A Lutheran Says What?

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

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

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

diver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Who’s Image? Mark 12: 13-17 October 11, 2015 October 12, 2015

Denarius

*This week is the first week out of six, of focusing on discipleship at Lord of the Hills Lutheran Church in Centennial, CO. We are expanding our stewardship focus to recognize that generosity is a spiritual practice and part of being made in the image of God. We will be using alternate texts to the Revised Common Lectionary.

The Question about Paying Taxes

13 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

On Friday evening I attended the annual New Beginnings ministry fundraiser dinner gala. New Beginnings is a congregation that worships inside the walls of the Women’s Denver Correctional Facility. I have attended worship there a couple of times and each time I am left speechless and in awe of these women who have, through many different paths and circumstances, have landed behind bars. They have made bad choices; they broke the law; they harmed others and themselves. Yet, as they walk into the cafeteria turned worship area, sit in plastic chairs and suddenly they are like any other congregation of God’s people gathered for worship. They are in desperate need of forgiveness, they are in desperate need of love, they are in desperate need of newness; they are in desperate need of Jesus.

These women had tried creating an identity for themselves on the outside that ultimately landed them on the inside. They wanted others to see them in a certain way; they wanted to see themselves a certain way. Image is important when it seems that’s all we have left. Maybe it was the image of being tough, hardened, daring or risky. Maybe they had been told that they were not good, that they couldn’t be anything other than broken, worthless, and lawless. I am always struck by how many of these women aren’t that different from you or me. Perhaps the biggest difference is simply luck, a bit more of a stable family or a few more resources available. These visits of worshiping with the women at New Beginnings, always humble me with all of the privileges and resources that I have that allowed me to make better decisions. We all make poor decisions from time to time, but we have to admit that it’s our context in which we have been immersed that boundaries us. Our view of ourselves partially dictates if our decisions have the potential to land us incarcerated or not. If we are in a context that says we have agency, choice, dignity and worth, we are less likely to take away someone else’s agency, choice, dignity or worth. To whom do we truly belong? A family, a gang, or no one? And what is our true identity?

The world wants us to have and to uphold a certain image: one of wealth, power, status, beauty. We are bombarded each and every day with what we should look like, act like, believe, do, and say. Some of those things are fine and can be life giving. Some of those concepts are ones that tug at our core, that mask who we really are, that deny the pieces of ourselves that hold to a different standard of beauty, power and status.

Just like we heard last week, the Pharisees, once again come to try and trap Jesus. What is it with people who won’t give up trying to get you to be who they want you to be or try and pick at you until every flaw is revealed? This time the Pharisees and Herod’s people were looking for Jesus to denounce the emperor. Now, in the Roman Empire the Emperor was also called Lord, as he was considered a god. To denounce Caesar is to denounce a deity and is punishable by death. Jesus knew this, of course, and also knew the reality of the image of him with the leadership: he was a rabble rouser, a controversial figure, a dissenting voice, but could they also get him to live into an image of a criminal needing punishment?

Jesus saw that the Pharisees, Herod’s people, the crowds, and even the disciples were already trapped; trapped by the world’s economy of keeping up with the Joneses, falling in line with what someone else told you, belonging to an empire, belonging to a system that dictates who you are and what you should try and be. Jesus astutely asks: “Whose head (or image in the Greek) is this?” Of course they answered, “The emperor’s image.” By using the word “image” Jesus is pointing back to Genesis 1-the creation story where humans are made in God’s image. Humans only belong to God, not to a political system, not to a certain economic system, not to a church system, not to any other organization-just God.

The difficulty comes in when we attempt to separate parts of our lives as religious and parts of our lives as secular. We don’t recognize that all people are created in God’s image and belong to God-Criminals, politicians, dictators, those in government, economics and other seemingly ungodly systems. We like to think that we can predict whom and what God loves. Author Anne Lamott writes, “You can safely assume that you’ve created a God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all of the same people that you do.” God creates us, not the other way around and we belong to God, and not the other way around. There is nothing that doesn’t belong to God in our lives. Nothing. God who created the whole earth and universe out of nothingness, declared it good, also declared that everything is part of the very life and heart of God. It’s difficult for us to remember that the people we dislike, the systems we dislike, the organizations that we dislike, also belong to God.

Jesus back and forth on what seems to be about paying taxes, what we do with our money, is really about reorienting the disciples and us to the fact that we cannot separate any part of our lives from God, not our daily lives, not our possessions, not our relationships, and not our money. Our worth to God is simply that we are God’s: not what we wear, not what we own, not what we do, not what we say. Whatever image of ourselves we are trying to project to the rest of the world that isn’t rooted in belonging to fully to God will ultimately lead us to confusion, sorrow and brokenness. I heard stories Friday night that drove that point home. It was only when the women at New Beginnings truly embraced that the only image that matters is that of being in God’s image was when healing, wholeness and clarity began to take root. God’s image included forgiveness, grace, love and most importantly hope.

Living as someone created in the image of love and belonging to the source of that love, God, is powerful. Being in God’s image reminds us that it is God  who is worthy and so we and all people have ultimate worth to God.  It transforms every relationship in our lives;  from relationships with other people, to our relationship with how we share our time and passion for God, to our relationships with our material resources. It transforms our lives from segregation to wholeness where the promise of unconditional love, grace, and hope of Christ permeate each and every second of our lives. These promises from God that began when God blew Holy Spirit breathe into adamma, transform all of creation into the very life of God, where we participate in offering our whole selves, all aspects of our lives for the revealing of God’s kingdom.

In this transformation, we withhold nothing, as God has withheld nothing from us. We answer the invitation into a life of prayer, study, service, generosity, and worship not because it improves our image or gets us anything-what God gives God gives freely-but to invite everyone we come into contact with into the transformation of knowing that the only image that matters is one of being made in the image of God. Give to the world what is the world’s-give back the fear, anxiety, greed, scarcity and hopelessness and give to God what is God’s-joy, abundance, generosity, hope and your whole self. You are God’s precious child, now and forever. Amen.

 

It Never Ends #itsagoodthing #itsaGodthing John 6: 1-21 Pentecost 9B July 26, 2015 July 26, 2015

One of the principles of teaching, especially younger children, is repetition, repetition, repetition. When I was a director of a preschool, I had some parents who wanted their children to come five mornings a week, which was fine, I was clear that the curriculum would be the same. They often then said, “oh maybe my child will get bored.” But those of us who have spent any time around young children know that they will want you to read the same book over and over, play the same game with them over and over, sing the same songs over and over, and watch the same video over and over.  So we patiently (mostly!) reread the books to them, replay the games, and yes tolerate the same song or video over and over. If you’re lucky, you’ll like some of these activities too! Repetition is how our brains gain mastery over a skill or a concept. Now repetition is not necessarily the exact same thing over and over all the time. It can also be variations on a theme that broaden and deepen our mastery of a skill, or even expand our knowledge within that skill set.

I am a violinist and the old joke of “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!” is correct! I would practice scales, then etudes based on the scales, then I could play harder and harder pieces that the scales and etudes I had practiced hours and hours prepared me for. All of the hours spent in a practice room, often came along with me in daily life. I would hum the pieces, listen to them on tapes (!) and of course the music would get stuck in my head! As a music major, I lived, breathed and ate music. If you want to get good at something, you need to do it over and over, learning nuances of the skill, until it becomes second nature and part of who you are. Young brains are not the only brains that benefit from repetition for mastery of a skill, those of us who are “a bit older” benefit as well; the more that we see or do something, the better, the more it sticks with us. Professionals in any field will tell you that they have to keep practicing; they have completely immersed themselves in their craft.

This fact is one that has been true from the beginning of creation. The Bible is God’s story of meeting humanity over and over with God’s words and signs of love and reconciliation. God rescuing the Israelites through the Red Sea, God sustaining them in the desert with manna, God giving boundaries for living as community,  God revealing God’s work through prophets, God being present in all times and in all places, in exile, in restoration, in the rebuilding of the temple. God tells us the story, sings us the songs and reveals signs of God’s presence over and over and over. God created us to need repetition, to see and hear the story from all of these different experiences. God reveals what God is up to in so many different ways, including revealing Godself in the earthy, fleshy, and tangible Jesus, who walked in our midst as another repetition of God’s love for the whole world.

We have this story that we have heard over and over of Jesus feeding large crowds of people. It is repeated in every gospel. We know it well. It would be simple to reduce our John story today to be about feeding the hungry, proclaiming God’s generosity and abundance in the witness of our human tendency for scarcity, fear of what we don’t understand or Jesus who offers us miracles of God’ power.  This witness from John is also those things and those are important concepts to consider: We have enough, God provides and so share! But I figured you might already know that and would want more than an eight word sermon.

Here is what the true miracle is about with these two seemingly unconnected stories of bread, fish and water: God through Jesus is singing to us again a song in a different key, so that we might see and hear again, God’s work of love and reconciliation in the world. The writer of John begins this story with the reminder of all of the signs that Jesus has already shown the people. In the signs, Jesus is revealing to the disciples and to the crowds,  that once again that God is doing a new piece based on an old scale. Our 2 Kings reading this morning is an echo of Jesus feeding the people on the grass, with the question of “Is there enough for all?” and the resounding response from God of “Yes!” ringing in our ears. God never gives up on breaking into our ever day lives with abundant love.

This story is one witness of our need to practice gratitude for God’s presence and generosity, to practice being part of a larger crowd, to practice knowing that nothing is simply a left over, everything has value and is not wasted in God’s kingdom, to practice waiting for Jesus and not ditching him (does that bother anyone else?),  to practice remembering that Jesus comes to us no matter where we are, and to practice not being afraid. Like the disciples, no matter how much we see God, experience God and encounter God, we forget and rely on our own abilities, what we think we have or don’t have and we think that we can just leave Jesus somewhere on the shore while we head out to sea.

We gather together each Sunday to practice all of these things-and they are a lot! We practice being in community, praying, abundance, generosity, gratitude, hearing the story and being in Christ’s presence. We practice in this space, it’s like our practice room, so that we when we leave, prayer, generosity, hospitality, love, abundance and the story of God’s work in and through Jesus Christ, is second nature and is a little more stuck in our heads, in our hearts and in our actions.

Each time we practice, we hear the story a new way, we encounter Christ in bread, wine, in water, or in the word, we immerse ourselves in the life and love of Christ and this love from God  is part of who we are and can’t help but to spill out into the whole world. This week we will host and invite the community and families into our practicing of love, generosity, abundance and gratitude through VBS.  The worry of enough room will give way to laughter and close bonds shared, worry of enough snacks will give way to leftovers, fear of things not going just as planned will give way to Jesus coming to us and saying “It is I. Don’t be afraid!”   We will all encounter Christ in yet another way that will add to our understanding, we will repeat the stories, the songs and the love of God being revealed in our midst. We will tell the story to one another of God’s abundance, love and how God calls us to immerse ourselves everyday with the practices of repetition of prayers, gratitude, love and generosity of all that God has first given us.

God repeats those themes in us and promises to reveal over and over how we are forgiven, we are loved and how we are sent to share over and over with the whole world that there is enough, there are leftovers-always room for more-and God is with us in every time and in every place. God promises to immerse us with signs of love, generosity, grace and hope today, tomorrow and forever.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll never be bored with the repetition of that story. 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.