A Lutheran Says What?

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

Hold On February 28, 2021

This sermon was preached for the community at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on February 28, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Romans 4: 13-25
Mark 8: 31-38

Children’s message: Have my bag handy:  My children, who are now grown-ups, always make fun of the size of my bag. I quit carrying a small bag after becoming a parent as I felt like I was always needing something I didn’t have. If they got hurt, I would need a first aid kit, snacks for when they were hungry, water for thirst, pen and paper for when they were bored, tissues, hand wipes, and more. If they needed something, I could help. And even after they were grown, I discovered that keeping these things around wasn’t a bad idea, not just for if I need them, but I could help someone else too. We all need help sometimes don’t we? We all get hurt, sick, lonely, hungry, sad, it’s just what happens in our lives. We don’t like it and we don’t like to think about it do we? Well our story about Jesus today is kinda about that. Jesus was walking along with his disciples and started telling them that he was going to be hurt and die, which happens to every person. But Peter didn’t want to talk about that. Peter wanted to believe that Jesus and hopefully himself as a friend of Jesus, would avoid ever being hurt and dying. But Jesus says, no, that’s not how life goes. We can’t pretend that we’ll never be hurt, sad or that people will never die. We have to be honest about that and tell the truth of how God is always with us especially when we are hurt, sad, lonely and dying. Jesus tells the disciples that they can’t pretend that hard and scary things won’t happen, because that doesn’t help. But they DO need to help other people through the hard and scary things, maybe crying with their friends and family, by sharing food, clothes and money, by saying no when someone is hurting someone else. That’s what “picking up our cross” means. Notice how the cross looks like a “t”? Well, Jesus wants us to follow him into the truth that yes, we might get scared and hurt, and the truth is also that God hold us and hold each other and help others when they need it-like what’s in my mom purse. I want you to draw or write what you have that you can share when a friend is hurt, scared or lonely.

 Full confession: I have always possessed a “gallows” sense of humor or maybe what is better described as Gen X snark. It’s probably because I’ve had a few life events that if I didn’t find the irony or the humor in, I’d cry all the time or be jaded. Well, and maybe I am both of those things, but mostly, the snarky thing. Call it irreverent, call it a coping strategy, but it’s all part of my charm. So, when the pandemic first started, and Mike and I would be watching the horrifying news each evening, all the poor decisions or simply lack of leadership happening, I would turn to him and say, “we’re all gonna die.” To which he would say, “yes but maybe not today.” Each day in 2020 would pass with some over the top new low, and I would look at Mike and say, “We’re all gonna die.” “yes,” he would say, “but maybe not today.” There’s been a couple of times with all of the chaos in the past two months where Mike has conceded where we might all die sooner versus later….
Despite my snark, it is true that we are all gonna die. From this life anyway. Yet, I think what is at the root of my snark is our ability as humans to think that we can outsmart reality, suffering, hurt and death. That WE’RE different from everyone else and we’ll escape it. But that’s just not how life works, it turns out. We often ask, “why me?” when bad things happen to us, but I’ve learned the real question is “why not me?” Suffering and death is a part of life and all the major world religions have at their core how we cope with life’s hard realities. But we live in a culture that tells us to deny aging and death: from commercials for anti-wrinkle creams, hair dyes, fat removal, to how we keep dying people hidden away in facilities and sanitize the dying process so that no one is uncomfortable. We are lulled into holding on to the deception that we can avoid the inevitable. We will do anything: any diet, any exercise routine, any procedure, any supplement, and hold on to any illusion or delusion to convince ourselves that we can outsmart aging, suffering and dying. Until we can’t. Until we trip and fall into the reality that we and everyone we know suffers and dies. But even then, our inner dialogue becomes one of rationalization that maybe they didn’t hold on tight enough, that their suffering was teaching them something, or us something, or worse, was God’s will. This is never true.
Peter is caught up in the very human delusion that he can escape the reality of suffering and death, after all he knows Jesus, the Messiah who will conquer all! The Messiah who will hold the Empire accountable and the Israelites will be conquerors and in power at last. But Jesus sees the self-deception that Peter is holding on to, and names it by calling him Satan, the deceiver. You see, Peter was still deceived that he was in control, he hadn’t figured out yet that following Jesus,aligning your life with God, isn’t going to spare you from hurt, suffering, oppression and death, it doesn’t spare you from being human. Following Jesus means that you let go of all the deceptions, all the fears, so that you can pick up your cross; you can pick up the truth that there is suffering in your life and the lives of people around you. The truth that we can’t honestly enter into the hurt of the world if our hands and hearts are clutching our own misconceptions, worries, fears and delusions. Picking up our cross means that we’ve let go of anything that doesn’t bring the fullness of life for ourselves and the people around us.

This isn’t easy, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s a journey that we have to be honest about and commit and recommit to every day. We can’t put our heads in the sand, or hope that someone else says the hard, but true thing. We can’t drive by the tent camps of people living on the streets and hold on to the myth that a solution is too expensive or the people won’t want it. We can’t watch over and over again as black and brown people are unjustly incarcerated and murdered by authorities and hold on to the lie that racism and white supremacy doesn’t exist and we don’t have a role. We can’t witness the denigration and lack of human rights of people who are LBGTQIA+ and hold on to the prejudice that they should be excluded. We can’t ignore the racist or sexist joke because we want to hold on to “niceness” or our need to be liked. Like Peter, we want to hold on to the delusion that following Jesus means that we should be able to hold on to our comfortable life, or hold suffering and death at bay, or that being church is about feeling good, safe, and secure.

We forget what the cross really means in our life. It’s not a sign of holding on to protection, piety, status quo or comfort. The cross was a symbol of abusive power for the Empire, for the powers and principalities as Paul calls it, and was used by the Empire to keep the marginalized people of the society in their place out of fear. But God doesn’t allow abuse to continue, let status quo stand, doesn’t let fear and death win. Jesus picked up the cross to turn it into a symbol of God holding on to God’s vision of justice, of God’s upheaval of worldly authorities and of God’s will for life and wholeness for all creation. Jesus picked up the cross to show us to let go of the myth that suffering is good, God’s will or redemptive, but to show us that suffering is reality AND that God is present; we aren’t alone in our suffering. Jesus picked up the cross to show us that God lets go of everything that doesn’t bring life, empties God’s hands to hold on to us, to reveal that when it’s hard, when it looks bleak, God’s love, justice, mercy and life will find a way to hold on.

We are called to empty our hands, to let go, so that we pick up our cross, we hold on, we hold on to one another when suffering abounds, to hold each other in God’s love and care, clearly name the oppression, abuse and harm being inflicted on our marginalized siblings and speak the truth to the powers of this world in love. Not love that is sentimental and mushy, but love that can hold on in tension, paradox and reality. This is Luther’s theology of the cross, that in the cross of Jesus, suffering, reality and wholeness in God’s mercy and grace can be held together. We pick our cross, the cross that holds us when nothing else can, and we let go of the delusions of what we think life should be. We let go of our false life to hold on to a true life of being held by God’s love, mercy and grace, in the reality of our lives. This is good news indeed. Amen.

 

“Hold On: Here is your God!” Sermon for Advent 2, Dec. 10, 2017 Year B December 11, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village. To view the sermon go to http://www.bethanylive.org and go to the correct date.

Children’s time. Gather the children and ask where do you see God around you right now? Point God out to me. It can be hard to see God sometimes can’t it? And we forget that God is with us always. Walk to the font. In the bible story I just read, there was this guy, Jesus’ cousin, who was telling people that God was with them always, forgiving them when they did wrong things and holding on to them. He was splashing them with water, what’s that called? Baptism! And the water that clings to us reminds us that God clings to us too. BUT John told the people something else. That God does hold us but that through Jesus who was coming, we will be not only be baptized with water, but God’s Holy Spirit will cling to us too! This means that we have work to do with God and for God. Just as you helped me to see God right here, right now, we have to tell everyone we meet Here is your God and God holds on to you! This is why we light a candle and say to the newly baptized person, even if they are a baby “Let you light so shine before others that they might see your good works that glorify your father in heaven.” We are part of Jesus’ light and work in the world! Jesus wants us to hold on to that truth that each one of us has important work to do. Here is a glow stick to help you remember to hold on to God. I’m going to talk some more about this and every time you hear me say “Hold on Here is your God!” I want you to wave your glow stick, ok? Let’s pray:

In many facets of our life, it might seem like we are barely holding on. I know that when our children were young, I was serving full-time in a congregation, my spouse was working full-time, we had piano lessons, ballet, t-ball, church choir, and all of the school activities, most days I felt like I was barely holding on to sanity and let alone time management to get done the mundane activities such as laundry, grocery shopping and house cleaning. We grasp each day with both hands and hope that we can just hold on through another day.

And then there are the times when we hold on because we just can’t let go of someone or something even when we should. Relationships that aren’t healthy, jobs that is no longer life giving, long held beliefs about groups of people or ourselves. Or we hold on to the way life used to be or to our vision of the way life should have been, or even the way church used to be and it can be painful or harmful to continue to hold on to those ideas. Sometimes we have to let go in order to hold on to what God is doing.

And then there are times when we don’t even know what to hold on to: what we should hold on to might be risky or down right overwhelming. Maybe a new vocation at an older age, I started seminary at 36 with two young children! Maybe a move out of state away from family for an exciting opportunity. Maybe leaving what is comfortable and known for unknown and but perhaps will be meaningful and fulfilling.

Our theme for Advent is “Hold On.” Exploring how we hold on to God and God’s promises in our lives. When we are in distress or overwhelmed with our lives or the world we live in, it can be difficult to know who or what to hold on to. In Isaiah 40, the Israelites have been taken to Babylon in exile and they feel as if they have lost their grip on God or more accurately, that God has let them go. The opening lines of our Isaiah text are words of comfort to a people who are decidedly uncomfortable with their current state of affairs. They are away from Jerusalem; the Temple is destroyed and they can’t practice their religion they way they used to or think they should.

But then the voice of God breaks in with a word of hope and words of mission for the prophet and the people. Cry out! God says.  Which can translate to Preach! The prophet responds what shall I preach? Or again a better translation is Why shall I preach! The people are turning away. Why God says? Because “Here is your God!” Right here, right now holding on to you even if you can’t feel it, or see it or know it. I am here with you, even in exile, even in discomfort, even in your own lack of faith, I am here and always have been and always will be God says! Preach this good news from the highest mountain top! Hold on to this good news that God is holding on to you, to all of you, with the power of God’s mighty arms and with the tender care of a shepherd caring for his sheep.

Our gospel of Mark this morning invites us right off the bat into our theme. Mark’s gospel begins with a bang with these words: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark then immediately moves us into the mission and work of John the Baptist who essentially says to his community and to us: Ready or not, here we go! Hold on! It’s about to be a wild ride with God!

The people who were flocking to John, were desperate to hold on that perhaps their lives meant something. In first century Palestine, baptism was not a new thing. This was part of a Jewish ritual of cleansing, but John was drawing people out to the wilderness, away from the seat of government and religious authority with this message of repentance or a clearer definition is having a change of heart. Mark writes that people from the whole of Judean countryside and ALL people of Jerusalem were coming. This was extremely inclusive, it was not only the Jewish people, not only the elite, not only the poor, not only the educated, not only the religious, but all. And to this diverse crowd John proclaims something even more amazing than the forgiveness of sins: Hold on! There’s more! Not only are your sins cleansed and you can turn around to God, but through the one who is coming, all of you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit who comes and brings you all into what God is up to in the world. Here is your God! Breaking into the world, coming to you, to hold on to you, to never let you go and to bring you into the purpose and mission of the kingdom of God. Hold on!

The world around us is looking for such good news to hold on to. People are desperate for this good news, desperate for the truth, capital T truth for their lives.  As people called by God, what shall we preach to them? Or why shall we preach to them? Does it matter in a world that seems to have turned away? God tells us through our baptisms, yes! It matters that our lights shine and we hold on to our call to preach and be the good news of Emmanuel, God with us. We preach it not only to others but perhaps most importantly to ourselves. We can preach the truth of “Hold on: Here is your God” who breaks into our lives as a baby from a backwater town in Palestine. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we bridge divisions for true dialog and healing. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we speak out against injustices so that the road is level for all people and particularly for those who face discrimination based on color, religion, gender or sexual orientation. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we step outside our comfort zones and hear someone else’s story of pain and are willing to share our own. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we let go of how we think the world should be and reach out for new thing that God is up to. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we follow Jesus and stand with the poor, the marginalized and the forsaken.

We preach Hold One: Here is your God when we receive and offer to all the signs of the promises of God for us to hold onto, even when it’s hard to grasp them. Hold On: Here is your God in water, in the bread and in the wine for us to hold on with both hands to the truth of God’s presence with us no matter how difficult, treacherous, or steep the road of our lives may be. Preach this truth of the good news of Jesus Christ with me this week “Hold on! Here is your God.” Preach it with every aspect of your lives, preach it at work, preach it at school, preach it! Preach it and hold on with your whole being to the good news of God breaking into our lives and the world with promises of love, forgiveness, mercy and hope. Hold on! Here is your God.