A Lutheran Says What?

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

Don’t Lose Sight Sermon on John 1: 43-51 January 15, 2021

This sermon was preached on Jan. 17, 2021 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:
1 Samuel 3: 1-20
Palm 139: 1-6, 13-18
John 1: 43-51

In my preaching classes in seminary, we studied and listened to several renowned proclaimers of the gospel, including Martin Luther King Jr. We spent a whole class session on King’s infamous “I have a dream” speech. In listening to the speech in its entirety, our professors pointed out something that most of us hadn’t heard before. About half-way through his speech, when King paused, a woman in the front row could be heard shouting, “tell us about the dream Martin, tell us about the dream!” You see, this proclamation that King had written for that day, didn’t originally contain the “I have a dream” rhetoric. He had used the theme at other times in his preaching, but that had not been his intent for this speech. But he took seriously in that moment the urgency of the woman begging to be reminded of a vision, she wanted to see what was possible, and she wanted all the people listening to catch a glimpse of the vision that King and the Civil rights movement offered in liberation, equality, and justice in God’s kingdom and kin-dom. Kin-dom means humanity gathered as one community in the promises of God. Our professors wanted us novice preacher to not lose sight of what matters, one, sometimes you have to let go of what you had envisioned for proclamation and allow the Holy Spirit’s vision to come to fruition, and two, don’t underestimate the power of offering God’s vision to people. People are hungry for a vision of what could be despite what it seems to be. People are always looking for vision, are they going to see God’s or the world’s? Will they lose sight of our life together and themselves? And more frightening…will God lose sight of us?

I confess that I sometimes lose sight that God sees me, sees all that I do, all that I say, all that I think and all that I don’t do, say and think. Everything. Well, maybe I don’t forget, maybe I live in denial that God sees me. If I were to always keep this fact conscious, I would probably be appropriately paralyzed in fear. I mean, the God of all creation is watching me? That can’t be good. But God does see me, and thank God, sees beyond my failures, my cynicism, my temper, and my shortcomings. God sees me, the one whom God created in the divine image, proclaimed as beloved, having worth and value. God sees not just who I am to God, but who I can be for the world. God’s vision for me is, thank God, beyond what I could ever envision for myself. I lose sight of who I want to be. I sell myself short and figure that nothing good can come from me, as I am too flawed.
The real tragedy in this, is the fact that I then limit my vision of who others are, as well. If I can’t envision myself as God sees me, then I’m not seeing people though God’s vision either. I make assumptions about people and situations, always through my dim and limited human view and not through God’s imaginative and broad vision. I assume that nothing good can come from people whom I only see in one dimension. I forget and lose sight that God can and does see fully, not only me, but all people and that God’s vision is always about goodness and life.

Like Eli and the new disciples in John 1, we don’t look hard enough at ourselves and others. Eli refused to truly see or act on the harmful corruption perpetrated by his sons, and so had to endure the consequences, being held accountable by God and removed as a priestly family with authority. Eli lost sight of his responsibilities and role in the community as healer and proclaimer of God’s grace. Nathanael couldn’t see past his own prejudice of Nazareth, a town no better than a bump in the road that produced nothing of value, which led him to dismiss Jesus out of hand. Despite human failures, God’s vision won’t be clouded. God called the boy Samuel, to be a prophet who would anoint kings for Israel and offer a new vision for the Israelites. God’s own son, Jesus would see through Nathanael’s cynicism and invite him to see beyond what he thought he knew, and beyond his own life to what God was offering the world. In God’s vision, things are not as they appear and good does come from hard situations, hard conversations, and from the least expected people and places. In God’s vision, the question shifts from “what good can come from this?” to “what good does God see in this?” God doesn’t lose sight of the vision of wholeness, love and mercy.
It doesn’t mean that we wear rose-colored glasses or deny hardships, to the contrary, God’s vision requires us to see reality, to see our own guilt and complicity, to see the harm we’ve inflicted, to see our own flaws, as well as to see the divine spark in all people that is begging to be seen, as the woman begged King to tell her the dream again. She knew that God’s desire was for this spark to be seen in the world. There is something liberating about being completely seen. When we know that we can’t hide, we’re exposed, then we can give up the façade, and live into the truth of who we are, and who we are to God. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered people, Black, white and brown this God sized vision of liberation in the truth. He never lost sight of what was important and what mattered, liberation for all. When we face the difficult truths, when we can see ourselves and other people clearly, we can then see God’s kingdom at work in us all, together, not as an “us vs. them” but as a collective community of beloved people of God revealing God’s vision for creation. Jesus called Nathanael to see this vision, and Jesus calls us to see it too. Jesus calls us to do the hard work of setting aside biases, being in relationships with people whom the rest of society shuns, to speak the truth, especially when people are being harmed, and to live in a way that honors creation. God’s vision can’t be dimmed by anything we do or say but we can illuminate God’s vision when we join with God for love, hope, mercy and forgiveness. We will see that good does and will come from what God is doing in our midst through the love of Jesus Christ. We will see God’s kingdom and kin-dom come. We won’t lose sight that God never loses sight of us. Amen.


 

What I Know About 2021: Sermon on John 1 January 3, 2021

This sermon was preached on Jan. 3, 2021 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT over Zoom. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Jeremiah 31: 7-14
John 1: 1-18

There’s a cute song from about five years ago called “Say Hey” by Michael Franti that was popular for a while as it was good dance song. The refrain of that song contained the lyrics, “It seems like everywhere I go, the more I see the less I know. But I know one thing that I love you.” Boom, right in the middle of this seemingly innocuous and frivolous ditty, some deep human truth is laid down. It turns out the more we know, the less we know. Just living life can call into question what you are certain of and the realization that you don’t know as much as you thought. For this singer, he’s only certain of the love he has for this other person.

2020 has certainly been a year where everything we thought we knew was called into question and trying to learn, discern or just keep up, felt like a being in a pool of quicksand. The more we struggled and tried to stay on top, the more we sank. So here we are on the cusp of a new year, 2021, and it’s tempting to look forward and project what we think we know will happen and how this year will be. I know that I so desperately want this new year to be one where I can say that I know that we will be together in person again soon, where I know that people will stop getting sick, dying, losing jobs, losing relationships, or being marginalized. I want to know that everything is going to be ok. I don’t want to face the unknown, I want some certainty. But I’m aware that the more I search for certainty, the more truth I miss.  It’s like when you’re looking for your phone only to realize you’re holding it.

On this second Sunday of Christmas and the first Sunday of our new year, we are regaled by the Prologue to John’s gospel, a beautiful piece of poetry that was perhaps a hymn in the early Church, that uses imaginative language to offer the Truth of what we know, what we don’t know and what God knows. The gospel writer brings us all the way back to Genesis 1, to the beginning of creation when the truth is that there was only God. We are brought once again to the power and wisdom of God for creativity, expansive imagination, and endless possibilities. If we listen to this prologue as poetry, we notice the repetition of naming God. God is at the heart of this passage and at the heart of all the cosmos.

But we often miss or ignore that truth. We might not recognize God at the heart of everything. Or we don’t want to know, this as if God is at the heart of everything, then we are not. This is the truth that John the baptizer names as he proclaims that God is in our midst-the light of the world has come. But the world didn’t see Jesus or didn’t want to. As a matter of fact, the world spent much energy trying to hide or deny God as the center of creation and the universe. Jesus, as God with us, showed us what the world, our lives could be like with God at the center. People with diseases are healed, people are fed, people on the outside of society are brought into community, people in poverty are given their share, people imprisoned are set free, people told to be silent are given voice, people who are dead are brought to life. Not a life of emptiness, ego, greed or self-centeredness, but a life that is shared, a life in the fullness of God’s abundant love that knows no bounds or end. But the world tried to bury this truth, literally. The powers and principalities were terrified of a world that they didn’t know, one where they were not in the center and in control. But the more they tried to bury the truth of God as the center of it all, the more God loved, the more God’s life abounded, the more God promised to not let us sink into our own mess but to hold us.

I know enough to know that there’s so much I don’t know. I’m guilty of not wanting to know more because when I do, it decenters me. When I know that black lives matter, it means that my life isn’t worth more for my skin color. When I know that people are sliding into poverty and homelessness because of unjust systems that privilege me, it means that I have to speak out. When I know that people are hungry and I can order take out anytime I want, I have to change my habits. I know that I try to hide, build a cocoon of comfort around myself so that I don’t have to see, but when I do that, I miss Jesus. When I don’t see my neighbor but only see myself, I miss seeing Jesus, God with us in the world. I miss the truth of my life that God is at the center of it all, and I am not.

I don’t know what this year will bring, and that’s a good thing. It’s all unknown to us as it should be. But what isn’t unknown to us is God’s love for us and all creation. What is true is that God will be in our midst, at the center of everything as God always has been. God will continue to make Godself known to the world, for the sake of love, life, grace and mercy in all the universe. May we know this truth, live this truth and be this truth. Happy New Year. Amen.

 

Who Are You? Advent 3B Sermon December 11, 2020

This sermon was preached on December 13, 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 126
Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
John 1: 6-8, 19-28

How many of you hear the words “we’re going to start with an icebreaker” at a meeting or gathering and have a slight shudder go down your back? Yeah, most of us don’t find those contrived “get to know you” activities very enjoyable. Often because they entail doing or saying something that isn’t authentic to us or puts us on the spot with the feeling that we need to perform, to be who others think we are or an image we want to project. It’s just plain awkward. Yet, I confess to continuing to do them in some fashion with children, youth and adults, because despite the awkwardness and pitfalls, as it is important that somehow, we learn who the other people are. Done well, ice breakers can reveal connections, give insights to people’s gifts and worldviews, foster communication skills, and build closer relationships. If we don’t know who people are, we run the risk of false assumptions, judgments, and missteps occurring. Getting to know who people are is vital in any community. And while ice breakers don’t probe the inner lives of people, but they do build trust and confidence that people can be heard, understood and seen for who they really are and not who other’s assume they are. It can free people to be themselves.

Identity, who we are, is a question that has reverberated through the millennia from philosophers such as Socrates and Plato to Descartes, to the self-help industry that exploded in the late 20th century to the present. We link our identity to a myriad of facets: appearance, vocation, education, family, friends, religious organizations, etc. We try and create or recreate our identity at certain junctures in our lives. We like to think that we can reinvent ourselves, recreate who we are, and to a certain extent perhaps we can. Yet, who we truly are, at our core, buried under the layers of appearance and actions, is often a mystery even to ourselves. It’s like we need the ultimate ice breaker to get to know who we are for us, apart from the labels and compartments that other people put us in and we sometimes even agree to. When we chip away at those pieces-what’s left?

I think that the priests and the Levites could have used a good ice breaker or two in their initial conversations with John the baptizer in our gospel passage this week. I have the image in my mind’s eye of this group of men, looking slightly puzzled and agitated, simply walking up to John and blurting out “who are you?” Maybe it was smoother than that, but the gospel writer doesn’t offer any insights that it went differently. And really, it’s the epitome of brazenness and entitlement to waltz up to someone and demand an accounting of who they are. I’m amazed at John the baptizer’s nonplussed response “I am not the Messiah.” John doesn’t answer with a litany of his own accomplishments or pedigrees, but with who he is not. In clarifying his own identity, he starts with who he isn’t and won’t be. Twice more the priests and the Levites press him for who he is, or really, who does he think he is? Are you the Messiah, Elijah or a prophet? The priests and the Levites use up all of their guesses in an attempt to make John fit into their paradigm of how God works and through whom God will work. This weird guy from a nowhere town, living in the middle of the desert, baptizing people with some sort of authority, isn’t it.
John’s humility is extraordinary here. Many of us would get triggered by the constant questioning of our relative value and would defend ourselves. John is clear that he is who he is called to be, the one who will witness, testify and point to the one who God is sending as the Messiah. John won’t be put in the box of who others might want him to be, or even think they need him to be. John stays centered in knowing that his identity, his value, who he is, all rests on one thing: his relationship to God who gives life, breath, and meaning. He doesn’t need to pad his resume to be taken seriously, John is comfortable, naming the truth, that he is simply the voice, the one to announce who is coming and then get out of the way. John is who he is in relationship to the power of God loose in the world. John is the ice breaker if you will, the one who says that the way of God for all the earth is coming, who’s voice prepares us for the One, Jesus, who calls us God’s own, who comes to tell us who we are in the life of God: God’s great joy.
This simple statement is indeed good news and reveals the complexity of who we are.  This statement of humanity as God’s great joy, takes an ice pick to the other identities that people claim for us or we claim for ourselves. It chips away the falsehoods of hierarchy, labels, and segregation. It melts the arbitrary divisions of race, gender and economic statuses. It also cracks open the reality that we are not God, we are not the ones with the answers, and our way is not God’s way. John shows us that it’s important to know who we are and who we are not.
Who we are, is who’s we are. We belong to God, we are people for whom God risks being with us in a frail human body, and we are people invited into Jesus’ work of restoration and jubilee: proclaim liberty to the captives, of binding up the broken hearted, release of prisoners, comfort mourners, and bring good news to the oppressed. For these are the people for whom Jesus also proclaims are God’s great joy. Yes, God’s great joy are people who are unhoused, on death row, who are addicts, who are sex workers, who value money over people, who silence voices they disagree with, and people who struggle with mental health. You see, the is the scandal of God dwelling among us, Jesus in our midst, is that the ice is broken between ourselves, each other and God, our frozen hearts are melted, and we are freed from our own misconceptions about others and ourselves, to gaze upon each other with Christ’s vision of who you are and who we all are: God’s great joy forever. Amen.

 

Word in Action Sermon for Christmas 2 On John 1:1-18 January 9, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Jan. 5, 2020. The texts were:

Psalm 147: 12-20
Ephesian 1: 3-14
John 1: 1-18

Children’s sermon: Have a list of words that are actions: walk, sit, stand, hop, high five, etc. These are words that are also actions. Words that when we hear them or say them they can make us or someone else move. Sometimes for fun, or safety. Words are important because they are how we communicate all kinds of things. Well, God uses words too. In the creation story, God spoke words and things happened like light, the sun, moon, stars, plants and animals were created. And people! Words matter to God because God’s words are actions that bring life into the world. In our bible story this morning we heard how Jesus is God’s Word. The words that we hear for Jesus are light, truth, grace, life. These aren’t words that are easy to act out are they? But that’s the point! God came to earth as Jesus to show us how God would act out these words with us. How did Jesus act out the word grace? When he included people whom everyone else wouldn’t talk to. How did Jesus act out the word light? When he showed us God’s love! How did Jesus show us truth? When he told us that God wants to be with us always! How did Jesus act out the word life? Do you know the story of bringing Lazarus to life after he had been dead for four days? And of course, Jesus’ own resurrection with the empty tomb! God’s Word in action is always one of showing us love and life. Let’s pray:

We’ve all heard the phrase “actions are louder than words.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement as we’ve all experienced in some way. Maybe it’s someone who rarely says much at all, but you know a lot about them by their actions. Or people who say one thing but then their actions are the opposite of their words. And sometimes those people are us. Words are thrown around quite a bit in our modern society, especially with the rise of social media and all electronic communication where you can share your words but there’s no evident connection between your words and your actions on those platforms. Even the visually driven social media site Instagram isn’t always a reliable insight into how someone-any of us-really act. The pictures we see of people’s lives on social media are rarely the real story or the full story. This can be both a positive and a negative. How many of us have ever acted in a way that really isn’t us, but we felt some sort of pressure from within ourselves or from others to act in a way that isn’t consistent with who we are? Sometimes that can lead us to try something new and daring, which could be a positive, or sometimes it can betray our own integrity and ethics. People will forget our words of integrity, ethics and love if our actions are the opposite. The people whom we tend to admire the most are those whose words and actions are, for the most part, consistent and congruent.

Another phrase that many of us probably heard growing up was “do as I say and not as I do.” This phrase is often employed by adults to children. And often it’s adults not wanting children to imitate what they perceive as their own bad habits or an action not suitable for their child. As a child, I instinctively understood that what my mom meant by that phrase was to not follow her “bad habit” (mostly involved diet coke, a Reese’s peanut butter cup and other such minor infractions) and that she hoped that I could do better than she did. It was out of love that those words were spoken. But the challenge with that concept is that the words would seem hollow next to the action. What we take in as a lived experience has far more impact than mere words disconnected from what we see. Words and actions cannot be separated no matter how convenient that might be.

In our John text this morning, what scholars call the Prologue-the first 18 verses of the gospel, words and actions take center stage. The unofficial title of Prologue itself means, “before the word.” The opening verse of John bring us back to the creation story in Genesis 1, where God’s word was all that there was. God’s word rang out in the chaos and began to bring order and life where before, there was none. God’s word echoed and things happened, actions took place. It’s not by chance that the first thing that God’s word created was light. Light that reflected off the chaos to reveal it and to then bring life from it. God’s word was all that was needed for seas, fish, plants, animals and even yes, humans to be brought into existence. God’s word is powerful and with God’s powerful word, God’s powerful actions occur. And God’s words and actions are congruent. God said light and light happened, God said life and life happened. God’s word and action cannot be separated and are always about bringing light and life into the world and into our lives.

Jesus is God’s most powerful Word and action. Jesus, as God’s living Word, has been part of creation from the beginning, because God is one and also cannot be separated. Jesus as God’s Word, came to earth, to dwell with us, or the exact translation from the Greek is “to tent or tabernacle” with us. This recalls when God tabernacled with the Israelites in the desert for 40 years and God spoke God’s Word of the commandments, how we are to live together and bring life to one another. My favorite translation of verse 14 is from Eugene Peterson’s The Message where he writes “God moved into the neighborhood.” God’s Word and Action in Jesus is in the neighborhood! And not just in our neighborhood but every neighborhood!

Jesus as God’s Word and Action brings light, life, truth and grace to all people in the world. After John’s opening 18 verses, the word grace is never mentioned again in his gospel. Why? Because to see God’s word of grace, all you have to do is watch Jesus’ actions. Jesus who cleanses the temple of human preferences, greed and rules. Jesus who meets Nicodemus at night and tells him that God sent him out of love for the world and that Nicodemus is born of the Holy Spirit. Jesus who gives a no named woman at the well living water that will quench her thirsty soul. Jesus who heals a man born blind and returns him to community and relationship. Jesus who brings Lazarus four days dead back to life. Jesus who tells the disciples that people will know that they belong to Jesus by how they love. Jesus who stands face to face with Pilate and doesn’t back down to bullying and abusive power. Jesus who goes to the cross, not as a scapegoat or a substitution for us, but as God’s Word of reconciliation, redemption and truth in action. Jesus, as God’s Word, knows that suffering is real, death will come and God’s Word will speak into that chaos and bring us to life. This is what it means to live in the truth-truth is our unending and unconditional relationship with God-nothing separates us from God’s Word and Action in our lives.

We live in God’s Word and Actions through Jesus. As people who belong to and follow Jesus, we, like John the Baptist, witness to the light that God’s Word and Action bring to the world. We strive to have our words and actions congruent with God’s Word and Actions. Our words and actions must always bring light, life, love, truth and grace to people. Our prayers are hollow if our actions are disconnected. This is a challenge, dear siblings in Christ-for our prayers for creation, for peace, for unity are hollow if we continue to abuse God’s creation, wage war and divide ourselves. The actions of our planet, such as the massive fires in Australia, are telling us that our words are indeed disconnected. The actions in our world of killing, hate, wars, abuse, exclusion are disconnected from God’s Word as God’s Word only brings actions of life, abundant life to all people.

Jesus coming to our neighborhood means that God’s Word is for all, in all times and in all places. Jesus didn’t move into the neighborhood he liked, or that was safe, or where everything was comfortable and just the way he liked it, no, he moved in with the very people whom everyone else was trying to keep out, he moved into the neighborhood with those who didn’t understand him, like, or accept him. Jesus moved into a world that wanted to change him, make him more palatable, tame, safe, and socially acceptable. But God’s Word and actions are anything but those things in our world. God’s Word and Action loose in our world turns everything on its head. God’s Word and Actions illuminate the darkness so that injustices are brought to the light and can be transformed. God’s Word and Actions are not simplistic, they are not status quo, and they are not meant to be easy. Jesus never did what was easy, but what brought life-even to those who didn’t know him or like him.

In Jesus, God says, “do as a I say and as I do.” Love without boundaries, conditions or fear, live for the sake of others, be generous so that justice prevails, speak truth so that people are drawn into relationship with God, and exude grace so that in all things God’s glory is revealed for all to see.  God’s Word and Actions are louder than hate, fear, lies, discomfort, and death. God’s Word and Actions promise to bring life out of chaos and light into darkness. God’s Word and Action through Jesus connect us to unending life, light, love, truth and grace forever. Amen.