A Lutheran Says What?

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

Words Matter Sermon on John 1: 1-14 Christmas Day December 31, 2017

This sermon was preached on Dec. 25, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO.

John 1:1-14New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth.

We’ve all heard the phrase “words matter.” As a trained educator, I learned early on to never underestimate the power of words. When I was a student teacher 25 years ago, I remember my mentoring teacher telling me that for each one negative word a child heard about themselves, it takes 10 positive words to counteract the one negative word. That is a very daunting reminder for all of us who work with children and youth or speak to others for a living. Words matter. Even as adults, in important conversations we search for just the correct word to say, or avoid using certain words for fear of being misunderstood. We tend to think of words as lifeless, inanimate objects just sitting on a page waiting to be read, or things to be glibly offered and then discarded. How often have we heard the words of a poem or a book read out loud and we synthesized it differently, had the words hit us more emotionally in our hearts and in our souls than just reading them silently by ourselves? Words do matter, words are powerful, and words given life by human utterance matter.

Words matter. We wait to hear words of reassurance from a loved one when we are worried about them, or we listen for words of reconciliation after a fight, or words of hope in a dire situation, or words of love from someone whom we love. Words matter because they fill in gaps of who we are and who others are to us. Words matter because they intertwine to tell a story about our lives together. Words matter because one simple word has the power to uplift us or crush our spirits. Words spoken to us offer us an experiential encounter with another person. Words connect us.

God created us people of words, people of stories, and people of The Story, the story of God’s love. In the passage from John this morning, we hear the importance of this truth. The Word was present from the beginning with God because words and The Word matters. The Word that speaks life and light into chaos and darkness matters and this word speaks to us over and over again connecting us to this truth in every time and place. The Word from God that tells us the story that we belong to God and are deeply loved by God. The Word from God that offers us life altering encounter and deep connection with God.

God speaks this word in a myriad of ways because the world speaks words of fear, scarcity, and unimportance to us all day long. God sent Jesus to us to be the alive, fleshy, embodied word of God’s love and abundance to us, in order to counteract whatever else we might hear from the world. Jesus as God’s very Word with us, not just in the past as the human Jesus, but right here, right now, fills us with this story of truth of who we are and who’s we are.

This Living Word that promises to be with us always even to the end of the age and to be living water, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the true vine, comes to us as every word of love, mercy and hope. This Living Word goes beyond mere words to be a living encounter in the waters of baptism. We will speak these words of God’s promises today on Brynn, Emma and Deacon and they will live in the words of God’s Story that began at creation and continues through time. This Living Word comes to us in bread and wine and has the power to gather us as one people, in abundance, inclusivity and joy; as Jesus’ very body and blood reminds us that bodies do indeed matter as each one of us are bodies who contain the Living Word of God.

Jesus as God’s Word of love, joy, mercy, forgiveness and hope to the world matters more than ever. Jesus as God’s Living Word matters to those who only hear negative things about themselves because the world tells them that they aren’t good enough, aren’t important and have nothing to offer. Jesus as God’s Word matters for us, so that like John, we testify to people who need to hear they are part of God’s story, the truth of the Word that is for all people in all times and in all places. Jesus as the Living Word matters to illuminate the darkness of our world, to cast out the words of fear and death that try and negate the life that God freely gives us. Jesus as the Living Word matters as this is a Word that lives in us for the sake of our neighbors encountering Jesus through us.

Words matter. Jesus as God’s Word of love, grace and truth to the world, matters. There is power in this Living Word, power to heal, power to love, power to speak truth, power to cast out all darkness, power to turn despair into joy and power to turn death into life. God displays this power by speaking transformational words of mercy, hope and love into unexpected people and places: an unwed teenage girl, lowly shepherds outside an unimportant town, an outcast prophet in the wilderness, and a tiny vulnerable baby born in a smelly, dirty stable.  Words matter. Words have power.  Jesus Christ as God’s living Word with us and in us, is all that matters. Amen.

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God’s Power is Love! John 14:1-14 (VBS Sermon) August 2nd Pentecost 10B August 3, 2015

(*This sermon (preached at Lord of the Hills Lutheran Church in Centennial, CO)  was based on the VBS stories from Group’s Everest VBS curriculum. The texts were 1 Kings 17: 1-7, 1 Kings 18:9b-12, 2 Kings 5: 1-14, 2 Corinthians 9: 7-9 and John 14: 1-14. This sermon was written to be intentionally “cross + generational”  for the VBS Sunday where we invited VBS families to worship. The children sang a VB song, sat down up front and helped me with sermon and then sang another song. We showed a slide show of the week during offering. It was great fun!)

At VBS we all talked about and learned that God is powerful. Not the kind of power that we see in super hero movies, God doesn’t use x-ray vision, slings webs everywhere or turns objects into gold. God COULD do those things if God wanted but that’s not how God works. We learned that God’s power is love, and that love is expressed in lots of different ways. We learned from our two Elijah stories that God has the power to provide (HOLD ON!), God as the power to comfort (HOLD ON!), from our Namaan and Elisha story that God has the power to heal (HOLD ON!), from our stories of Jesus that God has the power to forgive (HOLD ON!) and God has the power to love us forever (HOLD ON!). Hmmm, it seems to me that all of these powers of God have very little to actually do with God but have everything to do with US! God’s power is one that God gives away, uses for God’s beloved people and tells us about God’s love for the whole entire world.

We also talked about how Elijah didn’t see God, Namaan didn’t see God and the disciples were confused about who Jesus was and what Jesus was talking about when he says that if you’ve seen Jesus then you’ve seen God. Elijah asked to see God (Did God come in a violent wind? An earthquake? A fire? NO!) but God only came to him in a whisper on the mountain, Namaan experienced God in the healing waters at the Jordan river and the disciples didn’t realize that they were in God’s presence until after God raised Jesus from the dead. But Jesus tells the disciples and us that we have indeed seen God because we have seen Jesus. Now the disciples actually walked around with Jesus, watching him heal the sick, comfort those who were sad, provide bread for everyone, forgiving people of whatever was separating them from God, and offering people God’s love unconditionally. Yet, they still asked Jesus, like Elijah and Namaan, “show us God.”

I can just see Jesus smiling as they asked him that question as they were standing right in front of God! Jesus was showing them God and God’s love every single second of the day! And better than that, Jesus showed them how THEY, the disciples and us, reveal God to the whole world every single second of the day. We think that we don’t see God in our everyday lives, but we do! We see each other and we know that each of us are made in the image of God-not just our bodies but our hearts too! Our hearts are created in the image of God’s heart and so we share God’s love. When the disciples ask or we wonder about seeing God-all we have to do is look around at each other! What are ways that we show each other what God looks like? (God’s Work, Our Hands with all of the other ELCA churches, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald house, In-Stitches, prayer shawls, school supplies for LFS, supporting the earthquake victims in Nepal, our preschool, sharing our building with other churches, Youth in Detroit doing service,) Yes, I think Jesus smiles when we wonder what God looks like, because all we have to do is look at all of the love around us!

It’s confusing, isn’t it, to remember that we are made in God’s image and can reveal God to each other? We forget, we sometimes just don’t feel like it or just plain old don’t do it. Someone might treat us in a way that we don’t like, or disagree with us, or not think the same way that we do and so we don’t show them God’s love. I do that sometimes and we all do that sometimes. But that’s ok because God says in the waters of baptism that we soaked Calla Lily in this morning that we are all loved and made brand new in God’s image of love EVERY SINGLE DAY and we can try again. God has the power to forgive (HOLD ON!) and promises to forgive us over and over no matter what because God created us to belong to God and to be loved by God forever.

God also promises that we are never alone. Jesus says in our story from John, that there are many rooms in God’s house, which means that everyone is invited into God’s house and no one is ever left out for any reason. Jesus tells us that he is God with us and the only way to God. Some people hear that as prohibitive, which means leaving some people out or that you have to believe exactly the right things about Jesus to go be with God and God’s people forever. But what Jesus is saying is that God sent Jesus so that the whole world is brought to God through Jesus. Jesus died and was raised not just for some people but for all people-even those people who aren’t sure about Jesus. We don’t have to worry about being left out-God leaves no one out. God’s power of love is enough to gather everyone into God’s house forever. God never leaves us and God’s people never leave us.

This morning we promised that to Calla too. We all promised to show her Jesus each and every day and to make sure that she knows the promises of God to provide for her, comfort her, heal her, forgive her and love her forever. We promise to be her community that shows her God.  We may not always understand God’s power but we can trust it and share it with the world because we know that God’s power of love is given for us each and every day, no matter what. Thanks be to God!

 

Looking for Power in All the Wrong Places Mark 6: 14-29 Pentecost 7B July 12, 2015 July 16, 2015

When I was two, I learned a new word and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to use it. (Now don’t worry this is a family friendly sermon.) One day I had my chance. My parents had taken me to a beach in northern CA where we were stationed at Vandenberg AFB with some friends. After a full day of playing on the beach and in the water, it was time to go home. My mother went to scoop me up and put me in the rather rudimentary 1972 car seat and I realized my chance to try out this word. I did not want to get into my car seat and I now had the vocabulary to articulate my desire for power and control. I put my hands on my hips and looked at my mother and said, “Now, wait a minute dumb-dumb.” Where I had heard that pejorative word, who knows, (older kids probably) but my two year old brain had quickly recognized that I could own more power by trying to take away someone else’s. What my two year old brain had not processed is that my parents were still bigger and waaaaaay smarter. I ended up in the car seat, screaming I’m sure, with my parents wondering why they bother to ever leave the house with me. *Kids-it is never ok to call names or say something mean to anyone-especially your parents! *Parents-you’re welcome.

Figuring out what you have power and control over in your life starts nearly at birth. Learning to control our limbs, head, and neck is about three months of work right there! Then there’s rolling over, crawling, walking, running, toileting, riding a bike and all of the gross motor skills. Alongside control of our physical bodies, we learn that our emotions can control our actions and how that can be good and bad. As we mature, we begin to want more power and control in our lives. The teen years are all about power and control. Figuring out what you can and can’t do without negative consequences is a major part of adolescence, as well as learning where you don’t have power in your life.

We are wired to like power, control, and agency. Unfortunately, we struggle to move past what my two year old brain had put together, that in order to have power, control and agency, we must diminish someone else’s.

On a cursory reading of today’s gospel text, we could say that the theme is power. Herod’s power over John, John’s unlikely power over Herod, Herodias’ (Herod’s wife) power over her daughter, Herod’s daughter’s power over Herod, the power of keeping up appearances, and then we have the power of Jesus and his disciples with the crowds that frightened the puppet king. Power is indeed a key player in this text. We see people entangled in a system solely based on the need for personal power over and against other people. In this ancient soap opera, the most powerful person-the person with the most political clout, the most agency, the most status-wins. And it’s all about winning with Herod. He is in a power struggle with Herodias and John. John had exposed Herod’s wrong doings in marrying his brother’s wife (Days of Our Lives, anyone?)  and that threatened Herod’s power. Herodias had obviously traded up in husbands and married for money and power. In first century Palestine, Herodias only had as much power as her husband, so if Herod lost power so did she. Herod must maintain control and agency over John, even though Mark tells us that he kind of liked John. John told the truth to Herod of his abuse of his power; Herod deep down knew it but was too afraid to act. What if he lost all of his friends, his pawn throne of the Roman Empire, the lavish banquets, and all of the royal trappings? What if he became a nobody in Jerusalem?

At the end of the day, power is about ensuring that we are a somebody. We are worthy, important, special, famous, a mover and a shaker. This means that if I am all of those things, then you can’t be. There is not enough power for all of us to share. We can’t all be important! What if you have more influence and control than I do? Then what?

Power is definitely a theme in this story. But not the power that Herod desires, Herodias fears and kills John. It’s not power that is control and agency over and against someone else, but it’s the power of presence. The kind of presence that is hard to grasp, seems elusive and yet is palpable all through this story that seems to be about human power at its worst, human agency at its worst and human fear at its worst.  There is another power at work that is barely named and appears to not be part of the equation: Jesus. Counter to the power of humanity that seeks power for its own sake, for its own elevation, for its own sense of control and self worth, Jesus offers the power of his presence. This presence gives away power instead of accumulating it. Jesus and the disciples are busy giving away God’s power of healing, mercy, grace and love, while Herod is busy hoarding his power. Power of presence is power that seeks to elevate others, offers freedom to others and empties itself out to others.

Too often we think of power as personal, individual and scarce. Just like I was sure that I needed to assert power over my parents to be happy and have well being, we look for ways to take power and not share it and the world encourages us to do this. But God proclaims that in God’ creation and kingdom that is a lie that we choose to believe. God emptied power into the most powerless creature on earth, a newborn baby. Through Jesus Christ, God reveals over and over again how real power is given away. When we put other people’s needs first, when we understand and say “no” to the world’s system that wants us to compete with our neighbor for money, resources and status, when we stand in solidarity with people whom are told that their lives don’t matter, when we act to support the black churches that have burned down, when we see past labels and see people as God sees them, beloved, no matter where they live, what they believe, whom they love and who loves them, we reveal the power of the presence of Christ. God’s power is love for all people no matter what and this power conquers all fear, all hatred, and all sin, which is anything that separates us from this power of love in Christ.

This power of love is not a theoretical concept or a sappy philosophical thought but is embodied in Jesus and his actions on the cross where the loss of worldly power became the ultimate of God’s power of love, reconciliation and presence in the systems that lead to suffering in this world. This power of God’s presence is tangible in the waters of baptism, in the bread and the wine and in each one of us. Through the Holy Spirit we live this powerful presence that is Christ’s power of love. In Christ’s power, God declares that we are all somebody; we are all somebody in the body of Christ and beloved children of God marked the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Christ’s power is at work in you, in me and in the world. Thanks be to God.