A Lutheran Says What?

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

Comfort Food Sermon Matthew 14 August 14, 2020

This sermon was preached on August 16, 2020 at OSLC in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21
Isaiah 55: 1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

Like many of you, I’m sure, I have many memories tied up with food. Some joyous, some not. I remember Thanksgivings, Christmas’ or birthday meals with family and friends. And I remember a plate of chicken, rice and broccoli being shoved in front of me on the day of my son’s funeral by loving friends who knew that I hadn’t eaten in four days. I remember the meals that poured in for months to support us when Ben was in the hospital and after he died. I remember how people expressed that only sending mac and cheese and fruit seemed inadequate in the wake of what we were experiencing. And yet I can tell you that those simple homemade meals from people who loved us were worth more than any sumptuous, high end feast from a celebrity chef could ever matter. Many times, people just made a double recipe of whatever they were cooking for their own families, as it didn’t take that much more to feed two families. Those meals from and sometimes with the people who cared for us and stuck with us  even though it was hard, brought comfort. Often the phrase was “we’ll bring you some comfort food.” Food that not only satisfies our bellies but our souls. Comfort food is categorized as food that not only tastes good, but evokes memories of feeling safe, secure, loved and protected. Comfort food reminds us that our bodies and our souls are connected, and we have to feed both. Comfort food is compassion in action.

Jesus’ compassion is on full display in our gospel text for today. He gets into a boat to get away by himself for a bit, as he has just heard about the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod at a lavish dinner party where John’s head was served on a silver platter. Jesus was grieving and needed some time away. But the crowds heard of John’s death too, and of Jesus’ leaving town, so they followed him. Why we’re not quite sure, other than by now the connection between John and Jesus was evident to the people, and what Jesus offered people for their lives was a stark contrast with what Herod and the Roman Empire was offering them. Jesus saw this large crowd and their desperation. He had compassion, which in the Greek is far more descriptive, as it means, Jesus was moved to his guts. Jesus’ body ached for these people. This story isn’t only about food, or how Jesus feeds us spiritually, it’s about bodies, and that to God, bodies, our physical selves matter. We tend to gloss over in this passage that Jesus cured their sick. Jesus attended to their physical bodies. And Jesus must have healed for a long time as then it was evening. So here is as large crowd, in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat or drink. The disciples correctly suggested that the hungry crowds be dispersed to go get food in the towns. That is a practical and loving decision. But Jesus turns to them and says no, they can stay, you feed them. I love the disciples reaction, as I’ve had it a time or two in my life as well, “we’ve got nothing here.” Well, except this little bit but it doesn’t count. So many times when I am faced with deep need, deep sorrow, I worry that I don’t have enough to offer that person in need. How can I help someone grieving a death? How can I feed all the starving people of the world? How can I help so many people dying of cancer, heart disease, mental illness? How can I house all those experiencing homelessness? It’s too many. And so I tell God that I’ve got nothing here.

But Jesus takes the little bit of bread and fish that the disciples do have (the simple standard meal in first century Palestine) and blesses it, breaks it into pieces, gives it to them and says, what little you have, give away, it will be enough. And it was. Five thousand men plus women and children (who weren’t normally counted in ancient times) were filled– with leftovers collected, nothing was wasted. The disciples were able, with Jesus’ blessing, to feed probably close to 15,000 people. It’s a miracle, but not because of the food distribution, it’s miracle because it shows us that when we come together, we can comfort one another, we can provide for the actual bodily needs of each other. This is the ultimate comfort food story. Jesus reveals that God does indeed care about people and their daily bread, their sick bodies, and their hardships. The powers of the world, like Herod only care about their own power and themselves. This would be revelatory to the people and it’s still revelatory to us today. God cares about us, each and every part of us, yes, our hearts and our souls AND our bodies too.
We instinctually know this, which is why when someone is experiencing a hardship, our “go to” is to offer meals, comfort food. It’s why we donate food to Crossroads Urban Center, its’ why as a denomination we have a whole ministry of ending world hunger. When we feed people, we are Jesus’ compassion in action. When we feed people, we are in solidarity with them as we all know on some level hunger pains. When we feed people, it’s our prayers in action. It’s a bold declaration that with Jesus’ blessing we can see past our own scarcity and know that what little we may we have to offer, is enough. It’s a bold declaration that great things happen with ordinary things. It’s a bold declaration against the excesses of this world where some have more than they will ever need while other people struggle for morsels to keep going. It’s a bold declaration of hope that when we come together, people are healed, people are fed and people are comforted. It’s a bold declaration of the promises of God not for someday but for today and for all bodies. And that is a comfort we can trust. Thanks be to God.

 

We Have Seen the Lord! Easter Year A 2020 April 13, 2020

This sermon was preached for Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on April 12, 2020. In light of the pandemic, this sermon was offered from my backyard at sunrise. It can be viewed on Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC YouTube channel.

The texts were:

Acts 10: 34-43
Colossians 3: 1-4
John 20: 1-18

One of my favorite musical groups is a trio called the Wailin’ Jenny’s-it’s a play on Waylon Jennings of course, and their music is folk. On their album entitled 40 Days, there is a song called “Beautiful Dawn.” The words are poignant and speak to the mysteries of our lives. The opening verse is:
Take me to the breaking of a beautiful dawn.
Take me to the place where we come from.
Take me to the end so I can see the start.
There’s only one way to mend a broken heart.

Beginnings and endings. Just mere hours ago we once again were immersed in the story of Jesus’ death and burial, what the witnesses at Jesus’ crucifixion assumed was the end. After all, this what we are all told. Death is final. Certain. And forever. The disciples were working off this paradigm, despite what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead. Their hearts were broken, their friend and teacher had been killed by the Roman Empire. They were afraid too, what had just occurred was dangerous. They were all implicated in the previous days events and logic told them that their deaths could be next. So, they hid behind locked doors, separating themselves from the rest of the community for their own safety and future. They hoped that this would blow over in a few days or couple weeks at most.

Mary Magdalene though, left the safety of the room in the cover of darkness and alone for the essential task of caring for Jesus’ body. When she arrived and saw the stone removed, she was shocked and perplexed. Mary ran back to tell the others. Peter and the beloved disciple returned with her to the tomb. Why they were running, I don’t know. I would have thought that running would attract attention, but maybe they were hoping to go to the tomb and back before sunrise, or maybe they were giddy with being out of the house for the first time in a few days. The disciples entered the tomb to find the linen wrappings discarded and the head cloth, rolled up and set aside. The beloved disciple believed that Jesus was resurrected, but it is clear from John’s commentary that he was still in the dark, so to speak. Then they both returned to their homes. They saw the empty tomb and just went home. No shouts of alleluia, or Christ is risen, no trumpets or fanfare. Maybe it felt like an anticlimactic ending to the crucifixion? Or maybe more like an epilogue? You know where at the end of a movie based on true events you get a snapshot of what the characters are doing now? Something to tie up loose ends nicely.

But Mary stays in the garden and also looks into the tomb. Instead of linens, she saw angels, only she didn’t seem to recognize them as angels, as she seems unafraid. They ask her “why are you weeping?” and unabashedly she simply states what must be the truth, someone has taken Jesus.

Just then Jesus appears. But again, in her raw grief, her vision is clouded as to who is in front of her. Jesus asks here the question that runs throughout John’s gospel: “who are you looking for?” Mary, misunderstanding that the one she is looking for is right in front of her, asks where the body of Jesus might be. Jesus calls her name and she clearly sees. It’s Jesus! He’s alive as he’s said! Instead of sitting with her and chatting, or hugging her, Jesus states not to hold on to him but go and tell the others that he is returning to the Father, to God, and not only his Father and God but theirs as well. Jesus’ resurrection is more than just a second chance at life, only to die again, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension affirms that we belong to God, we belong to a different kind of life that can’t be taken away.

This seems wrapped up nicely-Jesus comes from God and returns to God. The End. But what if I told you that what we are celebrating today isn’t the end, but the beginning. Easter is where our story with God begins. The resurrection and the ascension of Jesus that seems like the end to us is really the beginning of the only way to mend our broken hearts.

On this Easter Sunday we have more in common with the first Easter, that first resurrection day. Like the disciples, our hearts are broken. Our hearts are broken by what looks like endings around us: gathering in person for worship for a while, handshakes, feeling secure at the grocery store, taking for granted grocery workers, delivery people, truckers, gas attendants sanitation workers, healthcare workers. Our hearts are broken by the death, the sickness and the fear all over the globe. Like the disciples, we may not recognize this as a new beginning today. The beginning of what God is doing in the world through Jesus to mend our brokenness, our broken society, our broken relationships and our broken hearts. Jesus resurrection and ascension points to the truth that God is all about new beginnings, the truth that life and love will prevail, even when it looks like the end.

Like the  first resurrection morning, ours today is filled with unknowing, isolation, weeping and fear. We’re not gathered to shout Alleluia or Christ is risen. No songs of praise by choirs and children. No Easter brunches, no egg hunts, no lilies. And like that first Easter Jesus comes to us. Jesus meets us right where we are and asks who we are looking for? Are we looking for organ music, lilies, certainty, comfort and familiarity? Or are we looking for Jesus? Jesus, who lives because God’s love and life force overpowers death and destruction. Jesus who meets us in weeping and calls us by name. Jesus who assures us that he’s going to OUR Father and OUR God. Jesus who draws us all into God’s life and makes us one in God’s abundant life, even if we aren’t all in the same room. Jesus who tells us don’t hold on to what we know, to what’s safe and comfortable, because our new beginning is to go out and proclaim to the world: “We have seen the Lord!”

We have seen the Lord dear ones of OSLC, we have seen the Lord in how we have adapted to being community quickly in this new way. We have seen the Lord in cards, phone calls, texts and technology. We have seen the Lord in how we stay home so that others may live. And people around us will see the Lord as we serve our neighbors in need such as with our new OSLC Community Support Initiative constructed by your council. This is a new beginning of partnerships in the wake of the pandemic to be a part of God’s healing work in our community. Using funds that we no longer need, we will offer Utah United Way COVID 19 Relief Fund, the Fourth Street Clinic Humanitarian Fund and Utah Food Bank Mobile Pantry each a minimum of $3600 over the next three months as our community recovers. We will pledge to continue to support our existing partnerships such as Family Promise, Crossroads Urban Center and others at our 2019 levels regardless of our 2020 offerings. This is only the first phase the beginning of what we will do as God’s people for our neighbors. We invite you to join in this initiative through prayer, presence at these agencies when it is safe, and/or giving to this initiative at any level. We trust that our whole lives, our whole community at OSLC is held in God’s promises to hold our endings and to bring us to new beginnings, to new life.

We see beginning. We see Jesus who meets us and calls our name. We see Jesus who mends our broken hearts with unending love, mercy and grace. We see Jesus who shows us new life and launches us on a new beginning, to proclaim God’s promise, God’s word of life is final. The empty tomb is the beginning of the fullness of life for us and all creation. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

 

 

 

We Already Know Sermon on Luke 16: 19-31 September 29, 2019

This sermon was preached on September 29, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

Texts: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6: 6-19
Luke 16: 19-31

Children’s sermon: gather the children up front. Start with the closing prayer! Dear Jesus, thank you for showing us God’s love and how to love others. May we notice those around us who need what we already have an abundance of your love and grace. Amen.
Then ask them, when do we normally do that prayer in children’s time? At the end! Yes, we always know that we are going to end with a prayer but today we started with the prayer because our bible stories are a little like this today. In reading the Luke story about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man already had everything he needed-food, housing, clothes, and Lazarus did not have those things. Now, I want to let you know that this story is NOT about what happens when we die, we don’t have to worry about that and Jesus promises that we will never be alone in this life or the next. There is a not a bad place that you need to worry about going to, that’s not what God wants. This story is about the last sentence we read, that we already know Jesus, we already listen to God telling us to love everyone and to make sure that everyone has what they need to be healthy, happy and safe. Just as you already know that we will always end children’s time with a prayer, we already know that God’s last word for all of us is love. And this last word of love means that we already know the whole story, that love and life never end! Just like a circle never ends, being in God’s love and life is like that too. We are all in this circle of love. So, since we don’t have to worry about that-we can stop focusing on ourselves and focus on people around us. We can see people like Lazarus who are sick, hungry and without a house. How do we help people like that here at OSLC? YES! We have Family Promise, we collect food to hand out, we will be collecting diapers, all kinds of ways! Ok, we’ve already prayed and I’m going to talk to the adults some more about this.

We all love a good story and want to know how it will end. Whether it’s movies or books, we can’t wait for the ending to see how it turns out. There is great satisfaction in knowing the whole story. We take this same tactic with our lives too it seems, we are always wondering how things will turn out-what will our whole story be? Will I get that promotion? Will we move into that bigger house? Can we go on that vacation? What will my children be when they grow up? What will we do in retirement? How will my health be as I age? We want to know everything, we want assurances, we want details and, of course, we want control.

This was what the rich man in our parable from Luke today was trying to do. He was trying to ensure that he had what he needed for the future so that he could control and predict the outcome of his life story. Jesus doesn’t say that he’s a bad person, Jesus doesn’t condemn him in anyway. Jesus merely points out that the rich man is so concerned with his own life that he doesn’t notice the lives around him, particularly the man right outside his own gate-Lazarus. While the rich man is dressed nicely, eats well and has safe housing in a gated community, Lazarus languishes nearby hoping for just a modicum of what the rich man has. And then both men die, death is the great equalizer it seems. Although Lazarus is carried away by angels and the rich man is buried. Now as I told the children, the point of this parable is certainly not to say that there is a heaven and a hell as places. Whenever Jesus in the gospels talks about Hades or in Matthew Ghenna-which is the garbage heap that gets burned outside the city, it’s all about being separated from God and community. Hell isn’t a place where bad people go when the die, hell is a place any of us can be in this life when we separate ourselves from God and God’s people. We create our own hell.

We read that there is a great chasm-that God didn’t create, the rich man did. The rich man is so oblivious, blinded by his wealth and excess, that he doesn’t know his own arrogance and entitlement. It never occurs to him that he could bridge or remove that chasm. But instead he barks orders at Father Abraham to have Lazarus do things for him. Even in death, the rich man thinks that he knows more and can control his own predicament and write his own ending. “Have Lazarus give me water, send him to warn my brothers.” The rich man seems to not know that his wealth and status are fleeting, aren’t his whole story, aren’t his to begin with and are a distractor for what is really important. Jesus doesn’t say that his wealth is the problem, it’s how he uses it, or in reality, how the wealth uses him. Money isn’t a problem, loving money, or loving anything more than God or people is a problem and is a root of evil. When we put anything before God and others, we do harm, we separate ourselves and think it’s only about us. We deny others their full story. Jesus came to show us how to reorder our loves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Just as God has loved us from the beginning, we are to love God and each other all the way to the end.

In response to the rich man’s request to send Lazarus to his brothers, Abraham admonishes him, they know this story, this truth. They have already heard it, over and over again, from Moses to Joshua, from Amos to Isaiah, God’s word of redemption, reconciliation and salvation-wholeness, have been spoken. They know this, but they won’t live it. Will hearing the story one more time from someone who has been resurrected from the dead matter? When they grasp the end, they will change how they live today.

We know the ending of the story, brothers and sisters. We have the witnesses of the resurrection to know that in the end, God’s end, is death is no more, love wins, the chasm is once and for all bridged and God’s kingdom of wholeness is here and is still to be revealed. And we know that God sent Jesus to remove any chasm, nor death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything can now separate us from God’s love and each other. This is not in dispute. This good news is freedom from worrying about ourselves, from our ends, we are free to be content with our here and now. As we read in 1 Timothy, we can take hold of eternal life and our life today-they are one in the same. There is a not a separation between today and eternal life with God. How we live today is as important as our eternal life with God. As followers of Jesus, this is our call, to live in such a way for all to see this eternal love right here and now.

We already know this unity of our lives today and eternal life opens us to see the plight of others around us, their need to be whole. Our present life entwined with the eternal life to come, bridges any chasms that we have created between others and ultimately God. We bridge chasms when we talk to people who are living on the street and holding up signs off of interstates. We bridge chasms when we elicit from our neighbor what they really need and don’t assume and speak for them. We bridge chasms when we recognize that we have enough-enough wealth, power and status-and we share the excess that we have so that all may be content. We bridge chasms when we recognize whatever wealth we have as a resource to be used in God’s kingdom and not as an entitlement or for power. We bridge chasms when we see what our neighborhood around us needs from us-how we can be together-whether it’s Scouting, diapers, food, hosting meetings, or places for children to play.

We already know the whole story, we have already heard the good news, and we have been richly blessed. We already have all that we need to bridge any chasms, to love our neighbor, and be generous, so that all may take hold of true life with God: life and love that we already know doesn’t end. Thanks be to God.

 

The Kingdom of God Is Near But the Road Might Be Rough Sermon on Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20 July 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 7, 2019. The texts were Galatians 6: 1-17 and Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

Children’s sermon: Have a large poster board with the words written largely: KINGDOM OF GOD. Have crayons, stickers available for the children to use. Ask them if they have ever felt left out. Talk about today’s gospel from Luke and Galatians where Jesus sends the 70 missionaries out to everyone about God’s kingdom being near and how that message is for everyone, even people who don’t believe it or like it. And how Paul talks about how we are to work for the good of all, we are all together. And this all together-the 70 working with Jesus and Paul telling people about the Kingdom of God, is what joy (Luke 10:17) is all about! It’s not about if everyone we tell about Jesus comes to OSLC or is our friend, but that we are all together in God’s love no matter what! Then ask the children (and adults as a prayer station) to write under each letter of KINGDOM OF GOD names of people, or groups of people who are included in God’s love (hint: everyone! This poster board should be full!)

I asked the children and now I’ll ask you all: have you ever been left out? Rejected? Yep, we all have! Sometimes it’s dramatic such as a break-up or an argument with someone you love, or you didn’t get a job you really wanted, or into a educational program you dreamed about. But sometimes it’s less obvious. You can simply be ignored, or in a place where there is an expectation that you will behave a certain way, or like certain things and when you stay true to yourself, the people around you don’t accept your differences and so don’t accept you. Being rejected, ignored or unaccepted, can make you reexamine yourself and wonder if you should change your thoughts, actions, words, or completely change who you are to fit in.  We all experiment with our identity growing up particularly in the teen years, but if we’re honest even as adults, it’s easy to think that who we are isn’t enough. Or we can judge others by their behaviors, likes and dislikes and criticize them for not being like us. We can subtly and not so subtly, send the message to people that they should change to conform to what makes us comfortable. It takes courage and vulnerability simultaneously to stay grounded in what matters and as our sign for today warns us, it can be a rough road.

Rough roads are not always to be avoided as they can also be a path that leads us to a deeper truth and can help us keep “the main thing the main thing” in our lives. Rough roads can be focusing as if you get distracted, it can lead to even bigger challenges. If you’ve ever driven or hiked on difficult terrain, you know what I’m talking about.

In our Luke passage today, the 70 are sent out to proclaim a very important message. And Jesus is clear that the road will be rough. They will be completely dependent on the people they meet, they will eat food they don’t like, stay in places for an uncomfortable amount of time (Jesus is telling them to overstay their welcome!), they will work hard, curing the sick, and they will more than likely be rejected. Sounds inviting doesn’t it? Sign me up Jesus! But Jesus is clear that the main point of their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to unequivocally declare that the Kingdom of God has come near to all-the welcoming, the strangers, the sick, the unbelieving, the unaccepting. The Kingdom of God is near to all whether they know it or not. This Kingdom is for all.

And when they return to Jesus full of joy, it’s not only because they had some successes (isn’t interesting that they don’t name their failures? Which I’m sure there were many!), but because they experienced this Kingdom of God for themselves in being together in community no matter how rough or smooth the road. Now, they also had a bit of ego tied into this: Jesus, you’re right we can do anything, even the demons submitted to us! Human nature hasn’t changed in 2000 years…Jesus tempers their egos by reminding them that their successes and failures are nothing, what is everything is that they are part of God’s mission to bring the kingdom off love to the world. This is the main thing, even in their own mission.

It seems so simple doesn’t it? All we have to do is proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. Done. And yet…We know that it’s a rough road to do so, even in the 21st century, or maybe especially in the 21st century. We set up a table at Venture Out to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near and some people love that we are there, and some people walk very quickly past our booth. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we house families experiencing homelessness and we know that four families at a time is only a drop in the bucket. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we welcome and accept all people of every race, color, gender, sexual orientation into this family of faith and there are people who will reject this promise for God’s love for all people. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near when we strive to steward the earth with care and there are people who will deny this as reality. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near with our daily lives, with generosity of time, words, talents and gifts for people we don’t know well or have never met, and there are people who will shake their head at our naivety.  But Jesus declares to us that when the road is rough, God’s Holy Spirit is guiding us and continually reorienting us-through community, bread, wine, water and word-to the main thing of God’s mercy, hope and love for the entire world.

And we can forget that we need to be grounded in God’s community and kingdom as we try and navigate the rough roads alone. We can put our own human egos, rules and boundaries into this mission work as Jesus cautions. We can get stuck in thinking that the success or failure of this message is dependent on us, our own abilities and talents. Jesus reminds the 70, and us, that all power and authority belong to God alone that God gives away for the sake of including all people into this unconditional and transformative love. We are not only recipients of this love but participant as well. This is the good news that the coming of the Kingdom of God is for all, those who accept it and those who reject it. The promise of God coming near isn’t dependent upon the ability of the person to receive it and it’s not dependent on the messenger. God has written our names in heaven, on God’s own heart to declare that our worth in God’s kingdom isn’t dependent on our abilities or gifts but is simply found in belonging to God. This is our true identity that never changes, no matter how we try or what other people might want us to be. We are never left out in God’s kingdom and neither is anyone else.

Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 6. After six chapters of breaking down why Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised to be brought into the new family of Jesus followers and being clear about the subversion of the law, at the end of the day, Paul soundly ends this letter (writing in large letters) that none of that human stuff matters. Follow the law, don’t follow the law, whatever, but just know that you are made new in the love of God through Jesus Christ simply because God loves you. This unconditional love always surrounds you  at all times and in all places-especially when the road is rough. God’s kingdom, where all are made whole, where all are included, where power and authority are turned upside down and where all names are written and known, is for the whole world, no matter what. We can rest in the peace that the Kingdom of God has come near, includes you and will stay. Thanks be to God.