A Lutheran Says What?

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

Anger Management Sermon on Ephesians 4: 25-5:2 August 8, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 8, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

1 Kings 19: 4-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6: 35, 41-51
Young Friends message

When I was in fifth grade, my military family was stationed on Guam. It was not the most stress-free environment for a 10-year-old. Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific, in the middle of the Cold War, isolation from family, basic supplies rationed, lack of many amenities that one takes for granted on the mainland, disease was common, and even school was very different. We went to school off base, in a building that had concrete walls, tin roof, louvers instead of windows, no air conditioning, the door to the classroom opened straight to the outside, and families took turns providing a box fan for the classroom. The school property had been clear cut out of the jungle, so finding a jungle critter in your classroom or desk was not uncommon. Yes, kids are resilient and yes, I was a hyperaware, perfectionist, intuitive kid who was very stressed out. So basically, this personality you see before you today in a child. It was not good times for anyone in my family.

One day we were taking a test in my fifth grade classroom, and there was a breeze coming through the louvers that repeatedly blew my paper off my desk. After about the fourth or fifth time, I had had it. I snapped. I took my paper, tore it up into little pieces and stomped over to the trash can and threw them away, muttering under my breath with each step. My teacher, Mrs. Lucio, was stunned. Needless to say, my parents were called in with the concern that perhaps I needed to learn a little anger management. I remember being made to do a research paper on stress. I’m not sure that helped. But it did make me aware for the first time in my ten short years that stress was a thing and it was not a thing I was handling well. And this was when my dad introduced me to running. Unfortunately, what my ten-year-old self took away from that experience was that anger was bad, something to be pushed away, and a cause of shame. I spent a lot of years in my life thinking that I wasn’t allowed to be angry, which ironically, made me angry. It really hasn’t been all that long in my adult life that I’ve reconciled that anger is an ok emotion, just as all our emotions are neither good nor bad, but just are. What’s important about our emotions is how we act or don’t act on them. Or as theologian Father Richard Rohr says, “pain that isn’t transformed is transmitted.” Hurting people, hurt people.

What I also didn’t learn until I was an adult, is that anger is a secondary emotion. Anger often masks other emotions such as fear or sadness. Anger is a response to any other emotion. Anger can seem less vulnerable than admitting your sad or scared. Anger is part of our armor that we hope protects and separates us from what is sad or scary. It’s also one of the phases of grief. Clearly, I wasn’t angry at the wind or the test. I was grieving that my life wasn’t what I was used to living in the US. I was moving through the phases of grief, the shock of a different culture, the denial that I couldn’t force my life to be the same, anger that I couldn’t control anything, bargaining wasn’t even a possibility for my young self, and yes, eventually some acceptance that there were gifts in this phase of life too. This wouldn’t be the last time I moved through these waves of grief, and I have learned to recognize them a bit sooner. And I have learned to recognize when others are grieving. That recognition of someone’s grief allows my anger to be transformed and can lead me to come to the comfort and aid of others. Anger can be transformed.

There’s a lot of anger in our society right now because we’re a grieving society. And it’s ok. We have a lot to grieve, I would affirm. We’re going through the stages of grief around a virus, racial injustice, economic stress and more. So, we’re angry. We’re angry at the people denying the virus and the science. We’re angry that some people are willing to bargain their own convenience over the health of others. We’re angry that people aren’t willing to care for and love their neighbor. We’re angry at the exposed wealth and equality gaps. We’re angry at the death toll. We’re angry that we can’t even grieve, come together as a community for support and love the way we are used to.
So. what do we do with our grief: with our shock, denial, anger, bargaining for what can’t be, and get to some reconciliation or acceptance of what is? I don’t have a prescriptive plan for you such as five ways to deal with your grief or an anger management program. I don’t think a research paper will help this heart problem. But here’s what I do know: we are created in God’s image and called to imitate God our creator. You might recall from the biblical witness that God gets angry too. And we don’t have time today to dig too deeply into some of those traumatizing and problematic stories, and yes, the Flood narrative is difficult, the plague of the killing of the first born is horrific, the exile stories are puzzling, and my intent this morning is not to deal with the paradox or gloss over it but simply to say yes, those are hard stories and yes, God’s anger is real. I would offer that perhaps even God recognized that God’s anger wasn’t always handled well. But here’s the good news for us on imitating God: For God so loved the world. God’s anger always kindled greatest when we were harming each other, not loving each other, and separating ourselves from one another and ultimately God. But God never stopped loving us or creation. God never gave up on relationship with us, God didn’t use anger as an armor to separate from us. God’s anger was transformed by God’s love. God’s love for us moved God past anger, to covenants with God’s people over and over. God sent Jesus to be the final promise of never letting us go. And yes, Jesus got angry too, flipping over tables and systems that harmed people. God never tolerates oppression, harm, separation, or evil. Never. So, when we are admonished to imitate God, we are to love the world, both humanity and creation, with tenacity.

We are to take our anger, our grief, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us to act out of love for our neighbor. We recognize our own waves of grief, so that we can support and empathize with others in their waves of grief. We are in a scary time, which is why we are angry. And God accepts us just as we are, imperfections, anger and all, and loves us. God doesn’t want our anger to cause us to sin against our neighbor, God wants our anger to open us to love and care for our neighbor. Our anger moves us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and foreigner without conditions, house the homeless, ensure clean water and air for the next generation, and act for the care of all creation. That is eternal and abundant life. Life together, messy life together, fully accepted by God who loves the world. This is our baptismal promise from God. That our grief, our anger is held and transformed by God’s love.

We are going to practice letting go of anger, allowing it to transform our hearts and continue in our process of imitating God. You have a card in your bulletin, and if you don’t, please raise your hand and one will be brought to you. Take a moment and write what is making you angry right now. Then you can tear it up, and place the pieces in the font. God promises to accept our anger and transform our anger into love for the world.

 

Communion on Guam August 12, 2017

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 5:42 am
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I’m not preaching this week, but literally, this “sermon” came to me tonight as I reflected on the events of our world. It is based on the gospel for this week, Matthew 14: 22-33.

I took my First Communion on Christmas Eve 1982 at the age of ten on the island of Guam. I moved there when I as almost 9 and it became a pivotal moment in my faith life. My dad was stationed on Guam as the public affairs officer at the Air Force Base from 1981-83. Guam, a US territory since WWII, is a strategic asset for the US and NATO and has two military bases. Guam is an island 36 miles long and 8 miles wide and has been sought after by super powers for nearly a century. The native language is Chamorro, and when I lived there, the Catholic church had a presence that were Lutheran missionaries. Guam was a shock to my system in many ways. School was not as I was used to: classrooms had concrete walls, tin roofs, and louvers were windows would be. Houses were concrete and sparse. Some supplies were rationed. There were not stores for shopping (outside of the BX) and the only American restaurant was the lone McDonalds. Oh, and it’s a SAC base, in the Cold War. Which means that in the chess game were the relations between the US and Russia, turns out where I lived, was a pawn on the board. It was not necessarily a common topic of conversation, yet we all knew that we were a first strike location. At nine, I had the realization that someone wouldn’t hesitate to kill me and not think twice and I wouldn’t even have a chance to save myself. This is a hefty epiphany for an elementary age child. I can remember lying in my bed worrying about dying, being killed and the childish concern of what would happen to my beloved stuffed animals (these were my companions as a military brat) if I was no longer around to care for them? (I didn’t really put together that they would be annihilated as well.)

The fear of death wasn’t about non-existence as much as it was about being alone or abandoned. Or perhaps it was the fear of the unknown or what I couldn’t control. I articulated some of this in a hesitant way to my parents, who tried to comfort me the best they could (in full disclosure, I didn’t share with them all of my thoughts as I didn’t want to worry them…), but in the end I internalized most of this fear.

We were a family who went to church every Sunday and even on Guam, there was no exception. We went to the base chapel and the chaplain happened to live on my street. He was a wonderful man, a Baptist, whom I remember he and his wife fondly. They were older and sort of the surrogate grandparents of the block. Many of us wouldn’t see our grandparents for years as one does not just “go to Guam.” So, Mrs. McGraw would bake us cookies, pies, and take care of us when our worn out mothers needed a break. The McGraws were stationed stateside back to the mainland after our first year into our two year assignment.

Enter the Lutheran pastor. I honestly don’t remember his name, but he quickly discovered that there were four Lutheran families on the base and we started a very early Sunday morning worship service with the Lutheran liturgy. I was fifth grade by then, and it was time for First Communion instruction. So I met with the pastor (it was only me) once a week for three months for communion class. My anxiety over living on Guam increased. I had spent most of the first six months of our tour very sick with what the doctors shrugged and chalked up to the “Guam crud.” In other words, my body wasn’t adjusting to different water, food and environment very well causing unpleasant and chronic side effects that I will leave to your imagination. I had fear in spades. The peak of this stress can be epitomized in the following episode that I remember from my fifth grade class. Now remember, there are no windows, no air conditioning, the doors on each side of the classroom opened up to the outside and really to the jungle, so critters wandered in and out and there was a constant breeze. One day we were taking a test and the wind kept blowing my paper off of my desk. After the third time or so, I had had it. In a fit, I tore up my test, waded it up into a little ball and threw it away. I then went back to my desk and as loudly and angrily as I could, sat down in my chair with my arms crossed. My very wise teacher, said nothing. At the end of the day, she called me over to her desk. She simply said, I want you to write an essay about stress this weekend.

I went home and asked my parents what stress was. They were immediately concerned and I had to come clean about my behavior. My dad (an English lit major) told me to write what worries me, what I think stress is and how to cope. I had no idea. I was completely overwhelmed by fear of nuclear war, being sick, getting hurt in a place where serious injuries meant going to Japan, away from your family, and death. And I had no idea that this level of worry was not normal for a ten year old.

But I was in communion class. I asked the pastor about stress in my next Sunday afternoon class with him. He was thoughtful and said that stress is normal but what matters is how we handled it. He asked me if I prayed to God. I did actually. I don’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t talk to God. I told God all of the things that I was ashamed to tell anyone else. The pastor asked me if I had talked to God about my stress and fear. I hadn’t. My ten year old brain parsed those things separate from my faith. Fear of death seemed not anything like faith at all. But like Peter in this week’s gospel, fear was sinking me faster than I could handle. The pastor told me that part of the story of the Last Supper is Jesus reminding the disciples that through the bread and the wine, Jesus was with them always and everywhere, and they didn’t need to be afraid. “Jesus was with us everywhere?” I thought. Even Guam?

This isn’t a nice neat story of how this revelation eased my fears and I quit worrying or being stressed. Nope. I still worried (still do!), I was still afraid (still am!), and was still stressed (yep). BUT also like Peter, I learned that keeping my eyes on Jesus in the midst of this worry, fear and stress would remind me that I am not alone in my chaos. The bread, wine, water and prayer reorient my vision to Jesus, the one who comes to us everywhere (even Guam) across chaotic and volatile waves to give us his hand, to lift us up and to speak words of “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus speaks these words to Peter and to us, not because we can simply stop being afraid, but precisely because we can’t. We can’t stop being afraid in our world where death, worry and stress are prevalent. But you see, with Jesus, our fear doesn’t paralyze us, doesn’t keep us from walking to Jesus with confidence, doesn’t become the dominant voice in our lives, doesn’t rule our decisions, and sure as hell doesn’t win.

The journey that began on that island was one that I am still on. This week has reminded me of the necessity for the message of Jesus in our world. Guam is once again a target and I pray for the military 9 year old little girl lying in her bed under the palm trees (and all people on the island) who doesn’t know why someone wants to hurt her. I pray for the black little girl in Charlottesville who doesn’t understand why someone wants to hurt her. I pray for us all and that we quit hurting each other. I give thanks for those who proclaimed the truth of the gospel to me. The truth that Jesus will walk across the most seemingly impossible terrains to come to us with hands outstretched and words of comfort. The truth that nourished and gathered in bread and wine that fear doesn’t win and death will never have victory. Thanks be to God.

 

My problem with Costco November 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 1:33 am
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Now before I start getting hate mail, let me clarify-I love Costco. I love that they have ethical employee policies, that their CEO is content with a “normal” wage (still more than most people will ever see but it’s not excessive), that now I can get gluten free items, and that their self-brand is named for the town I was born in (Kirkland, WA). But here is the problem that Costco triggers for me-a case of the “what ifs.” Let me explain.
The first time I went into any sort of warehouse store was in Portland, OR in 2000. We had just moved to Oregon and one of the “benefits” of my husband’s new IT job was a membership to Costco. Many people had told me how amazing and awesome Costco was so I thought I would give it a go. I loaded up my two babies (3 and 1) and off we went. The first thing I loved as a young mom was a cart with double child seats. Marvelous! So I started my trek. Carter’s brand clothing for the children at a discount price-yay! Diapers and wipes cheap-double yay! But then it happened…I went down the paper products aisle. I froze and simply stared at the shoulder high stacks of paper towels, napkins and-oh be still my beating heart-toilet paper. Yes, an odd reaction to toilet paper I am aware. But again, hang in and let me further explain.
I am an Air Force brat. My dad served 26 years as an officer and we moved frequently. One of those moves was to the island of Guam, where we lived for two years. Guam as a kid was awesome: out of school everyday by 1 p.m., hanging out on a beach about 4 days a week, roller skating in shorts on Christmas Day, trees to climb, bats to annoy, palm fronds to learn to weave, plumeria flowers to make into leis and a myriad of other activities unique to living on an island. But there were some quirks about being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Such as no department stores, not many restaurants and your grocery items arriving by boat or plane on a schedule. What that meant is that you were only allowed a certain amount of food and other products such as…yes, toilet paper. Basically, we were rationed. My mother figured out exactly how much we could eat each day (don’t get too concerned-we never starved and I was largely unaware of food rations, until we didn’t follow my mom’s plan and we ran out of something), how much soap, cleaning supplies to use and how many squares of toilet paper you could use at a time.
Now, often things were fine that this was not really a true hardship-just a reality. But my sister and I would get frequent reminders of when the next toilet paper shipment would come and so don’t use more than you need! Occasionally, a storm or some military issue would delay the arrival of grocery items and the rationing became “what if we don’t get supplies until next week.” When this happened sometimes the toilet paper issue would hit what my dad referred to as “critical mass.” Rations would get smaller and you hoped you didn’t get sick (that was a frequent problem for many on the island). Yikes!
Fast forward to my paralyzed amazement in the toilet paper aisle at Costco. Now I had seen large packages of toilet paper before and my husband is generally tolerant of my residual need to always have a stash of toilet paper, but this…this glorious place where toilet paper was plentiful and I could be nearly guaranteed of never needing to ration. I bought two cases.
Now, I am not a hoarder, so don’t think if you come to my house that my basement is a toilet paper warehouse (it is not) but there is this strong sense of security knowing that if something happened and I suddenly could not have access to a store, that I have a stockpile of toilet paper.
Today was my monthly trip to Costco-those two babies in the cart that first trip are now very hungry teenagers and so diapers and wipes have given way to pizzas, meat, bread, and other carbs of all kinds. Now I am sure you are curious-did I or didn’t I? You will be shocked to know that I am capable of growth and I convinced myself that I have plenty of toilet paper. For today. Costco opens at 10 a.m. tomorrow.