A Lutheran Says What?

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

Asked to Leave: A sermon on Deportation, Detention and Border Crossings June 25, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 23, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The Bible texts were Galatians 3: 23-29 and Luke 8: 26-39

Children’s sermon: Gather the children: Tell them that we are going to play a game similar to Simon Says, except they are going to walk through the sanctuary. You are going to call out directions using the phrase “Jesus says.” Examples: at first Jesus says walk ten steps forward down the middle aisle. Jesus says turn right and offer a high five, etc. Then regather them together. How did it feel not knowing what I was going to say next? It can be unsettling can’t it? We like to know what’s happening next. In our story today, Jesus goes to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. He heals a man who has been hurting a long time and the people were afraid of this man. Jesus heals him and makes the hurt go away, but the people were afraid of Jesus’ power to heal people who were very sick. So they asked Jesus to leave. He did and the man who was healed wanted to come with him. Jesus told him that he needed to stay and share and be a sign with the people of God’s power in his life and the man does. Jesus’ words in our life also have power. Jesus wants us to use Jesus’ words to share with people God’s love for them, even people not like us or people we would rather not be around, even if we’re afraid. They are all God’s beloved children. Jesus’s word in your and everyone’s life is always one of love. Can you remember that? Ok! Let’s pray:

Have you ever been asked to leave somewhere? Honestly, I don’t think I have…which is surprising simply because, well, you know, me. There are times when Mike and I voluntarily left somewhere as we knew our kids were being a problem, or I’ve left a meeting or gathering where I didn’t fit in or it was obvious the gathering/meeting was intended for someone else.  Now, I have asked people to leave on rare occasion. Honestly, there have been a couple of times at some of the churches I’ve served when someone has come into the office seeking assistance and when we didn’t provide exactly what they needed, they’re behavior became unpredictable, angry or belligerent. For the safety of myself and others that I am charged to care for, I have politely asked people to leave. Most have, under their own volition, but a couple of times with assistance from law enforcement. And to be transparent, those interactions never feel good to me. I mean, we’re supposed to be CHURCH, right? We’re supposed to love everyone, give them what they need, care for them, forgive them…and often when I have asked people to leave, they bring this up to me. “This isn’t very Christian! You are not a good Christian!” And I would be lying to you if I said that doesn’t sting a bit. I feel like a big hypocrite. And I don’t like feeling threatened. Often my fear of someone’s unpredictable behavior wins out over the fear of being a hypocrite. And maybe that is ok but that tension remains because often it’s not only the threat of physical harm that leads me to exclude someone. I might simply feel uncomfortable because they don’t fit a social norm, or act in a way I don’t understand or are simply different from myself.

Our Luke story hits at the heart of this complexity of this tension. We read that Jesus goes to the opposite side of Galilee-to Gerasa. This land of the Gerasenes is one where Jesus didn’t know anyone. Based on the commerce of pig raising, we can assume that there were quite a few more Gentiles here than in Galilee and/or more Jewish people not adhering to the purity laws. Jesus was a long way from home perhaps both geographically and culturally. Sometimes you don’t have to travel far, or at all, to be the outsider.

Then a man possessed by so many demons that the name they offered was “Legion,” which in Roman culture represented 6,000 troops, basically ambushed Jesus the second he and the disciples stepped ashore. This man had been ostracized from his community due to his unpredictable and erratic behavior. The people were comfortable of escorting him out of town, locking him up, and sending him to be with the dead. They might have had some guilt about his exclusion, but he was dangerous right? But Jesus engages him and recognized that this man as a beloved child of God who needed his help. Jesus immediately commanded the demons to come out of him and the demons seemingly had no choice but to follow Jesus’ command to leave the man but wanted some agency in where they went next. Jesus surprisingly grants them their choice to enter the swine, only for the demons to discover that the swine were headed for their own demise. Now a little aside, in the ancient world it was well known that water would defeat demons. The swineherds were livid at this as their whole livelihood was destroyed by the newcomer, this outsider, this migrant man ignorant of their culture and lifestyle. They told the people in the town about the crimes committed by Jesus, first even engaging the town lunatic and second at killing their herd of pigs. This guy, Jesus, might be a bigger problem than the one who was demon possessed.

And then they go and find that the man who had been excluded, ostracized and isolated sitting with Jesus. Through Jesus’s words of power over this man’s demons (whatever they might have been) and by going where everyone else feared to trod, into the tombs, this man, whose identity had been one not of his own choosing , was clothed and as clear minded as any of them. And it was too much, it was too frightening, Jesus had come too close, trespassing into territory where he didn’t belong, it was none of his business what happened to this man and clearly Jesus had to go. I doubt it was a polite invitation to leave. I’m sure that there were angry, venomous words hurled at Jesus, name calling, ethnic slurs and worse. Jesus hadn’t come to make them angry, he had come to heal and to proclaim what God can do and is doing in the world for all people. God is crossing borders even if it is for the sake of the healing of one person. God trespassed on their sense of security, good order and safety to reveal that every person is worthy of community, love and freedom from what binds them. In Jesus, God comes uncomfortably close and that will turn lives upside down and make people at the very least uncomfortable, if not angry. If Jesus’ word could make a detour in this life of this man, what would Jesus’ word do in their lives?

As Americans in the 21st century we’ve domesticated Jesus into a guy who makes us feel good about ourselves, forgetting that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The townspeople in this story were comfortable with the order they had created. If some people have to leave so that the rest can feel safe and secure, then so be it. And I know I am more like the townspeople in this story than I would like to admit. I want to know that I can ask people who make me uncomfortable or want to turn my world upside down, to leave. I want to ask people to leave who don’t look like me, act like me, talk like me, like the same things, or hold the same convictions I do. Worse yet is when my silence makes my intentions clear that I want someone to leave.

And then I am afflicted, by Jesus, for my words and actions. Afflicted that whomever I want to leave is really Christ. Jesus’ word in my life reveals that I, and us all, are to see Christ in all whom we encounter and love them. We are to see Christ in the man possessed by demons,  in the women, children and babies, some premature, being held in what we are euphemistically calling detention centers but are closer to concentration camps, in conditions that many of us wouldn’t put our cat or dog in. We are to see Christ in the people who come seeking asylum, freedom, a better life. We are to see Christ in people who think differently, want different paths for their lives, and we are to create spaces for them in our lives, churches, and hearts. Undocumented people are people: people who want to work, be a part of a community and have the right to be treated as fully human. People-who are different from you and me, and yet not. They are made in God’s holy image and Jesus is clear in Matthew 25 that whatever we do or don’t do for our neighbor we are doing or not doing to Christ himself. This isn’t a partisan political issue, it’s a theological and a humanitarian one. God’s political agenda is that we live together as the one loving people God created us to be, with no distinction as Paul writes in Galatians 3, that in Christ, neither free or slave, Jew or Greek, male and female, black or white, gay or straight, pro-life or pro-choice, democrat or republican, refugee or natural citizen, ill or well. Just as Jesus clothed the man whom the townspeople tried to deport to the tombs, Jesus clothes us all in God’s love and grace.

Jesus’ word in my life detours me from a path of excluding those who make me uncomfortable, to a path of walking with those whom I never imagined, to standing in solidarity demanding loving justice for my neighbor. A colleague on the ELCA Clergy FB page reminded us of our ordination vows yesterday: “Every ordained minister shall speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.” And we all responded, “I ask God to help and guide me.” This is not only my vow, but it is our baptismal vow when we promise to seek justice and peace. Even though the townspeople ask Jesus to leave and again surprisingly he does, Jesus doesn’t leave them alone. He sends the now healed and whole man back to them to be a sign, a witness to the town of what God’s trespassing into our lives looks like-a sign of reconciliation in community, a sign of astonishing grace that can reach us anywhere we may go. Even when we try and send Jesus away, Jesus’ word of love in our lives has the power to stay with us and to detour us for the sake of our neighbor, to clothe us in love and grace and send us out to speak out, be in solidarity with our neighbor and to be this sign of God’s healing, hope justice and solidarity with those in need. Thanks be to God.

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Ordinary Gifts, God’s Extraordinary Love or How I got in trouble at PrideFest June 22, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can view the sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts for the day were Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Mark 4: 26-34.

Yesterday, I volunteered a shift at the Episcopal and Lutheran Reconciling Ministries booth at Pridefest. We handed out “Love your neighbor” stickers, rainbow bracelets, rainbow heart temporary tattoos, and those little “Dum-dum” suckers with a note attached saying “God knows that UR fabulous.” Nothing overly exciting but it sparked conversations with people. I had on my clergy shirt and stole, so I was asked lots of questions and being fairly extroverted, I also talked to a lot of people. Ask me later how I got in trouble with the Pridefest security for being too extroverted. I wasn’t supposed to wander from our booth and I was blocking the foot traffic by the people stopping to talk to me. “Hmmm Reverend, we really need you to stay by your booth, we can’t have you in the middle…” Mostly, people wanted to say thank you for being out there and being Church who loved no matter what. Most said it with tears in their eyes. All we did was show up with some cheap swag, talk to people and offer lists of congregations who are officially Reconciling in Christ, to refer them for safe and welcoming places to worship. Yet, time after time, we were told thank you, we were told sacred stories of harm, powerlessness and dismissal, from both Church and society, and how simply our presence in the love of Jesus was healing.

Small actions that matter and make a difference. But I have to admit, I tend to equate my actions to my worth. I believe society’s message of: “What we do, is the same as who we are.” By extrapolation, the more grandiose, the more public, the more popular, greater our status, our actions or our jobs, then the more important, significant, and powerful we are. This is what we tell ourselves, this is what we see in the media. We all think that we need to be somebody, somebody important. And not just somebody, we have to be THE body, the person who is the most significant, the most important, the most powerful-or we don’t matter at all. All or nothing.

The kingdom of God, Jesus says is as if some farmer without a name scatters the seeds and then simply does nothing but goes to sleep and get up the next morning like the other 7 billion people on the planet. Or the kingdom of God is like a tiny seed that grows into a bushy weed that spreads everywhere and isn’t good for much, other than some birds might use it for shelter. Interestingly, there is no one or nothing of any power, significance or importance in these parables. No kings, no Harvard educated economist, no super farmer who can grow any kind of seed overnight into a crop that will feed every hungry person on the planet. No pine beetle resistant tree, no giant redwood, or sequoia tree that could give shelter to hundreds of birds. Nope. Just ordinary, everyday people and plants, small shrubs, and no named farmers. Yet, Jesus says the kingdom of God is found here. In the ordinary, in the mundane, insignificant, those without power by worldly standards.

Jesus doesn’t want us to miss that power isn’t the goal. Being noticed, being the best, the tallest, the richest, the biggest isn’t necessarily where God is at work, Jesus says. Look for the small, the everyday, the ordinary. Look where the world won’t look. Look on Colfax Ave. Look at the volunteer hospital receptionist. Look at the sanitation workers. Look at the public school teachers. Look at the people helping those seeking asylum from unsafe countries. Look at who or what almost seems invisible, insignificant, powerless.

We have an epidemic for the need of power and significance in our culture and it’s literally killing us. We are told, and we believe that we must exude power, importance, and control, to be loved, have worth and significance. And when we don’t believe that we measure up, it’s devastating for us. What if we were to realize our significance in being ordinary and yet deeply loved? How would that change how we see ourselves and others? Martin Luther King Jr once said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” We won’t all do great things, but we can do small things with great love. The love of God that permeates our ordinariness with God’s greatness. We simply live our lives, doing what we do, not worrying about being the best, God doesn’t necessarily need what the world considers greatness or the best of the best. God needs our courage to be faithful in whatever it is that we do. God worked in a small shepherd boy to take down a giant and become king; God worked in man with a speech impediment to free the Israelites from Egypt; and God worked through a teenage girl to bear the Messiah to gather all of humanity back to God. Ordinary people, God’s extraordinary work.

Simple acts of caring, such as giving respect to all people, giving a smile, a word of encouragement or kindness, advocating for the voiceless in our world, is God’s love at work through us. Living with honesty and integrity so that people know our hearts and not just our ambitions is God’s love at work through us. God works through even our smallest, most ordinary gift to show God’s great love.

This week at VBS we talked about God Sightings with the children and youth. We asked them each day where they saw God at work. We wrote them on these sand dollars, small little sea creatures that have great beauty to remind us that small things are very important. Here are some of their answers: Kids saw God when someone refilled their water bottle for them, when they helped to pick up trash, when they were playing football with their papa, at bible story, at snack, at crafts, singing, playing together at games, when they were hugged by their mom, in prayer, in the trees, and yes, in silence.

Not THE best snack, or the most fun game, nope just everyday activities infused with the activity of God.

I’ve asked two of our youth Abby Mortinsen and Jeremiah Brayton to share with you where they saw God this week:

 

I’m going to ask the children to come forward and share where you saw God this week? How can you share God’s love? Who has shared God’s love with you? Today we celebrate the men in our lives who do ordinary things for us everyday that show us God’s love. They might teach SS, VBS, read to you, make you food when your hungry, give you hugs, play games with you, all kinds of things! We have a cross pin to give them today to remind them that they do all of these ordinary things with the great love of Jesus in their hearts.

But first lets pray: