A Lutheran Says What?

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

The Kingdom of God Is Near But the Road Might Be Rough Sermon on Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20 July 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 7, 2019. The texts were Galatians 6: 1-17 and Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

Children’s sermon: Have a large poster board with the words written largely: KINGDOM OF GOD. Have crayons, stickers available for the children to use. Ask them if they have ever felt left out. Talk about today’s gospel from Luke and Galatians where Jesus sends the 70 missionaries out to everyone about God’s kingdom being near and how that message is for everyone, even people who don’t believe it or like it. And how Paul talks about how we are to work for the good of all, we are all together. And this all together-the 70 working with Jesus and Paul telling people about the Kingdom of God, is what joy (Luke 10:17) is all about! It’s not about if everyone we tell about Jesus comes to OSLC or is our friend, but that we are all together in God’s love no matter what! Then ask the children (and adults as a prayer station) to write under each letter of KINGDOM OF GOD names of people, or groups of people who are included in God’s love (hint: everyone! This poster board should be full!)

I asked the children and now I’ll ask you all: have you ever been left out? Rejected? Yep, we all have! Sometimes it’s dramatic such as a break-up or an argument with someone you love, or you didn’t get a job you really wanted, or into a educational program you dreamed about. But sometimes it’s less obvious. You can simply be ignored, or in a place where there is an expectation that you will behave a certain way, or like certain things and when you stay true to yourself, the people around you don’t accept your differences and so don’t accept you. Being rejected, ignored or unaccepted, can make you reexamine yourself and wonder if you should change your thoughts, actions, words, or completely change who you are to fit in.  We all experiment with our identity growing up particularly in the teen years, but if we’re honest even as adults, it’s easy to think that who we are isn’t enough. Or we can judge others by their behaviors, likes and dislikes and criticize them for not being like us. We can subtly and not so subtly, send the message to people that they should change to conform to what makes us comfortable. It takes courage and vulnerability simultaneously to stay grounded in what matters and as our sign for today warns us, it can be a rough road.

Rough roads are not always to be avoided as they can also be a path that leads us to a deeper truth and can help us keep “the main thing the main thing” in our lives. Rough roads can be focusing as if you get distracted, it can lead to even bigger challenges. If you’ve ever driven or hiked on difficult terrain, you know what I’m talking about.

In our Luke passage today, the 70 are sent out to proclaim a very important message. And Jesus is clear that the road will be rough. They will be completely dependent on the people they meet, they will eat food they don’t like, stay in places for an uncomfortable amount of time (Jesus is telling them to overstay their welcome!), they will work hard, curing the sick, and they will more than likely be rejected. Sounds inviting doesn’t it? Sign me up Jesus! But Jesus is clear that the main point of their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to unequivocally declare that the Kingdom of God has come near to all-the welcoming, the strangers, the sick, the unbelieving, the unaccepting. The Kingdom of God is near to all whether they know it or not. This Kingdom is for all.

And when they return to Jesus full of joy, it’s not only because they had some successes (isn’t interesting that they don’t name their failures? Which I’m sure there were many!), but because they experienced this Kingdom of God for themselves in being together in community no matter how rough or smooth the road. Now, they also had a bit of ego tied into this: Jesus, you’re right we can do anything, even the demons submitted to us! Human nature hasn’t changed in 2000 years…Jesus tempers their egos by reminding them that their successes and failures are nothing, what is everything is that they are part of God’s mission to bring the kingdom off love to the world. This is the main thing, even in their own mission.

It seems so simple doesn’t it? All we have to do is proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. Done. And yet…We know that it’s a rough road to do so, even in the 21st century, or maybe especially in the 21st century. We set up a table at Venture Out to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near and some people love that we are there, and some people walk very quickly past our booth. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we house families experiencing homelessness and we know that four families at a time is only a drop in the bucket. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we welcome and accept all people of every race, color, gender, sexual orientation into this family of faith and there are people who will reject this promise for God’s love for all people. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near when we strive to steward the earth with care and there are people who will deny this as reality. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near with our daily lives, with generosity of time, words, talents and gifts for people we don’t know well or have never met, and there are people who will shake their head at our naivety.  But Jesus declares to us that when the road is rough, God’s Holy Spirit is guiding us and continually reorienting us-through community, bread, wine, water and word-to the main thing of God’s mercy, hope and love for the entire world.

And we can forget that we need to be grounded in God’s community and kingdom as we try and navigate the rough roads alone. We can put our own human egos, rules and boundaries into this mission work as Jesus cautions. We can get stuck in thinking that the success or failure of this message is dependent on us, our own abilities and talents. Jesus reminds the 70, and us, that all power and authority belong to God alone that God gives away for the sake of including all people into this unconditional and transformative love. We are not only recipients of this love but participant as well. This is the good news that the coming of the Kingdom of God is for all, those who accept it and those who reject it. The promise of God coming near isn’t dependent upon the ability of the person to receive it and it’s not dependent on the messenger. God has written our names in heaven, on God’s own heart to declare that our worth in God’s kingdom isn’t dependent on our abilities or gifts but is simply found in belonging to God. This is our true identity that never changes, no matter how we try or what other people might want us to be. We are never left out in God’s kingdom and neither is anyone else.

Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 6. After six chapters of breaking down why Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised to be brought into the new family of Jesus followers and being clear about the subversion of the law, at the end of the day, Paul soundly ends this letter (writing in large letters) that none of that human stuff matters. Follow the law, don’t follow the law, whatever, but just know that you are made new in the love of God through Jesus Christ simply because God loves you. This unconditional love always surrounds you  at all times and in all places-especially when the road is rough. God’s kingdom, where all are made whole, where all are included, where power and authority are turned upside down and where all names are written and known, is for the whole world, no matter what. We can rest in the peace that the Kingdom of God has come near, includes you and will stay. Thanks be to God.

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Intersectionality and the Reality of Hope April 16, 2016

Swirling around us on Facebook, television, and all other media seems to be the conversation on intersectionality. Yes, this word will be underlined in red by Microsoft Word, but trust me, it’s a real thing. It’s a word that delves us deep into complexity, brokenness and uncertainty and yet, I believe is also the source of our healing amidst great divisiveness. Intersectionality names all of the places where pain can be inflicted, where we must confront our own biases, privileges and where truth can be named. I’ve been personally drawn into this sacred space in the past couple of years as I wrestle with white privilege, gender bias, and all of the “isms” in which I live and I am deeply complicit. To name my own privilege: I am white, upper middle class, well-educated, heterosexual, married woman, who happens to also be ordained clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This gives me great privilege and a voice in our culture in ways that I know some of my brothers and sisters of color do not share. I am compelled as a follower of Jesus to name my brokenness, my division from others and yet risk my voice and privilege for the sake of those without.

While my “whiteness” affords me great privilege, my gender (especially in my vocation) often, in subtle and not so subtle ways, can be where I experience the brokenness of humanity. I have my fair share of stories of seemingly benign comments and “joking” remarks by male colleagues, people in the pews and in the community at large, that I won’t bore you with, but trust me when I say that misogyny is alive and well in as well as outside of the Church. It may not be overt as in catcalls or outright, blatant denial of my “right” to be seen as equal, or as “good as the men” but it’s much more subtle, nuanced and  so much more difficult to call out without be “a bitch” or “one of those feminists.” (By the by, a feminist is someone who believes that men and women are truly equal and deserve actual parity in every sphere of everyday life. Feminism is good for men as well!)

But I want to turn back to intersectionality for the rest of this post. I see white males writing posts about the “Black Lives Matter” movement and adding their voice to the conversation. This is a very important dialog in all of our communities and is, in my opinion, one of life and death for our brothers and sisters of color, as well as the whole of society. (We are inextricably bound to one another as the body of Christ and when one part of the body is not honored and treated with respect, we are all damaged.) White males lending their privilege and voice to the “Black Lives Matter” movement is crucial and one that I applaud. But here is what I wonder: why do these same men not affirm that their male (and often heterosexual) privilege is also an issue alongside their white privilege? I’ve had many a conversation with white males who say things such as “I can only deal with one thing at a time, and I’m going to deal with my whiteness first.” That statement alone is so steeped in entitlement and privilege that it makes my head spin. White men can and do wake up every morning and decide which aspect of their privilege that they will deal with today. Is it being white? Is it being male? Is it having every privilege known in the free world? Why not all three? Oh, because that’s hard, complex, overwhelming  and may require giving away too much of themselves. So, they can compartmentalize their privilege and go about their day. (I want to add that white women are also writing and contributing to the “Black Lives Matter” conversation but they often do not separate it from gender bias. But yes, some do.)

What about the black woman who also is gay? A Latina woman? Or an Indigenous woman? Or a transgender woman? She does not get to wake up and say, “Today, I will only worry about being oppressed as a black person.” Or, “Today I will only have to worry about being female in all my interactions.” Or, “Today I will only have to deal with being gay.” NO. She is all of those things each and every day and cannot choose how society will view her or how others will treat her. I can only imagine that it’s overwhelming and exasperating. Intersectionality requires these women to be conscious each and every second of their day all of the ways that they are seen when they walk in a room, speak up at a meeting, or even drive down the street. They do not get to compartmentalize themselves. They bring the whole of who they are into every situation. (Thanks be to God!)

At the church I currently serve, we are in the nascent stages of conversation around radical inclusion. A large part of our wrestling has been around where to begin and the reality of intersectionality.  Do we first enter into this call from Jesus with only one population, dealing with only one area at a time, such as people who are differently abled or white privilege? Is it too much to try and think about the physical and cognitive differently abled, racism, gender bias, LBGTQI biases, socio-economic differences, etc. right from the start of this ministry? Should it even be a separate ministry as it’s actually who we’re called to be as people who follow Jesus Christ who shows no partiality and includes all people, in all times and in all places in God’s love? What if  Jesus’ definition of intersectionality is different from ours?  If so,  what if this is where we find our hope and our voice going forward?

God intersects with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ; coming to humanity, being human, suffering human sorrows and experiencing human death. Jesus intersected with those whom the rest of society threw away, thought of as second or even third class. Jesus didn’t only focus on one marginalized population, but gathered women, gentiles, lepers, tax collectors, the unclean into his mission of redemption, love and complete wholeness. Jesus didn’t compartmentalize God’s redemption to one step at a time but intersected with all of creation with risky leaps and unfettered bounds. The cross is the place where this intersectionality of God takes on its deepest meaning and continues to draw us into intersections with one another. It is only when we are caught in the intersection of relationship in the Trinity and God’s work of redemption in the world that we can truly know radical inclusion, healing, peace and restoration of our divisions, our brokenness and our fear of the other. This relationship with God, requires us to die to our own privilege, our own false sense of security and safety and trust in the promises of God that ALL truly means ALL in God’s wholeness (salvation). It requires us to be in deep relationship with all whom God gathers. When we rest, trust, find our life, breath and purpose in that promise, we don’t worry that lifting up our brothers and sisters (all of who they are as created in the image of God) might diminish who WE are. We expand our idea of “we” and know that we are not “us” without whom we might now label “other.”

This is difficult work, this is risky, potentially life-ending work.It’s the end of our false identities given to us by a fearful world and the beginning of living into our true selves as people of God, wholly created in the image of pure love for sacred relationship with God and one another.  It’s where we are confronted with the reality of God’s vision for wholeness and our own fears and need for control. It’s where we find that there are more options than in/out, included/excluded, me/you, and us/them. It’s where we find the third way in the cross of Christ: hope in radical oneness, gifted with beautiful, messy and  God-created diversity.

 

 

Bad Boundaries: Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28 Year A, August 17, 2014 August 17, 2014

We love to give things labels to organize our world. Or at least I do. Organizing a closet, a drawer, my office, or anything gives me a sense of peace and control. Do you remember those old label makers that you could punch letters onto a plastic sticker and label your whole world? My mom had one and I loved that thing. I labeled almost everything in my room, including my baby sister. I don’t have one now but I wish I did! I love knowing exactly where something is, exactly what it should be used for, and having similar objects together for ease of finding them. This sort of organizing and labeling can be helpful and fairly benign. As humans, we like some sort of control over our surroundings, we like to put things in categories that we can understand and interact with in a logical way. Without labels and categories, our lives have the potential to be chaotic, messy and overwhelming. We like predictability.
This categorizing spills out into our interactions and relationships with people in our daily lives. It starts when we are very young and by the time we are in junior high or high school we know what all the cliques are and who is in them: jocks, nerds, band geeks, goths, hipsters, etc. And we know from an early age where we fit and where we don’t. Crossing those boundaries was unthinkable and with the rare exception, impossible. Even in adulthood that sadly doesn’t change and often intensifies. Such as, this group of people are my close friends, this group of people are acquaintances/coworkers, this group of people are strangers, this group of people are poor, rich, educated, uneducated, republican, democrat, male, female, white, black, hispanic, native, and the list goes on and on. We put people in categories and we like it when people stay in their proper containers, roles and relationships with us. It’s clean, neat and predictable. Many of us even label ourselves and even accept the labels assigned to us by others or society. Wife, husband, mother, father, fat, thin, pretty, handsome, introvert, extrovert, young, old, etc. These labels can and sometimes do place us in groups where we are accepted and comfortable but they also divide us by creating boundaries and an “us versus them” mentality with those people who are NOT in our label. We can reduce people to a charactiture. In the book The Big Sort, demographic research from the past 15 years has discovered that we are self sorting ourselves into more and more homogenous groups in this country by ethnicity, political affiliations, and socio-economics. Even as the US grows more diverse, we are clumping together with only those the most like us and who make us the most comfortable. We like to be comfortable. When the categories are violated, it’s confusing, messy, unpredictable and VERY uncomfortable.
This gospel story this morning troubles me because it points to the reality of seeing labels and not people. We have Jesus who frankly is operating out of his clique of being male with a lot of privilege in the first century Palestinian culture. He ignores the cries of the woman in our story at first. She’s not just any woman but a woman with the label of Canaanite. From our OT history, we know she’s the enemy. And women, especially unaccompanied women, didn’t speak out to a man in public. For Jesus to answer her, would be for Jesus to admit that she had some claim or right to him. That would be uncomfortable for Jesus and the male disciples at the bare minimum. Jesus is acting well within the cultural norm as an insider and it completely annoys me because this is not the label of Jesus that I like. I like to keep Jesus in his label of Son of God, the divine Jesus. The Jesus that is predictably kind, inclusive, forgiving, merciful, abundant, and counter cultural. But here we clearly have Jesus as fully human. Jesus, in the reality of his humanity, trying to keep some control and predictability in his life. Men don’t speak to strange women and Israelites DO NOT speak to Canaanites. Jesus is not acting the way I want him to at the beginning of this passage. I want him immediately to include her, love her and accept her. But instead Jesus ignores her, the disciples try to send her away and then Jesus calls her a dog when he does speak to her. Seriously Jesus? Is Jesus really removing any human dignity from her, and making it clear where she is on the social ladder? Frankly, I’m appalled and my instinct is to protect this woman from this apparently typical first century man named Jesus who appears to be trying to keep her in her proper place.
But this Canaanite woman does something remarkable in the face of all of the labels, boundaries and cultural injustices: she refuses to be bound by them. She acknowledges that yes, indeed, she is out of place, she is not in Jesus’ social group but she refuses to allow Jesus to just dismiss her. She asserts that despite her labels, she is more than those labels and is also deserving of the mercy that Jesus is offering the “lost sheep of Israel.”
Her faith is not just about belief in Jesus, we assume that she has heard of him and who he is somehow, but her faith is courage to claim her own and her daughter’s full humanity and place at God’s table. Her faith is persistent action when it seems hopeless and useless to keep pushing for justice. She forces Jesus to step out of the cultural categories that they were both caught in and affirm her true label: a child of God deserving of God’s abundance. In these few verses she starts out in her position of a lowly Canaanite but gets Jesus to see her as more than that, to see her as a woman, a full human, at the end of their exchange. Not to mention that Jesus grants her the healing of her daughter from a demon.
Jesus also ultimately refuses to be bound by the cultural labels. He does finally speak to her and he does admit that God’s mercy is wider than first offered. This mercy he offered the woman would have been seen as offensive and scandalous to the Israelites as his talking to her would have been. God incarnate is not neat, predictable and clear. The boundaries are not where we think they are. This passage highlights the messiness of relationships with each other and even with God, as well as the offensiveness of truly offering God’s love to all. We’re going to mess it up but are we going to move past our own uncomfortableness for the sake of offering God’s love and mercy to another? Just when we think that we have God all figured out, labeled and categorized, we discover that God can’t be contained by our human labels and need for control.
The reality and the danger of labels, categorizing and sorting ourselves gets expressed in many different ways in our world. From the violence in Ferguson, MO that points out our struggle with racism in this country is far from over and that labels of skin color are still dehumanizing, to mental illness as a label that people are too ashamed to speak of, to religious categories that spark war resulting in the death of school children, to gender violence, to the marginalization of those who self identify as LBGTQI. And it’s not just these larger social divisions that are a problem: in our own corner of the world, cliques, gossip, or anytime we assume an “us versus them” mentality about anything, it seems that our categorization of each other trumps our very humanity at times. Whenever we look for what is different about another person and assign a label, we fail to see each other as the very same child of God, loved by God.
There are tensions in our Matthew story that are difficult to reconcile, but what is true is that this Canaanite woman refused to let go of her own identity as a human created by God regardless of other social divisions. She forced Jesus to step out of his boundaries to recognize her inclusion in God’s plan for reconciliation of all people and creation. Jesus did exactly that-included her, not just for her sake, but for all of us. Jesus crosses boundaries and shows us that as the people of God, we are called to those places of uncomfortableness, unpredictability, and chaos for the sake of radical unity, the abolishment of “us versus them” thinking, in the face of social and cultural divisions. We are called to walk with each other despite differences. We do this when put aside our own wants and comfort for someone else’s needs, when we share from what we have, and when we offer each other benefit of the doubt and true grace. We are called to witness for the world, that through the fully human and fully divine, Jesus Christ and by his death and resurrection by God, the boundary of division from God and each other is eradicated. We are free to live as ONE people of God with no division, distinction, or category. The predictability of God’s promises of love and mercy for us all and God labels all of us as a beloved child, is all we need is to know. Thanks be to God.