A Lutheran Says What?

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

Doing What Jesus Does Sermon on Mark 7 September 6, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 5, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 146
Isaiah 35: 4-7a
Mark 7: 24-37

Young Friends message: Follow the leader.

What does the word discipleship mean to you? (Accept all answers) I have to admit that it’s a word that even as a pastor, can seem nebulous. I mean that is one of my roles, is to help form disciples of Jesus. And as simple as that sounds, in practice, it feels very complex and I wonder if I don’t understand fully what discipleship is.
I took a class with the Southwest CA synod in August where we read the book “The Rediscipling of the White Church” and the definition of discipleship in that book struck me as poignant. On page 15, the author David Swanson writes “our definition of a Christian disciple: following Jesus to become like Jesus, in order to do what Jesus does.” [i]This definition is rooted in St. Augustine of Hippo’s theology of “becoming more like Jesus.” And our own Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, very much adheres to this theology as well when he purports that it’s how we live each day that changes us and the world. This seems simple enough, but it’s quite complex, messy and anything but easy. I feel the weight of trying to be a disciple of Jesus, to do what Jesus does, and it’s overwhelming. For one thing, it feels hubris to claim to be anything like Jesus, and for another, what would Jesus do? I often sigh, and think maybe it’s easier to do nothing, than get it wrong, or maybe my actions don’t matter all that much. After all, I can’t change whole systems, and I can’t control a virus, I can’t control governmental systems oppressing people, I can’t control world affairs. This discipleship thing, is hard. Becoming like Jesus is daunting, as we forget that Jesus wasn’t particularly liked by people in power. He wasn’t considered nice. I get caught in liking being liked and wanting to be nice, but if I’m taking discipleship seriously, it’s not that easy.

Our text from Mark today is anything but easy, and it shows us a not nice Jesus. This text flows from last week’s where Jesus was sparring with the religious leaders over rules and what defiles, and it’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s in our hearts. Jesus disciples were being challenged that they weren’t following the religious rules by following Jesus. Jesus didn’t tell people to follow rules, he told people to follow him. So that makes our passage today even more complex. Jesus leaves the supposed safety of Jewish territory and crosses over into Gentile territory. There were some Jews living there, but not many. It seems that Jesus was ready to be out of the spotlight for a while. But it didn’t last. A Syrophoenician woman found out about Jesus’ presence and falls at his feet begging him to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Jesus responds not with compassion or empathy, but an insult. We can’t soften what he says to her-yes, he calls her a dog. Honestly, I don’t like this from Jesus, it messes with my simplistic mindset of Jesus as passive, soft and mushy. But that’s my problem and not Jesus’. The woman isn’t deterred and retorts to his insult with “fine, call me a dog, but even dogs eventually get taken care of too.” Jesus is snapped out of whatever funk he was in and realizes that he was wrong. The easy thing for Jesus would have been for him to double down and insist that she was wrong, and he was right, after all, he is God made flesh. But Jesus does the hard thing, he listens, and is changed by her need. He realizes that this woman is as important as his mission to the children of Israel and maybe more so. He acts and heals the girl without even being in her presence. Jesus doesn’t have to meet the girl to ensure that she is able to flourish and be a part of her community.

Jesus is so changed by this encounter, that he goes deeper into Gentile territory, where there are fewer Jews. A group of people bring their friend to Jesus who is deaf and doesn’t speak. They beg him for help, as anyone with a disability in Jesus’ day, and even our own, is ostracized from community and wholeness. Jesus takes him aside in private, I think to keep the focus on the man and not his own power. Jesus doesn’t just offer a prayer, he acts. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears, spits on him and touches his tongue. That is considered gross in nearly every time, place, and culture. And a definite crossing of a boundary. And not COVID safe. Then Jesus does something that I deeply resonate with, he sighs. Jesus sighs. Maybe at himself, maybe for the man, maybe Jesus is overwhelmed by the systems in society that led to this man needing help. He says, “Be opened.” Again, maybe to himself, maybe to the man, maybe to all creation. The man is then able to hear and speak. And more importantly is returned to community. He’s opened to the presence of God.

As complicated and unflattering of Jesus as these stories are, they are good news for us as people who strive to follow Jesus to become like Jesus, in order to do what Jesus does. Following Jesus, means that we will be confronted by people who demand things of us that we don’t like, or hadn’t considered before. We will be called out for our own hypocrisy, given an opportunity to listen, learn, change and do better for our neighbor. Following Jesus, means that we may not be considered nice as we cross borders and boundaries and go to places and people where we aren’t comfortable and may want to hide. Following Jesus means that we don’t fall for what is easy or simplistic and we are opened to a new reality, and we admit when we were wrong.

Doing what Jesus does leads us to change the world with building relationships and offering mercy and real life, physical help sometimes one person at a time. As disciples, we follow Jesus, to become like Jesus to do what Jesus does: we feed the hungry, even if it’s one person, one family at a time. We house the unhoused, one person, one family at a time. We support Black people and POC one person at a time. We support women’s flourishing, dignity and worth, one woman at a time. Yes, systems need to change and yes, that feels overwhelming, but we act, we do what Jesus does. Like Jesus, we cross boundaries and we open ourselves up to risk. We follow Jesus into the heart of God’s mission of reconciliation, that is bringing all people and creation back into deep relationship with God where there is no separation from God, creation or one another. What happens to one of us, happens to us all and like Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, we are transformed by that radical connection.  
Discipleship, following Jesus to become like Jesus, in order to do what Jesus does, isn’t easy. That’s not the promise. What is promised is that we have a God who has experienced and understands the complexity, who listens, hears our cries, and acts with mercy. What is promised is that we will be opened, our hearts, our eyes, our ears and our tongues, to do and say what Jesus does and says. Thanks be to God.



[i] Rediscipling the White Church, David W. Swanson, InterVarsity Press, 2020, page 15

 

Peace: It’s not what you think A sermon on Luke 12: 49-56 Pentecost 10 Year C August 23, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 18, 2019 in Holladay, UT.

Children’s sermon: Blessing of the Backpacks: Invite the children, adults, anyone forward who would like a tag. What time of year is it? School time! How did we know that it is school time? Stores have school supplies, you get a letter or email from your school or teacher, summer has gone on a long time and the weather should start to cool off soon, all signs that it’s time for something new! Now, it’s hard to say good-bye to summer, more time with friends and family, and more time for fun and vacations. But it’s time to go back, summer changes into fall. And we have a way to mark this change, we have these tags to go on your bags this morning. One side says “peace be upon you” and the other side has the name of our church. What do you think it means to wish someone peace? Yes, it can mean those things! So what’s weird is that Jesus says this morning that he didn’t come to bring peace to the earth, but division! What Jesus? Jesus often confuses me…Do you think that means that Jesus wants us to fight? NO! Here’s what Jesus knows, that peace is hard. And God’s peace doesn’t mean letting other people be mean to you, take things from you, say unkind things, call you names, and not saying no, just to get along. Peace doesn’t mean doing what other people want you to do, just to make them like you. Peace doesn’t mean letting everyone have their own way and keeping everything exactly the same so that everyone is comfortable. No, Jesus didn’t come for *that* kind of peace, but the kind of peace that is actually naming things in the world that harm other people and trying to change it. Jesus’ peace means change. Peace is being excited about all the new things that you will learn this year. Jesus’ peace is looking for where God is changing the world and us! Right now, you all are still physically growing, getting taller, stronger-and even adults, we grow too! We learn new things, see all the ways God is working for change/peace in the world and it causes us to change too! This tag can remind us to look for God’s peace, God’s change that changes the world so that everyone is whole, everyone is safe, everyone is loved! Let’s pray: God of peace, we are so excited for a new school year! You are with us always as we learn new things, meet new people, grow and change. Thank you for teachers, school admins, custodians and our friends at school. Thank you for a world that is always changing through your love and may we care for your creation and your people. Amen.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trained that keeping the peace is very important. I’ve been conditioned that I shouldn’t rock the boat with my opinion if it might cause someone to disagree, that I should strive to make everyone comfortable and happy, so no one feels uneasy. But then we discover that is impossible. Not speaking up can leave someone feeling uneasy if hurtful statements are left unchecked. Making everyone comfortable, turns out, is not possible, as everyone has a different definition of comfortable and ease. So we run from situation to situation, person to person, attempting to put out the fires of discontent, only to have hot spots smolder and spark back up over time. It’s exhausting isn’t it? And we also discover in this pursuit of false peace, that it’s not honest. In order to keep this level of peace, of status quo, we end up being untrue to someone, and it’s usually ourselves.

Being true to who we are is difficult as we have a world trying to make us into something else. People around us have expectations, rightly or wrongly, of how we are to act, think and be. Especially, when we layer the word “Christian” on top of those definitions. That word has become a loaded one in our country and in the world in the last 30 years. And just like the word “peace,” it doesn’t mean what people think it means. It doesn’t mean judgment, exclusion, self-righteousness, being perfect, having it all together and it doesn’t mean status quo. Being a Christian literally means being one who follows Christ and attempts to model their life after Christ’s example. Being a Christian, means we give ourselves over to Christ’s life-changing work in us and in the world. It means that we look for where God is changing the world, upending status quo and transforming hearts and minds. And as Lutheran Christians, we add that we are always reforming. We are part of a tradition that calls for everything to be reexamined and reformed for the sake of our neighbor to experience the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives. Just like peace, it is hard, and forces us to reexamine who we really are in our daily lives and what that means for our relationships and how we live. We listen for God’ voice, that voice that calls us to authenticity, vulnerability, risk, openness and seeing each other as Christ. And we discover, that God’s voice will often be antithetical to the world’s voice of Christianity or peace.

We get some insight into what this journey in following Jesus and listening for God’ voice might be like in our Luke and Hebrews passages today. This gospel text is one of the most challenging in the four gospels, maybe the NT, as Jesus upends our ideas of why Jesus came. We tend to think of Jesus coming as a little sweet baby with an angelic choir singing “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Idyllic, comfortable, sweet and easy. We love to dwell in that pastoral scene hoping that it will never end and will stay the same forever. But Jesus is clear that is not what the reign of God looks like.  From the beginning of Luke’s gospel, Mary sings the Magnificat, a manifesto of political change where the powerful are knocked off thrones, the lowly ones lifted up, the rich are sent away empty, the hungry fed, the proud are scattered and a poor, nobody Jewish girl from a backwater town will be called blessed for all generations to come. At Jesus’ presentation in the temple Simeon proclaimed that Jesus will be opposed, and a sword will pierce Mary’s heart. As Jesus began his ministry, he read from Isaiah and proclaimed the release of the captives, sight to the blind and the oppressed with go free. He called disciples who left family businesses as well as walked away from family. Jesus broke sabbath laws by healing, he broke purity laws by cleansing lepers, he took on demons. His actions did anything but kept worldly peace, Jesus was true to who he was, God’s son, and to his purpose, bringing change that would bring healing, wholeness and hope to all people, not just those at the top. God’s kingdom coming means nothing will be the same.

Jesus’ coming, God’s word made flesh, isn’t about comfort and maintaining systems. Jesus came to bring God’s peace to the earth-peace that enacts change and justice for the sake of wholeness in the world. The irony, is that when status quo is disrupted and people whom the world had silenced have a voice, divisions do occur. When oppression of people of different colors, economic status, religions, genders is no longer tolerated and people speak up, it’s uncomfortable indeed. When people on the outside are brought to the center and given leadership, it’s unsettling. When people begin to live as God created them and not in societal norms, it’s challenging to our held beliefs. But Jesus says that change is inevitable, how can we not see it? The weather changes and we see the storm and wind coming, we see how fire transforms objects, but why can’t we see the changes and transformations that God is up to?

It’s fine for some changes to happen, particularly if they don’t affect us. But Jesus is clear that God’s kingdom comes-to spark the fire of the Holy Spirit that is in us-to change our hearts, our minds and our lives. What is not truly divine in us will be burned away, leaving in each of us and in all creation, God’s goodness, God’s divine image. In God’s kingdom, nothing stays the same, even if it means that mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, in-laws disagree and are divided on what it means to follow Jesus and be changed by the peace that he brings. This kind of division won’t feel good and we will want to avoid it at all costs. But when Jesus’ peace is upon us, drawing us into God’s transformations, we become part of God’s work and we can let go of trying to keep a false peace. We can go toward the discomfort of divisions as we also live in the faith and witness of those who have gone before us, those who risked and brought God’s change and healing into the world. We trust in God’s protection into this death to false peace and being resurrected into the promises of abundant and full life in transforming peace. This is the race that is before us as Christians in the 21st century. It’s hard, challenging and moves us beyond ourselves. And the fire of the Holy Spirit is in us, with us and sparking us daily to live in the God’s true radical love, hope and mercy that breaks all systems of oppression, heals the broken and brings us into community with one another and God. We rise up with God, together, deeply loved, never alone, part of God’s transforming and life-altering work in creation. Thanks be to God!