A Lutheran Says What?

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

Out of the Mud Sermon on John 9 Lent 4A March 21, 2020

This sermon was preached/recorded at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church for Lent 4A March 22, 2020 in Holladay, UT

The text was John 9: 1-41

I’ve always wondered about those mud wrap spa treatments, maybe you’ve had one. Or use the mud masks on your face. Some people say that it is good for their skin, that it’s relaxing and when the mud masks are washed away, their skin looks different, glows, is radiant and is smoother. That might be, I’ll probably never know. I will admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of mud on me, anywhere on me. Living in OR and WA, I have encountered plenty of mud in my time, mostly that which my children dragged in, but I would also run trails in OR that were often muddy. But I mostly spend a good amount of time avoiding mud, muck and general icky. I mean, someone will have to eventually clean that up and that someone is usually me. And as we enter spring and spring rains, things are getting muddy. But I’ve also noticed this week how out of mud, bursts forth colorful flowers, plants, worms for birds and other sorts of life.

So it’s not shocking that what stood out to me this week in our John text was all the mud. And on top of that, mud mixed with spit. That is NOT Coronavirus approved by the way. Jesus encounters this man who was born blind and the first question that the disciples wonder is who or what is to blame for this man’s mucky predicament? Who messed up Jesus? Jesus responds that no one messed up. Some things just are BUT watch and see what God is up to. And with that, he spits on the ground, totally gross even if there wasn’t a pandemic, and makes mud. I can imagine that maybe Jesus made mud pies as a little boy, as little boys do, proudly offering one to his mother who would smile politely as she accepted this treasure wondering how she would dispose of it without hurting her little boy’s feelings. Jesus scoops up this mud and smears it without permission on the mans eyes and says go wash. The man washes and can see! His life is changed forever. We would assume that this miracle would simply return him to what we think of as status quo, the way things should be for him had he been born with sight.

But that doesn’t happen. With the new vision, comes a new role in the community. He had been known only by his ailment and his position as a beggar, but now, now there was no going back to any semblance of what was for him or the people who knew him. This is alarming to those who are tasked with keeping everything in order, clean, neat and sanitized, in this text, called the Jews, which in John always refers to the Jewish authorities. This man was no longer in his place, his transformation muddied the social structure, not to mention the fact that he had been healed on the Sabbath day. This is a direct violation of the rules. The pharisees interrogate the man, and when they don’t like his answer, they interrogate his parents, who out of fear bounce that ball back into their son’s court. A second time they ask this healed man, about who healed him on the sabbath, only to hear that this man simply testify to his experience with Jesus. “Here’s what I know! I was blind but now I see.” But the infuriated pharisees, drove him out of the synagogue. It seemed cleaner to cut him off from the community than to allow his testimony and experience with Jesus dirty the theological waters.

Jesus finds this man again but remember the man has never seen Jesus up to this point, he has only heard his voice. So, when Jesus tells him that he has seen the Son of Man, the human one sent by God, the man suddenly sees everything. He sees the love for the world shining as bright as the sun in the form of the Son of God. The man sees that the world, not just his own world, but the world for everyone, is now changed. What was clear before is now muddy and what was muddy before is now clear.

Sometimes it takes getting covered in mud to really see. We are in a time of muddiness, murky waters and we long for clarity. It feels as if we should be able to just wipe the mud from our eyes and then we can go back to the way things should be, before we were covered in the muck of this pandemic. Yet, in the mess, we see things differently. We see how important connections really are. We see how interconnected we are locally and globally, and that one action impacts us all. We see our interconnectedness with the earth-I don’t think that it’s an accident that pollution levels are falling where people are being told to stay in. The water in Venice is clear enough for the first time in decades to see the fish and dolphins have returned. Our eyes are opened to how important retail and restaurant workers and truckers are in our society. Our eyes are opened to the needs of those who are already on the edge financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Our eyes are being opened to what we thought was clarity and vision was perhaps never all that clear. Maybe we’re in the process of being healed from the vision we had for how life should be just a few weeks ago, to what God desires for us and creation. Maybe we’re being healed from what we saw as important for our communal life together for seeing God’s vision of the beloved community. The pharisees saw only rules, order, traditions and authority. Jesus showed them that what matters is love, compassion, and community. Jesus showed them that they had been blind to the needs, the dignity and the divinity in the people around them, but that healing was available for them too. People, real people, mattered more than contrived rules, order or traditions. To bring people to the fullness of life, to be healed and made whole in the love and grace of God, sometimes those things that we see as the only way to live together have to be circumvented and abandoned, they might have to die.

As we willingly physically distance for a few weeks, we know that this is about people, real people, and not about our own comforts, wants and preferences. As we wash the mud of how life used to be from our eyes to be healed to see what is now, we see that church, God’s people was never about a building. It’s nice, but what clearly matters is our relationship to God and one another. Just as the man’s life was changed, so will ours going forward. We’ve seen too much in the past few weeks to just go back. Healing isn’t always easy, sometimes healing is painful, messy and hard. It requires rest, new patterns, the washing of wounds and often care from one another.

What if this is time of healing? What if Jesus is saying to us, go and wash the mud off your eyes and tell me what you then see? Can we see that Jesus is the light of the world and we are to reflect that light too?  Out of abundant and steadfast love, God sent Jesus to heal us and make us whole now, not someday but today. Maybe not in our physical bodies, but to heal our hearts, minds, spirits and our relationships. And not only heal us but the entirety of creation, for we are intertwined. Yes, things are muddy right now, but out of mud comes growth. Out of mud comes new life. Out of the mud comes the promises of God through Jesus that nothing can drive us away from God’s love and care. Amen.

 

 

Jesus the Door Sermon on John 10: 1-10 Easter 4A May 7, 2017 May 10, 2017

 

The gospel text was John 10:1-10 for May 7, 2017. This can be viewed on http://www.bethanylive.org. The sermon is marked in the archived service.

As many of you know, Mike and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time in Paris last week. It is the first time either of us have been to Europe, although our children have been able to go a few times. The architecture there is stunning with treasures discovered at the turn of every corner. One of the surprises for me (after 28 years together!) was that Mike had a draw towards all the different types of doors that we encountered on the streets, at places such as Notre Dame or Versailles. Many people are drawn to doors and there is much study both psychologically and theologically as to why. Doors, or entry ways, can represent opportunity, protection, change, risk, and excitement. We know that doors have an impact on us, on our brains. How many of you have ever walked into a room to do something and the second you cross the threshold, you forget what that task was? We all do it! There has been research done on this and it turns out that crossing a threshold actually reorients us and transforms us! Going through a door, or entry way, causes our brains to work differently. Going through a door adds possibilities to our brains and therefore pushes whatever we originally considered important, out and allows new input to come in. Doors can broaden our vision, take us to a new place, to new people, to new thoughts.

Today we hear Jesus proclaim: I am the gate. I was struck when I learned that the word “gate” can also mean “door” and it is the same word that is used in John 20 when Jesus walks through the locked doors to the disciples and breathes the Holy Spirit into them. How cool is that! This word gets interpreted as gate here with the context around it of sheep and shepherds but door is most likely a better translation, particularly since we need remember that these ten verses are not a new story.  The beginning of John 10 is actually the end of  the story of the man born blind in John 9 that I happened to preach on March 26, so I don’t know if it’s a Holy Spirit thing that I also have the opportunity to preach on the rest of the story or just bad luck for you all! The first part of John 10 is Jesus still talking to the Pharisees-who were opposing Jesus, the disciples and the man whom he healed. To refresh your memory, there was a man who was born blind and Jesus, with his disciples, came upon him as they were traveling. To be a person with a disability meant that you were an outcast, unclean, sinful somehow and walled off from the community. This man begged for what little people would give him for sheer survival. Jesus healed him, ostensibly returning him to community, full human dignity and worth. But the Pharisees and others, were suspicious of his claim of miraculous healing from Jesus and threw him out of the community. Jesus finds the man again and tells the Pharisees and the disciples that there is more than one way to be blind and sin can separate us from God and blind us from the grace that is freely given to us and we should give to our neighbors.

Our John 10: vs. 1 is simply a continuation of Jesus explaining why God has sent him to dwell among us, why Jesus heals, brings outcasts into community, offers true sight, and true life to all people. Jesus uses all kinds of symbolic speech to broaden our vision of what Jesus came to do: He is living water, bread of life, the light of the world and here, a door. Not a door that excludes, but a door that appears in unexpected places and times, a door that offers hope, and swings wide open to for all to enter. The man born blind, heard the voice of his savior long before he saw him and Jesus spoke words of invitation to him to enter through the door of healing, a door where this man would know that he is a part of the community and love of God, a door that broke through the walls of religious and cultural law to reveal new possibilities, transformation and abundant life. The man had spent his whole life with the understanding that there was no way for him to bridge the wall of his blindness and separation from community. He would have been without much hope for anything different than what he had experienced each day of his life. Until he heard the voice of Jesus coming to him, making a way where before none existed, being a door, an entry way, to a different kind of life that included being transformed in God’s grace for the sake of sharing his encounter with the one who offered him life.

(Children’s sermon) I would like to invite the children to come up: Just like he didn’t leave the man born blind alone and in the dark, Jesus will always find you, call to you and be the door to all that God promises us: God promises that you will have what you need for your life-what do you really need? Yep! Do we really need toys or lots of clothes or the newest scooter? No! There nice to have, but being with God and each other is waaaaay more important than stuff! Jesus will always tell us to be with our family and friends before we worry about stuff-and we can listen for Jesus voice to remind us of that. What are things that we can do to help us to listen for the voice of Jesus? Jesus will call us through the door to be with him and each other! ok, I need you five to link arms tightly and make a wall. Can you do it? No, it’s hard! Now you are going to be Jesus and go delink their arms and make a doorway for the other children. Now make a doorway over here….Jesus does this for us! Jesus makes a path or a way for us when it seems that there isn’t one or it seems impossible. Through Jesus, we are brought into a community of love, life and hope. All that we need to know that we are loved and we need to share love! We’re going to talk a little more about that, so you can go back your families, Thank you for helping!

How do we know it’s the voice of Jesus calling us to walk through his door to abundant life? How do we know it’s not really the thieves or bandits Jesus warns us about? Throughout the bible, God’s story of love for us, we read that abundant life with God is all about relationship with God first and foremost. When we are in relationship with God, we recognize God’s presence, God setting the feast before us, even when enemies of disease, isolation, and fear are present. The door of peace and comfort is opened by God for us. Abundant life with God brings us into relationship with other people as well. In Acts, the community the Apostles and early followers of Jesus, called The Way, was hallmarked by worshipping together, continuing to learn about the promises of God for them and all people, breaking bread together and praying. Abundant life was not about possessions but about a life oriented on God and neighbor. Jesus as the door, ushered them into a new room, a new way of living that changed their hearts, souls and minds and caught the attention of thousands of new people day by day.

Jesus is indeed a door that to a new way of living, being and doing. Jesus calls to us over and over to walk through the door, even when it seems difficult or impossible because the thieves and bandits of the world will try and tell you that there is a wall, a divide that you just can’t cross, that you need to stay in your place or you’re not good enough to enter. Or the thieves and bandits will tell you that it’s all about you, your needs and to stay on this side of the wall where you are lured by false sense of control, need for more and more stuff, or prestige. Jesus’ voice will cut through that noise to call us to the door of himself that gathers us, loves us and transforms us in the truth that we are enough, have enough and are the beloved community. Whatever we had thought was important regarding our lives before we crossed the threshold to Jesus, is reoriented to what God proclaims is important: Loving God with our whole, entire being and our neighbor. Living in the truth that we are all God’s beloved people. We aren’t to keep this abundant life to ourselves but reveal it to people all around us.  This week look at doors in a new light. Every time you go through a door, remember that Jesus is gathering you into his arms and look for who is on the other side of the door with whom you can share the promise of that good news. We proclaim with our voices and our bodies that Jesus is here, breaking through walls that separate us from God and one another. Walls of bias, walls of fear, walls of hopelessness, walls of grief, walls of brokenness that Jesus transforms into a door that swing open wide for entry to the love for God’s diverse people, a door of joy for the promises of God that are freely given to everyone, a door of wholeness in authentic, messy community, a door of grace that proclaims that abundant life isn’t for some but for all. Jesus calls you and me and us all by name through that door. Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

More Than What We Can See Sermon on John 9 April 14, 2017

*This sermon was preached on March 29, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can watch worship online at http://www.bethanylive.org

The gospel for the day is John 9 (in it’s entirety)

 

We don’t always see what is right in front of us. We often aren’t aware of our own blurred, tunnel vision or outright blindness to people, systems and community in our midst. In this story from John 9, Jesus has great compassion and really saw the man who was born blind and knows the implications of this disability on his status in the community. Jesus saw the person, the child of God, and saw beyond a physical difference. But in the ancient world, someone born differently abled came with many questions: who sinned? What evil fell upon this person or was committed by this person or their family? It was often thought that people with an assumed disability were contagious, so they were shunned, cast out and feared by the community.

Jesus rejected these positions and simply restored the man’s sight-albeit in a gross and profane way. Mud, spit and washing in a common pool. Very messy. Jesus broke the rule of no work on the Sabbath to heal and return sight to this man as well as return him into the community and the Pharisees were quick to point out his error. But Jesus had a different vision of how that day should be for that man. Jesus saw more than rules and edicts. Jesus saw the world through a different lens than the people and the Pharisees. Jesus’ vision of the world and the people was through God’s eyes of relationship and love, not through the vision of the religious authorities of following and knowing the correct doctrine, rules, Torah or worrying about sins. When Jesus healed the man born blind, it has nothing to do with knowledge, checking off to-do boxes or following rules-it had everything to do with community, inclusion and relationship. The irony is that when the man was blind, he was an outcast, and when he was healed and professed what Jesus had done for him, he was still and outcast.

I don’t know about you, but I need my vision to be expanded and light shown into those areas of my life where I can get stuck in prioritizing rules, Bible knowledge, and doctrine understanding as the way to know God. I need to see more than what is right in front of me and the way it’s always been. In the past few years, I’ve had many conversations where many believe that the future vision of the whole Church, the ELCA and other mainline protestant denominations looks bleak. We, as this larger church, are losing youth, young adults and not seeing as many new worshippers.  These conversations always gravitate toward: maybe we need more programs, more rules, more classes, more expectations, more types of worship.  Or, I wonder, what if we, like the disciples are asking the wrong question of who sinned and need for Jesus to widen our vision?

My own experience with faith community through the seven congregations I have served in some capacity, has informed and widened my vision of how I am called to serve the church and participate in God’s transformative work in the world.  How many of us can point to important and deep relationships with peers, adults in addition to our parents in our childhood congregations as foundational in our faith formation? I know that I can. It wasn’t SS curriculum or confirmation lesson that I remember. It’s people of faith showing up and bringing Christ with them when I needed them and having the opportunity to do the same for other people. It was a pastor (the first female pastor I had even seen) putting me in the pulpit on a Sunday when I was 14. It’s when we offered a young woman from our church at the time, who had struggled with depression and suicide attempts, a position as the nanny to my children because I knew she needed to feel valued, to have a purpose and had a lot of love to give. She now also serves the Church. It was when my own family was held by our church community as we grieved the death of my son and this same nanny stepping up in ways that she nor anyone else could have imagined out of love for my children. You see, rules, bible knowledge or doctrine didn’t change my life, our nanny’s life or the man born blind. It was relationship with people who knew and loved Jesus and could see beyond what the world saw: broken, messy and real lives. This is the vision that Jesus is talking about in John 9, and this is the vision that compels me in my ministry in faith formation. Faith formation is not about content, it’s about relationship. I want our children and youth to have so many important relationships here at Bethany, that they know that they are loved and that we will catch each other when life becomes messy.

This vision is why I’m passionate about our SS age and confirmation age students and families being in relationship with one another and with all of you here and why we instituted the Milestones for every grade. Families learning and worshipping together rather than separated from each other on Sunday mornings is crucial. This is the only space in our culture where all five generations are together. We segregate by age everywhere else in our society. Yet, science is discovering that we are wired, by God I believe, to be in intergenerational community. And this community matters deeply. We need each other, we need the wonder and fresh eyes of the child and the wise, caring eyes of our elders. I have a vision of this community being a value and a priority for our young people.

This vision is why we lowered communion instruction age because Jesus doesn’t exclude anyone from the table. What happens in Holy Communion is a mystery of God’s grace that none of us truly understand and I often think that babies and toddlers who simply come to the table with their chubby little hands outstretched asking for the bread truly comprehend this posture of mystery. Martin Luther states that we all come before God as beggars.  Jesus comes to us in the bread and in the wine for relationship and draws us all to the table for relationship with one another. All are welcome, no rules, only community.

 

George Barna did some research in the early 2000’s that found values are set by age 9 and worldview by age 13. If children never or rarely attend worship by age 9, it’s very unlikely that worship will ever be seen by them as a value in their lives. If their worldview through middle school is that church is another to-do list, this is how they will view church in their lives. In my 20 years of experience, when we quit worrying about how much content we are trying to teach and shift to creating deep relationships through integrating children/youth into the life and mission of the congregation, in particular worship, such as with the milestones, worship leadership, and leadership in other areas of the church, more youth stayed engaged after confirmation. SS and Confirmation should about relationship building, not courses to check-off. Confirmation is all about relationship and integration into the life of the faith community. I have been known to say somewhat tongue and cheek that if a middle schooler attended worship 40 times in a year, I would confirm them. Don’t get me wrong, some education and content is a wonderful thing-otherwise I’m completely out of a job-but if we knew that our youth and young adults will be around after receiving the certificate? What if they were so integrated into this life of faith and community so that they would have their whole lives to learn the Bible and theology? What if the most important content our children and youth can learn is that they know that they are loved by God and us?

Vibrant Faith institute learned that it takes 5-7 Christian caring adults to raise a Christian child. That is beyond mom and dad and that means all of us. If you are a Christian adult, regardless if you have children in your home or not, you are a Christian parent. What if our vision here are Bethany was that every child and youth who walked through our doors on Sunday or Wednesday had 5-7 adults who knew their name and at least one thing about them to ask them about? Maybe a hobby, or how that math test went. How could that change the life of a teenager struggling with self-worth? Or a child whose parent is ill? What if this community and every congregation is a place where our young people can’t wait to get to each week because they are known, seen and loved? How might this change the world?

I want everyone 18 and under to come forward. If your child is under 6 please come up with them mom or dad. Hi all! Did you know that Jesus sees you? Did you know that Jesus sees you not as the future of the church but of the RIGHT NOW of the church? You are so important! Can all of you write your name on this name tag and put it on. (parents of young kids, please help). Ok I’m going to give you all five little pieces of paper. On the papers, there is a place for your name and one thing that you really love to do: My name is: I love to:
Write your name and just one thing (the same thing on each paper) that you love to do. We’ll all sing Jesus Loves Me while you do that. Now, I want you to leave these name tags on until after you go home.  Go and give those sheets to five adults in the congregation. Don’t be shy and adults reach out for one! After worship-go to the fellowship hall and adults, find the child who’s name you have and ask them about the thing that they love to do. You matter to them. You are their people and they are yours. Together we are the beloved community of Christ and in Christ.

Jesus knew the importance of community. Jesus sought out the man he healed after he had been expelled from the synagogue and made sure that this man knew that his restored vision had nothing to do with what he did or didn’t know. Knowing that Jesus is one sent to reveal God’s love to all people, especially those whom the world doesn’t want to see, is the only thing that matters. Jesus as the light of the world gives us a new way to see ourselves, to see others and to see how we are as the church together. Jesus restores our sight to see each other as valued, as brother and sister, as equals, as beloved. You see, it’s all about relationship. Relationship with Jesus who opens our eyes to a new vision of how the world, how the church, how the future will be in God’s love. Amen.