was full on a Sunday morning in Portland it would be only 4% of the population. It is a mission field indeed. We knew God was at work in Portland and we knew that proclaiming God’s word of love and grace was an important way we could participate with God. And so, in the DNA of the school were faith practices. Early on in the program we decided to teach the preschoolers the Lord’s Prayer and have the children lead the prayer in worship on Palm Sunday, followed by a potluck brunch, of course! We started teaching the Lord’s Prayer as part of our snack time prayer right away in September. We would sing our “Thank You” song and then pray the Lord’s Prayer. We used actions to help them learn it and our first Family Faith Night of the year was centered on the faith practice of prayer and specifically the Lord’s Prayer.

In this diverse and mostly secular Pacific NW culture, curiously we would have about 80% of our families attend to play games, make remembrances of the scripture (otherwise known as crafts-but anything that is made with their hands and goes home is important) and of course, enjoy treats. We had diversity in the abilities of the children as well as diversity in the faith backgrounds: from the nones (completely unchurched), Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, other Christian denominations to lifelong Lutherans.

One year, a family registered for the school in which the mom was a lifelong Lutheran and dad was a none. Their oldest child was an adorable three year old little girl named Ella. Mom wanted the children brought up in the Christian faith and dad frankly didn’t see the point. He was not thrilled to have Ella at an overtly Christian school and told me so. We began teaching the children the Lord’s Prayer and held our first family faith night. Dad did not attend with mom and Ella. Ella began to know the prayer pretty well and started insisting that they say it before dinner at home. Dad confessed he didn’t know it and Ella told him that they could learn it together. Even though Ella herself didn’t know it perfectly, Ella taught her dad what she knew of the Lord’s Prayer. She wasn’t concerned about details or exact words, she simply wanted her dad to pray with her because he didn’t know about God. Being only three didn’t stop her.

Palm Sunday arrived. The children were all excited and some parents were nervous as for many it was their first time in worship. We came to the point of the worship service where we had the children move up front for the communion liturgy. As we were organizing 60 three through five year olds, Ella began to call to her dad from the front. “Daddy, come up with me! You learned it too!” Dad gestured and shook his head no, of course, not wanting to take anything away from the hard work of the children. But Ella persisted, “Daddy you have to come up! You learned it just like me!” It was obvious that worship would not continue until dad came up. So, this six foot plus dad came and knelt beside his petite three-year-old daughter and together they all prayed the Lord’s Prayer, from memory, to God who was, who is and who will be forever. The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable and everyone had tears in their eyes, including Ella’s dad. Pastor Eric choked his way through the rest of the liturgy.

We had all been witnesses to what our faith is really about: being together on the journey and learning from each other along the way. Life in God is this: God working through a child to open up an adult to the love and presence of Christ. An adult being offered hope through the ancient words prayed by children embodies the mystery of our faith. God did this, even though Ella didn’t have a theological degree; even though she couldn’t read; even though she was only three.

“Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” I am only a parent; I am only a grandparent; I am only a new believer; I am only a teacher; I am only an IT person; I am only a pastor; I am only a real estate broker; I am only a child; I am only…” We get easily caught into thinking that we don’t have what God needs to really do wondrous things and proclaim God’s word of salvation and wholeness for the world. We come up with a list of “only’s.” If I only knew the Bible better; if I only prayed more; if I only went to worship more often; if I only could get the courage to invite my neighbor to bible study; if I only had eloquent and encouraging words; if I were only more giving; if I only served selflessly. We make faith practices into a to-do list, or a prerequisite for being able to participate in God’s redeeming work.

Jeremiah also fell into that trap of the “only’s.” He knew that he was inadequate, without the proper training or lineage, of a priest. He knew that left on his own, he had nothing. He was only a boy; if he only had the right words. But God didn’t call Jeremiah because of his education, his lineage, his age, his skill set, or his piety. God called Jeremiah because Jeremiah belonged to God. God called Jeremiah because God calls all kinds of people, a motley crew, if you will, to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. God knows that in order to reach all people, not just the Israelites, not just the ones who show up to church on a Sunday morning, not just the ones who know the Bible, not just the ones who pray, but to reach all people, God calls all people from all kinds of backgrounds, ages, stages, and abilities. God calls you.  God proclaimed to Jeremiah and to us that God removes our “only’s.” God proclaims that the only “only” that matters is that we belong and are beloved by God. Jeremiah was known by God before he ever drew breath. Jeremiah would have heard while in the womb the prayers from the temple, the words from the scroll of the Torah, the songs of worship and the promises of God. These faith practices didn’t qualify him for the work to which God called him, but rooted him in his only identity, a child of God who always loves us and removes our fear.

Faith practices remind us that with God, a boy can tell a whole nation that they must repent or fall to the coming army. With God, a boy can proclaim that God will not forsake God’s people. With God, a three-year-old can open up her dad to God’s love. With God, a baby giggling down the aisle to communion can point us to the joy in the Lord. With God, a retired person can help a youth uncover their God given gifts. With God, a congregation of faithful followers of Christ can reveal to a cynical and hardened culture that hope, faith and love are real, are here, and those promises from our ever present God will not fail. With God, death on a cross can be new life and with God, an empty tomb can be the end of all separation from God.

Faith practices aren’t so that we can know enough, but remind us that with God, we are enough. Faith practices connect us to what God is doing to transform the world through the love of Jesus Christ. Faith practices bind us, young and old, in community to share the journey that is not always easy. We are moved by the wonder of the child and the wisdom of the adult and marvel that God literally wired us for one another in all stages of life. Faith practices root us, nurture us and send us out bursting with love, hope and grace into a world that is desperate to hear that they too are known and loved by God, even if our words are imperfect. Like Ella, do not be afraid that you are “only you,” but go with the confidence that you are called and loved by the one and only God of all creation, who will remove all of your fear. Amen.

 

It Never Ends #itsagoodthing #itsaGodthing John 6: 1-21 Pentecost 9B July 26, 2015 July 26, 2015

One of the principles of teaching, especially younger children, is repetition, repetition, repetition. When I was a director of a preschool, I had some parents who wanted their children to come five mornings a week, which was fine, I was clear that the curriculum would be the same. They often then said, “oh maybe my child will get bored.” But those of us who have spent any time around young children know that they will want you to read the same book over and over, play the same game with them over and over, sing the same songs over and over, and watch the same video over and over.  So we patiently (mostly!) reread the books to them, replay the games, and yes tolerate the same song or video over and over. If you’re lucky, you’ll like some of these activities too! Repetition is how our brains gain mastery over a skill or a concept. Now repetition is not necessarily the exact same thing over and over all the time. It can also be variations on a theme that broaden and deepen our mastery of a skill, or even expand our knowledge within that skill set.

I am a violinist and the old joke of “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!” is correct! I would practice scales, then etudes based on the scales, then I could play harder and harder pieces that the scales and etudes I had practiced hours and hours prepared me for. All of the hours spent in a practice room, often came along with me in daily life. I would hum the pieces, listen to them on tapes (!) and of course the music would get stuck in my head! As a music major, I lived, breathed and ate music. If you want to get good at something, you need to do it over and over, learning nuances of the skill, until it becomes second nature and part of who you are. Young brains are not the only brains that benefit from repetition for mastery of a skill, those of us who are “a bit older” benefit as well; the more that we see or do something, the better, the more it sticks with us. Professionals in any field will tell you that they have to keep practicing; they have completely immersed themselves in their craft.

This fact is one that has been true from the beginning of creation. The Bible is God’s story of meeting humanity over and over with God’s words and signs of love and reconciliation. God rescuing the Israelites through the Red Sea, God sustaining them in the desert with manna, God giving boundaries for living as community,  God revealing God’s work through prophets, God being present in all times and in all places, in exile, in restoration, in the rebuilding of the temple. God tells us the story, sings us the songs and reveals signs of God’s presence over and over and over. God created us to need repetition, to see and hear the story from all of these different experiences. God reveals what God is up to in so many different ways, including revealing Godself in the earthy, fleshy, and tangible Jesus, who walked in our midst as another repetition of God’s love for the whole world.

We have this story that we have heard over and over of Jesus feeding large crowds of people. It is repeated in every gospel. We know it well. It would be simple to reduce our John story today to be about feeding the hungry, proclaiming God’s generosity and abundance in the witness of our human tendency for scarcity, fear of what we don’t understand or Jesus who offers us miracles of God’ power.  This witness from John is also those things and those are important concepts to consider: We have enough, God provides and so share! But I figured you might already know that and would want more than an eight word sermon.

Here is what the true miracle is about with these two seemingly unconnected stories of bread, fish and water: God through Jesus is singing to us again a song in a different key, so that we might see and hear again, God’s work of love and reconciliation in the world. The writer of John begins this story with the reminder of all of the signs that Jesus has already shown the people. In the signs, Jesus is revealing to the disciples and to the crowds,  that once again that God is doing a new piece based on an old scale. Our 2 Kings reading this morning is an echo of Jesus feeding the people on the grass, with the question of “Is there enough for all?” and the resounding response from God of “Yes!” ringing in our ears. God never gives up on breaking into our ever day lives with abundant love.

This story is one witness of our need to practice gratitude for God’s presence and generosity, to practice being part of a larger crowd, to practice knowing that nothing is simply a left over, everything has value and is not wasted in God’s kingdom, to practice waiting for Jesus and not ditching him (does that bother anyone else?),  to practice remembering that Jesus comes to us no matter where we are, and to practice not being afraid. Like the disciples, no matter how much we see God, experience God and encounter God, we forget and rely on our own abilities, what we think we have or don’t have and we think that we can just leave Jesus somewhere on the shore while we head out to sea.

We gather together each Sunday to practice all of these things-and they are a lot! We practice being in community, praying, abundance, generosity, gratitude, hearing the story and being in Christ’s presence. We practice in this space, it’s like our practice room, so that we when we leave, prayer, generosity, hospitality, love, abundance and the story of God’s work in and through Jesus Christ, is second nature and is a little more stuck in our heads, in our hearts and in our actions.

Each time we practice, we hear the story a new way, we encounter Christ in bread, wine, in water, or in the word, we immerse ourselves in the life and love of Christ and this love from God  is part of who we are and can’t help but to spill out into the whole world. This week we will host and invite the community and families into our practicing of love, generosity, abundance and gratitude through VBS.  The worry of enough room will give way to laughter and close bonds shared, worry of enough snacks will give way to leftovers, fear of things not going just as planned will give way to Jesus coming to us and saying “It is I. Don’t be afraid!”   We will all encounter Christ in yet another way that will add to our understanding, we will repeat the stories, the songs and the love of God being revealed in our midst. We will tell the story to one another of God’s abundance, love and how God calls us to immerse ourselves everyday with the practices of repetition of prayers, gratitude, love and generosity of all that God has first given us.

God repeats those themes in us and promises to reveal over and over how we are forgiven, we are loved and how we are sent to share over and over with the whole world that there is enough, there are leftovers-always room for more-and God is with us in every time and in every place. God promises to immerse us with signs of love, generosity, grace and hope today, tomorrow and forever.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll never be bored with the repetition of that story. Amen.