A Lutheran Says What?

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

“If” a Sermon on John 11 Lent 5A March 29, 2020

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This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 29, 2020. You can view it on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The text was John 11: 1-44

One of my favorite games to play when I’m ruminating on a situation that I’m unhappy about, is the “if only” game. Maybe you play this game too. You know the one where you have a fender bender and you think “ugh, if I had only not looked left when I should have looked right.” Or “if that other person had stayed in their lane.” Or “if I had stayed home.” Then all the unpleasantness could be avoided. Part of how we are wired as human beings is to be constantly vigilant for how to stay alive and out of danger. And when danger does arrive on our doorstep, as it invariable always does at some point, we want to dissect the events leading up to the misfortune, figure out who to blame, how we avoid this again and even on occasion figure out how to change the misfortune so that we don’t have to endure any of the consequences. This line of “if only” thinking lulls us into the falsehood that we have some sort of control over life events and we can logic or bargain our way to happiness, safety and security.

Don’t get me wrong, we should try and make appropriate decisions that don’t put ourselves or others in harms way, but we also know that there is no such thing as perfection. We can technically make every correct decision and take every prudent action and still have traumatic events befall us. And we’ve seen the inverse of that as well, haven’t we? When someone seems to make poor decision after poor decision and still everything comes out all right for them. It can be maddening to attempt to discern any pattern, consistency or logic out of life.

Mary and Martha and even the disciples are knee deep in this “if only” game in our John 11 story this week. Jesus gets word that Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha, is very ill. Jesus seems to brush this news off in a cavalier way that is hard for me to understand. I mean, I want Jesus to drop everything and rush to Lazarus’ bedside and save him from what ever pain and suffering he is experiencing. But Jesus doesn’t do that-he hangs out two more days wherever he was. Then all the sudden after two days, Jesus decides to go to Bethany where Mary and Martha were.  Again, why the wait, I just don’t understand.

Jesus arrived to find what I always have envisioned as a wake happening. Family and friends gathered lamenting, crying, telling stories of the deceased, eating, praying, visiting the grave all the activities that you might participate in when a loved one dies. It is interesting that the gospel writer John does let us know that the “Jews,” who are in this gospel the authorities, are here. Were Lazarus or Mary and Martha important to the authorities somehow? Were they a prominent family? Or was it that they were close to Jesus and they thought that this was another opportunity perhaps to see what Jesus is up to? It could be any or all those things, we don’t know, but I get the sense that their presence wasn’t completely altruistic. And I think Jesus knows it. Martha met Jesus on his way and the first words out of her mouth were “if you had been here.” Martha was probably replaying the sickness and death of her beloved brother over and over in her mind and now seeing Jesus was another piece in her attempt to make sense of a senseless experience. Jesus if you had done what I wanted you to do. Jesus doesn’t offer platitudes of “God needed another angel,” or “this was God’s will,” or didn’t even offer an “I’m sorry he died.” Jesus simply states: “Your brother will rise again.” Now Martha’s response is less surprising than we might think as there was a strand of Jewish Pharisaic theology that did believe in resurrection. But it wasn’t quite what we think of resurrection as followers of Jesus, it was more of a what happens on judgment day or the Day of the Lord from the Hebrew Bible. Jesus knows this and gently offers that there is more to it than that. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, not just someday in the far off future, but right now, even when we wonder “if only” and even when we don’t like or understand our current circumstances. Martha then gets Mary, and the Jews follow her as she too, goes to Jesus. Ironically, or predictably, Mary’s first words to Jesus are the same at Martha’s “if you had been here.”

Jesus sees her tears, sees the Jews and then gets mad. The gentle translation of “greatly disturbed” doesn’t do justice to the Greek, which means indignation. Jesus is angry. He is angry and moved, that is he is overcome with many emotions at once. He’s angry that the Jewish authorities are using Lazarus’ death for their own gain, he’s angry that death is a part of his dear friend’s existence at all. He’s moved to tears that this is humanity’s reality. Jesus is moved to tears amid the many emotions himself and of others around him. We have a God who is with us in sorrow and cries with us in sorrow and fear.

Jesus goes to the tomb, and when he says to roll away the stone, Martha interjects that is a bad idea, Lazarus has been dead long enough that there will be the stench of death in the air. But Jesus then offer his own “if” statement. If you believe, you will see the glory of God. Jesus then prays and calls Lazarus by name and Lazarus emerges from the tomb, bound in death wrappings. Jesus says to those present to unbind him from the trappings of death.

We find ourselves in a time when we are asking ourselves, and God “if ” questions. If someone had contained this virus sooner, if we could figure out how to cure it or treat it, if we weren’t so vulnerable from it, if this wouldn’t affect the economy, if this didn’t require so much sacrifice, if we weren’t so afraid and uncertain. But Jesus comes to us in our “ifs” and offers to us belief. Believing isn’t some naïve ascent to wishful or magical thinking, it’s not like those prayer forwards that we all get that say “if you forward this to ten friends then your prayer will be answered.” Belief is like love, it is a gift from God, and it is tenacious and foundational. Believing is how we orient our vision and hearts to live in painful times and in suffering. Believing doesn’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen, but what it does mean is that you will see God at work even when it only looks like death, you will see God who takes our chaos and brings order, you will see how God takes our attempts at logic and control and reminds us that there is more than we can see. Through Jesus, we are freed from the “ifs” of our lives. Jesus unbinds us from “ifs” to freedom, to community, to service and to love.  We are freed to hear Jesus call our names and we unbind each other, as Lazarus’ friends unbound him, for life. Life that is not certain but life where hope is alive and present through Jesus Christ. We believe because of Jesus’ love and we look for abundant life and possibility where others see finality and despair.  We believe and so we see the opportunities before us as a congregation and as individuals, to unbind each other from fear and death to freedom, for the sake of being this abundant life and freedom in our community. In the coming days and weeks and probably months, we will be called on to serve our community in ways we’ve never imagined. But this is God’s people unbound, not stuck in the “ifs” but freed to the reality of God’s love and presence no matter where we are, how isolated we might physically be. We believe and we shed the trappings of death for life. Amen.

 

Renewed by Grace-We can’t unsee it! Sermon for Reformation Sunday Year C October 27, 2019

This sermon was preached on Oct. 27, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were:
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3: 19-28
John 8:31-36

 

Children’s sermon: masks-I have these masks here: It’s fun to wear masks and pretend to be someone or something else isn’t it? It’s not really who we are but we like to try out being different. We do this in other ways besides at Halloween-don’t we? We pretend to like something we don’t or don’t like something we do like to make friends. Sometimes that’s hard as we want to be something different-maybe act differently because we think that people will like us more, or wish that we had different abilities like in sports, or school or music. But God says that who we are is just right we are and that we always belong to God. And the truth is that you are loved by God just as you are-the good things and the not so good things. Today is called Reformation Sunday and it’s a day when we celebrate the truth of who we are as God’s people and we don’t have to pretend to be someone else. A man named Martin Luther, struggled with the fact that many people didn’t know the truth about how much God loved them no matter what and people can’t earn God’s love, it’s for everyone! That’s called grace. But this truth of grace was also hard…it meant that everything had to change with this truth. The Church had to change with this truth that God loves everyone. The church did change, but many people didn’t like it and were mad at Luther. Everything changes, God created the world to change: the seasons, plants growing and us growing and learning, the only thing that doesn’t change is God’s love for us and creation. Martin Luther knew that the truth of our lives is that things need to change so that more people can know God’s unchanging grace and love! Because of this grace and love we are free to share this with everyone we know to make sure that everyone knows this truth-that no matter what they do, say, who they pretend to be, or what other people think of them, they are God’s forever. That is the truth. Let’s pray:

I love mind benders: such as a friend pointing out that if you hear the words “big pharma” in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger it sounds like Arnold talking to a large farmer. You can’t unhear that can you? Or someone posted a picture of the famous painting by Edvard Munch “The Scream” and said maybe he was trying to draw a cocker spaniel…the hands are floppy dog ears…you can’t unsee that either! Or a pastor friend setting the “Lamb of God” to “Baby Shark.” (You’re welcome!) We’ve all had the experience that once someone points out an absurd perspective about something you can’t see or hear anything else! Whether it’s a painting or learning the correct lyrics to a song, these new perspectives shift us as you can’t go back to what you didn’t see, hear, know before. It can be all in fun such as the examples I just gave, or its life altering. It could be the moment you look at someone and realize you love them, or you see your loved one dying and you can’t deny that truth any longer, or the revelation that someone has lied to you, or hiding something from you, or you realize that a relationship is no longer viable or you admit you need help. Moments when you know some deeper truth than you did before and everything changes.

There are monumental periods in history built around these perspective shifts. Martin Ludder was a man who was a product of his time, he believed everything the Church taught him, even though it made him miserable and austere. But he lived within those rules thinking that was the truth of life-one had to earn love, especially the love of God, everything depended on one’s actions, thoughts and one was never going to get ahead. Right relationships meant doing all the right things. Until one day he was reading scripture and saw something that he hadn’t before-no not a puppy in a famous painting-but the truth of God’s grace that had nothing to do with his own works, only God’s unconditional love. It so altered his entire worldview and relationship with God that he couldn’t unsee it or unhear it. And like all good revelations-he had to share it on the social media platform of his time, the cathedral door. Now this wasn’t the first time Ludder had done this, but this time it went viral. Other people couldn’t unsee it or unhear it either. Powers and principalities tried to get Ludder to go back to before, or admit that he altered it, photoshopped this revelation in some way, but he couldn’t and wouldn’t and others stood with him in this truth. He was so convicted that he changed his name to the Greek word for truth Eleuthera-or Luther.

The truth of God’s love and grace for all people that set Luther free from his enslavement to his ego and works, he unleashed on the world.  Luther wanted this truth of God’s word of grace accessible for all people and translated into the language of the people. The truth that set Luther free wasn’t freedom to do whatever he wanted but freedom to live as God created him, freedom from the lies he told himself about his worthlessness, freedom from the lies of the Church that his relationship with God was dependent in his obedience to the rules, freedom from the lies of the world that told him his value was in his status. Luther experienced the truth that Jesus speaks of in John: the truth that Jesus dwells with us in the world revealing God’s gifts and glory through Jesus, because God loves us, cares for us and wants to be with us above all else. Once we see this, we can’t unsee it and it changes how we see everything.

The truth of God’s grace also means that we can’t unsee or unhear that we are not in control, we can’t save ourselves, we can’t hide behind the lies that we tell ourselves that give us the illusion of power in our lives. We can’t unsee ourselves as slaves to the individual and corporate sins of culture, our own egos, our greed, our addictions to self-righteousness, status quo and comfort. We can’t unsee that we are caught in the lies of systemic racism, economic injustice, homophobia, and poverty. We can’t unsee the damage that we do to one another trying to live in the lies of the world and not the truth of freedom in Jesus. The truth that Jesus says sets us free, is a hard truth. One that we aren’t always sure that we can handle seeing or hearing. It’s a truth that freedom isn’t only about us and our ability to do whatever we want. It’s the truth that God’s grace demands we act for our neighbor in this freedom. The truth is that God’s grace is for us all, renews us all and connects us all. It’s a truth that calls us at OSLC to vision, wonder and risk how we will be what the community needs. It’s a truth that means we might do what the world might consider foolish, to serve our neighbor. Yep, it doesn’t always make sense, but God in God’s kingdom, it’s always worth it. This is the heart of Luther’s revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not freedom if it’s only about ourselves. God’s unending and unconditional grace in our lives transforms us from slaves to the lies of the world, to people free in grace to serve others with all that we have to the glory of God.

Reformation isn’t only a day-Luther wouldn’t want us to even celebrate today because reformation happens daily-it’s living our lives refusing to unsee or unhear the truth of God’s renewing grace at work in the world for all people. It’s boldly proclaiming and translating the truth for 21st century hearts, ears and eyes that in God through Jesus Christ, everything has changed and will keep changing for the sake of freeing God’s people and creation so that God’s promises will be made known in the world. This grace renews us all and the world, and we can’t unsee it or unhear it. Thanks be to God.

 

This Moment: A sermon on what lies ahead [Luke 9: 51-62] July 2, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 30, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts were Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9: 51-62

Children’s message: Gather the children and ask them about showing God’s love. In our reading from Galatians today, Paul gave examples of showing God’s love. Love, joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Fruit of the Spirit song.

Think back on a time that you had a moment of clarity-or a defining moment in your life-where you knew that everything from that moment forward would be different. It could be a joyful one such as an engagement, or the birth of a child. Or a promotion in your career. Or it could have been a painful moment, the death of someone beloved, or the ending a significant relationship.  Or getting fired, rejected or failing. In all these scenarios-positive or negative-there was a moment when you knew that you couldn’t go back to “before,” everything going forward would be different. One could argue that we have smaller moments like these in our daily lives, but we all have experienced what I would call watershed moments. Where one moment you are living one way and the next, well, everything might seem completely different..

Even when it’s a positive shift, it’s often frightening and so to cope, we try to use the skills and ideas from what we’ve always known to help us to make sense of what could be now ahead. But often what can happen is that those skills and ideas that worked before, now are woefully inadequate or simply not helpful. Such as you suddenly move to a new job of leadership and the relationships with the people on your team can no longer be the same as you have different responsibility and accountability. Or in the absence of a loved one, your routines are disrupted and altered. Daily rhythms are not the same. “The way it had always been” simply isn’t true any more.  It’s disorienting to not be able to predict what will happen going forward and it often means resetting your entire framework of living. In other words: the usual stuff ain’t workin’ and it’s time to reevaluate for the future. It might seem painful to shift but staying in what isn’t working has a pain of it’s own.

Our Luke text is such a watershed moment in the gospel, for Jesus and the disciples. Our passage today opens  simply and yet dramatically: “Jesus set his face to Jerusalem.” This sentence isn’t to tell us geographically where he is on the map. It’s not to mention that Jesus and the disciples will need to stock up on snacks and take a potty break before the next leg of the journey. No, it’s a watershed moment of what the rest of Jesus’ ministry will be like. He’s headed to Jerusalem, his death. He is no longer just the itinerant preacher who says mysterious things like love each other, feed each other, include one another. Now Jesus is serious. There is a sense of urgency to his mission-his days are numbered. Nothing else matters but this focus on Jerusalem and the cross. Traditions are moot, material possessions are a distraction and doing what has always been done won’t work going forward.

This is shift for the disciples that they don’t seem to get. Jesus sends some of  them ahead to the Samaritan town to do reconnaissance and take the temperature of the people there. Samaritans and the Jewish people didn’t get along as they both claimed different locations for the true worship of God-which you can imagine was problematic. So naturally, Jesus and his entourage are not well received. In response to rejection, James and John wanted to do what the prophet Elijah did to the worshippers of Baal: rain down fire and brimstone on them. But Jesus says nope-this isn’t what we’re about. That won’t work any more. We’re just going to move on and not worry about them. God’s bigger than all of this and we’ll leave it with God.

Then there are the three would-be followers who each say that they want to follow Jesus but with provisions, conditions and a recurring theme of “but first.” And Jesus each time is clear, those things that they have held dear-religious traditions, family, homes, security-no longer take priority over the mission of God. And maybe they never should have taken priority. But it’s easy to convince ourselves that those things are as important as the work of the kingdom or are the same thing as God’s mission. But in Luke 9, this is a moment of clarity as to what really matters.

The 21st century Church-Church universal-is at a watershed moment in history I believe and like the disciples, I know that I sometimes don’t get it. I want things to stay the same and yet we know, in the mainline protestant churches, attendance is declining, relevancy is waning and the cultural perception of the Christian Church is that we worry more about traditionalism than the kingdom. Theologian Jarslov Pelikan said “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Jesus isn’t against tradition-Jesus is reorienting the disciples and us to the reality that the tradition that we most need to adhere to is loving and serving God and neighbor. Rituals, sabbath rules, liturgies, worship services are fine, but they are not the traditions that Jesus most wants us to follow. Jesus understands that we like things to stay the same, but that when we try and keep things the same, it leads to changes that aren’t helpful. Will we cling to those things for the sake of our own security and self-satisfaction or will we shed those “but firsts” and get on the road with Jesus, dying to our own wants and comforts for the sake of the mission-God’s reconciliation and redemption of the entire world through the love of Jesus Christ? In Christ, we are free from whatever keeps us from truly participating in God’s mission. We are free from worrying about ourselves, which is really what the list of “desires of the flesh” in Galatians is about. When we get caught in ego and self-centeredness that list is what happens to us all. But we are free to live in the gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit-which are all about focusing on loving and serving God and neighbor and not ourselves.

This is the moment we find ourselves in as God’s Church in 2019. There is indeed urgency. Not to keep the doors open, not to keep the lights on, but to flood the world with this grace, hope and mercy. This mission of the Church matters, and perhaps is more important than ever in our world. And your participation no matter how young or old, no matter what gifts you think you may or may not have, matters. Jesus says so in our baptisms, Jesus says so in the cross and the empty tomb. People of God, our mission in this time and place matters deeply. We are in a watershed moment. Which is actually not new for Our Saviour’s. We’re in a moment like when Our Saviour’s first began ministry in 1960 and people stepped out on faith that this congregation would matter to the work of God’s kingdom in Salt Lake City. We are in a moment like when Our Saviour’s almost closed a few years later but people stepped out on faith and followed God’s mission. We are in a moment where Jesus is calling us to follow where nothing will be the same, where what we have clung to for security and safety over the years will no longer suffice, where the usual stuff we knew may not work, but the Holy Spirit will guide and reveal to us God’s  grace and promise to make all things new, and to walk with us into this newness even when we doubt, are scared and uncertain. It’s a watershed moment, life will be different going forward. But we’ve been here before and went forward into God’s future, open to the newness that God offered.  Once again, we set our faces to Jesus to be on the road with him, free from what holds us back, and free to be part of the work of the kingdom of God. Thanks be to God.

 

“Who Are You?” Sermon on Reformation and Repentance October 31, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church at Cherry Hills Village, CO on October 28, 2018. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

The texts were Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Romans 3: 19-28 and John 8: 31-36.

Gather the children after the reading of the gospel. Put on the Halloween Cat ears headband! “I love Halloween! It’s fun to pretend to be someone or something else, isn’t it? What are you all going for as Halloween? Wow! Great ideas! Do you ever or did you when you were younger, play dress up? Why do you think it’s fun to be someone different, or try something new? Yep! It’s fun to explore different pieces of our selves, be silly and have fun! But I can wear cat ears all day long and I’ll never be a cat! But have you ever pretended to be someone you’re not to be someone’s friend or have people like you? Or do you hide something about yourself so that people will think that you are a certain way? Such as pretending to like a song, or movie or an activity? Or even pretending to NOT like someone or something? How do you feel when you aren’t really being yourself? Is it hard? We all do this, even or maybe especially adults. If you’re pretending to be someone you’re not, you have to remember to act a certain way, to say certain things all the time and it can feel like your caught in only pretending and not the truth of who you are. Jesus was talking to some people who were pretending to be someone they weren’t. They told Jesus that they were children of Abraham, and forgot some of their past. You see they were really people of God. They had forgotten the truth that they were God’s people and should be acting like God’s people by taking care of and loving each other. The truth is that no matter who we pretend to be: whether is for fun for Halloween or we’re trying to fit in with friends, is that we are children of God first and God loves us always. And the makes us free from worrying about who will like us or not, or who we should be nice to or not because as children of God, who are always loved, then who do we love? Everyone! So that they know the truth of who they are and that they are free in love too! God gives this gift to us all no matter what! I do really love Halloween because it’s silly and fun. So, here’s a little Halloween treat for each of you. But first let’s pray.

As we talked about with the kids, it’s easy to want to pretend to be something we’re not. Many of us probably have stories of pretending to be someone we weren’t. When I was in the 7th grade, I spent about a week pretending I didn’t need glasses. I am very near sighted and a couple of other issues, and I spent a week not being able to see more than about 2 feet in front of me. But you see, I wanted to be someone else, one of the popular kids at school, and none of the cool, popular kids wore glasses and so it seemed to fit in, I shouldn’t either. Now, it turns out, neither did they play the violin, like Barry Manilow as much as I did, were 4 ft 8, were in advanced classes, or were as church nerdy as I was, but somehow I thought my lack of being with the popular kids had to do with my glasses….yeah. I tried to be something I actually wasn’t and, according to my children, will never be: cool. Nope. No matter how hard I try. I’ll always be a bit nerdy, straight laced, blaring Barry down I-25. I was hoping our hymn of the day could be Copacabana…But it’s who I truly am and I did indeed have friends, friends who knew my heart and liked me for who I was, glasses and all.

Part of being human is experimenting and wrestling with our identity, who we see ourselves to be, who we aspire to be, what we want others to see about us. We convince ourselves that our true selves aren’t lovable and that no one will like us as we really are. We want to belong, even if it means not being true to ourselves, owning our identity and revealing our heart. And this can enslave us in many ways.

And it should be no surprise that this struggle unfolds in our biblical witness. The Israelites have this identity crisis in spades in our John passage this morning, and we don’t have time in one sermon to unpack it. But let’s suffice to sum it up this way: When they tried to be anyone other than the people of God, it went awry, as it does for us all. Slaves in Egypt, captured by Assyria and Babylon, destruction of the temple, occupation by Rome. It’s a mess. Oh no, we’ve never been slaves, they tell Jesus. I sometimes wonder how many times Jesus rolled his eyes and if he ever worried that they might stick that way. RIIIIIGGHHHTTTTT, you’ve never been slaves. Ok. Fine. Then who are you? Are you more concerned with your image or with your relationship with God? Because God is more concerned about a relationship with you, than anything else, Jesus says, to those whom John simply called the Jews, but were probably some of the religious elite. And we should be careful to not think disparagingly of them, as are we no better in this kind of self-deceit? This is why Jesus is trying to reveal to them and us that our true identity as a child of God, even with a bumpy past, is truly our freedom. This is the freedom that Martin Luther came to know after years of trying to be something he could never be: a person who never sinned. This truth of simply being a beloved child of God, free from fear of displeasing God, free from trying to earn God’s love, and free from rules from the Church, spurred Luther to proclaim this epiphany to all who would listen. Luther didn’t want people to confuse church with God and that being the best cobbler, farmer, parent, or whatever, is doing God’s work in the world. We are free in God’s grace to be whomever God calls us to be and no one should judge. But even Luther recognized that “freedom” is tricky.

Freedom in God’s kingdom is very different than our western, 21st century concept of freedom. Freedom isn’t about self-realization, self sufficiency, individuality or the ability to do whatever you want. Freedom isn’t only about you and you alone. Freedom is linked to relationship with God and so also to your neighbor. Freedom is vulnerability to show your heart, to admit that you need renewal, and to simply be you. You, and each of us, created in the image of God. Freedom is belonging to community, in God’s family, as Jesus says. Jesus shows us that freedom means revealing who we truly are as God’s people. We are people freed to feed, clothe and house those who are unhoused, to comfort those who come to our land seeking safety, peace and a better future. Jesus shows us that freedom is ensuring that our siblings are not harmed or erased by racism, anti-Semitism, or homophobia. Jesus always included in God’s grace people whom the rest of the world dismissed, freeing them from labels and marginalization. Jesus was clear that true freedom is to adhere to the law of love, not just of self, but of your neighbor. Our first graders have spent the last two weeks learning about this freedom in the law of love and will share that today in worship. True freedom is to allow God’s love and grace to transform and reform our hearts and lives daily for the sake of the world. We pray with our Jewish siblings, as we all lament the senseless loss of life of 11 beloved children of God. We must also confess the sin of anti-Semitism that has been perpetuated in the past by our denomination and reform ourselves to do so no more.  May our hearts and lives be transformed and reformed so that we all seek peace, harmony and the abundant life that Jesus offers for all people.

This is heart of the Reformation story from our past and for the Reformation story that we continue to write today. Reformation isn’t a historical action that is completed but is a truth about God’s continuing actions in our lives and in the world today. Reformation is the truth of the soul of God’s Church on earth. Reformation demands that we stop pretending to be anyone but whom God created us to be. Reformation demands that we pour our gifts and hearts into the world despite the risk, despite fear, despite differences, to reveal our true identity as imperfect, broken yet beloved people of God, called to invite all people have an experience of this God who gifts grace, love and mercy unconditionally. Reformation is an invitation to all people to trust in the promises and freedom in God. God’s promises free us to be Reformation people, always being made new, so that we can live into the truth of who we are, and whose we are. As God promised in Jeremiah, God will always be our God and we will always be God’s people, we simply can’t be anyone else. And it’s enough. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Who’s afraid of a little Reformation? Oct. 26th, 2014, Year A October 26, 2014

I’m going to share a secret with all of you….we live in a fear based culture. Are you shocked? No? Well fear is everywhere (Ebola anyone?) and we know that fear can also be a great motivator.  Fear can make us prudent and propel us to make good and healthy changes. Fear helps us to remember that we should wash our hands more often or that we should wear our seatbelts. We teach our children to not walk into on-coming traffic, or to not get into a car with someone they don’t know. A little bit of fear can be correcting and provide healthy boundaries. But unfortunately, for humans, if a little bit is good, than we assume that a lot must be better! So our fear spirals out of control until, ironically, fear controls everything that we do.  Fear can have power in our lives that changes our thoughts and behaviors and tells us a false story of who we are in the world.

So what are some of our collective fears? Loneliness, disease, financial struggles, unworthiness, war, death, messing up, rejection, etc. While we tend to think that the things we are afraid of are unique, they are universal aren’t they? We put up a façade to try and mask our fears from others, for “fear” of being seen as unstable, irrational or needy. What are some ways that culture tells us to respond to these fears? Buy more, do more, pretend more, dress in a certain way, food, alcohol, excessive exercise, be a certain shape or size, look a prescribed way, make sure you have enough for yourself, drive a certain car, live in a certain house, etc. The story that fear tells us is that we are alone, we don’t measure up, we must try harder and we must be who others want us to be.

This story of fear obviously isn’t new in the history of humanity. Fear has written stories of wars, words of hurt, self centered decisions, prejudice, and labeling. Fear can override every other emotion in us and cause us to act in a way that is not consistent with whom we actually are. So the question arises, what are we to do with the very real presence of fear in our lives? Fear is probably not going away.

This is the core of what a monk named Martin Luther wrestled with his whole life. He knew the story of fear by heart. He was terrified by the thought that he was not and would never be good enough for God to love him. He was terrified that God did see into his heart and knew that he was a fraud, a deviant, a nothing, a worm. Martin was terrified of his inability to control all of his thoughts, words and deeds. He was terrified that his own shortcomings, lack of knowledge, inabilities separated him from God and that there would never be enough self-flagellation, penance, or prayers to put him in right relationship with God. I know that Martin was not and still is not alone in his terror.

So Luther searched. He searched for anything that might relieve him of this terror and how he could make himself right with God. We tend to think this day as the pivotal moment of church reformation and all about Luther nailing 95 things that ticked him off about the Roman Church. But that event was actually not at all pivotal in Luther’s life or what the reformation was about. The Reformation was not about institutional church. It was about so much more than anything human or earthly. Luther’s pivotal moment came while reading Romans 1:17, which in my Lutheran Study Bible is under the heading “The Power of the Gospel.” Paul writes “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Those words in Romans at first deepened Luther’s terror as he fixated on the “righteousness of God,” and knew he fell short. He even wrote that this passage made him angry at God, as it made God a bully in his mind, just hanging out waiting to condemn us the second we mess up. But then he was struck by the phrase: “the one who is righteous will live by faith.” Luther had what he called a conversion moment (so yes, as a Lutheran we can have conversion stories!) and he realized that faith had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God. Righteousness, being in right relationship with God, had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God. Salvation had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God through God’s son Jesus Christ. None of this was about Luther-it was all about God. It was a story of love and freedom that God had begun at the beginning of time and was continuing to write in Luther and in us all.

This freed Luther from his fear. It allowed the power of the good news of the love of God to transform him, to reform him and allow him to live his life fully in the promises of God. This is the heart of Luther’s reformation. He had this amazing story of good news that fear has no real power in our lives because God freely gives with love the promises of righteousness, grace, mercy and eternal life no matter what we do or say, and he couldn’t keep it to himself. He was freed in his life to do what mattered without fear of the possible worldly consequences of bucking the system, because he had this truth of the promises of God that are more powerful than any earthly promise or truth.

Today we, too, are recipients of this rich story of freedom, promises and transformation. Reformation Sunday is not about how the institutional church changed 500 years ago or about how the institutional church should change now. But it IS about how God is everyday reforming us-the people of God who are the living church in the world-making us new, and calling us to be free to do what matters in the world, without fear. This is the tapestry of God’s story of freedom, mercy, love and desire for relationship with us that weaves through time to all of those who have heard the story and are rooted in the story. The story of God’s grace wove its way through Luther’s life and is weaving its way into our lives and the lives of everyone today and the days to come. This story has power to transform our lives to free us do what matters.

Arianna is affirming her belief in these promises today and she is proclaiming that she is free to live in God’s story as a beloved child of God.  She is affirming that this power of God’s love and grace transforms her life everyday and for the rest of her life. The verse she chose for today is Joshua 1:9, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Wherever her life takes her, God’s story of love and grace are a part of her story forever.

This is what reformation means. Do not fear, do what matters, God is with you always creating you new. How will you live your life free from fear and transformed by the power of God’s promises? How does your story and God’s story weave together in a way that, like Luther, you can’t keep this transformation to yourself but need to let everyone know that God created us in God’s image, God loves us no matter what we do or say, that God meets us in our fear and says I will never leave you and God will transform us each and every day? There is power in this story: power to transform our fears into hope, power to transform me, you and all of creation for the sake of God’s love being revealed to all. Amen