A Lutheran Says What?

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

What We Are Becoming Sermon on Genesis 1 June 5, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 7, 2020  at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.  It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please see our website oslcslc.org for a bulletin.

We are in our summer sermon series, “I Love to Tell the Story.”

The text was Genesis 1-2:4

These past few weeks (ok, months, years) have had me wondering “What are we becoming?” Chaos and disorder prevail and there’s not much that we can do about it. We are caught in a void, a nothingness where we can’t make heads or tails of what to do next or what should happen next. Each day seems like the previous day didn’t happen, as something new arises. This constant state of newness, each day, is unsettling to say the least, I mean we just get used to one thing and then along comes something else. What is coming tomorrow? What will we become in the whirlwind of constant change? What will life look like? Will we flourish?

My pondering, I know, isn’t unique or revelatory, I’m simply re-asking the question that has be considered since the beginning of humanity and a question that the Israelite people wrestled with particularly while in captivity in Assyria and Babylon. It’s not a surprise that in the atmosphere of living in a foreign country as captives, hearing the origin and identity stories of the Babylonians and other ancient Near East cultures, that they told one of their own. The creation story, or song as some scholars have noted, in Genesis 1 and 2, is the story of the earth and a people becoming. Only this story is unlike any other origin story of any other culture in the ancient Near East. All those origin stories, how the world and humans came to be, were violent, all aspects of life born from battles, embedding in the culture of the people that life was a fight, becoming a people meant conquering others and the land, and winning was everything.

But not so for the Israelites. When they tell the story of how everything comes to be, they start with God. And God began creating with what in Hebrew is called tahu and wabohu, that is chaos and disorder. Nothing that made any sense. But God’s Spirit, ruah, a wind, hovered over this chaos and disorder like a watchful mother bird. And then God spoke. God used God’s very breath and word to declare something new. Light, darkness, waters, land, plants, trees, stars, sun, moon, seasons, days, living sea creatures, cattle and creeping things, and birds. But God’s word didn’t create those things alone, no, we read that “the earth brought forth.” God’s word spurred on the earth itself to become life, good life, multiplying life, flourishing life. And then, and then…Humanity. Humans created, crafted, delightfully in God’s very image from the earth, and if you notice it’s plural there “Let us make human-kind in our image.” God expressed relationship and community from the very beginning of all things and all time. And this day, that humanity, formed by God who loves to get God’s hands dirty, and arose from the mud and muck, was very good. And then, God looked at all that had been formed with and from the earth, all the life that had been put in motion and rested. What was embedded in the Israelites was that life with God was goodness, interconnectedness and flourishing.

In Genesis, Israel names many truths about life and relationship with God: God hovers over us and reaches into the chaos and disorder and envisions life. Every day is something new. Today isn’t like yesterday and something new will be formed tomorrow. That creation and newness isn’t a once and for all activity, it’s always becoming, being brought forth. Light became day, darkness night, waters became homes for sea creatures and dry land home for land creatures. Sky became a place for birds, and weather, rain, snow, sun. People became part of creation, became part of the very life of God and life intertwined with the earth. Nothing stagnated, nothing was the same, each day, with each word, God brought forth newness and life. Life that keeps changing, growing, learning, and moving towards becoming more life. Life, it turns out, is never the same one day to the next.

This story, this truth of our origins, begs us the question, dear siblings in Christ: what are we becoming? How are we promoting flourishing? What’s embedded in us? I watched as George Floyd’s life was taken from him by force from other human beings. His breath, his life, and all the black and brown people who have been killed, can no longer bring forth more breath and life. They can’t breathe and were denied the opportunity to flourish as part of God’s creation. The systemic sin of racism and white supremacy is not what we were created to bring forth and become. In this system no one flourishes. Those of us who are white must repent of bringing this systemic sin forth and upholding it in conscious and unconscious ways every day. We must be clear that anything that denies life, breath and flourishing for any part of humanity or creation, is not of God. We must bring forth life for our siblings who’s black and brown bodies are created in God’s divine image, to flourish as God’s beloved. As well as any of our siblings who are denied life and breath for any reason, particularly as we begin pride month our siblings who are LBGTQIA. We must bring forth life with words and actions that put aside our own power, privilege, and entitlement for the flourishing of black lives that all too often haven’t mattered in world. When we say that black lives matter, that love is love is love matters, we harken to God speaking God’s word calling each part of creation into being by their specific name, seas, land, sun, moon, stars, trees, animals because they each matter specifically to God. We are to steward all of God’s creation, because our lives depend on it, to bring flourishing and vibrant life, not for our own sake but for those who lack access to it.  God’s word of life speaks goodness that God desires for all of God’s creatures.

God’s word of life as embodied and embedded in Jesus Christ, is God’s word of who we are to become as people of God. The story of life that becomes liberation, justice for those on the margins. Jesus’ life became one that scared the authorities of the Empire and of the religious institution because Jesus’ actions and words showed people that they too specifically mattered to God: Samaritan lives mattered, women’s lives mattered, children’s lives mattered, Canaanite lives mattered. And Jesus invited them into what they too could become and bring forth: God’s work and mission of the flourishing of life, not only for the rich, the powerful, for white people, for straight people, for able bodied people, but for the people who are rarely specifically named.

The people with every power and authority took Jesus’ life and breath, hoping his life could no longer become anything. But God reached into the chaos, the disorder, the void of the grave, and brought forth new life. Jesus’ new life became fully expressed in God’s power and love. And this is what is embedded in us. Our lives bring forth witnesses in the midst of tahu and wabohu, to God’s promise of new life each day. We bring forth the promise of transformation, and action to bind ourselves to each other as the body of Christ to dismantle systems of injustice that harm that deny flourishing to any in this body, for all the George Floyd’s in our society. What we are becoming, are people who bring forth God’s word and actions of flourishing life so that all may breathe. Thanks be to God.

 

Letter to OSLC On Racism May 30, 2020

Dear OSLC Family,

Words escape me for what is happening in our collective life in this country. Yet, as a public leader, as a theologian, your pastor, as a human, as a follower of Jesus, I must speak out even when it’s hard. I’m struck by the words of Jesus from the John 20 reading for this week’s gospel: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus sends the disciples into the world to be the Church, and to name sin when they see it in action.  Friends, we must name the sin that we are witnessing with horrific and murderous consequences: the sin and evil of systemic racism. We have to name the murder of George Floyd, and so many others Ahmaud Arbery, Breeona Taylor, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland to name a few, as unjust murder. I know that this topic may make some of you uncomfortable, and possibly angry with me that I am “being too political.”  I can tell you that even writing (and now speaking) these words are not comfortable for me either, yet I must say them because politics is about how we live together as humanity. Our own confession of sin, as found in our book of worship, proclaims that if we don’t name our sin, the truth is not in us. The truth is, structural and systemic racism is evil and sinful. It denies our siblings who are black and brown full and abundant life. It denies them the very breath that Jesus breathes into all of God’s people. It denies us all the fullness of our humanity. Our health, well-being and liberation from sin is inextricably bound up in health, well-being and liberation from sin of all people. If one part of humanity is harmed, we all are harmed.

As people of faith who are white, we have hard work to do for this sin and evil to be healed. We must admit our own complicity, comforts and benefits of the current system of racism. We must renounce and repent of our witting and unwitting participation each day that upholds this unjust social structure of racism and white supremacy (not to mention all unjust social structures). This work will be difficult, risky and decentering. We must listen to and center the voices of people who are suffering in the system of racism, we must lend our voices when appropriate and called upon (this alone will be great learning), and we must act to dismantle racism in our lives, congregation, community, country and world.

This risky work will cost us something; Jesus never denies that picking up our crosses and following him will be easy or safe. Jesus says that he came to divide, those who will stand for the truth of the gospel and those who will continue to be complicit in the ways of the world. The truth of the gospel demands that we lay down our lives for our siblings, that this is what love looks like, our own deaths. Love that risks family and friends distancing themselves from us as we tell hard truths and learn to walk the walk of antiracism. Love that engages in difficult and uncomfortable conversations for the sake of learning, growth and abundant life for all people regardless of color, gender, sexual orientation, class, race or creed. Love that hangs in tenaciously despite fear, exhaustion or uncertainty. Love that commits to change and to do better for the sake of our neighbor in need. We won’t do this perfectly, we will make mistakes, I will make mistakes, (I’m likely making mistakes in this very letter) but when we do make a mistake, we learn and do better.

Yes, I know that we are also in the midst of a pandemic and the uncertainty of many aspects of our lives together is palpable. We are uncertain of when our building will open and when we will have in-person worship. We are uncertain of how the church will change in the coming year (as it will have to). Yet, the pandemic has highlighted what has been certain in this country for 400 years: that not all lives have mattered, particularly lives of black and brown people. The certainty that black and brown people are dying of COVID19 at a higher rate and is out of control on the Navajo Nation in our own state. The certainty that those who are essential and have to work in public are predominately people of color. The certainty that many people of color lack health care. In the midst of our own uncertainties, some things are certain.

AND, there is the certainty of God’s presence, the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit to prod us to do hard things. God’s power, as witnessed in our Acts texts by wind and fire, is poured out to us today, connects us as one, unified humanity, and gives us the ability to speak and hear the languages of our siblings-do we hear them? Do we hear their cries of fear, lament and injustice-even if it’s a language we don’t know such as protests and riots? Can we hear the language of oppression and anger that hasn’t been previously heard and taken seriously? Can we hear the language of looting as a language learned from white culture that has looted other cultures for our own benefit for centuries? Can we hear the words “I can’t breathe” and offer our own breath in solidarity?

My friends, I don’t have any answers. I don’t know where this journey of dismantling racism in ourselves and the country will lead us.  I do know that I have a vision of unity and love with this hard work. I do know that we must take the first step of being on the path. I will be offering a book club to explore this hard conversation this summer and probably into the fall. We will start with the book “How to be and Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. Look for details of when to come in the enews. This is only a baby step, the prayer is that it will lead to leaps of faith.

Thank you for your faithful work in a world that offers no reward in return for this work. Thank you for your commitment to the gospel of Jesus, particularly when it’s difficult. Thank you for taking your baptism into the mission of God’s Kingdom, for reconciliation and freedom of all, to your heart, head and soul. Thank you for listening and contemplating this letter. It’s a privilege to be your pastor. Please know that I am always available for a phone call, a Facetime or a Zoom for conversation. I know that this is hard but we are in this together. We are not alone.  Jesus says “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 20.

In the love of Christ, Pastor Brigette