A Lutheran Says What?

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

Being Offended and God’s Story of Grace John 6: 56-69 Pentecost 13B, August 23rd, 2015 August 23, 2015

If you're going to be offended all the time. maybe the internet isn't the place fot you

 

We are people who get offended pretty easily it seems. I saw a meme on FB, a random picture with a pithy statement, that was Star Trek The Next Generation’s Captain Picard with the words, “If you’re going to be offended all of the time, maybe the internet isn’t for you.” I got a chuckle out of that, as how many of us can knock out going from “ohhing and awwwing” over cute cat videos one minute  to being  absolutely incensed the next minute by someone’s opinion on politics, war, poverty, religion or Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. I mean really, are they going to name this next baby South West to go with her sister North West? But I digress. We enter into any conversation, situation and environment (virtual or actual) with a preconceived set of ideas about the world according to us. We have to admit that we all have a story that we tell ourselves and live into that shapes how our lives should be, how our interactions with one another should be, even how people around us should be. We have an awful lot of “should’s” if we’re completely honest.  

We are bombarded all day long with other people trying to tell us stories of who we are and what we should be too. Media tells us the story that we aren’t rich enough, smart enough, thin enough, successful enough, strong enough, etc. We are told stories at work or school of what we need to learn or change about ourselves in order to fit in, or make others happy. We internalize these stories and begin to believe them. We filter all of our actions and interactions through these stories that may or may not even be true. We allow others-including other people we don’t even know- to write our story. These stories that we are told from the culture all have one thing at their core and foundation: they are written on the premise of fear. These are stories that are intentional about striking fear into us, often under the guise of being motivational, or good for us or what we really need to hear. So we become people of the story of fear; fear of being alone, not enough, and fear of not  being lovable. We internalize these stories of fear and perpetuate and transfer our fear onto other people. We don’t want to be alone in this fear, so we ensure that others are just as fearful as we ourselves.

The crowds that had been gathered around Jesus throughout this long discourse in John 6 are receiving Jesus’ words and message through the filter of the story that they told themselves in order to make sense of their world. We read that Jesus was in the synagogue telling the large crowd of his disciples (the assumption here is that there were more than the 12 who had been following Jesus, this was a group who had probably been following him for a little while) about how Jesus (as God incarnate) would dwell, abide, with them always if they ate his flesh and drank his blood. This story did not even come close to jiving with what they knew of God from the Torah and the story from Exodus about manna from heaven. (Not to mention the cannibalistic undertones!)That story was one of finitude, the Israelites still died as that bread was only about their physical bodies. Jesus was telling them a sequel to that story, that God was doing a new thing in Jesus. God was writing a story of gathering all people to God through Jesus. God was expanding the story from being about only abiding with those of Israelite descent to abiding with all of creation.   

That was not the story that some of these people knew or with which they were comfortable. The story they knew was that some were in and some were out of God’s kingdom depending on if they followed the rules. In John 3, Nicodemus had also struggled with this when Jesus told him that God loved the whole world. But Jesus is pointing out that the only rule is that Jesus is for anyone and everyone. Through simple bread and wine, not complex rules, Jesus gathers everyone to God  and offers life with God forever. This would be a story that would be difficult to hear and internalize indeed. If God declares everyone part of God’s redemption, then what about their story that they had been living with all of their lives that they had to act and think a certain way for God to love them? What did that mean for them? Were they not as special as they thought? Is there enough of God’s love, mercy and grace to go around if we’re now including everyone-even people with a radically different story from themselves? This was not only difficult for those gathered with Jesus in the synagogue that day; it’s difficult for us today.

It can be offensive to us that someone that we don’t like, don’t agree with or don’t understand could receive the same love, grace and acceptance from God that we do.  But here’s what I think offends us even more: that God’s story of unconditional love, grace and mercy is OUR STORY no matter what we say or do. That God declares that the stories we tell ourselves that are egged on by the narcissistic, fearful culture are null and void. It’s offensive to us that God’s story overrides whatever story we tell ourselves and it’s God’s story that changes us, not anything we ourselves do. God’s story transforms our stories and writes anew each and every day on our hearts the truth-the whole beautiful, yet painful and often self-shattering truth that our fear does not free us, our actions are not what save us and our thoughts are not the story that God tells about us.

God’s grace through Jesus Christ is indeed offensive! It arrives right smack dab in the middle of whatever story we are living with and declares that the only story that matters is the one that God tells. Period. But it’s not the end, it’s only the beginning. God’s story is that of coming to dwell with us in the very messy, and offensive flesh of a human being.  God’s story is Jesus revealing that God dwells with us and in us and in all people. Bread, wine and word are not only about sustenance for today, but when ingested not just through our mouths but through our hearts is God’s story literally inside of us, transforming us. God transforms us from worrying about ourselves to living for and with our neighbors. We are transformed from the inside out-to reach out to those different from us, to offer our time at Habitat, Ronald McDonald House, or Denver Rescue Mission. Or to stop and take the time to know and care for those in our community whom we know that no one else will take the time for. Transformed to truly love those we find unlovable, maybe even ourselves.

These teachings that transform us are difficult to accept-they are risky because they rewrite our story. It might seem easier to keep walking in our story and not continue in God’s story-the world wants you to think so. But even when we might think we can choose to go away, Jesus stays with us. Peter had a sense of this, that even if he left, Jesus wouldn’t leave him. It wasn’t that Peter had more faith, or knew the secret handshake with Jesus that gave him the inside scoop, but Peter had watched Jesus over and over go to people whom the rest of the world found offensive and offered them life with God.

Peter was hearing the story-the words of eternal life-the story of God doing a new thing and Peter was resting in the hope that this story was true because the story that the world had sold him about his life up to this point, only brought certain death, rejection and a lifetime of fear. Peter was willing to see what the next chapter of this story might be, because Jesus was telling a story that offered hope for the journey, accompaniment for the road, abundant life and most importantly, the promises of God to never leave him and to love him forever.

Lord of the Hills, to whom shall we go? Jesus is telling us a story right here, right now of eternal life, telling us a story of generosity, a story of abundance, a story of being enough and having enough. God’s story is smack dab in the middle of our story as a congregation. Lord of the Hills, to whom shall we tell this rich and achingly beautiful, yet offensive story? We know it by heart as we hear it over and over each week. We heard the story of God’s redemption and claiming in water at Eleanor’s baptism, we hear the story of God’s actions for liberation from sin and death at Holy Communion, and we hear the story of God’s love and grace as we gather together for coffee after worship. We experience the story of God’s promises for presence and eternal life now and forever each and every day, with each breath and heartbeat, for Jesus is the Holy One of God. It’s a best story ever told and we live it with God everyday. Amen.

 

Does God wear dangly earrings? November 18, 2013

So I have to admit that I rarely, if ever, listen to “Christian music.” It’s fine, I suppose, but I find that most of the music on the common Christian music stations lacks depth, authenticity and is trite. (Plus, musically its typically uninspired.) Most of it is also written by people who have conservative and fundamentalist religious leanings. So what that means is that there is nearly exclusively “Father God,” language and God is male in this music . Period.
Now, you might ask me, “Brigette does that really matter? Of course women are created in God’s image. It’s just easier and more comfortable (or less controversial) to use “he” to refer to God. Don’t stir up trouble or be one of those female pastors.” Well, I don’t want to be obnoxious, but I think I actually might be one of those female pastors. And I don’t care.
I talk to many women who nearly all have some piece of their growing up in some church (denomination doesn’t always matter but there are some that are more consistently misogynist than others) who no matter how educated and intelligent, still harbor a feeling of not really equal to men and not really created in the image of God the same way that males are. I know because I am also one of them. Now, I was brought up in the Lutheran church but God was clearly explained to me as male in one breath and then in the next told “but girls are made in God’s image too.” So I am kinda a “he?” Or does God like nail polish, high heels, skirts and dangly earrings too?
The music that I tend to listen to can best be categorized as alternative I suppose. I resonate with Tori Amos, Sarah Mclachan, Alannis Morrisette and Natalie Merchant. All women who write music and words about being female, owning one’s femininity and sexuality and what that means for spirituality. They have a particular voice expressing who they are and their experience in the world: struggling, questioning, lamenting, loving, celebrating. No sappy “if you just believe in God then everything is alright.” Everything is not always alright.
Tori Amos in particular works out much angst in her music. Her father was a fundamentalist Christian pastor and she was brought up that God is male, her sexuality was not of God, wrong, that women cause men to stray and it is women’s responsibility to keep men in line. She explores ideas such as how Mary Magdalene was a scape goat, God needing a woman (great song called “God”), the tendency for women to believe everything a man tells them about themselves, social norms around women and sexuality, religion and sexuality and how at the end of the day, men and women fall into the same cultural traps with one another. She points out the lasting danger of women thinking that if God is male and male is God, then a man can save you if you are a woman. Then when that doesn’t ultimately work out, somehow you must have messed up.
I don’t want to be an extreme feminist but I have seen study after study that let us know that if girls hear only male language for God, then they don’t truly believe that they are made from the divine, even if they are told that is true. Are we, as the Church, setting up girls to have low self-esteem and fall for every line some boy tells them? I do not want this for my daughter or my son. I want them to know that they are both equally created in God’s image, as is the girl my son might someday date and the boy my daughter is currently dating (yes, she has a boyfriend, prayers are welcome).
What I really long for is for this conversation to no longer be relevant. I look for the day when no one thinks twice that I am a pastor (or when my kids say they are PK’s the assumption is not that it is their dad), that religion and God are not used to keep anyone (gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.) “in-line” or in a certain position in society. I don’t like that I have to point out the exclusively male language. If you come to my church, you will find that I do use male language; I am not against it. But I also use other images and nouns for God-female, creator, redeemer, sustainer, comforter, sender, savior, mother, father, rock.
I have many wonderful men in my life (my husband for one!) who treat me as a complete equal, whom I cannot imagine life without and I don’t want to diminish who they are in the life of God either. This is not about one against the other. It is about radical equality that perhaps we as broken people are not even capable of. I am aware of that possibility. This could be as good as it gets. But I am more optimistic than that. I believe that God is moving among us and that he/she wants us to live in radical love, equality, mercy and grace. As people of God, we are capable of this sort of relationship with one another. We can ensure that men and women both view themselves as God sees them: good enough as they are, equally lovable, whole and redeemable.