A Lutheran Says What?

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

Breaking Orbit Sermon on Matthew 21 September 25, 2020

This sermon was preached on September 27, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube: Our Saviour’s Lutheran SLC.

The texts were:

Psalm 25: 1-9
Philippians 2: 1-13
Matthew 21: 23-32

As a child I loved the original Star Trek series. The Starship Enterprise voyaged through the galaxy at warp speed to explore and discover new life and new civilizations. They would enter the orbit of the planet, that invisible yet powerful gravitational pull, explore, learn, and then break orbit to go to some other new adventure. Occasionally, part of the plot of an episode was that they COULDN’T break orbit because of some misunderstanding or nefarious plan of the inhabitants of the planet. Maybe the people of the planet needed a resource on board the Enterprise, or they needed the people themselves, to supply the planet with what they needed for comfort or status quo. In this scenario, reasoning rarely worked, and it took a major rupture of the planetary system or a scheme to leave the orbit that freed the ship and the people. It took a force greater or equal to the gravitational pull of the planet’s orbit to free them. Breaking orbit meant life, freedom, justice, continued exploration, and the fulfillment of the crew’s mission.
As a military kid this idea of encountering new people, the tension of needs of the planet and the needs of the crew resonated in me. As I moved around the world, I encountered people and systems that were foreign and unknown. Some I could understand, some I could not, and some seemed invisible to the people living in that system, even though on the outside, I could see it. It’s only in my adulthood that I am more aware of the orbits I am in, the gravitational pulls to systems, people and actions in which I participate unconsciously and consciously. But what if I need to break those orbits?

Our gospel lesson today is all about orbits, strong and powerful gravitational pulls that keep things moving in a certain direction, around certain people, for a certain purpose. Indulge me as I set the context for us here in Matthew 21: Jesus has entered Jerusalem on a stolen donkey to crowds shouting Hosanna, Save Us Now. We tend to sanitize this story for SS pageants, but let’s be clear-it was a protest. People were coming out to support this Jesus who stood up to the rulers, who healed the outcast on the Sabbath, who ate with tax collectors and sex workers. Then the protest continued with Jesus going to the center of economic power and turning over tables, knocking over chairs, freeing the animals to be bought for sacrifice. And the people were cheering him on with shouts of Hosanna! Jesus then healed those who had come to Temple to buy their way out of misery in the system that intentionally kept them poor and on the outside. The leaders were angry. Destroying property? Protests in the streets? This is not how problems get solved. This Jesus should stay in his place and not make waves. He has no authority or voice here.
The next day Jesus returns to his occupation of the Temple for more truth telling. The chief priests and elders have had enough with Jesus’ disruption of their daily lives and confront him. How dare you disrupt the system! By who’s authority do you do these things? Jesus then asks them an orbit decaying question regarding John the Baptist, who had people breaking orbit from the Temple system to hear words of forgiveness, wholeness and freedom from the status quo out in the wilderness. But the chief priests and elders knew it was a trap. They had a lot at stake as the whole system was set up for them and others like them in power and privilege to be at the center, to be kept comfortable and given resources to support their lives. And everyone else? Well everyone else was merely in their orbit and needed to stay there to keep the system going without interruption.
But interruption is the whole point of Jesus’ ministry and the kingdom of God. God reaches into our orbits and propels us from the gravitational pull of status quo and comfort. Jesus tells the story of the two sons, one who refuses to go to the vineyard but then does, and one who says he will but doesn’t. Gravity is hard to overcome. But Jesus says that this is what the kingdom of Heaven is like. God calls us to break orbit and go to the vineyard, the kingdom of God, and do the hard work of breaking other people out of the orbital systems in which they are stuck. Jesus says that when we break orbit, new possibilities await and arise. Breaking orbit allows us to encounter new people, new places and allows God’s renewing and redeeming love to pull us even closer to God and to one another in true common mission. Breaking orbit allows us to encounter and experience new life.
I’ve thought about this a lot this week. We live in a society that was intentionally erected to ensure the comfort of an elite class-mostly white, straight, cisgender men. The rest of us, women (although white women, we can move in and out of the center and let’s remember our privilege), black people, indigenous people, people of color, LBGTQIA people, poor people, our job is to be in orbit of this system and keep it going. If that offends you, I’m not sorry. It’s the truth. I say this knowing that in being in this orbit myself, I contribute, participate in and affirm this system. I’m guilty of staying in orbit, as it is easier and less work. By staying in orbit, I help keep the systems in place that killed Breonna Taylor, Say Her Name, and allowed police officers not be held accountable. I am not anti-police-I am pro-accountability, for us all. I, too, need accountability for my part in the systems that allows for harm, such as bullying of LBGTQIA people, the system that keeps poor people poor, that keeps women underpaid and without access to reproductive healthcare, that keeps stereotypes and hate swirling.
I have decided that I am breaking orbit. I’m breaking orbit to be pulled by God’s powerful force of love into the work of the vineyard, to cultivate life, to bring forth abundance from dirt, to grow something wild and new. I’m breaking orbit, and I know that it will cause many people around me to be uncomfortable and to ask by who’s authority am I not going to follow all the rules. I’m breaking orbit, not for myself, but for you and for others and for the people whose  names we don’t know to say out loud but are being harmed or killed. I’m breaking orbit, for I will no longer willingly circle around systems that bring death, harm and oppression to anyone. I’m breaking orbit and I pray that you all will hold me accountable for my words to match my actions. I’m breaking orbit, come with me to explore God’s kingdom and discover new life and a new civilization of mercy, forgiveness, hope, justice and love that awaits for us all.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

Not a Status Symbol July 31, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 2, 2020 in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 29
Matthew 3: 13-17

Junior High is an interesting time for youth, at least it was for me. Where do I fit in? With whom will I fit in? How will people know who I am and that I’m cool, which in 1984 was everything. Of course, there were the usual desirable clicks, athletes, the cheerleaders and the pom squad. What I immediately noticed from the older students is that wearing something that identified you in a certain group was preferable. In other words, the cheerleaders and pom squad were identifiable by their uniforms and I decided that was the status that would be beneficial in jr. high and probably beyond. I wanted the status symbol of the uniform, much like wearing Guess jeans or having a latest Madonna album identified you as cool in the 80’s. Of which I had neither. So I tried out for cheerleading, didn’t make the squad, not shocking but I did make the pom squad. I was so excited! I could claim the status symbol of the uniform that would signal to everyone that I was part of the “in” crowd. It was a status symbol in seventh grade that I had arrived…to where exactly I don’t know, and to do what, I also didn’t know. I liked being on the pom squad, but what I really loved was playing my violin in the orchestra, reading and church. Even with the external status symbol of the pom uniform, it turned out I was still an awkward, slightly, ok mostly, geeky violin playing, glasses wearing, 12 year old-I couldn’t hide that. It took me some time to claim that truth and that the pom uniform wasn’t fooling anyone.

This is the function of status symbols in our culture and in our psyche. Whether it’s a uniform, a upscale car, living in a certain neighborhood, wearing certain clothing or accessories, we use these items to send a signal to people about who we are and to make a claim on our place in society. We are hustled by media and corporations into thinking that claiming a particular status is what matters, and that status will give us purpose and direction. But just as I discovered in trying to claim a status of being part of an “in” crowd, we discover that claiming an external status for the sake of appearances isn’t all that fulfilling or truthful. So what do we claim about ourselves?

As Christians, we say that we claim our baptisms-that it is a status we have. Claiming our baptism brings us peace, or contentment, hope, or salvation. These things might be true and I believe that simply claiming our baptism misses the mark, makes our baptism into something that it isn’t: a status. Being baptized isn’t about being “in” and not being baptized isn’t about being “out” and we have to admit that we too often do think about it that way and judge others by that standard. We forget that baptism isn’t a status symbol of Christianity, it’s a calling and a way of life. It’s a truth of who we are and what we are to do.

When Jesus shows up at the Jordan river to be baptized by John, Jesus responds to John’s objections with the statement of not waiting, and for them to do this act together. It’s not about status, who is greater or lesser, who is more powerful or knowledgeable. It’s about something else, something that even John can’t quite place his finger on until…until Jesus comes up from the water and God’s voice calls out, booming over the event with a claim. Claim of truth, a claim of love. Jesus’ baptism isn’t about a special status, or being  “in” instead of “out.” Jesus’ baptism is a calling of being loved and being love. Jesus never speaks of his baptism again in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus never views his baptism as a status symbol, as a way to delineate himself from other people. Jesus’ baptism sent him to the desert, it sent him to the sick, the outcast, the oppressed, the devalued. Jesus’ baptism got him into trouble for questioning the powers and authorities for their neglect of the people in need. Jesus’ baptism sent him to the cross. Jesus’ only speaks of baptism again after his resurrection when he tells the disciples to go about their lives telling others about God’s love and baptizing them; calling all people of the world to be love.

The truth of our baptism is that it is not ours to claim, but it is God’s claim on us. We are claimed in God’s love and sent in love to call others to love. Baptism isn’t a status, it is a calling, it’s hearing God’s voice that tears through everything else in our lives, in our hearts and in our souls. Baptism calls us out of the waters and into the world. Baptism erases all status between us, all of us, and calls us beloved. Baptism doesn’t separate nor spare us from all the challenges, heartbreaks, tense conversations, injustices and hardships of the world. Baptism sends us to places we are afraid to go: to protest racism in all it’s insidious forms from redlining to incarceration, to stand up for the truth of what’s happening to our neighbors in this pandemic with lack of affordable housing, economic safety nets, lack of adequate healthcare. Baptism sends us to get into good trouble for the sake of the gospel being heard and lived. And we don’t go alone, we have the cloud of witnesses who went before us in this gospel work and we have each other. Baptism calls us together, to be and speak love in those places, to step in as Jesus shows us, with the truth that God’s voice and call, will tear through the noise again and again with words and actions that bind, heal and renew.

Baptismal calling is a life that never worries about arriving, never worries about being in or out, never worries about being greater or lesser than others. Baptismal calling is a life that is rooted in the truth of authentic faith community for the journey, a life that includes anyone and everyone, a life that seeks to serve, care and uplift people. Baptismal calling is a life that dares to be bold for God’s justice to prevail, to roll like waters, waters that destroy the hate, fear and despair that hold us in their grip promising status and security. Waters that cling to us like the promise of being in God’s grip of love and grace. Baptism is not a status symbol we claim, it’s God’s claim on us that calls us to life, to seek justice and peace now, today, for all people and creation. Thanks be to God.  

 

So Many Questions, Baptism of Our Lord Sunday Year A January 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on January 12, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 42: 1-9
Acts 10: 34-43
Matthew 3: 3-17

Children’s sermon: Play 20 questions with the answer being Jesus.(FYI a little girl asked the very first question: “Is it Jesus?” Ha!) Asking questions helped you to realize that I was thinking about Jesus. Asking questions helps us to learn things and understand things differently. Do you think you know everything there is to know about God? What do you wonder about God still? I have a lot of questions about God too! Well, really I have a lot of questions for God if I’m honest. Our bible story today is about Jesus being baptized. Now that seems like a straightforward thing but when Jesus came to John for baptism, John had a question for Jesus! Why do you come to me for baptism, you’re Jesus! John asking Jesus a question reminds us that even people who we think know a lot about God, still have things to learn and so do we! John didn’t quite understand that Jesus’ baptism shows that we don’t have to go to God, God always comes to us-every day.  We are baptized like Jesus to know that God is with us always and that every day is a new beginning to learn more about God in our lives and in the world. God doesn’t expect us to know everything, and our baptism isn’t about having answers but loving God and sharing God’s love with other people. Baptism gives us a job to do, and that job is to love. To splash other people with God’s love-that is our most important job-no matter what you grow up to be a teacher, a doctor, an accountant, a musician, our big job is to make sure that everyone knows God’s love: what are some ways that we can do that as children and adults? Those are all great ways to share God’s love! Let’s pray:

I’m noticing an interesting trend in our culture in the past few years: everyone wants to claim that they have all the answers, even if it’s not possible. From celebrities, to athletes, to nation leaders, to religious leaders, to random people on the internet. Someone always has the answer-for weight loss, younger skin, better relationships, to more complex issues such as wage equity, taxes, foreign policy, civil rights, and the list goes on. When these answers are shouted loudly enough, with certainty, and projecting that other people’s certainties are wrong, it has a devastating side effect: it shuts down relationships. When we are dug in about what we know and won’t ask questions of one another, we aren’t willing to learn something new or be in hard conversations we are cutting ourselves off from each other.

For me, and maybe most of us, asking questions is a posture of vulnerability, of admitting that we don’t know something. Not knowing something can leave me feeling useless, or that I have nothing to contribute. And as a pastor, people expect me to have all the answers about God. And the truth is that I don’t! I have as many questions as you, maybe more! You will also hear me say, “I don’t have answers, but I have some responses” as responses invite others to respond as well.  I tend to get into a lot of conversations with people who are very certain what the Bible says or what God is thinking and that to be a “Christian” I have to understand the Bible or God in a specific way-their way. And when I question their certainty-their response is to claim that I don’t have faith. Faith for many is to have all the answers, certainty and to never question. I love the Anne Lamott quote “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.”

John in our gospel story and Peter in our story from Acts, remind us of the importance of questions, curiosity, wonder and that certainty has never been part of the faith equation. The story of Jesus’ baptism from our Matthew gospel this morning was an embarrassment in the early church because of all the questions it raised. Why would Jesus, who is supposed to be without sin, need a baptism for repentance? What would Jesus need to repent from? And how could an ordinary person such as John, be worthy of baptizing the son of God? Jesus needed John?

The other gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism offer a picture that doesn’t raise as many questions. But Matthew wants us to be uncomfortable, to wrestle and to float in the questions and uncertainty of what we think we know about Jesus and baptism. John’s question to Jesus of “how can I baptize you?”, sparks more questions of what John did or didn’t understand about Jesus, his own cousin, whom he, himself, had been paving the way for all these years. Shouldn’t John have been certain in his role by now? Shouldn’t he have faith in who Jesus is? Yet, when the reality of God coming close, when the reality of being pulled into the work of God’s kingdom was palpable, John realized perhaps in a split second everything he didn’t know and that he might be in over his head. And Jesus didn’t offer John an answer or certainty but simply relationship and connection into God’s mission.

And then in Acts we drop in on Peter, oh dear Peter, right after his certainty rug had been pulled out from underneath him. This mini sermon in Acts 10, is the culmination of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and God opening Peter up to question what he knew about who was included in God’s grace and love through Jesus Christ. Peter had been praying and during that prayer time God confronted him with a vision of animals to eat that were forbidden by Jewish purity laws. Peter was greatly puzzled by this vision as it brought into question his whole understanding of living as God’s people and his faith. Cornelius, at God’s bidding, sent people to bring Peter to him. Peter went and in the interaction with Cornelius and his household, Peter was opened up to God’s work in all people, Gentiles and Jews alike. What we read for scripture this morning is Peter working out that there were things he didn’t understand and maybe still doesn’t, but he is learning a new way through Jesus. Peter had to set aside his certainty and ego to see what new thing God was doing, that God had a role for him in this kingdom expanding work, and that faith in Jesus, ultimately is a gift from God and not in his to control. When Peter let go of his certainty, he was able to fully witness to God’s radical inclusion, care and grace for all people, even those whom Peter had previously considered outsiders. God and God’s law was no longer in Peter’s image but had taken on the image of the Gentiles in his midst. God used Peter’s confusion and uncertainty to proclaim the good news of Jesus and to bring Peter into deep relationship with people different from himself.

It’s hard for us to admit when we’re in over our head or that what we thought we knew with certainty perhaps has another response. But God coming to us in Jesus pulls us into relationship with God where questions, wonder and curiosity are the heart of our faith and the heart of baptism. Baptism isn’t about our certainty and our answers-baptism is a response from God of who we are and whose we are. This is why we baptize infants in the Lutheran tradition, baptism is all about God and not about us or what we know. The scandal of the Matthew text is that Jesus was baptized by an ordinary and questioning human to reveal God’s extraordinary love and need for relationship with us. Jesus came to John to be baptized because that is the promise of baptism-God comes to us wherever we are, nothing separates us from God, and we simply float in the waters of faith and love. Baptism frees us from needing to have pat answers, from worrying if we have enough or the correct faith or wondering about our worth. Baptism frees us for relationship with God and one another. Baptism frees us to live into our true identity: beloved. Baptism washes our eyes and our hearts so that we see all people how God sees them, in God’s very image. Through our baptisms, God takes us by the hand and brings us into the beloved community and into the work of proclaiming God’s grace, peace, mercy, hope and love to a world who is in bondage to the need to be certain and right instead of in relationship with each other. Baptism is the promise that God comes to us through Jesus Christ to be with us, to connect us and to draw us all into new life today and always.

Jesus fully immerses himself in our humanity to dwell with us in the questions of life and to open to us the reality of God’s loving response to us and creation. God’s response to Jesus’ baptism says it all “this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We have worth because we are God’s. We are important in God’s kingdom not because of what we know or what we do but because of what God does through us. Amen.

 

 

God’s Story of Joy: Unmet Expectations Advent 3 Year A December 18, 2019

This sermon was preached on Dec. 15, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

Children’s sermon: I have these two boxes (one beautifully wrapped and one that is very plain). Which one would you pick if you could? This nice one? Yep, I would too. We would expect that whatever is in this box to be wonderful and we would expect what is in this box to be plain. This time of year, we have what we call expectations-which means we have an idea about how things should be. As in Christmas morning we expect that we will have presents to open and to eat a yummy meal. We think we know how the day should go. In our bible stories today we are thinking about how things should go. Mary, Jesus’ mother, is so excited that she is going to have a baby that is God’s son that she sings a song that is about how she expects God will  change the world with her son. And then we hear a story about John, Jesus’ cousin (do you have any cousins?) who also had expectations for what the Messiah would do and Jesus wasn’t necessarily doing those things. John thought that the Messiah from God would totally change the world and be a little more like a worldly king. But Jesus tells him that the world is changing, just not quite the way John expected. Instead of big events and Jesus directly taking on kings and rulers, Jesus is with the people whom no one else wants to be with and is taking care of them-and this is what changes the world. It’s hard to us to see this sometimes as we expect little things to not matter. But Jesus says-they do! And that’s what joy is! Joy is when we realize that things may not be what we expect but God is at work and loves us.  Let’s open both boxes: Hey there was a treat in the plain box! We didn’t expect that did we? Nope! So let this candy cane remind you to always look with joy for God doing things differently that what we expect. Let’s pray:

One of our favorite go-to holiday movies is Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase. It sums up every holiday challenge in one hilarious over the top movie. One of the early scenes in this movie is a conversation between Clark and Ellen around the whole extended family coming for Christmas and Clark is so excited with planning and details. Ellen says to him: “Clark you build these events up in your head with expectations that no one can fulfill.” Clark says “oh honey when have I ever done that?” She replies deadpan, “birthdays, weddings, funerals, family dinners, vacations, anniversaries, holidays…” and the scene closes with her unending list of when Clark has put a high expectation and it doesn’t work out. And in this movie everything goes wrong: the tree catches on fire, dinner is ruined, the house is destroyed and they are all almost arrested and yet, at the end joy is had as the big expectations gave way to the overlooked importance of being together. The movie is funny because it’s true for many of us, I think. This is a time of year that is loaded with expectations, some of which are obvious, and some that are unspoken. We all feel the expectation of gift buying, house decorating, baking or big meal prep, attending parties, Christmas cards (an expectation I dropped about 14 years ago), and other trappings of the season. And then there are the underlying expectations: no tension in family relationships, people will get along, we will feel festive and happy, everything will be exactly how we planned it and joy will abound.

And it’s not just the expectations that I have for myself or others around me, this season also reminds me of the expectations that I have of God and my relationship with God. After all, this is the season where we talk about the coming of Christ, of hope, peace, love and joy. It’s the season where we have to come face to face with our expectations that aren’t met and how we cope with and negotiate that reality. If I’m honest, I have some very specific expectations of what God should be doing in my life and in the world. Expectations of injustices being righted, expectations of people caring for one another in whole and loving relationships, expectations of miracles, and the list goes on-I have a lot of expectations! And if I continue to be honest, most of them aren’t met and it can leave me wondering what to think or do. How can I be joyful when what I’ve expected for my life and of those I love, hasn’t worked out?

Our Bible passages today are filled with expectations and the question of are they being met. Isaiah lays out a vision of the expectation of deserts blooming with flowers and lush vegetation, miraculous healings and a holy, sacred path so obvious that even a fool can’t miss it! This is an expectation of God’s presence in the midst of Israelite exile and uncertainty about the future. Is God going to rescue them as they expect?

In Mary’s song-the Magnificat-we hear the young woman’s expectation of what God is up to in her life and in the world. And it’s some fairly high expectations. The powerful and rich overthrown, the lowly, the poor, the hungry lifted up and exalted, and an unmarried, pregnant, poor teenager will be remembered forever as blessed. Idealistic to say the least. But she sings this song of expectation with all her heart and soul, with confidence that God will indeed do these mighty things for God keeps God’s promises.

John has high expectations for the Messiah and God’s redemptive work in the world too. But John is struggling to see it. John is in prison for speaking truth to power when Herod wanted to marry his own brother’s wife and John condemned him. From behind bars, John is beginning to wonder if his calling as a prophet has been for nothing. Herod still seems to be able to do whatever he wants with no real consequences (which for John ends very badly when he is beheaded at the whim of Herod’s wife), the rich are getting richer, the Roman Empire is still calling all the shots, the people without voice and power are still getting kicked around and life is still very dangerous. John begins to doubt his own prophecy and expectations for God’s Messiah. So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, are you really the one? Are you the real Messiah or are we still in a holding pattern as we’ve been for about 1000 years.

John’s proclamation and confidence in what he thought was coming was shifting to despair. What if he had been wrong? What if his work didn’t matter? The hope of the Jewish people for a Messiah, a savior, was very much one of a mighty king who would take over, enter the ring like Hulk Hogan and start tossing aside anyone in their path to make way for God’s Kingdom where the descendants of Abraham will never live in fear, will have all that they need, with prosperity and safety forever. If we’re honest this is what we expect of God in our lives too. God who uses power and might for our personal expectations. We look for God to do grandiose and unilateral acts.

Jesus’ response to John’s question is loving and gentle. John, I know that this isn’t what you expected. But the lame are walking, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, and the poor have good news. No, it’s not a complete overthrow from the center of power, it’s not a complete coup d’état. What else would you expect? Jesus asks. God’s justice and redemption are not blooming from where the worlds center of power. God’s work gestates in the weak, from the margins, from the edges, from the darkness, from the ignored. God’s at work in places were few dare to tread, in wombs and tombs.

God’s greatest work isn’t always seen but it matters. God’s kingdom comes from underground to bloom in dry, desolate places. Joy bubbles up in helpless babies, in country stables, in deserts, and bursts from darkness into the light.

When we can shift our expectations, of ourselves, of those around us, of events, and yes, even of God, we can see this joy. It’s difficult, I’ll grant you, as it’s easier to see the despair, the unmet expectations of people, family, organizations, and government, to see the harm being done and sometimes, like John, the joy is held in the promises of God that are given not in this life but in the next. But also like John, we can turn that kaleidoscope, get a different picture, and we can see what God sees. God at work underground, God percolating transformation in people and places that most consider ignoble or don’t notice at all. In the homeless shelters, in the food pantries, in underfunded classrooms, in crisis centers, in assisted living facilities, God’s joy abounds, in the people who refuse to let despair, isolation, and hopelessness prevail. Joy shines so that we will see the world as it could be, with God’s expectations of life, love and community. Joy shines to hold our doubts and our faith together and we are freed from our prisons that hold us back from exuding that same joy and shifting the expectations of the whole world. We can see, hear and walk in God’s joy that shines on us in Jesus who is the one to fulfill all expectations. Joy to the world indeed. Amen.

 

God’s Story of Righteousness: God’s Love in Action Advent 2 Year A December 8, 2019

This sermon was preached on Dec. 8, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

The texts were:

Isaiah 11: 1-10
Psalm 72: 1-7, 18-19
Matthew 3: 1-12

Children’s sermon: How many of you have made a new friend, or remember when a new baby sibling came home? New relationships in our lives change us don’t they? Most of the time, those things are good-we learn that we like different foods, or we like having a sibling to play with. Or sometimes we have to change how we do things, like if we now share a room, we can’t have the light on whenever we want it or with a friend, we have to do things that they like and not just what we like. It can be hard to be in relationships and we’re never the same after we meet different people!

There’s a church word for that and we are talking about it today: righteousness. It’s kind of a long word; can anyone tell me what they think it means? And it has a couple of different ways it can be used. Yep! It’s about God. We hear the word righteousness in two of our lessons this morning and although it’s not in our gospel story, it’s at the heart of our gospel story. The word righteousness is about being in right relationship with someone-to care for one another, which God says is holy-or important. Righteousness is about “love in action.” So, when we talk about God’s righteousness, we’re talking about God’s love in action with us. God loves us so much and wants us to always know that God cares for us more than we can ever know. John the Baptist in our gospel story is telling the people to look for God’s love in action in their lives, that’s why he tells them to repent, which is another big word we’re talking about today. It can mean to be sorry for things we’ve done that we shouldn’t AND it means to “turn around and change our minds.” John says to the people, turn around and see God’s love in action coming to your life through Jesus! Jesus brings us into relationship with God and you will never be the same! Jesus shows us how to be God’s love in action with everyone we meet, even if it’s really hard, but we can’t do this love thing alone.  One way that we are going to practice that today is I have these Christmas cards. You can each have one and give to someone who you think needs to know that God loves them. It can be anyone-even someone you don’t really know. You can write a little note and you don’t even have to sign your name. What matters is the message of God’s love. Let’s pray:

A spiritual practice for me is to occasionally take the time to unsubscribe from emails that I don’t really want to get and junk up my inbox. In my personal email account-I would never delete any important OSLC business. 😊 It’s a spiritual practice partially because many of the emails tend to be consumer related. It’s amazing how many emails I get from retailers and most I’m not even sure how I ended up on their list! So, I go through and unsubscribe from the ones that are of zero interest to me and with all of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails, I decided to even unsubscribe from the ones who were of interest to me! I realized that the bold letters with the exclamation points of discounts caught my attention far more often that I would like to publicly admit right now…OOOO it’s 50% off…maybe I DO need one more pair of my favorite comfy yoga tights…the reality by the way is that I do not! It would be altruistic for me to think “well maybe a good idea for a Christmas gift for someone will pop up in my email…” yeah right. And then Giving Tuesday hit, and don’t get me wrong it’s a good thing to highlight all of the non-profits doing great work, once again, my inbox was inundated by organizations that I didn’t even know had my email! So, unless it seemed a true interest, I unsubscribed from a bunch of those too. My hope is that fewer emails, fewer distractions, will allow me spend less time on things that don’t really offer me substance or connections and to spend more time on things that matter. I’m finding for myself, more and more, I want to focus on what matters in every aspect of my life, listen to the voices that matter. Even in my email.

This email dilemma is really a microcosm of my life in 2019 almost 2020 and I wonder if you feel it too. There is so much and so many people pressing for our time and attention that mindfulness and focus are the casualties of 24 hour news cycles, smart phones, social media, shopping apps, and even our simultaneously beloved and hated emails. And let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, many of these things are needed, helpful and can be powerful forces for good…in proper balance. The reality is that I sometimes intentionally use these devices to drown out that lone voice that is trying to call me to what matters, it’s as if I can cocoon myself and ignore the hard things in my life and in the world with just a click of the tv remote, the FB app, or Amazon. I can pretend that what the world tells me is important, whether it’s getting just the right gift, outfit, house remodel, can make me feel less overwhelmed, fix my relationships, ease my grieving, make me eat healthy and make me happy. Sometimes it works, for a while anyway….

The specific distractions might have changed, but the experience of not paying attention to the things that matter and getting caught up in worldly schemes, seems to be ancient. John the Baptists cry cuts through 2000 years of human distraction to rudely awaken us to the truth of what God is up to. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, was sent to get our attention for God with harsh words and images. He proclaimed repentance, as I told the children, which means to turn around, to change our minds, to see ourselves differently than we have before. We tend to think of that word as negative, as an act of abject unworthiness, but John never says that. John baptizes people to help them unsubscribe from what is separating them from what really matters in their lives. To the Pharisees and Saducees, groups of people who thought that they were focused on what mattered, their connection to Abraham, John says, bear fruit worthy of repentance, that is, you are already worthy, you can turn around and try again. You can be righteous, God’s love in action-you can be pay attention to what matters and show others this love too.

God’s love in action, is coming, in Jesus. Jesus baptizes to not only turn you around and cut through the distractions of your life, Jesus baptizes to connect you to what matters-God’s love and presence in your life through the Holy Spirit. The very breath of God that fills you and brings you to true life. And the reality that somethings about your life will need to go, be burned away and it won’t be easy or comfortable. When we listen for what matters in our lives, other concerns such as ego, self-image, our emotional armor, addictions, whatever is not our true selves created in God’s image, are all drowned out by God’s loving voice.

When we turn around and know that we are already immersed in relationship and righteousness with Jesus, we can hear that voice cutting through the noise and distractions. That voice will call us to live differently, to care about what God cares about-to know what is truly important as we live in the time when the Kingdom is indeed near but not yet. We bear fruit that serves our neighbor, that creates the bold vision of Isaiah that there is indeed life and hope where the world proclaims all is lost. Transformation of both predator and prey can happen. Those who benefit from the weak will turn around, be content with less and sacrificially offer care, dignity and equity for all and those who have been hurt and oppressed will turn around to see trust, safety and affirmation restored. Fruit that all can partake in and no one is left hungry, without or neglected.

No, we’re not there yet, and this is hard and uncomfortable work. And it might seem overwhelming and not possible so we might as well just worry about our own happiness. Only, that’s not how it works. Whether we like it or not our futures, our lives, our joy and our happiness are bound up in one another. Jesus gathers us all with his winnowing fork for what matters, to call us and the world to turn away from death and destruction, to sift out of our lives what distracts and from what we need to unsubscribe in order to hear God’s voice of love, mercy and hope that cries out to us.  Thanks be to God.

 

Let Go to Prepare: Sermon on Luke 3: 1-6 Advent 1 December 2, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO on Dec. 2. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

The texts are Jeremiah 33: 14-16 and Luke 3: 1-6

Children’s message: Have a basket of balls (about the size of ball pit balls-the light plastic ones) and a volunteer. (I prefer to use adults as asking a child or youth on the spot is not really fair, or consent.) Explain that you are going to throw the balls one at a time to the other person to see if they can catch all of them (about 4-5 is plenty). Start pitching to the volunteer. They will probably be able to catch two but then will need to drop a ball to catch another one. “It’s hard to catch another ball when you already have something in your hands isn’t it? How could Jeff catch each one? By letting go of each ball after he catches it? Ok let’s try that! Have the catcher catch a ball and then put it down (have another basket for them so that they don’t roll). Hmmmm, (to the catcher) was that easier? Why? (Have them say that when they let go of the ball, they could be prepared for the next one coming their way.) yes! That is best isn’t it? Our life is like that too. Sometimes we have to let go of something in order to be ready for the next thing that God wants to give us. Maybe it’s letting go of being a first grader to get to go to second grade, or stop doing soccer to have time for ballet, or letting go of your room for a new baby brother or sister, or here in the Advent season we are preparing for Christmas and so we might let go of some space in our living rooms for a tree or let go of and give away toys that you are too old for and someone else can use, or let go of those delicious cookies your family makes to share with someone. In our Bible story today, John is telling people that in order to prepare for Jesus, they have to let go. They have to let go of worrying about if they are good enough, they have to let go of what people might think of them and they have to let go of worrying if they are keeping all the rules perfectly for God to love them. They have to drop those things so that they are prepared to catch all of the love and grace that is coming at them from Jesus. Just like Jeff’s hands were open and ready to catch a ball, our hearts have to be open and ready to catch God’s love from Jesus because God’s love is coming no matter what! Let’s pray:

Life can feel like we constantly have balls being thrown at us to catch. Balls to catch of expectations from others and of ourselves. This time of year, it seems that the expectations are high to have the perfectly decorated house, tree, perfect gifts, cards to send out, food prepared, and the list can go on and on of all the preparation expectations we feel from culture and we put on ourselves. Little secret: I haven’t sent Christmas cards in 14 years. It’s so freeing! Try it! I let it go. So much of life is letting go. There has been a lot in my life (besides Christmas cards) that I’ve had to let go of. Whether is was my childhood dream of being a professional violinist, letting go of my children as they have become young adults, letting go of the idea that our parents will be around forever, letting go of what my own aging and mid-life is like. And there have been many times that letting go was the scariest and hardest thing I did, and I was convinced that it was simply the end of everything. And then it wasn’t. When I let go of my fear and the story I was telling myself of what life should and would be like, I could be ready, open and prepared for what was actually happening next: and it was usually something I never expected.

We often think that preparation is a long task list of to-dos that we have to check off or is making sure that we have all of our ducks in a row. But John the Baptist offers the people and us a different view of preparation. Preparation for what is next, is really about letting go.

Luke gives us the setting for John’s ministry by providing a list of several of the rulers of the Roman Empire that were prominent in the region as well as the chief priests of the Jewish Temple Institution. Luke does this to remind us that there were indeed secular and religious powers at work whose main agenda was control over the population in order to maintain status quo. Luke then states of John that he is the son of Zechariah, a priest from the back country and that John, himself, is in the wilderness. John is a nobody from nowhere. But his proclamation is so compelling that people are flocking to him in the middle of nowhere. He baptizes them for the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness means letting go-letting go of sin-what separates them from God. He tells the people to let go of their sin because it’s not what defines them. And while you’re at it: let go of who the Roman Empire says you are, let go of who the Temple system says you are. Let go of those definitions of yourself. Let go of all of that because the Messiah is coming to proclaim the truth of who you are. You are more than your sin, the things you have done and left undone. You are more than your wealth or poverty, your ethnicity, your gender or status in the Empire. You are more than the sacrifices you offer at the Temple, or whether you are deemed clean or unclean. When you let go of those identities you can then be prepared for the gift that is coming to you: the gift of being the beloved child of God through Jesus and free to be who God created you to be.

This seems so simple and yet it is the most difficult thing that we can do. To let go of what we think has value in our lives or gives us value: our jobs, homes, cars, family members, what we wear, eat, where we live, our hobbies, our opinions is to prepare for what God values: us just as we are and God comes to us over and over again with this message of love, wholeness and grace. This message indeed levels the playing field: valleys and mountains, rough places and crooked paths are no match for God’s love. But in our culture, this word of the Lord that tells us to let go of what doesn’t give us true life can seem like the words of a lunatic, a crackpot or a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness where no one wants to be. That voice is one that is hard to hear.

A spiritual practice I began a few years ago was to at the beginning of each new liturgical year, to choose a word or short phrase that would help me to hear the voice of God in my life. Last year my word was “breathe,” as I found when I was stressed or anxious, I held my breath instead of breathing in and connecting with the Holy Spirit. I even had a bracelet I wore with that word on it so that I could be reminded. This text made me realize that my phrase for this year will be “letting go.” What do I need to let go of to hear the voice of God? What do I need to let go of in order to be my true and authentic self? Maybe it’s letting go what other people think of me, what the world says I should be, expectations of others, perfectionism, my ego? Maybe it’s letting go of whatever keeps me from truly connecting with others. Letting go is not just about me. Letting go means being open to people around me who think differently, act differently, live differently. The world wants us to hold on tightly to the lie of power, status quo, control and homogeny for the sake of our self-preservation. It’s letting go of my vision of righteousness and justice and, as Jeremiah proclaimed to the Israelites, and being open to God’s vision of wholeness for all people-or as Isaiah says: all flesh. In the love of God through Jesus Christ, I am prepared to let go of bias, bigotry and fear and can be open to receiving the truth that God’s power, righteousness and justice straightens the pathways, levels the valleys and mountains and draws us all into a loving relationship with God and one another.

Letting go will be a powerful spiritual practice for me this year. I invite you to into this spiritual practice and choose a word or phrase that orients you to God’s presence, love and grace.  In Advent, we prepare indeed for this gift from God by letting go of what separates us from God and each other and opening our hands and hearts to receive this unconditional and eternal love through Jesus Christ freely. Amen.

 

 

 

Words Matter Sermon on John 1: 1-14 Christmas Day December 31, 2017

This sermon was preached on Dec. 25, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO.

John 1:1-14New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth.

We’ve all heard the phrase “words matter.” As a trained educator, I learned early on to never underestimate the power of words. When I was a student teacher 25 years ago, I remember my mentoring teacher telling me that for each one negative word a child heard about themselves, it takes 10 positive words to counteract the one negative word. That is a very daunting reminder for all of us who work with children and youth or speak to others for a living. Words matter. Even as adults, in important conversations we search for just the correct word to say, or avoid using certain words for fear of being misunderstood. We tend to think of words as lifeless, inanimate objects just sitting on a page waiting to be read, or things to be glibly offered and then discarded. How often have we heard the words of a poem or a book read out loud and we synthesized it differently, had the words hit us more emotionally in our hearts and in our souls than just reading them silently by ourselves? Words do matter, words are powerful, and words given life by human utterance matter.

Words matter. We wait to hear words of reassurance from a loved one when we are worried about them, or we listen for words of reconciliation after a fight, or words of hope in a dire situation, or words of love from someone whom we love. Words matter because they fill in gaps of who we are and who others are to us. Words matter because they intertwine to tell a story about our lives together. Words matter because one simple word has the power to uplift us or crush our spirits. Words spoken to us offer us an experiential encounter with another person. Words connect us.

God created us people of words, people of stories, and people of The Story, the story of God’s love. In the passage from John this morning, we hear the importance of this truth. The Word was present from the beginning with God because words and The Word matters. The Word that speaks life and light into chaos and darkness matters and this word speaks to us over and over again connecting us to this truth in every time and place. The Word from God that tells us the story that we belong to God and are deeply loved by God. The Word from God that offers us life altering encounter and deep connection with God.

God speaks this word in a myriad of ways because the world speaks words of fear, scarcity, and unimportance to us all day long. God sent Jesus to us to be the alive, fleshy, embodied word of God’s love and abundance to us, in order to counteract whatever else we might hear from the world. Jesus as God’s very Word with us, not just in the past as the human Jesus, but right here, right now, fills us with this story of truth of who we are and who’s we are.

This Living Word that promises to be with us always even to the end of the age and to be living water, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the true vine, comes to us as every word of love, mercy and hope. This Living Word goes beyond mere words to be a living encounter in the waters of baptism. We will speak these words of God’s promises today on Brynn, Emma and Deacon and they will live in the words of God’s Story that began at creation and continues through time. This Living Word comes to us in bread and wine and has the power to gather us as one people, in abundance, inclusivity and joy; as Jesus’ very body and blood reminds us that bodies do indeed matter as each one of us are bodies who contain the Living Word of God.

Jesus as God’s Word of love, joy, mercy, forgiveness and hope to the world matters more than ever. Jesus as God’s Living Word matters to those who only hear negative things about themselves because the world tells them that they aren’t good enough, aren’t important and have nothing to offer. Jesus as God’s Word matters for us, so that like John, we testify to people who need to hear they are part of God’s story, the truth of the Word that is for all people in all times and in all places. Jesus as the Living Word matters to illuminate the darkness of our world, to cast out the words of fear and death that try and negate the life that God freely gives us. Jesus as the Living Word matters as this is a Word that lives in us for the sake of our neighbors encountering Jesus through us.

Words matter. Jesus as God’s Word of love, grace and truth to the world, matters. There is power in this Living Word, power to heal, power to love, power to speak truth, power to cast out all darkness, power to turn despair into joy and power to turn death into life. God displays this power by speaking transformational words of mercy, hope and love into unexpected people and places: an unwed teenage girl, lowly shepherds outside an unimportant town, an outcast prophet in the wilderness, and a tiny vulnerable baby born in a smelly, dirty stable.  Words matter. Words have power.  Jesus Christ as God’s living Word with us and in us, is all that matters. Amen.

 

“Hold On: Here is your God!” Sermon for Advent 2, Dec. 10, 2017 Year B December 11, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village. To view the sermon go to http://www.bethanylive.org and go to the correct date.

Children’s time. Gather the children and ask where do you see God around you right now? Point God out to me. It can be hard to see God sometimes can’t it? And we forget that God is with us always. Walk to the font. In the bible story I just read, there was this guy, Jesus’ cousin, who was telling people that God was with them always, forgiving them when they did wrong things and holding on to them. He was splashing them with water, what’s that called? Baptism! And the water that clings to us reminds us that God clings to us too. BUT John told the people something else. That God does hold us but that through Jesus who was coming, we will be not only be baptized with water, but God’s Holy Spirit will cling to us too! This means that we have work to do with God and for God. Just as you helped me to see God right here, right now, we have to tell everyone we meet Here is your God and God holds on to you! This is why we light a candle and say to the newly baptized person, even if they are a baby “Let you light so shine before others that they might see your good works that glorify your father in heaven.” We are part of Jesus’ light and work in the world! Jesus wants us to hold on to that truth that each one of us has important work to do. Here is a glow stick to help you remember to hold on to God. I’m going to talk some more about this and every time you hear me say “Hold on Here is your God!” I want you to wave your glow stick, ok? Let’s pray:

In many facets of our life, it might seem like we are barely holding on. I know that when our children were young, I was serving full-time in a congregation, my spouse was working full-time, we had piano lessons, ballet, t-ball, church choir, and all of the school activities, most days I felt like I was barely holding on to sanity and let alone time management to get done the mundane activities such as laundry, grocery shopping and house cleaning. We grasp each day with both hands and hope that we can just hold on through another day.

And then there are the times when we hold on because we just can’t let go of someone or something even when we should. Relationships that aren’t healthy, jobs that is no longer life giving, long held beliefs about groups of people or ourselves. Or we hold on to the way life used to be or to our vision of the way life should have been, or even the way church used to be and it can be painful or harmful to continue to hold on to those ideas. Sometimes we have to let go in order to hold on to what God is doing.

And then there are times when we don’t even know what to hold on to: what we should hold on to might be risky or down right overwhelming. Maybe a new vocation at an older age, I started seminary at 36 with two young children! Maybe a move out of state away from family for an exciting opportunity. Maybe leaving what is comfortable and known for unknown and but perhaps will be meaningful and fulfilling.

Our theme for Advent is “Hold On.” Exploring how we hold on to God and God’s promises in our lives. When we are in distress or overwhelmed with our lives or the world we live in, it can be difficult to know who or what to hold on to. In Isaiah 40, the Israelites have been taken to Babylon in exile and they feel as if they have lost their grip on God or more accurately, that God has let them go. The opening lines of our Isaiah text are words of comfort to a people who are decidedly uncomfortable with their current state of affairs. They are away from Jerusalem; the Temple is destroyed and they can’t practice their religion they way they used to or think they should.

But then the voice of God breaks in with a word of hope and words of mission for the prophet and the people. Cry out! God says.  Which can translate to Preach! The prophet responds what shall I preach? Or again a better translation is Why shall I preach! The people are turning away. Why God says? Because “Here is your God!” Right here, right now holding on to you even if you can’t feel it, or see it or know it. I am here with you, even in exile, even in discomfort, even in your own lack of faith, I am here and always have been and always will be God says! Preach this good news from the highest mountain top! Hold on to this good news that God is holding on to you, to all of you, with the power of God’s mighty arms and with the tender care of a shepherd caring for his sheep.

Our gospel of Mark this morning invites us right off the bat into our theme. Mark’s gospel begins with a bang with these words: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark then immediately moves us into the mission and work of John the Baptist who essentially says to his community and to us: Ready or not, here we go! Hold on! It’s about to be a wild ride with God!

The people who were flocking to John, were desperate to hold on that perhaps their lives meant something. In first century Palestine, baptism was not a new thing. This was part of a Jewish ritual of cleansing, but John was drawing people out to the wilderness, away from the seat of government and religious authority with this message of repentance or a clearer definition is having a change of heart. Mark writes that people from the whole of Judean countryside and ALL people of Jerusalem were coming. This was extremely inclusive, it was not only the Jewish people, not only the elite, not only the poor, not only the educated, not only the religious, but all. And to this diverse crowd John proclaims something even more amazing than the forgiveness of sins: Hold on! There’s more! Not only are your sins cleansed and you can turn around to God, but through the one who is coming, all of you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit who comes and brings you all into what God is up to in the world. Here is your God! Breaking into the world, coming to you, to hold on to you, to never let you go and to bring you into the purpose and mission of the kingdom of God. Hold on!

The world around us is looking for such good news to hold on to. People are desperate for this good news, desperate for the truth, capital T truth for their lives.  As people called by God, what shall we preach to them? Or why shall we preach to them? Does it matter in a world that seems to have turned away? God tells us through our baptisms, yes! It matters that our lights shine and we hold on to our call to preach and be the good news of Emmanuel, God with us. We preach it not only to others but perhaps most importantly to ourselves. We can preach the truth of “Hold on: Here is your God” who breaks into our lives as a baby from a backwater town in Palestine. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we bridge divisions for true dialog and healing. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we speak out against injustices so that the road is level for all people and particularly for those who face discrimination based on color, religion, gender or sexual orientation. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we step outside our comfort zones and hear someone else’s story of pain and are willing to share our own. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we let go of how we think the world should be and reach out for new thing that God is up to. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we follow Jesus and stand with the poor, the marginalized and the forsaken.

We preach Hold One: Here is your God when we receive and offer to all the signs of the promises of God for us to hold onto, even when it’s hard to grasp them. Hold On: Here is your God in water, in the bread and in the wine for us to hold on with both hands to the truth of God’s presence with us no matter how difficult, treacherous, or steep the road of our lives may be. Preach this truth of the good news of Jesus Christ with me this week “Hold on! Here is your God.” Preach it with every aspect of your lives, preach it at work, preach it at school, preach it! Preach it and hold on with your whole being to the good news of God breaking into our lives and the world with promises of love, forgiveness, mercy and hope. Hold on! Here is your God.