A Lutheran Says What?

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

What Is Love? Just Watch! Sermon on John 13:33-35 May 12, 2017

*Preached on April 13, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

Love one another. We often wonder how we will know if someone really loves and cares for us, don’t we?  We watch people closely to see if their actions match their words when we wonder about their hearts and intent for us or others. These words of “love one another” we hear Jesus telling the disciples over and over in all four of the gospels. Words that we, without hesitation, throw out when someone slights us or someone whom we love. “Love one another” are words that we take very personally and internalize what that means for us. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus talks at great length about loving your neighbor as yourself. Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated. We’ve condensed that to a social platitude of The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Seems simple enough. As humans, we also cling to this saying because it leaves us wiggle room to not treat kindly those who don’t treat us with kindness. We can justify transactional relationships. What does my neighbor do for me? If nothing, then that’s how they must want to be in relationship with me.

But here in this passage of John, Jesus gives us a twist: Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus takes our wiggle room, our social platitudes and our justifications and hurls them into the abyss. Jesus once again pulls us out of ourselves, widens our view of love, deepens our understanding of who and what God is about and crush our egos that interfere with God’s transformational work inside of us. How do we know if Jesus’ really loves us? Just watch. Watch Jesus become a servant and washing smelly, dirty and worn feet. Watch Jesus offer the same caring actions to the one who would betray him to the authorities. Watch Jesus forgive those who persecute him as he is dying on the cross. Watch Jesus, dying on a cross, not so that we “owe God or feel guilty”, but to show that God withholds nothing, not even his son from us in love. Jesus on the cross is love in action. Love that transcends words. Love that does what is necessary for the wholeness and well-being of all people, with no thought of reciprocation, no consideration of risk to himself or worry of safety. Love that offers freedom from what holds us back from living as people of God. Love that opens our eyes to the needs of our neighbor. Love that dies to human self-ego and lives to see beyond today, the here and now, to a vision of how God sees the world, created good, in harmony and peace. Today we reorient to this love that is a commandment, Mandatum in Latin, and why we call today Maundy Thursday. A love command that is not a suggestion because there is too much at stake.

So we watch. We watch Jesus’ actions of love and understand that the world is watching us, how we love. Jesus says that the world will know that we follow Jesus by our love. This is not easy love. It’s hard. It’s messy.  It transcends our political, social and economic philosophies and places us squarely in the realm of how we think about God’s love in our lives and what difference the loving actions of Jesus Christ make in our everyday decisions. Jesus calls the disciples past, present and future into this way of living, knowing that we will stumble, get confused and need reorienting. Jesus’ love in action also draws us into community, community that supports and reminds one another of this love shown by Jesus. Today, we come to the table of this love that Jesus prepares where bread is placed in our undeserving hands and wine flows to soften our hardened hearts. Our first communion children and youth tonight come to this table to watch, to watch love made flesh, love given as a promise, love that surrounds and encompasses them, us and all of creation. We watch in ourselves for opportunities to be love in action, to offer ourselves fully and know that the world is watching for love from us. We don’t have to wonder about God’s love for us because we can watch Jesus as God’s love in action today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.

 

Exposed John 13: 1-17, 31-35 Maundy Thursday Year C March 24, 2016 March 25, 2016

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A video of the entire worship service can be accessed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

When I began my seminary journey several years ago, I started out at Iliff School of Theology here in Denver. I joined a group called the Beatitudes Society whose focus was service. One of the service opportunities included an event that DU hosted to help people who are homeless receive assistance such as a haircut, dental work, resume/job assistance, interview clothing and a medical check-up. The Beatitudes Society was there to offer foot washing to the people as they waited for medical care. Now before you think that I’m so altruistic, humble and pious, let me lay down some truth. I signed up in a moment of “This will be good for me to get out of my comfort zone.” I woke up that day thinking, “What am I doing??!!! I’m a germ-a-phobe who will be touching feet that haven’t seen soap and water in a long time and who knows what diseases they have!” I’m not super proud of that thought or that moment when I considered calling in sick. I was so uncomfortable even thinking about this, how was I ever going to make it through my two hour shift? My own preference for comfort and keeping supposedly safe boundaries rather than connecting with people who were different than myself was exposed and it didn’t feel that great. Here I was in seminary, training be a church leader to proclaim the gospel and I found myself saying, “Ummm only within certain boundaries, Jesus. Only in my comfort zone.” My own hypocrisy was exposed that day.

But I showed up, and I was handed a basin, towels and some soap. I was told to walk around and offer to wash the feet of the people who had been bused from various shelters or from the street for this event. So, taking a deep breath, I set out into the crowd. What happened in those next two hours, I never could have anticipated or even guessed. I washed the feet of a gentleman whose feet where so mangled from years on the street that I was actually afraid I would hurt him if I wasn’t careful. Most often I was turned down. I had one woman take one look at me (an obviously white, middle class woman with the resources for graduate school) and laugh that I would even dare ask her-did it make me feel good to offer her charity she asked me? That stung a bit as I realized the complexity of my own discomfort, of other people’s discomfort and the vulnerability of humanity. I was once again feeling exposed.

After that experience I was a bit hesitant to even ask again, but I did. I asked a woman about my age, if I could wash her feet. She protested and said no, but I persisted. Finally, she allowed me to proceed. We talked for a bit as I washed her feet and she began to cry. I asked her why she was crying, and she replied that this was the first time in a long time that anyone had actually treated her like a real person. I began to tear up too, as I looked up at her from my position of being at her feet, I was even more ashamed of my selfish thoughts on this task, and how I had been too afraid to get this close to someone on the margins of our society. This woman in front of me, the woman who had rightly called me out as a hypocrite and those who had turned me down, had all exposed the tension of following Jesus. They revealed the messiness of humanity, the fear of vulnerability, our inability to really be connected to one another, our preference for comfort and stability, and our human need for knowing our role and our place, and the risk of boundary breaking love for one another. They also revealed Jesus to me. In the uncomfortable exposure of all of the ways I am broken, they pointed to our mutual need for Jesus. I am forever changed and humbled by those two hours. I will admit that it turned my world of privilege and comfort upside down.

Our John story draws us all deep into the brokenness of humanity, the vulnerability of our relationships with each other and even Jesus. Jesus stoops to wash his disciples, encountering them in a most uncomfortable and intimate way; unafraid to break worldly boundaries and get too close to their messiness. This closeness was too much for the disciples and this exposed all of the ways that they were afraid of getting too close to Jesus. This fear led them to say no to Jesus, to deny Jesus and yes, even to betray him. This great love was just too much for them to bear and understand.

But Jesus washed them all, equally and together. In spite of how the world might see them or later judge them, Jesus shows them abundant love that can only come from God. This uncomfortable and all too intimate act is one that Jesus does for the disciples and for us all. It’s difficult because it exposes all of the ways that we are not Jesus and yet are still called to follow him, even though we fear, even though we are uncomfortable, even though we are imperfect.

Jesus’ act of love, exposes that no matter how stinky, broken or unlovable we might seem to one another, we also cannot detach from one another. No matter how much we want to run, call in sick or not deal with those who might scare us, deny us or even betray us, Jesus bathes us all with love to expose that we are all interconnected whether we like it or not and whether we understand it or not. In our exposed brokenness, Jesus’ purpose of unconditional love and mercy is also exposed. Revealed for all of the world to see is how Jesus’ love matters deeply; Jesus’ love heals us; Jesus’ love nourishes us; Jesus’ love binds us together so that more love can be exposed for the sake of the reconciliation of all creation.

This love is also exposed at the table through the promises in bread and wine. In these common everyday objects, extraordinary love transcends earthly boundaries and is made real. Extraordinary love that exposes grace for all, reconciliation for all and Jesus’ promise to show up in our lives each and every day in the ordinary and in the mysterious. The children celebrating first communion tonight will sit at this table, close to Jesus who welcomes them and all to the table of abundance and boundary shattering love. When Jesus’ love shows up at our feet, it moves us past our own needs, wants and comfort zones in order to connect with people whom we wouldn’t on our own connect and risk relationship. When God’s love exposes the reality of our lives, we see other people, people with disabilities, people with differing political views, people who suffer from mental illness, people who we consider unworthy, or people who we simply don’t like, we see them through the love of God, who comes close to us, even when we resist. Jesus’ love removes the boundaries that we set for ourselves and for others.

God isn’t afraid to infringe on our boundaries and come too close to us or to be exposed. Jesus’ presence among us does expose us, turn us upside down and transforms us for the sake of love made perfect in servant hood, love made perfect in suffering, love made perfect in discomfort, and love made perfect in vulnerability. God proclaimed that we are worth the risk, worth the exposure, worth breaking boundaries and worth unconditional love. The experience of Jesus’ love doesn’t leave us alone, but gets too close, breaks our human boundaries, transforms us and makes us new so that everyone whom we encounter is exposed and has an experience of this same love in Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.

 

All In! Mark 12: 41-44 October 18, 2015 Pentecost 21B October 19, 2015

*With much love and gratitude to the people of Lord of the Hills, I preached this on my last Sunday serving as their bridge pastor.

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Many of us have the experience of learning to swim. At the beginning of classes we would slowly dip our toes in the water, then up to our waists, and then eventually go under water to learn to hold your breath. In order to learn to swim, you have to learn to go completely under water. The final test, of jumping off the diving board, is one that combines all of the skills and is supposed to increase your confidence of being able to jump in the deep end of the pool and swim to the side. I was not interested in that skill. . .I will confess to you that I took beginner lessons for 10 years and never really passed beginner level 1 as the last part of that test to jump off the low diving board and swim to the side was not for me. I do not like heights nor water and the two of those things combined led to a standoff between me and the instructor usually ending with me walking out to the edge of the diving board and standing there until they let me turn around and come down or the instructor threw me off the diving board. I was terrified of what would happen if I jumped in and couldn’t swim, couldn’t make it back to the edge of the pool. Once I was in the air, I knew I didn’t have complete control of the situation. It was better, it seemed to not jump at all than to risk, what appeared to me, to be certain death.

When I lived on Guam as a child, going to the pool was a nearly daily occurrence. All of my friends would be down in the deep end of the pool jumping off of the diving board, except me. One day, I decided that I would try. I gathered up all of my courage and jumped. I didn’t die. I didn’t drown. My 10 years of swim lessons kicked in and I swam to the side of the pool without drama or incident. I even found that it was a little fun…once I had decided to go all in, I saw what I had been missing. I had been missing the opportunity to truly interact with my friends, know my own limits, my courage and what I can actually do. I learned to trust those things and to trust that the people around me wouldn’t let me drown should something go wrong. It wasn’t fool hardy or death defying but simply a willingness to jump into something greater than all of my fears.

This little lesson has stayed with me in large and small ways. I don’t know about you, but it seems that things go better when I am “all in.” When we only tentatively step out, or just stick a big toe in to test the water, we don’t really see the whole picture and we don’t truly benefit from the experience, positive or negative. Being “all in” is scary, it’s risky but we know that there are situations that call for being “all in.” When we are in a committed relationship such as a marriage, or parenting we have to be “all in.” Or for when we’re in school, when we put our whole selves into learning or a project we are able to accomplish so much more. But we know that we risk so much more as well. If we’re “all in” in a relationship and someone else is not, we get hurt. If we are “all in” on a project and it doesn’t work out as we planned, we risk failing, and we risk losing control.

But there is also a gift and peace to being “all in.” When we are focused on being “all in” the risks seem worth it: love is always worth it, doing the ethical action is always worth it, truth is always worth it, trust is always worth it.

Jesus sat in the temple watching people offer their contributions. Now, many were contributing and that was great. But Jesus points out that many were contributing what made them comfortable and what allowed them to stay in control. Then comes the widow; what she offered was a pittance, nothing, barely noticeable or worth it in some ways. But it was all she had; she was “all in.” You see this little bit of money was her security, her control, her comfort. Yet, she recognized, not really. The amount she had wouldn’t even last her a day. Tomorrow was already risky and uncertain. This woman had the courage to recognize that she didn’t have control anyway, she didn’t have any promises of food, shelter or comfort (let alone luxuries) for tomorrow and that really none of us do. She recognized that putting everything she had in to the collection had nothing to do with money but everything about her relationship with God and the community in which she lived.

By giving all she had, she was trusting in the One who promised to give her everything she needed: love, belonging, caring community, forgiveness and life forever. This unnamed widow knew that God had already gone “all in” with her and all of God’s people, for God withholds nothing. Jesus is pointing out to the disciples that by his very presence among them, God says a big “yes, I’m all in” to humanity and creation. Lyssa, Cobi, and Sara, will say to God, today “I’m all in.” They will affirm the promises made for them at their baptism by their parents, sponsors and the faith community; caring community who went “all in” with them at the beginning of their faith journey. They will recognize the promises of God in their lives that are true and forever. Lyssa, Cobi and Sara, living your lives “all in” for God and God’s people won’t always be easy, it won’t always be comfortable and it won’t always work out the way you might think. But I can promise you that it will always be worth it. It’s always worth it because God is “all in” with you. Never forget that God loves you always, is with you always and promises that always is what you have in the life of God.

I have been blessed and I am grateful for my almost five months serving here with you at LOTH. Thank you for your warmth, thank you for your encouragement and thank you for your love and witness of Christ in your lives and in this place. This congregation embodies what it is to be “all in” with God. Despite bumps in the road, sharp curves and unexpected twists, you all continue to recognize, like the widow, that God is “all in” in Lord of the Hills and that your only response to God’s promises is to also say in word, deed and thought “We’re all in with you, God.” It’s risky, it’s not comfortable, and you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But God is here, God is with you, and God promises to care for your todays and your tomorrows. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we celebrate in the words of Holy Communion today that Torrin, Jack, Toryn, Josiah, Matt, Chloe, Brooke and Kate will participate in for the first time, in the bread and in the wine, we are reminded that being “all in” has a cost, it cost Jesus his life. It does cost us something as well to be “all in,” we have to die to our fear in order to fully live in God’s promises. But being “all in” also focuses us on trusting the love and presence of God and that God works all things for good. God works death into life, suffering into joy, sorrow into laughter, and anxiety into peace. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s “all in” for all people, in all times and in all places.

May God’s “all in” with you comfort you, bring you peace, love and joy now and forever,