A Lutheran Says What?

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

Inconvenient Love: Story of God’s Love Advent 4 Year A December 23, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Dec. 22, 2019. The texts were:

Isaiah 7: 10-16
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Matthew 1: 18-25

Children’s sermon: How many of you have heard story about yourself from when you were really little, from before you can remember or even a story that you do remember and you remember it differently? Such as when my sister and I talk about Christmas’s when we were growing up, she has different memories than I do. She remembers what we ate for the meal, and I remember who was there, or she’ll remember having fun sledding and I’ll remember being cold and wet. What’s cool about that is between us, we have more pieces of a story and important parts are remembered. I have this book to read to you “Room for a Little One,” Jesus’ birth story told from the perspective of the animals. This story reminds us that there are different ways to hear and tell a story. Today we hear from the gospel of Matthew the story of Jesus being born. If you come back to church on Tuesday, you’ll hear a different story of Jesus’ birth from the writer of Luke. They remember different pieces of the story and sometimes that might seem confusing. But both stories tell us that the important piece is that Jesus was born to be God’s love with us. The details of both stories help us to connect with how much God loves us and the world. Here are crayons and paper. If you were going to tell the story of Jesus birth to someone what would you say? Let’s pray:

This really isn’t convenient at all. This makes my life more complicated and messier. Pregnant before I’m married by the Holy Spirit? Who’s going to believe that? And if no one believes that, then the message that this baby is the Messiah is going to be a really hard sell. As it is, everyone in town is talking about this-well about me. I see the side glances and hear the whispers behind my back. The people shaking their heads at me in judgment. Friends pretending to not know me. My family too embarrassed and angry to even leave the house, as this isn’t how they raised me to act and they think I’m bringing shame to the family name and legacy. I wonder if they’ll let me live with them still, especially since I’m was supposed to go live with my husband soon and not even be in the household any longer. And Joseph…he’s such a good, God-fearing man who lives his life by the law and would never dream of doing anything scandalous. What is he going to do? By law, he could have me stoned and then none of this will matter. At the very least, the marriage has to be off and I will be alone and expecting a baby.  Why God is choosing this way to bring the Messiah? Surely there is an easier way that would be more convenient and believable. If only I understood the whole plan.

This really isn’t convenient at all. This makes my life more complicated and messier. But I can’t shake this dream of the angel speaking to me. It’s hard to believe that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit…yeah right. Who is going to believe that? I hear what everyone in the town is saying, the names that they are calling her and how they look at me with disbelief. I never thought that I would be involved in a scandal like this, that’s not who I am or how I’ve lived my life. Following God’s law matters, the law keeps just these sorts of things from happening, you know. People were surprised when I simply went to her father to quietly end the marriage when many thought that Mary should receive the full punishment of stoning, but that is also not who I am.

Don’t be afraid the angel said. Well what does this angel know? Afraid doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what life will be like if I continue with the marriage. We’ll always be “that family” and I’ll always be the guy who is raising a child that isn’t mine-a son none the less. Not really my heir, not technically from my lineage which does come from King David himself. I am supposed to just ignore that truth? But what if the angel is right, that this baby IS the one who will live up to his name that comes from our ancient history-Joshua or as some would say Jesus-the one who saves from sin. God doesn’t give names lightly. I remember from the reading from the prophet Isaiah who spoke of this that there would be a child who will be God with us. I never thought that I would be connected to such a thing or that God would really come as a helpless child. Babies aren’t convenient in most cases, but God as a powerless baby? How will that save us?

This whole experience is inconvenient. But what if this isn’t only about me and my reputation and future? What if there is something beyond myself and Mary? Is marriage or any relationship ever convenient? God is mysterious and doesn’t always seem interested in convenience in how God acts, I mean look at our history as Israelites, wandering around in the desert for 40 years wasn’t super convenient and neither was placing the law on heavy stone tablets or our exile experience. Being Israelite and belonging to God has never been convenient and has often been cause for hardship. But in those experiences, we did learn to trust God, and that God’s love never leaves us. We learned that God keeps God’s promises. What if this isn’t an inconvenience but an opportunity for me to trust God? No matter what choice I make, my life is forever changed, as is Mary’s. Maybe this is living life faithfully, not by the rules I’ve always known, but by trust and love of God. Love is rarely about what’s the easiest but is about what matters in the big picture for living and trusting in God’s love. The easiest thing is for me to walk away, the loving thing is for me to believe that God loves me, Mary and this baby who God says will transform the world, even though I don’t fully understand. Perhaps one day this will all make sense to someone and God’s promise will be clear.

This really isn’t convenient at all. It’s more complicated and messier than we like. We want God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus to makes our life easy, comfortable, and predictable. God at work in our lives and in the world should mean that everything in our life will be respectable to the outside world, that following whatever rules we think matter will mean that we are protected from chaos and hurt. But that is not the promise. God works through the inconveniences to reveal God’s transformational presence and love with us and for us through Jesus, an inconvenient birth, in an inconvenient place to fill our lives with God’s forgiveness, mercy and life forever. Jesus, as God incarnate, enters the real everyday messiness of our lives, the strained or broken relationships, the worry of our reputations, the fear of harm and rejection, and hardships that come when we focus on only ourselves. It might seem inconvenient for God to decide to meet us in the form of a fallible human with grace, mercy and love, but God has never been interested in convenience. God has always been interested in you-in offering love and abundant life to you, and us all, in whatever way possible, no matter what the cost. Love that comes in words of encouragement and words of reflection. Love that is tenacious and vulnerable. Love that moves us beyond rules and the past. Love that comes from people whom we like and from those whom we don’t. Love that comes to us in memories or dreams. Loves that comes to us whether we want it or not. Love that calls us to trust and step forward into a future we don’t fully understand to reveal God’s promise, healing and embracing of all. Love that might be inconvenient but with us always. Amen.

 

“Come All Is Ready, Hear the Story of Life” Sermon on Mark 14 Maundy Thursday March 30, 2018

What story do we tell ourselves about our purpose, meaning and fulfillment in our lives in the 21st century? Is the meaning of life different today than say 2000 years ago? The banter at our house about the meaning of life comes from the Douglas Adams book “Life, the Universe and Everything: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” The question is asked in the book what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything? And the answer? 42. Clean, neat and simple. Unfortunately, the answer of 42 doesn’t hold up in our day to day lives that involve real quandaries, crises and suffering. And it certainly doesn’t give us a framework to make meaning of our complex lives. We have all probably tried to tell ourselves a story that gives our lives meaning. Maybe it’s the story of over working, overeating, drinking, over shopping, smoking, drugs. Or even a story that might seem more positive: yoga, or focus on exercise and diet, reading self-help books, sports. But at the end of the day, these are all human made concepts that we use to attempt to control the world around us and to have it all make sense. These stories might help us for a while. But eventually… they don’t. Other stories creep in: illness of mind or body, layoffs, violence, accidents, discrimination, broken relationships and suffering of all kinds. What story will we live in?

As modern people, we are not unique. This has been the age old existential crisis of humanity from the beginning of time. All the stories that humanity tried to tell themselves in the past also failed: conquering other cultures, oppression of some people while elevating others, gathering riches, or worshipping whatever seemed to give them happiness, however fleeting. None of these stories helped our ancestors make meaning of their lives either. Even with their best efforts, they couldn’t keep suffering and chaos at bay.

The Israelites also wrestled with how their lives made sense, particularly when they were in exile. It was while they were in exile that they began to write down the stories of their history that they had been telling each other, and their children, for generations. The story of Creation, the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Exodus, Passover, King David, King Solomon, division of the kingdoms, psalms, proverbs. These stories gave them a framework from which to live their lives in joyous and difficult times. In all these stories are realities of living as a human: joy, fear, contentment, success, ego, mistakes, lament and suffering. These stories also gave them the foundation of their source of meaning for their lives: God. These stories that became the Hebrew scriptures, shaped how the Jewish people knew themselves and the meaning of their life. To love and praise God, to know that suffering is inevitable, they belonged to God and God is always present. They took seriously the word of God and the call to embed these stories into the flow of their life. The Passover, as we read in Exodus, was one such story.

It is a story of the Israelites suffering in slavery in Egypt. God heard their cries and acted. God affirmed Moses as leader and sent plague after plague to get Pharaoh to let the slaves go. Finally, it took one last terrible plague where first born children would be killed. Those homes with blood of a lamb over the doorway would be passed over from the horrible event. Suffering would occur that night and it’s horrific to consider how the Egyptian families, innocently caught in this geopolitical/cosmic showdown, would pay the price. But the Israelites, would be spared. This is part of their identity as God’s people. God led them out of Egypt to the desert to go to the Promised Land, where they would live in peace and abundance. But first they had 40 years of manna, quail and water from a rock; first  God leading them with a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night; first God forged them as God’s own people, and this story of Passover each year gave them again the story to live into that God will save them, God will provide for them, God gathers them as God’s beloved people and God promises to be with them no matter where they are. It’s a story of living as God’s own people.

Jesus celebrated this story each year of his life. His whole life and ministry is framed by scripture, the story of God’s love for God’s people. Jesus lived solely into this story. And on the last Passover that Jesus would celebrate with his friends on this side of the cross, he added to the story, added meaning, richness and depth. He gave his friends and us something to help us make sense of our lives no matter what year it is or where we are. Jesus and his friends, including Judas who would succumb to another meaning and betray Jesus, heard the story again of God’s love, protection, provision and promise. Jesus then told them another chapter of this story: once again we live under occupation from an Empire, once again it seems that suffering and oppression abound, once again it appears that might, hate and betrayal will win, but that isn’t the story of who you are and it isn’t the story of who God is. Here is bread, bread that God provides, bread that sustains, bread that gathers you as one. It is my body, it is my life, not only for yours but with yours. My body that tells the world that you belong to God and no one else. Here is wine, wine that reminds us of God’s abundance and joy. Wine that is red, the color of my blood and yours, that will be shed. Blood shed to invoke selflessness, sacrifice and promise that God withholds nothing from God’s beloved people. Tell this story over and over. Do this story over and over. Tell this story when you are filled with joy and hope, tell it when you are suffering and in distress. Tell it to your children, tell it to strangers, tell it every time you gather. Tell this, do this, experience this  and live this.

This story is unlike any other story for us. It’s a story that re-members, reconnects, you, all of you, into the body of Christ, into the community of God. It is your meaning for life, life here on earth and life eternal. This story makes sense of joy from suffering, hope from despair and life from death.

We share in this story that began thousands of years ago, created meaning for our Jewish brothers and sisters, created meaning of the early Christian communities, created meaning for the Medieval reformers and creates meaning for us today. We continue this story here in 2018 and tonight during Holy Week: The story of mercy, promise, abundance, forgiveness, hope and radical, selfless love. It’s story that we take in with all our senses: we hear it, we see it, we smell it, we touch it and we taste it. This story truly lives within us as Christ lives in us too. We receive this story with open hands and open hearts. We receive to live it and to tell it. We do this story when we accompany someone who is hurting from disease, suffering from discrimination, lamenting in grief. We tell this to those whom we think deserve to experience this great love and to those whom we think don’t deserve this truth and joy. We tell it because it is really Jesus who tells the story, Jesus who makes meaning from bread and wine, Jesus who frees us to live as people of God and Jesus who gathers us all to the cross and makes meaning of our lives in the story of God’s promises for life now and forever. Come to the table to hear the story once again, for all is ready. The gifts of God for the people of God.