A Lutheran Says What?

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

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.

 

Slot machines, Cars, and the Promises of God February 16, 2016

 

Donald Miller is an author who writes about Christian spirituality in our post-modern, post-Christendom, polarized culture. His breakout book, “Blue Like Jazz,” is a look at his own faith journey in the less than Christian culture of Portland, OR and his time at the less than Christian, perhaps even hedonistic, Reed College. Reed College is known for an anything goes culture and an official policy that allows drugs and alcohol openly on campus. Donald Miller tells of “coming out of the closet” as a Christian there and how people pushed him all the time about believing in a God that allowed bad things to happen to good people, didn’t seem to always answer prayer, allowed poverty, violence, hunger, disease, war, and any other horror that humanity could invent. He was pushed on how the Church just bilked good, hard working people out of their money and forced guilt for not following rules and going to Church on Sundays. When faced with those accusations, Donald admits that he struggled with those views on God and how God doesn’t seem to do what we think God should do. After all, wanting those things to end is not a bad thing.

But he realized something else in talking to people, Christian and non-Christian alike: we all seem to have an agenda with God. We all seem to have this idea who God is and what God should do and it shapes our relationship with God and with other people. Don says that his first image of God as a young person was that of God as a cosmic slot machine. We put our prayers, demands, wishes into God and want to pull the lever to get our answers and our reward. A transactional God if you will. We do A then God will do B. Very simple, neat clean, and predictable. Unfortunately, this viewpoint is more than prevalent and saturates our culture. One of my favorite artists, Janice Joplin, highlights this with her iconic song Mercedes Benz: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porsches; I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, with no help from my friends. Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” (This will be sung.)

She then asks for a color tv and then simply a night on the town. She lowers her expectations with each verse but she hits on the crux of the human condition: we want what we want when we want it and we aren’t even to ashamed to ask God for these things with the presumption that God will fulfill our every whim. After all we’re good people, we pray, we give to our church, we teach Sunday School. Shouldn’t God give us something back in return or to use the verbiage from what is known as the prosperity gospel, if you do the right thing, believe correctly, and of course give enough money to their ministries God will bless you with whatever you ask. You will get a reward.

Only that doesn’t hold up for very long. Eventually that image of God will let you down. That image of God has more to do with ourselves and what we think we want and need than about what God is actually doing in the world. That image of God isn’t about unending grace, unconditional love and eternal life. That image of God is one that the world can control, manipulate and ultimately dismantle. But the good news is that this is not who God is:  we don’t have a transactional God, we have a relational God. We have a God who doesn’t confuse relationship and love with rewards.

I think that this is point of this story that shows up in Luke 4 as well as in Matthew and Mark. I wonder if this passage is not about Jesus setting an example of resisting temptation, or about how we should be like Jesus, or that we will be tested like Jesus was tested. We can discuss all of those concepts and that would be fine. However, when we ask ourselves why was this story is included in the three synoptic gospels, I think the answer is relationship. The world operates on transactions and quid pro quo, and we often, even in our closest relationships operate on that premise as well. If the other person does something (or doesn’t do something) then we will react in kind. We think that if we do a good job, or ask nicely, we should get our Mercedes Benz.

Jesus refuses to even entertain that way of being and play that game, if you will. At every turn with the devil, Jesus points back to God and what God desires for us: deep and abiding relationship. We don’t live by bread alone, Jesus says; we are wired for connectivity. We worship and serve God, Jesus says; which means gathering as a community for worship and serving our neighbors. Don’t test God, Jesus says, don’t confuse God with an ATM, or a Magic 8 ball or think that God is about answers and rewards for good behavior. God is about relationship; being on the journey with us whether we are in the wilderness or in the lap of luxury, whether we behave or not; whether we deserve it or not. God knows that what we really need and God simply gives as pure gift: grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.

Jesus who reveals the promise of life, freedom and grace from God that only God can give us. Jesus who heals, feeds, weeps and loves all people so that God’s love can be known in the world. Possessions, power and yes, even food, are fleeting and temporary. They lead to a cavern so deep that we spend a lifetime trying to fill it with more and more, never satisfied. But Jesus, as God’s perfect gift, fills us with living water, fills us with God’s word and fills us with himself through bread and wine, gathering us as one people of God for the sake of the world so that the world is filled with love. This is what it is to be blessed. To be loved and to belong to the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

Just as Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” and led by the Spirit into the wilderness, God’s promise is that the Holy Spirit fills us and always stays with us everywhere we journey.  We celebrated that Jesus is God’s promise of relationship and love forever with pouring water over Will Patrick this morning. Reality is that believing in God won’t make all of our problems go away or that we will get a reward; there will be cancer, depression, not enough money, not enough time, not enough power. The promise is that God fills us with the Holy Spirit to be with us no matter what, especially in our wilderness wandering. Reality is that we will experience earthly death. The promise is that God will transform our tears into abundant joy, our sorrow into extraordinary hope and our death into life forever with God. The promise is that we belong to God and with God, forever, no matter what. Amen.