A Lutheran Says What?

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

Seeing Changes Everything Sermon on Luke 13: 10-17 August 25, 2019

This sermon was preached on August 25, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

The texts were: Psalm 103: 1-8, Hebrews 12: 18-29 and Luke 13: 10-17

Children’s sermon: When I was in sixth grade, we had an assignment of writing the vocabulary words off the blackboard onto our paper and then looking them up. So, I did. The teacher then had us take turns reading the words and the definitions from our papers. When it was my turn, I dutifully read the word “crestfallen” and the definition. The teacher stopped me, looked confused for a minute and said, where did you get that word? It’s on the board I said. The teacher said, “is that what it looks like to you?” Turned out, the word I had written, was NOT the word on the board. I couldn’t really see the word on the board, so I had filled in with what I thought was correct. It was most decidedly not…I needed glasses! So, my parents got me glasses and then I could see! My glasses changed how I saw my world around me! I could see the correct words on the board! I discovered that there were trees far off in the distance that I didn’t know existed! So exciting! I was missing so much!  And once I could see life around me, I saw my entire world differently! I saw details people, more trees, dogs, etc. In our story today, Jesus is in the synagogue and sees a woman whom no one else sees, or if they see her, they pretend that she is not there. You see, her back has been bent for 18 years from age, or maybe a disease, we really don’t know, but in Jesus’ time, and even today sometimes, when someone looks different or acts different, people can be afraid of them. Kinda like they are afraid that they might catch having a bent back from her. Sounds a little silly, but we all do sometimes worry about things like that don’t we? If you were bent over what could you see? Yes, not everything around you!  But Jesus saw her, called her over to be in the middle of all the people! That would have made the people nervous! And he said to her, “you are set free from your ailment.” He touched her, which we call laying hands on her, and she stood up! She could see what was in front of her! She had only been able to look down for all those years! Can you imagine! And then with her new way of seeing the world around her, she praised God! The way she saw her life and her life with God and people was changed forever as was how people saw her! Jesus came to change the way we see the world, our lives, each other and God. Jesus shows us that we need to see the world how God sees the world and all people: as loved, important and so very special!  When we see the world how God sees the world, it changes us and other people. Let’s pray:

 

The woman had only been able to see her feet and perhaps just a bit in front of her feet for 18 years. In that time her children had grown, had children of their own, there were celebrations, sorrows, all kinds of firsts and lasts-many of which she missed from her stooped over vantage point that separated her from the life around her. She could twist her head and with great strain and pain see a little side to side, but it could never last very long and most often she saw only a glimpse of life around her that she had to decipher the snippets of view and what people told her. That is, when they talked to her or if they even saw her at all. Afraid of catching whatever evil had stooped her over and bound her to this life, the people in her community avoided this woman and she was essentially, invisible. Yet, she faithfully attended synagogue each week. Eagerly hearing the texts of the ancient scrolls, the stories of freedom, justice and grace. From the edges of the synagogue she would listen, sing the psalms, smell the candles, and dream about what God’s coming messiah might mean for her and change her life.

This Shabbat morning was no different, she carefully shuffled in, only seeing the dirt floor of the synagogue, and her own feet and she took her place on the edge where she wasn’t noticed and wouldn’t be in the way. Nothing new. But at this shabbat there was a teacher, a visiting rabbi, who seemed to have quite a following and seemed to cause quite a stir. His teaching was familiar and somehow very different. He read the same scrolls, but his interpretations were unique. She was pondering all of this while staring at her feet when she suddenly realized that he was addressing her. He saw her in the corner and called her to him in the middle of the synagogue. This can’t be. For so many reasons, this really can’t be happening in the middle of the very formal and predictable worship. Yet, she cautiously made her way to this rabbi, surrounded by all the attendees to the synagogue and his followers. Then he told her that she was freed from this spirit! What? He placed his hands gently on her back and told her to stand. How can this be? Again, without any rational reasoning, she did as he said, and stood! Suddenly she could see everything and everyone around her! Those dear ones who’s faces she had not gazed upon in 18 years, new face to meet, and the face of the one who now saw her face to face and told her that she was loosed from had kept her down. In the wake of this new perspective-she rejoiced! She sang, “O bless the Lord my soul! O praise God’s holy name!” Her response was unfiltered joy that would not be contained! Everything for her had changed!

The leader of the synagogue nervously looked out at the congregation and realized that the iterant street preacher and his followers where in attendance for Shabbat. He, himself, didn’t have a problem with this man, but he knew several who did. He had heard some of what this rabbi had been saying about God’s kingdom, and he didn’t disagree with all of it. But there was something that did make him a bit leery…Worship began without incident and the visitor began to teach. But then the street preacher called the woman who had a spirit into the middle of the synagogue. The leader felt his heart race as he looked around to see that all eyes were on this visiting rabbi. Then this man had the audacity to lay hands on the woman and heal her! On the Sabbath! In clear violation of the fourth commandment! As the leader of the community, he knew he had to offer the correct teaching as he saw fit. The people he was charged to teach and set an example for couldn’t view him as complicit in this man’s disregard for the laws. How could he see himself as a conduit for the word of God if he allowed this to go unchecked? It would change everything.

Jesus walked into the synagogue that morning and saw the people gathered there. He saw the tired parents wrangling toddlers, the awkward teens who didn’t want to be there, the widow, the young couple, the weary traveler, the single man, the hungry worker, the leader of the synagogue and the woman on the edge who was bent over. He saw them all and with the words from the Torah, began to tell them about God’s love for them. Jesus saw the people as made in God’s own image of goodness and promise. Jesus saw that they struggled with seeing each other as connected and seeing God’s abundance. They saw one another as competition for limited resources, including God’s love and grace. Jesus also saw that they were having a hard time believing that God’s unconditional, love, mercy and grace are indeed true and really for them. Jesus saw that the people needed to see that this was true. He saw the look of incredulity on the woman’s face who was bent over and knew that more than her just physical ailment was binding her up. Jesus called her over to him, brought her to the center so that all could see her, she was no longer invisible. He then laid hands on her and God’s healing power surged and then all who were gathered saw her stand up straight. Jesus saw the look of joy on the woman’s face. He saw the leader of the synagogue blinded by the law. He saw the people unsure of what to think amid the tension of what they had witnessed. They somehow understood that everything had just changed in that moment.

Jesus called them to see something new on this day of Sabbath. He called on them to see beyond how they have always done things, to see people who had been invisible because of disease, social status, abilities, gender, where they lived and whom they lived with. Jesus called on them to change their perspectives and to see the world how God sees the world: with love and compassion. Jesus saw the people in the synagogue and deeply loved them, all of them. Love that was strong enough to say what needed to be said, love that saw past rules that harmed some people while keeping others in power and privilege. Love not as a sentiment but as action and justice, love that changes everything.

The crowds saw, even if just briefly, a  glimpse God’s kingdom: people loosed from what keeps them apart from healing community, people offered not laws but relationships, people freed by God’s love and grace to be who God created them to be and to see each other face to face as God’s beloved creatures, people part of the new life in God, people who were changed. The crowds saw it and rejoiced at what Jesus was doing to heal, love and offer God’s vision of the world where all belong and are loved. Once you see the kingdom of God, it changes how you see everything and everyone. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

Planning on the Promise Sermon on Luke 12 August 11, 2019

This sermon was preached on August 11, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Psalm 33: 12-22, Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12: 32-40.

 

 

 

Children’s sermon: School is starting soon and so are all of the activities at church…here is my planner where I try and keep it all straight, so that I have everything under control. I like to think that if I plan, then I won’t have to worry. But even planning makes me worried about everything going on! How do you get ready for things such as the first day of school? You set an alarm to remember to get up. Get dressed: Do you wear shorts in the winter or a heavy coat in August? No, you check the weather. You might take a shower, brush your teeth, pack a lunch maybe a snack, make sure you have your homework in you backpack…Why do you do all of those things? I mean you pack a lunch at 7 a.m. and lunch isn’t until much later…but you do these things because on some level you’re afraid of not having what you need for your day. If you didn’t you would get to lunch time and be hungry, or get to math class and not have your homework. This thing about my calendar and how we plan our day, is that it’s all about ourselves. We spent a lot of time last week getting ready for VBS, not because we were afraid of all you kids coming but because we were excited and wanted you and all the children to feel welcomed and loved! Our bible stories remind me today that being ready is important but I don’t have to be afraid or panic. Jesus tells us to not be afraid for God gives us God’s kingdom! What do you think is in God’s Kingdom? Well, God’s kingdom probably includes lots of things that I don’t understand about but here’s one thing that I do know is included in God’s kingdom: God’s promise to love us, to keep us together as a community, and that we are with God always-right here, right now and when we someday die. And God GIVES it to us-to all of us together! Do you know what a promise is? Yes, it’s a gift to do something. We can’t earn it or lose it! God gives the kingdom to us simply because we are loved. And so we live our lives being ready, not out of fear, not out of worry of what will happen next, but ready to receive all that God will give us and to share it! Let’s pray:

There seems that there is a lot to fear in our lives right now! Perhaps there always has been, but it seems in hyperdrive. Especially in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton last weekend. We can be fearful about even going to the grocery store or other retailers to do back to school shopping knowing that spaces we once held as public, safe and communal now cause us to be on constant guard and vigilance. I was reading where some parents are buying their children bullet proof backpacks out of fear…that never would have occurred to me or been on my radar as a parent of young children or a teacher. And that’s not the only fear that seems prevalent: fear of the stock markets, trade wars and economy, which might lead of never being able to retire or maintain retirement (I’m personally not planning on being able to fully ever retire), fear of actual wars and rumors of wars, fear of the mass deportations that are occurring, fear of global warming and the effects on the environment and on our health as a people. And then you layer that with what I call fears that persist at an underlying hum in our lives: health, family, day to day finances, relationships, work, childcare and we spend much of our day to day lives mitigating or coping (in productive or unproductive ways)  those fears by financial planning or plain old calendar planning, following the stock markets daily, checking the weather, knowing the news, mapping out our children’s future, working out, dieting, organizing, and we fool ourselves into the illusion that that we can on our own know everything and be ready for any eventuality in our lives. But really all that happens is what psychologists call being in a state of hypervigilance, which is a leading cause of anxiety and depression, both conditions of which are skyrocketing in our society, particularly among our children. And this doesn’t only effect mental status but anxiety and depression have real physical symptoms as well. And it feels the more we try to plan and control, the more anxiety we can have.

And then we get a passage like this one in Luke. And in our current state of affairs, what do we hone in on in these nine verses? The being ready part! We bypass the first couple of verses and our hearts go straight to where our own treasured anxieties lead us: We must be ready! If we’re not something bad will happen! We must do all that WE can to be ready, it depends on us! If we don’t prepare-we have no one to blame but ourselves.

But that’s where we have to back that train up. Jesus says in this passage and so many times throughout the gospels “Do not be afraid.” Yeah, right, Jesus, easy to say in bucolic ancient Palestine when times were simpler…well, Jesus was on the way to the cross, the Empire and the religious authorities were after him. The people he was talking to were poor, oppressed, marginalized and lacked power over their own lives. They had much to fear. They never knew when a Roman solider would enter their home demanding money, food or to take them away to be conscripted. They never knew when disease would strike. They never knew if the food would hold out or where they could get what they needed to survive. Don’t be afraid? Fear was in the very air that they breathed.

What follows from Jesus is the heart of the gospel: “For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” As I told the children, this is the promise. God loves us as a parent adores a child and gives us, no matter what, God’s kingdom. With this promise in mind we read the next verses on being ready. God’s promise permeates all that we think, say and do. Any planning that we do isn’t wrong or bad, and it’s also not a command that is up to us to follow. We plan out of faith, what we hope for in God’s kingdom, that the promises of God cling to us more tightly than fear clings to us. When we focus on God’s promises, this is where our heart will be and so our treasure.

When we plan and live out of this promise and faith that is part of God’s kingdom, we live differently than those around us. Living out of fear will always seek to divide, hoard, worry, terrorize and polarize us. Living out of faith and promise witnesses to sharing, including, welcoming, contentment and loving. God’s promise isn’t just to us as individuals, but to us as a whole people. How we are prepared to receive God’s kingdom is about how we live together. We live together from faith when we support Urban Crossroads, when we offer VBS to children as a place of hope and love. When we support Linus Project to offer hope to children with something as simple and meaningful as a blanket. When we for God’s Work, Our Hands, work at Family Promise. We live from faith of God’s promises, anytime we walk with people on the margins to make visible this assurance of hope. This week at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in WI-a memorial was passed that the ELCA would be a sanctuary denomination-which means essentially that we will walk in meaningful and purposeful ways with people in this country who are marginalized due to their immigration status. While some would worry this a partisan stance-it’s not. It’s a political stance-one the highlights God’s politic-God’s heart-that we all love and care for one another despite paperwork or human made borders. We forget that politics are not bad, as Jesus was highly political. The word politics comes from the Greek word “polis” which means “city” or “living together in a city.” God cares very much how we live together. When we follow God’s politics, God’s heart, we also care how we live together, our heart will be with whom we treasure, when we serve one another as Christ. This will make us, as the writer of Hebrews states, “strangers and foreigners on the earth.”

We will be very strange and foreign indeed, to live fully into the gospel of promise of being ready to receive God’s kingdom, not from fear but from hopeful anticipation. God calls us to live together and to be ready for God’s transforming presence in our lives-not by our own deed but by the work of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews also states, “God has prepared a city for them/for us.” God has already prepared what we need to live together in peace and we are ready to participate in God’s work of  God’s heart for the world, clinging to faith and not fear, hope and not despair, promise and not worry.

We cannot know the future, and fear will continue to swirl around us. But so do the promises of God, so do the words of Jesus, “do not be afraid little flock,” and so does the gift of faith from God who prepares our hearts, minds and souls with what we need to live together, to live into the promises and to receive the kingdom that is already here and is still being revealed. Amen.

 

I gave up Facebook for a week and lived to tell about it October 15, 2016

About two three weeks ago, I took a sabbatical from media, mostly internet media to be honest. I had been facilitating a book club on Wednesday evenings at the church I serve as pastor in Denver, CO, Bethany Lutheran on Jen Hatmaker’s book, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” Hatmaker identifies seven areas of her comfortable first world life (clothing, possessions, food, stress, waste, media, and spending) and annihilates the down to nothing. Eating only seven foods for a month, getting rid of seven possessions a day for a month (this one goes waaaaaay beyond the seven a day), praying seven times a day, well you get the idea. What happens to your faith and spiritual life when you no longer worry about what to wear? Or what to eat? Or have more money to actually give more than 10%? How can we create less room for our egos and more room for Jesus? The book is not perfect and our group vacillated between devastating recognition of our consumptive, hoarding, selfish, egoist ways of living and the absurdity of how far she takes the experiment, mostly in the name of a book deal. Well, that might be a bit harsh, but sometimes it’s the question that popped up for us.

So we decided about week two into our six week book study that the last week together we would each choose one of the seven areas to mutiny against. I know that I have a Facebook problem, so I chose media. I immediately wondered what in the hell was I thinking??? Give up political rants, what people are eating for dinner and voyeuristic peeks into other people’s lives that are apparently waaaaay more fab than my own? Ok, I’m in. I also gave up tv this week as well. And email and text was only for work purposes, following Hatmaker’s guidelines in the book.

So on Wednesday evening, I posted the obligatory “Hey, as if any of you care, but I won’t be on FB, email or much media for week because blah, blah, blah…” I then turned off all With notifications on twitter, FB, Instagram and Pintrest (Oh my God do I LOVE Pintrest!!!) and took all the apps off my phone. Then I went to bed, convinced I had just severed all connections with human life.

The first couple of days went very smooth and honestly, I didn’t miss it much. With the apps off my phone, the battery lasted FOREVER and I didn’t constantly have notifications coming through distracting me from whatever it was I was doing. Now, I would love to say that I was more productive off of social media, but I’m not sure that is true and I can’t really measure that in a couple of days. I can say, no tv however, meant that read more in the evenings, and went to bed earlier. These are two very good things for this middle aged, tired, brain starting to turn to mush, momma. Unlike Hatmaker, whose children are younger, I have a 17 almost 18 year old son still in the home. So I have to admit that the tv was on-just to the stuff he was watching which mostly doesn’t interest me. My big vice is tv in the morning as I get dressed for work. The Today show is my “stories.” I like to think I’m watching “the news” but….yeah, I know. It’s like saying The Office is a real documentary. (Ahem-If you are a colleague reading this or my lead pastor, kindly skip down to the next paragraph. This next bit doesn’t concern you, at all…) With no tv in the morning, I found that I was generally about 10 minutes faster getting ready for work and to work a bit earlier. And I was less rushed and prepared a better lunch/dinner for later in the day at work.

So, all in all it was going pretty well until…Monday….dun, dun dunnnnn. What happened Monday you ask? Well, this little thing of a conference call Birthing Cross + Gen Eduworship started in Estes Park. As a pastor of Faith Formation and someone who has worked in the faith formation arena in the ELCA for about 15 years and was part of the Killing Sunday School Birthing Cross Gen think tank in 2012, and had presented at the 2014 conference and knew about 80% of the people at this conference (these are MY PEOPLE!) it took the conference being in session for about 30 minutes before emails rolled in (I was at work ya’ll so yes, I was checking email.) pinging me on FB and Twitter for questions, insights, and shout outs. Oh No. I was like a deer in headlights! What do I do?? Is this work? Is this connectivity? Is this ego?? (Um yes, BTW.) I came home that evening and looked at Mike (my spouse of 22 years who seriously is a saint with all of the crazy crap I come up with) and said, “Now what?” He looked at me with patience, love and exasperation and said, “oh for goodness sake just answer them! The world will not end because you tweeted or posted!” So I did. With guilt. With pleasure. With relief.

I did not go on any social media other than that however. I did not scroll, search, or “like.” I don’t think anyway. It’s been three weeks now. But I held the fast in the other areas.

Ok, nitty, gritty, what I learned:

1) I love social media! Not for controversy, not for voyeurism, but because I love reading what other people think, do, give, wonder, and yes, even get upset about.

2) I realized that I use social media for ministry much more than I would have pegged going into the experiment. Pintrest, ya’ll. Pintrest.

3) I genuinely missed you all. Yes, you.

4) I love baby pictures. All of you youngsters keep having babies and putting their gorgeous pictures and videos into my feed please. It keeps me from being too annoyed with my young adult children.

5)The TV can probably just go. Seriously, with the exception of Portlandia, nothin’.

6) This connectivity thing is tricky and messy. It can consume you and it can be an idol like anything else, but it also reminds us that the world is flat. What happens in Syria impacts me, or should. I can know that a friend needs a prayer, yes, an electronic prayer from half way around the country or down the street. We are called into community and social media broadens what that community looks like and how it’s shaped. After a week off, I will with gusto proclaim that social media is not evil! I think, no, I know, it’s where Jesus is. I see Jesus at work in your lives as you work out trying to take kids on fabulous vacations. Not to flaunt wealth, but to make memories from a time that flies by all to quickly. I see Jesus at work as we share ministry, faith, foibles, missteps, prayer, laughter, tears, sorrows, joys and love together even though we’re apart. I see Jesus even in the political rants as I remember to breath, love, and know that God’s kingdom is bigger than our partisanship and divisions.

7) I learned that I learn from all of you. Each and every day. I need other voices to keep from being stuck in my own voice in my head.

8) Because of number 7 above, I learned gratitude for all of you who I read, interact with and learn from. Thank you.

I’m aware that none of these revelations and learnings are earth shattering or “book deal” worthy, but they are mine. I encourage you to try this! What do you learn about yourself and your consumption of media?

May you see the love of Jesus every where you go: In others, in media, in situations, at work, in prayer, at church, and in you.