A Lutheran Says What?

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

So Many Questions, Baptism of Our Lord Sunday Year A January 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on January 12, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 42: 1-9
Acts 10: 34-43
Matthew 3: 3-17

Children’s sermon: Play 20 questions with the answer being Jesus.(FYI a little girl asked the very first question: “Is it Jesus?” Ha!) Asking questions helped you to realize that I was thinking about Jesus. Asking questions helps us to learn things and understand things differently. Do you think you know everything there is to know about God? What do you wonder about God still? I have a lot of questions about God too! Well, really I have a lot of questions for God if I’m honest. Our bible story today is about Jesus being baptized. Now that seems like a straightforward thing but when Jesus came to John for baptism, John had a question for Jesus! Why do you come to me for baptism, you’re Jesus! John asking Jesus a question reminds us that even people who we think know a lot about God, still have things to learn and so do we! John didn’t quite understand that Jesus’ baptism shows that we don’t have to go to God, God always comes to us-every day.  We are baptized like Jesus to know that God is with us always and that every day is a new beginning to learn more about God in our lives and in the world. God doesn’t expect us to know everything, and our baptism isn’t about having answers but loving God and sharing God’s love with other people. Baptism gives us a job to do, and that job is to love. To splash other people with God’s love-that is our most important job-no matter what you grow up to be a teacher, a doctor, an accountant, a musician, our big job is to make sure that everyone knows God’s love: what are some ways that we can do that as children and adults? Those are all great ways to share God’s love! Let’s pray:

I’m noticing an interesting trend in our culture in the past few years: everyone wants to claim that they have all the answers, even if it’s not possible. From celebrities, to athletes, to nation leaders, to religious leaders, to random people on the internet. Someone always has the answer-for weight loss, younger skin, better relationships, to more complex issues such as wage equity, taxes, foreign policy, civil rights, and the list goes on. When these answers are shouted loudly enough, with certainty, and projecting that other people’s certainties are wrong, it has a devastating side effect: it shuts down relationships. When we are dug in about what we know and won’t ask questions of one another, we aren’t willing to learn something new or be in hard conversations we are cutting ourselves off from each other.

For me, and maybe most of us, asking questions is a posture of vulnerability, of admitting that we don’t know something. Not knowing something can leave me feeling useless, or that I have nothing to contribute. And as a pastor, people expect me to have all the answers about God. And the truth is that I don’t! I have as many questions as you, maybe more! You will also hear me say, “I don’t have answers, but I have some responses” as responses invite others to respond as well.  I tend to get into a lot of conversations with people who are very certain what the Bible says or what God is thinking and that to be a “Christian” I have to understand the Bible or God in a specific way-their way. And when I question their certainty-their response is to claim that I don’t have faith. Faith for many is to have all the answers, certainty and to never question. I love the Anne Lamott quote “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.”

John in our gospel story and Peter in our story from Acts, remind us of the importance of questions, curiosity, wonder and that certainty has never been part of the faith equation. The story of Jesus’ baptism from our Matthew gospel this morning was an embarrassment in the early church because of all the questions it raised. Why would Jesus, who is supposed to be without sin, need a baptism for repentance? What would Jesus need to repent from? And how could an ordinary person such as John, be worthy of baptizing the son of God? Jesus needed John?

The other gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism offer a picture that doesn’t raise as many questions. But Matthew wants us to be uncomfortable, to wrestle and to float in the questions and uncertainty of what we think we know about Jesus and baptism. John’s question to Jesus of “how can I baptize you?”, sparks more questions of what John did or didn’t understand about Jesus, his own cousin, whom he, himself, had been paving the way for all these years. Shouldn’t John have been certain in his role by now? Shouldn’t he have faith in who Jesus is? Yet, when the reality of God coming close, when the reality of being pulled into the work of God’s kingdom was palpable, John realized perhaps in a split second everything he didn’t know and that he might be in over his head. And Jesus didn’t offer John an answer or certainty but simply relationship and connection into God’s mission.

And then in Acts we drop in on Peter, oh dear Peter, right after his certainty rug had been pulled out from underneath him. This mini sermon in Acts 10, is the culmination of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and God opening Peter up to question what he knew about who was included in God’s grace and love through Jesus Christ. Peter had been praying and during that prayer time God confronted him with a vision of animals to eat that were forbidden by Jewish purity laws. Peter was greatly puzzled by this vision as it brought into question his whole understanding of living as God’s people and his faith. Cornelius, at God’s bidding, sent people to bring Peter to him. Peter went and in the interaction with Cornelius and his household, Peter was opened up to God’s work in all people, Gentiles and Jews alike. What we read for scripture this morning is Peter working out that there were things he didn’t understand and maybe still doesn’t, but he is learning a new way through Jesus. Peter had to set aside his certainty and ego to see what new thing God was doing, that God had a role for him in this kingdom expanding work, and that faith in Jesus, ultimately is a gift from God and not in his to control. When Peter let go of his certainty, he was able to fully witness to God’s radical inclusion, care and grace for all people, even those whom Peter had previously considered outsiders. God and God’s law was no longer in Peter’s image but had taken on the image of the Gentiles in his midst. God used Peter’s confusion and uncertainty to proclaim the good news of Jesus and to bring Peter into deep relationship with people different from himself.

It’s hard for us to admit when we’re in over our head or that what we thought we knew with certainty perhaps has another response. But God coming to us in Jesus pulls us into relationship with God where questions, wonder and curiosity are the heart of our faith and the heart of baptism. Baptism isn’t about our certainty and our answers-baptism is a response from God of who we are and whose we are. This is why we baptize infants in the Lutheran tradition, baptism is all about God and not about us or what we know. The scandal of the Matthew text is that Jesus was baptized by an ordinary and questioning human to reveal God’s extraordinary love and need for relationship with us. Jesus came to John to be baptized because that is the promise of baptism-God comes to us wherever we are, nothing separates us from God, and we simply float in the waters of faith and love. Baptism frees us from needing to have pat answers, from worrying if we have enough or the correct faith or wondering about our worth. Baptism frees us for relationship with God and one another. Baptism frees us to live into our true identity: beloved. Baptism washes our eyes and our hearts so that we see all people how God sees them, in God’s very image. Through our baptisms, God takes us by the hand and brings us into the beloved community and into the work of proclaiming God’s grace, peace, mercy, hope and love to a world who is in bondage to the need to be certain and right instead of in relationship with each other. Baptism is the promise that God comes to us through Jesus Christ to be with us, to connect us and to draw us all into new life today and always.

Jesus fully immerses himself in our humanity to dwell with us in the questions of life and to open to us the reality of God’s loving response to us and creation. God’s response to Jesus’ baptism says it all “this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We have worth because we are God’s. We are important in God’s kingdom not because of what we know or what we do but because of what God does through us. Amen.

 

 

Renewed by Faith Sermon on Luke 17: 5-10 Pentecost 17 Year C October 6, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Oct. 6, 2019 in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were:
Psalm 37:1-9
2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Luke 17: 5-10

 

Children’s sermon: Invite the children forward. Then invite an adult for each child to come forward as well. Ask the children: “Do you wonder what you will be like when you grow up? Yes, of course! Even as adults we wonder about our future! These adults here have a lot of experience in life. I’m going to ask them to take turns and share with you one thing that they want you to know about God in your life as you grow up and what they see in you that is special and will serve God when you’re older.” Ask the children “is that what you see for yourself? Yes? No? It’s so good to hear what other people see about us that is special! It can give us a bigger vision of ourselves and what we can do!  You do your normal every day stuff: eating food, going to school, soccer, ballet, piano, cleaning your room, coming to SS and church-kinda all ordinary not exciting things but those things are part of who you are and yet they are special too, because it’s how you serve and love Jesus.
The disciples were struggling with the feeling that they felt too ordinary for the work Jesus was asking them to do. The asked Jesus to give them more faith so that they can be amazing-but Jesus said, you don’t need more of anything- you have all that you need to do big things! Faith isn’t about size, or what we know, Jesus says faith is about God’s presence in your life, how God sees you, and God’s power. Jesus tells the disciples that with God’s power, maybe you can move a tree to be planted into the ocean! That might seem silly, but Jesus says, don’t limit yourself because you think that you’re a kid, or ordinary and plain-because God’s vision of what you can do with God is limitless and it renews us each day.  Dream big about what God can do in your life! Jesus understands that we can’t always dream big-sometimes our imaginations are tired. And so that is why we gather together-we pass on the faith-God’s vision of what God can do in our lives and in the world-to each other! And that doesn’t have to be fancy, just reading the bible, talking, praying, helping other people, those ordinary things, help us to keep dreaming big together-to see what God is doing in the world and how we can do those things with God. I want you on this paper to write/draw what you want to do with God this week to share God’s love. Put it on our cross at the back.  Let’s pray:

It’s easy to feel that we aren’t enough. It can seem in life that we are always waiting for when we have enough of something: whether it’s enough money to retire, or enough courage to make a career or life change, or enough time to go on that vacation, as human beings we seem wired to notice what we don’t have rather than taking stock of what we do have. For humans, everything can be a commodity, measured and weighed, right? And then when we see exactly how much we have of something, we can assess whether we need more or not. And the funny thing is, how many of us have over looked at our bank accounts, our calendars, our courage and said-“oh this much is perfect! It will do nicely.” I know that I never have. We tend to live in the perspective of scarcity. And when we measure ourselves against others or some unattainable standard, it exhausts us, discourages us, and we can feel worthless regardless of what we do really have.

Faith has become of victim of this kind of thinking in our 21st century lives. When I think about my faith, I immediately do an inventory of all the people whom I think have more faith than I do. And the list is long. But when I talk to those people, I discover that they don’t think they have any more faith than anyone else, and often they feel that they have less. And so, we all set about trying to figure out how to get more faith. We think that to increase faith, we have to do extraordinary things and be extraordinary people-you know be like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, or St. Francis of Assisi. To have more faith, we must never doubt, never question, and lead an exemplary life. And in our American culture, we connect faith with receiving blessings, and we buy the lie that if we have enough faith, live faithful and faith-filled lives, that God will give us things-material things-as a sign of our faithfulness. This is called the prosperity gospel-that if you live faithfully, God will bless you with wealth. This is dangerous and false. Jesus never says this, in fact, Jesus says that we will suffer for the gospel-and Paul reiterates this in our 2 Timothy reading today. So what is faith? And how does it function in our lives?

The disciples were struggling with this too, it seems. In the verses before our gospel text started, Jesus had been teaching them to not be an obstacle for others, and forgiving someone over and over. All of this must have stressed them out because our passage opens with the disciples pleading to Jesus “increase our faith!” We can’t possibly do all those things! We’re too human, we lack so much! Give us more faith so that we have enough! Jesus’ response indicates that the disciples have not understood. Faith, Jesus says, is not a worldly good that you can have more or less of, you can’t get more, manufacture more, nor can you lose it. Faith isn’t up to you, it’s up to God. Faith is a gift from God freely given to you and to all. Faith is God’s vision of you, for you, your life and for the world. Faith is being connected to God’s presence and power in your everyday life, even if you can’t see, feel, or hear God. Faith also isn’t an inoculation against hardships. We will all encounter hard things of one kind or another, and faith reminds us of God’s presence in the midst of things we can’t understand, and vision beyond what we can see in the here and now. God’s gift of faith expands our imagination of what we, our ordinary selves, in our ordinary days can do with God. God’s gift of faith pulls us into community with God and others.

Jesus adds on to this explanation of faith that expands our vision, with the story of the master and the slaves. This story makes us uncomfortable, as slavery is a hard part of our country’s history and we know still goes on today with people who are caught in human trafficking. Jesus doesn’t shy away from this hard reality but names it and turns it on its head. The human master uses power over people for his/her own benefit, exerting their power for themselves and this is always harmful. Jesus moves us from seeing ourselves as the master to the slave as a reminder that Jesus came to serve, to be the master that uses power for other people, for healing and for us and we are to do the same. Faith from God is God sharing power, vision, and love with us. Faith is living your day to day life naming reality, even hard things, in the presence of God who proclaims you beloved and enough, and who has the power and love to transform all that we do into more than enough, expanding God’s kingdom in the world in ways that we can’t always imagine. Faith is sharing that transformation.

God gives us faith to see what others struggle to see: how the world in God’s vision can be and how we are enough to be a part of it. Each day God’s presence renews us and our faith to reveal God’s kingdom in everything we do. Things that we might think are ordinary or not worth much in worldly standards. But faith tells us we do have everything we need for ministry and mission each day here at Our Saviour’s. Can we see God’s vision for OSLC in the next ten years? What does it look like? We’re looking with God’s vision into the future and we see greater connections with our neighborhood through Scouting, a playground for all who come to our property for any reason, ensuring our building is usable for whatever ministry God invites us into in the future, engaging and meaningful worship that proclaims all people have worth, will feel safe with healthy boundaries,  will be affirmed in their gifts and faith will be passed from one to another. We can look with God’s vision where God is calling us to be people of reconciliation and healing for those who are on the margins of our society. We can look with faith for what new thing God is doing in our midst and step toward it.

Renewal is all around us-for God is already at work.  We are gifted by God with faith to be connected to God and God’s people. We live in the promise of all being beloved and having worth. We do only what we know we ought to do: use our ordinary actions as part of God’s extraordinary work in the world. We are indeed renewed by faith.  Thanks be to God.

Prayer Station: You can take a post it note and share how you can participate in God’s vision for OSLC in the coming year and place it on our cross on the back window.

 

Held By the Cross of Christ, Mark 8: 27-38 Pentecost 16B Sept. 13th, 2015 September 13, 2015

I don’t listen to much Christian pop music, to be completely honest. I prefer Rush, Boston, Bruce Springsteen, Colin Hay, Elton John, etc. It’s not that I’m picky about genres, I’m not-I listen to everything from country to gospel to metal to pop. But message matters. Most, but admittedly not all, of the Christian music’s message tends to focus on if you only believe enough, have enough faith, read the bible enough, are generous enough then your life will be wonderful. The focus of the music is on us and what we think and do and not on what God has already done. Now, having said that, there is an artist, Natalie Grant, whom I really love and she has a song from 2005 called“Held.” The chorus goes like this:
This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.
I love these words as they ring true in my life and maybe they do in yours as well. I saw an interview of Vice President Joe Biden by Stephen Colbert during which Mr. Biden opened up about the recent death of not only his son Beau, but the deaths many years ago of his first wife and daughter. He beautifully witnessed to the importance of rituals such prayer and for him the rosary, and how worship, even when he wasn’t sure about God, centered him somehow. He spoke about the community of people who had faith for him when he wasn’t feeling up to it, carried him through some dark days and kept the glimmer of the light of Christ burning for him. His wife, Jill, put a note up on his side of the bathroom mirror one day that was a quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “Faith sees best in the dark.”

You see, something that Mr. Biden has learned throughout his faith journey is that faith isn’t a once and for all sort of event. It’s an ebb and flow, it’s a windy road, it’s confusing, and it’s foundational for who we are as God’s children. Faith doesn’t promise us that everything will be perfect, that we will have all of the money that we need, that we will be healthy forever, that cancer won’t touch us, our loved ones won’t get sick or die, that we won’t lose our jobs, we will have friends and all of the worldly comforts. Faith, it turns out, is complex, a mystery and causes us to have more questions than answers.
Questions, confusion, and the mystery of faith are at the heart of this morning’s gospel text that I will admit is not one of my favorites. Like, Peter, I’m uncomfortable with not only the bluntness of Jesus in his explanation of the suffering and death to come but seriously uncomfortable with this entire take up your cross business, lose you’re your life and shame talk. It seems contrary to the Jesus that we have just seen who relieves suffering, who offers inclusion for all, who points to that fact that rules can’t save us, only God can do that. The language of denying ourselves and taking up our crosses triggers me in many ways. Is Jesus telling us that we MUST suffer? That we need to let others walk all over us, abuse us, deny our own dignity and self worth? To me, that is very dangerous language-especially for those for who are already oppressed by patriarchy, racism, are being told they are nothing by an abuser, or are telling themselves that they are nothing because they don’t measure up in our culture. Dangerous words indeed, Jesus. How much must we and other people suffer to prove that we are followers of Jesus? Go to jail for our beliefs? Be physically harmed? Put to death as many of the disciples would be?
All of that seems contrary to the rest of the message of Jesus. The Jesus who walks on water, Jesus who feeds crowds, heals women and little girls, who is opened up by a gentile woman, who heals the deaf, who makes the blind see and who proclaims that the kingdom of God is near, surely now isn’t saying, “you must prove your faith through suffering.” I think what Jesus is doing is naming the reality of our lives and of our faith. It’s not that we have to suffer, it’s that suffering in life where the kingdom of God is not yet fully come, is inevitable. We will suffer losses, death, lack of material resources, loneliness, diseases and all of the ways that the world takes its toll on us. Jesus will know suffering too. Jesus will know what it is like to be poor, abandoned, suffering in pain and ultimately killed. Jesus runs head on into the reality, our reality of the world and doesn’t shy away or try and gloss over it with pretty or trite words of platitudes such as, “God has a purpose for your suffering,” or “God is testing you,” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” or “If you have more faith then these bad things won’t happen.”
No, Jesus doesn’t say any of those things but instead says “take up your cross; you know the same cross that I will suffer a very human suffering on. Take it up, not so that you will suffer but because you are suffering, your suffering is real and God sees your suffering and loves you.” The cross of Christ is not about suffering but about the promises of God to be present with us when we do suffer. The cross that we take up is not God allowing abuse, hurt or suffering but the cross we take up is the cross of the promises of God to hold us when we suffer, to love us when we are all battered inside and out by the world and not much to look at, to lose ourselves in this reality and not the reality of the world.
“Faith sees best in the dark.” Faith in the dark allows us to stop seeing ourselves how the world wants to see us-perfect, autonomous, happy and shiny, but allows us to finally see ourselves how God sees us: broken, messy, needy, beloved and worthy of abundant life. We can trust that faith is not dependent on us at all but is all about God and how God wants to live with us now and forever. We pray, sing, worship, study, share, serve, love to reorient ourselves as individuals and as a community to those promises of God, as an expression of faith whether times are hard or joyous.
There is good news in these words, “deny yourself and take up your cross.” The good news that it’s not about anything that we do but all about what Jesus has already done to offer us and all of creation the promises of God for abundant life here and now, and forever. The cross isn’t our suffering to carry, no, the cross of Jesus Christ promises to catch and to hold all of our suffering and all of us, always. “This is what it means to be held.” May we all take up our cross and know that it is the cross that takes us up into the life, love, mercy and hope of our God who holds us always. Thanks be to God.

 

20 questions with God November 20, 2013

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As I start to think about my sermon for this Sunday, I am thinking about questions. This week is Christ the King Sunday, which I learned last week was actually instituted in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Pope as a statement against powers and principalities and a proclamation of Jesus Christ as the true ruler of the world. And apparently, it hasn’t always been the week before Advent-the beginning of the Christian liturgical calendar. It’s kinda a preaching nightmare honestly. We are headed into the season of Thanksgiving and Christmas-you know the “feel good” seasons of turkey, daily Facebook posts of gratitude, the cute little baby Jesus, Santa Claus, presents, etc.-and we get this story of Jesus on the cross. Super.
So besides my obvious question of why Christ the King Sunday at all, many people enter into this supposed joyous season feeling anything but and with that comes questions. Why does my life not look like the Macy’s commercial? Why am I depressed? Why do I not want to spend that much time with my family? Why does my family gathering not look like Martha Stewart?
I think that this might be the point of this Christ the King Sunday. The Luke 23 text has a couple of questions embedded in 10 short verses. Questions around if Jesus is really the Messiah, if so, can’t he save himself? One criminal on the cross ask the other if is not afraid of condemnation. I don’t know about you but these questions sound slightly familiar.
When we are in deep suffering, pain and disillusionment don’t we question if God is really who we think God is? Isn’t one of the questions we wonder is if Jesus can save us from our suffering? These questions and all of our other questions are valid-God doesn’t mind our questions. God welcomes our questions, will listen and be with us as we wrestle together in community with our wonderings. Questioning God, God’s existence and God’s intervention or apparent lack there of, isn’t a faithless act. In fact, I think it’s deeply faithful to be willing to dig deep, be vulnerable and express what we are really thinking. I also think God honors this part of our relationship with God. Having questions and wrestling with hard issues is also why I believe that living in an authentic and loving community is vital. A safe place and people to ask your questions is necessary as we journey together as people of God.
In the Luke passage for Sunday (or really any where in the Bible), Jesus didn’t directly answer any of the questions lifted up but did promise this to the criminal on the cross: Today, he would be with Jesus in paradise. He, and we, will be with Jesus. Or more accurately, Jesus will be with us. Maybe this is the only answer we need?
What questions do you have for God today?