A Lutheran Says What?

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

Connections: Sermon on Facebook, Signs, Truth and God June 17, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 16, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31, Romans 5: 1-5 and John 16: 12-15 Holy Trinity Sunday

Children’s sermon:

Have a game, a phone, a letter, hands, cards, yarn. Gather the children and ask “Do you ever feel alone and you don’t want to be? Yes we all do! And we look for ways to be connected to our family and friends because we love them and love being with them. I have some things here that might help us think about being connected. Go through each one leaving the paper hands for last. In our bible stories today, they all talk about how God gives us signs of how we are aware of God’s connection to us. Just like the phone, or a letter bring us awareness that we can be with our family and friends in lots of ways, the same is true of God. What are ways that God might show us that we are connected to God? God connects to us such as through nature, through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, which is a little harder but is about feeling God’s presence through the air we breath and people around us. God wants to be with us and wants us to be with God! One way that we know God is with us is through other people telling us about God. Today we celebrate all of the men in our lives who tell us that God is with us always and show us God’s love. I have these hands here, just like Mother’s Day, and today we will write the names of dads, grandpas, uncles, brothers, cousins, friends who are special to us. Today we will tape them together and make a chain of hands and put them on this altar rail.

About ten maybe almost eleven years ago, I joined Facebook. Now, even in my mid-thirties, I was not known as being terribly technologically savvy or even liking tech or the internet all that much. My best friend, Leta, when I joined, commented “you are the LAST person I thought would ever be on FB!” And I honestly thought it would be a novel thing I would do for a while, I would get bored and quit. But I didn’t. FB has its ups and downs, good points and terrible points, but overall I love it! Why? Because I love that I can stay connected to people all over the world! FB allows me to at anytime, anywhere, be connected. I can connect with colleagues for advice, solidarity and empathy. I can connect with family and friends for laughs, crying and prayers. I can connect with people I have never met and will probably never meet in remote parts of the world and gain insight into what is happening globally. And yes, my dear parishioners, I get insight into you, the people whom God has called me to care for and walk beside. There’s a lot more pastoral care that happens on FB than you might realize. Believe or not, FB CAN be used for good and to broaden our worldview and doesn’t have to be an echo chamber. I didn’t expect to like FB or to utilize it for more than a few fun months, but a decade or more later, I am still there, and added Twitter and Instagram as well! Although, here’s where I am still a luddite-keeping up with all of that overwhelms me, so I mostly stick to FB. FB has become a sign in my life of how I am connected in positive and not so positive ways to so many people.  For instance, because of FB, once for a colleague out of state, I helped a family who was in Denver because their baby was life flighted from NE for cardiac treatment. I connected them to other resources, prayed with them and offered support. Because of FB, I mentor colleagues entering pastoral and faith formation ministry and I also get mentoring from colleagues who have “been there and done that.” Because of FB, I “talk” to people who are very different from me and I learn something new. Often, I am challenged and confronted about a piece of myself that I don’t want to admit to, or an action that I have done that needs reflection and repentance, such as changing my language around race, ableism or LBGTQ persons, or expanding my views on a topic beyond a right or wrong perspective. But because of this connectivity, I am pulled into the awareness and wrestling with the messy multiplicity of thought and relationships. I move from either/or thinking into both/and. Connections often bring awareness. One can see signs of the Holy Spirit at work in our world, and you might not believe me but even on social media where we don’t expect it.

Signs of God’s work are everywhere-and this week we are starting a seven-week sermon series “Give Me a Sign” and we will explore signs of God’s activity in our lives-particularly unexpected signs. Signs of God’s presence and activity are not always what we expect them to look like. Sometimes, as with our sign for today “Caution High Winds,” we are caught off guard and the sign may not seem to be good news for us at first. Signs might tell us that we are not where we think we are, or we are further or closer than we thought, or that there is potential for an event that we didn’t anticipate, or that preparations are needed. Signs don’t usually give us all the information but point us in a direction to keep going further down the road where we will encounter new experiences and new connections.

God has always provided signs of God’s activity, presence and connection in the world and in our lives from the moment that God spoke words of creation into the chaos of the void. God understands that we, as diverse humanity, need many signs, many experiences of God to expand our awareness of God. God’s deepest desire is to connect and be in constant relationship with us, as God’s very self is relationship and connection. Holy Trinity Sunday, is not a day to try and explain the three distinct expressions of God for intellectual understanding, but to point to the gift, joy and awareness of God’s diversity and connectivity in the world. The Trinity isn’t to be explained as much as it is to be lived and experienced. The core of God’s heart is abiding relationship. God as creator, Son and Holy Spirit-in unity and yet in distinction is a sign for us how God loves and craves relationships.

God’s signs of connection permeate the natural world with ecosystems both macro and micro. The relationships of plants and bees, animals and humans, rain, sun, wind and snow, reveal how God designed life to be dynamic and always transforming. Nothing stays the same and yet, the transformations are done in partnership in these systems. The more we become aware of our earth, the more we find that everything is in relationship from atoms and quarks to ice shelfs and penguin colonies.

God’s sign of connection is perhaps most personal in the coming of Jesus as a human infant, vulnerable and unprotected. God’s desire for relationship with us meant enduring risk. Through Jesus, God offered more signs of God’s connectivity to us. Water that connects us to the earth, and to the ministry and mission of Jesus, bread and wine that connect us to the seasons of planting and harvest, and also to inclusion for all into the body of Christ. And the sign of the cross, that connects us to the promises of God for presence in our suffering, connects us to the truth of the empty tomb, and life eternal with God and the people of God. These signs herald for us the truth that relationship and connection with God doesn’t remove suffering from our lives, as Paul writes in Romans, but has the power to transform it into hope- that is trust in God’s promise of abundant life.

God’s sign of connection in the Holy Spirit points us to new adventures and roads. Jesus tells the disciples in our John passage that we are connected to the Holy Spirit and so connected to the truth of God that guides our lives. Jesus doesn’t promise that this will be easy, clear or safe. The truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives witnesses to God’s power to call to us from unexpected people and places-such as in Proverbs chapter 8, Lady Wisdom calls to the people from the city entrances and crossroads-a sign of God’s connections in our daily lives. Throughout the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles God’s work among those who were different from them and challenged their embedded way of thinking about life with God. The Holy Spirit guides us to open roads and open hearts where we encounter God’s people in rich diversity, distinction and uniqueness. The Holy Spirit guides us to the truth of God’s love for us and all creation, that God is beyond either/or  thinking but reveals multiple perspectives and avenues of connection. The truth that God sends us out filled with these signs, to be living signs, with our words, actions and to be the very presence of God’s love, grace and hope to everyone that we encounter. Signs of acceptance, signs of advocacy, signs of inclusion, signs of welcome, signs of God’s gracious love that is poured out in unexpected places, to unlikely people in a multiplicity of ways. These signs open our awareness of living in grace-filled, abiding and eternal relationship with God and one another. Thanks be to God.

 

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Holy Relationship Sunday June 12, 2017

Last week, I had the privilege to go up to Sky Ranch and offer staff training on child/adolescent development and faith formation stages. I’ve done this a couple of years now and even though I’m not always thrilled for the three hour drive up and back, I’m always glad when I’m there. If you have any concern or doubt about the future of the Church or our world, spend time with these gifted, bright, generous young adults who give their summers to spend with children and youth in our camp ministry for not a lot of money, and you’ll feel very optimistic! I come away each time knowing that I’ve received more from them than this old lady could possibly give them! They are very gracious with this nerdy pastor, who also has an education degree and geeks out on brain development, and gives them more information than they want or need. Now, don’t worry, I do also give them practical ideas for engaging children and youth with their summer curriculum, as well as tips and tools for discipline and caring conversations.

I always stay for a meal with the staff, talk to them, getting to know them a bit. They love having an adult who doesn’t HAVE to hang out with them, but chooses to hang out with them. They think I’m cool, and I always let my own children know that other young adults find me cool. Even after teaching for two or more hours straight, I always leave camp feeling refreshed, energized and renewed for my own ministry. Relationships that are life-giving and supportive have this effect on us. As much as I might teach them some nitty gritty concepts of brain development and James Fowler’s six stages of faith development, mostly what I spend time teaching is on how faith is all about relationships.

Faith development or even lack thereof, is grounded in the quality and depth of relationships from the people whom we are in contact with from the time we are born and our relationship with God. Erik Erickson, a psychologist, names the first stage of emotional development in infants as trust vs. mistrust: knowing whether you will be cared for or not. James Fowler’s faith stage parallel in infanthood is Undifferentiated Faith, which means your being is completely without boundaries from others and you are solely grounded in God. From our very beginning, God wired us to need caring community with God and with one another, and my time at camp exemplifies this reality.

As we heard in the Genesis creation story this morning, we are created in God’s image, every single one of us-just as we are, in beautiful and rich diversity. Created male, female, short, tall, black, white, with a variety of gifts, a variety of opinions and a variety of viewpoints. But all equally in God’s image and all equally loved, called and gathered. We’re created individually in God’s image, but we are also created communally in God’s image as well. God’s very being is relationship-this is what we celebrate today, on Holy Trinity Sunday. It’s not a day to get bogged down in dogma or doctrine or to try and explain the unexplainable, no, it’s a celebration day of who God is and who we are as the people of God. It’s really Holy Relationship Sunday, or Holy Creation Sunday. Creating is always messy, think of artist’s studios and creating community, with actual people is even messier!

God’s very existence is community: three persons or expressions that we often refer to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we also hear God described in the Bible as creator, nursing mother, caretaker, rock, anchor, redeemer, the word, lamb, light of the world, mother hen, sustainer, animator, Lady Wisdom, sender, gatherer. God only knows relationships and so this is why God’s biggest desire is to be with us and for us to be in loving community with one another.

But community is messy, it’s chaotic and it’s unpredictable. We have this idyllic picture in our mind of harmonious community, even within our own families and it pops like a balloon within about 2.4 seconds of being in a room full of people, doesn’t it? For one thing, we each have OUR own idea of what the perfect community looks like, and often it’s one that revolves around us, our own needs, our own wants, our own preferences. So, we get frustrated, we form unkind opinions of one another and decide that perhaps a deserted island is the way to go, and so we end up creating this in our lives in many ways. We sit at home and watch tv with no interaction, we segregate ourselves in activities by age, by choices, by economic status, by neighborhoods. We stay out of certain parts of town, or don’t talk to certain types of people. We explain this in a rational way to ourselves that it’s about safety, or common sense, or who is worthy of our time, but if we’re honest, it comes down to trying to keep control and maintain a façade of autonomy, not needing anyone else and having all that we need without any assistance.

But God has no concept of autonomy, singularity, or isolation. God from the beginning of creation goes all in on relationships and interdependence. The more the merrier! Sea creatures, plants, trees, birds, creepy crawly things (which I could do without but not GOD!), large animals, small animals, microscopic life, and humans! Animals that eat plants, plants that supply oxygen, water to nourish plants and animals alike, people to care for the land, which in turn cares for them-all interconnected. And God took delight in this and saw that it was very good!

Not perfect, but very good. Community in the life of God is not about perfection but about goodness, which means it’s all about forgiveness, openness, and joy in being together. God delights in creating, delights in taking on human form to dwell with us and delights in being the breath that fills us and connects us for mission in the world. This breath that sends us to indeed Be The Blessing to our neighbor, all of our neighbors, yes, those neighbors who voted for Clinton, those neighbors who voted for Trump, those neighbors who are Lutheran, those neighbors who are Catholic, those neighbors who are Muslim, those neighbors who drive a fancy car, those neighbors who haven’t worked in five years, those neighbors who can eat nothing but cake and not gain weight and those neighbors who despite best efforts are always sick.

We need to remember that conflict is nothing new! Paul had to write time and again, we think at least five times, plus a couple of more visits, to the people of Corinth because they kept fighting, they kept dividing themselves, they kept arguing which way of doing church was better, who knew more, which preacher they should the follow. Paul had some stern words for these people who I’m sure were on Paul’s very last nerve with their bickering and wayward activities. Paul wrote to them and said to the Corinthians: it’s not about what you want or what a different preacher wants or what even what I want-it’s what God wants for you-love and grace and inclusion of all through Jesus Christ-even at costs to your personal comfort.

And yet, despite the exasperation he must have felt, at the very end of 2 Corinthians that we read this morning, Paul leaves them with a blessing, words of hope. Greet each other with a holy kiss, live in peace, and the words that we hear at the beginning of worship each week: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Conflict is real but so is the reality of loving relationship that first flows from our communal God that binds us together in community. We begin with these words each week to remind us of the reality of this messy community that is grounded in the promises of God.

It’s why here in a moment we’ll baptize Violet with the words Jesus spoke in  Matthew 28: 20 and why we as Lutherans, don’t do private baptisms, we baptize into community– first and foremost the community of Godself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also the community of saints, this specific community who promises to love Violet no matter what and promises to be there for her, even when it’s messy, even when she might be an angsty teenager, and especially when she needs us the most. The promise of this kind of radical, counter cultural community is that Jesus promises to be with us always-to the end of the age and so we get to live as “Jesus People” together to witness to the world a new possibility-one where there is more that unites us than divides us and we yield to reality that we are bound up together in the life of God and we celebrate it, not just today, but every day.

We celebrate our connectedness when we listen before we speak, when we suspend judgment, when we open ourselves up to new ideas or admit that there could be more than we currently know. We celebrate our connectedness when we pour water from the font, when all people are gathered at the table for bread and wine, when we ponder the needs of our neighbors more than our own. It’s not easy, but easy isn’t the promise, the presence of Jesus with us always is.  It’s not easy but it’s worth it; it’s worth it because God says to us first that we’re worth it, that creation is worth it. Interconnected creation in unbreakable, unshakable and unconditional relationship grounded in bonds of the Father Creator, Son Redeemer and the Holy Spirit sustainer. May we live every day in this Holy Relationship and Holy Creation. Amen.

 

God’s Hope for the World: Sermon on Genesis 1-2, Matthew 28:16-20, Holy Trinity Sunday, Year A, June 15th, 2014 June 16, 2014

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like the problems of the world just keep piling up and it’s overwhelming. No matter how much I am outraged and saddened about another child being shot, it will happen again. No matter what I do, children go to bed hungry. No matter how I want people to live in peace, people will still make hateful racist, anti LBGT, and other hurtful remarks. It seems we can’t just all get along. Sometimes, the world can seem like a dark and isolating place. And if we’re completely honest, we wonder if there should be some sort of reboot. Do we just need to start over somehow? We worry what kind of world we are raising our children in or leaving for the next generation. What will be our legacy and what consequences will those after us have to experience? What is it we are supposed to do or be? What is it we want for our life together?
And we look for some hope. I have noticed that the idea of hope bubbling up in the secular culture quite a bit. Some of you already know that I have been thinking about this lately. I listen to the radio a lot, as many of you can guess, I drive quite a bit. So, I wait and get the deals on the satellite radio to help me pass the time. One of the stations I listen to is a top 40 format. They do a weekly count down of the top 15 songs each week and I noticed last week as I was driving to and from Ft. Collins that 4 of the top 15 songs directly speak to the desire and longing for hope and unity as humanity. (In case you’re wondering: “Raging Fire” by Philip Philips, “Nothing More” by the Alternate Routes, “Scare Away the Dark” by Passenger, and “Love Don’t Run” by One Republic.) It’s also a theme that is integral to the plots of many tv series and movies. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, even sillier ones like This is 40. To notice the darkness and brokenness of the world is part of our human experience and yet so is the clinging to some strand of hope it seems.
So I’ve been thinking about the nature of hope and what the difference is between the secular idea of hope and the hope that we have as people who believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes a difference in and for the world. I am also wondering what God is up to in our world with these themes of hope and unity bubbling up.
Much of the secular media culture seems to link hope to another person noticing your human condition and offering you compassion. Hope seems to need a communal quality to it. Hope transcends the individual and give substance to the mystery of mutual relationship. Yet, the concept of hope that is put forth in the world still has the underlying assumption that hope is all about us. That hope doesn’t exist without something that we as human beings do. And we continue to get it wrong and so the spiral of despair and hopelessness continues because we can’t pull ourselves together and we stay with our narrow focus of the world around us and only what we can see. And so hope and unity seem unattainable.
If the world says that hope is fleeting, dependent on us and yet desperately needed, what do we know about what God says about hope? Today’s texts help tell the story of God’s love and hope for the world. In the Genesis creation story, we read that God is hovering over the formless void and darkness. “Formless void” is better translated from the Hebrew as chaos. In the very beginning, God looks right into the chaos and darkness and speaks light and life into it. God’s word and breath swept into the chaos to create life where none had existed before.
And not just one kind of life but all kinds of life. God created fish and birds and plants and trees and cows and dogs and lizards and deer and snakes and platypuses. God created not just one thing or one time but again and again. When God was done creating the plants and animals, God still wasn’t finished. God the creator had more visions of what the world could be. God created people, in God’s image-men and women. Not just in God’s physical image but in the image of God’s love and hope for what it could mean for God and all that God created to be together. God created life to be interwoven and interdependent in order that each part of creation needs other parts of creation to be healthy, whole and what God declared as good. God didn’t create out of hopelessness but out of hope and joy bursting with the possibilities of what living in the midst of and with this creation for eternity could be.
Hope is embedded into all that God has created. Flowers that bloom every spring, plants that regrow each year, sunrise after the dark, babies (is there anything more hopeful than a new baby?), new friendships, even our how we develop as humans is a sense of hope. Developmental phases where babies and children learn new things, phases of life that offer adults new opportunities, even while other parts of our lives are fading away. God’s hope is deeply intertwined in us.
We know that shortly after this glorious creation, a separation between God and humanity occurred. Yet, God’s resilient hope for connection with us abounds in the world and this was never made more plain than in the person of Jesus. God came to us to be love and hope in the flesh. Jesus proclaimed that God’s love is for all, nothing separates us from God and that just when it seems that darkness, death, and hopelessness will win-look again. God’s hope that created the world, created life once again from death. God’s hope calls to us from the empty tomb to tell us that this is a hope that is not dependent on us but encompasses us and draws us into the very life of God. God’s hope is enough for you, for me and for us all. We don’t even have to always believe in this hope all of the time. Sometimes we will worship in this hope of God and at the same time wonder if it’s true.
Jesus knew that the idea of hope the world offers will confuse us and make us question. The world tells one story of hope that is incomplete and unsatisfactory and yet, we find it easier to believe than God’s overflowing promises of hope, grace, mercy and daily renewal that meet us right where we are with no strings attached. We have to experience these promises over and over to drown out the other voices we are prone to listen to and this is why we gather together often as the people of God.
This hope and love from God I believe is what God wants for us in our life together. Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 28 to go out and give voice and experience of the good news of new life in God to all people because this new life is for all people. We all are intertwined in the life and breath of God and connected to one another and it’s why it matters that we tell the story of God’s love and hope to one another, to our children and youth, to our neighborhood, and to our world. We have to remind each other that God’s hope is not dependent on us or what we do but is simply in us to be revealed and daily recreated. We have to remind each other that we matter to God and to one another, as well as that we daily receive being this new creation and deep love from God’s Holy Spirit who simply desires to always be with us whether there is chaos, peace, challenges or joy. This is the hope we cling to and live in everyday. Thanks be to God for all of God’s people who are filled and moved by the Holy Spirit, who are the hands and feet of the risen Christ for the sake of the world that God created. Amen.