A Lutheran Says What?

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

Return to the Source Sermon on John 14 and Revelation 22 May 27, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are John 14: 23-39 and Revelation 21: 10, 22-22:5.

 

Children’s sermon: Have the children meet you at the font. We are going to play a game! You are going to each bless five people by making the sign of the cross on their hand and tell them that Jesus loves them. But between each person, you have to go back to font to get your finger wet again. Ok? Come back here when you are done! Go! (When they are done.) How did that feel? Did you like coming back to the font or was that kinda annoying? Yeah, I can see both sides of that. In our bible stories the last few weeks we have been hearing stories about the night before Jesus died on the cross-which seems kind of out of order since we just had Easter! But I think the point is this: the night before Jesus died, he wanted his disciples and us to know that he will always be there to return to for love, grace and hope. Just as you returned to the font between blessing each person, so we return to the truth that Jesus’ love is always with us no matter how scared we might be, where we might be or whatever is going on in our lives. Because of this, we are free to be bold and to tell everyone we know that Jesus’ love is true for them too! No matter what! We want to flood the world with that good news! Besides offering a blessing, which you can do to anyone, how else can you share Jesus’ love with people? Yes! Those are all great ways! Let’s pray:

This weekend I went to Fort Collins for my best friend’s daughter’s high school graduation and I also attended her International Baccalaureate celebration. We listened to speeches from the principal, teachers, counselors, mentors and the students themselves. As most graduates are, they were a jumble of gratitude for what had been, a twinge of melancholy for the relationships that will now be altered and a sense of hopeful anticipation, mixed with a healthy dose of fear for what the future might hold. As these young people enter a new phase, all of this particular group going on for higher education, they would speak with excitement about the future and then circle back to how great the past four years with their friends had been, even if the work load from IB seemed from time to time too overwhelming, too hard and too much. It was a dance of stepping forward to the unknown and simultaneously stepping back to what they knew, what was certain and what they could depend upon. Mixed into this drama are the hopes and dreams of their parents who have a different sense of what the future will bring for their children. Their role will now shift from hands on day to day to one of a place where these young adults can circle back to when they need guidance. The love for their children will not change, but how it is expressed will. Graduation celebrations hold the tension of all the joy of what was, what has been accomplished and the anxiety of a now palpable change. Everyday life will not be the same. But some pieces from this time of high school will remain in their grasp as they spring forward to a new future. Some deep truths of who they are will remain in spite the new adventures.

As we look at the scripture texts that we have been assigned for these seven weeks after Easter, it might seem as if we can’t quite move forward. As one colleague on an ELCA clergy FB site pointed out this week, these chosen texts for the seven Sundays after Easter are a hot mess! I mean it’s Easter! Shouldn’t it be all joy, lilies, chocolate, colorful easter eggs, Alleluias and we love you always Jesus, right?! Like those high school grads rotating from party to party, we want to remain in the celebration, to focus on what’s easy, comfortable and seemingly joyful and we want to stay there forever. Like every other Mainline Protestant Church just a scant six Sundays ago, OSLC was decked out to celebrate Easter-the resurrection of Jesus. The pinnacle of the Church year and a cornerstone of our faith. Jesus is Risen! He is risen indeed! Oh there were lilies, and eggs, and candy, and a brunch, and family and new worshipers and the full choir and extra music and….oh it was glorious! And somehow each year, every congregation thinks: this is the year that all these new worshipers will start attending every week! Everything will be different; it will feel like Easter celebration every Sunday! And then the reality that the Sunday after Easter is one of the lowest attended Sundays in the year for every congregation, sinks in. The lilies and other flowers fade, the chocolate runs out, the eggs are turned into sandwiches, and we are left with this yearning for something that perhaps never existed, with a feeling of inadequacy, and maybe a touch of existential crisis-just to keep it real. Why can’t we stay with the joy of the empty tomb and the beauty of a picturesque spring morning forever? Why do we have to be a hot, disjointed, mess wondering what is next?

Sometimes in the midst of such wondering, we need a touchstone-something that we can return to when nothing else makes sense, when life isn’t quite going how we had planned, when celebrations end, and the challenges, questions, and uncertainties drip back into our lives like slow leak from a faucet.

Jesus is well aware of how quickly shouts of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” shift to “Crucify him”! Jesus knows that his followers will need something to return to in the coming weeks, months, years, and really, until the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. These passages that we have been reading from the gospel of John have pulled us back to the night that Jesus was betrayed, the night before Jesus was killed, three days before the tomb was empty and a new future emerged. This was the night that things were about to change for the disciples and for the world. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples would forever be altered. They would no longer be with Jesus physically day to day, which seemed unfathomable to them. How would they know what to do?

Jesus offers them and us a touchstone to keep returning to when we are stepping out into an uncertain future. When we know that the next faithful step isn’t to stay where we are, but to go out and risk. Jesus tells us that the love that we have from God will never change, that love is unconditional and always with us, but our experience of God will be different. It won’t be physical, hands on. The Holy Spirit will come and keep teaching, sustaining and prodding us on. We will have the peace from Jesus to calm our troubled hearts, not peace that world tries to lure us with, but the peace of knowing that in the midst of life, with the Holy Spirit, we can return again and again to the word of God made flesh, Jesus, the living water, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the vine, the true source of our lives when everything else seems fleeting.

Jesus is also clear that God as our truth and touchstone, isn’t to keep us comfortable but to keep us going. Jesus knows that as God’s Church on earth we always live on that precipice, on the eve, of what is about to come. We live lives that reveal the love and truth of God, and that isn’t simple, easy or without risk, but we live them anyway, for as we read in Revelation, God’s concern is for all people, for all nations, to draw on God as their source and truth. This doesn’t mean that there is only one way to experience the truth of God. Cities (such as the one named in Revelation) are diverse and rich with multiplicity. Even the tree of life produces 12 different kinds of fruit and leaves that heal all manner of ills. God’s truth is most richly expressed in diversity such as all the gifts gathered here in this sanctuary, the gifts in the community around us waiting to be discovered and in the world. What’s universal, what is the constant is God’s promise of abundant life and love for us all and for the entire world. With water, word, bread and wine, we are sustained with the truth of God’s mercy, love and grace that then we carry with us to a world that indeed needs this healing. Nations are healed with the peace of Christ that puts others first and doesn’t fear diversity and what we don’t understand.

So we go out, into a future that is unknown, yet filled with promise, where there will be risk, and meaningful opportunities, where we might feel inadequate and we will have the Holy Spirit to keep teaching us new things, where chaos may surround us, and Jesus’ peace will pervade all of creation. Life will not be the same, but the deep truth of belonging to God and God’s presence with us remains. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Slot machines, Cars, and the Promises of God February 16, 2016

 

Donald Miller is an author who writes about Christian spirituality in our post-modern, post-Christendom, polarized culture. His breakout book, “Blue Like Jazz,” is a look at his own faith journey in the less than Christian culture of Portland, OR and his time at the less than Christian, perhaps even hedonistic, Reed College. Reed College is known for an anything goes culture and an official policy that allows drugs and alcohol openly on campus. Donald Miller tells of “coming out of the closet” as a Christian there and how people pushed him all the time about believing in a God that allowed bad things to happen to good people, didn’t seem to always answer prayer, allowed poverty, violence, hunger, disease, war, and any other horror that humanity could invent. He was pushed on how the Church just bilked good, hard working people out of their money and forced guilt for not following rules and going to Church on Sundays. When faced with those accusations, Donald admits that he struggled with those views on God and how God doesn’t seem to do what we think God should do. After all, wanting those things to end is not a bad thing.

But he realized something else in talking to people, Christian and non-Christian alike: we all seem to have an agenda with God. We all seem to have this idea who God is and what God should do and it shapes our relationship with God and with other people. Don says that his first image of God as a young person was that of God as a cosmic slot machine. We put our prayers, demands, wishes into God and want to pull the lever to get our answers and our reward. A transactional God if you will. We do A then God will do B. Very simple, neat clean, and predictable. Unfortunately, this viewpoint is more than prevalent and saturates our culture. One of my favorite artists, Janice Joplin, highlights this with her iconic song Mercedes Benz: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porsches; I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, with no help from my friends. Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” (This will be sung.)

She then asks for a color tv and then simply a night on the town. She lowers her expectations with each verse but she hits on the crux of the human condition: we want what we want when we want it and we aren’t even to ashamed to ask God for these things with the presumption that God will fulfill our every whim. After all we’re good people, we pray, we give to our church, we teach Sunday School. Shouldn’t God give us something back in return or to use the verbiage from what is known as the prosperity gospel, if you do the right thing, believe correctly, and of course give enough money to their ministries God will bless you with whatever you ask. You will get a reward.

Only that doesn’t hold up for very long. Eventually that image of God will let you down. That image of God has more to do with ourselves and what we think we want and need than about what God is actually doing in the world. That image of God isn’t about unending grace, unconditional love and eternal life. That image of God is one that the world can control, manipulate and ultimately dismantle. But the good news is that this is not who God is:  we don’t have a transactional God, we have a relational God. We have a God who doesn’t confuse relationship and love with rewards.

I think that this is point of this story that shows up in Luke 4 as well as in Matthew and Mark. I wonder if this passage is not about Jesus setting an example of resisting temptation, or about how we should be like Jesus, or that we will be tested like Jesus was tested. We can discuss all of those concepts and that would be fine. However, when we ask ourselves why was this story is included in the three synoptic gospels, I think the answer is relationship. The world operates on transactions and quid pro quo, and we often, even in our closest relationships operate on that premise as well. If the other person does something (or doesn’t do something) then we will react in kind. We think that if we do a good job, or ask nicely, we should get our Mercedes Benz.

Jesus refuses to even entertain that way of being and play that game, if you will. At every turn with the devil, Jesus points back to God and what God desires for us: deep and abiding relationship. We don’t live by bread alone, Jesus says; we are wired for connectivity. We worship and serve God, Jesus says; which means gathering as a community for worship and serving our neighbors. Don’t test God, Jesus says, don’t confuse God with an ATM, or a Magic 8 ball or think that God is about answers and rewards for good behavior. God is about relationship; being on the journey with us whether we are in the wilderness or in the lap of luxury, whether we behave or not; whether we deserve it or not. God knows that what we really need and God simply gives as pure gift: grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.

Jesus who reveals the promise of life, freedom and grace from God that only God can give us. Jesus who heals, feeds, weeps and loves all people so that God’s love can be known in the world. Possessions, power and yes, even food, are fleeting and temporary. They lead to a cavern so deep that we spend a lifetime trying to fill it with more and more, never satisfied. But Jesus, as God’s perfect gift, fills us with living water, fills us with God’s word and fills us with himself through bread and wine, gathering us as one people of God for the sake of the world so that the world is filled with love. This is what it is to be blessed. To be loved and to belong to the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

Just as Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” and led by the Spirit into the wilderness, God’s promise is that the Holy Spirit fills us and always stays with us everywhere we journey.  We celebrated that Jesus is God’s promise of relationship and love forever with pouring water over Will Patrick this morning. Reality is that believing in God won’t make all of our problems go away or that we will get a reward; there will be cancer, depression, not enough money, not enough time, not enough power. The promise is that God fills us with the Holy Spirit to be with us no matter what, especially in our wilderness wandering. Reality is that we will experience earthly death. The promise is that God will transform our tears into abundant joy, our sorrow into extraordinary hope and our death into life forever with God. The promise is that we belong to God and with God, forever, no matter what. Amen.

 

It’s Not About Divorce, Genesis 2: 18-24, Mark 10: 2-16 Pentecost 19B, Oct. 4, 2015 October 5, 2015

Dirt-Hand-980x600

I am a Lutheran gal who loves the Hebrew Bible. I love it because of the richness of the literary genres, the messiness of the history, the complexities of the relationships with God and each other, and the grace that drips from each word from God who never leaves God’s people. Basically, if you want a good soap opera, read the OT. I also love it as it reminds me that there is nothing new under the sun. There is deceit, mistakes, vulnerability, violence, indiscretions, agendas, sorrow, joy, paradox and confusion. That sounds like a just another day in our humanity doesn’t it?! And of course, there are laws, we call them the 10 commandments and all of the “laws” that are in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

The commandments and all of the laws spelled out were intended to help us as humanity plagued by all of the drama I listed above, to remember what we read in Genesis 1 and 2: God created everything, including us, and we are created in God’s image, which is love. Everything in the Bible that happens after Genesis 2 is about humanity’s grappling with God declaring creation and us good, God desiring relationship with us, God desiring us to be in loving relationship with one another. In our Genesis 2 reading, it’s the story of how God created the female. In reality, it’s the second account of how woman, came to be. Genesis 1: 26-27 is the first account which explicitly states that humans were created in the image of God-male and female God created them. Genesis 2 is the second account of creation and God recognizes the loneliness of the earthling man, Adam. Adam was created from the humus, the dirt, and so is a human, literally an earth creature.  God wanted to create for him a “helper.” Now this word gets mistranslated. Any other time that this word for “helper” appears in the OT it refers to a divine helper or to God. So God is making Adam a “divine helper,” not a lesser being, not an afterthought, not someone to do what Adam does not want to, but a divine helper-so divine that this earth creature created in God’s image will continue with creation within her own being.

So bound together are the two earth creatures, that God declares no one will be able to tell them apart. They will appear to be the same and of the same mind, soul and spirit. They will be one. God’s intent for all of humanity-earth creatures-is to be one. Not just married people, but all people. But we know the next piece of the story and sin, brokenness, shame, separation and hurt enter into the relationship of the earth creatures. God created oneness, wholeness, equality, and love. We stumbled onto individualism, separation, hierarchy and hate. God was grieved when we stumbled, but didn’t leave us, didn’t give up but began right then and there redeeming and transforming the earth creatures to live into their true divine image.

But we love the law-we love the law so much that we took 10 commandments and turned them into 617 purity laws to follow. We loved the law so much that we would rather uphold the rules than love and forgive our neighbor. We get stuck in worrying about if we or other people are following the correct laws in the correct way. We worry more about who’s in and who’s out of God’s love and grace than stopping to take the time to see that’s not even the what God wants us to worry about. In Mark, the Pharisees are testing Jesus about the law. It didn’t really matter what law they picked, but they picked divorce. It could have been a law about unclean food, although they had already tried to trap Jesus on that one, so divorce it was. It’s unfortunate, as we now read this passage and assume that it has everything to do with the actual action of divorce, when in truth, it has nothing to do with divorce but has everything to do with refocusing to Genesis 2: we are all created in God’s image for one another but we fail to live into that promise.

It’s not an accident that the writer of Mark moves right into Jesus blessing children and highlighting the importance of everyone to God, even those who in our society and culture have no importance. Jesus is breaking the crowds open to their own love of the law, supposed order and rules instead of God’s order of inclusion, love and transformation.

We saw firsthand on Thursday our love of the law above everything and everyone else. The tragedy that unfolded in OR, had unfolded 274 previous times this year, some with media coverage but most without.  Mass shootings are so prevalent that media can’t even cover them all and only cover the events where the toll on humanity is so horrific that it can’t be swept under the rug. The conversation in the wake of the loss of life on Thursday immediately turned to law. We need more gun laws, fewer gun laws, more laws for helping those with mental illness, regulations on campaign funding by special interest groups like the NRA, more laws on how media covers such events. Now, I’m not here to shy away from taking a stand on these issues, and you may or may not agree with me and that’s ok too.  My father was in the military and I grew up around guns, I’m not a Polly Anna about this, but they were called what they really are in the military…weapons. Guns have one purpose, none other; they are to inflict harm on another of God’s creatures. The conversation is about more than guns, it’s about how we kill each other in so many ways. While I don’t own a gun and will never own a gun, I am just as entangled in the culture of violence, entitlement and hardness of heart as anyone. By living in the U.S. with all of my privileges, I participate in systems everyday that lead to the demise of someone else in the world.

But I will also say that laws will not completely stop this. Maybe it will help but laws don’t transform someone’s heart, mind and spirit. Laws have never been able to do that. Jesus points to the vulnerable children to remind the adults that they were once vulnerable and non-important to society too. Jesus is reminding the crowds gathered and us of our common humanity, our common earthiness, our common creation in God’s image. What transforms us is God’s work begun in Genesis 3 of reconciling all of creation that is now broken, divided, hurting and literally bleeding, back to God. What transforms us is God’s love for all of us. God desires transformation so deeply that God walked among us as Jesus, suffered violence, murder and death-shared in our common humanity-to be raised and to raise us to our common eternal life in God.  We each have God’s divinity in us as evidenced in the two creation stories-we have what we need in us to allow God’s transforming Spirit to fill us, to move us, and to gather us again as one people, divine and equal helpers for one another.

You see, we, like the Pharisees, think that we can regulate relationships, we can put laws on divorce, LBGT brothers and sister, gender rules, racism laws or all of the other ways to try and keep each other in what we consider a proper box. We are complicit in systems that leave some marginalized and forgotten. We forget Genesis 1 and 2 where we are made from dirt, all of us and God gathers us dirtiness and all, for deeper, mutual relationship. This means that we are bound to one another in messy, invasive and uncomfortable ways no matter what laws we enact. We are so bound together that we are one body, one flesh in Jesus Christ, that we partake in each time we gather through bread and wine that crumbles in messes to the floor and spills out all over us. We are so bound together that we do what is best for our neighbor and not only ourselves. We are so bound together that we are called to quit fighting about laws and we simply love and allow God’s transformation. We are so bound together that we must move beyond prayers to actions for true unity and oneness with each other and Christ. Our actions don’t save us but they do point to and reveal to the world that salvation and wholeness that God freely gives for all.

It’s messy, hard and God is present. We must go back to the beginning to see what God has planned for us for eternity. Let’s be as children and allow ourselves to be gathered in Jesus’ arms and not worry about what the law says. Let’s refocus to God’s plan from the beginning of creation: God’s plan that includes you, me, all of us together as one, filled with the transforming love of God, now and forever, amen.

 

Unraveled by Christ, Holy Trinity Sunday, Year B, John 3: 1-17, May 31st, 2015 May 31, 2015

Frayed heart

Last time I preached here at Lord of the Hills, I was a newbie seminary student. I had about two whole years under my belt and as can happen in graduate school, you start to think that you know stuff. With all of the reading, writing, pontificating, and conversations, one can convince oneself that you have quite a bit of knowledge rattling around in your brain.  In the past five years, I’ve been on internship, graduated and served a congregation on the west side of town for nearly three years, so hopefully, I’ve learned a bit more.  But sadly, here is what I have actually learned in all of my learning….I’ve got nothin’. Now don’t get me wrong, I can explain some of the finer points of doctrine, I can outline what changes should be in a constitution, or what leadership skills are necessary in a congregation, or what the Greek says about certain words in our reading today, or what topics should be covered in confirmation or in Sunday school. Yet, I’m acutely aware that the more I know, the less I know, as each encounter with a new situation or new person can remind me of how quickly “knowledge” can be unraveled through an experience that doesn’t quite fit with what I think I know. Maybe you’ve had that that experience of being unraveled too.

I think about this unraveling that can happen in life in our Nicodemus story this morning. Here is a Pharisee, a teacher in the rabbinic tradition, a man whom many relied upon and came to with questions about following God’s law, doctrines, festivals and all sorts of other ponderings on the religion of the Israelites. Nicodemus had a lot of theological education, if you will, was part of the leadership and the inner circle and probably felt pretty secure in who he was and his status. And then along came this Jesus fellow. Nicodemus would have seen other famous street preachers come and go, Jerusalem was full of them around the time of Jesus, even those who could allegedly perform magic. But there was something different about Jesus that when Nicodemus encountered him, this experience began to unravel all of what Nicodemus thought he knew about God in the world. Jesus didn’t just perform magic, Jesus performed miracles, he healed, he brought the dead back to life, he fed thousands of people with two loaves and five fish. Jesus didn’t just preach what the people wanted to hear, what made them feel good about themselves or their lives, Jesus proclaimed that God knew and saw their brokenness, all of the ways that they get it wrong, and loves them, forgives them and promises more than just the material wants of the world or status in the Roman Empire. No, Jesus was someone the likes of whom Nicodemus had never seen or heard before. Jesus didn’t really fit into all of the education that Nicodemus had attained. Could this man, whom some were calling the Messiah, really be the one whom God promised would come to redeem, claim, make whole and save God’s people? Is this the one who will overthrow the powers of this world and set things right? This homeless, uncouth, street preacher who hangs out with the riff raff of society? This unraveled what Nicodemus knew about the promised messiah!

So Nicodemus decides to see what he can learn about Jesus and meets up with him in the cover of darkness so that no will see that there is something that this well educated man doesn’t understand or know. Jesus and Nic have this little back and forth where it becomes clear that the two of them are not having the same conversation. Nicodemus is stuck in his earthly paradigm of what he can concretely know and cling to and so can’t follow Jesus down the road of what the Holy Spirit is up to through Jesus in the world. Born of the Spirit? How is one born again? How can this be?

If we’re all honest, there is much about God in our lives that we don’t understand, much about the work of the Holy Spirit that mystifies, perplexes and unravels us no matter how much we read, learn and study. As human beings we have a deep need for assurance, security, planning, knowing and information. We have constructed a whole culture in information databases, Google, Wikipedia, etc to feed these needs. Nicodemus thought that he had all that he needed to know about God contained in the Torah, his education and his daily life as a Pharisee. Then he encountered Jesus, God incarnate, who offered him something that all of his knowledge and security could not, a true encounter and relationship with the living God.  Jesus didn’t just write Nicodemus off when Nicodemus didn’t quite “get it” the first time, no, Jesus accepted Nicodemus right where he was with his questions, wondering, and misunderstandings. Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus revealed that what he knew and experienced in this world is fleeting and uncertain, but God promises that in the midst of all of uncertainty is the promise of being woven into unconditional love, grace and mercy.  So too, Jesus’ encounter with us proclaims that God takes the unraveling of all that we don’t understand about what God is doing in the world, ourselves and our future and promises being woven into restoration and wholeness-what we often translate as salvation.

We think that we can create wholeness ourselves through what we can know, control and understand. We plan, accumulate and prognosticate, but wholeness, our salvation, only comes through God, in whose image we are all created, in Jesus, whom God sent to be with us and to gather us to God and the Holy Spirit who sustains and blows us out into the world with this good news that wholeness is available not just for some but for all. We like Nicodemus will ask over and over: What does this mean? How do we know? We know because God so loved the world that God withholds nothing from us, not even Godself in Jesus Christ. This love of God is what we know and experience each and every day. Each day we are given the gift of new life by the power of the Holy Spirit , born new, with each breath that is from God. This love is what Jesus says we know and are called to tell, to testify, to others about. We tell others of this love of God in simple ways in our daily lives: a smile to someone who seems disgruntled at the grocery store, unconditional love and patience to our children or spouse, offering a kind word to a co-worker or friend, helping a neighbor in need with yard work, or offering a meal to someone ill. Offering this love of God first given to us is as simple as those actions and yet, as complex as revealing that every action and interaction is an opportunity to testify to the love of Christ from our own experiences. We don’t have to “get it” fully to share it. We simply rest and trust in God’s promise.

Nicodemus didn’t fully understand everything that Jesus said to him here in chapter 3. No, Nicodemus didn’t have to have all of the answers first to be offered wholeness by Jesus, Nicodemus was a work in progress, as we all are. Nicodemus had been unraveled, undone by his encounter with Jesus Christ, but the gift and the promise is that through this same encounter he was woven into wholeness in a relationship with Christ, an experience of the love of God incarnate and so woven into the community that Jesus creates.

Our unraveling through our encounter with Jesus in our lives weaves us into the wholeness of unconditional love of God in Christ, fills us with the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, and relationship in the very life of God no matter what we know or don’t know. We are woven into a tight relationship with each other, the people of God, for the purpose of being the love and breathe of God in the world so that ALL people know and experience the wholeness that is available to all through God. In our encounters with Christ, we are unraveled to be made whole. Thanks be to God, Amen.

 

There Is Not One Good Story, Pentecost Year B Acts 2: 1-21, May 24th, 2015 May 25, 2015

Sometimes we just don’t know what is going on or what’s happening. For me, that’s most of my life honestly. When I began to pray, think and write this sermon, I spent some time wondering… “when was a time where I didn’t understand what was happening and it felt like a rush of violent wind or being burned by a refining fire? When was a time when I was shaped and informed by the people around me who are different? When was a time when I was astonished and amazed? When was a time I questioned or offered the cynical comment of someone being a off their rocker?” I  was searching for one good story of one of those times to go with this story of God’s Holy Spirit blowing into those gathered for the festival, unifying them, pushing them outside of what they could concretely know, understand and searching for what scripture had to say about all of this. I thought I needed one story to try and make sense of this scripture passage.

But I couldn’t come up with one good story. Not one.  I realized there is not just one story of this in my life and I suspect in yours. If we’re completely honest—everyday is like Pentecost for us. Each morning we wake up and we think we can predict what our day will be like (and sometimes we’re pretty close!) but it’s never exactly what we predicted. Each day we face the unknown, the amazing, the astonishing, the heartbreaking, the cynicism, the confusion, the clarity, and the questioning. Sometimes, all at once. Our days are messier, more outside our boxes and less controllable than we like to think about over our morning coffee. Anne Lamott wrote these words yesterday on her facebook page about reflecting on turning 61: “ Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

Our Acts 2 story begins with the disciples gathered together in that upper room and they thought that they had a pretty good idea about what their day was about to be like. Maybe more hiding, wondering, fear, waiting, or maybe a cautious trip to the temple for the festival. Pretty predictable. Pentecost came and went every year; nothing new to see. But how their day started and how their day ended they never could have predicted and I don’t think that they would have wanted to. Suddenly, they were caught in what must have felt like a tornado, can you imagine? How many have been in a tornado or a wind storm? It’s frightening when you watch debris thrown at you and you can’t control your own body due to the force. Then fire. Fire is very serious today but in the ancient world, it meant certain death and destruction. Fire couldn’t be controlled at all. At best, you prayed for rain.

Finally, they all heard strange and unknown languages. How many of you have been to foreign countries where you didn’t speak the language or at least not well? It’s disconcerting isn’t it? When you learn a few words or hear English, it’s as if that person speaking is now a close and personal friend. You’ve made a connection; it’s relieving and astonishing. So, welcome to the disciples unpredictable day. Not just one of those things happened, but they all did. In one day, in one moment, in one place. What a story!

Those who witnessed it couldn’t believe it and didn’t have a framework to place this experience into, so I kinda get it when some said: “well, these people have got to be drunk!” Or if they were in CO, these people have to be high! What was going on they wondered? This is not what I expected when I woke up today! Peter (always ready to jump in Peter) thought he’d better try and take a stab at this. He thought that he should give it some sort of grounding from the prophets, because the prophets completely make sense…right…..But what Peter did was connect God’s mysterious presence from the past, to the present and into the future. Peter named the uncertainty, pointed it out, gave it language, and reminded us that God is more than we can predict, more than we can intellectually explain, more than a cosmic slot machine where we put in our questions or prayers and get answers. God is on the move, God is doing a new thing, God is gathering us and making us rub off on each other, learn and literally shape one another. It’s messy and unpredictable and there’s just not one good story that encompasses all of this.

There’s not one good story. No, there are 7 billion great stories of God’s Holy Spirit loose in the world. There’s your story, my story, our story together, the story of LCM in this neighborhood, the story of Lakewood, of Jefferson County, Colorado…you get it. There are all of these stories of what God is doing in our lives and in the world and sometimes, we get to connect our stories together for a time. Sometimes we connect our story to someone whom we marry and we share this unpredictability together for 50 or 60 years. Sometimes we connect our stories with friends in high school for a time, or college or here in this congregation, or in our workplaces and we are perplexed by the wind that is shaping us, we wonder about the fire that might destroy to build something new. We navigate the unpredictability by sharing our stories of past experiences with God, pray together about the present and dream dreams about the future. And we share our stories with the world.

Today we celebrate and send off our graduates with those dreams and we are grateful for the time that they shared their story of God’s Holy Spirit in their lives with us. Quinn, Callista, TJ, Harrison, Heather, and Julie, your stories of God in your lives have shaped, perplexed (at times!), astonished and amazed us all. Thank you for your fire and your wind that is the Holy Spirit blowing in you. God’s story of love and good news that is part of your story is one that the world desperately needs, so go share it and translate it so that all may hear it. Life is unpredictable, you never know what your days may bring, but two things we want you to know:  1) God is with you always 2) You are all very loved by this community always. May that always sustain you and may everyday be a new day in God’s promises-may everyday be Pentecost, new wind and fire of God’s Holy Spirit, in and through you.

There is not one good story. My story of what the Holy Spirit is doing in my life is sending me in a new direction from the story that we have all shared together here at LCM. I am blessed and grateful for the Holy Spirit blowing me here for 2 and ¾ years and for all of the ways that this community has wrestled with me in questions of,  “what does this mean?”, amazement at what God is doing and will continue to do, astonishment at the powerful deeds of God in this place and in the world and, because I’m me, sharing a little cynicism. Your story of God’s Holy Spirit has blown me away, the passion of your fire for God’s work in the world has singed me and allowed for new growth in me, and your words have interpreted to me the depth of your faith in the living Christ. I will take your stories of the Holy Spirit’s wind and fire here at LCM with me always. Our stories will always be intertwined for the sake of revealing God’s love in the world. Thank you for your stories.

So, there is not just a good story. There is only the best story. It is the continuing and eternal story of God at work in all of us. There is the story of Jesus love, forgiveness and hope that is poured out not to only some but to all flesh. There is the story of the Holy Spirit’s wind and fire shaping us, destroying us and giving us new life not just for our own sake but for the sake of the world who is begging to hear and be a part of this great story. There is the story of God’s people being gathered and sent. Yes, it’s unpredictable, yes, we don’t always understand it, yes, it’s a mystery and yes, and sometimes all we have is a little cynicism and our calling on the name of the Lord.  But it’s God’s story of love for all of creation. Thanks be to God.

 

Flooding the World with God’s Love: Don’t Water Down Baptism Mark 1: 4-11, Year B January 18, 2015

We love baptisms, or at least I do! I love the joy, the families, the special outfits, the fun pictures, the pretty napkins, the beautiful quilts, the crafted faith chests. And let’s not forget the cuteness of babies! Babies who squirm as we sprinkle cool water on their warm heads while being held in the safety of mom or dad’s arms. It’s a sacred and joyous day! It’s a day that as families we plan for, grandparents and sponsors fly in, sometimes a party is held and it makes a nice page in our children’s baby book. Now, we know that it’s so much more than that as well. Baptism is a common thread that weaves directly from Jesus to us today. It’s a public proclamation that God names and claims us. Baptism is God’s action of love, grace and forgiveness towards us, the children of God. It’s also about the promises made by family and the community of God’s people to journey together and share with one another the tenets of our faith. It’s also a ritual that connects us to the ancient Christian church. We tell the story of faith from generation to generation. But, please excuse the pun, I wonder if we’ve watered down baptism.  God uses this very destructive, untamable and unpredictable element of water, to declare that God’s activity is loose in the world through Jesus and through us.  I wonder if by focusing on just the day we’ve diluted the wildness and the adventurous journey that baptism really is. I wonder if we really understand why Jesus’ baptism and our baptism matters.

The gospel writer of Mark, begins his entire witness of the ministry of Jesus Christ with the baptism of Jesus. Not with serene stories of an adorable baby, angels singing or special gifts from foreign visitors but with Jesus going to the wilderness, leaving behind the town in which he grew up. Jesus didn’t go to the temple or to a nice clean synagogue to begin ministry or even do much ministry at all. But, instead, he headed to the middle of nowhere, with a large motley crew of people from all walks of life, to a swiftly flowing river; a river that during the spring runoff can be volatile, a river that served as a border that divided people and cultures. For Mark, this river running through wilderness is where the story begins. Jesus at the Jordan, submersed completely under the water, holding his breath, being baptized by a rough and tumble looking guy (no pretty albs or stoles), trusting that John will pull him up from the destructive waters, emerging to the sky tearing open and the Holy Spirit of God dive bombing him like a kamikaze dove. Then the words of acceptance and inclusion booming “You are mine and I love you.”

This moment for the writer, is not about just this day but about the rest of Jesus’ life on earth, how Jesus’ baptismal day shaped all of the rest of his days and how it reveals the promise for everyone of eternal life to come. Jesus’ baptism is not about a pretty gown, a party or a certificate for Jesus’ scrapbook. This near drowning experience was the first day of a risky journey that began out in the middle of nowhere, progressed to a cross on a hill outside of the city, and then to a tomb that would be empty of death, yet full of life and hope. It seems that risk and God’s love go hand in hand.

Each and every episode of Jesus’ ministry in Mark, flows from this one. Jesus washes people with healing, love, forgiveness and grace. Jesus tears through the clouds of people’s lives with the words that they are God’s beloved children and God is pleased with them just the way they are. Jesus goes to the wild places of people’s lives and declares God’s loving activity in the midst of chaos, disease, hunger, poverty, loneliness, division and fear. Jesus’ baptism is not a once and only experience that is a nice story for family reunions, but his baptism is a launching point that set into motion his journey of now and forever revealing God in the world.

Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because God didn’t claim him before the water touched his head, because God did, Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because it made him part of a special club, because it didn’t, but Jesus’ baptism with wild water mattered because God wants us all in the flow of God’s radical, unpredictable, untamable and always risky love for us and to us. In baptism, the human and yet divine Jesus brings us all into the living water that floods out the world’s truth conditional, “if-then” clauses of acceptance and fills us God’s truth of unconditional acceptance of us no matter what.

Our baptism matters, not because it’s a marker of who’s in or who’s out, but because God launches us from the shore of the font, so that we flood the world with love, mercy, and forgiveness everywhere we go so that all people will know that God splashes them too. God offers the world the freedom from drowning in the rigid “in or out” systems of the world: consumerism, elitism, divisions, and all of the ways that we separate ourselves from one another. Jesus’ baptism matters as it is God’s action that flows through Jesus to us in our baptism so that, every time we walk out the doors of this church or our homes, we are a flood of God’s love for all of creation. Our baptism into the revelation and flood of God’s love for the world, matters when we feed people through The Action Center or Denver Rescue Mission; our baptisms matter when we act with integrity at our jobs, at school or with coworkers; our baptisms matter when we speak out against injustice and hate for someone of a different race, social class, religion or sexual orientation; our baptism matters when we can stand in the complexity of solidarity with people who have been victims of injustice as well as the people who bravely live to protect others, keep peace and promote justice. Our baptism matters as it is a revelation of God connecting all people through common water to be one people of God.

Every day is our baptismal day. Every day God’s activity is loose in the world-through the love of Jesus Christ, the movement of the Holy Spirit and through each of us. Every day we participate with God in the journey into the wilderness and uncertainty with the words of being God’s beloved child ringing in our ears. Every day we risk to live out our story of faith, revealing to our neighbors what it means to be submersed in the waters of God’s promises of unconditional love and eternal life for us all.  Everyday Jesus’ love, hope and mercy matters to the world and so does our participation with God. Every day we are all God’s beloved children. Thanks be to God.

*Another way that we talk about being God’s hands and feet in the world is to say that we reflect the light of Christ. We offer a candle to the newly baptized to remind them of this fact. We will now remember that our baptism matters as we reflect what God is already doing in the world, by lighting a candle and singing “This Little Light of Mine.”