A Lutheran Says What?

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

“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.

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Intersectionality and the Reality of Hope April 16, 2016

Swirling around us on Facebook, television, and all other media seems to be the conversation on intersectionality. Yes, this word will be underlined in red by Microsoft Word, but trust me, it’s a real thing. It’s a word that delves us deep into complexity, brokenness and uncertainty and yet, I believe is also the source of our healing amidst great divisiveness. Intersectionality names all of the places where pain can be inflicted, where we must confront our own biases, privileges and where truth can be named. I’ve been personally drawn into this sacred space in the past couple of years as I wrestle with white privilege, gender bias, and all of the “isms” in which I live and I am deeply complicit. To name my own privilege: I am white, upper middle class, well-educated, heterosexual, married woman, who happens to also be ordained clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This gives me great privilege and a voice in our culture in ways that I know some of my brothers and sisters of color do not share. I am compelled as a follower of Jesus to name my brokenness, my division from others and yet risk my voice and privilege for the sake of those without.

While my “whiteness” affords me great privilege, my gender (especially in my vocation) often, in subtle and not so subtle ways, can be where I experience the brokenness of humanity. I have my fair share of stories of seemingly benign comments and “joking” remarks by male colleagues, people in the pews and in the community at large, that I won’t bore you with, but trust me when I say that misogyny is alive and well in as well as outside of the Church. It may not be overt as in catcalls or outright, blatant denial of my “right” to be seen as equal, or as “good as the men” but it’s much more subtle, nuanced and  so much more difficult to call out without be “a bitch” or “one of those feminists.” (By the by, a feminist is someone who believes that men and women are truly equal and deserve actual parity in every sphere of everyday life. Feminism is good for men as well!)

But I want to turn back to intersectionality for the rest of this post. I see white males writing posts about the “Black Lives Matter” movement and adding their voice to the conversation. This is a very important dialog in all of our communities and is, in my opinion, one of life and death for our brothers and sisters of color, as well as the whole of society. (We are inextricably bound to one another as the body of Christ and when one part of the body is not honored and treated with respect, we are all damaged.) White males lending their privilege and voice to the “Black Lives Matter” movement is crucial and one that I applaud. But here is what I wonder: why do these same men not affirm that their male (and often heterosexual) privilege is also an issue alongside their white privilege? I’ve had many a conversation with white males who say things such as “I can only deal with one thing at a time, and I’m going to deal with my whiteness first.” That statement alone is so steeped in entitlement and privilege that it makes my head spin. White men can and do wake up every morning and decide which aspect of their privilege that they will deal with today. Is it being white? Is it being male? Is it having every privilege known in the free world? Why not all three? Oh, because that’s hard, complex, overwhelming  and may require giving away too much of themselves. So, they can compartmentalize their privilege and go about their day. (I want to add that white women are also writing and contributing to the “Black Lives Matter” conversation but they often do not separate it from gender bias. But yes, some do.)

What about the black woman who also is gay? A Latina woman? Or an Indigenous woman? Or a transgender woman? She does not get to wake up and say, “Today, I will only worry about being oppressed as a black person.” Or, “Today I will only have to worry about being female in all my interactions.” Or, “Today I will only have to deal with being gay.” NO. She is all of those things each and every day and cannot choose how society will view her or how others will treat her. I can only imagine that it’s overwhelming and exasperating. Intersectionality requires these women to be conscious each and every second of their day all of the ways that they are seen when they walk in a room, speak up at a meeting, or even drive down the street. They do not get to compartmentalize themselves. They bring the whole of who they are into every situation. (Thanks be to God!)

At the church I currently serve, we are in the nascent stages of conversation around radical inclusion. A large part of our wrestling has been around where to begin and the reality of intersectionality.  Do we first enter into this call from Jesus with only one population, dealing with only one area at a time, such as people who are differently abled or white privilege? Is it too much to try and think about the physical and cognitive differently abled, racism, gender bias, LBGTQI biases, socio-economic differences, etc. right from the start of this ministry? Should it even be a separate ministry as it’s actually who we’re called to be as people who follow Jesus Christ who shows no partiality and includes all people, in all times and in all places in God’s love? What if  Jesus’ definition of intersectionality is different from ours?  If so,  what if this is where we find our hope and our voice going forward?

God intersects with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ; coming to humanity, being human, suffering human sorrows and experiencing human death. Jesus intersected with those whom the rest of society threw away, thought of as second or even third class. Jesus didn’t only focus on one marginalized population, but gathered women, gentiles, lepers, tax collectors, the unclean into his mission of redemption, love and complete wholeness. Jesus didn’t compartmentalize God’s redemption to one step at a time but intersected with all of creation with risky leaps and unfettered bounds. The cross is the place where this intersectionality of God takes on its deepest meaning and continues to draw us into intersections with one another. It is only when we are caught in the intersection of relationship in the Trinity and God’s work of redemption in the world that we can truly know radical inclusion, healing, peace and restoration of our divisions, our brokenness and our fear of the other. This relationship with God, requires us to die to our own privilege, our own false sense of security and safety and trust in the promises of God that ALL truly means ALL in God’s wholeness (salvation). It requires us to be in deep relationship with all whom God gathers. When we rest, trust, find our life, breath and purpose in that promise, we don’t worry that lifting up our brothers and sisters (all of who they are as created in the image of God) might diminish who WE are. We expand our idea of “we” and know that we are not “us” without whom we might now label “other.”

This is difficult work, this is risky, potentially life-ending work.It’s the end of our false identities given to us by a fearful world and the beginning of living into our true selves as people of God, wholly created in the image of pure love for sacred relationship with God and one another.  It’s where we are confronted with the reality of God’s vision for wholeness and our own fears and need for control. It’s where we find that there are more options than in/out, included/excluded, me/you, and us/them. It’s where we find the third way in the cross of Christ: hope in radical oneness, gifted with beautiful, messy and  God-created diversity.

 

 

Held By the Cross of Christ, Mark 8: 27-38 Pentecost 16B Sept. 13th, 2015 September 13, 2015

I don’t listen to much Christian pop music, to be completely honest. I prefer Rush, Boston, Bruce Springsteen, Colin Hay, Elton John, etc. It’s not that I’m picky about genres, I’m not-I listen to everything from country to gospel to metal to pop. But message matters. Most, but admittedly not all, of the Christian music’s message tends to focus on if you only believe enough, have enough faith, read the bible enough, are generous enough then your life will be wonderful. The focus of the music is on us and what we think and do and not on what God has already done. Now, having said that, there is an artist, Natalie Grant, whom I really love and she has a song from 2005 called“Held.” The chorus goes like this:
This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.
I love these words as they ring true in my life and maybe they do in yours as well. I saw an interview of Vice President Joe Biden by Stephen Colbert during which Mr. Biden opened up about the recent death of not only his son Beau, but the deaths many years ago of his first wife and daughter. He beautifully witnessed to the importance of rituals such prayer and for him the rosary, and how worship, even when he wasn’t sure about God, centered him somehow. He spoke about the community of people who had faith for him when he wasn’t feeling up to it, carried him through some dark days and kept the glimmer of the light of Christ burning for him. His wife, Jill, put a note up on his side of the bathroom mirror one day that was a quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “Faith sees best in the dark.”

You see, something that Mr. Biden has learned throughout his faith journey is that faith isn’t a once and for all sort of event. It’s an ebb and flow, it’s a windy road, it’s confusing, and it’s foundational for who we are as God’s children. Faith doesn’t promise us that everything will be perfect, that we will have all of the money that we need, that we will be healthy forever, that cancer won’t touch us, our loved ones won’t get sick or die, that we won’t lose our jobs, we will have friends and all of the worldly comforts. Faith, it turns out, is complex, a mystery and causes us to have more questions than answers.
Questions, confusion, and the mystery of faith are at the heart of this morning’s gospel text that I will admit is not one of my favorites. Like, Peter, I’m uncomfortable with not only the bluntness of Jesus in his explanation of the suffering and death to come but seriously uncomfortable with this entire take up your cross business, lose you’re your life and shame talk. It seems contrary to the Jesus that we have just seen who relieves suffering, who offers inclusion for all, who points to that fact that rules can’t save us, only God can do that. The language of denying ourselves and taking up our crosses triggers me in many ways. Is Jesus telling us that we MUST suffer? That we need to let others walk all over us, abuse us, deny our own dignity and self worth? To me, that is very dangerous language-especially for those for who are already oppressed by patriarchy, racism, are being told they are nothing by an abuser, or are telling themselves that they are nothing because they don’t measure up in our culture. Dangerous words indeed, Jesus. How much must we and other people suffer to prove that we are followers of Jesus? Go to jail for our beliefs? Be physically harmed? Put to death as many of the disciples would be?
All of that seems contrary to the rest of the message of Jesus. The Jesus who walks on water, Jesus who feeds crowds, heals women and little girls, who is opened up by a gentile woman, who heals the deaf, who makes the blind see and who proclaims that the kingdom of God is near, surely now isn’t saying, “you must prove your faith through suffering.” I think what Jesus is doing is naming the reality of our lives and of our faith. It’s not that we have to suffer, it’s that suffering in life where the kingdom of God is not yet fully come, is inevitable. We will suffer losses, death, lack of material resources, loneliness, diseases and all of the ways that the world takes its toll on us. Jesus will know suffering too. Jesus will know what it is like to be poor, abandoned, suffering in pain and ultimately killed. Jesus runs head on into the reality, our reality of the world and doesn’t shy away or try and gloss over it with pretty or trite words of platitudes such as, “God has a purpose for your suffering,” or “God is testing you,” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” or “If you have more faith then these bad things won’t happen.”
No, Jesus doesn’t say any of those things but instead says “take up your cross; you know the same cross that I will suffer a very human suffering on. Take it up, not so that you will suffer but because you are suffering, your suffering is real and God sees your suffering and loves you.” The cross of Christ is not about suffering but about the promises of God to be present with us when we do suffer. The cross that we take up is not God allowing abuse, hurt or suffering but the cross we take up is the cross of the promises of God to hold us when we suffer, to love us when we are all battered inside and out by the world and not much to look at, to lose ourselves in this reality and not the reality of the world.
“Faith sees best in the dark.” Faith in the dark allows us to stop seeing ourselves how the world wants to see us-perfect, autonomous, happy and shiny, but allows us to finally see ourselves how God sees us: broken, messy, needy, beloved and worthy of abundant life. We can trust that faith is not dependent on us at all but is all about God and how God wants to live with us now and forever. We pray, sing, worship, study, share, serve, love to reorient ourselves as individuals and as a community to those promises of God, as an expression of faith whether times are hard or joyous.
There is good news in these words, “deny yourself and take up your cross.” The good news that it’s not about anything that we do but all about what Jesus has already done to offer us and all of creation the promises of God for abundant life here and now, and forever. The cross isn’t our suffering to carry, no, the cross of Jesus Christ promises to catch and to hold all of our suffering and all of us, always. “This is what it means to be held.” May we all take up our cross and know that it is the cross that takes us up into the life, love, mercy and hope of our God who holds us always. Thanks be to God.

 

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.