A Lutheran Says What?

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

It’s Been a Year Sermon on Ephesians 2 March 12, 2021

This sermon was offered to the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 14, 2021, one year after the COVID19 shutdown. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Numbers 21:4-9
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Children’s message: Have a battery operated candle or flashlight. Have the batteries out or placed incorrectly so that it doesn’t work. Say, “It’s been a long year hasn’t it? It’s been a year of learning about stuff we never knew like social distancing, masks, vaccines and so much more! I’ve learned how much I miss all of you for one thing! I miss singing with you, dancing with you, playing games and praising Jesus with you! What have you learned this year? I’ve also learned that being alone is hard and that being alone isn’t what God wants for us and our lives. It made me think of this battery operated candle. When the batteries are out or not in correctly, it doesn’t work. It can’t work without the power from the batteries. But when the batteries are in place and correctly connected, it lights up! Then we can see clearly around us. In our Ephesians story today, Paul is writing to people about how we live together. How we have to act how God acts with love and grace. Kind like how the batteries and the candle all have to work together to give light.  If we’re not connected to each other and God, we can’t give off light for others to see God’s love and grace. That’s why we gather, even on Youtube or Zoom, to connect to God, to remember that God will love us forever no matter what and that is what grace is. AND God wants us to live together, our way of life, in this same forever love and grace. Think about how you can shine with God’s love this week! We’re going to keep talking about this….

It’s been a year. It’s been a year since our whole way of life was disrupted.  It’s been a year since we’ve worshiped in person in the sanctuary together. It’s been a year of hardship, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, turmoil, revelations, transformations and learning. It’s been a year for me of doing ministry in a way that I never imagined. It’s been a year of digital worship, or small groups outside. Many, many phone calls, texts and FaceBook messenger. It’s been a year of difficult conversations as we navigate differing perspectives and experiences. It’s been a year of clarifying what really matters, how we care for one another and our neighbors. It’s been a year that has revealed where our society is healthy, and where it most certainly is not. It’s been a year for me, of gratitude for you the beloved people of OSLC and all who have partnered with us. It’s been a year where I witnessed your compassion, generosity, graciousness, and love for one another and myself. (And as an aside, oh my how I love you all and I’m so grateful for God to have called me here!) It’s been a year, and now we embark on another year, another Lent, another Easter of navigating something new, a new way of life.

It’s not what we imagined, wanted or bargained for. We yearn to go back to the way life was just a little over a year ago, before we knew what was to be, before we knew the hardship, the sickness, the death, the fear. We yearn to go back to when we were comfortable, or at least thought we were. But the truth is that COVID19 wasn’t the true reason for our hardship, it was the catalyst, but we were all experiencing a sickness of one sort or another before March of 2020. We were and still are, soul sick. We were already afraid of the future, even when we thought that future didn’t entail a deadly pandemic. We were afraid of how the world was changing, how we were changing, how we weren’t in control. We were already suspicious of our neighbor and the decisions they made. We were already competing for resources, power and privilege.

The truth is that COVID19 revealed that our way of life, wasn’t working. COVID19 revealed a crisis, a need to re-evaluate how we live together and what it means to live in response to God’s grace. There were a few voices that tried to assert that COVID19 was God’s judgment against some group of people with whom the disagreed, that God was condemning non-Christians, or LBGTQIA+ folks, or people who wanted to allow immigrants across our borders, or some other made-up distinction and compartmentalizing of human beings. But as Jesus tells Nicodemus in their cover of darkness meeting, God doesn’t condemn the world or the people whom God lovingly created. God’s judgment, the crisis, is that God desperately loves us and creation and desires nothing more than for us to love God and each other. God sending Jesus into the world to live in our midst as one of us, is a sign of this love, for God’s desire for abiding connection with us. Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ raised on cross for the world to behold the power of sin, Jesus raised from the dead for the world to behold God’s “no” to death, and Jesus’ raised to God’s side, for the world to behold that heaven and earth are connected, are one in the life and Kin-dom of God and separation is no more.
And this is all a gift from God freely given, God’s grace is given despite our actions or inaction. Through the faith of Jesus, the trust in God’s will and desire, we are connected to this flow of love for the world. And God wants love to be our way of life, Paul writes to the Ephesians. Quit worrying about yourselves, your salvation, it’s already done. Your way of life in now one of response to God’s grace and love. Yes, this is a disruption of how we are living now. Yes, it will mean a hard look at the truth of the world around us. Yes, what will be revealed will be painful, and we will not be able to go back to our old way of life, and it wasn’t working anyway.

It’s been a year, a year where God has so loved the world and Jesus has been present. It’s been a year where God’s presence was not one of condemning us or offering God’s wrath, but of revealing where healing, wholeness, justice and mercy are desperately needed in our communities and in our world. It’s been a year that exposed that we were dead a year ago in status quo, in comfort, in security and now we’ve been made alive in truth. We now look at the truth head on, we see the snakes that are biting and killing and say no. We see the truth that worrying about ourselves, making decisions that are about our own wants and not for the health, well-being and safety of our neighbor brings harm to us all. We see the truth that much of our society, our way of life together, needs to be disrupted by God’s grace and love. We see the truth that this is our baptismal life, to be this graceful and loving disruption of sickness, separation and death.
It’s been a year, and I pray that it’s a year that we don’t try and sweep under the rug, simply forget, or try and ignore. I pray that it’s a year that we recognize that our way of life has been and will continue to be disrupted by God’s love, grace and mercy through Jesus. I pray that it’s a year that we hold on to as a witness that our way of life together is intertwined to God’s life and God’s desire for abundant life for all humanity and creation. It’s been a year, a year that has changed everything and exposed that our way of life is always held in God’s eternal presence and grace. Amen.

Prayers of the People:

Prayers of the People

Let us lift up our prayers today for ourselves, our neighbors, our community and our world.
A brief silence.

God of all, it has been a year. A year since we have worshiped in our usual spaces, a year since we have sung together praises of love, a year since we could freely have human contact, a year of change, a year of uncertainty. Hear our laments and our grief, God, as we now recall our experiences of this year.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Creative God, it has been a year. It has been a year of newness, change, creativity, and worshiping how we never thought possible, gathering how we never thought possible and doing ministry in ways that we never thought possible. But you saw the possibilities and called us into them with you. Thank you for the strength and courage in the past year to join you in bringing creation alive in our midst.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Healing God, it has been a year. A year of bodies hurting, of minds suffering, of hearts breaking and death mounting. It’s been a year for the medical teams who have worked tirelessly and we pray for sabbath rest for them. It’s been a year for the essential workers and we pray for economic justice for them. It’s been a year for our educators and we pray for a society that supports them. It’s been a year for those who work for racial justice and we pray to be part of the transformation with them.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Listening God, it’s been a year. And we begin a new year with tender hope, hope that things may return to normal and a desire for a new normal. As we go forward from this year, remind us to bring with us all that we have learned and experienced. As we go forward from this year, may our hearts be more open, may our ears more attentive and our eyes clearer to the revelation of your kin-dom. As we go forward from this year, may we refuse the normal that was oppressing and harming people of color, immigrants, refugees and our LBGQTIA+ siblings. As we go forward from this year, may it be for justice and peace.

Lord in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Loving God, It’s been a year and you have been always near. You hear our prayers, you give us strength, courage for the journey and hold us in love.

Amen.

 

Weeds, Wheat and God’s Field July 24, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on July 23rd, 2017. You can watch at http://www.bethanylive.org. I personally think that the 10:00 a.m. went better! 🙂

 

Matthew 13:24-30New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears[a]listen!

You’ve perhaps heard the saying that “a weed is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it to.”  Such as a rose bush in the middle of your cucumbers, while beautiful, can seem obtrusive and obnoxious. We like things orderly, rose bushes where rose bushes go and cucumbers where cucumbers go. Then we get this parable this morning about weeds that intrude on wheat. I think on so many levels this parable strikes at the heart of our personal fears. How do I know if I am weeds or wheat?  What about the person sitting next to me in the pew, or at work, or on the train, or my next door neighbor or the person who thinks politically differently from me, are they weeds or wheat? We want to know who’s in the correct place!

We like to think that we can discern between who is doing God’s good work and who is not, or we think that we already know, thank you very much. And it’s always the person who thinks differently from us, or what we might call “wrong” and so we don’t want to be around them. Upon first glance, this parable seems to support this kind of dualistic thinking. Those who are wheat will be gloriously gathered to God in heaven and those who are weeds will be sent to be burned where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those weeds will get what they deserve-punishment. Done. We desperately want to hang our hats on such certainty so that all can be right with the world.  The weeds and the wheat have no business together! God, fix this! Don’t let these weedy people be around me!

It would be very comforting and escapist for us to read this parable with the mindset that this is about some are right and some are wrong. But we know that life and people are not that clear cut and relationships are hard and messy. But mutual relationships with those who are different from ourselves requires us to examine and know ourselves fully. We want or need to believe that God will punish those who deserve it, and if we follow all the rules perfectly, we will be gathered as wheat. Jesus told parables to make the listener of any century do some hard work. But parables are not designed to be taken at face value. The word parable means to “throw alongside.” Jesus throws this parable alongside our daily lives to stop us in our tracks and wrestle with God for a while.

Martin Luther struggled with the dualistic thinking of his time of whom God gathers and whom God throws to the fires. Part of Luther’s genius is his epiphany that we are both wheat and weeds simultaneously and that God will continually forgives us and offers us unending grace. In our Lutheran theology, we proclaim that we are at any given time a weed, or a sinner and wheat, a saint. Sometimes an action that in one setting is saintly, can turn around and be sinful in another setting. And we don’t always even know we’ve done that!  Paul speaks of this as doing the evil he doesn’t want to and not doing the good he wants to do. No matter how we try, we can’t quite hit the mark it seems. But Paul is confident that God will use his (and our) weediness and transform it into wheat.

We desperately want to be wheat and yet, deep down we fear that we are the noxious weed. We project that fear on others-proclaiming them to be weeds, the ones not doing God’s work, the ones not following Jesus, in order to secure our own place in the field as wheat. We fear that if there are too many wheat, that there won’t be room for us. And we do this even in our church community! If I’m using my gifts, then there can’t be room for your gifts, there is only so much room in the field, you know. Our egos like to judge who are weeds and who are wheat. My actions are REALLY serving God, so your actions can’t be. What if there are different kinds of wheat and all can bear good fruit?

We also get hung up on the fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth imagery as some sort of reference to hell but in truth, I think it refers to our inward thoughts on ourselves and others. We can stir ourselves up into a frenzy comparing ourselves to others, judging other people’s decisions and actions, shaking our head at our own decisions and actions that we aren’t proud of and, if any of you have ever been awake at 3 a.m. with all these thoughts going around your head, you know what weeping and gnashing of teeth is all about. It’s that long, dark night of the soul, it’s the constant grudge holding and scorecard keeping that we do with each other. But when you let go of judging, comparing and ego, peace and grace flourish. Not only peace and grace to others, but perhaps more importantly, to ourselves.  We can’t offer others true grace and non-judgment until we can first offer it to ourselves. When we stop holding ourselves up to unrealistic standards of perfection, whether those standards are societal (wealth, health, body image, etc.) or religious (keeping all the commandments, doing whatever religious practices you believe will make you a better Christian) when we let go of that, is when we can truly live in God’s promise that God created us in God’s image and we are enough, more than enough and loved just the way we are. And so is our neighbor, co-worker, and family members even the ones who drive us crazy.

You see, this parable isn’t about who’s in or who’s out. It’s about God and God’s field. God’s field, where all are allowed to grow, no matter what. Weeds and wheat are side by side. What if when we see weeds, God sees wheat? What if we need those who seem planted out of place as we grow in God’s field? In rich diversity, we can hold each other accountable, learn from one another, forgive one another and be authentic community.  Childern’s Sermon: Invite children: cards, change cards, “does it matter who has the label weeds or wheat? Does it matter that we are all together and God loves us? Can we learn from each other, share our mistakes and our learnings to love God and each other even more?”  Explain the sermon notes.

 

The word seminary, means “seed bed.” God’s field, God’s seed bed, is about learning and going deeper into relationship with God and one another. It’s not a fancy theological degree. It’s engaging the world with all the complexity, uncertainty and gray areas through God’s vision.  It’s God’s patience and hope that floods the field, the seed bed, and everyone and everything growing in it, with love, forgiveness and grace freely poured out no matter of our actions, our status or who we think we are, weeds or wheat. We don’t have to worry about judging ourselves or others. God will come to judge, which is different from punishment by the way. Judgement is God’s proclaiming reconciliation of creation and humanity back to Godself in love. Punishment is what we do to ourselves when we try and be God, dividing ourselves out of fear, not looking with love upon our neighbor, judging actions we don’t understand, putting our own needs and wants ahead of others, allowing our ego determine our thoughts and actions.

Jesus understood that this is the human condition. We think that we know more than we do and put more trust in ourselves and our ego than in God. Jesus says, go deeper, go where it’s complex, go beyond black and white thinking, go and confront your ego, your hubris, your arrogance. Go and be confronted by the breathtaking foolishness of God’s love and grace to let weeds and wheat grow together. Audaciously live in the faith and hope of what we cannot yet see, where everyone will be gathered in God’s life-giving kingdom as adopted children of God, unconditionally loved and cared for, where none are left out, all live side by side, and God clothes all in righteousness. Go and recklessly share this reality in whatever part of the field you may live in-give your time and your resources to people not because you think they deserve it, but because God loves them (and you!) and loves the diversity  of all of us growing together in God’s field. Thanks be to God.