A Lutheran Says What?

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

Letter to OSLC On Racism May 30, 2020

Dear OSLC Family,

Words escape me for what is happening in our collective life in this country. Yet, as a public leader, as a theologian, your pastor, as a human, as a follower of Jesus, I must speak out even when it’s hard. I’m struck by the words of Jesus from the John 20 reading for this week’s gospel: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus sends the disciples into the world to be the Church, and to name sin when they see it in action.  Friends, we must name the sin that we are witnessing with horrific and murderous consequences: the sin and evil of systemic racism. We have to name the murder of George Floyd, and so many others Ahmaud Arbery, Breeona Taylor, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland to name a few, as unjust murder. I know that this topic may make some of you uncomfortable, and possibly angry with me that I am “being too political.”  I can tell you that even writing (and now speaking) these words are not comfortable for me either, yet I must say them because politics is about how we live together as humanity. Our own confession of sin, as found in our book of worship, proclaims that if we don’t name our sin, the truth is not in us. The truth is, structural and systemic racism is evil and sinful. It denies our siblings who are black and brown full and abundant life. It denies them the very breath that Jesus breathes into all of God’s people. It denies us all the fullness of our humanity. Our health, well-being and liberation from sin is inextricably bound up in health, well-being and liberation from sin of all people. If one part of humanity is harmed, we all are harmed.

As people of faith who are white, we have hard work to do for this sin and evil to be healed. We must admit our own complicity, comforts and benefits of the current system of racism. We must renounce and repent of our witting and unwitting participation each day that upholds this unjust social structure of racism and white supremacy (not to mention all unjust social structures). This work will be difficult, risky and decentering. We must listen to and center the voices of people who are suffering in the system of racism, we must lend our voices when appropriate and called upon (this alone will be great learning), and we must act to dismantle racism in our lives, congregation, community, country and world.

This risky work will cost us something; Jesus never denies that picking up our crosses and following him will be easy or safe. Jesus says that he came to divide, those who will stand for the truth of the gospel and those who will continue to be complicit in the ways of the world. The truth of the gospel demands that we lay down our lives for our siblings, that this is what love looks like, our own deaths. Love that risks family and friends distancing themselves from us as we tell hard truths and learn to walk the walk of antiracism. Love that engages in difficult and uncomfortable conversations for the sake of learning, growth and abundant life for all people regardless of color, gender, sexual orientation, class, race or creed. Love that hangs in tenaciously despite fear, exhaustion or uncertainty. Love that commits to change and to do better for the sake of our neighbor in need. We won’t do this perfectly, we will make mistakes, I will make mistakes, (I’m likely making mistakes in this very letter) but when we do make a mistake, we learn and do better.

Yes, I know that we are also in the midst of a pandemic and the uncertainty of many aspects of our lives together is palpable. We are uncertain of when our building will open and when we will have in-person worship. We are uncertain of how the church will change in the coming year (as it will have to). Yet, the pandemic has highlighted what has been certain in this country for 400 years: that not all lives have mattered, particularly lives of black and brown people. The certainty that black and brown people are dying of COVID19 at a higher rate and is out of control on the Navajo Nation in our own state. The certainty that those who are essential and have to work in public are predominately people of color. The certainty that many people of color lack health care. In the midst of our own uncertainties, some things are certain.

AND, there is the certainty of God’s presence, the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit to prod us to do hard things. God’s power, as witnessed in our Acts texts by wind and fire, is poured out to us today, connects us as one, unified humanity, and gives us the ability to speak and hear the languages of our siblings-do we hear them? Do we hear their cries of fear, lament and injustice-even if it’s a language we don’t know such as protests and riots? Can we hear the language of oppression and anger that hasn’t been previously heard and taken seriously? Can we hear the language of looting as a language learned from white culture that has looted other cultures for our own benefit for centuries? Can we hear the words “I can’t breathe” and offer our own breath in solidarity?

My friends, I don’t have any answers. I don’t know where this journey of dismantling racism in ourselves and the country will lead us.  I do know that I have a vision of unity and love with this hard work. I do know that we must take the first step of being on the path. I will be offering a book club to explore this hard conversation this summer and probably into the fall. We will start with the book “How to be and Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. Look for details of when to come in the enews. This is only a baby step, the prayer is that it will lead to leaps of faith.

Thank you for your faithful work in a world that offers no reward in return for this work. Thank you for your commitment to the gospel of Jesus, particularly when it’s difficult. Thank you for taking your baptism into the mission of God’s Kingdom, for reconciliation and freedom of all, to your heart, head and soul. Thank you for listening and contemplating this letter. It’s a privilege to be your pastor. Please know that I am always available for a phone call, a Facetime or a Zoom for conversation. I know that this is hard but we are in this together. We are not alone.  Jesus says “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 20.

In the love of Christ, Pastor Brigette

 

 

 

FOMO or What Thomas is Missing Sermon for Easter 2A April 18, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on April 19, 2020. It can be viewed on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC channel. Please subscribe! Check out our Children’s Worship videos too!

The texts were:

Acts 2:14a, 22-36
1 Peter 1: 3-9
John 20: 19-31

Maybe you have heard the term: FOMO-it’s a shorthand to refer to a very human state of being: Fear Of Missing Out. It starts early in our lives, such as at Christmas or birthdays and it seems that everyone else got a better present. Or when we see all the cool things our friends are doing on social media, like going to concerts or vacations and we think “hey, why am I not invited?” or “why am I not having that much fun? It’s not fair!” It’s a fear of missing something important or a fear of not being important ourselves. Well, I don’t know about you but as we have journeyed through these past few weeks, I am noticing that I have a serious case of FOMO, all the stuff I’m missing out on. Gathering with all of you for worship, Easter, going on vacations, time with friends and family, and the list goes on. And not just me, but my family, such as my son’s and niece’s college and high school graduations, respectively, which are canceled. I’m sad for them as they are missing out on an important milestone in their lives. No parties, no pomp and circumstance, no robes, no boring speeches. This all leaves a hole, a gap. It’s a fear that I’m missing out on life, that I’m not complete. Or maybe I’m just afraid that I don’t matter without all of these events, or not noticed, or not missed. Or just plain afraid.

This idea of FOMO resonated with me as I read our gospel passage from John today. I think Thomas gets a bad rap from people who aren’t comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s the evening of that first resurrection day, and the disciples are huddled in fear of the Temple authorities and probably the Roman ones too. We get the translation they are in a house, but “house” isn’t in the Greek. The doors “of where they were” were locked. We don’t know where the disciples are, and it doesn’t matter as Jesus shows up-through the locked doors. He comes to them in their fear and gives them peace and breathes into them-reminding us of God breathing into the first human. And then affirms that the Holy Spirit is with them and they are to go to tell people that they are freed from their sins because of Jesus. The disciples now have their own experience of the risen Lord, like Mary from that morning and it seems to have quelled much of their fear. But not all the disciples are now without fear, we learn, as for some reason Thomas wasn’t with them, he was missing. Why, we don’t know. Maybe he had something else to do? A family member to care for, or maybe he was the disciples’ designated person to go get food, a daily task in the ancient world.

When Thomas returned, his friends told him “We have seen the Lord!” What happens next is often misinterpreted as Thomas doubting. I don’t think he doubted them-I think he was upset with missing out on his own experience of Jesus! He had a hole, a gap in his life. Like us, Thomas didn’t like the feeling of FOMO. He wanted to be part of the group, see what they saw, know that he was important to Jesus too, and not be physically distanced. What we hear from Thomas is sadness, fear, anger and lament. But not doubt.

A week later, Jesus comes again and he acknowledges Thomas’ FOMO. He tells him to touch his wounds, we don’t know if Thomas really does, but just being in the presence of Jesus was enough for him. Jesus then says to him, “don’t unbelieve, but believe.” The word doubt isn’t actually here in the text. Its “unbelieve.” In John’s gospel, to believe is to know that you are in relationship with God, it’s to know that you are loved and that you love in return. When Jesus says, “don’t unbelieve” it’s not to shame or scold, but to remind Thomas that his relationship with Jesus is sure, he’s important to Jesus and he won’t and can’t miss out on the promises of God just because he wasn’t there the first time. Thomas is indeed part of the wholeness of life with Jesus.

It seems that right now there are lots of gaps and holes in our lives. We’re not able to participate in life with the ones we dearly love as we want and we feel inadequate, sad, scared and even angry. I know I do. We’re people who are used to being physically with other people, and we feel complete and affirmed when we are together. We, like Thomas, are afraid of what we can’t experience, what we’ve missed, and being disconnected from what matters.

But Jesus comes to us through our locked doors and our locked hearts, breathes into us the breath of God that connects us to the very life of God and each other no matter where we are. Jesus comes to us with his own wounds, his own story of suffering, fear, pain and death and says that there is more than this story of fear for us too. There is abundant life, and we won’t miss it. Jesus breathes life into us and shares with us peace through the Holy Spirit. This peace doesn’t end our fears or difficult circumstances but offers to be with us as we walk through it, to heal us and reveal that there is more than our present situation. We don’t have to worry about not being in the right place at the right time, because God is in every place and every time and will find us.  Jesus comes to us and reassures us that we won’t, we can’t, miss out on relationship with God, God’s promises and life together, for God won’t allow it. We don’t live in fear of missing out, we live in the promise of being whole in the love, hope and life of the risen Christ. Christ is risen! Alleluia!