A Lutheran Says What?

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

On The Move Palm Sunday Sermon March 27, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 28, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Philippians 2: 5-11
Mark 11: 1-11

The law of inertia, is one that most of us learned in middle school or high school. Even if you didn’t formally learn it by its scientific name, it’s a law of physics that one might call “common sense.” A body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. If you’ve ever laid down on the couch after yard work or house cleaning, thinking you’ll just take a 15-minute breather only to still be on the couch an hour later, you know what the law of inertia is about. I’ll be intimately familiar with inertia next Sunday afternoon after Holy Week. It can be hard to get ourselves moving, whether it’s physically up off the couch, or emotionally, psychologically, spiritually to move our feelings, thinking and hearts in a new direction. What causes us to be moved to change, to engage our lives and world differently, to overcome the law of inertia, is elusive. We’ve all had the frustration of trying to move ourselves or a friend or family member to quit smoking, drinking or change their language.

 George Barna did a study about 15 years ago now, that showed worldview was set by age 13 and values by age 9. Whatever your values and worldview might be entering high school, are pretty much concretized. Of course, we might have life experiences that move us to shift those values and worldviews but usually it’s nuance and not upheaval. When people are moved, typically it is due to a personal major traumatic event. It’s why right now in our national discourse we have so much tension. We are trying to move people to new worldviews and values with stories and facts that aren’t necessarily personal. It’s real experiences, personal and communal experiences, that move people. What moves us, compels us to either physically or spiritually, change our course, and do a new thing is that the heart of our text for this Palm Sunday, what is called “The Triumphal Entry.” As I wrote in my Faith + Talk this week, that title is a bit of a misnomer, but it’s what we have to work with. I’m struck by all of the ways that Jesus moves people. Jesus leads his disciples to the outskirts of Jerusalem, a city teeming with people celebrating Passover. He moves two disciples to go get a colt, a young donkey, for which he had obviously planned ahead. He then moves with the crowds who are also pilgrims, entering the holy city, and they are moved to call out “Hosanna” which interestingly means, “Save us now!” It’s not a movement of joy, a movement of celebration as we often project on this story, it’s a political movement, a movement of people who are recalling that they are not free. The pilgrims recognize that just as they are entering the city, so are a whole legion of Roman soldiers along with Pontius Pilate. Pilate didn’t live in Jerusalem but out on the coast, and he came in each Passover with troops as a show of force to the occupied Jews. Passover was a holy time that celebrated God’s movement and action of liberation for the Israelites and the Roman government didn’t want them to get any funny ideas about God moving for them again.
But Jesus knew that was EXACTLY what God was up to. Jesus’ physical movement from the rural and outlying towns in Galilee to the center of power of the Roman Empire and the Temple Institution in Jerusalem, revealed that God is indeed moving right to the heart of what needs to be confronted and changed. God had come in Jesus to move all people toward God’s unconditional love, mercy and grace and to move people to recognize one another as worthy of love and care. Jesus was on the move, not only into Jerusalem, but into people’s lives and hearts. Jesus moved toward the conflict, toward the pain, toward the divisions, toward the unrest. And Jesus moved his disciples to do the same.
Jesus modeled for the people what it means to be moved, to have your heart and soul moved not for your own well-being but for the well-being of all people and creation. Jesus was moved by the lepers outcast, Jesus was moved by the separation of the man unhoused living in the tombs, Jesus was moved by the woman who begged for crumbs, Jesus was moved by the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus was moved by the crowds hungry and lost, Jesus was moved to offer his very life for the sake of ending the movement of evil, hate and death and affirming the movement of God’s kingdom of wholeness, peace and abundant life for the world. Jesus moved to move us.
Our baptism calls us to this movement. We move to see our lives together as God’s Church beyond our walls, we move and join the shouts of Hosanna, save us now for our black siblings, our refugee siblings, and our LBGTQIA+ siblings. We move and say no to economic disparity and poverty. We move to ensure healthcare is offered for all; we move to keep our society safe from senseless violence. We move to offer our neighbors tangible experiences of God’s mercy, wholeness and love to all people and creation, so that they too will join the movement of hope. We move even when the path leads through pain, suffering or even death. We move, knowing that we are part of a movement in which the horror of death on a cross, moves us to the mystery of the empty tomb, moves us to the promise of new life that stretches out to the end of the earth. Jesus calls us to follow and move but reminds us that we will not move alone. God moves with us, with pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night so that we move together as a beloved community. We are part of the movement of God’s kingdom that enters into the heart of what needs to move for hope, mercy, grace and love in and for the world. Thanks be to God.

 

We Are Shaken Sermon for Palm Sunday April 5, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on April 5, 2020, Palm Sunday in Holladay, UT. You can view it on YouTube: our channel name is Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts:
Isaiah 4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Phil. 2: 5-11
Matthew 21: 1-11

Today’s gospel reading of Jesus entering Jerusalem certainly seems like a far-fetched concept these days to us. Where our streets are eerily desolate, empty and quiet, the streets of Jerusalem in our Matthew passage are crowded, chaotic and cacophonous. There were people shouting “Hosanna!” which transliterated from Hebrew means “Save us now!” and waving palm branches, laying down cloaks on the road with the branches to welcome Jesus. Jesus was in the middle of this crush of people as they made their way into the heart of the city. It will be a long time before we see anything that might resemble such a parade.

This is a day where we too would typically have palm branches, sing “Hosanna!” with the children and choir processing in parade fashion. But the sanctuary is quiet and we are at home. While it seems that our experience is the complete opposite of what was happening in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, in reality they are very much the same. We read that the city of Jerusalem was in turmoil, and that word turmoil in the Greek is the same word that we encounter in Matthew 27:51 for the earthquake that occurred at the time of Jesus’ death and for the earthquake in 28: 2 that rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb. The earth shook at the arrival, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our lives are similarly shaken.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was revealing the truth of who he was and who God is in relationship with humanity and creation. Jesus entering Jerusalem revealed the truth that there was no going back to the good old days of wandering the countryside, healing, teaching, feeding, and praying. There was no going back to what to the disciples, must have looked like Jesus in control of the situation. Jesus knew that there was no going back and went head on into the crisis and chaos of betrayal, isolation, and death. Jesus also went head on into the heart of the matter, to the people to dispel the human illusions of security, power and control, to point to God at work redeeming, saving and loving humanity even when it seemed all was lost. Jesus went forward in the confidence and trust of God’s presence, even when he was scared, even when he suffered, even when he died.

We too have entered into turmoil and are shaken. The earth beneath us all has shifted, literally in the past two weeks with the earthquake in Magna, as well as emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically for us with the pandemic. Our whole world, experiences and lives has been shaken up, turned upside down and changed forever. We long to go back to just a few short weeks ago, when we could be together without fear of illness, when we could get toilet paper anytime we wanted, when we could keep travel plans, when we could have a sense of security, do whatever we pleased and had, we thought, control over our lives. But we’ve learned in the past few weeks any sense of control, comfort, security and autonomy were illusions. What’s been revealed to us is deep global interconnectedness, that there is much we don’t and can’t control and what we place security in: finances, work, material goods, health aren’t guaranteed and are fleeing at best. What’s been revealed is what truly matters when the ground beneath us is shifting and unsteady.

This is where Jesus indeed enters in. Jesus enters into our turmoil, hears our cries of “Save us now!” and comes to us and reveals to us God’s mercy, peace and tenderness when everything seems chaotic and hopeless. Jesus enters, not as a worldly king wielding words of quick fixes, placating comforts, self-serving assurances or blame, no, Jesus enters as a king whose kingdom offers actions of humility, servanthood and selflessness. Jesus incurs risk, suffering and death to enter the turmoil of humanity to reveal that there is more, there is hope, there is healing, there is light and there is life. God is at work all the way to the cross.

As the people of God, we go forward despite turmoil, chaos, despair and fear, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, lifting our palms in confidence, in trust and in love. We lift our palms to sweep back the curtain of the illusions of security,  control, comfort and autonomy to reveal that those things were never going to save us. We can’t go back to what was, we know too much, we’ve seen too much. We go forward toward what we know, lifting our palms to what does save us: God’s promises of being with us in suffering, walking with us in fear and at work in the darkest nights for the dawn of new life. New life that will be like nothing we have experienced before, new life that ushers in God’s kingdom where true security is found in doing what is beneficial for our neighbor, in sharing power, in letting go of control, in getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and in proclaiming radical, equalizing, unifying, ego-destroying, sacrificial and earth shaking grace and love. Amen.

 

What Fits? Homily on Matthew 21: 1-9 December 7, 2015

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*The text for this homily is Matthew 21: 1-9 and Romans 13: 11-14. This sermon was part of a vespers Bach cantata worship service at Bethany Lutheran Church on Dec. 6th, 2015.

 

We live in a world where things don’t always seem to fit. I often feel this is highlighted in this season of Advent or what our culture has been celebrating since October: Christmas.  We are told by Lexus, Target, Walmart, and every other retailer in the world that this time of year is magical. Christmas is magical. All around is a Silent Night. Idyllic scenes of snow, peaceful and happy families gathered around a fireplace sipping coffee or hot cocoa, laughing and opening just the perfect gift. This is the picture that we are all sold in this season and we buy it hook, line and sinker.

But it doesn’t jive with our reality. Reality where in-laws don’t always get along; children don’t play nicely together, expensive gifts are not possible, beloved family members are missing for a variety of reasons, disease makes it impossible to feel hopeful, people are killed while at a work holiday party, or at school or while at a concert. Things just don’t fit how we think they should. The season seems off, not quite what we have built it up to be in our minds or what the world wants us to think it should be.

The Matthew 21 reading struck me as not quite fitting in with this season of Advent, or really almost Christmas and our other winter festive themes. You see in our modern Church year, this reading comes on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It’s Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem right before Passover, right before he is killed on a cross as an enemy of the state. This is not the pastoral scene of young parents welcoming their sweet baby boy that we are used to hearing in December. But you see, this gospel reading was the scripture that Bach would have heard at Advent. This would be the biblical passage for those in attendance in worship. The people would be expecting the juxtaposition of Jesus final coming to the holy city as they prepared for Jesus’ coming to the world-God incarnate, made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us.

The crowds in Matthew 21 shouting Hosanna, which means “Save us now!” are not the cries of Merry Christmas or caroling choirs that we expect. But I wonder if the words “Save us now!” shouted to Jesus as he rode in on a lowly donkey are exactly what we need to hear today-even if it seems to not fit. Unlike other worldly leaders, Jesus was entering Jerusalem amidst fanfare but not as a typical celebrity or king. Jesus, as God dwelling among us, didn’t fit what the Jewish people thought of as a messiah and certainly didn’t fit the Roman Empire’s version of a leader. Unlike a worldly king, Jesus came to humanity not to demand service but to serve. Jesus entered into the world not to point to himself but to God. Jesus entered the world not to conquer the world with violence but to conquer our hearts with God’s unconditional love. Jesus entered the world not to judge but to forgive. None of that fit with what the people knew of a messiah and a king.

But they also knew that how they were living, didn’t fit, either. They were broken, lonely, stressed out, sick, hurting, oppressing one another, killing one another and the only words they had were “Save us now!”  We also know today that how we are living, doesn’t fit. We know that we are created for more than what the world tells us. We are created to be more than consumers, more than taxpayers, more than medical patients, more than lonely people, more than political affiliations, more than whatever label others try to put on us. We are created in God’s image, we are created as God’s beloved people and we know that doesn’t fit with who we are today.

So maybe the words “Save us now!” are the perfect fit for this Advent season. Maybe the words “Save us now!” are exactly the prayer and the cry of our hearts as one people of God. Save us now from brokenness, save us now from fear, save us now from isolation, save us now from division and save us now from anything that separates us from you, God and your eternal and unconditional love through Jesus Christ.

Jesus entering the world didn’t fit the world’s plan, but it fit God’s plan. God promises to enter into our daily lives no matter how broken or how much we think we don’t fit into God’s plan. Through Jesus’ entering into the world through human birth, human suffering, human death and divine resurrection, God proclaims to us this Advent season that we all fit. We all fit into God’s very life and heart. We fit into the work that God is doing to save not just us but all people and all of creation. We fit into God’s plan of life and love forever. Hosanna, save us now, are the very words we need this Advent season. Amen.