A Lutheran Says What?

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

Peace Worth Fighting For Sermon on Acts 1 May 22, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 16, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC

The Texts were:
Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
John 17: 6-19

Young Friends Message: Put the children into two groups. Give each group an idea to defend and give them one minute to come up with a reason why their idea is the best: Chocolate Cake or vanilla cake. Then give each team one minute to say why theirs is the best. What if someone doesn’t like chocolate/vanilla cake or doesn’t like cake at all? Should they just not say anything? Is that fair? What if when the say that they don’t like chocolate/vanilla cake they are told it doesn’t matter and they have to eat it anyway. Who won? Do you think that person who has to eat what they don’t like feels at peace? I mean the fighting has stopped so it’s all good right? Everyone has what they need? We’re talking about Peace today, which means we have to talk about not getting along. God understands that we will disagree and fight about things, but God really wants us to remember that we all have to work together, we have to remember, like Jesus says, that we are one-one people in God’s love. Jesus shows us how to not just end a disagreement, but to make sure that everyone is heard and has what they need for them. Jesus shows us that to truly live together, we have to listen to each other and understand that everyone is different. That is hard, but Jesus also prays for us and is with us, as we just read in the John story. Jesus promises to be with us, even in hard conversations.

I’ve been thinking about conflict a lot lately, namely what do we do when conflict arises. There’s been a preponderance of conflict it seems, or maybe we’re simply noticing it more, such as when you are thinking about new kind of car and you suddenly notice all the new cars around you. I’ve been blessed, yes blessed, to have engaged in several difficult conversations in the past week. Conversations where assumptions were made, feelings were hurt, avoidance of accountability and conflict were attempted, vulnerability had to occur, awareness blossomed, a resolution arose and yet frustrations remained. The conversations ran the gamut, and the common thread was uncomfortable and messy humanity. There were a times when we all tried to rush to the compromise, rush to the part where the tension ends, rush to go along to get along. But each time, there was a brave soul who refused to rush, who pulled us back into the mire and said, this won’t do. We can rush, we can end the tension but it doesn’t end the conflict and it doesn’t bring peace. We stayed in the messiness, we stayed in conversation, and we stayed in relationship. Why? Because we all realized that peace was worth it.

Peace is one of those concepts that I think we truly only understand in relationship to it’s antithesis: conflict. We use the term peace quite often day to day: All I want is peace and quiet. Keep the peace. Peace out. Give peace a chance. Love and peace. And in our worship: May the peace of the Lord be with you and Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Do we know what we are saying or asking for? Martin Luther King Jr, in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail offered that there is negative peace and positive peace. Essentially negative peace is rushing through the tension to maintain status quo, going along to get along, ignoring hard truths, shying away from hard conversations, peace that ultimately divides. Positive peace is awareness of the presence of something else, the messy and raw presence of truth, authenticity, vulnerability, humanity and wholeness. We have a lot of negative peace in our world I would assert to you this morning: negative peace that requires people to stay silent in the shadows of hatred, racism, homophobia, classism, sexism and the list goes on. Negative peace requires us to pick a side, are we for something or against it? Those are the choices for us. A kind of peace that buries truth, that allows power structures to stay in place and remain unchallenged. We all know this peace. The kind of peace that gives us that sinking feeling in our stomach discomfort when we are in the presence of people telling racist or sexist jokes, the innate fear of being ridiculed, or watching the news and seeing the destruction of towns and the death of innocents in the name of status quo and minding our own business. We fight to ignore it, we fight to feel comfortable. Or is that the presence of something else?

Peace isn’t inaction or nice words, I’m learning. Peace isn’t ignoring, sweeping conflict under the rug, giving up well-being or health of myself or other groups, swallowing my pride, keeping quiet for the comfort and stability of another group. Peace isn’t the path of least resistance. If it’s peace only for some, then it’s not peace for all. Peace is action, peace is recognizing and entering conflict, not for the sake of fighting but for the sake of bringing the presence of something else. The presence of wholeness. In the Hebrew Bible this presence is Shalom, which is mistakenly translated often as peace, but it really means wholeness, completeness. God’s will for creation and humanity from day one is this Shalom. God sends Jesus, sends Jesus into the world, where there are forces that oppose and are in conflict with God’s will. God sends Jesus to be the presence of wholeness, to be the presence that names truth, that names power, that names vulnerability. God gives this presence freely and abundantly.

How do you define (or give an example) of peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding? 

How does the concept of peace as Shalom (wholeness) move us to love our neighbor? 

Jesus shows us how to enter conflict for the sake of true peace. Jesus hangs out with the people whom society decided were the scapegoats to ensure peace for the powerful. Jesus upends tables of status quo and that excludes peace, wholeness for the poor, the vulnerable and the weak. Jesus walks through conflict with authorities, is tortured, executed on a cross, because he wouldn’t be quiet, he wouldn’t stop agitating. He wouldn’t stop being the presence of something else besides what the world wanted him to be. He wouldn’t stay in his place. He wouldn’t stop being in relationship with us, even when it got hard and dangerous, because the peace Jesus brought to the world for the world was worth it.  Jesus was the living peace who only sought wholeness for all. Jesus was the peace that does indeed pass all understanding, for Jesus reveals the truth of God’s embedding peace, wholeness in creation from the beginning. For God, bringing this wholeness  full circle is, dare I say, worth fighting for. Not fighting with weapons or malice, but fighting by dying, fighting with love, fighting with mercy and fighting with hope. God won’t give up on us.
For positive peace, true peace to abound, we too must not give up but enter the world, into the forces that oppose separation from God and creation. We trust that we too are the embodiment of this presence, that we don’t keep the peace, we make it, we build it, not alone, but with God, in the presence of Jesus, and sustained by the Holy Spirit, for we are one-wholeness. We engage conflict, we speak not of right or wrong but of wholeness, mercy and love. We don’t respond to violence with violence but with vulnerability. We lay down our weapons of words, actions, ego and yes, maybe real weapons, and stand bare before our neighbor seeking connection and peace. We stay in the mess, in the tension, because the world, the world where all people and creation thrive and flourish is worth fighting and dying for. Yes, that sounds naïve and dramatic, or perhaps plain foolish, but I think that is the point. Jesus was foolish in who he hung out with. Jesus was foolish in feeding 5000 people as if it made a difference. Jesus was foolish giving away his power to heal a worthless woman, or outcast lepers. Jesus was foolish to believe that turning over tables would permanently end economic theft and the grifting of the poor by the rich. Jesus was foolish to not defend himself before the Roman authorities to save his life. But Jesus foolishly trusted God’s wisdom, God’s wisdom that shows peace, wholeness, is forged through the hot coals of conflict. Peace that matters, peace that means anything, is a peace that isn’t soft, squishy or delicate. Peace that lasts is a peace where conflict is put to death once and for all. The peace that passes all understanding pulls us into the mystery of life together and life with God with humility, openness, mercy and grace. A peace that is for all, no one is harmed, no one is on the outside, no one is right, no one is wrong, but all are loved, fed, housed, sheltered, given abundant life now, and protected in Jesus name. This is a peace worth fighting for. Amen.

 

“Oneness and doing hard things” Sermon on John 17: 1-11 May 22, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 24, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 1: 6-14
1 Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11
John 17: 1-11

For the past few weeks in the crisis of the pandemic, we’ve been inundated with phrases such as “in this together” or “alone together,” or “better together.” I absolutely love the sentiment of how we can work together and be in solidarity with each other. This feeds my communal and idealistic soul. It’s the world how I so desperately want it to be. I so want the world to be like the CocaCola commercial from my childhood, you know the one where a diverse group of people is walking with linked arms, smiling and singing with one another-with a coke of course! “I want to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…” I’ll stop there as I don’t know what the copyright on that might be. But that image of people together in joy is one that I long for, one that I want to help create and one that all too often is illusive. I want togetherness and wholeness to be true. But it doesn’t take long for “perfect harmony” to break down into a cacophony of discord and chaos, kinda like when we all try and say the Lord’s Prayer together on Zoom!

Together is something that as Christians, followers of Jesus, we like to think that we are good at. Community is a value after all. But togetherness, it turns out, is hard. We tend to think that to be “together,” we have to be the same or homogeneous, and that it should be easy and comfortable. But I’m pretty sure that has never been my actual experience with “together.” I’m spending a lot of “together” time with my spouse of 26 years and my 21 year old son, both of whom I love and adore and yet, easy and comfortable aren’t the words that come to mind and I’m sure that they would say the same about together with me…And I don’t think that this is what Jesus means when he prays for oneness in our reading from John today. We overhear Jesus praying for himself, the disciples and for all who will come after them, although we only read the first 11 verses today. Jesus prays for his followers to be one as he and God are one. It sounds really lovely and idyllic, until you think about it for a second. Jesus, God in the flesh, sent by God to be with us, who is one with God, is about to die on the cross, killed by the powers and principalities, as a fulfillment of his mission and ministry. Jesus prays that we too are one with God and Jesus in the mission and life of God. This doesn’t sound very easy and comfortable to me. Oneness, togetherness is hard. It’s not easy and death will occur. When we are one with God and God’s mission and community, we die to ourselves so that others experience life.

Jesus doesn’t pray for us to be safe and comfortable, or for it to be easy,  but he does pray for our protection, which is different as protection doesn’t keep us from what is hard but sustains us through the inevitable suffering. Protection is like the gear the doctors and nurses are wearing on the frontlines of the COVID19 pandemic. The protective gear doesn’t keep them from having to do their hard work, it hopefully, ensures that they can do more of it. So, too, is our protection in Jesus. In our oneness with God, we are one with each other and creation, which means we will do hard things with the presence, protection and care of God. Oneness demands that we are cognizant of being gathered in the arms and life of Jesus all held together so tightly, so close, that we can’t be socially distanced. Oneness acknowledges our lives are so entangled as a giant knot of humanity that when one thread of any injustice or trauma is pulled, we all feel the effects of it. This truth is not easy and it is not comfortable. And Jesus’ prayer doesn’t rescue us from this truth. Jesus’ prayer is that we DO feel the effects of this oneness, that we do the hard work of putting the needs of our siblings and the earth ahead of our own wants, preferences and greed. Jesus knows that we can’t be one, if we intentionally look away from our siblings who are hurting, cast out, marginalized or ignored. Oneness reveals love that is sacrificial, sees and does hard things: love that washes feet, love that feeds the hungry, love that wears a mask in public, love that stays home as much as possible, love that refuses to coopt to the lies of consumerism and capitalism as reasons for existing, love that screams the truth that this virus is disproportionately infecting and killing more of our brown and black siblings, love that demands better from our leaders, love that weeps for those who are discarded as expendable, love that gazes on the earth and all creatures as gifts and not prizes to be exploited. Love that recognizes and accepts that this kind of radical unity will scare, anger and provoke some around us. Love that is tenacious to withstand the voices that call us to simply get along, not cause waves, do what is easy, say that we’re naïve or idealistic or will demand our silence.

Jesus prays that we will be one as he and God are one. One not for our own sake, but one in the mission that Jesus names, to give glory to God. That is, to show God: who God is, what God does, how God loves and who God loves, to the whole world. This is why God sent Jesus in the flesh, that God so loved the world, not to condemn it but to save it, not to divide it, but to make it whole, not to control it, but to make the world one, in healing, sacrificial, and radical love. Oneness reveals this glorious truth. When we are one, truly one, we show God to the world. Because we are one with God, and God is one with us, we can’t help but to do anything else. It’s all of who we are and all of us together, as one. Thanks be to God.

 

What’s prayer got to do with it? Sermon on John 17:1-11 Easter 7 Year A June 1, 2014

Mike and I have friend from Nebraska, Matt, with whom we went to high school, worked at camp during our college years and he and I even attended seminary at the same time. We both also worked at the UNL campus ministry just at different times. Needless to say he’s a good friend of ours. On early Friday morning we got the news that his house burned. Everyone got out ok but Matt needed some medical attention. His wife and two young elementary age children were physically fine. But they lost much of the house and their possessions. Matt’s wife posted on Facebook what had happened, that they were fine and to please not ask what they need right now as they didn’t know. So, many of us as friends and family made simple posts of support, love and prayers. He has many pastor friends obviously, and many of us wrote an actual prayer or that we were praying.
How many times when life becomes difficult or unclear or even downright tragic for someone we tell them that we are praying for them? Or when we are going through a difficult time people say they are praying for us? We do it all the time and here’s the thing for me, it sometimes kinda bugs me. It feels and sounds like a copt out. If I tell you that I am praying for you, then maybe I don’t really have to do anything else for you and get my hands dirty. Especially if I don’t have to pray out loud or in the presence of anyone else. Those words of “I’m praying for you,” can almost seem like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Or sometimes those words of “I’m praying for you” are really born out of a sense of helplessness because there is really nothing of any substance that we can do to change our friend or family member’s situation. With my friend Matt who lives in NE, what can I do to help him? I guess I could drive to NE and help them clean up or something? But realistically, they will need a professional and my help would be laughable at best. Maybe as they put their house back together they will need some financial help, which I could do, but that won’t be for awhile. So, in the mean time, I tell them that I am praying for them. Is it enough?
This whole idea of what prayer is bewilders many of us. Donald Miller in his book, “Blue Like Jazz,”talks about treating God and prayer like a cosmic slot machine: prayers go in and we think what we want should pop out. Is it about getting what we want out of God? Is prayer about telling God all of our problems so that God will fix them? Is it a way to do something for someone without ACTUALLY having to do anything? Is it about me, myself and I? Is it about keeping God happy because Jesus tells us to pray? Is it about eloquent words and proper posture?
In John we get the first part of Jesus prayer to God for his disciples in chapter 17. It’s Jesus last hurrah with the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion and the messiah who turned water into wine, fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, who raised Lazarus from the dead, decided the best use of his time left with his friends was to pray. He was leaving them; they would be alone without his daily physical guidance, so shouldn’t Jesus be trying to shove as much knowledge about God or the Torah down them or be giving them something tangible that they could hold on to in the coming days, weeks and years? I would think so. But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus stops and prays. Really? That’s the best you’ve got Jesus?
The words that the writer of John has Jesus say are well constructed and eloquent if not a little convoluted. But I am struck by what Jesus does NOT ask God for with the disciples in the entirety of chapter 17. He doesn’t ask for God to bless them with anything worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask God to have Judas not betray him or to help Thomas believe in the resurrection the first time Thomas is told about it. Jesus doesn’t ask God for advice on how best to act when arrested or what to do if the disciples abandon him. What Jesus does ask, is for God to be revealed in the disciples lives and for overall protection as they proclaim God’s love and work in the world. Jesus asks that they are one with each other and one with God, creator, redeemer and sustainer.
I can easily forget what prayer is really about and I need this reminder from Jesus. Prayer is not about me. It’s not even about you. It’s about God and connecting ourselves to the very heart of God which is about so much more than our day to day concerns and joys and yet is all about those day to day concerns and joys at the same time. Prayer is exactly what Jesus asks for in John-prayer is about being one in the life of God. One voice, one hope, one people. When we pray with and for one another, it’s a connection of relationship. It’s a time to create a holy space for God and each other in our busy lives. When I am praying for Matt and his family’s current situation, I am remembering that we are connected from our past, present and future relationship through God is truly present and promises to love us all. They occupy space in my life and in my heart.
Jesus knows that the most important action to model with his disciples before he is no longer with them day to day, is that of stopping, pondering and creating space in their lives for the mystery of God’s promise of continued and eternal relationship with them. All of the extraordinary actions Jesus had done cannot compare to knowing that you are important in the life of God and in the life of someone else. Jesus is naming in this prayer what is already true: we are one in the life and love of God and God’s Holy Spirit is with us always. Nothing changes that. But by saying or hearing the words “I’m praying for you,” it’s a reminder of the promise that this holy space has been created for you in the heart of a friend and in the heart of God. It’s knowing it’s already true that God’s Holy Spirit is connecting you to something bigger than yourself and to others and there may not always be adequate words for what comes from that space in your heart. This is why Paul writes in Romans 8 about the Holy Spirit interceding for us with sighs too deep for words.
Our very breath is prayer-it connects us to the breath of God that surrounds us. And this breath of God is in us all-our friends, our family, coworkers, those whom we don’t like, those whom we’ve never met. It’s what makes us one in the life of a relational Triune God. In deep unity, words aren’t even necessary, let alone supposedly articulate ones. When we are with someone who knows us well, we don’t even have to speak to communicate our thoughts. This is what Jesus prays for us all. That we know God so well that words aren’t necessary, to live fully in the here in now with one another in God’s love and to know we can rest in the promises of the sacred space created just for each of us in God’s heart with unconditional love, mercy, and grace. Thanks be to God.

 

#YesAllWomen (and men) don’t want to live in fear May 31, 2014

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I have been reading the tweets and blog posts all week from the #yesallwomen on Twitter and Facebook. Honestly, I did not jump in with any tweets or blogs of own until today. Why? It’s not because I am ambivalent or because I don’t think that I have faced discrimination. I am not ambivalent and I, too, was raised in the culture of both subtle and overt gender inequality and misogyny (as have all women, hence the hashtag). It struck me today that it was partially out of fear that I haven’t added my voice to this conversation. Fear. I was afraid of being labeled “one of those feminists.” I was afraid that to name some of the ways this affects me is to give it more power. I was afraid that my place of privilege as a white, heterosexual woman would be hurtful to my sisters who were LBGT or of another race. Let me say now that I understand that being born a white woman in America is akin to winning the lottery in other parts of the world. I have more resources, power and autonomy than most women in other countries will ever possess. I am beyond lucky and blessed-that is my privilege. When I realized that fear was keeping me from speaking out, I kicked myself for I am not a person who operates out of fear in my life. I have this privilege and I should use it to both reveal the brokenness in the world and the true presence of God and not allow fear to weigh into my decision making.

This social media conversation surfaced in me all the ways that fear does dictate my life and the lives of women. I am afraid to send my 17 year old daughter off to college. I’m not afraid that she will flunk out, I’m not afraid of the finances (well, maybe a little), I’m not afraid she won’t make friends. I am afraid of the statistics of sexual assault on our college campuses. I am afraid that what my daughter will really learn is that men are to be feared and not trusted. I’m afraid of these things because its what all women on a college campus learn. Don’t go out at night, don’t be alone, don’t walk down that street, don’t drink something that you didn’t watch be poured, don’t wear that dress, don’t be too nice to that guy, don’t touch that guy, don’t be too pretty, don’t be too smart. I wish I could say that all of that changes after college, but it never does.

It becomes subconscious the way the fear controls how women move in the world. Just today, I was at Target in the check out line, when a man came up behind me in line. He stood very close (too close) to me and was muttering something and looking at me intently. Yes, this might freak a man out as well, but I had in the matter of seconds four exit strategies in mind, what to do if he followed me, got my phone and keys out, and made note that I had spotted a police officer in the parking lot on my way in. Now, I am willing to bet that most men would not have thought that completely through all while buying granola bars. But women have been trained to do this as part of our daily routine. We don’t even realize we are doing it most of the time. We always have a worst case scenario running through our brains. When we see a man, we immediately do a risk assessment. How sad and heartbreaking is that?

This is why I am also afraid for my son. I am afraid that no matter how his dad and I have raised him to respect women, to see each woman as a beloved child of God (just as he is), to see women as equal partners in life, work and friendships, that he will be seen by women as a risk to be assessed. (My husband admits to crossing the street if he is approaching a woman who is by herself so as not to cause her any alarm.)

The #yesallwomen conversation brings to light what has been in the dark far too long. It gives space and voice to the reality that God didn’t create us for division and fear. God created men and women in God’s image to reveal the kingdom of God in the world, to reveal true Shalom peace and to treat each other with full respect and equality. God created us to speak truth and to hear truth from one another. God, our father and our mother, created us for unity and to affirm and celebrate our God given differences. So, I guess I am “one of those feminists” who believes that God is in this struggle, that this is not just about me and women but is about us all. What effects me, effects my husband, my daughter, my son, my best friend, her husband and children, my partners in ministry, my local and global neighbor.

Jesus prays in John 17: 11 and 21 that we may all be one. We are all one in this conversation and this is why I will not let fear determine my voice, my ministry or my life. What will you add, both my sisters and brothers, to this conversation? Don’t be afraid; we are all one in Christ.