A Lutheran Says What?

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

Jesus Doesn’t Cross the Line But Erases It, Mark 3: 20-35, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 7, 2015 June 7, 2015

Living with people is hard. How many of you remember, or still do it, as a kid going on a car trip with your family and friends and it wasn’t too far into the trip that you and your siblings divided up the car space? You drew that imaginary line down the middle of the back seat and said “Don’t cross this line!” You all wanted your own space and usually by five minutes into a trip someone was already annoying someone else. Even though you were supposed to be on a fun family trip! But it seems that siblings are always jockeying for space, differentiation and to get their fair share.  As human beings, we are constantly sorting ourselves. Whether it’s our co-workers, family members, friends, acquaintances, we make distinctions between one another around beliefs, convictions, values and morals. We like to draw imaginary lines in the sand and firmly plant ourselves on the side opposite of those with whom we disagree, don’t quite see eye to eye, or just think we need distance from. It gets even muddier when people don’t neatly fit into one category or stay on their proper side of the line.

Living with people is hard! So as humans, we tend to divide things up, we sometimes call it sharing, but in reality it’s dividing. We divide up everything and everyone into categories, we divide up our time, we divide up our resources, we divide up our love, and we divide up our compassion. We think that without dividing up, without sharing, we won’t have enough, there won’t be anything left for us or we won’t know where we or others fit in the bigger picture. We operate from a sense of scarcity. We like order, neatness and control. We assume that with divisions and categories in place, we can control the world around us, our families and our friends. We know exactly where we stand on our side of the line.

Jesus’ family was desperately trying to control this situation in Mark 3. Jesus had returned home, always a contentious thing as a young adult and much had happened to Jesus while he had been gone. He had been baptized by his cousin John, spent 40 days in the wilderness with Satan, called disciples, cast out demons on the Sabbath, and had done some healing, essentially, Jesus has spent the last couple of weeks completely bucking the system and revealing this new thing that God is up to among humanity, even among people whom society shuns and declares outside of God’s reach. So, now we catch up with Jesus in the story of Mark just trying to eat dinner.

Living with people is hard and as soon as Jesus returns to his neighborhood, trouble brews. Jesus was no longer the quirky but cute son of a carpenter but had moved beyond that category, he crossed the line and was now someone that no one recognized, not even his family! People were calling Jesus crazy, which was and still is a serious thing.

Scribes arrived on the scene and immediately drew a line in the sand that clearly put Jesus on the opposite side of all good law abiding Jewish people. If the scribes could just convince everyone that Jesus is on the side of the line with evil, with Satan, then the order of life as they knew it could continue. “Nothing to see here, the scribes and Sanhedrin are still in control, God is God as contained in the rule book and all is right with the world.”

But Jesus wouldn’t allow that line to be drawn. Jesus is clear with the crowd that has gathered, that division, drawing lines of who’s in and who’s out, claiming that only some are worthy to be called family, that only some will be gathered to God– is not what God is about, is not what Jesus came to reveal about God’s love and mercy in the world.

Jesus states that people will be forgiven no matter what they say or do but then offers us this tricky statement about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, which has had many hurtful and dividing interpretations over the past 2000 years. This extreme statement from Jesus should not be taken out of context but placed firmly in the midst of this story of family, divided houses that cannot stand, all being included in the family of God and the whole of God’s love story for creation. A blaspheme is a statement showing a lack of respect or a claim that one possesses the same divine powers as God. Jesus is pointing out the fallacy of humans to think that they control God, or control God’s kingdom, or know God’s will with certainty. We like to think that we can somehow know or interpret what “God’s will” is but if we’re honest we throw that phrase around to justify our own behavior or to try and explain the unexplainable in our lives.

But if I may be so bold, I wonder if  it’s in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s son, that we do get a glimpse of “God’s will.”  What if the will of God is the radical inclusivity and love that Jesus proclaimed, taught and lived? What if the will of God is that division of any kind is forever erased? Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reveals who God is and what God is doing: loving and including everyone in the kingdom of God. We, as God’s people, are invited in by God to reveal what God is doing by loving, including and erasing all divisions around us. It’s tempting for us to assume that we know who God does or doesn’t love, who is included in grace and mercy or not and draw a line to keep “those people” away from us. But I’ve heard it said somewhere that anytime you draw a line between you and someone else, Jesus is always on the other side.

But here’s the good news, even in this seemingly harsh statement on a so-called “eternal sin”, God’s grace is still extended. The bigger picture is that Jesus in his death and resurrection forgives all sin, all of the times we try to be God or guess the mind of God for our own comfort or control. On the cross, Jesus gathers us all to him, and declares that nothing that we do, say or think can separate us or draw a line in the sand, between us and God. Jesus’ love erases all of our lines between God and each other. In the kingdom of God, there is only unity, forgiveness, love and mercy, even when living with people is hard.

What would it look like if we here at LOTH (Lord of the Hills) declared that lines, divisions and categories are no more and that in our gift of diversity we are one people of God, unified, one family, proclaiming God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for the entirety of creation? What if we reflected only the love of Christ to one another so that no one is on the outside but the circle of welcome is widened for all? What if we went out to the neighborhood around us with this message of radical inclusivity in the kingdom of God? Look at all of the ways that we already to do that! Preschool, supporting New Beginnings, VBS, opening our building up to other congregations and organizations, just to name a few. Where is God calling us next to erase a line and include people?

Living with people is hard and messy, there is no denying that. But God promises to live in our midst and reveal that in that difficulty is renewal, unity and love for all. In the bread and in the wine that we share each time we gather for worship, Jesus proclaims that we are gathered in one community, to be God’s one holy people for the sole purpose of gathering all of God’s people to the table; where God’s kingdom of forgiveness and grace breaks into the world with a force that can’t be ignored or explained away. Jesus declares that we are one people, one house united and the lines between us and God are erased, Thanks be to God, amen.

 

I am grateful for friends, family and strangers November 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 5:51 am
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So, as I wind down this month of blogging, I have to admit my plan for today was to take the “easy way out” and write about what I am grateful for. And I do plan to talk about that but perhaps not in the way I had originally intended. As I blogged about yesterday, I am grateful for so much in my life and this gratitude is the basis for experiencing and knowing pure joy in our everyday lives. I could give the litany of what I am grateful for but I am going to narrow it to relationships past, present and future.

As I wrote about early in the month, my grandma died a month ago. When my family and my sisters family made our Thanksgiving plans in September, we had assumed grandma would be a part of our celebration. While she was not physically present today, she was most definitely present in other ways. My mom is still in the process of sorting through her things and she has found a refugee family from Africa to give her furniture, she found a single mom with two kids to give away food, and the rest has come back to her house. Today she brought out my grandma’s everyday jewelry for my sister, daughter and I to look at. Now my grandma had nothing of real value but she LOVED to wear dangle earrings and matching necklaces. She also had some beautiful scarves. My sister, daughter and I picked out a couple of things (the rest will be shipped to my aunt and her daughter) and told stories of grandma.

When we gathered around the table this year it was wonderful that my parents had both of their children as well as all of their living grandchildren present. The cousins got along (my children are a lot older so they just do whatever the little girls want) and had a great time drinking hot cocoa and eating pie. My daughter goes to college next year so who knows when all of the cousins will be together again?

The family gathering alone was great but I was also honored with several text messages, emails and Facebook messages from friends from the past, friends from my congregation and friends who are also colleagues of well wishes for this Thanksgiving day. I was struck by how many people I intersect with and how they each bring an important relationship into my life for different reasons. God has brought all of these people into my life and I am more than grateful, I am joyous over their presence. It also reminded me how if I sat and texted or emailed everyone in my life who brings me joy, it might take me more than a day! I have a friend who decided to pray through her list of Facebook friends this year. She would contact each person and ask how she could pray for them that day. When she contacted me, I was so moved and grateful for her prayers that day.

This leads me to ponder who I have yet to meet that will grace and bless my life? How can I be prepared for their presence and be prepared to be a blessing in their life as well? How does God open us up to the stranger for relationship? As a military brat, I have been the new girl more times than I can count and I am acutely aware of how hard it is to break into established groups even if you are invited in. Regardless of how well you get along, or how wanted you might be, just the fact that you are now there changes everything for those established relationships that were there before you. This is true even in places or systems that claim to be inviting or welcoming or whatever hospitable word you use, which in my experience would be church. We say we want new people and we welcome, call, send a letter, invite to a class or into a ministry and we may mean it when we invite, until they cause us to share our established friendships, or change how we move in our daily lives. Human nature causes us to not like to be uncomfortable or uncertain of our primary relationships and so when this happens our tendency is to pull in and draw tight boundaries to keep the newness and change at bay or in control.

We are all guilty of wanting status quo and opening ourselves up to a bit of chaos and change is daunting for even the most bold risk taker-especially when it comes to new relationships. So as we are grateful for the familiarity around our dinner tables today-and we should be!-how can we be grateful for new people yet to be met, for the changes they might bring, for the presence of God that they will be in our lives and for how they might change our lives and maybe God’s world.

 

How running saved my life November 15, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 6:20 am
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I have seen a lot of blogs about running lately. Some of you who know me well, have already rolled their eyes knowing I am about to launch into a post on running. It’s ok, you can admit it.
One was about someone complaining about runners or more specifically about runners who post the “13.1” or the “26.2” stickers on their cars. It bothers him that people are proud of their accomplishments. Whatever. I have run several half marathons (9 maybe?) and 3 full marathons and a smattering of 5k and 10k’s. I don’t have any stickers on my car; not because I am not proud of my accomplishments or that I don’t see myself as a legitimate runner. Accomplishments or pride is not why I run. And don’t think its my way of saying that competition doesn’t matter-oh it does. I am highly competitive, especially with myself. But running for me has more to do defiance, fear and grief.
I ran a little as a teenager and a young adult. My first run was with my dad at the age of 10. My dad ran to stay in shape for the Air Force and when my dad asked me to come with him, I was excited as I loved to spend time with my dad. I ran track in middle school and then ran VERY sporadically in young adulthood. Mostly for just a little while after the birth of Kayla and Andrew until the need for sleep overcame my vanity for losing the baby weight. But then came my third child Benjamin.
He was a surprise in every sense of the word. My husband and I were not planning on more children and even (TMI alert!) were taking “precautions” that no more babies would be coming. But on a day in mid February we realized that birth control is not 100% effective. It’s a little embarrassing at 30. To quote my mother, “Aren’t you a little old for this?” Apparently not.
Benjamin was born on Oct. 13th, 2003 and on Oct. 15th after a couple of stressful days in NICU was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. Officially, “incomplete Shones complex.” Shones is a combination of four defects: supravalvular mitral valve, sub-aortic stenosis (narrowing) aortic valve stenosis and coarctation of the aorta. Ben “only” had three of the four. He was missing the coarctation of the aorta BUT instead had a sub aortic membrane, so….
Ben had his first open heart surgery at the age of barely seven months. He did wonderfully and recovered almost miraculously. One week to the day of his surgery this spunky seven month old popped up on all fours and began to crawl! Yes we COMPLETELY freaked out. Turns out the doctor was cool with this. It drove Mike and I crazy to watch. Such as parenting a special needs child.
But after this surgery I had a epiphany that I had a SPECIAL NEEDS child. OMG! I can never get sick, be incapacitated, or die. I need to be able to care for Ben FOREVER. I looked in the mirror and realized I needed to drop about 25 pounds to be healthy pronto. So I began to run. I dragged a couple of neighbors with me. We would run to the end of the block and then walk a while then we would pick a point in the distance and run to that. We began to run more and more with less walking. My friends dropped off but I kept going. Spurred on by rapid weight lose (I was 31 people-still had metabolism) and feeling better I ran everyday. My best friend who lived too far to run with me was running independently too. On her 30th birthday (I was already 32, sigh) she decided she would run for 30 minutes without stopping. So not to be outdone by someone younger I did too. Soon this was the norm.
Ben’s health deteriorated and by January he needed another open heart surgery- a Ross-Kono double valve switch. Yes that is as serious as it sounds. His aortic and pulmonary valve would be switched and part of his sub aorta removed. This surgery did not go well. He had critical complications such as a damaged tricuspid valve as well as having two strokes. After two and a half weeks he was able to come home for about three days before he went into congestive heart failure at home. He was placed on a ventilator and we awaited a donor tricuspid valve. One donor valve fell through but two days later we had another donor. That morning, Ash Wednesday, Ben went into surgery. Personally, I think he and God had a conversation and because this mama “don’t raise no fools” Ben looked into the face of Jesus and picked that. He died at 9:33 a.m. on Ash Wednesday. I knew the exact moment he died before the staff even told me. I went cold from the inside out. I cried out, “He’s gone.” Leta, my best friend, looked at her watch and yes, that was his time of death.
I ran laps around the hospital every morning while Ben was in ICU. It gave me a focus. And the endomorph-in’s probably helped me too. After Ben died I was despondent. After his burial and memorial service I found that I didn’t want to get out of bed. Ben’s case manager nurse Lesley, and I had become friends. She would call everyday and ask if I was out of bed. The answer was usually “no.” She would tell me that she would call back in a couple of hours and she wanted to hear that I had gone for a run. I don’t know why but I would listen to her and I would go for a 30 minute run. Sure enough, I felt less like killing myself after a run. Huh.
At Ben’s memorial service, Lesley suggested that maybe we could train for the Portland marathon and raise money for the Legacy Emanuel Children’s hospital. (Yes, the irony of a pastor’s child being at a hospital named Emanuel is not lost on me.) I foolishly agreed. I needed a grief project. So Lesley would call daily and I would run. Then we began to run together from time to time. Then we had to extend our runs even longer. An hour, two hours, three hours. With each mile, we talked about our lives, our grief, our issues and at the end of 12, 14, 16, 18 miles-we were new people. Tired people but new people.
I was eventually put on an antidepressant by my therapist (I highly recommend therapy for depression and if you are offered medication take it! It’s awesome!) but it was my running that truly saved my sanity I believe. On my runs I would process the shit that had invaded my life, my grief, my anger at God, my anger at myself (why did I not take better care of Ben?) and anger in general.
But with each step, each mile, each long run, I was getting my life together. I was getting my emotions together and putting a life back together.
When we ran the Portland Marathon eight months after Ben died, It was more than just a running race. It was a defiance of life over death, hope over despair and love over all. My church had joined the cause and put together Team Ben and about 20 of us ran to raise money for the hospital and for Ben’s surgeon who was a Syrian and ran a hospital in Armenia for those in that region who could not afford open heart surgery. Dr. Hagop did not have a house, a car, a girlfriend or any real possessions. He lived in his hospital in Armenia, came to Portland to operate and make as much money as he could to pour back into his hospital. He was a globally renowned pediatric heart surgeon-one of the best in the world-and he could have been a very rich man. But instead he put every dime he made into a hospital for kids who needed it most. We were proud to over the course of three years raise about $12,000 for his hospital. That’s open heart surgery for about 4 children in Armenia. Over the same three years Team Ben raised $18,000 for Emanuel Children’s hospital.
Running is not necessarily about fitness, or racing but it is about life. I often will say that running saved my life-my physical life, my faith life, my whole life. Running is how I remember that life is not about me. Everyday I run and pray for friends, family, co workers, and think about my family, Mike, Kayla, Andrew and Ben. Running is a reminder that I CAN run when others can’t and how I will I live today for the sake of others and the world.