A Lutheran Says What?

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

Don’t Be Distracted: Sermon on Mark 7: 24-37 September 10, 2018

This sermon was proclaimed at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO on September 9, 2018. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

Distractions…Children’s sermon: Gather children and say that you have something really important to tell them. Then get a text, say “oh wait, let me look at this…ooo very cool. Do you all want to see this picture of the bouncy house outside? It’s so awesome! Oh look here’s more pictures of my daughter’s cat…oh wait a minute…are we supposed to be looking at pictures on my phone or doing something else? Oh that’s right! I wanted to tell you about Jesus but I got distracted by my phone! Does that ever happen to you? You go to do something or your mom, dad or teacher asks you to do something important and you then you walk by the tv, a game, or a toy and get distracted and don’t do that thing? Yep! It happens to everyone, even adults! What do you think is more important– these pictures on my phone or telling or showing you about the love of Jesus? Love of Jesus! In today’s bible stories, we are reminded not to get distracted by stuff going on in our lives from showing people that Jesus loves them. Sometimes we get distracted. Do you ever get distracted in school? Or by how people look, or act, or what they say, but Jesus wants us to remember that THE most important thing in our lives is to show everyone love by putting people first, not toys, games, or something that we want to do, but what our friends and families NEED us to do so that they feel loved. What are ways to show your friends and family Jesus’ love? Yep! I’m going to talk to the adults some more about that, but let’s pray first.

I am so easily distracted! How many of you here have picked up your phone to maybe text a family member and then get sucked in to social media or another message from someone else, put down your phone 30 minutes later only to realize you never actually sent the text/email you picked your phone up to do! I have found myself doing that.  It can make me worry I’m losing my mind! That’s rhetorical btw, you don’t get a vote on that. But I get distracted by the email or text that is right in front of me and so seems so urgent that I forget the first thing I wanted to do. I get tunnel vision and can miss what is truly important and has value.

We live in a time and culture where someone or something is always trying to pull our attention and distract us: media, technology, politics, hobbies, “to-do” lists,  sports, school activities, jobs and our social lives! And distractions aren’t bad, they can be good and wonderful things. But distractions can keep us from being present in the moment and can keep us from remembering what really matters.

Our scripture texts for today reorient us to what is important, although on the surface, we can get distracted by some other stuff going on. In Mark, it’s easy to get distracted by the uncomfortable exchange between the Syrophoenician woman and Jesus. Jesus makes a very harsh comment to this desperate mother who only wants to save her daughter. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” I spent a great deal of time distracted this week trying to explain this away and make Jesus sound less harsh, as let’s be clear, this is an insult. We can’t pretty up that Jesus called her a dog. And I don’t think we should let Jesus off the hook either. Jesus is fully human and a product of his culture and time. And Jesus is in a foreign land, he is the outsider in Tyre and the woman is the insider, however, she knows that she shouldn’t speak to a strange man by herself, she knows that there are deep tensions between the Hellenized Gentiles in this region and the Jews that they regularly oppress. But she boldly asks for what she needs from Jesus, and it seems, this is exactly the response she expected because she had a quick comeback “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She didn’t deny or argue with what Jesus said, she didn’t get distracted by the slur. She stood her ground, spoke her truth to the person in power and stayed focused on why she was there: She knew that Jesus could cast the demon out of her daughter. Fine, I’m a dog, whatever, save my child, this is what matters. You can do it Jesus. You’re the messiah!

Jesus was awakened from his own distractions by this woman and her bold, faithful actions. Yes, Jesus came to proclaim God’s redemption and God’s kingdom here on earth to the Israelites first, first being the important word here, but yes to Gentiles too. Please don’t forget that, the woman asks. Jesus had been distracted by the urgent need of the Israelites but now Jesus reorients to the vastness and inclusivity of God’s kingdom-and he doesn’t just say this, he acts on it by healing from afar. Jesus doesn’t even have to be near to heal and offer new life to the little girl.

And again, in the healing of the man who was deaf and couldn’t speak, Jesus doesn’t get distracted by the fact that this man too is a Gentile and therefore unclean, and not only touches him, but uses his own spit and touches the man’s tongue, (who here would do that?), to not only free him from his condition but also free him to be included back into the community. Despite Jesus saying not to speak of this healing, the man and his friends can’t help but to proclaim the power of Jesus. Their words affirm Jesus’ actions of risk, boundary crossing and faith. They can’t be distracted from what they have experienced in Jesus, their faith is focused on sharing the new life that Jesus offered this man.

I know that I often get distracted in my everyday life and in my faith life. I get caught, like Jesus, in the tunnel vision of the things I think are more important, or as the passage from James states, focusing on the people and things that are comfortable, easy and don’t challenge me. I can see suffering, hunger, loneliness, pain, and say, well, I’ll offer a word of hope and prayer, but I’ve got to get ready for Bible study, Rally Day, or this sermon or Confirmation. I’m distracted by what seems important at the time, but perhaps is not really what I should be focused on. James’ community is struggling with this too, the people are distracted by what is comfortable, easy and they don’t want to get their hands dirty. Certain people are given more importance, value and attention than others. Those who appear to have no worldly resources or status are pushed aside while the people are distracted by those who seem to have money and social status. I love that the writer of James names these worldly and cultural distractions for us so plainly and reminds us in these well-known and well discussed words “Faith without works is dead.”

This makes us itchy as Lutherans as we know that we are saved by God’s grace and not our own works, but we need the reminder, that just like we can’t let Jesus off the hook for his words, nor are we off the hook for ours. James brings us to task that what we actually DO matters. We can’t simply offer kind and trite words of “I’ll pray that you find food.” Or “I’ll pray that you get housing.” Or “I’ll pray that you aren’t judged by your gender, race or sexuality.” No, we are called, dear siblings in Christ, to bold, risky and loving actions for the sake of those whom society throws away and doesn’t value. Don’t be distracted by political rhetoric, don’t be distracted by wealth, don’t be distracted by those who seem to have power or authority, don’t be distracted by social status, don’t be distracted by your own comfort and wants, don’t be distracted by flattering words and don’t be distracted by harsh, critical words either. Stay focused on what matters: the kingdom of God, where God works through us, yes us, in bold and unexpected ways, to ensure that all people have voice, dignity, value, are included, are cared for and all people are deeply and unconditionally loved.  Faith is a loving gift from God and our works bring this faith alive in Christ for the sake of the world without distraction.

As we kick off a new program year today, may we as the people of Bethany stay focused on what matters, on what has true value. May we offer bold words that speak this truth to the powers that need to hear them and may our faithful actions  reveal the kingdom of God in our very midst. But most of all, may we live undistracted, undeterred and uninhibited in the grace of God’s love that is for us all people. Thanks be to God.

 

 

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What Do You Fall For? Mark 5: 21-43 Pentecost 5 Year B June 28, 2015 June 28, 2015

What kind of things do you “fall for”? I don’t mean literally fall necessarily, although as a naturally clumsy person known to trip over nothing, I do fall more than my fair share in the actual sense. But we use the term “fall” in all kinds of positive and negative ways. We “fall in love,” we “fall for a prank,” we “fall for a sales pitch,” we “fall for a lie.” We use this term to describe about how we as human beings can get tripped up by situations in life, good and bad, situations that we don’t have control over, don’t have all of the information about or are events that mystify us. I fall for all kinds of things, such as sometimes I’m not sure if I’m being teased or not and I’m fairly certain that the first used car Mike and I bought we “fell” for the sales pitch. I have, of course, fallen in love with my spouse and our three children and would do anything for them. Falling in this sense has to do with a reorientation of priorities and elevating the needs or place of others in your life before yourself. This can be a tricky step, but if you are in relationship with someone who has “fallen” for you too, then there is a mutual respect and dignity for each other. This falling is the acceptance of your life being so deeply connected to someone else that you don’t care if you are made the fool as long as the other person knows your devotion and love for them.
There is a lot of falling down in our gospel story this morning. First Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, a man of some standing in the community, is desperate. He is desperately grieved that his beloved daughter is dying and despite his religious knowledge, education and status, he doesn’t know what to do. He is out of options for his daughter, so he runs to Jesus. Jairus sees Jesus and immediately fell at his feet. He gave up his status and his dignity for the sake of the life of his daughter. His love for his daughter drove him to fall at the feet of someone who could offer hope in this hopeless situation.
Then we have the woman who has been suffering from bleeding for twelve years and she is also desperate. She is desperate to not suffer any longer, to not be an unclean outcast and to not be all alone, that she decides to see if this Jesus about whom she had heard so much, could heal her. She has nothing to lose as she is out of money, out of doctors to try, out of the community by being unclean and mostly out of hope. This woman also fell at Jesus’ feet, for she had been healed by merely touching his clothes and when Jesus realized this had occurred, he demanded to know who had done this. I like to think that Jesus knew exactly who had touched him but wanted this desperate, isolated and excluded woman to be seen by her God who loved her very much. When she realized that she couldn’t hide her healing, she fell in front of the one who had restored and reoriented her whole life in a split second. Jesus had not just offered her physical healing but healed her status and returned her to community. Jesus called her daughter, publically claimed her as God’s own and proclaimed her true identity.
These two people in our story fall in front of Jesus, they fall to his love, fall to his power of healing, fall to the mystery of God in their midst and they fall to the idea that they could control their lives all by themselves without God. Falling to these realities is very powerful and yet is also an admittance of being powerless. So much in our lives make us feel powerless, desperate to the point that we will try or do anything, and terrified of what might happen if we do nothing. We can’t control whether or not we will get cancer, or if the housing market will crash, if we will be in an accident, if people do what we want them to do, what people say about us, what pastor we will have next, who will hate us based on how we look or act, who will deny us basic dignity or human rights and the list goes on and on. We fall everyday to the illusion that we can control those things and we “fall” for those lies that the world tells about what life should be like.
It can seem like we have nowhere to turn and we don’t know what to do so we fall for the wrong things: we fall for our own wants, preferences, desires and fears. We fall for worry over having enough money, power, control or friends. In our congregation we fall for worrying about the future, who will lead us, are we making enough changes right now so that we have enough people in the pews, are we sustainable.

But Jesus says: Do not fear, only believe. Why do you make a commotion and weep? Fall for loving your neighbor, fall for comforting all who grieve, fall for caring for the sick, fall for ensuring that all people are treated with dignity, equality and equal rights, fall for feeding the hungry, fall to loving God and fall for pointing out Jesus in our midst, in every place and time.
These healing stories can be hard because we don’t always get the concrete physical healing that we hope and pray for in our own lives and we don’t always know why. I can’t tell you why Jairus’ daughter lived and not other children. I can’t tell you why this woman was healed after 12 years and someone else will suffer for 30 years. Healing is not always what we expect it to be, it’s not always the answer we want or in the time frame that we want it in. Life on this side of the kingdom is broken, unpredictable and there is suffering. But here is what I do know: Jesus is in our midst. Jesus didn’t hang out in the synagogue, he was in the streets with the crowds where he could be seen, heard and touched. Jesus was where there was any need and any suffering. Jesus went to the desperate Jairus’ house, went to his daughter, took her hand and said “Get up.”
Jesus is in our midst right here, right now. Jesus is in the midst of the grief in Charleston as the nine beloved children of God lives were celebrated and mourned this. Jesus is in the midst of our nation being more just and grace filled by declaring equal rights for all. Jesus is in the midst the excitement, anxiety, weariness and anticipation of the LOTH call process. Jesus promises to always be in our midst and when we fall, whether we fall for the what the world tells us about our lives or we fall to Jesus, the one who reorients our lives with love, mercy, grace and hope, Jesus will take us by the hand and say, “Get up. I am with you and you are mine.” Thanks be to God.

 

God’s Embraces Us For Wholeness, New Life and Liberation, Act 4: 5-12 April 26, 2015

Are you all familiar with Ted Talks? If not Google them! Mike forwarded me one that was going around his work this week and it really resonated with me. It was given by a fairly young man, well younger than me anyway, https://www.youtube.com/embed/YrZTho_o_is“>Phil Hansen, who talked about his journey as an artist. He was an artist in school and couldn’t wait to graduate, get some sort of a stable job and the THEN be able to afford many high quality art supplies to pursue his craft. He assumed that he needed just the right stuff to be a true artist. His main focus was the genre of pointillism, in which a series of tiny dots creates images. During art school, he developed a tremor in his hand. Being young, he ignored it until it was interfering and for all practicable purposes, stopping him from being an artist. He hoped it would go away and he could return to his art. After three years of not creating at all and being in deep depression, he finally went to a neuro-specialist who told him that the damage was permanent. Despondent, he asked the doctor what to do, he is an artist who does pointillism, after all. The doctor answered him: Embrace the Shake.

Now his income was greatly reduced so there was no money for art supplies. Plus he could not do anything that required fine motor skills. He recalls early in his entry back into art that he was at Starbucks and remembered that you can ask for an extra cup, so he wondered can you ask for 50? Turns out yes, he got 50 coffee cups and created an image using a pencil to draw on the stacked cups. He began to wonder what else could he do large scale and cheap or free? He embraced his shake. He created with his feet, karate chops with the side of his hands, painting images on his torso, even creating art out of partially chewed food. Instead of waiting for something that may or may not happen, waiting for enough money, or waiting for his shaking to stop, he discovered that his limitation was the ultimate liberation. He was no longer bound by his own focused perspective. By embracing his shake, he tapped into what made him whole, his creativity was not limited to pointillism, but could be unleashed in all sorts of ways even though his hand shook. He began his journey back into art, revealing that working through, with and in his “limitation,” his was liberated for so much more than he had ever imagined. He started living a new story of a new life while embracing his shake.

We all have limitations and often we let them define who we are and what we do. We think about all the things that we can’t do or won’t ever do again. We know some people such as Phil Hanson, who seem to live into the transformation, but that seems more rare than typical to us. But our passage from Acts 4 today is all about limitation being ultimate liberation and what this transformation proclaims about the promises of God. This text is towards the end of the story begun last week; Peter healing the man who couldn’t walk. The man who couldn’t walk was limited; he had few choices in his life. He was also cut off from community with his uncleanness of being disabled. So he went to Solomon’s Portico to beg for money and the kindness of others. He did what he could with his limitations. Peter and John walked by and heard his cry for help. Peter and John had their own limitations. They were wrestling with how to live in post-resurrection, how to not provoke the authorities anymore than they already had,  a complete lack of material and financial resources as well as their own doubts, faith, and wonderings.

So when Peter came upon this man, he had nothing to offer him but the name of the one who lives in the midst of our limitations and liberates us for something more-Jesus. To those looking on, this would have been incredulous. After all, what this man really needs is money, food and a place to live. But Peter embraced this man’s ailment and offered him a new way to live. Peter creatively offered him the wholeness of life in the life-giving name of Jesus. Both Peter and the man’s response was to immediately acknowledge that this event was all God; God’s word of liberation from limitation versus the world’s word of bondage to limitations. God’s word to the man was one of being made whole, wholly into the community and wholly who he was as a child of God. This got the attention of those that the disciples were trying to avoid. After speaking to the crowds, Peter and John were arrested and then brought up before the rulers, both the civil and religious authorities.

We catch up to this story today with Peter once again telling the story of how God’s creativity transformed what the world saw as a limitation, Jesus’ death on a cross, into ultimate liberation and wholeness of life. God embraced and still embraces all of the limitations of the world, humanity and all of creation. God embraced the shakes if you will to transform death into life, separation into radical wholeness of self and community and the messiness into beauty. And this embrace for transformation is for all people, all times and places. When Peter states in verse 12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved,” it’s not an exclusive statement but one of mind-blowing, radical inclusivity. Even those considered unclean and untouchable are made whole in God’s embrace!

In our culture, we tend to think of “being saved” as an act that requires us to also do something:  if we believe enough, if we are good enough and follow all of the rules, then Jesus will save us on some judgment day in the future. It’s the sense that being saved is not a here and now event in which we are unconditionally included, but more of a “someday, my prince will come if I follow the proper procedure” concept. And when we pray about being saved, we also tend to think of it in a being rescued sort of way. Fix this now, Jesus! We think, like the young man with the shake in his hand, when this is fixed, then I can go on. But that is not what salvation actually means. The word translated into salvation in English is not about rescue per se but being restored and made whole, not just someday, but also here and now, today and every day from the beginning of time to when Jesus returns. Each day is about God’s salvation being revealed every day in large and small ways as evidenced in the scripture text this morning and in our daily lives. God’s salvation for the man who was disabled was more than his physical healing (although we get fixated on that) but about being pulled into God’s wholeness of life and community, not necessarily being removed away from something but God pulling us towards new life with God. God proclaims that all people, no matter what, are now included fully into the resurrection life of Jesus.

We look at our everyday lives and see our shakes. We look at our ministry here at LCM and maybe only see our shaky limitations. We see not enough money, not enough people, not enough time, not enough whatever…But God sees our shakes and embraces us, shakes and all, for new life and a new story with God. God sees our limitations through God’s eyes of creativity and ultimate liberation. How does that reality change how we go about our decision making and ministry here at LCM? How does that change how we care and walk together as the people of God?

God is pulling us, and all of creation, into God’s salvation each and every day. God is pulling us into wholeness, restoration, new life and ultimate liberation-we are free! Free to be creative about proclaiming what God is up to in our lives and in the world. We are free to not let limitations make our decisions but free to follow God’s creative activity among us. We see signs of this liberation, wholeness and restoration all around us. Look at you neighbor-they are a sign of God’s creativity. We have ordinary things among us that remind us that we have a restoring and creative God-God creatively uses water to gather us in as one people, bread and wine that creatively proclaims Christ is among us and meets us here and now with promises of love, grace, mercy, new life and HOPE! God creatively raised Jesus from the tomb and liberated us from the limitation of death and separation. God embraces us for new life, wholeness and liberation-shakes and all.  Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 

Luke 8 Jesus heals the Gerasene Demoniac June 26, 2013

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 3:24 am
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I must admit to you that I was a bit overwhelmed by this passage out of Luke for this morning. There is a lot going on and I debated which of the many directions I should go in my sermon. There is the direction about how we all have our demons to lay at Jesus feet, about how it’s not fair that the pigs died and the pig herders were now out of job; about how Jesus calls our demons by name; how our primary identity is that of child of God; we are more than what society tells us we are or what demons may possess us; how we can relate to the man’s demons as anything in our lives that separates us from God such as addictions, disease, consumerism, materialism, shame; how we can reconstruct this text through our 21st century scientific knowledge to recognize that this possessed man probably suffered from mental illness. We could talk about how people suffering from mental illness are treated poorly by our society and Jesus would certainly have something to say about our healthcare system and our criminal justice systems.
You see any of the above themes or ideas are fine and good and very important conversations and probably are the way I should have gone today but to me they smack of triteness and of looking for and giving pat answers. So in this is what has been bugging me all week and I am not sure what to do with, is verse 35: “They found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” Why does this bother me? Of course this is a great thing for this man. After who knows how many years of chains, shackles, torment, ridicule and pain he is utterly, completely and wholly healed by Jesus word. Hallelujah. It’s a great story. Well, I am not sure I can tell you all of the reasons why this bothers me but here are a few of them that I can clearly or at least semi-clearly, articulate. He is completely healed. Its a miracle, no more demons. Really? All I have to do is go to Jesus with my demons and Jesus will send them to the abyss forever and I will be completely healed? Huh.
What’s not sitting well with me in this story is the implication that if we are truly healed by Jesus, it’s a once and forever sort of thing. But what if the demons come back? Or a different demon shows up? Or what if it turns out not all the demons were exorcised? What then? What does that mean for the power of Jesus in my life and how much I really believed Jesus could heal me? Honestly, I struggle with this in every healing story in the Bible. Maybe you do to or it could be just me. Why were this man’s demons completely cast out and why was he completely healed with just a word and why am I not, or a why is a friend or family member not healed even when we pray and ask Jesus to heal? Or what bothers me even more is why do these demons of disease, mental illness and addiction keep attacking some of the most faithful, faith-filled people I know? People who not only talk the talk of loving Jesus but walk the walk? Why aren’t they completely healed? I struggle with this.
This story in Luke kinda has the feel of those tv evangelists we have all watched (admit it!) that claim to be able to heal people and seem to do so with just a touch and the words “be healed in Jesus’ name!” Those REALLY bother me. Often times people have forgone conventional medical treatment on the word of this person who claims that if you believe in Jesus enough then you will be healed without any earthly intervention. But then what starts to bother me, as I think about all of this, is that maybe I don’t believe enough. Maybe I don’t trust God enough. Maybe I am too cynical and snarky and too co-opted into the Western, scientific world view. Well, I know that I am all of those things but I have also seen some things I can’t explain and have met people who have shared their story with me like the Gerasene man’s and I have marveled at the miracle of it. So what do we do with all of this? How do we live in the tension of the reality of demons that may or may not be cast out of our lives and of what we know to be true of God?
This newly healed man was obviously caught in that tension as well. Maybe he even wondered himself why he was healed and not someone else perhaps more deserving? While it never says that he believed in Jesus, we know that he begged Jesus to let him follow and so maybe the man thought that the answer was that he had better get out of Dodge. Or maybe he thought that he owed Jesus something or that the only guarantee to remain demon free was to stick close to Jesus. And just as we too, think that is a genius plan, Jesus says this to the man: “return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”
I think the reality is that the healed man knew that now the hard work was about to begin. You see, this man’s battles weren’t over. The towns people were afraid, not just of Jesus but of him, as well. His re-entry into the town would not be easy and perhaps even impossible on some level. After all, he would always be known in the town as that crazy demon possessed man. Luke never even bothers to give him a proper name. So the easy way out would have been for him to escape all of that and be with Jesus. Just him and his Jesus is all that he needs. If he cocoons himself with Jesus then everything will be alright forever and for always.
But Jesus knows that the man’s healing was about more than just him. If the man just disappeared with Jesus the people wouldn’t have a daily reminder of the promises of God. The world that Jesus came to redeem was and is still broken and so many people, like the town people in our story, are simply afraid of the reality of letting Jesus heal them and change their life, and need someone to walk beside them who has been there and done that and who can tell them that it is hard, that it is a journey, and that this healing from God is not the way of the world but that it is true.
Jesus knew that this man had to live his new life in a broken world, where the risk was high for demon re-possession, where the risk was high of rejection and alienation because his healing wasn’t just about him. This man had to live his new life without having all the answers from Jesus or the benefit of any further contact with him, just his story to share of God intersecting his life, changing him forever and making him new. You see, Jesus knows that a healing is more about our physical or mental well being of an individual but about how we live with one another, sharing our stories, pointing one another to Christ in hard times, and doing so in community. It’s in sharing our own healing in Christ that perhaps someone else will hear the promises of God for their lives.
This is why we read the Bible as a community-to hear of Jesus showing up in all sorts of unlikely places, with all sorts of unlikely people healing and restoring wholeness and to know that Jesus promises to show up in our lives every single day, not just for our own sake but for healing of all people. It’s mind boggling and in some ways not a very satisfactory answer but it is the truth. Jesus promises to show up again and again and we have been given these tangible elements of this promise in the bread and in the wine and in the water and in the word that tell the story of Gods promises of healing our mind, body and spirit.
We don’t know the rest of the healed man’s story, perhaps he dealt with more demons in his life, but we do know the story of Jesus. We know that Jesus was tormented, suffered and was hung on a cross and experienced real death. We know that in the act of raising Jesus from the grave, God declared that not death, nor demons, nor mental illness, nor disease, nor anxiety, or doubt, nor anything will ever separate us from God or the community of God’s people. This is the promise of God in the midst of our uncertainty and wondering. It is part of our story with God. So while we, or at least I, wrestle with the reality of the world we live in—where things do not work out always the way we think they should-my hope, and I pray your hope, is in this promise of God to show up over and over, to be with us always as we live the new life we have been given in a broken world, sending us to return each and every day to the people of the town who need us to walk beside them, whom we need to walk beside us and tell each other our stories of how much God has done for us all. Amen.