A Lutheran Says What?

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

In Sync with God July 24, 2020

This sermon was preached on July 26, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.”

The texts were:
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Matthew 1: 18-25

Merry Christmas! That feels out of sync doesn’t it? Actually, even reading this scripture in July feels a bit discombobulated. We are used to certain patterns of life happening in certain ways and times and when that doesn’t occur…well mayhem can ensue. We are wired as human beings to seek synchronicity, to find homeostasis-sometimes at any cost. Being out of sync or swimming up stream is not desirable and can lead to challenges for us in our  daily lives, families and communities. We rarely like to be “the only one” in any situation. We all know that experience of being in a group and voicing an opinion that turns out to the minority voice. Or acting in a way that is an anomaly to what everyone else is doing. Most often, we try to fit in. Losing social status and connections in our community becomes the paramount concern. Staying within social norms is the safe and comfortable space to be in. Until we realize that space isn’t actually all that comfortable especially when it is out of sync our core beliefs and values.

When we read Matthew 1, we tend of focus on the passage as the birth of Jesus, but upon closer reflection, it’s a passage that highlights what it is to live in sync with God’s values versus the world’s values. This is the story of Joseph, who’s very name should hearken us back to Genesis, to Joseph who was the favorite of his father Jacob, who had dreams and visions of the future, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, whose gifts gave him prominence in Egypt and who ultimately was able to save people from starvation and hardship. Joseph in our Matthew 1 passage, thought his life was in sync, even with engagement and marriage to Mary. The usual pattern was that you would be betrothed, which was a formal contract between families that was not easily broken, and after some time, a few months but no more than a year, the contract would be solidified by the marriage. Usually, nothing dramatic happens in that in between time. So Mary becoming pregnant before they solidify their marriage is out of sync with the plan. Joseph has every right to adhere to cultural and religious norms, divorce her, and allow her to be stoned for this betrayal. No one would have thought twice about his actions as it sadly happened all the time that women and other people who weren’t in sync with cultural norms were severely punished with torture or death. Joseph would have been supported by friends and family if he had made that decision.

But it turns out, Joseph’s value system didn’t sync up with that. We read that he was a righteous man, in right relationship with God. When an angel comes to him in a dream, he knows to his core what the right thing is to do, and it’s not what the culture of the Roman Empire or his faith tradition tells him. It’s what God tells him. He gives up his rights, his power and privilege to protect Mary, to protect the child and God’s mission. He chooses to not be in sync with the world but to be in sync with God. Joseph knew that people would ridicule him, would shake their heads that he would still take Mary, an obviously unfaithful and immoral woman, to be his wife. Friends and family would label him a sucker, weak, wonder what moral failings he also possessed to act in this way and ostracize them both. We tend to romanticize Joseph’s actions, but let’s be clear, Joseph was choosing Mary and God over comfort, stability, safety and being in sync with his community. Joseph’s actions spoke volumes about what and whom he valued.

Living from our values as people who choose God is never easy, never comfortable and rarely safe. When we choose a life in sync with God’s vision and mission, we are choosing to be out of sync with the world. We are choosing radical love, mercy, grace and justice that proclaims with words and actions that those who are despised by the values of the world, God loves. Those who matter less, matter to God. Those who have no value by worldly standards, God lifts up as deeply valued. We are choosing the risk of being labeled, the risk of being ridiculed, or the risk of losing family and friends. It might feel overwhelming to think about how as people of God can be out of sync and make a difference, but I want to remind you that we have already made the first step as a faith community. Our Welcome Statement is also our value statement: I invite you to look at the bulletin and read it with me:

Welcome to Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

 We embrace the teaching of Jesus to love one another as we are first loved by God: wholly and abundantly. We want all people to know that they are worthy of God’s unconditional love and grace. 

Whoever you are- we want you here.
Whatever your gender identity- we want you here.
Whatever your status- we want you here.
Whatever your sexual orientation- we want you here.
Whomever you love- we want you here.
Whatever you look like- we want you here.
Whatever your abilities- we want you here.
Whatever you bring to Christ’s table- we want you here.

 You are wanted here.

As we all move forward with the work of being God’s love for all people, we commit ourselves to making God’s justice, healing, grace and inclusivity a reality in this congregation and throughout the world.

These aren’t just nice words, these are our values as people of God. This is how we live our values proclaiming God’s good news that through Jesus Christ, separation from God is no more, that all are beloved, that the love in the kingdom of God is more powerful than the hate, fear, and division of the kingdom of the world. Living this out fully in our daily lives, wherever we go, as the people of OSLC, is how we will live in sync with God, how we will make a difference, how we are making a difference.

Joseph understood that God’s values becoming a reality in the world, started with him. He could choose to live differently and in doing so, Joseph became a vital piece of God’s plan for the wholeness, redemption and hope for all creation. God empowered Joseph with God’s presence to live out his values despite the values proclaimed by Caesar, the chief priests, the cultural laws. God empowers us too, through the waters of baptism, in the bread and in the wine, and in our community. We are fortified with God’s grace and courage to live as Jesus showed us. Jesus shows us that when we live in sync with God’s unending and steadfast love, when we lay down our lives for others, when we amplify unheard voices, when we say “no” to the death dealing ways of the world, we are proclaiming that God’s kingdom, God’s values, in the coming of Jesus Christ in our midst, is changing the world, bringing us all in sync with God’s promises, today and forever. Thanks be to God.

 

Inconvenient Love: Story of God’s Love Advent 4 Year A December 23, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Dec. 22, 2019. The texts were:

Isaiah 7: 10-16
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Matthew 1: 18-25

Children’s sermon: How many of you have heard story about yourself from when you were really little, from before you can remember or even a story that you do remember and you remember it differently? Such as when my sister and I talk about Christmas’s when we were growing up, she has different memories than I do. She remembers what we ate for the meal, and I remember who was there, or she’ll remember having fun sledding and I’ll remember being cold and wet. What’s cool about that is between us, we have more pieces of a story and important parts are remembered. I have this book to read to you “Room for a Little One,” Jesus’ birth story told from the perspective of the animals. This story reminds us that there are different ways to hear and tell a story. Today we hear from the gospel of Matthew the story of Jesus being born. If you come back to church on Tuesday, you’ll hear a different story of Jesus’ birth from the writer of Luke. They remember different pieces of the story and sometimes that might seem confusing. But both stories tell us that the important piece is that Jesus was born to be God’s love with us. The details of both stories help us to connect with how much God loves us and the world. Here are crayons and paper. If you were going to tell the story of Jesus birth to someone what would you say? Let’s pray:

This really isn’t convenient at all. This makes my life more complicated and messier. Pregnant before I’m married by the Holy Spirit? Who’s going to believe that? And if no one believes that, then the message that this baby is the Messiah is going to be a really hard sell. As it is, everyone in town is talking about this-well about me. I see the side glances and hear the whispers behind my back. The people shaking their heads at me in judgment. Friends pretending to not know me. My family too embarrassed and angry to even leave the house, as this isn’t how they raised me to act and they think I’m bringing shame to the family name and legacy. I wonder if they’ll let me live with them still, especially since I’m was supposed to go live with my husband soon and not even be in the household any longer. And Joseph…he’s such a good, God-fearing man who lives his life by the law and would never dream of doing anything scandalous. What is he going to do? By law, he could have me stoned and then none of this will matter. At the very least, the marriage has to be off and I will be alone and expecting a baby.  Why God is choosing this way to bring the Messiah? Surely there is an easier way that would be more convenient and believable. If only I understood the whole plan.

This really isn’t convenient at all. This makes my life more complicated and messier. But I can’t shake this dream of the angel speaking to me. It’s hard to believe that Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit…yeah right. Who is going to believe that? I hear what everyone in the town is saying, the names that they are calling her and how they look at me with disbelief. I never thought that I would be involved in a scandal like this, that’s not who I am or how I’ve lived my life. Following God’s law matters, the law keeps just these sorts of things from happening, you know. People were surprised when I simply went to her father to quietly end the marriage when many thought that Mary should receive the full punishment of stoning, but that is also not who I am.

Don’t be afraid the angel said. Well what does this angel know? Afraid doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what life will be like if I continue with the marriage. We’ll always be “that family” and I’ll always be the guy who is raising a child that isn’t mine-a son none the less. Not really my heir, not technically from my lineage which does come from King David himself. I am supposed to just ignore that truth? But what if the angel is right, that this baby IS the one who will live up to his name that comes from our ancient history-Joshua or as some would say Jesus-the one who saves from sin. God doesn’t give names lightly. I remember from the reading from the prophet Isaiah who spoke of this that there would be a child who will be God with us. I never thought that I would be connected to such a thing or that God would really come as a helpless child. Babies aren’t convenient in most cases, but God as a powerless baby? How will that save us?

This whole experience is inconvenient. But what if this isn’t only about me and my reputation and future? What if there is something beyond myself and Mary? Is marriage or any relationship ever convenient? God is mysterious and doesn’t always seem interested in convenience in how God acts, I mean look at our history as Israelites, wandering around in the desert for 40 years wasn’t super convenient and neither was placing the law on heavy stone tablets or our exile experience. Being Israelite and belonging to God has never been convenient and has often been cause for hardship. But in those experiences, we did learn to trust God, and that God’s love never leaves us. We learned that God keeps God’s promises. What if this isn’t an inconvenience but an opportunity for me to trust God? No matter what choice I make, my life is forever changed, as is Mary’s. Maybe this is living life faithfully, not by the rules I’ve always known, but by trust and love of God. Love is rarely about what’s the easiest but is about what matters in the big picture for living and trusting in God’s love. The easiest thing is for me to walk away, the loving thing is for me to believe that God loves me, Mary and this baby who God says will transform the world, even though I don’t fully understand. Perhaps one day this will all make sense to someone and God’s promise will be clear.

This really isn’t convenient at all. It’s more complicated and messier than we like. We want God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus to makes our life easy, comfortable, and predictable. God at work in our lives and in the world should mean that everything in our life will be respectable to the outside world, that following whatever rules we think matter will mean that we are protected from chaos and hurt. But that is not the promise. God works through the inconveniences to reveal God’s transformational presence and love with us and for us through Jesus, an inconvenient birth, in an inconvenient place to fill our lives with God’s forgiveness, mercy and life forever. Jesus, as God incarnate, enters the real everyday messiness of our lives, the strained or broken relationships, the worry of our reputations, the fear of harm and rejection, and hardships that come when we focus on only ourselves. It might seem inconvenient for God to decide to meet us in the form of a fallible human with grace, mercy and love, but God has never been interested in convenience. God has always been interested in you-in offering love and abundant life to you, and us all, in whatever way possible, no matter what the cost. Love that comes in words of encouragement and words of reflection. Love that is tenacious and vulnerable. Love that moves us beyond rules and the past. Love that comes from people whom we like and from those whom we don’t. Love that comes to us in memories or dreams. Loves that comes to us whether we want it or not. Love that calls us to trust and step forward into a future we don’t fully understand to reveal God’s promise, healing and embracing of all. Love that might be inconvenient but with us always. Amen.