A Lutheran Says What?

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

We Forget A Sermon on Act 10, John 15 and Human Rights May 9, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 9, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 10: 44-48
John 15: 9-17

Young Friends message: Helping each other remember: What do you remember about the two bible stories that were just read? (Have the children/youth work together to piece the story together-solicit assistance from the congregation if necessary.) Great work! It’s sometimes hard to remember each part of a story on our own, unless we’ve heard it many times or wrote it ourselves. Even if it’s our own story, sometimes when we retell it we still forget some pieces of it don’t we? Well, that true for us all and it was true for the disciples in our Acts and John stories today. Jesus was trying to give his disciples ways to remember not only himself, but how God loved them, and everyone no matter what. But the disciples continued to forget. In the Acts story, Peter had to be reminded by the Holy Spirit, God in action, that the people whom Peter didn’t know and didn’t have anything in common with, were part of God’s beloved people too. It’s really hard for us to remember that people we don’t know, we don’t like or who don’t like us, get the same love and care from God that we do. And if we’re honest, we sometimes purposely forget that don’t we-when we decide to be mean to someone, or ignore them when their hurt, or whatever. This is what we’re going to talk about today, human rights. Human rights is when we all remember, all people, that all people deserve God’s love and care no matter what. It’s really hard, and it’s why Jesus kept telling the disciples and us different ways to remember that and how we remind each other of that fact. Human rights means that each person, each body, is sacred and should be allowed to live as such, with food, housing, safety, able to make their own decisions for their own body, etc. And Jesus wants us to remember this. We’re going to talk a little more about that and wrestle with some questions about it. I want you to talk with us.

I’m noticing that as I get older, my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. You know, you walk into a room and can’t remember why? Or remember the name of someone I’ve known a long time or even just met? Or the pesky question for me, where is my phone? So I sometimes go through an elaborate thought process or even physical process of retracing my steps, trying to jog my memory to remember this allegedly important thing. What was I doing before? What was I doing or thinking that made my mind move on from why I came into this room, what task I needed to do or object to find. Our memory, what our brain records or chooses not to record, is a fascinating subject of study. You can google it and find enough research to read that will keep you busy the rest of your life. How our brain records traumatic memories, happy memories, how all five of our senses contribute to memory, with smell and sound, it turns out, activating our memories the most effectively. Most of the time, what I forget is non-essential, but you all have known me for two years now and yes, I do occasionally forget “important” things, like a meeting or to do a certain task that then holds everyone else up. My bad! Often times, it’s because I’ve stretched myself too thin and have overestimated my capacity. I’ve put doing things above how I relate to people. I need to be reminded of what truly matters, reminded of who matters and why.

In reading through the social message on human rights this week in tandem with the Acts 10 and John 15 passages, I was at first overwhelmed with the enormity of the implications of it all. And I guess I still am, as what I constantly wrestle with is the question: “why do we even have to name that all people, each and every person on this planet, deserves to have dignity, worth, agency and autonomy?” It’s maddening and that question can lead me to despair. But then it struck me this week, we have to name this because we forget. And let’s be clear, it’s not that only some world leaders whom we might label as despicable or evil forget, or corporations only after money forget, I forget, you forget. I forget that when I buy something that is inexpensive off the internet, that I am taking advantage of someone’s right to a living wage. I forget that not everyone has the access to healthcare that I do, and I’m denying their human right to care and wholeness. I forget that what I assume is my success because of my intellect, or skill, and I’m negating the powers that have privileged me and oppressed my neighbor. I even wonder when I forget to not offer a smile or a hello to a stranger on my walk or run if I’m denying their connection to me and humanness. I forget that small actions matter.  I forget that my decisions affect other people around me, I forget that it’s not about me.
Peter had quickly forgotten that the good news of Jesus wasn’t just for him and others who were like him. He heard Jesus say it over and over and would get it and remember it for about three seconds before he’d forget. But God reminded him over and over. The Holy Spirit interrupted him, interrupted his perhaps sanitized and clinical retelling of the good news of Jesus and messily poured out grace, love and mercy to all gathered there, jogging Peter’s memory that God’s presence doesn’t stay in human order. These alleged outsiders (no one is an outsider to God, that’s a term solely based on human faulty memory of connection) received God’s promises BEFORE they were baptized! God’s promise of flourishing and abundant life for all people always is a something that God never forgets.
Jesus tries to give the disciples images, metaphors, prayers, anything he can to help them remember that they are attached, connected to God, the life source that never forgets. Jesus calls them friends, which means being attached to someone. People will remember that we are attached to Jesus when we remember this too. We can jog each other’s memory by lying down our life, which here in the Greek, doesn’t necessarily mean our physical life, it can, but just like there are different words for “love” in Greek, so there are different words for “life.” The life Jesus wants us to remember here, is our soul, our ego, our being. We lay down our need to be right, our forgetfulness that we’re connected. Our forgetfulness that when we look at any other human being, we are looking at Christ, himself. Our forgetfulness that when we look in the mirror, we are looking at Christ.

We’re going to take a few minutes in small groups to ponder this with the following questions. If you don’t get to them all, it’s ok:

  1. How can we as Church (God’s witness on earth), use our voice, actions and finances to promote and ensure human rights and flourishing?
  2. How do you define solidarity? Give an example of solidarity from your own experience or what you’ve witnessed.
  3. How might we be proactive to ensure that human rights abuses don’t manifest to begin with?

We are indeed a forgetful people. But God always remembers this. God sent Jesus to jog our memories back to the garden when we dwelled with God. Jesus wants us to remember that we live together, we are interconnected whether we like it or not and whether we remember it or not. We must be each other’s memory of every person created in God’s very image. We must use every gift, skill, effort, time that we have to jog the memory of Church and community leaders, neighbors, that we are not strangers, we are all friends, attached to each other, attached to the planet and creation. We can’t forget that we are attached. It’s why gathering as God’s people each week matters, not for us, but for God to remind us through water, wine and bread, that as we go back to our daily lives, we’re attached, for the sake of reminding the world of who and what matters: The good news of Jesus that interrupts our amnesia, that pours this love out on people whom we’d never suspect, who don’t share our backgrounds, status or beliefs, and we are invited by the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ, to stay with these new friends, be connected, not through what we do or say, but through who God is, our memory of love and life for all. Our memory that can spur us to ensure that all people remember and live in unity, dignity, and worth. Amen.

 

Rooted Sermon on Acts 8 and John 15 May 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed for the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 2, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Acts 8: 26-40
John 15: 1-8
ELCA Social Statements: Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust
Faith, Sexism and Justice

Young Friends message:

You might remember or know that I grew up in the military, in the Air Force to be exact. My family moved quite often, we would uproot and go to a new place. I went to five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools. So I was the new girl all the time. And to be honest, I was a bit odd, maybe because of moving so often, but really, probably because I was me. I was a kid who loved to sing and did so everywhere I went. I loved playing my violin, was horrible at sports, loved reading books, and was the opposite of cool in so many ways. I was also a bit odd as I loved church, I mean, I LOVED Church! Everywhere we moved, it turned out that God was the same and there! I was that teenager that sang the liturgy, attended every church function even when my parents didn’t, and started teaching Sunday school at 15. I mean I loved Church. I felt rooted there, I felt like it was the only place where I was loved for being odd, and for being well, me. When I was in confirmation, we picked our own confirmation verses. I was in the youth choir, of course, and we had a piece we were singing called “Vine and Branches” based off of our Gospel story for today. I fell in love with those words, “I am the vine and you are the branches, you who abide in me and I in them.” I picked that verse because I am connected to that vine whether I live in CA, ND, Guam, NE or here in Utah. A few weeks after I was confirmed at First Lutheran in Minot, we uprooted again and moved to NE. But I knew that I stayed connected to Jesus no matter what. And so are you! I want you to know that no matter what, what you grow up to do, who you grow up and choose to live with and be a family with, how you dress, cut your hair, no matter what, you can’t be uprooted from Jesus. God says so. Here’s a piece of twine to remind you that you are connected and rooted in Jesus’ love.

I’ve spent a lot of my life uncomfortable, so you’d think I’d be good at it. Like I shared with our younger friends, it has been most of my living experience. I actually don’t like being uncomfortable, do you? When I’m in an uncomfortable place, or conversation, my instinct is to separate myself from that discomfort. Maybe it’s physically relocating, or not speak my truth, or assume my discomfort is not important, or blame the other person for my discomfort. The end result is the same, separation, disconnection feeling cut off. It’s harder when I’m uncomfortable with myself, maybe I’m ashamed of a feeling, how I look, my thoughts, my actions, my dreams. And I try to forget, push away, or ignore that discomfort-I separate or compartmentalize pieces of myself, I don’t want to get to the hard truth, the root of my discomfort, as then I would have to deal with it, and who wants to do that hard work? But as I’ve gotten older, and maybe wiser or at least gained some experience, I realize that separation within myself, denial of who I am at my root, at my core is a dangerous thing. When I’m not fully connected to myself, I can’t connect authentically or in a healthy way with others. Yet, this isn’t how we operate day to day is it? We deny and shy away from anything that makes us uncomfortable: people, conversations, situations, feelings, etc. What’s the old adage? Never discuss religion or politics? Well, we’re going to do a bit of both this morning, so hold on. If we can’t practice having hard conversations here among each other, as God’s people, then how are we going to do this in our day to day lives? And to make this even harder, you’re welcome, we’re going to add sexuality into this mix. Don’t leave! It’ll be ok, I promise.
The Bible is filled with these uncomfortable conversations and stories, but we ignore the parts that make us uncomfortable, until we can’t. I love this story in Acts 8 today for so many reasons. First, let’s just name that it’s kinda weird and uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit talks to Philip who actually listens and obeys, (What?) goes to the wilderness (this was a road through nowhere),and encounters a stranger, a person only named by their physical traits, an Ethiopian Eunuch. So much to unpack here and I’ll give you a sliver. Ethiopian doesn’t refer to the country of Ethiopia as we know it today, it only refers to the geography south of Egypt. It refers to his dark skin color and would be used to highlight that he is indeed “not from around these parts.” We’re told he’s a Eunuch, ok stay with me, that can mean one of a few things: he was born without male sexual organs, he is a slave who was castrated for the purpose of serving the King and his harem of women without fear of sexual promiscuity, or he was not castrated but had an effeminate manner that allowed him to move in more female dominated spaces. We don’t know which it is, but we know this: in ancient Roman times, he would have been mocked, bullied, considered nonmale, nonbinary, and not accepted. We read that he was returning from worship in Jerusalem: and we know from Levitical law, that being a eunuch, he would have been excluded from being in the inner courts of the Temple. It’s possible that he was a practicing Jew, and it’s also possible that he was what was referred to as a “God-fearer.” Someone who is not a full practicing Jew but liked the idea of God.
We also know that he had access to money as he had a chariot and a scroll of Isaiah. Philip encounters him reading the scroll aloud, a common ancient practice, and asks him if he knows what he’s reading about? The Ethiopian Eunuch responds with a question: How could I since no one will interpret for me? We don’t have the details of what Philip tells him, other than he tells him of the good news of Jesus. We do know the Ethiopian Eunuch’s next question: What prevents me from being baptized right now? He got right to the root of following Jesus.It can be heard as rhetorical, as the answer is, of course, nothing. But we need to uncomfortably admit that we also know that isn’t always true. The Church, yes, the supposed beloved people of God, has given a myriad of answers to that question throughout history, that is anything but a yes. You want to belong? First dress appropriately (according to whom?), pray correctly, know the same hymns that we do, stand up and sit down at the correct times, stay in your gender or age role, don’t be a different color, sexual orientation, or partisan persuasion, like all the same food we do, all the same books, all the same music. Fit in this box and cut yourself off from everything that doesn’t fit in the box. Then you’re welcomed, then you belong, then you are loved.
I’ve been told that. Disconnect from the part of me that isn’t feminine enough, acts too confident and bold. Don’t think that you have an equal say, don’t be bossy, but you should speak up more, don’t dress so girly, or masculine or dowdy. Why do you wear make up? Why don’t you wear some lipstick? My daughter who is queer and marrying a wonderful young woman has been told even uglier things. LBGTQIA+ people in our society and yes, in churches, have been told to cut off the part of themselves that might make others uncomfortable or we mistakenly think are in the bible. An aside: the word “homosexuality” didn’t appear in the English bible until 1946, it’s a bad translation from the Hebrew and the Greek. Jesus says nothing about same gender relationships, and to really make you uncomfortable, the gospel of John talks about the “beloved disciple of Jesus” who leaned on his bosom. Maybe that was Jesus’ partner? We don’t know. But Jesus does say love and care for your neighbor, over and over and over and over again. Yet, we focus on a handful of passages that are badly translated to ensure some sort of hierarchy in the church and world. Just sayin’.

In 2009, the ELCA, at Churchwide assembly, adopted the social statement: Human sexuality a gift and trust. It removed the barriers, the disconnection for our siblings who are LBGTQIA+ to serve in the Church as rostered leaders. I will personally add, that the part of “bound conscious” in this document I find problematic. It means that if a congregation doesn’t want a woman or an LBGTQIA person to serve as their pastor, they can reject such a candidate. I don’t think that is faithful or biblical. Jesus came to unbind us from such sin. I don’t think we should affirm people who are indeed bound and determined to exclude, judge and cut off anyone from the community of Jesus followers.
And in 2019, the ELCA adopted the social statement Faith, Sexism and Justice. These documents answered the question: what is to prevent me from following God’s call to serve in my life for women, femmes and LBGTQIA+ folks with the words, “nothing.” And what’s more, affirmed that all people are created in Imago Dei, in God’s very image. We gloss over in Genesis 1:26 where it states, “let US make humanity in OUR own image.” Plural. We have a God of diversity, pluralism and variety. We have a God who wants wholeness, unity and hope not only between all parts of creation but within ourselves. These documents got to the root of the issue, and challenge us to recover God’s mission of wholeness, that we can’t cut off or compartmentalize aspects of ourselves for comfort or convenience. That includes our sexuality. It’s part of who we are as much as our personality, hair color, height, likes, dislikes, gifts, and foibles. We are challenged to fully live into our baptismal promises to seek this wholeness, God’s justice for all people. We can’t change who God created us to be, God calls us to be the most authentic, loving, whole and holy version of who God created us to be.

We’re going to chat about this now for a few minutes in small groups. If you don’t get to all the questions, no problem!

  1. All humans are made in the image of God. How does the variety of people you know/interact with reflect who God is for you? Does your image of God change when you consider this?
  2. How does our language for God perpetuate our images of God?
  3. Talk about how our theological convictions (that is what we think about God and how God works in the world) shape how we might understand and live into justice for LBGTQIA+ people in our society.

The Ethiopian Eunuch more likely literally had parts of him cut off by a power structure to make him useful to the powers and yet outcast from the power structure. It had its desired effect, to dehumanize him and make him separate, to uproot him from society. What he heard from Philip, is that is not God’s will and Jesus came to connect, to not have anyone deny that the root of who they are is connected to the root of all creation, God. And that connection didn’t depend on him changing anything about himself first. He was connected to the root of life just as he was. Jesus is indeed the vine, that connects and nourishes us all. And not only to one another but to connect us to ourselves, the real us whom God created in God’ own image. The Ethiopian Eunuch heard this, he already knew that he belonged no ifs, ands, buts or rules. His sexuality, his body, was as important to God as his spirit and heart. They were one in the same and couldn’t be separated. And were fully loved. He should be called by his root identity, child of God. Philip needed to hear this as much as the child of God before him did, as much as we do. Philip went toward the discomfort of the wilderness, of the stranger, of the person considered less than, and was reminded of his own humanity, of God’s vast welcome and affirmation of all who and what God has created and of being connected to the true vine, that connects all the branches of every shape, kind, and purpose, to the root of all life, love and mercy for all people and all creation: God.