A Lutheran Says What?

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

Listen to Me (or I’m Sorry) August 27, 2017

*This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO, on August 27. To watch it please go to http://www.bethanylive.org

Isaiah 51 

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
    you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
    and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
    and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
    but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
    he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
    her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

Listen to me, my people,
    and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
    and my justice for a light to the peoples.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
    my salvation has gone out
    and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
    and for my arm they hope.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and those who live on it will die like gnats;[a]
but my salvation will be forever,
    and my deliverance will never be ended.

Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
    you people who have my teaching in your hearts;
do not fear the reproach of others,
    and do not be dismayed when they revile you.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
    and the worm will eat them like wool;
but my deliverance will be forever,
    and my salvation to all generations.

 

Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter,[b] and on this rock[c] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was[d] the Messiah.[e]

 

About a year ago I joined a group called Together Colorado. It’s an organization of interfaith, interrace clergy in CO. Each month we meet to discuss how we together as people of faith work to promote and further human dignity and human worth in our communities. It’s rich in diversity, not only religious and ethnic diversity but diverse thoughts on how to accompany one another. It’s completely non-partisan and so all voices are heard equally. Each time we gather we begin by reading together our credentials, that is our reason for being together despite our many differences. Together Colorado meets at a different location each time and looks at community needs to address: health care, education, housing, civil rights and anything else that calls to us needing attention. In this first year for me, I have mostly listened. As I arrive at someone else’s place of worship and community, I am aware that I am a guest on sacred ground. I am aware of my perspective that I bring, that I have much to learn and I bring my biases. So, I listen.

We met most recently this past Tuesday at a Seventh Day Adventist church in north Denver, a predominately black congregation in a predominately black neighborhood. Once again, I took a listening stance. I sat across the table at lunch from Rabbi Brian, from Temple Emmanuel, as he, with a shell shocked look on his face, talked about how he couldn’t even process what had been going on in our country the past couple of weeks, as he’s too busy facing the real fears of the people in his congregation. They are terrified of the rise of violence against Jewish people and some have been on the receiving end of hate mail. They wait in fear for what might happen next to them, a friend or a family member.

I listened as the pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church shared with us how he and his congregation discuss ways to meet racism with love and share the love of Jesus Christ even with those who look to hate them for no other reason than the color of their skin. I listened to the pain and fear of not knowing if their children are safe when they are away from home because of someone who believes that their lives don’t matter as much as their own.

I listened to a fellow ELCA clergy who is dying of a rare form of cancer and she can’t get the treatment that she needs with the gaps in healthcare. We laid hands on her and prayed for healing, but I received notification that she is now in intensive care.

Listen to me, God says three times in our Isaiah reading today. Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, listen to me my people, listen to me you who know righteousness. Listen to me. The word for “listen” in Hebrew is “Shema.” To hear, to take heed, to harken. The Jewish people refer to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 as the great Shema, the great “harken” from God. Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one. Tell one another and the children of God’s great love, justice and redemption of God’s people when you are at home, when you are away, when you rise, and when you sleep. Put these words on your hand, on your forehead, and in your heart. Love the Lord with all of you heart, soul, mind and strength. Listen to God, listen to one another to hear what God might be saying to you through someone different than you.

It’s hard to listen. It’s hard to listen in world that sends us so many messages all day long. What do we listen to? Who do we listen to? What has authority? Who has authority? When we listen, truly listen to one another, my brothers and sisters, we can’t help but to be moved, to be changed, to wonder, and to even fear a little. I listened to all these stories on Tuesday and I will confess, I didn’t know what to think or say. I listened to a reality very different from my own and yet, I know that these stories that they tell are also true. These stories from other people are as authoritative as my own, but I feel myself getting caught in the need to speak my authority over and above someone else’s. This is where our gospel story today struck me. Jesus asks the disciples: Who do the people who have been listening to me say I am? Are they really listening? The disciples answer with the good Jewish answers of Jeremiah, the prophets, Elijah whom they believed would return. Then Jesus asks them, but who do you say that I am? Peter immediately answers “the son of the Living God!” Peter had been listening! And then Jesus goes on to talk about how Peter will be the rock upon whom Jesus will build his church and then the authority of binding and loosing. We listen to this and we assume that this passage is about WHO has authority. Indeed, much ink has been spilled over this question of the who of authority in the past 2000 years of church history. But listen again, Jesus isn’t actually worried about the who of authority, Jesus is concerned with the what of authority. The “you’s” in this passage are plural, not singular. All are given authority, the keys of the kingdom. Authority to bind and loose. In our Lutheran tradition, we call this the “office of the keys” or confession and forgiveness.

In our Milestone ministry here at Bethany, I teach the office of the keys to our preschoolers. I teach them about two sorrys. We say sorry to God and we also say sorry to the person whom we need to seek forgiveness. I tell them that we will mess up with each other and need to say I’m sorry. That’s life with people, but God always forgives us and so we forgive each other out of this great love. I have them make a fist and tell them that this is their heart when they are tight with feeling sorry or guilt. But when they say “I’m sorry”, and they hear God and the other person say, “I forgive you,” it’s like a key that unlocks their heart to be opened up to receive more love and joy.
Jesus says, you, all of you (that means us!) indeed have authority to open our hearts and the hearts of others. You matter, but not for your own gain, comfort or status. You have authority to give your authority away. Jesus is the prime example of this giving away of power. Just as the Israelites bound the word of God on their hands and forehead, we bind ourselves to God and the people of God. Bind yourselves together and listen, listen to one another seeking righteousness, right relationship with one another. This kind of relationship can only come when we quit worrying about who has the authority or if we have enough authority or power and worry more if we can use our authority for justice for our neighbor. Is. 51:4 “my justice for a light to the peoples.” God sent Jesus, the Son, to be this light of justice, to show us how to do justice, how to live justly so that the lowly are lifted up, the sick receive care, the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the Canaanite woman is seen, a Samaritan is called good, demon possessed people are brought back into community, lepers are healed and restored, the powerful of the Roman Empire and the Temple are challenged and all people are given dignity in the body of Christ.

The Son of the living God to all peoples, binds us together in God’s love as one body needing each other and looses us from whatever keeps us from God and one another, which is sin and death. Jesus looses us from the stories that the world tells us to listen to, so that we hear the story of who we truly are, all created in God’s loving and diverse image. Whenever we, or our neighbor, hear a story that tells us that we are anything less than this image of God’s love, we have the authority and the obligation to say no. Now, this kind of authority won’t make us popular, but Isaiah 51:7 tells us to not be dismayed when we are reviled for speaking this truth. This proclaiming the truth of God’s way of justice for all people, not the Roman Empire or the Temple’s way, is what got Jesus killed. The truth of this justice calls us to this same binding and loosing in Jesus’ name. We bind together in order to loose our brothers and sisters from the sin of racism, from the sin of intolerance of different faith traditions, from the sin of violence, from the sin of homophobia, from the sin of sexism, from the sin of economic disparity, from the sin of disease, from the sin of fear, and from the sin of hate.

Listen to me, God says. Listen to me my people. My beloved people. You, all of you, are too precious to listen and to be bound to any other story than the one of forgiveness, love, reconciliation, shalom, justice, freedom and joy. Listen to the story of the empty tomb and know that anything is and will be possible with me, says God. Listen to the stories of each other and hear my voice from the lips of your neighbor. Speak words of mercy to each other.
And so Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the ways that I don’t loose those around me from my own bias and judgements. I’m sorry for the ways I don’t use my authority for the sake of loosing my neighbor from the sin that keeps them from having justice and from being seen fully as a child of God. I’m sorry for being afraid and looking the other way instead of engaging in God’s righteousness. This is why I’m grateful that each time we gather here, at Bethany as God’s people, we confess our sins, our omissions, we say we’re sorry to God and to one another. And I’m desperate for the words from God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that tell me I am forgiven. I am loosed from sin, I am loosed from my story, I am loosed from death but I am bound to God and to you, the beloved community.
Brothers and sisters, let’s bind ourselves to God and one another and loose ourselves and our neighbor from sin and death, to listen for God’s words of tender forgiveness and to open our hands and hearts to more fully receive the joy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.

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“Let us go to the other side” Mark 4: 35-41 Year B, Pentecost, June 21, 2015 June 19, 2015

*I am posting my sermon early as this is also what is ricocheting around in my soul after hearing about the senseless act committed in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Wednesday June 17th. May God have mercy on us all.  

“Let us go across to the other side.” These words of Jesus are ones that the disciples will never forget. With these words, their lives, perspectives, worldviews, and what they thought was foundational truth would be shattered. These disciples knew the Sea of Galilee, knew it quite well, I mean some of these disciples were fishermen. Boats, water and sailing, this they had down! Seemed simple enough in that moment; get it in the boat, like they had hundreds or maybe even thousands of times before. But this time was different, they were going all the way to the other side. The other side where the Gentiles lived, the people whom the disciples had heard their whole lives were unclean, not part of God’s chosen people, weird, different, excluded or maybe even scary. The disciples had no idea that on the other side would be a man possessed by a spirit named Legion because there many demons inside this man. The very kind of person their mothers had warned them about.

Jesus did not ask them to go to the other side, it wasn’t a question or an invitation; it was a command, a statement of what was happening. The disciples were going to the other side whether they liked it or not. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus, going where there is uncertainty, uncomfortableness, confrontation of their biases and the possibility of being changed forever.

“Let us go to the other side.” How many of us can resonate with that statement of fact in our lives? How many of us have gone to the other side in our lives whether we liked it or not; pushed through a door that we did not want to walk through because we knew that it would be hard? Maybe it was a cancer diagnosis, a job loss, a revelation of a secret from a family member or friend, an unexpected or untimely death of a loved one, or the sacred in your life being shattered. Or maybe “going to the other side” means that as a community you have not had a permanent pastor longer than you wanted, as much money as you wanted, as many members, or had to figure out how to live together in the midst of diversity of thought and opinion?  Going to the other side in our lives is inevitable. It usually encompasses being caught in a storm and wondering if Jesus cares at all that we feel scared, alone, hurting, grieving and struggling, perishing and trying to figure out what is going on.

“Let us go to the other side.” Going to the other side is often stormy. The waves crash and threaten to drown us in fear. This going to the other side hardly seems worth it or meaningful, why is Jesus sending us where we don’t want to go? This week in our nation we learned the consequences of not going to the other side when Jesus commands it. Out of fear of who could be on the other side of the sea, a young man (whom we also pray for as a beloved child of God) walked into a Bible study, sat with other brothers and sisters of Christ and heard about God’s love for all for an hour and then decided that fear overruled that love of God for everyone and nine children of our loving God were killed for no other reason than fear from the color of their skin. This young man was raised in the ELCA church. Two of the pastors studied at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. This young man’s sin is our sin.

We have to recognize as a predominately white denomination that we have to do better. We have to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of different races and genders, who are LBGTQI, who socio-economically do not have a voice, and all who are on the margins of our society and culture. We must truly welcome everyone into the body of Christ, for ALL of us have fallen short because Jesus’ grace, love and mercy are for ALL people, in all times and in all places, no matter what, no conditions or qualifications.  I don’t think that it’s just an aside that Mark adds the sentence, “Other boats were with him. (Jesus)” We are the body of Christ, we are all gathered on the sea to go to the other side with this Jesus who radically proclaims:  “Let us go to the other side where people who are different than us and people whom we don’t understand live. For I am coming to the other side for all people, for God comes to all of you no matter what.” Jesus brings all of us with him in his boat and on the same sea to be the voice for the voiceless, to bring healing to those who are possessed by fear, to say no more violence toward any of God’s children anywhere in the world, and to love no matter how afraid or uncomfortable we ourselves might be. I want to be clear, this isn’t about being a liberal or a conservative or whatever labels we like to give ourselves and define ourselves with. This is about all of us living in our primary “label” as a child of God. That is the only label that matters because Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter.

I stand before you a white person, a white preacher in a predominately white and upper class church and I admit my sin and guilt in all the ways that I have not acknowledged my privilege and leveraged it for the lifting up of my brothers and sisters. I confess that I don’t even fully understand all of the privilege I possess as a white, middle class, heterosexual, well-educated woman. I confess that I have looked at other people through eyes of fear and not through the eyes of God. I confess that I have shied away from proclaiming this before now out of fear of offending someone or losing status. The events of this week make it very clear to me that I, that we, must get in the boat and go to the other side with Jesus no matter how uncomfortable or scared we are. We lament, which is a call to action, with our brothers and sisters. We hold them in prayer, but we alsolook for ways to change the system of hate with the love of Jesus; we know it’s not just enough to go to church because we are called through our baptisms to BE the church-the people of God revealing and PARTICIPATING in the reconciling work of Jesus in the world. God, who is faithful and just, forgives us our sin and declares all is being made new! Live in that newness with one another!

“Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus didn’t say that it would be easy, without storms or without fear. But Jesus does promise to be with us, to speak the words “Peace! Be Still!” not just to the stormy sea around us, but will speak those words TO US and to all of humanity as well.  I believe that Jesus was with the people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Wednesday night. I don’t like it, but I believe that Jesus is with Dylann Roof.  We don’t always like getting in the boat with Jesus and everyone whom Jesus loves and go to the other side. But in the crossing is transformation. The transforming unconditional love, grace and mercy that Jesus has for all people brings us to the other side. When we reach that shore, we recognize that God is already there at work, loving, healing and drawing all people into God’s arms to be one people on the sea, even a stormy sea, with Jesus. We can’t grasp this amazing love but the good news is that it grasps us because Jesus cares very much that we are perishing in our own hate, fear and self-protection.

We, like the disciples, will always wrestle with the question, “Who then is this?” This Jesus defies our labels, our personal agendas and opinions, moves us from fear into love, stills our storms, is in our boat, is in the boat with those different from us, is with those who are being killed and killing, is weeping with those who grieve, is sending us to the other side with God’s love and mercy and promises to be with us always. So may these words, “Let us go to the other side with Jesus” be words that we, too like the disciples, never forget. Amen.

We pray for the families of Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Ethel Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Myra Thompson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons, and Susie Jackson.

We also pray for the family of Dylann Roof.

We pray for us all.

 

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.

 

God’s Story of Everything Mark 11:1-11 Palm Sunday Year B March 30, 2015

If we’re honest, we all long to be fully and really seen, our story heard, accepted, and loved. And if we’re truly honest, that also scares us to death.  In this age of social media, self-help, constant communication and reality tv, one would assume that we know each other and ourselves fairly well, it would appear that we are all an open book. Yet, we all like to project a certain image and it seems, ironically, that is easier than ever to do. But it’s difficult to keep that façade up for very long isn’t it? Eventually, what isn’t true, authentic and real about yourself will be exposed and then it gets messy. The clash of who the world wants you to be or sees you as, comes crashing head long into who you really are, warts and all. We all know people who are so cautious about what they allow the world to see or over the top transparent (almost uncomfortably so) about who they are in their lives.

Sometimes the story of who we are that we present to the world is who we actually hope and are striving to be and that is not bad, but again, we will eventually fall short. We live in a culture that simultaneously values perfection and authenticity, collaboration and individualism, and polished image and transparency.

We see it all around us. The clash of what we’ve hoped our story to be in our lives versus what is reality. We have all fallen short according to the world’s measuring stick but we try to sweep that under the rug. What’s more, when we encounter someone who can’t hide the ways that their story clashes with what the world expects out of people, we tend to turn away and ignore them. Perhaps out of fear of the knowledge that it could just as easily be us, or because it one time it was us.  When we begin to live in this tension and tell our own stories of truly who we are and allow all pieces of ourselves to be seen, it’s risky. And it begs the questions:  What will we allow to be seen of ourselves? What happens when every part of us, the good, bad and the ugly are transparent? What about the stories of people around us that we don’t like, agree with or scare us? What happens when our search for transparency, authenticity and acceptance clash with the reality of a world that only seeks perfection, control and categorization?

It’s obvious that the crowds that surrounded Jesus in his processional parade into Jerusalem, knew through stories or personal experience, that this Jesus was someone to be followed and lauded. These were people from the small, nothing towns, where Jesus spent most of his ministry, people whom most of society, particularly the elite of Jerusalem would have ignored at best and treated as less than human at worst. They were most likely peasants, fishermen, farmers, essentially nobodies. They didn’t have a story as far as most were concerned or at least one not worth hearing. But Jesus had seen them, more than that, he had acknowledged them, talked to them, taught them and healed them. He told them that God’s story was their story.

Jesus had entered into their lives and saw the broken parts of them that they could not hide, the broken pieces of real lives where marriages did not always work out, one can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, disease was unpreventable, death was always near and helplessness and hopelessness seemed to win the day. They didn’t have nice clothes to hide scars, or facebook to project a false happiness, or disposable income to temporarily feel better through more stuff, food or influence. Jesus had fully seen them, met them where they were and in this moment of a parade into the center of political, religious and economic power, Jerusalem, they thought that they saw who Jesus really was as well and what his story should be-someone who would give them money, status, and power everything that would allow them to be seen by the world.

But soon these cries of Hosanna, “Save us now,” would turn to disbelief, discouragement and perhaps even disgust as the Jesus who entered into their lives, saw everything, and didn’t give them exactly what they wanted.  “Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” Jesus saw everything: the coming clash of the world’s story with God’s story, the brokenness of the economics of the culture and the temple where some were left out, the marginalized denied of God’s community, those who were trying to live as God’s people, but were struggling, those who cried Hosanna, “save us now,” but won’t let go of their own need for comfort or control. Jesus saw it all. Jesus saw everything and sees everything about us today. Jesus sees our “everything” and in response, offers us God’s everything. While we struggle with keeping parts of our lives unseen and to see those who are different from us, God through Jesus, enters into and sees everything-sees all of us and each one of us.

This week, Holy Week, is our journey of God offering us everything. God’s abundant generosity offers us all of God’s unconditional love and God’s constant forgiveness. In seeing our “everything”, Jesus sees all of who we are; the parts of ourselves that we show the world and the parts of ourselves that we hide out of shame and fear.  Jesus’ only judgment on what he sees about the world and us, is to offer us all of who God is, so that God’s everything of love, forgiveness and generosity can spill out into the world.

When Jesus sees everything about us, Jesus also sees people made in God’s image, and despite all of the pieces that we are ashamed of, we too have the capacity for abundant generosity, unconditional love and constant forgiveness.  God’s everything of love, forgiveness and abundance reveals that the world’s everything of fear, hate and scarcity cannot and will not be the last word. God’s everything reveals in us that all are accepted, loved and forgiven and so we already have everything we need to participate with God’s revelation to the world. We enter into our neighborhoods, our schools and workplaces where God is already at work, with everything we need to be fully loving, forgiving and generous.

We enter into the story of Holy Week knowing that it is really the story of God’s entering into and seeing the reality of our lives and the world’s reality to tell us the true story about who we are and everything God promises for all of creation. God calls us through our stories to reveal God’s story hope, love, forgiveness and abundance to a world waiting to be truly seen. Thanks be to God.

 

“You’re so vain, you probably think this sermon is about you.” Matthew 18:18-35, 14th Sunday of Pentecost, Year A, Sept. 14th, 2014 September 15, 2014

So, I’m a child of the 70’s and I love 70’s music. You’ve heard me say before that being in the car a lot I like my XM radio (if you hold out long enough, it comes down to a cheap monthly rate). The 70’s station is my favorite, a time when talented singer/songwriters such as Carly Simon were common. One of her hits was “You’re so Vain.” It’s a classic breakup song that regals us, with sarcasm and wit, the damage this former boyfriend (and the speculation of who that was) did to her. We all identify with her plight, as we all know people who only think of themselves and don’t really give much thought to how their words or actions might possibly affect someone else. We all have people in our lives who annoy us, lie to us, or wound us in some way and somehow belting out the words “You probably think this song is about you, don’t you? Don’t you?” as you roll down I-25 is slightly cathartic.
Carly Simon puts into a three minute song the microcosm of life with other people. It’s messy, complex and humans tend to be self absorbed. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that in Matthew 18 we move from “where two or three are gathered in my name,” to Peter asking how many times he has to forgive these other people who are ostensibly gathered in Jesus name. I’ve been saying all week, “where two or three are gathered…you’re gonna need forgiveness.” We are focused on ourselves and so we bump into one another in ways we’re not even always aware we’re doing and we leave scars to show for it. We wound each other in small and large ways. What are we to do when this happens? Do we forgive the person who gossiped about us? Probably. Do we forgive the person who stole $20 from us? Again, probably. But what about my friend who asks me if she should forgive her ex-husband who killed their children? Honestly, I don’t know. Or what about a victim of abuse, should they forgive their abuser? I don’t know. I guess it depends what we mean by the word “forgive”. Is it to forgive and forget? Is is a clearing of the balance sheet of wrongs done to you by someone or wrongs that you have committed? Is it a second chance? Or is it something else entirely?
Peter is wrestling with this too apparently, and I bet he had a specific incident in mind when he asked Jesus about how many times to forgive someone. Peter must have had a repeat offender in his life. Jesus’ initial answer is frankly a little too school yard playground for me: you should forgive over and over. Well, that’s great if someone just takes your juice box and cookie but I’m not sure that speaks to some of the real abuse and damage that people can inflict on one another.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there with that seemingly oversimplified response. He continues and tells Peter and the others, this over the top parable of the “unforgiving servant.” It’s so steeped in ridiculousness that we know it’s not to be read literally. So we pay attention to the theme of the parable. The amount of debt this slave owes the king is more than a servant can actually ever rack up in a life time. It would be like you or me garnering a billion dollars in debt. We would actually have to work really hard at accumulating that amount of debt. This slave that owes so much, throws himself at the mercy of the king and the king responds out of pity-he feels bad for him and releases him from his overwhelming debt. The slave is free.
What’s the first thing the slave does with his newly found freedom? He takes a fellow servant by the throat and threatens him. In his freedom, he chose to continue worrying about himself. The other slaves told the king of course, who was furious. This slave, who for a brief bit of time, had it all, and lost it all just as quickly and is handed over to be tortured. And then Jesus, not being the touchy, feely, pacifist that I prefer, says that this is what will happen to us if we don’t forgive from the heart. Ok, about now all I’m hanging on to is that this is just a parable.
See here’s the thing. We all hear this story and immediately start to worry about ourselves. So, I have to forgive or lose God’s grace? I have to forgive no matter what the circumstance? How do I know if I’ve really forgiven someone? But I’m still mad, broken and hurt! We want forgiveness to be easy, clear, and neat. I forgive you and the pain goes away. You forgive me and I stop feeling guilty. I forgive myself and I can finally have peace.
But that is not our human reality. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily end the damage that has been done to each other. God forgives us completely and unconditionally each and everyday; more than the 77 times Jesus talks about, unless you’re under 2 months old. God knows that forgiving us is actually about acknowledging and entering into our brokenness and pain of our past and present, and offering us radical hope for a different future. God walks with us into that future. God also calls us to walk together into that future. When we can offer forgiveness to someone else, we are being honest about our pain; not burying it, not denying it and not ignoring it. We are also calling out the other person’s real brokenness that affects us. Forgiveness is a new way to be in relationship together, built on the grace and hope first offered us by God through Jesus over and over.
We are created for community, to be gathered together to reflect and reveal the loving presence of Christ wherever we are. The kingdom of heaven is God’s mercy for all God’s people and God’s desire for her people to fully live in hope, love and grace at all times and in all places. But this kingdom of heaven is not yet fully here, so we continue wound each other and must struggle with our human frailties of thinking only about ourselves, realities of violence, cheating, lying, and all of the other ways that we unfairly deny each other abundant life. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse any of our harmful behavior or means that we have to allow harm to be done to ourselves or others. Actually, in community we are compelled to call out wrong when we witness it and stand with those in harms way. But there is also this difficult reality that because of our interconnectedness, when we withhold forgiveness, when we deny anyone hope, we ultimately deny it to ourselves. It can feel like torture to live without hope for a tomorrow filled with the promises of God.
God extends to all of us radical forgiveness that is difficult for us to even receive because it is rooted in the very heart, the very being, of our unconditional loving God. If we truly receive this forgiveness, it compels us to offer it to someone else because it’s too important, too meaningful and too life giving to keep it to ourselves. We will want with our whole heart, with our whole being, for our neighbor to have this gift. Because ultimately, this forgiveness is about you and about all of us rooted in God’s mercy and love. Thanks be to God.