A Lutheran Says What?

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

Don’t Lose Sight Sermon on John 1: 43-51 January 15, 2021

This sermon was preached on Jan. 17, 2021 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC

The texts were:
1 Samuel 3: 1-20
Palm 139: 1-6, 13-18
John 1: 43-51

In my preaching classes in seminary, we studied and listened to several renowned proclaimers of the gospel, including Martin Luther King Jr. We spent a whole class session on King’s infamous “I have a dream” speech. In listening to the speech in its entirety, our professors pointed out something that most of us hadn’t heard before. About half-way through his speech, when King paused, a woman in the front row could be heard shouting, “tell us about the dream Martin, tell us about the dream!” You see, this proclamation that King had written for that day, didn’t originally contain the “I have a dream” rhetoric. He had used the theme at other times in his preaching, but that had not been his intent for this speech. But he took seriously in that moment the urgency of the woman begging to be reminded of a vision, she wanted to see what was possible, and she wanted all the people listening to catch a glimpse of the vision that King and the Civil rights movement offered in liberation, equality, and justice in God’s kingdom and kin-dom. Kin-dom means humanity gathered as one community in the promises of God. Our professors wanted us novice preacher to not lose sight of what matters, one, sometimes you have to let go of what you had envisioned for proclamation and allow the Holy Spirit’s vision to come to fruition, and two, don’t underestimate the power of offering God’s vision to people. People are hungry for a vision of what could be despite what it seems to be. People are always looking for vision, are they going to see God’s or the world’s? Will they lose sight of our life together and themselves? And more frightening…will God lose sight of us?

I confess that I sometimes lose sight that God sees me, sees all that I do, all that I say, all that I think and all that I don’t do, say and think. Everything. Well, maybe I don’t forget, maybe I live in denial that God sees me. If I were to always keep this fact conscious, I would probably be appropriately paralyzed in fear. I mean, the God of all creation is watching me? That can’t be good. But God does see me, and thank God, sees beyond my failures, my cynicism, my temper, and my shortcomings. God sees me, the one whom God created in the divine image, proclaimed as beloved, having worth and value. God sees not just who I am to God, but who I can be for the world. God’s vision for me is, thank God, beyond what I could ever envision for myself. I lose sight of who I want to be. I sell myself short and figure that nothing good can come from me, as I am too flawed.
The real tragedy in this, is the fact that I then limit my vision of who others are, as well. If I can’t envision myself as God sees me, then I’m not seeing people though God’s vision either. I make assumptions about people and situations, always through my dim and limited human view and not through God’s imaginative and broad vision. I assume that nothing good can come from people whom I only see in one dimension. I forget and lose sight that God can and does see fully, not only me, but all people and that God’s vision is always about goodness and life.

Like Eli and the new disciples in John 1, we don’t look hard enough at ourselves and others. Eli refused to truly see or act on the harmful corruption perpetrated by his sons, and so had to endure the consequences, being held accountable by God and removed as a priestly family with authority. Eli lost sight of his responsibilities and role in the community as healer and proclaimer of God’s grace. Nathanael couldn’t see past his own prejudice of Nazareth, a town no better than a bump in the road that produced nothing of value, which led him to dismiss Jesus out of hand. Despite human failures, God’s vision won’t be clouded. God called the boy Samuel, to be a prophet who would anoint kings for Israel and offer a new vision for the Israelites. God’s own son, Jesus would see through Nathanael’s cynicism and invite him to see beyond what he thought he knew, and beyond his own life to what God was offering the world. In God’s vision, things are not as they appear and good does come from hard situations, hard conversations, and from the least expected people and places. In God’s vision, the question shifts from “what good can come from this?” to “what good does God see in this?” God doesn’t lose sight of the vision of wholeness, love and mercy.
It doesn’t mean that we wear rose-colored glasses or deny hardships, to the contrary, God’s vision requires us to see reality, to see our own guilt and complicity, to see the harm we’ve inflicted, to see our own flaws, as well as to see the divine spark in all people that is begging to be seen, as the woman begged King to tell her the dream again. She knew that God’s desire was for this spark to be seen in the world. There is something liberating about being completely seen. When we know that we can’t hide, we’re exposed, then we can give up the façade, and live into the truth of who we are, and who we are to God. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered people, Black, white and brown this God sized vision of liberation in the truth. He never lost sight of what was important and what mattered, liberation for all. When we face the difficult truths, when we can see ourselves and other people clearly, we can then see God’s kingdom at work in us all, together, not as an “us vs. them” but as a collective community of beloved people of God revealing God’s vision for creation. Jesus called Nathanael to see this vision, and Jesus calls us to see it too. Jesus calls us to do the hard work of setting aside biases, being in relationships with people whom the rest of society shuns, to speak the truth, especially when people are being harmed, and to live in a way that honors creation. God’s vision can’t be dimmed by anything we do or say but we can illuminate God’s vision when we join with God for love, hope, mercy and forgiveness. We will see that good does and will come from what God is doing in our midst through the love of Jesus Christ. We will see God’s kingdom and kin-dom come. We won’t lose sight that God never loses sight of us. Amen.


 

Renewed by Faith Sermon on Luke 17: 5-10 Pentecost 17 Year C October 6, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Oct. 6, 2019 in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were:
Psalm 37:1-9
2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Luke 17: 5-10

 

Children’s sermon: Invite the children forward. Then invite an adult for each child to come forward as well. Ask the children: “Do you wonder what you will be like when you grow up? Yes, of course! Even as adults we wonder about our future! These adults here have a lot of experience in life. I’m going to ask them to take turns and share with you one thing that they want you to know about God in your life as you grow up and what they see in you that is special and will serve God when you’re older.” Ask the children “is that what you see for yourself? Yes? No? It’s so good to hear what other people see about us that is special! It can give us a bigger vision of ourselves and what we can do!  You do your normal every day stuff: eating food, going to school, soccer, ballet, piano, cleaning your room, coming to SS and church-kinda all ordinary not exciting things but those things are part of who you are and yet they are special too, because it’s how you serve and love Jesus.
The disciples were struggling with the feeling that they felt too ordinary for the work Jesus was asking them to do. The asked Jesus to give them more faith so that they can be amazing-but Jesus said, you don’t need more of anything- you have all that you need to do big things! Faith isn’t about size, or what we know, Jesus says faith is about God’s presence in your life, how God sees you, and God’s power. Jesus tells the disciples that with God’s power, maybe you can move a tree to be planted into the ocean! That might seem silly, but Jesus says, don’t limit yourself because you think that you’re a kid, or ordinary and plain-because God’s vision of what you can do with God is limitless and it renews us each day.  Dream big about what God can do in your life! Jesus understands that we can’t always dream big-sometimes our imaginations are tired. And so that is why we gather together-we pass on the faith-God’s vision of what God can do in our lives and in the world-to each other! And that doesn’t have to be fancy, just reading the bible, talking, praying, helping other people, those ordinary things, help us to keep dreaming big together-to see what God is doing in the world and how we can do those things with God. I want you on this paper to write/draw what you want to do with God this week to share God’s love. Put it on our cross at the back.  Let’s pray:

It’s easy to feel that we aren’t enough. It can seem in life that we are always waiting for when we have enough of something: whether it’s enough money to retire, or enough courage to make a career or life change, or enough time to go on that vacation, as human beings we seem wired to notice what we don’t have rather than taking stock of what we do have. For humans, everything can be a commodity, measured and weighed, right? And then when we see exactly how much we have of something, we can assess whether we need more or not. And the funny thing is, how many of us have over looked at our bank accounts, our calendars, our courage and said-“oh this much is perfect! It will do nicely.” I know that I never have. We tend to live in the perspective of scarcity. And when we measure ourselves against others or some unattainable standard, it exhausts us, discourages us, and we can feel worthless regardless of what we do really have.

Faith has become of victim of this kind of thinking in our 21st century lives. When I think about my faith, I immediately do an inventory of all the people whom I think have more faith than I do. And the list is long. But when I talk to those people, I discover that they don’t think they have any more faith than anyone else, and often they feel that they have less. And so, we all set about trying to figure out how to get more faith. We think that to increase faith, we have to do extraordinary things and be extraordinary people-you know be like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, or St. Francis of Assisi. To have more faith, we must never doubt, never question, and lead an exemplary life. And in our American culture, we connect faith with receiving blessings, and we buy the lie that if we have enough faith, live faithful and faith-filled lives, that God will give us things-material things-as a sign of our faithfulness. This is called the prosperity gospel-that if you live faithfully, God will bless you with wealth. This is dangerous and false. Jesus never says this, in fact, Jesus says that we will suffer for the gospel-and Paul reiterates this in our 2 Timothy reading today. So what is faith? And how does it function in our lives?

The disciples were struggling with this too, it seems. In the verses before our gospel text started, Jesus had been teaching them to not be an obstacle for others, and forgiving someone over and over. All of this must have stressed them out because our passage opens with the disciples pleading to Jesus “increase our faith!” We can’t possibly do all those things! We’re too human, we lack so much! Give us more faith so that we have enough! Jesus’ response indicates that the disciples have not understood. Faith, Jesus says, is not a worldly good that you can have more or less of, you can’t get more, manufacture more, nor can you lose it. Faith isn’t up to you, it’s up to God. Faith is a gift from God freely given to you and to all. Faith is God’s vision of you, for you, your life and for the world. Faith is being connected to God’s presence and power in your everyday life, even if you can’t see, feel, or hear God. Faith also isn’t an inoculation against hardships. We will all encounter hard things of one kind or another, and faith reminds us of God’s presence in the midst of things we can’t understand, and vision beyond what we can see in the here and now. God’s gift of faith expands our imagination of what we, our ordinary selves, in our ordinary days can do with God. God’s gift of faith pulls us into community with God and others.

Jesus adds on to this explanation of faith that expands our vision, with the story of the master and the slaves. This story makes us uncomfortable, as slavery is a hard part of our country’s history and we know still goes on today with people who are caught in human trafficking. Jesus doesn’t shy away from this hard reality but names it and turns it on its head. The human master uses power over people for his/her own benefit, exerting their power for themselves and this is always harmful. Jesus moves us from seeing ourselves as the master to the slave as a reminder that Jesus came to serve, to be the master that uses power for other people, for healing and for us and we are to do the same. Faith from God is God sharing power, vision, and love with us. Faith is living your day to day life naming reality, even hard things, in the presence of God who proclaims you beloved and enough, and who has the power and love to transform all that we do into more than enough, expanding God’s kingdom in the world in ways that we can’t always imagine. Faith is sharing that transformation.

God gives us faith to see what others struggle to see: how the world in God’s vision can be and how we are enough to be a part of it. Each day God’s presence renews us and our faith to reveal God’s kingdom in everything we do. Things that we might think are ordinary or not worth much in worldly standards. But faith tells us we do have everything we need for ministry and mission each day here at Our Saviour’s. Can we see God’s vision for OSLC in the next ten years? What does it look like? We’re looking with God’s vision into the future and we see greater connections with our neighborhood through Scouting, a playground for all who come to our property for any reason, ensuring our building is usable for whatever ministry God invites us into in the future, engaging and meaningful worship that proclaims all people have worth, will feel safe with healthy boundaries,  will be affirmed in their gifts and faith will be passed from one to another. We can look with God’s vision where God is calling us to be people of reconciliation and healing for those who are on the margins of our society. We can look with faith for what new thing God is doing in our midst and step toward it.

Renewal is all around us-for God is already at work.  We are gifted by God with faith to be connected to God and God’s people. We live in the promise of all being beloved and having worth. We do only what we know we ought to do: use our ordinary actions as part of God’s extraordinary work in the world. We are indeed renewed by faith.  Thanks be to God.

Prayer Station: You can take a post it note and share how you can participate in God’s vision for OSLC in the coming year and place it on our cross on the back window.