A Lutheran Says What?

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

We Already Know Sermon on Luke 16: 19-31 September 29, 2019

This sermon was preached on September 29, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

Texts: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6: 6-19
Luke 16: 19-31

Children’s sermon: gather the children up front. Start with the closing prayer! Dear Jesus, thank you for showing us God’s love and how to love others. May we notice those around us who need what we already have an abundance of your love and grace. Amen.
Then ask them, when do we normally do that prayer in children’s time? At the end! Yes, we always know that we are going to end with a prayer but today we started with the prayer because our bible stories are a little like this today. In reading the Luke story about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man already had everything he needed-food, housing, clothes, and Lazarus did not have those things. Now, I want to let you know that this story is NOT about what happens when we die, we don’t have to worry about that and Jesus promises that we will never be alone in this life or the next. There is a not a bad place that you need to worry about going to, that’s not what God wants. This story is about the last sentence we read, that we already know Jesus, we already listen to God telling us to love everyone and to make sure that everyone has what they need to be healthy, happy and safe. Just as you already know that we will always end children’s time with a prayer, we already know that God’s last word for all of us is love. And this last word of love means that we already know the whole story, that love and life never end! Just like a circle never ends, being in God’s love and life is like that too. We are all in this circle of love. So, since we don’t have to worry about that-we can stop focusing on ourselves and focus on people around us. We can see people like Lazarus who are sick, hungry and without a house. How do we help people like that here at OSLC? YES! We have Family Promise, we collect food to hand out, we will be collecting diapers, all kinds of ways! Ok, we’ve already prayed and I’m going to talk to the adults some more about this.

We all love a good story and want to know how it will end. Whether it’s movies or books, we can’t wait for the ending to see how it turns out. There is great satisfaction in knowing the whole story. We take this same tactic with our lives too it seems, we are always wondering how things will turn out-what will our whole story be? Will I get that promotion? Will we move into that bigger house? Can we go on that vacation? What will my children be when they grow up? What will we do in retirement? How will my health be as I age? We want to know everything, we want assurances, we want details and, of course, we want control.

This was what the rich man in our parable from Luke today was trying to do. He was trying to ensure that he had what he needed for the future so that he could control and predict the outcome of his life story. Jesus doesn’t say that he’s a bad person, Jesus doesn’t condemn him in anyway. Jesus merely points out that the rich man is so concerned with his own life that he doesn’t notice the lives around him, particularly the man right outside his own gate-Lazarus. While the rich man is dressed nicely, eats well and has safe housing in a gated community, Lazarus languishes nearby hoping for just a modicum of what the rich man has. And then both men die, death is the great equalizer it seems. Although Lazarus is carried away by angels and the rich man is buried. Now as I told the children, the point of this parable is certainly not to say that there is a heaven and a hell as places. Whenever Jesus in the gospels talks about Hades or in Matthew Ghenna-which is the garbage heap that gets burned outside the city, it’s all about being separated from God and community. Hell isn’t a place where bad people go when the die, hell is a place any of us can be in this life when we separate ourselves from God and God’s people. We create our own hell.

We read that there is a great chasm-that God didn’t create, the rich man did. The rich man is so oblivious, blinded by his wealth and excess, that he doesn’t know his own arrogance and entitlement. It never occurs to him that he could bridge or remove that chasm. But instead he barks orders at Father Abraham to have Lazarus do things for him. Even in death, the rich man thinks that he knows more and can control his own predicament and write his own ending. “Have Lazarus give me water, send him to warn my brothers.” The rich man seems to not know that his wealth and status are fleeting, aren’t his whole story, aren’t his to begin with and are a distractor for what is really important. Jesus doesn’t say that his wealth is the problem, it’s how he uses it, or in reality, how the wealth uses him. Money isn’t a problem, loving money, or loving anything more than God or people is a problem and is a root of evil. When we put anything before God and others, we do harm, we separate ourselves and think it’s only about us. We deny others their full story. Jesus came to show us how to reorder our loves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Just as God has loved us from the beginning, we are to love God and each other all the way to the end.

In response to the rich man’s request to send Lazarus to his brothers, Abraham admonishes him, they know this story, this truth. They have already heard it, over and over again, from Moses to Joshua, from Amos to Isaiah, God’s word of redemption, reconciliation and salvation-wholeness, have been spoken. They know this, but they won’t live it. Will hearing the story one more time from someone who has been resurrected from the dead matter? When they grasp the end, they will change how they live today.

We know the ending of the story, brothers and sisters. We have the witnesses of the resurrection to know that in the end, God’s end, is death is no more, love wins, the chasm is once and for all bridged and God’s kingdom of wholeness is here and is still to be revealed. And we know that God sent Jesus to remove any chasm, nor death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything can now separate us from God’s love and each other. This is not in dispute. This good news is freedom from worrying about ourselves, from our ends, we are free to be content with our here and now. As we read in 1 Timothy, we can take hold of eternal life and our life today-they are one in the same. There is a not a separation between today and eternal life with God. How we live today is as important as our eternal life with God. As followers of Jesus, this is our call, to live in such a way for all to see this eternal love right here and now.

We already know this unity of our lives today and eternal life opens us to see the plight of others around us, their need to be whole. Our present life entwined with the eternal life to come, bridges any chasms that we have created between others and ultimately God. We bridge chasms when we talk to people who are living on the street and holding up signs off of interstates. We bridge chasms when we elicit from our neighbor what they really need and don’t assume and speak for them. We bridge chasms when we recognize that we have enough-enough wealth, power and status-and we share the excess that we have so that all may be content. We bridge chasms when we recognize whatever wealth we have as a resource to be used in God’s kingdom and not as an entitlement or for power. We bridge chasms when we see what our neighborhood around us needs from us-how we can be together-whether it’s Scouting, diapers, food, hosting meetings, or places for children to play.

We already know the whole story, we have already heard the good news, and we have been richly blessed. We already have all that we need to bridge any chasms, to love our neighbor, and be generous, so that all may take hold of true life with God: life and love that we already know doesn’t end. Thanks be to God.

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Don’t Get Distracted (And Don’t Cut Off Any Body Parts Either!) Mark 9: 38-50 Pentecost 18B Sept. 27th, 2015 September 28, 2015

In seminary I took a class in Chicago for two weeks where we studied different urban ministry settings-mostly in impoverished and struggling communities. We went to St. Sabina where Fr. Pfleger had focused on the church building up the community to provide social services and combat racism. We went to Trinity UCC with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III (formerly the congregation Jeremiah Wright served) where the focus was on building up people to be faithful followers of Jesus no matter what their struggles might be. We visited a small Lutheran congregation that ran an assisted living facility for elderly who were low income. We visited soup kitchens, programs to move people off the streets to self sufficiency and several other kinds of ministries. But the one that hit this (at the time) fledging soon to be pastor was a UCC congregation in the Latino part of Chicago.
This congregation ran a soup kitchen that fed lunch to 150 people from the streets every single day. They partnered with a nearby Catholic school for the youth to help serve; they coordinated massive food donations each week; they offered counseling for those in need, not to mention prayer and love. They were not a large congregation, maybe an average worship attendance of 100 or so and certainly not a wealthy congregation by any means. But they were focused on living out the gospel by whatever means necessary. What was more striking to all of us in the class was that this congregation had not had a pastor for two years. None, not even an interim. They had some supply pastors float in and out but no consistent pastoral presence. They deeply desired that presence, they wanted a pastor but it’s difficult to get one to come for what they were paying in that part of Chicago.
A parishioner named Rosaria had decided that the soup kitchen would be her ministry and while she had another full time job, she managed to put together a team of people both within and without of the congregation to work with her. She greeted us at the door and proudly told us all about that ministry and congregation. We sat and listened to how each member of this congregation played a role, how they had put aside the anxiety and fear of no pastor in place and just got on with the ministry that God had called them too, and they did it well. They were the busiest people I have ever seen and yet the calmest people I have ever seen. When something didn’t go exactly how they had planned, they readjusted and just kept moving around, over or through the obstacle not worrying about who is getting credit, or who is in charge. I marveled at the calm, as my personal M.O. is to worry about all of the things that could go wrong. I actually found myself concerned for them! But they ignored all of the possible distractions and were simply focused on God’s children who needed food for the day and a word of God’s love, mercy and grace.
“Be at peace with one another.” We tend to think that peace looks like serenity, rest, status quo, an easy life, or no hardships in our path to whatever we think we need to do to be at peace, happy or content. But peace is not any of these things. Peace in this text comes from the Hebrew word “Shalom” which means wholeness. Wholeness. Peace in God’s kingdom is about all people being whole: being wholly loved, wholly included, and wholly equal. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes when the disciples come to tattle tale that someone else is doing what they perceived to be solely their work. “Jesus this person is casting out demons! That’s what we do! We should stop him!” I mean heaven forbid that all of the demons get cast out and then everyone is healthy! Then we won’t be special! The disciples, and us, like to over think situations and make them more complex and more fearful than they really are.
Jesus then goes on to talk about whoever is not against us is for us, don’t put up obstacles, and then some gruesome words about cutting off body parts that keep you from fully participating in God’s work of peace in the world. Now we know that we can’t take such language literally, Jesus does not want us to cut off body parts or put a millstone around our necks but does want to get our attention and to think deeply about what distracts us from God’s peace, God’s wholeness and being part of God’ work that reveals God’s love in the world. What obstacles do we put up to keep out some of God’s children who make us uncomfortable? We love distractions from our real work at hand and we spend much more time creating them than actually just getting to the task of God’s work given to us. We worry about what other people are thinking or doing, we worry about what other people say about us, we worry that some people may not believe the same way, or will get mad, or not like us, or something may not work as well as we want. We worry, and in our anxiety and fear we create obstacles, we look for pitfalls and failings. What we don’t do is look to Christ who works in our midst, in our mess and promises to be forever present.
Hell is separation from God (it is not a place and no one is being sent there!) and we create our own hell. We create ways to exclude hope, joy and love so that we can say “I told you so” when things don’t quite work out how we envisioned. God desires for everyone to be close to God and wrapped in God’s love with no separation-hell is not God’s judgment or punishment; it’s how we punish ourselves. * But God never leaves us and never wants us separated from God or God’s loving community, yet we look for ways to resist God’s desire, thinking it’s safer to go it alone than to participate in the reckless abundance, generosity and love of Christ. Christ opened the way for all –removed every single obstacle that the world could provide-even death-in order for all creation to be in God’s peace, God’s Shalom and God’s love now and forever.
What distractions need to be navigated in your life, here at LOTH or in the community? How are we caught up in our own worry and anxiety and miss what God is doing right here, right now in our midst? We have the Prayer and Care ministry that offers mercy, hope and community right when people need it the most. We have all of our education opportunities that dive us all at any age deep into God’s word of love for us all. We have Habitat for Humanity and Prayer Shawl ministries. We have our buildings that offer safe places for our brothers and sisters in Christ to meet. God is at work here-no matter what obstacles we perceive!
Jesus removes all obstacles and simply calls us to do the same. The UCC Church in Chicago learned that Christian community isn’t about a pastor, a church building, a budget or anyone of the things with which they could have distracted themselves. Christian community is recognizing that Jesus has already removed all distractions, has already given us all that we need for the journey and has gathered us all into one body for the sake of loving God and our neighbor. “Be at peace with one another, for God is with you.”
*My own personal view point on Hell is that it is not a place where those who are “bad, evil or don’t make the cut get in.” God’s salvation is for all and all are in! All means all! That person right now you’re saying to yourself ‘not them’…yes them too! This is good news as nothing separates us from the love of Christ, not even our own attempts at self-sufficiency! If your head is hurting-good! God’s love and mercy are that mysterious and that overwhelming!