A Lutheran Says What?

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

Seeing is Believing Sermon on Matthew 28 August 21, 2020

This sermon was preached on August 23, 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 118: 1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3: 1-4
Matthew 28: 1-10

I always get sucked into those Facebook posts or that have the abstract pictures that ask you if you see or don’t see certain objects like animals or numbers or whatever. Sometimes I can see what I’m supposed to and that’s fun but sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I can’t see what others do. Then I wonder if there is something wrong with me, why don’t I see it? Maybe it doesn’t really exist and I’m being punked? The phrase “seeing is believing” has been resonating with me this week as I ponder our gospel text of Jesus’ resurrection. Just as we did Christmas in July, with no snow, or presents or egg nog, we have Easter in August, with it’s dry, hot, waning days of summer as the growing season wraps up. Easter in August forces a different perspective versus tulips, lilies and cool spring mornings when everything seems new. It’s easier to see the new life in Jesus’ resurrection with so many visual reminders around us than in late August when things are drying up and dying. How can I see new life and hope when all around me is death, endings, and empty places where life once was? I think of the angel’s statement to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (probably Jesus’ mother), “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” In Matthew’s gospel, we don’t know why the women came to the tomb in the early hours of Sunday before sunrise. In Mark and Luke, the women went to apply spices to Jesus’ body, but in Matthew, it doesn’t say why the two Marys’ went. Did they expect to see a dead body? A resurrected Jesus? Something else entirely?

What would I have expected to see that morning after witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion? I know that my vision can be sorrowfully myopic. I might only see Jesus in what you might call the obvious: in specific church places, activities or events, or in certain people. I might see Jesus only in my scripture reading or in prayers. I might see Jesus only where I expect to see Jesus.  

If I’m honest, I don’t see Jesus as much as I should. Time and time again, in all the gospels, in the entirety of the Bible, God shows up in unexpected ways, in unexpected places and in the least likely people. Over and over. God shows up as wind, as a stranger, a wrestler who wounds, as a burning bush, as still silence, in the voices of men and women prophets, and as a baby born in the middle of nowhere to refugees whom no one cared about. The Marys’ went to the tomb to see what would happen, and they experienced an earthquake, a large stone moving, an empty tomb and an angelic message. None of these actions typically herald new life. But the women knew that they were God’s actions and where God is acting, they needed to look again. And when they did, they saw Jesus. Without those unexpected and frightening experiences would they have seen Jesus as readily?  

As I said, it’s easy for me to see Jesus in sunrises, in hummingbirds, smiles, and stained glass. But I admit that it’s harder for me to see Jesus in the midst of this pandemic, in the midst of the racial turmoil, in the midst of the divisions and in people whom I disagree with. And yet, that’s the whole point of the resurrection. It’s the point of Jesus’ life and ministry. It’s the point of the Bible. That God acts in all times and in all places, even when we can’t or won’t see God. God acts in tombs of death, God is acting in the pandemic, God is acting in our nation’s racial reckoning, God is acting in our divisive conversations. God is acting whether we can see it or not. God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope and new life exist even when we can’t see it and we can’t believe it. This is good news, because it’s not all up to us and what we can see or do. It’s what God sees and does. It’s what God promises.

God is bringing new life to us, and maybe we’re being forced right now to see it. Maybe we had to experience frightening events to see differently, like the Marys at the tomb. Maybe we had to stop seeing our faith and church life, and our daily lives, in the same old way to see God’s actions of new life. Maybe we had to see our sanctuary as empty as the tomb to see that Jesus has gone out ahead of us to meet us on the road. Maybe some of us had to see how privileged our white upper middle class lives are to see that is not true for all people in our community. Maybe we had to see that relationships can’t be taken for granted, that our health, our status, our abilities are all fleeting in order to see that when we let go of seeing our lives as our own, we see Jesus. Like the women, we can see Jesus right in front of us with words of hope. We see Jesus in our neighbor, we see Jesus in diversity, we see Jesus in hard conversations, we see Jesus in what is changing, we see Jesus in what is hard for us to comprehend, and we see Jesus in our own fear and great joy. And in the midst of this, we worship right where we are. The promise is that we will see Jesus, who is God’s action in our midst through the power of the Holy Spirit. We see Jesus in water, bread and wine. We see Jesus and we then go to tell others to see Jesus too. We walk beside all people so that they can see Jesus in their own lives, and in the world, even when it’s hard, even when it’s unlikely, even when they don’t want to.

This is what it is to see the resurrected Jesus, is to see life where others see death, to see new beginnings where others see endings, to see abundance where others see emptiness, to see love where others see fear. We see Jesus and believe that God is acting. Amen.

 

New Perspectives Sermon on John 20: 19-31 Easter 2 May 14, 2019

This sermon was preached on my first Sunday at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

Children’s sermon: Gather the children and introduce myself! Talk a bit about how I’m new to Our Saviour’s, to Utah, to so much right now! I’m seeing all kinds of new things! And I’m so glad to see you! What special day was last Sunday? Easter! Yes! What do we celebrate on Easter? Yes, that God raised Jesus from the dead, the tomb was empty and because Jesus has new life, so do we! We have different ways of thinking about that, different symbols, and one we often use is a butterfly. Do butterflies start out as butterflies? No, what is the butterfly life cycle? Yes, first a caterpillar, then it spins a chrysalis or a cocoon and what happens in the chrysalis? The caterpillar becomes the butterfly! It changes! Then the butterfly emerges and is very different than before. Not just in looks but in what it can see. Where are caterpillars mostly found? On the ground or maybe in a tree but not too high up, so they can only see a little bit around them. Where do butterflies go? Everywhere and up high! Do you think they see the world differently than a caterpillar? Probably! Do you think that is weird for the butterfly until it gets used to the new perspective? Yes! It takes time to sort new things out and to realize that life is different as a butterfly. Our bible story talks about this today. The disciples are locked in a room after Jesus has died and been raised because they were afraid and confused about what would happen next. They don’t know what to do with this new information that Jesus is alive! They know that it’s important but what should they do now? Then Jesus comes to them and says “peace be with you” which reminds them that God is always with them. Jesus knows that they are confused and so helps them sort out their new perspective. Jesus says now that the new life is right here, right now, for them and Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. The very breath of God will be with them and will send them out to tell the whole world about this good news that God says that nothing-not the things you do or don’t do, not your words, not even death-keeps you from God’s love and care! Seeing Jesus gave the disciples a new perspective on Jesus’ death and resurrection! Now Thomas wasn’t with them and didn’t get to see Jesus, and really wanted this same new perspective! Thomas sometimes gets called doubting Thomas but that’s not really fair-Thomas doesn’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus, Thomas wants to be a part of this new mission of Jesus ! And Jesus does come, Thomas sees him and knows that Jesus is Lord, and God forever! Thomas now has the new perspective of Jesus’ mission for himself and for us all! Thomas’ new perspective led him to share Jesus’ love all over the world!

Like these butterflies, as people who love and follow Jesus, we now have a different way of seeing the world. We see the world as a place to spread God’s love and joy everywhere we go, like the butterfly spreads joy wherever it goes. How can you spread God’s love and joy? Yes! So many ways and you have so many gifts to share! You can each choose a butterfly to remind you that as God’s people we see the world as a place to share love and joy-like the disciples did! Let’s pray:

New perspectives! Mike and I can identify with that over the past two weeks! It seems that one night we went to sleep in CO and then woke up the next day in Utah! While it’s only about 500 miles from Denver, it’s a whole new way of living. We have a new perspective on the Rocky Mountains seeing them on the east rather than the west-that’s going to be directionally problematic for a while…lower elevation means different plants and trees, a different home in a new community, new neighbors, and even mundane things such as a new garbage pick-up day. New perspectives are exciting and as human beings we often seek them out, and at the same time we are overwhelmed by newness. Newness always comes with some risks. It’s a push/pull relationship for most of us with new ways of seeing our lives in a new context.

Our text today struck me as highlighting new perspectives. Yet, this gospel lesson today is often called the Doubting Thomas text and that has never really sat well with me. Whenever a text has a scapegoat, I start looking for why. Why are the couple of verses where all Thomas wants is what the other disciples and Mary Magdalene already have, singled out as a problem? As I mentioned, Thomas isn’t doubting the resurrection-he’s asking to have the same altered perspective as the others. He wants to experience the risen Christ, to be infused with the Holy Spirit which affirms his relationship with Jesus, and to be sent out with this good news of Jesus’ resurrection that most definitely changes everything. After the trauma of the cross, hiding from the authorities, the fear of what would happen next, then the message from Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple of the empty tomb, Thomas is fervently praying/hoping for something new to happen! Anything else has got to be better than the past few days! Even if the newness is risky!

And Jesus comes to Thomas. Jesus once again slips into the locked room and doesn’t chastise Thomas but offers him what he needs, a new perspective-touch my wounds, believe that this new life is also for you, Thomas. Jesus offers him reassurance of their unending relationship. We don’t really know if Thomas touches Jesus, the text never says that he does, but what we get from Thomas’ lips is a new proclamation of truth, of hope, of grace and of mercy for all the world and a new perspective on Jesus: My Lord and My God. The gospel summed up in four words. Our Lord- the one who was risked being truly human and in solidarity with us in our pain, suffering, sorrows, joys and celebrations. And our God, the divine, the one who redeems, gathers us in God’s mercy, love and care. God the one who gives us the Holy Spirit to reorient our perspective again and again to our baptismal identity as God’s beloved and as co-creators in God’s kingdom to reconcile the world into God’s promises. This proclamation is the statement of new life with Jesus not only for Thomas, but for us all.

And so on this second Sunday of Easter, we at Our Saviour’s have a new perspective. It is the end of the transition process for OSLC and today we begin ministry together for the sake of the community around us. It will bring new perspectives for us all as we will see the world differently going forward. We will fully live into the newness of the Easter truth: perhaps like the disciples, not fully understanding what that means or what God has in store, but also trusting in the promises of Jesus to fill us with the very breath of God that sends us to unexpected people and places with forgiveness, grace, mercy and unconditional love which are to what the mission, vision and core values of this community call us.

This new perspective is everything-it’s about how we will live together, witnessing, to the experience of Christ in our lives not for our own sake but so that as the writer of John states in verse 31: So that others will come to believe and have life in Jesus. Resurrection life that is right here, right now, not just someday when we physically die, resurrection life that will shift perspectives, resurrection life that calls God’s beloved to feed the hungry, house the unhoused, visit the imprisoned, care for the suffering, clothe the naked and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and God. Resurrection life that spreads the love and joy of God wherever we go. Resurrection life where Jesus reminds the disciples and us that we have the power to offer forgiveness and to receive it. Resurrection life has power to restore relationships and communities.

Resurrection life and new perspectives will also come with risk, it’s not safe or tranquil. As the disciples experienced over and over as heralded in the book of Acts, this message of unconditional love demands radical justice that pushes human systems and shatters cycles of status quo, violence, religious intolerance, exclusion and discrimination of any type.

Living as resurrection people call us to stand with those harmed by these systems and to give witness to the damage done. We pray for our Jewish siblings today at Congregation Chabad in CA as they lament the evil that entered their sanctuary and we join our voices and spirits to all who mourn this day. With the people of God throughout the millennia, we live into this resurrection life with all its messiness, confusion, challenge, beauty, inspiration, wholeness, and value. This is why God creates community in resurrection life, where we encourage one another, guide one another, forgive one another and love one another. We call one another back to this new perspective, remind one another to look for resurrection, as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed, to seek out where God is cultivating new life through Christ all around us, to witness to it and proclaim with our entire lives “My Lord and my God.” It’s a new beginning. Jesus promises to come to us with peace, forgiveness and mercy and to be with us in this abundant life-giving mission. Thanks be to God.