A Lutheran Says What?

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

Freed to Tell the Story Acts 12 September 4, 2020

This sermon was preached on Sept. 6, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Psalm 119: 45-56
Acts 12: 6-19

Woman after woman filed into the multipurpose room where rows of chairs had been set up in three distinct sections and the women sorted themselves into either section 1, 2 or 3 according to their designation. I had decided to sit in section three, as this was my first time there and I didn’t want to appear frightened, judgmental or frankly, a white middle class overly educated privileged person, which, of course, I am, and I don’t think I fooled anyone, only myself. Women filled in around me and I smiled and said hello. Some returned the gesture, others, well, others simply stared at me with understandable suspicion. I was kinda suspicious of myself at this point. My bravado faded when a young woman sat down next to me, not because she wanted to, but because it was the only chair left. She was irritated and it showed. My smile was met with a scowl, which once again, I understood. How many times had this young woman had someone pretend to like her, be nice to her only to use or abuse her? I looked down at my bulletin as my friend and colleague Pr. Emily welcomed us to worship at New Beginnings, a worshiping community inside the walls of the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. She reminded the women that they had to stay in their assigned sections-she had earlier explained to the volunteers that the section numbers had to do with their behavior in the prison and did not reflect the reason for their incarceration. “One’s” had exemplary behavior, “Two’s” were doing pretty well, “Three’s” were struggling with self-regulation and “Four’s” and “Five’s” were struggling to the extent that they had lost privileges such as attending worship. As I said, I purposefully sat in section three. My reasoning was sometimes people just need to know that they are loved even when they try and push others away.

Worship began, led nearly entirely by the women. A petite, blonde and charismatic woman who was a fantastic guitar player and singer led the music. She shared her story of how she was incarcerated for killing her boyfriend, who was abusive, and how prison had really set her free. She started coming to New Beginnings simply to get out of her cell at first (very common in the prison) but then God started working in her, speaking to her, freeing her heart, freeing her soul and mind. She recounted all the things that the Lord had done for her in prison and her joy was contagious. Other women also shared their stories and while the details changed, the stories were essentially the same: what the Lord had done for them when they were scared, at rock bottom, or seemingly at a dead end. God had provided new opportunities, new pathways and new life. I was struck that in their stories, I heard my own. Again, the details were different, but the emotions, were not. I too knew what it was like to be scared, to be at rock bottom, and at what seemed like a dead end. I, too, knew what it was to have God release me from those realities for a new one. No, I have never been institutionally incarcerated, but I have been a prisoner to my own fear, shortcomings, actions, and feelings. Maybe you have too. And I know what it is to have God free me from my own baggage to undo the shackles of false idols of pride, ego and self-sustainability. I know that it’s the Lord who helped me. God has sent angels, people to walk with me along the way, even if for only a little while. But that is what God does. These women of New Beginnings knew that God had sent them angels, the volunteers, the pastor, the outside board, the synod, partnering congregations, and each other. Yes, angels come in all forms and are in all places.

The story of Peter’s release from prison recounts that we are all in bondage to something and can’t free ourselves. Peter was wrongfully imprisoned for proclaiming that Jesus is the son of God who turns the world upside down, brings rulers and authorities down from their thrones, lifts the people who are thrown away by society and says that in the kingdom of God, our story is the story of what God has done, is doing and will continue to do for us and creation, no matter our status, what we have or haven’t done, who likes us and who doesn’t. Peter’s release freed him to tell another chapter of the story far and wide in the world. Peter’s story forces us to rethink our human systems of incarceration and authority. So many in this country are wrongfully imprisoned.
This story pulls at the threads of our stories and weaves them with the stories of people who live a different life than we do, who have had different experiences and yet are part of the same fabric of God’s story of restoration, redemption and love for God’s people, all of us. This story, takes seriously listening to stories that seem fantastic, incomprehensible and requires critical thinking to uncover what the Lord is doing in the life of that person. Stories reveal our commonalities and our interconnectedness. God’s story, the story that we all love to tell, is the ultimate story that tells us that love wins, forgiveness reigns, mercy flows, and hope abounds.

A couple of year later, there was another chapter to that woman’st story that Mike and I were privileged to hear it when we attended a fundraiser for New Beginnings and she was the musical guest. Yes, she had been released and reunited with her family. She had been freed from incarceration but she told the audience how God had freed her long before her release date. She had been freed to tell more people her story in God. To declare that God was powerful and could and would do anything to show the world God’s love through Jesus Christ. God will go to great lengths to transform us and the world, to wrap us in promises of love and abundant life today and forever. This is the point of God’s story, of the woman’s story, Peter’s story, and our story. God frees us and we love to tell the story. Amen.

*If you would like to support New Beginnings ministry please go to http://www.newbeginningswc.org. This is an important and vital ministry!

 

Comfort Food Sermon Matthew 14 August 14, 2020

This sermon was preached on August 16, 2020 at OSLC in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21
Isaiah 55: 1-5
Matthew 14: 13-21

Like many of you, I’m sure, I have many memories tied up with food. Some joyous, some not. I remember Thanksgivings, Christmas’ or birthday meals with family and friends. And I remember a plate of chicken, rice and broccoli being shoved in front of me on the day of my son’s funeral by loving friends who knew that I hadn’t eaten in four days. I remember the meals that poured in for months to support us when Ben was in the hospital and after he died. I remember how people expressed that only sending mac and cheese and fruit seemed inadequate in the wake of what we were experiencing. And yet I can tell you that those simple homemade meals from people who loved us were worth more than any sumptuous, high end feast from a celebrity chef could ever matter. Many times, people just made a double recipe of whatever they were cooking for their own families, as it didn’t take that much more to feed two families. Those meals from and sometimes with the people who cared for us and stuck with us  even though it was hard, brought comfort. Often the phrase was “we’ll bring you some comfort food.” Food that not only satisfies our bellies but our souls. Comfort food is categorized as food that not only tastes good, but evokes memories of feeling safe, secure, loved and protected. Comfort food reminds us that our bodies and our souls are connected, and we have to feed both. Comfort food is compassion in action.

Jesus’ compassion is on full display in our gospel text for today. He gets into a boat to get away by himself for a bit, as he has just heard about the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod at a lavish dinner party where John’s head was served on a silver platter. Jesus was grieving and needed some time away. But the crowds heard of John’s death too, and of Jesus’ leaving town, so they followed him. Why we’re not quite sure, other than by now the connection between John and Jesus was evident to the people, and what Jesus offered people for their lives was a stark contrast with what Herod and the Roman Empire was offering them. Jesus saw this large crowd and their desperation. He had compassion, which in the Greek is far more descriptive, as it means, Jesus was moved to his guts. Jesus’ body ached for these people. This story isn’t only about food, or how Jesus feeds us spiritually, it’s about bodies, and that to God, bodies, our physical selves matter. We tend to gloss over in this passage that Jesus cured their sick. Jesus attended to their physical bodies. And Jesus must have healed for a long time as then it was evening. So here is as large crowd, in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat or drink. The disciples correctly suggested that the hungry crowds be dispersed to go get food in the towns. That is a practical and loving decision. But Jesus turns to them and says no, they can stay, you feed them. I love the disciples reaction, as I’ve had it a time or two in my life as well, “we’ve got nothing here.” Well, except this little bit but it doesn’t count. So many times when I am faced with deep need, deep sorrow, I worry that I don’t have enough to offer that person in need. How can I help someone grieving a death? How can I feed all the starving people of the world? How can I help so many people dying of cancer, heart disease, mental illness? How can I house all those experiencing homelessness? It’s too many. And so I tell God that I’ve got nothing here.

But Jesus takes the little bit of bread and fish that the disciples do have (the simple standard meal in first century Palestine) and blesses it, breaks it into pieces, gives it to them and says, what little you have, give away, it will be enough. And it was. Five thousand men plus women and children (who weren’t normally counted in ancient times) were filled– with leftovers collected, nothing was wasted. The disciples were able, with Jesus’ blessing, to feed probably close to 15,000 people. It’s a miracle, but not because of the food distribution, it’s miracle because it shows us that when we come together, we can comfort one another, we can provide for the actual bodily needs of each other. This is the ultimate comfort food story. Jesus reveals that God does indeed care about people and their daily bread, their sick bodies, and their hardships. The powers of the world, like Herod only care about their own power and themselves. This would be revelatory to the people and it’s still revelatory to us today. God cares about us, each and every part of us, yes, our hearts and our souls AND our bodies too.
We instinctually know this, which is why when someone is experiencing a hardship, our “go to” is to offer meals, comfort food. It’s why we donate food to Crossroads Urban Center, its’ why as a denomination we have a whole ministry of ending world hunger. When we feed people, we are Jesus’ compassion in action. When we feed people, we are in solidarity with them as we all know on some level hunger pains. When we feed people, it’s our prayers in action. It’s a bold declaration that with Jesus’ blessing we can see past our own scarcity and know that what little we may we have to offer, is enough. It’s a bold declaration that great things happen with ordinary things. It’s a bold declaration against the excesses of this world where some have more than they will ever need while other people struggle for morsels to keep going. It’s a bold declaration of hope that when we come together, people are healed, people are fed and people are comforted. It’s a bold declaration of the promises of God not for someday but for today and for all bodies. And that is a comfort we can trust. Thanks be to God.

 

Responses to Fear: Fight, Flight, Fear and Faith? August 7, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 9, 2020 in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were 107: 1-3, 23-32
Matthew 8: 23-27

Fear is a powerful emotion. Psychologists suggest that we have three reactions to fear: fight, flight or freeze. I can tell you at some point in my life I have reacted in each of those ways at different times when I’ve been afraid but my “go to” is fight. That can sound aggressive and I suppose it can be, but my instinct is to tackle something that I fear head on. For me, I want to take care of it, get to a solution and move on. But that isn’t always the most helpful response. Sometimes, I should walk away, flight. There is nothing wrong with walking away from a situation that is dangerous for some reason. And there are times for pause, freeze. While that one might have some risk of being stuck in a constant state of uncertainty, pausing to think through a situation isn’t all bad either. Fear is a such a powerful emotion that it can cloud our judgment and cause us not see a situation clearly or from different perspectives. Fear can also convince us to worry only about ourselves.

It seems that there is plenty of fear to go around right now and much of it is justified. If you are feeling fearful, you’re in good company. And perhaps as the saying goes, if you’re not even a little afraid, you’re not paying attention. Fear indeed has quite a bit of power in our lives and community right now. And we’ve all witnessed one another’s responses to this fear and that variety can lead to more fear and anxiety. We are being swamped, whether on a community level: the coronavirus, racial tensions, the beginning of the school year, the rise in unemployment, homelessness, or food insecurity. Or on the individual level, it’s many of the above, plus fragile relationships, personal health, mental health, and more. We are afraid of sinking. We’re afraid that we will perish and we wonder why it seems that Jesus is asleep.

The disciples had risked quite a bit to follow Jesus. Leaving their families, livelihoods, security behind to support this itinerant preacher, teacher and healer who said that he was the Son of God, required bold courage. They mostly believed that Jesus was who he said he was, but at the same time they couldn’t quite wrap their heads around it. If it’s true who Jesus is, that’s frightening on a whole different level. And now here they are in a boat, on the sea of Galilee, a place notorious for fast moving, strong storms. When that does indeed occur, it doesn’t take much for the waves to take over their vessel, and drowning in these storms was common. Fear gripped them. Had they risked everything only to die in the sea? We don’t know how the disciples reacted, who froze, fought, or tried to flee. But I would think flight wouldn’t have been much of an option. But what we do know is after it was clear that their responses weren’t working, they called out to the sleeping Jesus, who was ostensibly completely oblivious to the situation.

Jesus response to the disciples’ fear is telling. He doesn’t tell them to not be afraid but asks them why they are afraid. He doesn’t dismiss their fear but acknowledges it. Jesus knows that human fear is real, for Jesus is human after all. But then Jesus offers them another response to fear besides fight, flight, or freeze…that is faith. He says that they have little faith, but perhaps that is all the disciples, and we, need in times of fear. Jesus then speaks a word of rebuke to the storm and the winds and the sea become dead calm, we read.

What does it mean to have faith in the midst of our fear? That might be different for each of us, just as we each have an innate response to fear. Throughout the gospels Jesus talks about faith: praising people for faith, telling parables of faith, admonishing those with no faith. As Lutherans, we acknowledge that faith is not of our own doing or striving but is a gift from God. Jesus exemplifies this as God’s gift of God’s presence with humanity. Faith is a relationship with God, faith is our life vest in the midst of storms, its what we cling to when we don’t know what else to do. Faith is clinging to God and God clinging to us.

Jesus knows the power that fear can have over us. Jesus wants us to know the power of God’s faith that God desires for us. God’s gift of faith is more powerful than our fear. God’s gift of faith buoys us and helps us to respond in fearful situations by not curving in on ourselves and becoming insular. God’s gift of faith frees us to use our fight, flight, or freeze response to care for our neighbor and their well-being and not only ourselves. God’s gift of faith frees us to see how we might weather the storm and frees us to see God’s power at work in the world. God’s gift of faith lifts our eyes above the waves to see that this storm too shall pass. God’s gift of faith reveals to us who Jesus is, God’s love and power in our lives and in the world that never leaves us alone and is always in our boat no matter how vicious the storm.

Fear is a powerful emotion and we give thanks that Jesus proclaims that God’s gift of faith is even more powerful and holds us forever. Amen.

 

Seen and Heard Sermon on Exodus 16 & 17 July 5, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 5, 2020. We continue in our summer series “I Love to Tell the Story.” It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were Exodus 16: 1-18 and 17: 1-7

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs points out that when your basic needs aren’t being met, food, shelter, clothing and safety, you can’t focus on anything else. We all know this, on a personal level, when you’re extremely hungry or thirsty, the only thing you can focus on is rectifying that situation. When there is hunger and thirst on a community level, an entire group of people are kept in a pattern that doesn’t allow for worry on a collective about the future, education, neighborhood, or anything past survival. Survival becomes the only thing you can think or talk about. And you wonder if anyone sees your needs and hears your cries for the basics of life that others seem to have. You feel invisible. Your focus on these needs might be heard as complaining, which culturally for us in our society is taboo. We are enculturated to not ask for help, that not meeting our own basic needs is a failure and to just push forward no matter the suffering.  We are taught and perpetuate the myth that it is better to not be seen or heard at all, then to be seen or heard as a problem. But the problem with that is that it leads to other problems.

Complaining has such a negative connotation in our culture that we judge and label people who complain. “Oh, that person is just complaining to complain.” Or “they should quit complaining and do something about it.” I know I’ve done it. We think complainers are weak and self-centered, and we certainly don’t want to be labeled that or around those people. When I read our two stories from Exodus for this week, my first thought is “why are the Israelites complaining to Moses and God after being liberated from the Egyptians? It seems ungrateful.” But I then I realized what the Israelites where unhappy about: they were hungry and thirsty. Their basic needs for human existence weren’t being met, they were in the middle of a desert where they couldn’t meet these basic needs themselves, they needed help and they weren’t sure if God really saw them.

The Israelites genuinely wondered what God was up to and if God was perhaps no better than Pharaoh, who had only seen them as free labor with no value. Maybe it’s better to be seen as less than, and have some food, than not seen at all by God in the desert? We might view that as a lack of faith, but again, I will admit to questioning God’s motives or lack of action every now and again too, wondering if God really sees the situation I’m in. Moses’ reaction to the demands of the Israelites is interesting. He takes it very personally and immediately deflects to God by saying, “This isn’t my problem, it’s God’s. Don’t look at me!”

God did look at Moses though, and God saw and heard the Israelites. God saw and heard their grumblings and didn’t chastise them, didn’t become annoyed, but instead said yes, I will give them what they ask for, bread from heaven, quail from the sky and water from a rock and even more, they will see the glory of God. God wanted them to know that God saw them for who’s they were-God’s. And God will give them what they need to survive, acknowledging that basic needs are a reality, not a nicety. And God gave them agency to gather their own food, to have a part in the provision. God doesn’t just give charity, God gives empowerment and dignity. God looked to Moses to provide leadership, God looked to the people to share, and God looked to the people to keep moving. God showed the Israelites to keep looking and listening for God who will meet their needs in unexpected ways.

Being seen and heard is a basic human need as much as food and water. The Israelites wanted to know that they mattered to God and so do we. Admitting that I have needs isn’t a lack of faith, it’s an act of bold faith that as someone created in God’s image, as someone with dignity and worth, these needs should be met. It’s a proclamation that if I have value and worth to be seen, heard and responded to by God, then other people do too. It’s a statement that the needs of our bodies do indeed matter, each body, are gifts that God promises to provide for. God does indeed provide, and not just for some individuals, but for the whole community. All the Israelites were included, all had what they needed.

God calls people such as Moses to lead and work with God to provide for the needs of the people. God calls to us to see, hear and act for the needs of our neighbors, their reality of what their bodies need for health, safety and life. Right now, many people are crying out for basic needs, to be seen and heard. They are crying out for us to act. We show that we see, hear and act for the care of our neighbor and to show that their bodies matter, when we wear a mask, when we say “no” to harm being done, when we protect our clean drinking water sources, when we ensure that food is not hoarded but shared, when we work to ensure fair pay for essential workers, for health care for those without, for human and civil rights for those denied, creating spaces for people who are disabled, and when we hear the words of Jesus in our ears: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it to me.” We meet basic needs, when we see Christ in people whom we dislike, fear or don’t understand. When we see and hear each other as God does, we will act how God does, for the sake of people hungry and thirsty for food, water, grace, mercy and justice. Amen.

 

Extraordinary God Genesis 18: 1-15 June 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 21, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

We are in a summer series: I Love to Tell the Story

The text is Genesis 18: 1-15

We keep hearing that we are living in an extraordinary time and it certainly feels true, though I don’t really know what it fully means.  I do know that there is much good and hard work to do, but am I up to it? I know that the road is long, pandemics, systemic injustices and wounded creation don’t just go away quickly or easily, as let’s be honest it’s been around since the beginning of humanity. And I know that I am a part of the ills and the solution. A solution that seems beyond my imagination. It feels that I, too, need to be extraordinary and I can tell you that I feel anything but that 99.99% of the time and people who actually are extraordinary have been doing this hard work for decades and there’s still much to be done. Will this time be different? Should we dare to hope? Will we be discouraged and disappointed for another 50 years? Knowing this cycle can lead me to keep my imagination limited and narrow to avoid heartbreak. I certainly don’t expect the extraordinary to really happen. It’s safer to not.

Sarah resonated with me this week from our Genesis text. This woman had been told most of her adult life that nations will be born from her and Abraham, that they will have a son and descendants that will be more numerous than the stars or grains of sand. Now at the age of 90, she still doesn’t have any children. Thinking that she had to help God fulfill the promise, she had given Hagar, her slave to Abraham for progeny. And let’s be clear that Hagar didn’t have any agency in this and yes, it is human trafficking. Such stories are why we must be cautious in how we interpret the bible for ourselves today. We don’t glorify this or normalize it in any way. Ishmael was born from Hagar and Abraham, and Sarah thought that this would fulfill what the Lord had said. Though God kept saying to her, no, this is about you having a child. The promise of descendants was as much about Sarah, as it was about Abraham. If it was only about patriarchal lineage, then the birth of Ishmael or the other six children that Abraham had with the wife he married after Sarah’s death, would have fulfilled what God had promised. It’s clear that God’s work was beyond human imagination.

The three visitors in our story, who arrive at the oaks of Mamre, are divine indeed but when or how Abraham and Sarah know this is not clear in the text. Did Abraham and Sarah’s imagination allow for the possibility of God to come to their tent for a meal and conversation? Abraham shows impeccable ancient near east hospitality, down to the best flour, veal, milk and curds, not to mention precious water for drinking and washing of their feet. The visitors asked Abraham where Sarah was, which might have been the tell that they were divine beings, after all how would strangers know his wife’s name? And then the prediction once more, that in due season, that Sarah will have a son. Sarah, after all the work of preparation for these visitors, of course is listening in to the conversation to try and figure out the purpose of these strangers who appeared out of nowhere in the heat of the day. And upon hearing this prediction one more time that she will have a son, after more than 75 years of that promise going unfulfilled, she laughs. Not out loud, but to herself, it says in the Hebrew, laughs in her guts. This is now ridiculous. She has given up on that future. She had always pictured herself as a mother, that wasn’t the issue, but not at 90! She had stopped imagining this dream long ago. She had stopped expecting the extraordinary.

But God knew her incredulity. The stranger we now know is God, called it out, and questioned, Sarah’s laughter at having a son and then asks the million dollar question that hit me like a ton of bricks this week and I think struck Sarah hard too: “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Or the Hebrew can also say, “is anything too extraordinary for the Lord?” Sarah was forced to confront her own wrestling and striving to make the future happen in a way that she wanted. She probably was afraid, maybe not of God’s rebuttal, but fear of God’s power to really bring about the promise. What if it was really going to happen after all these years? It would indeed be extraordinary and beyond her imagination! Her laughter released the pent-up disappointment of all those decades. Her laughter covered up the deep wounds. Her laughter was honesty at the audacity of the promise. I love that God doesn’t chastise her laughter but simply names it.  God sits with her in the reality that she is wounded, that she has given up hope, that God’s power is beyond her imagination. God’s promise will be fulfilled, and Isaac, whose name means laughter, will be born. Sarah will be the mother of nations, more than she ever imagined.

I recognize my own incredulity and lack of imagination at what God can do in my life and in the world. I recognize my internal laughter at daring to hope that miracles can occur. God responds to me “why are you laughing? Have you not seen the what I can do? Have you not seen the sunrise, the moon, the seasons that change in due time, flowers that know when to bloom, hearts being healed, people being fed, love hanging on a cross and the empty tomb?” reminds me that nothing is too extraordinary for God. That despite my own laughter, striving, control and doubt, God’s promise of extraordinary, wonderful, vibrant and hope filled life, is coming, it will be born with or without me, and will be more than I can imagine.

What can we imagine dear ones? If nothing is too extraordinary for God, the one who sent God’s own son, Jesus, to affirm that people’s lives are more important than buildings, rules and rituals, who died for the sake of love, wholeness and ending the reign of death for us all. If nothing is too extraordinary for this God, then nothing is too extraordinary for God’s people and creation. We are called and equipped through our baptism to unabashedly participate with God in this extraordinary activity of radical love, even if we are laughed at for our audaciousness. We are given the God-sized imagination that we need to do the extraordinary work of God as Jesus showed us: equality for all who are denied it, unity for those who are separated, health for the sick of mind, body or spirit, a world where death isn’t the last word, and the wholeness and goodness of life, is here, now and for all people. For nothing is too extraordinary for our God.

 

 

It’s Raining Sermon on Noah and the Promise June 14, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 14, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The text was Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18, 8: 1-12, 9: 8-13

“When it rains it pours” the old saying goes. And it feels to me like it has been pouring for a long time. And every time I think that there might be a break in the clouds, another storm moves in. So much rain all the time can be wearying. I’m from Seattle and lived in OR for many years, and day after day of rain and clouds is just the norm about nine months out of the year. So you start to look for any glimpses of sun. The meteorologists called them “sun breaks.” They would give you time frames during the day when you might see some sun so that you could go out and soak it in, or get your kids outside for a bit. Usually, the window was narrow, just a couple of hours, and it could be easy to miss.

For the past few months, it’s been pouring down rain with few sun breaks. I feel as though I’m drowning in information, crisis, emotions and worries and I’m not sure I’m that great a swimmer. When the pandemic hit, we all scrambled making decisions based on preliminary data and sorting out experts from opinions. And we’re still doing that nearly four months in because, it turns out, we’ve never seen this virus and we have no idea what the short term or let alone long term consequences of COVID 19 might be. How many will die? Who will have complications with limited quality of life? And how long will nearly 20% of our working population be unemployed? What about those with no health insurance or savings?
Then we had an earthquake, because, well, why not, and then something about murder hornets that never fully materialized, but the super volcano at Yellowstone stepped in nicely into that anxiety void.  And the strongest cyclone on record devastated the Bay of Bengal, reminding us of the earth’s fragility. And then the murder of George Floyd nearly three weeks ago, pulled the curtain back on centuries of the oppression and devaluing of black and brown bodies on this continent and sparked a movement of people of all colors proclaiming that this will no longer be accepted. And with the backdrop of these global and national events, everyday challenges continue for many us: chronic illnesses, broken relationships, isolation from family and family events canceled, and more. It just keeps raining.

The truth is that this pandemic has made us all look up and see the weather for what it is. It’s been raining, flooding for many people for a long time before the pandemic and the water levels have now risen to a point where we can no longer ignore the little bit of water seeping into the basement from time to time, such as we remember the Emanuel 9 martyrs from five years ago this week, and the 49 people killed at the Pulse nightclub massacre four years ago this week. The water is rising, and the foundation is now under water and we can see that we need to either learn to swim, get some life preservers, or build an ark. The truth is that we can’t do any of things on our own. Trying to do things on our own is what has led to this flood. We keep trying to just bail out just enough water until we’re comfortable again. But the water isn’t going away, and we feel aimlessly adrift.

The flood narrative in Genesis 6-9 has many layers to it but the truth of this story that again, has many counterparts in other ancient near east cultures, is that God acts in the flood, with the water, for new life and mercy. Yes, God does allow the flood to come, and yes, it’s very hard to think about all the people and living creatures who drowned, and we tend to gloss over that part. We need to name that this part of God’s action in the story is uncomfortable and incongruent perhaps with how we want God to act. God decides to save a few humans, whom we assume are better than us, but as we learn later, turn out to be typical messy people, and a sampling of every living creature. God shuts them into the dark, damp and smelly ark where they float on top of the flood waters for 40 days while the rains pour down. Then God remembers them, now this doesn’t mean that God forgot them, no not at all. In Hebrew literature, divine remembering is God being moved to act with compassion. God acts on behalf of the living creatures and sends God’s own breath, Spirit, ruah, drying the land, sets them on top of the mountain and after a total of 190 days, lets them out. I’m sure the people had begun to wonder if they were ever going to survive the flood themselves, if they were going to drown or what would happen when the flood was over.

The people and the animals entered into a new world. God had decided to create again,  and for Noah, his family and the creatures, it was a second chance, God offered them new life.  God recognized that the destruction of the flood isn’t the only way to create new life, and so God offered a covenant, a promise to act on the behalf of people and creatures in new way going forward. God placed a bow in the sky as a sign of this promise, and the word for bow, is for the weapon, bow and arrow. But God takes something that is used to harm and made it a multi-colored promise for new life with all creatures and creation. No matter how much rain comes, no matter how high the flood waters get, God will act with compassion, mercy and love, for us all, this is the truth in which we can place our faith and hope. God’s promise of life destroys death.

It’s raining beloved in Christ, and the flood waters are rising. God is calling us to imagine what this flood might be washing away and what new life is springing forth. God is washing away systems of racism, white supremacy, homophobia, violence and hate to bring forth new life that honors diversity, inclusion of all as created as divine, beloved and interconnected. God is acting on our behalf, and we need to step out of our arks of safety that we’ve created for ourselves to see the new creation that God is revealing, to see the rainbow, the promise that God, through Jesus, wraps us in mercy and love. We see the sun breaks, where the storm clouds work with the light to create something astonishing and gorgeous. It’s raining and the Son shines through. Amen.

 

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.