A Lutheran Says What?

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

What Are You Wearing? Sermon on Ephesians 6: 10-20 August 22, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed on August 22, 2021 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18
Ephesians 6: 10-20
John 6: 56-69
Young Friends message: I remember that each year, no matter how old I was, I spent a great amount of time picking out my first day of school outfit. Do you all still do that? Yes, no? Well, sometimes we think about what we want to wear don’t we? What we wear sends a message to people about what we like, maybe band or unicorn t-shirts, or our school colors, or as we get older, some jobs have uniforms, like medical workers, construction workers. And what we wear tells people what we are doing, such as if we’re wearing workout clothes, or fancy clothes. I probably wouldn’t wear a fancy outfit to go for a run! Or my running clothes to a nice restaurant, although I’ve been tempted! And we definitely wouldn’t wear a swimsuit to play in the snow! The right clothes can matter. In our Ephesians bible story today, we hear about putting on the armor of God. What does that sound like to you? Kinda strange maybe? It does to me! But I got to thinking about it and I realized that maybe we need to remember that just as it’s important to wear the right clothes to be warm, or cool, or even safe, so too, our actions and our words are like our clothes that let people know about what we are doing and who we are. Telling the truth, being righteous which is a fancy word for being kind and a good friend, being peaceful, having faith that God is with us all, and that God will always be with us, which is salvation, and God’s Word of love, as we have in Jesus. We don’t think of that as “wearing anything” but just as we take time to decide what to wear for our day, we should take the time to decide to show God to other people. Let’s talk some more about that!

Somedays it is a challenge to decide what to wear based on weather, what I’m doing that day, meetings, off or on zoom, etc. I want to be ready for whatever the day brings. I will admit that the days I need to wear my clerics are days I spend less time staring in my closet. While that seems like a good thing, to have that easy choice, wearing this shirt comes with other side effects. I’ll notice that people star at me, treat me differently, call me “sister,” are very confused by my holding Mike’s hand or avoid me altogether. As a pastor, who happens to be female, in a world that a) is not accustomed to seeing people wearing clerics all that often, and b) a woman wearing a cleric, it can lead to situations that range from weird, to sublime, to disturbing, to downright hilarious. People expect me to behave a certain way when they see me in a clergy shirt that they don’t when I’m in the Target in my jeans and a t-shirt. And sometimes I forget that I’m in a cleric, and sometimes I’m all too aware. For instance, if I drive past a person asking for money on a corner, it’s tempting to remove my collar so that I can’t be identified as a pastor, when I don’t stop and offer money. I have a colleague from seminary, a woman as well, who said that sometimes this shirt can feel 500 pounds because of the expectations. I honestly have a love/hate relationship with wearing clerics. Sure, it’s an easy wardrobe choice, but this shirt sets me apart. It’s a lot of pressure and forces me to live carefully about the choices I make. Sometimes, only sometimes, I long to be a “normal” person.

While yes, maybe this clergy shirt does come with expectations, but when I consider whether to wear the shirt or not, I realize that those expectations are always present. As those expectations, don’t have anything to do with the clerics, but my baptism, who I am and whose I am. My identity is far beyond this shirt or any other piece of clothing I might wear. My identity of following Jesus is known by my words and actions and those should be consistent regardless of if I am in my clerics or not. Wearing this shirt, people expect me to behave ethically, morally, truthfully, lovingly. But shouldn’t that be true if I never put this shirt on again? And yet, I know that wearing this shirt forces me to remember; it holds me accountable. When those of us who do wear this shirt behave in ways that are incongruent with following Jesus, it harms the body of Christ. Sadly, every pastor or priest has let their people down, and I’m no different, for we’re human. And yes, there are horrible circumstances when priests and pastors have abused their positions and power, lied, stolen from people or the church, or made other choices that betrayed and denied their vows to God’s people and Church. And all too often the Church hasn’t done enough to protect people, or ensure that those perpetrating harm receive consequences. As Church leadership we must repent of the harm and abuse that hierarchy and clericalism has inflicted on the Body of Christ.  

We know all too well that the clothing itself doesn’t completely control identity, words and actions, just as wearing a stethoscope doesn’t make you a medical expert, neither does wearing clericals make you closer to God or a better disciple. Each day we choose our baptismal vocation.  That can indeed be a difficult thing to accept as Jesus points out in John’s gospel, as it does sound offensive that there is a choice to be made and it makes us uncomfortable like an itchy wool sweater. There is not any give or stretch, in any of today’s three texts and that might seem harsh or unloving, or ungraceful, but I would ask you to reconsider.
Joshua asks the people, who will you serve? The people proclaim God, but in the verses that we don’t read, Joshua correctly tells the people three times, that they won’t because on their own, they can’t. In Ephesians, we’re told to dress for a spiritual battle, not for violence or mayhem but for the real possibility that life will be hard, and we’d better be ready. Jesus asks the disciples and the twelve, why is the good news that I am the bread of life hard to accept? Do you want to leave? The choice is yours.
We like choice, but the choice we want is “can’t we say we love Jesus and then do whatever we want and just ask for forgiveness?” and the choice we get is “you either get it or you don’t.” This isn’t the Jesus we like or want to profess. But it is good news. Jesus says to the twelve, I called you, all of you, even the one who will betray me, but you can leave if you want. Joshua reminds the Israelites that God chose them as God’s people, rescued them, provided for them, and made a path for them, but won’t coerce them into relationship. The good news is that God chooses us, chooses you, chooses me, each and every day. That will never change. God desires for us to choose to love and serve God every day as carefully as we might choose our outfit. God desires for us to carefully put on what will reveal the kingdom of God in our lives and the lives of others: truth, righteousness in relationships with each other, peace, wholeness, faith, salvation-safety in the promises of God, and the word of God. The word of God made flesh in Jesus, that abides in us and we in him, no matter what. We are chosen, all people are chosen by God’s love. Being chosen doesn’t make us special but makes us accountable. We are chosen and the world is watching, Jesus says. What and who will we choose? Will we choose to wear the mask of compassion, the vaccine of community, the shoes of protest for compassion and dignity for our neighbor? Or will this be too difficult to accept, and we will walk away complaining that it’s too hard? This isn’t a guilt trip or a shame fest, my friends, it’s a fact of life. It’s a fact of life that all too many people are unwilling to face, that we are called to be bold in our witness and when others walk out of hard situations, as followers of Jesus, we choose to walk in. We walk in armed with the presence of God in the Holy Spirit, armed with the word of God, the love of God made flesh in Jesus, knowing that harm and suffering is not only possible but expected. But we walk in, because what else can we do? Our neighbor needs us: our sick neighbor, our Afghani neighbor, our Haitian neighbor, our scared neighbor, our angry neighbor. Where else can we choose to go? Jesus calls us by name, calls us to wear love, makes us holy and whole, with each other, all creation and God, and separation will be no more. Jesus IS the word of sustaining life for all, that covers us and sends us out ready to love and serve our neighbor. This is the promise. Amen.

 

Never Torn Apart August 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 1, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Exodus: 16: 2-4, 9-16
Ephesians 4: 1-16
John 6: 24-35

Young Friends message: I have here a Lego car from my son’s Lego collection. In order for this to look and work like a car, it took many pieces to be joined together. What happens when I take the wheel off? Is the wheel by itself a car? Can the car work without all four wheels? Nope! What happens in your family if someone doesn’t do their chores, then the rest of the family has to either do them or maybe dinner doesn’t get made, or laundry done. Church is like that too! Without people serving here in worship, or this Friday at Millcreek when we all helped to put up bulletin boards, it takes us all doing a little bit for great things to happen. God loves this, when we work together and this is what we’re reading more about in the letter to the Ephesian people today. God wants us to work together, to be like one object like this Lego car, for God’s love to shine. And so we put away our worries about ourselves. Which is hard, and sometimes we have to work with people we don’t like, or think differently than us, or have different needs. But God tells us that we are to look out for people who need something different and make sure that everyone is included. When we are missing someone or missing you, it’s like missing a piece of this Lego car, and then we don’t work as well. We need everyone, all ages, all stages, all sizes, all talents. And we need you! You matter in our community and I hope that you know that. It’s a hard concept called unity and we’re going to talk a little more about that as it’s hard for adults too!

I have a confession to make: I’m not sure what true unity is supposed to look like. I don’t. I want to know what unity looks like, and I find myself pondering and searching for how the words in Ephesians chapter 4 could be true. I desperately want them to be true. I shake my head every day at the lack of empathy in our society and wonder how in the world are we ever going to live into the oneness that Jesus prays for in John 17 and is laid out for us in the letter to the Ephesians. I looked up the Websters definition for unity and here’s what I found: “the quality or state of not being multiple, a condition of harmony, continuity without deviation or change as in for purpose or action, and finally, a totality of related parts, an entity that is a complex or systematic whole, being joined as a whole.” Never was it mentioned that unity meant all being the same, but the focus was on how pieces worked together as one. Perhaps what we need as a people is to review this definition from time to time. I know that I get caught in the false belief that unity is about sameness. Yet, oneness and sameness, are not the same thing and not even to be desired, Jesus says.

Unity is a hard reality for us to live into, as we tend to fear what or who is different. Fear makes unity, joining together for a common purpose, harder. Fear fragments us internally and propels us to cause external division and fragmentation. This week someone attempted to fragment us by cutting our RIC banner in half. Who it was is unknown and honestly, maybe it doesn’t matter all that much. Whomever it was is a child of God, who may feel that this sign of division instead of radical inclusion, they may confuse unity with sameness, and they felt a need to visually represent this fear by cutting the banner in half. They reacted to the idea of radical togetherness, after all being joined to people is scary stuff. Being joined to people who you know and don’t know is vulnerable. Being joined in purpose, action and life to people is indeed complex and may not always work how we think it should. When we’re joined together, our purpose or role might shift. This banner being cut in half could lead us to wonder if we’re cutting people off who believe that differences in sexual orientation, gender, or race either don’t exist and shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith. After all, isn’t one faith everyone believing the exact same thing? There are some who have a list of what or who shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith as “good Christians.”  Should “good Christians” be politically active? Support secular peace and justice movements such as BLM? Talk about sexuality, big business, climate change? Should “good Christians” hang out with people who listen to death metal, swear, drink or are into slasher movies?

 First off, I’m not sure what a “good Christian” even means as we are all saints and sinners and Jesus never really addresses this. Second, I believe we’re more comfortable figuring out how to be disjointed from certain people and activities than joined as one people with God as Jesus prays in John 17. When Jesus feeds the 5,000, he is joining them as one people, he is taking their fragmented lives and knitting them together. We rarely think about who was in that crowd being fed together, but statistically speaking, there were probably thieves, outcasts, sex workers, beggars, manipulators, shepherds, carpenters, moms, dads, surly teenagers, cute babies, grandmas, grandpas, addicts, essentially people of all kinds. I wonder if the miracle, the work of God, that Jesus is pointing in our gospel today, is less about the bread and fish, and more about everyone sitting down together. Sitting and standing next to people is very different. When you stand next to someone, you have a quick escape if you will. But we all know the angst of deciding who you’re going to sit with in the school cafeteria or in the south wing at fellowship time or here in worship. Maybe it’s why no one will sit up front with me? Once you sit down with someone, you’re stuck. You’re in this meal/fellowship/worship time together whether you like it or not. You’re joined together.

The irony is that our deepest fear as humans is being alone, cut off from what and who matters most. We want to be joined in relationships, just on our own terms. Jesus shows us that we are joined as one, but on God’s terms, and for God, everyone and everything is joined together. Nothing is excluded from God’s life and so, too, in our lives, including our lives of faith. As Lutherans, our heritage is built on the truth that every aspect of our lives is holy and belongs to God, even the parts we might be ashamed of. This is the work of God, Jesus says, that faith, belief in Jesus leads us to be joined together, even if it’s uncomfortable. God’s work is drawing us together as one body, to be one in faith, in the Spirit, in baptism, in love. That is the bread of life that sustains, as when we are joined to each other and God, our fragments are made whole, and we join one another ensuring food, shelter, health, and community to promote growth, flourishing, and thriving for all.  This is the action of unity, of love. This is the joining all aspects of our lives: the secular, the mundane, into our lives of faith. If harm is happening to any part of the body, we must speak that truth in love for our neighbor. Even if it’s unpopular and people try and cut us off. We are called to build each other up, not tear each other down.
Perhaps this is the unity that I am searching for. Perhaps this is the unity that whoever damaged our banner was searching for. The unity we aspire to in our welcome statement. True unity where we can’t cut each other off, even if we want to. True unity sitting together in tension and discomfort for the sake of the purpose of including everyone into God’s kingdom. True unity of together looking into the wilderness, into the uncertainty, as the Israelites did, and seeing the unwavering presence of God, who promises to always be joined to us, building us up in love each moment of each day. Love that joins us and refuses to let us be torn apart. It is unifying love that is above all, through all, is in all, joins all and builds us all up. Amen.

 

Beyond Our Imagination Sermon on Ephesians 3 and John 6 July 25, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 25, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

2 Kings 4: 42-44
Ephesians 3: 14-21
John 6: 1-21

Young Friends message: I’ve got a fun thing to show you to help us talk about how being together with people, impacts us. I have this plain jar of water and some water colors. If I put in the blue, what happens to the plain water? Yep, it combines with the blue and becomes a new color, one color together, they don’t separate. How about if I put in some yellow with the blue? Yep, it changes to green, do you know exactly what shade of green? Dark or light do you think? It’s hard to imagine the exact color isn’t it? Let’s see….yep its green! Not clear, blue and yellow, but a new color. Well, God created us, people, to be like this water. Every time we come together, we make a new thing. New experiences, new ideas, happen. Every time! We’re always new! We don’t stay the same, we don’t separate and stay our own self, but the parts of us combine. Sometimes we fight that and don’t like it as we don’t always know exactly what we will look like, or what we will do. But God wants to us to imagine, to dream about how we can combine our beautiful colors together and be even more beautiful. God wants us to use our imaginations about how to live together, how to do new things together that help each other, how to remember that God is making us more beautiful than we could ever imagine! We’re going to talk more about that.

“I just can’t imagine…” It’s a common phrase we use, isn’t it? Typically, we use it or hear it around events that seem completely beyond our experiences, positive or negative. It’s an expression that admits that our imaginations are limited, or perhaps that we intentionally limit our imaginations. After all, if we imagine too much, too wildly, too boldly, we could be labeled as unrealistic, a dreamer, or a problem. When we were young, many of us we had vivid imaginations didn’t we? We didn’t try and fit the world into neat categories. We imagined games, imagined that we were superheroes, imagined stories and songs, imagined what life was like on Mars or in the time of dinosaurs. We imagined that life was expansive and without limits. We imagined quite a bit. But then we stopped. We got older and became more practical and pragmatic. We felt foolish letting our imaginations run wild, so we imagined less for ourselves, for the world and yes God. And it seems when we imagine less, less is what we get.

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand people is in all four gospels and in three of the gospels, it’s followed by the story of Jesus walking on water. Two stories side by side that are fantastical, mysterious, and beyond our imagination, which I think is the point and why each gospel writer decided that these stories mattered in the life of their communities. Perhaps they too were constantly underestimating, under imagining what God can do.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of realism and insist that everything must be grounded in human reality and in what is humanly possible, instead of what God can do. Jesus sees the great crowd and tests Philip. Now, I get itchy with the word test, as tests always seem punitive to me, but that is not how Jesus means the question here. It’s not a trick, it’s a reflection. How will we feed all these people? Philip answers from his limited imagination that it’s not possible. Andrew does a little reconnaissance work and brings up the balance sheet of a young boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish and says there’s not enough. No imagination there either. I picture in my imagination Jesus sighing with compassion. In response to “how can we feed them?” Jesus basically says, “watch me.” And does. All by himself. In John’s gospel, the disciples don’t help. Jesus alone has the power, the imagination, the will to do what needs to be done, with or without human help. That’s not to say that the disciples aren’t important or not needed, but they won’t stand in the way of God’s power either. God is going to do what God is going to do. It’s better if we have the imagination to wonder and participate with God, but it’s not necessary.

Over the past 20 plus years of ministry, with a decade in pastoral ministry, I find myself wondering what God is up to and if my imagination is too limited. I need to take the prayer in our Ephesians passage to heart. This prayer is for the people to be grounded in the love and power of Jesus, not in human reality, or humanly possibility, but Jesus’ unrealistic, radical love. The prayer also proclaims that we will see God’s power to do more than we can ever ask or imagine. There is no talk of limitations, cost benefits, return on investments, risk management or the other ways that we limit ourselves and God.

How can we spark our own imaginations about the future, what God is doing in our own lives and as a faith community? Our council is embarking on some strategic planning in August, to prayerfully discern who God is calling us to become as OSLC. Part of the difficulty of imagining, I believe, is that we must imagine beyond ourselves and even our lifetimes. Over 60 years ago, a fledging congregation did just that and here we are today. It’s not about us and yet it is about us. God’s imagination for our futures and creation’s future, always encompasses us and is beyond us simultaneously. What do we imagine OSLC to be in five years? Ten? Twenty years? Who are we imagining will be here serving and loving God? Who will be in this room? How do we imagine them here in our midst today?

The disciples found it difficult to understand that Jesus’ imagination was always beyond their own, that Jesus comes to them and to us all, gathers and offer himself to people whom they would rather scatter and not deal with. Jesus sparked the disciples, and our, imaginations of what God is up to whenever two or three are gathered. We will do things differently, respond to different needs, create different ministries and let other ministries cease. We’ll have to reimagine relationships, what it means to dwell, with our neighbors and with Jesus. Jesus coming to us, moving into to our hearts, minds, lives, WILL change us, much like roommates change us, children change us, spouses change us. Dwelling together forces us to consider and to imagine different life patterns. God’s power is at work gathering community right here, right now, and we can’t stop it. That is good news my friends; our limited imagination can’t stop God. And how will we respond? We can double down on how things used to be or be imaginative and excited about what could be. Maybe its worshiping on Sunday evenings with dinner church, instead of Sunday mornings, maybe it’s using our land for unhoused youth or families, maybe it’s considering using our building for immigration assistance, childcare, or elder care. What if God’s call is beyond our imagination?

Jesus will come to us, will walk through any obstacle to meet us where we are in our fear, in our limited imaginations, in our uncertainty. Jesus’ powerful love that is for all people, imagines us as connected as one body, through his body. Jesus will work through us, in us and with us, and around us if necessary, to transform us and the entire world. We are a witness to God’s imaginative, abundant and powerful love for the people of God today, and tomorrow. We pray to imagine and be grounded in this truth. Amen.

 

Being Offended and God’s Story of Grace John 6: 56-69 Pentecost 13B, August 23rd, 2015 August 23, 2015

If you're going to be offended all the time. maybe the internet isn't the place fot you

 

We are people who get offended pretty easily it seems. I saw a meme on FB, a random picture with a pithy statement, that was Star Trek The Next Generation’s Captain Picard with the words, “If you’re going to be offended all of the time, maybe the internet isn’t for you.” I got a chuckle out of that, as how many of us can knock out going from “ohhing and awwwing” over cute cat videos one minute  to being  absolutely incensed the next minute by someone’s opinion on politics, war, poverty, religion or Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. I mean really, are they going to name this next baby South West to go with her sister North West? But I digress. We enter into any conversation, situation and environment (virtual or actual) with a preconceived set of ideas about the world according to us. We have to admit that we all have a story that we tell ourselves and live into that shapes how our lives should be, how our interactions with one another should be, even how people around us should be. We have an awful lot of “should’s” if we’re completely honest.  

We are bombarded all day long with other people trying to tell us stories of who we are and what we should be too. Media tells us the story that we aren’t rich enough, smart enough, thin enough, successful enough, strong enough, etc. We are told stories at work or school of what we need to learn or change about ourselves in order to fit in, or make others happy. We internalize these stories and begin to believe them. We filter all of our actions and interactions through these stories that may or may not even be true. We allow others-including other people we don’t even know- to write our story. These stories that we are told from the culture all have one thing at their core and foundation: they are written on the premise of fear. These are stories that are intentional about striking fear into us, often under the guise of being motivational, or good for us or what we really need to hear. So we become people of the story of fear; fear of being alone, not enough, and fear of not  being lovable. We internalize these stories of fear and perpetuate and transfer our fear onto other people. We don’t want to be alone in this fear, so we ensure that others are just as fearful as we ourselves.

The crowds that had been gathered around Jesus throughout this long discourse in John 6 are receiving Jesus’ words and message through the filter of the story that they told themselves in order to make sense of their world. We read that Jesus was in the synagogue telling the large crowd of his disciples (the assumption here is that there were more than the 12 who had been following Jesus, this was a group who had probably been following him for a little while) about how Jesus (as God incarnate) would dwell, abide, with them always if they ate his flesh and drank his blood. This story did not even come close to jiving with what they knew of God from the Torah and the story from Exodus about manna from heaven. (Not to mention the cannibalistic undertones!)That story was one of finitude, the Israelites still died as that bread was only about their physical bodies. Jesus was telling them a sequel to that story, that God was doing a new thing in Jesus. God was writing a story of gathering all people to God through Jesus. God was expanding the story from being about only abiding with those of Israelite descent to abiding with all of creation.   

That was not the story that some of these people knew or with which they were comfortable. The story they knew was that some were in and some were out of God’s kingdom depending on if they followed the rules. In John 3, Nicodemus had also struggled with this when Jesus told him that God loved the whole world. But Jesus is pointing out that the only rule is that Jesus is for anyone and everyone. Through simple bread and wine, not complex rules, Jesus gathers everyone to God  and offers life with God forever. This would be a story that would be difficult to hear and internalize indeed. If God declares everyone part of God’s redemption, then what about their story that they had been living with all of their lives that they had to act and think a certain way for God to love them? What did that mean for them? Were they not as special as they thought? Is there enough of God’s love, mercy and grace to go around if we’re now including everyone-even people with a radically different story from themselves? This was not only difficult for those gathered with Jesus in the synagogue that day; it’s difficult for us today.

It can be offensive to us that someone that we don’t like, don’t agree with or don’t understand could receive the same love, grace and acceptance from God that we do.  But here’s what I think offends us even more: that God’s story of unconditional love, grace and mercy is OUR STORY no matter what we say or do. That God declares that the stories we tell ourselves that are egged on by the narcissistic, fearful culture are null and void. It’s offensive to us that God’s story overrides whatever story we tell ourselves and it’s God’s story that changes us, not anything we ourselves do. God’s story transforms our stories and writes anew each and every day on our hearts the truth-the whole beautiful, yet painful and often self-shattering truth that our fear does not free us, our actions are not what save us and our thoughts are not the story that God tells about us.

God’s grace through Jesus Christ is indeed offensive! It arrives right smack dab in the middle of whatever story we are living with and declares that the only story that matters is the one that God tells. Period. But it’s not the end, it’s only the beginning. God’s story is that of coming to dwell with us in the very messy, and offensive flesh of a human being.  God’s story is Jesus revealing that God dwells with us and in us and in all people. Bread, wine and word are not only about sustenance for today, but when ingested not just through our mouths but through our hearts is God’s story literally inside of us, transforming us. God transforms us from worrying about ourselves to living for and with our neighbors. We are transformed from the inside out-to reach out to those different from us, to offer our time at Habitat, Ronald McDonald House, or Denver Rescue Mission. Or to stop and take the time to know and care for those in our community whom we know that no one else will take the time for. Transformed to truly love those we find unlovable, maybe even ourselves.

These teachings that transform us are difficult to accept-they are risky because they rewrite our story. It might seem easier to keep walking in our story and not continue in God’s story-the world wants you to think so. But even when we might think we can choose to go away, Jesus stays with us. Peter had a sense of this, that even if he left, Jesus wouldn’t leave him. It wasn’t that Peter had more faith, or knew the secret handshake with Jesus that gave him the inside scoop, but Peter had watched Jesus over and over go to people whom the rest of the world found offensive and offered them life with God.

Peter was hearing the story-the words of eternal life-the story of God doing a new thing and Peter was resting in the hope that this story was true because the story that the world had sold him about his life up to this point, only brought certain death, rejection and a lifetime of fear. Peter was willing to see what the next chapter of this story might be, because Jesus was telling a story that offered hope for the journey, accompaniment for the road, abundant life and most importantly, the promises of God to never leave him and to love him forever.

Lord of the Hills, to whom shall we go? Jesus is telling us a story right here, right now of eternal life, telling us a story of generosity, a story of abundance, a story of being enough and having enough. God’s story is smack dab in the middle of our story as a congregation. Lord of the Hills, to whom shall we tell this rich and achingly beautiful, yet offensive story? We know it by heart as we hear it over and over each week. We heard the story of God’s redemption and claiming in water at Eleanor’s baptism, we hear the story of God’s actions for liberation from sin and death at Holy Communion, and we hear the story of God’s love and grace as we gather together for coffee after worship. We experience the story of God’s promises for presence and eternal life now and forever each and every day, with each breath and heartbeat, for Jesus is the Holy One of God. It’s a best story ever told and we live it with God everyday. Amen.

 

A Pack of Gum and the Kingdom of God, John 6: 35-51, Pentecost 11B, Aug. 9th, 2015 August 9, 2015

My son Andrew’s love language is gifts. If you know anything about the Five Love Languages Book you’ll know that someone whose love language is gifts, love not only to receive gifts but to give them. It’s more than just a gift exchange at Christmas. If I go to the grocery store and bring back a pack of gum for Andrew, he is as happy as it were Christmas morning and he received everything on his list. He finds joy in the everyday ordinary gifts that might come his way, even second hand gifts. I recently gave him an old netbook and he was as happy as a clam even though it is slow and doesn’t really have a battery life anymore. You see, what Andrew really likes about gifts is that someone is thinking of him. When you offer him a pack of gum you picked up at the grocery store that says to him, “I was thinking about you even though we weren’t together.” For Andrew, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, this has been a great reminder to me as his parent. He naturally sees the special where I see mess, ordinariness or something to complain about. How many of us would look at a pack of gum and say, “This isn’t a special gift! Isn’t this just some Trident from the impulse buy section by the cash register at King Soopers?” When really we shouldn’t complain because the gift isn’t really the object but the relationship the object implies.
I think we often miss the extraordinary in the ordinary. We look at the world so practically, logically and we attempt to make sense of all of our interaction with each other and even with God, through the lens of ourselves, our perspectives and our own motives. But God reaches down to us and disrupts our way of seeing the world. This is being revealed as we move through the 6th chapter of John a bit more and we see Jesus in the aftermath of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus fed them all and had leftovers, walked on water, and began explaining that it is God who has sent Jesus and promises to fill them with good things always. And in our latest installment of the story, Jesus reveals that God’s way is different from our way. God’s promises are richer than we could ever imagine, God’s love is deeper than we will ever know and God’s grace is more expansive than we can wrap our heads around. Jesus is using the very ordinary, everyday bread to try and get the crowds to catch a glimpse of what God is up to in the world through Jesus. This isn’t about following certain rules, being in the right place at the right time, or some sort of magical experience. No, this is about the reign of God that really frees those who are in any captivity, that really feeds all who are hungry, that really gives hope to the hopeless and mercy to the brokenhearted. This is God walking around with us in our ordinary lives, loving us and forgiving us in concrete, ordinary ways that reveals more plainly than we are willing to admit that God is in everything, in everyone, and is everywhere, all of the time. God is in the ordinary bread and the crowds, more accurately translated as the Judeans than the Jews, won’t believe it.
Jesus is special? This carpenter’s son? This boy with whom we used to go to synagogue? This dirty, scruffy, rough around the edges guy who hangs out with even dirtier, scruffier and rougher people is going to give us the eternal life with God? God has come down to us here on this ordinary countryside and not in the temple?
Like the Judeans, we don’t recognize Jesus all of the time because we like God clean, in pure white robes, holy in a special place and only on high holy holidays. You know so that we can control and keep track of where God is, what God is doing and who or what God is working through. We like God in a nice pretty box with a bow. That makes more sense to us. After all, that’s how we think about our lives with each other, some people have more status and clout and they often look like it. There are just certain people who should be kept at a distance, such as celebrities, politicians and those whom we might admire.
But praise God, that’s not how God works. God sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. God created us, ordinary people, in God’s extraordinary image for relationship with us. Jesus, as God made flesh (you’ll recall from John 1), is all about God’s deep desire to be with us. God’s motive is only to offer us all of Godself, as everything and the only thing that we need, even if we can’t recognize it. It’s not magic, it’s not self serving, it’s not God in a special place with special things, it’s God in the ordinary, objects and people so plain, that we are apt to miss it as the crowds did.
It’s completely extraordinary that Jesus gathers us, ordinary people, with ordinary lives, each week around an ordinary wooden table, with bread we bought at an ordinary grocery store and frankly pretty cheap, ordinary wine and grape juice. But don’t miss it, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary because the love and mercy of Jesus reveals our relationship with God. Jesus is present and promises to be in the ordinary each and every day of our lives, not just in beautiful worship spaces on Sunday mornings. It’s extraordinary that Jesus is sent to gather all people to God for eternal relationship with God and, extraordinarily, with each other, since all are created in God’s image. The extraordinary work of God is not nice and neat, it’s not linear, we don’t always see it, or get it but Jesus says that God is always at work where you least expect it. It might look like a pack of gum from the impulse aisle or a dirty, messy throng of people eating bread and fish with bare hands on the ground.
God is always at work in our relationships at our jobs, our schools, and in our neighborhoods. God is at work in our political systems, our social systems and anywhere two or three are gathered, so yes, even the DMV! I saw God at work this weekend as I ran the Ragnar Relay Race with 11 other pastors in the mountains. You would think that it would all be very competitive at a running race, but it was a place where I watched strangers offer encouragement, water, accompaniment, food, rest, and relationship. Ordinary water shared, revealed God’s work of relationship with us and for each other, ordinary food shared God’s work of nourishing us and each other, ordinary words of encouragement shared God’s work of caring for our spirit and for each others spirits.
Where will you see God’s extraordinary work in the ordinary this week? How will we as a community reveal the work that God is doing in us, for us, and with us for the sake of the world? Ordinary bread, ordinary wine, ordinary water, ordinary words do extraordinary things in the kingdom of God. We are transformed by these ordinary things to be the extraordinary people that God created us to be. God’s extraordinary love is at work in you, in me and in all of creation. Jesus has indeed come to us from heaven, from God’s kingdom as an ordinary person, not be set apart but to walk with us, each and every ordinary day, offering us deep and real relationship with God, now and forever. Thanks be to God!