A Lutheran Says What?

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

Holy Relationship Sunday June 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Does God wear dangly earrings? November 18, 2013

So I have to admit that I rarely, if ever, listen to “Christian music.” It’s fine, I suppose, but I find that most of the music on the common Christian music stations lacks depth, authenticity and is trite. (Plus, musically its typically uninspired.) Most of it is also written by people who have conservative and fundamentalist religious leanings. So what that means is that there is nearly exclusively “Father God,” language and God is male in this music . Period.
Now, you might ask me, “Brigette does that really matter? Of course women are created in God’s image. It’s just easier and more comfortable (or less controversial) to use “he” to refer to God. Don’t stir up trouble or be one of those female pastors.” Well, I don’t want to be obnoxious, but I think I actually might be one of those female pastors. And I don’t care.
I talk to many women who nearly all have some piece of their growing up in some church (denomination doesn’t always matter but there are some that are more consistently misogynist than others) who no matter how educated and intelligent, still harbor a feeling of not really equal to men and not really created in the image of God the same way that males are. I know because I am also one of them. Now, I was brought up in the Lutheran church but God was clearly explained to me as male in one breath and then in the next told “but girls are made in God’s image too.” So I am kinda a “he?” Or does God like nail polish, high heels, skirts and dangly earrings too?
The music that I tend to listen to can best be categorized as alternative I suppose. I resonate with Tori Amos, Sarah Mclachan, Alannis Morrisette and Natalie Merchant. All women who write music and words about being female, owning one’s femininity and sexuality and what that means for spirituality. They have a particular voice expressing who they are and their experience in the world: struggling, questioning, lamenting, loving, celebrating. No sappy “if you just believe in God then everything is alright.” Everything is not always alright.
Tori Amos in particular works out much angst in her music. Her father was a fundamentalist Christian pastor and she was brought up that God is male, her sexuality was not of God, wrong, that women cause men to stray and it is women’s responsibility to keep men in line. She explores ideas such as how Mary Magdalene was a scape goat, God needing a woman (great song called “God”), the tendency for women to believe everything a man tells them about themselves, social norms around women and sexuality, religion and sexuality and how at the end of the day, men and women fall into the same cultural traps with one another. She points out the lasting danger of women thinking that if God is male and male is God, then a man can save you if you are a woman. Then when that doesn’t ultimately work out, somehow you must have messed up.
I don’t want to be an extreme feminist but I have seen study after study that let us know that if girls hear only male language for God, then they don’t truly believe that they are made from the divine, even if they are told that is true. Are we, as the Church, setting up girls to have low self-esteem and fall for every line some boy tells them? I do not want this for my daughter or my son. I want them to know that they are both equally created in God’s image, as is the girl my son might someday date and the boy my daughter is currently dating (yes, she has a boyfriend, prayers are welcome).
What I really long for is for this conversation to no longer be relevant. I look for the day when no one thinks twice that I am a pastor (or when my kids say they are PK’s the assumption is not that it is their dad), that religion and God are not used to keep anyone (gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.) “in-line” or in a certain position in society. I don’t like that I have to point out the exclusively male language. If you come to my church, you will find that I do use male language; I am not against it. But I also use other images and nouns for God-female, creator, redeemer, sustainer, comforter, sender, savior, mother, father, rock.
I have many wonderful men in my life (my husband for one!) who treat me as a complete equal, whom I cannot imagine life without and I don’t want to diminish who they are in the life of God either. This is not about one against the other. It is about radical equality that perhaps we as broken people are not even capable of. I am aware of that possibility. This could be as good as it gets. But I am more optimistic than that. I believe that God is moving among us and that he/she wants us to live in radical love, equality, mercy and grace. As people of God, we are capable of this sort of relationship with one another. We can ensure that men and women both view themselves as God sees them: good enough as they are, equally lovable, whole and redeemable.