A Lutheran Says What?

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

We Build Up Sermon on the Faith Practice of Encouragement March 5, 2019

This sermon was preached on February 3, 2019 at Bethany Lutheran Church. You can view it at http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts are Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, 1 John 3: 18-24, Luke 12: 22-34

Children’s sermon: Do you ever have a day where everything seems hard and you worry about everything? Maybe even friends say things that aren’t kind and we feel bad. Show me what you might look like on those kinds of days. Yes, we might slump over, hang our head, make ourselves small. But what about when you are having a hard day and someone says something that makes you feel better? Such as “I’m sorry this is hard, but you can do it!” or “I’ll help you!” or “You are good at this!” Show me how you might look then: Yes, we stand up a bit taller! We feel bigger and more solid. We feel built up. We just heard three bible stories on how God wants to build us up. God wants us to have life, love and freedom from worry. All really good things and they are hard to remember. Sometimes we get confused about what is important and we worry about things.  Have you ever worried that you weren’t smart enough, or tall enough, good enough at something or had the right clothes to wear? Yeah, me too! Adults do this all the time too, we just don’t admit it.  Do you know what encouragement or to encourage means? Yep! It means we build each other up! This is the sign language for encourage. It’s the faith practice that we are exploring in worship today and in our cross + Gen faith formation. The middle of the word encourage is courage which means strength and “cour” which means “heart” in French. So when we encourage each other or God encourages us-we are building up each other’s hearts and God builds up our hearts with words of love. And there is plenty to go around! Telling someone that they are special or good at something doesn’t take away from our specialness or talents.

God builds up our hearts by giving us words of life, of remembering to love Jesus, to not worry, to trust God and to build up other people’s hearts. How can we build other people up? We happen to have a holiday that is all about hearts coming up. Valentine’s Day! We give cards and treats that remind our friends and family that they are loved by us and God! These are words and actions of encouragement that build each other up and build us together as a community of God’s people! I have Valentine’s here for each of you.

Encourage is a concept that we often water down to mean cheerleading or affirmation yet, in my own life, I’ve learned it’s so much more than that. I’ve recently discovered the Netflix show Marie Kondo’s the art of tidying up. Have you heard of this? She had a book a few years ago and now she has a show. I didn’t read the book, as I consider myself, especially at home, don’t look in my office, a tidy person. I don’t like clutter and as a military kid, living in military housing, you were not allowed to leave for school unless your bed was properly made, your things all put away and the bathroom picked up. we were inspected once a month and we never knew when. So, I never did the messy teenage room thing and when our kids were teens I couldn’t understand the piles of clothes on the floor and beds unmade. It’s completely foreign to me. So, I honestly eschewed Marie Kondo’s tidying ways at first, assuming the Air Force regulations and my time in Japan were sufficient. But the other night it popped up at the top of our Netflix stream and I was mesmerized. You see, I discovered that it’s not about just tidying, it’s about joy, gratitude, relationships and building people up, giving them courage to be all of who they really are.

Marie begins by entering the home, greeting the family, and then kneels on the floor to give thanks to the house for offering protection and safety and to honor the tidying that is about to occur. Often the home owners tear up. You see this isn’t about how big or fancy the house is or how to make the house better. It’s not Fixer Upper or My Lottery Home, it’s about focusing on the correct thing: what kind of life they want to live.  Houses are simply a place where life is in proper perspective and you can be who you truly are, a space for your heart and spirit to be nurtured and built up. Marie, with her wide, gentle smile and breezy Japanese,  asks people the hard questions about how they want to live and who they are. She tells them to connect with what brings them joy and then discard the rest. She shares with them her own imperfections and struggles, she’s quick to make sure that the families know that she’s not better than them, just on a different point on the path and can walk with them because she knows the way. She reveals her heart to them. Marie is clear that this is hard work but they are not alone. She shows them that their heart and relationships are their treasure and who they truly are, not their things. She gives them courage to be their true selves and not hide behind stuff, worry or fear.

This is the truth of building someone up or encouraging them. Building up is heart work, as I told the children.  It strikes at the very core of who we are and who God is. I was struck this week, that really any bible passage would work, as the faith practice of encourage weaves through the entirety of the biblical witness. God offers prophets such as Moses, community leaders such as the writer of 1 John and Jesus, and God’s own son, to build us up, to reveal God’s heart, to ask us hard questions about how we want to live, to point us to who we truly are and gives us each other as  community on the path of faith together. Encourage is a faith practice that can simply not be done alone. Together we are built up and reminded of the truth that we indeed have life-the joy of living in our identity as God’s children together in community but death-living in the identity of the world that focuses on self, status, material wealth, and privilege, is pulling on us too. Choosing death might seem easier in our culture, after all the world tells us that it’s all about us, our stuff, the size and expensiveness of our homes, cars and other possessions. If we don’t have those things then we are no one and we should worry, be afraid and work harder to attain those things. But it leaves our hearts deep in clutter, over stuffed and overwhelmed by things that don’t bring joy.

In Luke, Jesus encourages us and says don’t worry, don’t be afraid and focus on what matters, true treasure, offering your heart to God and neighbor. Discard everything else. This is courageous behavior and it requires our whole selves. Jesus calls us as disciples and builds us up to live as God’s people so that we can offer our hearts to build up people who need to hear of God’s love and grace-to walk with them, to point to hope and true joy. Not with only kind words but with our actions. It takes real courage, strength of our hearts, to say “no” to our own wants and desires in order to build up our neighbor in need. As God’s people we are called to build up our neighbors who do not have shelter, food or clothes by providing those things without judgment or critique. We build up our neighbors who are invisible to the rest of society: people who are the differently abled, black and brown, LBGTQ or simply different from us by seeing and standing with them. We build up our neighbors when we listen and put aside the need to be right in order to hear their perspective, we build up our global neighbor when we  reflect on how we in the US often live at their expense, and we build up people we’ve never met, even at the cost of our own wants or convenience. Jesus tells us that there is a cost to living as disciples, it takes courage, strength of our hearts, to follow God’s heart for the world. Jesus should know, he paid with his life.

The cost of following Jesus and practicing encouragement will be the death of our egos, desires and privilege but will raise us be courageous witnesses to new life in Jesus of love, joy, gratitude and grace.  Our hearts and lives are built up by what matters, joy in the promises of God for love and life through Jesus Christ, today and forever.  Okage de kami ni narimasu. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

All Wrapped Up Together in a Not So Neat Christmas Bow, Advent 4, Dec. 21st, 2014 December 21, 2014

Mary had been given news that invoked both fear and joy within her. I think that the fear part is obvious: pregnant, unwed mother, by the “Holy Spirit” (yeah right!) and oh, by the by, your child will be the most holy Son of God. No biggie. I guess we don’t know for sure if the thought of motherhood was joyful to her, but we can extrapolate that she would have been joyful for the pending motherhood of her relative Elizabeth, who had been unable to at this point, have a child. The impossible, a barren woman having a child, was happening, so maybe the other stuff that Gabriel said about Mary was possible too? What if the messiah was really coming through her? What if God was really about to do something amazing through a poor teenage girl and an old woman? What if the angel’s praising of God that all will be ok was true?
Some of the historians point out that Mary may have hastily gone to see Elizabeth out of fear of being stoned or burned for pregnancy out of wedlock, but know from personal experience I know that she would have had 2-3 months before that would be obvious. Luke writes that Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months, so Mary returned to her home just when would have been unable to hide her pregnancy anymore. And some of us have the experience of going to maternity clothes about 10 seconds after two blue lines appear. It’s safe to say that she went to the person with whom she could share her joy, her fears and compare notes. Would Elizabeth affirm what Gabriel had said God was doing through Mary? The instant that Elizabeth and Mary greeted one another, it was revealed for the other that God was indeed up to something new, not just in their lives, but in the world, and that they were participants, however unlikely. Neither of the women knew exactly what lay ahead for them nor their children, (did they have an inkling of their impending heartbreak of the death of both of their sons?) but they did have the sense that God had ushered them into something bigger and beyond them. In some ways, this activity of God had nothing to do with them and yet had everything to do with them. Life was changing for these two women, they didn’t understand all of the details but they would never be the same and it seemed too good to be true. But together they could praise God and dwell in the mystery of God’s work in the world no matter what was to come.
I have to admit to you that I’m not feeling very much like praising God or super excited about dwelling in the mystery of what God is doing in the world right now. And neither is much of my family. The Advent season has been one not of anticipation and waiting for new life but for death. Maybe some of you are experiencing that sentiment in the midst of the holiday season too. I know, from past experiences of God in my life, that God is present and that God IS creating the world new each and every second, and that new life is exactly what my mother in law has claimed, but I’m having a hard time recognizing it or seeing how I could possibly with my doubts and apathy be a part of that creation with God. Like Mary, I have sought out friends and family with whom to talk, who are willing to walk with me in my questioning and are not afraid to wrestle with me in the unknown of grief and yet the hope of resurrection. And these friends, like Elizabeth, have reminded me to praise God in the midst of uncertainty and change. They have listened to my questions of: How could God be doing anything through me or any of the pain and grief of the last few weeks? Really? They have offered me their own experiences, reminded me of what I know to be true and praised God for me when I just don’t have the capacity in this moment. They pull me along in our mutual faith journey with them, despite myself.
Just as Mary needed Gabriel and Elizabeth to praise God for her and with her in the face of her questions and uncertainty, Elizabeth, too, needed Mary’s words of what Mary knew to be true of the God of Israel. It seems that for everyone, even one most favored, this walk with God is messy, not linear, not one way or another but its fear, uncertainty, doubt, joy, and faith all wrapped up together in not so neat Christmas bow. It’s why Mary immediately went to Elizabeth, why we seek out companions on our journey and why we gather as often as possible as the people of God. Community, worship, and gathering are not about coming together and sharing the good news when we have it all figured out and can only praise God, it’s coming together because we don’t have it all figured out. We gather to praise God on days when we can and to allow others around us to praise God for us on the days that we can’t. We gather to be reminded that we are part of what God is doing in the world to reveal love, mercy, grace and forgiveness and that our whole lives are to reflect God’s activity. We gather to be reminded of our baptisms and to be fed at God’s table, the bread and wine that proclaims Christ’s real presence now and always. Mary proclaims to us in her song of praise what God has come to do among us and, just as she is a part of that work in the world, so are we. It’s not about us at all and yet it’s all about us as the people of God.
Our God is about relationships. God with us, Emmanuel, God incarnate in Jesus Christ is God smack dab in the midst of our messy and uncertain lives and in the midst of our doubt. God came to not only draw us to her and to proclaim that nothing will ever separate us from God no matter what, but that the coming of God draws us to one another. In our friends, family member and neighbor we see and experience the living Christ. We experience what it is to be connected to something beyond ourselves and what we can see. We live in the mystery of what God has done, is doing and will do, with pieces of that mystery and that work being revealed by and through each other. We need each other to work through what we know of God in our lives and what we might yet need to discover.
Not one of us has this completely figured out and no one can journey in faith alone. None of us know what is to come next in our lives but we can journey together. We can proclaim to one another that Christ has come, Christ is present and Christ will come again. We dwell together in the reality and the mystery of God’s presence, love, grace, and forgiveness for us and for all. We praise God together and proclaim thanks be to God!

 

Risking it all-Matthew 25:14-30 Nov. 16, 2014 November 17, 2014

Filed under: sermon,Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 3:57 am
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(This is the sermon I preached at the first worship service this morning, 11-16. The second worship service went, well, differently…)

I posted this question to my Facebook page about risk-risks you’ve taken and how did it go, and what’s the one risk you wish you had taken. I had several responses in the course of a few minutes! It was crazy how the conversation about risk just kept going! Over 20 diverse people (from all walks of life, professions and denominations) told me about the risks of vocational decisions, moving, leaving harmful situations, marriage, having children, changing one’s mind about something, divorce and leaving family and friends. Risk is a part of life. They commented that these things were HARD. These weren’t calculated risks like which carpet to choose but risks that altered the way they lived their daily lives. Yet, I didn’t hear one person regret a risk that they actually followed through on. Some even commented that the risk they took that initially felt and looked like failure (such as their divorce) turned out to be a meaningful step to wholeness and joy. The only regret talked about was for risks not taken.
Risk is often an invitation to something that we’ve never done before or to think differently about our lives and the world around us. When we take a risk, when we step out beyond our fears, we are stepping into a vision that is bigger than ourselves. We are stepping into a vision that is beyond what we can imagine, explain or fully grasp. Many people on the FB conversation pointed to the fact that it was because of risk that they took, they grew, they were transformed and they now live with people differently. Risk is an acknowledgment that maybe there’s more than what we can presently see. The apostle Paul names this in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, as seeing in mirror, dimly. We don’t know exactly where the risk will take us, only that it will indeed move us from where we are now.
Risk also forces us to explore who were really are and often forces us to redefine what success means for us. When you are uncertain about the future, you begin to know more about yourself, your identity, your gifts, and your short-comings. Success, in the face of risk, ceases to be measured in dollars earned, our title or position but takes on a quality of being true to who we are. Success becomes about living out of our gifts and passions and not into material things. Taking risks also makes us vulnerable and exposed to judgment, and yet, often risk connects us with others around us in ways that are not possible when we shelter ourselves and don’t step out into the unknown. Risk drives us to community-finding other risk takers for partnership on the journey. The conversation of risk brought 20 people (many who don’t know each other) into honest conversation about risk and the reality of fear.
Matthew’s community would have been wrestling with risk. Things would not have been easy for these early Christians. Their risk was not about being given a funny look when they mentioned their church or Jesus in the grocery store line or at a dinner party(as it is for us) but risk was that their community could dissolve at any time, they could be arrested and put to death for their belief in this radical God who risked everything to be with humans, who hung out with the unclean and the criminals, who spoke truth to power, who gave up life on a cross to show forgiveness, mercy and love, and who was resurrected to break the barriers of death and despair.
Matthew places this story about three slaves right before Jesus begins his journey to the cross and uses it to turn the definitions of success and risk on its head for his community and for us. Matthew is making the point that the greatest risk with this precious story of the love of Jesus Christ, is to bury it and not do anything. The greater risk is to do nothing, accept the status quo, be safe and be sure that no one is inconvenienced or uncomfortable. Matthew doesn’t spend a lot of time on the first two slaves other than to point out that their only reward is more work in the master’s realm and they have the joy of relationship with the master. But Matthew spends some time telling us about the third slave and his issues. The third slave proclaims his fear of the master but really that fear is about himself. In his fear, he couldn’t see beyond himself or see a bigger picture outside of his own perspective. He was afraid to fail and so did nothing. In the doing nothing, he had already failed.
Matthew knew that his community had been given much already. They had received the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, they had each other for support to live their identity as beloved children of God and they had all of this in abundance. They were people who had absolutely nothing to lose and by living their daily lives proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in their neighborhoods and towns, the world had everything to gain. God’s abundance is to be shared and not buried underground. Yet, it seems fear was rampant in this early Christian community. Fear was overtaking the joy of living in relationship with God and with one another.
What is it for us here as the gathered community of LCM to live in the joy in our relationship with God and each other? Like Matthew’s community, we have been given much. We, too, have been given freedom from sin and death, freedom from worrying about messing up, unconditional love, we have been given our core identity as a child of God, we have been given each other, this gathered community, no matter what time you worship, for deepening our faith, caring for each other and the neighborhood. God has provided us everything we need to risk sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. We know that we are called to take this risk: we know that we will not be comfortable, we might be afraid, we know that our risk might seem like failure, and we know that success in God’s kingdom is nowhere near the same as the worlds.
While we here at LCM, may not risk our physical lives to proclaim the gospel, we are living in a time not unlike the early church. The culture and society around us is suspect of Christianity and Christians. We believe crazy stuff like unconditional love from God, resurrection from the dead and eternal life, forgiveness for all, the primacy of community and living one’s life for their neighbor, and caring for those whom society neglects. Living out our core identity as followers of Jesus Christ, makes us different than the rest of the world. It means decentering our personal preferences, it means we gather with other to read and wrestle with ancient texts that still speak truths, we serve and care for those in need daily, we truly believe that continuing the ministry that Jesus began of revealing God’s love to the world makes a difference. Following Jesus means risking not being popular, risking not being comfortable, risking not worrying about ourselves, risking being part of a community that will change us, risking that we will no longer be who we were before we began the journey. But in that risk is the deep joy of being who God created us to be. It turns out that living from a place of deep joy in the life of God with the people of God is the definition of success the world needs to hear.
God has trusted us with much in God’s kingdom. God calls us to be faithfully risky with the treasure of God’s unconditional love, grace and God’s vision of success for the world. We are called to be faithful-not perfect. We are free to do whatever is necessary: love with great risk, share generously with great risk, offer peace with great risk, connect to the neighborhood with great risk, or whatever God calls us into participation with her. It will transform us, not leave us the same, move us beyond ourselves and our own preferences, deepen our faith yet fill us with joy. Thanks be to God.

 

Facebook, gratitude and joy November 28, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 5:31 am
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I have to admit that I have kinda rolled my eyes all month at the 30 days of gratitude on Facebook for November. I know, I know, this makes me a bit unfeeling and callous. I don’t disagree. If you don’t know me well, let me clue you in here that I am not the most touchy feely person you will ever meet. It’s not that I am completely heartless but I am not given to spontaneous emotional outbursts and I am not by nature one to be overly affectionate. And as my best friend will tell you, I don’t cry in public. Ever. Period. And if I do you know it’s really bad. REALLY BAD.

Being thankful for the little and big things in your life is fine and a good thing. But one of the reasons I didn’t jump on that band wagon (and believe me it would have been easier than this whole blog post a day stuff), is that to me it can sound a little self righteous or smug. I didn’t want to be posting on how I am grateful for my smart children or great house or great job. I mean I have all those things, but do I need to put it on Facebook?

But then I also saw on Facebook today a saying, “The root of joy is gratitude.” It occurred to me how much I take for granted, little things and big things. What am I joyful about? Do I focus too much on what is not going well versus what is? Do I tell people how much I appreciate what they do? Do I offer grateful prayers for all that I have? Do I take for granted my creature comforts? On a day to day basis, I suspect so. Maybe the point of the 30 days of gratitude is to help us to keep perspective in our lives. I know that I can lose perspective pretty quickly. I can lose joy pretty quickly as well.

What is ironic is that there is so much that I am grateful for and so much that brings me pure and simple joy. (Emotional outburst alert!) My children, my husband, a sunrise, a sunset, seeing deer on my morning runs, meaningful work, supportive and loving friends, serving my community, neighbors and so much more! One of the aspects of life that I have actually been more aware of over the past few years is that of moments of pure joy in the midst of the ordinary, beauty in the everyday and the sense of God’s love that I believe undergirds all of humanity.

So maybe this gratitude thing is less about what we have and more about where we find our joy, beauty and love. Where is you joy? What brings you a sense of deep satisfaction makes your soul sing? What makes you notice God in your neighbor? These are things to truly be grateful for.