A Lutheran Says What?

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

The Power in this Moment Sermon on Pentecost Jun 9, 2019 June 9, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are Acts 2:1-21 and John 14: 8-17, 25-27

Children’s sermon: (Have ribbons, the paper flames for the prayer station and glow sticks to give them) Gather the children and have a red ribbon and a glow stick. What’s your favorite color? Mine is red! So I love it when we have Pentecost and Reformation Sunday or Confirmation and I get to wear my red stole. Or anything red! What’s awesome about the color red, as well as orange and yellow, is that they are bright colors and you can’t miss them! This is why crossing guards at your school, or construction workers on the highway wear orange or yellow or sometimes that neon green color. They need to be seen for safety and we don’t want to miss seeing them!  In our bible story this morning in Acts, there was a strong wind that was hard to miss! And then what looked like fire appeared with the people! What colors are in fire? Red, yellow, orange. Hard to not see fire isn’t it! While we don’t see wind, we can see what wind does: it moves and blows things around as well as changes things. When the Holy Spirit shows up and we notice God’s presence and how things change. The Holy Spirit was among the people and God didn’t want them to miss it! God wants us to see that God is with us today and always in the Holy Spirit, like Jesus promised in the John story, we are never alone, and that God wants everyone to know about God’s love-no matter what language they may speak, where they live, or how old they are. For this to happen, all of God’s we must burn bright and move with the love of God. God wants us to prophesy which means to tell the truth that God’s love is for everyone today, people you like, people you don’t like or people who don’t like you. This love today will create more love for tomorrow!

And you don’t have to wait to be older to do this: God gives you gifts today to be God’s love in the world. We can see the Holy Spirit through the love that people give to each other. God’s movement and love can be seen all around us. Who shows you see God’s love in your life? How can we show God’s love to people? Family promise, food for Urban Crossroads, helping at home, being kind to a friend, inviting someone over to play this summer. I have these paper flames for you and all of us to write how we can share God’s love today and tape them to the crepe paper flames in the back. And I have a glow stick for each to you to remember to burn brightly. Let’s pray:

 

The Power in this Moment:

There is a video going viral this week of a dad and his baby sitting on the couch. Have you seen it? The baby is babbling with very animated expressions and arm movements and dad (a comedian) is responding to his son as if he’s understanding every word the baby is saying. He even occasionally initiates a new train of thought with the baby and the baby seems to respond appropriately. It’s adorable and great example of how young babies and toddlers learn to interact and communicate before they can be completely understood. The dad didn’t wait until his son was older and had complete language to have a meaningful conversation with him. He knew that the moment at hand was important and that he could show his son his love today and that his son needed him to relate to him just as he was-babbling baby and all. How they might communicate when the baby is older remains to be seen but what happened on this day will shape their relationship for the future. This dad knows there is power in the moment to shape a loving future.

It’s often hard to be in the moment. To stay grounded in the here and now. We get caught wistfully remembering the way it used to be: “the good ole days.” And in our memories, everything was perfect. And we love to project about what the future might bring. We think ahead about life will be. Such as when our children are babies we await the day when they sleep through the night. Or we can’t wait to finish school to “get on with our dreams and hopes,” or we can’t wait to retire to get to do all of things we can’t while we are in our careers. Always something to look forward to-always a way to compare yesterday, today and tomorrow and somehow “today” can seem like it’s not enough. Being in the moment today requires us to let go of the past and to suspend trying to predict what will happen in the future.

Today is Pentecost-a festival day in our church calendar that gets celebrated in many ways. Some call it the birthday of the Church, some call it the commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, some call it the reversal of the Tower of Babel (although this interpretation is falling out of favor). But I’m going to offer that Pentecost, the 50th day after the resurrection of Jesus for Christians and the festival of the first fruits of the harvest for our Jewish siblings, is about God calling us to pay attention to the moment and not miss it. To live in the now. Not the past, and not the future. But to notice that God is moving in your life and calling you to be this same movement with others today-even if it’s not totally clear and doesn’t seem coherent.

When we can live in the moment, being fully attentive to the presence of God and God’s powerful deeds, the truth is revealed. This truth of our lives, how God’s loving power enlivens and empowers us TODAY is one that we need to share in whatever language and mode we have available. Peter is so moved by the moment of experiencing God’s powerful presence, that he stands up and simply begins to speak. He doesn’t write and rehearse a fancy sermon, he doesn’t look to an expert to explain it, he uses the first words that come to him: the words of the prophet Joel. Peter doesn’t even worry about having his own eloquent statements, or getting the passage right word for word, Peter speaks what he knows to be the truth of God’s presence with God’s people. God’s promise through Jesus Christ to be present today, to bring wholeness today, to bring us abundant life today, is also a promise that does shape our future and the future of the world.

This promise of today allows us to see where the Holy Spirit is at work and where we can participate with our gifts. God has gifted us for this work of today, this sacred time and this sacred place. The Holy Spirit today, is poured out upon all people and fills us so that we may boldly speak and act as Peter did, in our community, and all will hear our prophesy, our truth telling of God’s powerful deeds of love here and now. Prophesying doesn’t predict the future but tells the truth about God’s power today to shape our future wrapped by God’s promises for salvation which is wholeness-deep connection- with God and one another. God’s most powerful deed is God’s presence with us, in us and in creation. God’s power is expressed through empowering us-pouring out God’s Holy Spirit-for the sake of this power surging throughout all of creation. This power surge is what God promised in the resurrection of Jesus and God wants us to help it go viral. The power to destroy death, the power to redeem the broken, power to make God’s diverse people one in this love and truth. This truth telling of God’s power reveals to the world that through Jesus, God, in this moment, shapes our future into one beloved community. When we are in the moment-what truth can we proclaim?  When we are in the moment of hosting, eating, talking, caring and being community with the guests of Family Promise, we tell the truth of God’s promise for wholeness today. When we are in the moment of starting a Scout Troop, when we are in the moment of serving and welcoming our neighbor who doesn’t look, think or act like us, when we are in the moment of offering peace instead of anger, when we are in the moment of supporting and partnering with our black, brown, LBGTQIA, immigrants siblings and anyone whom society claims as less value than others, we are telling the truth of God’s promise for wholeness for all today and that shapes our future in love, grace, mercy and hope.

Pentecost isn’t a day from the past to just remember. Pentecost is today and each day as we live in the moment, empowered by the Holy Spirit to tell and be the truth of God’s promise of love and wholeness for all people. Today we are empowered, we have enough, we are enough, and this moment is enough for God’s powerful love to shape our future. Thanks be to God.

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Return to the Source Sermon on John 14 and Revelation 22 May 27, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are John 14: 23-39 and Revelation 21: 10, 22-22:5.

 

Children’s sermon: Have the children meet you at the font. We are going to play a game! You are going to each bless five people by making the sign of the cross on their hand and tell them that Jesus loves them. But between each person, you have to go back to font to get your finger wet again. Ok? Come back here when you are done! Go! (When they are done.) How did that feel? Did you like coming back to the font or was that kinda annoying? Yeah, I can see both sides of that. In our bible stories the last few weeks we have been hearing stories about the night before Jesus died on the cross-which seems kind of out of order since we just had Easter! But I think the point is this: the night before Jesus died, he wanted his disciples and us to know that he will always be there to return to for love, grace and hope. Just as you returned to the font between blessing each person, so we return to the truth that Jesus’ love is always with us no matter how scared we might be, where we might be or whatever is going on in our lives. Because of this, we are free to be bold and to tell everyone we know that Jesus’ love is true for them too! No matter what! We want to flood the world with that good news! Besides offering a blessing, which you can do to anyone, how else can you share Jesus’ love with people? Yes! Those are all great ways! Let’s pray:

This weekend I went to Fort Collins for my best friend’s daughter’s high school graduation and I also attended her International Baccalaureate celebration. We listened to speeches from the principal, teachers, counselors, mentors and the students themselves. As most graduates are, they were a jumble of gratitude for what had been, a twinge of melancholy for the relationships that will now be altered and a sense of hopeful anticipation, mixed with a healthy dose of fear for what the future might hold. As these young people enter a new phase, all of this particular group going on for higher education, they would speak with excitement about the future and then circle back to how great the past four years with their friends had been, even if the work load from IB seemed from time to time too overwhelming, too hard and too much. It was a dance of stepping forward to the unknown and simultaneously stepping back to what they knew, what was certain and what they could depend upon. Mixed into this drama are the hopes and dreams of their parents who have a different sense of what the future will bring for their children. Their role will now shift from hands on day to day to one of a place where these young adults can circle back to when they need guidance. The love for their children will not change, but how it is expressed will. Graduation celebrations hold the tension of all the joy of what was, what has been accomplished and the anxiety of a now palpable change. Everyday life will not be the same. But some pieces from this time of high school will remain in their grasp as they spring forward to a new future. Some deep truths of who they are will remain in spite the new adventures.

As we look at the scripture texts that we have been assigned for these seven weeks after Easter, it might seem as if we can’t quite move forward. As one colleague on an ELCA clergy FB site pointed out this week, these chosen texts for the seven Sundays after Easter are a hot mess! I mean it’s Easter! Shouldn’t it be all joy, lilies, chocolate, colorful easter eggs, Alleluias and we love you always Jesus, right?! Like those high school grads rotating from party to party, we want to remain in the celebration, to focus on what’s easy, comfortable and seemingly joyful and we want to stay there forever. Like every other Mainline Protestant Church just a scant six Sundays ago, OSLC was decked out to celebrate Easter-the resurrection of Jesus. The pinnacle of the Church year and a cornerstone of our faith. Jesus is Risen! He is risen indeed! Oh there were lilies, and eggs, and candy, and a brunch, and family and new worshipers and the full choir and extra music and….oh it was glorious! And somehow each year, every congregation thinks: this is the year that all these new worshipers will start attending every week! Everything will be different; it will feel like Easter celebration every Sunday! And then the reality that the Sunday after Easter is one of the lowest attended Sundays in the year for every congregation, sinks in. The lilies and other flowers fade, the chocolate runs out, the eggs are turned into sandwiches, and we are left with this yearning for something that perhaps never existed, with a feeling of inadequacy, and maybe a touch of existential crisis-just to keep it real. Why can’t we stay with the joy of the empty tomb and the beauty of a picturesque spring morning forever? Why do we have to be a hot, disjointed, mess wondering what is next?

Sometimes in the midst of such wondering, we need a touchstone-something that we can return to when nothing else makes sense, when life isn’t quite going how we had planned, when celebrations end, and the challenges, questions, and uncertainties drip back into our lives like slow leak from a faucet.

Jesus is well aware of how quickly shouts of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” shift to “Crucify him”! Jesus knows that his followers will need something to return to in the coming weeks, months, years, and really, until the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. These passages that we have been reading from the gospel of John have pulled us back to the night that Jesus was betrayed, the night before Jesus was killed, three days before the tomb was empty and a new future emerged. This was the night that things were about to change for the disciples and for the world. The relationship between Jesus and the disciples would forever be altered. They would no longer be with Jesus physically day to day, which seemed unfathomable to them. How would they know what to do?

Jesus offers them and us a touchstone to keep returning to when we are stepping out into an uncertain future. When we know that the next faithful step isn’t to stay where we are, but to go out and risk. Jesus tells us that the love that we have from God will never change, that love is unconditional and always with us, but our experience of God will be different. It won’t be physical, hands on. The Holy Spirit will come and keep teaching, sustaining and prodding us on. We will have the peace from Jesus to calm our troubled hearts, not peace that world tries to lure us with, but the peace of knowing that in the midst of life, with the Holy Spirit, we can return again and again to the word of God made flesh, Jesus, the living water, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the vine, the true source of our lives when everything else seems fleeting.

Jesus is also clear that God as our truth and touchstone, isn’t to keep us comfortable but to keep us going. Jesus knows that as God’s Church on earth we always live on that precipice, on the eve, of what is about to come. We live lives that reveal the love and truth of God, and that isn’t simple, easy or without risk, but we live them anyway, for as we read in Revelation, God’s concern is for all people, for all nations, to draw on God as their source and truth. This doesn’t mean that there is only one way to experience the truth of God. Cities (such as the one named in Revelation) are diverse and rich with multiplicity. Even the tree of life produces 12 different kinds of fruit and leaves that heal all manner of ills. God’s truth is most richly expressed in diversity such as all the gifts gathered here in this sanctuary, the gifts in the community around us waiting to be discovered and in the world. What’s universal, what is the constant is God’s promise of abundant life and love for us all and for the entire world. With water, word, bread and wine, we are sustained with the truth of God’s mercy, love and grace that then we carry with us to a world that indeed needs this healing. Nations are healed with the peace of Christ that puts others first and doesn’t fear diversity and what we don’t understand.

So we go out, into a future that is unknown, yet filled with promise, where there will be risk, and meaningful opportunities, where we might feel inadequate and we will have the Holy Spirit to keep teaching us new things, where chaos may surround us, and Jesus’ peace will pervade all of creation. Life will not be the same, but the deep truth of belonging to God and God’s presence with us remains. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

God’s Power is Love! John 14:1-14 (VBS Sermon) August 2nd Pentecost 10B August 3, 2015

(*This sermon (preached at Lord of the Hills Lutheran Church in Centennial, CO)  was based on the VBS stories from Group’s Everest VBS curriculum. The texts were 1 Kings 17: 1-7, 1 Kings 18:9b-12, 2 Kings 5: 1-14, 2 Corinthians 9: 7-9 and John 14: 1-14. This sermon was written to be intentionally “cross + generational”  for the VBS Sunday where we invited VBS families to worship. The children sang a VB song, sat down up front and helped me with sermon and then sang another song. We showed a slide show of the week during offering. It was great fun!)

At VBS we all talked about and learned that God is powerful. Not the kind of power that we see in super hero movies, God doesn’t use x-ray vision, slings webs everywhere or turns objects into gold. God COULD do those things if God wanted but that’s not how God works. We learned that God’s power is love, and that love is expressed in lots of different ways. We learned from our two Elijah stories that God has the power to provide (HOLD ON!), God as the power to comfort (HOLD ON!), from our Namaan and Elisha story that God has the power to heal (HOLD ON!), from our stories of Jesus that God has the power to forgive (HOLD ON!) and God has the power to love us forever (HOLD ON!). Hmmm, it seems to me that all of these powers of God have very little to actually do with God but have everything to do with US! God’s power is one that God gives away, uses for God’s beloved people and tells us about God’s love for the whole entire world.

We also talked about how Elijah didn’t see God, Namaan didn’t see God and the disciples were confused about who Jesus was and what Jesus was talking about when he says that if you’ve seen Jesus then you’ve seen God. Elijah asked to see God (Did God come in a violent wind? An earthquake? A fire? NO!) but God only came to him in a whisper on the mountain, Namaan experienced God in the healing waters at the Jordan river and the disciples didn’t realize that they were in God’s presence until after God raised Jesus from the dead. But Jesus tells the disciples and us that we have indeed seen God because we have seen Jesus. Now the disciples actually walked around with Jesus, watching him heal the sick, comfort those who were sad, provide bread for everyone, forgiving people of whatever was separating them from God, and offering people God’s love unconditionally. Yet, they still asked Jesus, like Elijah and Namaan, “show us God.”

I can just see Jesus smiling as they asked him that question as they were standing right in front of God! Jesus was showing them God and God’s love every single second of the day! And better than that, Jesus showed them how THEY, the disciples and us, reveal God to the whole world every single second of the day. We think that we don’t see God in our everyday lives, but we do! We see each other and we know that each of us are made in the image of God-not just our bodies but our hearts too! Our hearts are created in the image of God’s heart and so we share God’s love. When the disciples ask or we wonder about seeing God-all we have to do is look around at each other! What are ways that we show each other what God looks like? (God’s Work, Our Hands with all of the other ELCA churches, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald house, In-Stitches, prayer shawls, school supplies for LFS, supporting the earthquake victims in Nepal, our preschool, sharing our building with other churches, Youth in Detroit doing service,) Yes, I think Jesus smiles when we wonder what God looks like, because all we have to do is look at all of the love around us!

It’s confusing, isn’t it, to remember that we are made in God’s image and can reveal God to each other? We forget, we sometimes just don’t feel like it or just plain old don’t do it. Someone might treat us in a way that we don’t like, or disagree with us, or not think the same way that we do and so we don’t show them God’s love. I do that sometimes and we all do that sometimes. But that’s ok because God says in the waters of baptism that we soaked Calla Lily in this morning that we are all loved and made brand new in God’s image of love EVERY SINGLE DAY and we can try again. God has the power to forgive (HOLD ON!) and promises to forgive us over and over no matter what because God created us to belong to God and to be loved by God forever.

God also promises that we are never alone. Jesus says in our story from John, that there are many rooms in God’s house, which means that everyone is invited into God’s house and no one is ever left out for any reason. Jesus tells us that he is God with us and the only way to God. Some people hear that as prohibitive, which means leaving some people out or that you have to believe exactly the right things about Jesus to go be with God and God’s people forever. But what Jesus is saying is that God sent Jesus so that the whole world is brought to God through Jesus. Jesus died and was raised not just for some people but for all people-even those people who aren’t sure about Jesus. We don’t have to worry about being left out-God leaves no one out. God’s power of love is enough to gather everyone into God’s house forever. God never leaves us and God’s people never leave us.

This morning we promised that to Calla too. We all promised to show her Jesus each and every day and to make sure that she knows the promises of God to provide for her, comfort her, heal her, forgive her and love her forever. We promise to be her community that shows her God.  We may not always understand God’s power but we can trust it and share it with the world because we know that God’s power of love is given for us each and every day, no matter what. Thanks be to God!