A Lutheran Says What?

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

Hosanna! God Save Us Now! March For Our Lives #enough March 26, 2018

*I was unable to go to the March For Our Lives, and I didn’t preach on Palm Sunday. But this has been rattling around in my brain all weekend and what I would have preached. Mark 11: 1-11
“Hosanna! God save us now!” Can you hear it? Can you hear the crowds chanting this mantra over and over to anyone who will listen? When Jesus and his followers entered Jerusalem the crowds were chanting these words, “Hosanna,” which translates to “God save us now”. To our modern ears these words seem pious, docile and quaint, but listen carefully, these words are anything but. These words are charged with emotion, charged with hope and charged with political drama. This was a not an impromptu holiday parade that the people had created, no, it was a political demonstration. It was the rallying of people who were tired of not being heard, tired of not having a voice, tired of being dismissed, and mostly just tired. This rally was an effort to bring real change. The messiah is coming!
The messiah coming means nothing will be the same. Now, the people who were in this rally 2,000 years ago were just as confused as we are today about what the coming of the Messiah means for us and the world. In Jesus’ time, the coming of the Messiah meant a military overthrow of the empire and the government who had been oppressing not just the Jewish people, but anyone who didn’t fit into the cultural norms. The Messiah would basically “kick ass and take names,” and the people who were rallying around Jesus on this day shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” were not looking for a prayer meeting but a coup d’état. They wanted life to be different, safer, more equable, and more just and by any means necessary.
Today we think of the coming of the Messiah in the culturally popular end times concepts such as from the Left Behind series or a literal reading of the book of Revelation (FYI Revelation is not meant to be read literally). We think that Jesus will return in clouds and thunder and earthquakes and catastrophes and tornadoes and cows tipping over and pigs flying. Oh the drama and the number of people who will wish that they “had been right with Jesus”!
Turns out, the people 2,000 years ago were disappointed and we will be as well. Jesus is indeed the Messiah who arrived in Jerusalem but not with military might, but with peace. The protesters who shouted “Hosanna!” were correct to do so, for God was indeed saving them, but not how they anticipated. God was saving them through Jesus who would indeed overturn the powerful and the entitled and the rich but not with violence or swords, but a death on a cross. Turning violence into peace, hate into love and intolerance into inclusion. “Hosanna!” Can you hear it? Will we listen?
Can we hear it? Will we listen to the shouts of “Hosanna” in our world today? On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people, led by youth, marched, shouting “Save us now!” They are tired, they are tired of being afraid, tired of being ignored, tired of money speaking louder than people, tired of death. If we’re honest we all are and we shout to God “Hosanna in the highest heaven! God save us now!” The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL was a catalyst, one step too far over the line of acceptable, the veritable straw that broke the camel’s back. These young people are begging us to show them the Messiah, to reveal Jesus at work in our world. Not just to end school shootings, but to end innocent people who happen to be of color from being shot 20 times in their own backyard as Stephon Clark was brutally killed. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” from systemic racism that fuels such incidents as well as our school to prison pipeline, poverty, profiling, white supremacy, unjust incarceration of our black and brown brothers and sisters. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” from patriarchal systems of gender and sexuality oppression where women and LBGTQIA people are not heard, are harassed, targeted, viewed as less than and objectified. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” to the systemic myths of ableism and see all people with all abilities as valuable and gifted. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” from whatever keeps us from truly listening to one another-conversation face to face for the sake of seeing each other as beloved children of God-each one of us created in God’s own image.
Jesus comes into our lives, our world, hears our shouts of “Hosanna! Save us now!” and offers us himself. All of himself freely, unconditionally, lovingly and mercifully. Jesus hears us, and through the cross, draws all us close so that we can hear each other too. When we hear one another all shouting “Hosanna! Save us now!” we realize that Jesus calls us to be this same selfless love to each other. The promises of God to be with us always is not for us individually, but for all of us collectively. Jesus is here, in the protests of our youth, in the protests of our black and brown brothers and sisters, in the protests of women and LBGTQIA people, in the protests of people created with unique gifts to share-Jesus is here. Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and in our hearts is indeed triumphant, not because of bringing military and worldly power, authority and privilege, but is triumphant because Jesus’ arrival in our hearts and in our lives brings mercy, tenderness, openness, forgiveness, selflessness and true love of neighbor more than ourselves. When Jesus’ arrives all is overthrown, our own ego, pride, resistance, prejudice, bias and hate. Are we listening? Can we hear it? “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven! Hosanna! God save us now!”

 

Divine Dust Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016, Year C February 11, 2016

False and True Worship

58 Shout out, do not hold back!
    Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
    a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
    and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

 

Maybe these phrases resonate with you tonight: “I don’t know how much more studying I can do, I’m so burned out.” “I’m exhausted from arguing with my teenaged daughter. I’m burned out on the fights.” “My supervisor just keeps piling on the requirements without allowing enough time or resources for the project. I’m burned out on her not listening.” “I can’t listen to any more political commercials. I’m burned out on the nonsense.” “I keep going back to drinking, gambling, overeating. I’m burned out on trying to change.” “I’m never going to be as good as my friend, colleague, classmate, neighbor. I’m burned out on not feeling good enough.” “I don’t know if I can make it one more day without my husband, wife, mother, father, child. I’m burned out on being sad.”

“I’m burned out.” It’s become a phrase that we throw around with our friends, family and colleagues pretty casually. Sometimes we use it as a badge of honor in relation to our busy and so obviously important schedules. Being burned out means that we’re so vital in whatever little kingdom we inhabit and so of course all of our resources are simply not only crucial but must be depleted. Otherwise, nothing will get done, right?

We also use this phrase to highlight our distaste and the repugnancy of whatever situation we are witnessing or are caught in. Politics, religion, money, taxes, are just a few venues in our lives where its seems that our capacity for engagement has a limit. We gaze out at the socio-economic-political landscape and what catches our sight is often less than hopeful, less than joyful, and less than secure. It’s difficult to near impossible to hear past the rhetoric and posturing of the political candidates to uncover anything of substance, anything that might be life-giving or anything that we might be able to grab on to for security and hope. We yearn for conversations of integrity, honesty and truth. We optimistically listen for what the future might bring for our children, grandchildren and even ourselves and then gut wrenchingly realize that perhaps we’re the only ones who are concerned for those who come after us. We begin to wonder that maybe change isn’t possible and this is the best that we can expect from our systems of government, education and yes, even the Church.

Or maybe you’ve used this phrase as a whisper of desperation for a relationship with a loved one or….yourself. When we’ve hit rock bottom and all we have left is the crippling knowledge that we are caught in a cycle that we alone, all by ourselves without any help, can’t break. When we’ve cried the last tear, because we’ve cried so hard, for so many days, that there is nothing left but long, dry, heaving sobs. When our hearts are not just broken, but shattered into so many pieces that we’re fairly sure that not only will it never go back together again but that there WILL be pieces forever missing. You’ve screamed the words in the car, in the woods or in the bathroom, “God, I’m burned out! I can’t do this anymore!”

God, we’re burned out. We’re depleted. We’re spent. Some days it seems that there is nothing left of our lives but ashes. Those dusty, dirty remnants of an object or thing that used to be, that used to be something of substance, of importance, of usefulness. Now, a pile of ashes, useless, easily scattered and easily blown away. What good are we as ashes and where is God when we are burned out, burned away to what feels like nothingness?

Isaiah writes, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” God hears us, listens to us, walks with us, cries with us, and sees us. God sees that we are burned out, that we are stuck in only going through the motions, that we spin our wheels and only send more dirt and muck flying up into the air, covering ourselves and those around us with the grimy specs of our attempts to take care of ourselves, go it alone, tricking others and ourselves into thinking that we have it all together, and that we can clean ourselves up at any time.

Ash Wednesday is the intersection of our dust, dirt, mess and fear of death and the reality of God’s promises for life . It’s when we admit not only our humanness and mortality but that we are being killed each day in millions of little and big ways. It’s when we run smack into the what it means when we pray “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from evil.” God promises to be our rescue. Not in a super hero sort of way swooping in at the last minute to take care of the bad guy or to fix a helpless situation and then dashing off until needed again. God’s rescue is on-going relationship with us each and every moment of our lives. God’s rescue involves a cross, suffering, death and then an empty tomb. God’s rescue is the promise to witnesses our ashes, the ashes that we keep hidden and secret from the rest of the world, and proclaim our beauty, love, and worth. God’s rescue is a return to our true identity as God’s very own children as well as a return to wholeness for all people as one people and creation.

God doesn’t see us as spent or used up but proclaims that we are created in God’s image, we are made from dust, dust that created the earth and all of the cosmos, divine dust. As divine dust creatures, it means that in baptism our lives and our deaths meet God’s promises for soaking love and for eternal life with God where sorrow and suffering is no more. We are showered with these promises so that we shower the dusty world with this life-quenching reality. There is enough in the river of life for all to be fed, clothed, housed and treated with justice and dignity. God’s justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an every-flowing stream (Amos 5: 24) and we are swept up in that tide. That tide that transforms us and the world, that tide that demands that we do not ignore God’s vision for wholeness but participate in radical justice and peace for the sake of our neighbor, who is also burned out on being pushed aside, transparent and scapegoated.

God takes our ashes and re-creates us, molds us, and enlivens us to shine with Christ’s light through our dust, to bring love and life into a world that is dying, dying to hear that brokenness is not the last word. Burn-out is not the last word. Oppression is not the last word. Death is not the last word. It is God who speaks the last word into our days spent in the messiness and chaos of life as God spoke the first words into the nothingness, chaos and dust and brought forth all of creation and life. God’s word always brings life; God’s word always brings hope; God’s word always whispers in your ear when you are screaming that you are burned out: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. I can do a lot with dust. You are mine, I see you, I love you and I am here.” Thanks be to God.

 

Sabbath: It’s Not a Nap, Sermon on Psalm 23 and Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 Pentecost 8B July 19, 2015 July 19, 2015

I don’t know about you, but after this week and the past several weeks, I’m overwhelmed and weary. Not because of church work, not because of my spouse or children (although….), not because I’m now training for two running races back to back. I’m not physically or mentally weary, I’m spiritually and emotionally weary after the past few weeks. It seems that we “can’t get a break” from all of the ways that our world is broken and it keeps seeping into our daily lives. The Charleston massacre, the debates that have turned ugly over the SCOTUS ruling of marriage, this week’s shootings of Marines in TN, more overt racism leading to questionable deaths of minority, particularly black, Americans, and then the verdict of the Aurora Movie Shooting trial. He is guilty on 165 counts of brokenness and violence with the possibility of the death penalty in the balance. I don’t know what should happen to that young man who perpetrated unspeakable violence on innocent people, but I do know that even being found guilty, and no matter if he gets the death penalty or life in jail, it doesn’t answer the question of why he would do such a thing, why people died, why do these things happen? Why are people looking to hurt other people with weapons, words, thoughts, laws, or whatever is at their disposal? I’m weary of the “why,” and maybe you are too. I look for a way to disconnect, to get away, to not have it be my problem or not feel guilty that perhaps I’m not using my voice of privilege enough in the world to make a difference for someone who does not have the same power that I do. I don’t think that I’m alone in this.
I also wonder where God is in the mix of all of this. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a complete crisis of faith, but I’m not immune to thinking “God why don’t you just DO something about all of this? Maybe free will isn’t such a great idea for most of us. Why do we not readily see each other as children of God made in your image? Can’t we just have a break from all of this violence, neediness and hurt? I need a day to myself.”
I was pondering all of the happenings of this week, as well as the past few weeks nationally, globally and personally, against the backdrop of our passages from Psalms and Mark assigned for this morning. These passages could not have come at a better time for me and maybe for you. I’ve also been reading a book with some clergy colleagues by Walter Brueggemann called “Sabbath as Resistance,” which essentially is about the importance of rest, disconnecting, Shalom, and taking a break from the tyranny of the consumer, commodity systems of our American culture. That all sounds great but Brueggemann pulls a punch, Sabbath is not about you, getting the rest that you need, getting the break you deserve from work, Sabbath is about honoring your neighbor and his or her needs. You see Brueggemann connects Sabbath rest with radical justice, with pulling ourselves out of the culture of me, myself and I, fulfilling our needs and wants, making sure we have enough. We want to support ourselves and it’s our #1 excuse for working so many hours, having our children over scheduled with sports and other activities and all of the other ways that we fill our lives so that we feel important and secure our own future. But when we can pull ourselves out from that, only then can we recognize all of the ways that we exploit our local or global neighbor, put ourselves first over their well being, for our own desires and wants.
In Mark , Jesus’ disciples have returned after the hard work of healing, teaching and casting out of demons. They have seen a lot of need, a lot of disease, a lot of brokenness and a lot of violence. They are weary and hungry. Jesus acknowledges this and tells them to find a place to be alone and rest. So they attempt to do so, but are thwarted, the disciples couldn’t get a break from the neediness of the people. Jesus came and surveyed the situation and saw it for what it was: the reality of the human experience; the reality of people whom were not worth anything to society because of their disease, neediness, or brokenness. Jesus saw people whom the rest of the world had given up on, had forsaken and he had compassion for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Now here is what I have learned this week about the word compassion and about sheep. Compassion means “with suffering” and in the Greek the word is related to having a gut feeling. I learned that sheep actually don’t like to be all together and stay with their shepherd but prefer to scatter and do whatever they want and so the shepherd has the task of constantly walking around in their midst to pull them together and redirecting them. Constantly.
Jesus feels in his gut for these wandering, forsaken, and broken people. He and the disciples are pulled out of the human system of worrying about themselves into God’s system of using their Sabbath for the sake of their neighbor. They don’t get a break– in the sense that they go where no one else in that society would, toward the violence, suffering, disease and messiness and not away from it.
This is the tension of being the people of God. We get tired; we want to hide in our homes, our rooms or even in our churches and worry only about ourselves. We get overwhelmed by the need and look for a deserved secluded place to hide out, just for a while and then Jesus, we’ll be right back with you. But Jesus, our shepherd, the one who walks in our midst, who feels for us in his guts, God’s own guts, gathers us to God, no matter how much we wander, and show’s up in places where the world proclaims as “God forsaken.” Jesus reorients us to care for one another, reminds us that our voices DO matter, that when we think or question where God is, proclaims that Jesus is with us, walking through the crowds covering us with his garment and love for healing, wholeness and hope. Jesus reminds us that we lack nothing, we don’t want for anything, we have enough. We have enough volunteers for our ministries here at LOTH. We have enough money for whatever God calls us to be in our community. We have enough strength to stand against social, economic and physical injustice. We have enough courage to not fear danger. Our cup runs over with the goodness and faithful love of Jesus Christ that follows us and gathers us all of the days of our lives and into eternal life. The table that Jesus sets with abundant bread and wine, Jesus sets for all people, even those who might be hostile to us, our enemies, to the gospel message of radical equality and love for all creation.
God is in the places and situations that we might call “God forsaken.” But God forsakes no one, God comes to us all, walks with us, gathers us, sustains us when we’re weary, reorients us toward our neighbor, reveals the abundance that we already possess, banishes our thoughts of scarcity and says that we have enough and we are enough. We can trust and take Sabbath rest in those promises. God’s love, goodness, mercy are with us all of our days and we dwell with God forever. Amen

 

Looking for Power in All the Wrong Places Mark 6: 14-29 Pentecost 7B July 12, 2015 July 16, 2015

When I was two, I learned a new word and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to use it. (Now don’t worry this is a family friendly sermon.) One day I had my chance. My parents had taken me to a beach in northern CA where we were stationed at Vandenberg AFB with some friends. After a full day of playing on the beach and in the water, it was time to go home. My mother went to scoop me up and put me in the rather rudimentary 1972 car seat and I realized my chance to try out this word. I did not want to get into my car seat and I now had the vocabulary to articulate my desire for power and control. I put my hands on my hips and looked at my mother and said, “Now, wait a minute dumb-dumb.” Where I had heard that pejorative word, who knows, (older kids probably) but my two year old brain had quickly recognized that I could own more power by trying to take away someone else’s. What my two year old brain had not processed is that my parents were still bigger and waaaaaay smarter. I ended up in the car seat, screaming I’m sure, with my parents wondering why they bother to ever leave the house with me. *Kids-it is never ok to call names or say something mean to anyone-especially your parents! *Parents-you’re welcome.

Figuring out what you have power and control over in your life starts nearly at birth. Learning to control our limbs, head, and neck is about three months of work right there! Then there’s rolling over, crawling, walking, running, toileting, riding a bike and all of the gross motor skills. Alongside control of our physical bodies, we learn that our emotions can control our actions and how that can be good and bad. As we mature, we begin to want more power and control in our lives. The teen years are all about power and control. Figuring out what you can and can’t do without negative consequences is a major part of adolescence, as well as learning where you don’t have power in your life.

We are wired to like power, control, and agency. Unfortunately, we struggle to move past what my two year old brain had put together, that in order to have power, control and agency, we must diminish someone else’s.

On a cursory reading of today’s gospel text, we could say that the theme is power. Herod’s power over John, John’s unlikely power over Herod, Herodias’ (Herod’s wife) power over her daughter, Herod’s daughter’s power over Herod, the power of keeping up appearances, and then we have the power of Jesus and his disciples with the crowds that frightened the puppet king. Power is indeed a key player in this text. We see people entangled in a system solely based on the need for personal power over and against other people. In this ancient soap opera, the most powerful person-the person with the most political clout, the most agency, the most status-wins. And it’s all about winning with Herod. He is in a power struggle with Herodias and John. John had exposed Herod’s wrong doings in marrying his brother’s wife (Days of Our Lives, anyone?)  and that threatened Herod’s power. Herodias had obviously traded up in husbands and married for money and power. In first century Palestine, Herodias only had as much power as her husband, so if Herod lost power so did she. Herod must maintain control and agency over John, even though Mark tells us that he kind of liked John. John told the truth to Herod of his abuse of his power; Herod deep down knew it but was too afraid to act. What if he lost all of his friends, his pawn throne of the Roman Empire, the lavish banquets, and all of the royal trappings? What if he became a nobody in Jerusalem?

At the end of the day, power is about ensuring that we are a somebody. We are worthy, important, special, famous, a mover and a shaker. This means that if I am all of those things, then you can’t be. There is not enough power for all of us to share. We can’t all be important! What if you have more influence and control than I do? Then what?

Power is definitely a theme in this story. But not the power that Herod desires, Herodias fears and kills John. It’s not power that is control and agency over and against someone else, but it’s the power of presence. The kind of presence that is hard to grasp, seems elusive and yet is palpable all through this story that seems to be about human power at its worst, human agency at its worst and human fear at its worst.  There is another power at work that is barely named and appears to not be part of the equation: Jesus. Counter to the power of humanity that seeks power for its own sake, for its own elevation, for its own sense of control and self worth, Jesus offers the power of his presence. This presence gives away power instead of accumulating it. Jesus and the disciples are busy giving away God’s power of healing, mercy, grace and love, while Herod is busy hoarding his power. Power of presence is power that seeks to elevate others, offers freedom to others and empties itself out to others.

Too often we think of power as personal, individual and scarce. Just like I was sure that I needed to assert power over my parents to be happy and have well being, we look for ways to take power and not share it and the world encourages us to do this. But God proclaims that in God’ creation and kingdom that is a lie that we choose to believe. God emptied power into the most powerless creature on earth, a newborn baby. Through Jesus Christ, God reveals over and over again how real power is given away. When we put other people’s needs first, when we understand and say “no” to the world’s system that wants us to compete with our neighbor for money, resources and status, when we stand in solidarity with people whom are told that their lives don’t matter, when we act to support the black churches that have burned down, when we see past labels and see people as God sees them, beloved, no matter where they live, what they believe, whom they love and who loves them, we reveal the power of the presence of Christ. God’s power is love for all people no matter what and this power conquers all fear, all hatred, and all sin, which is anything that separates us from this power of love in Christ.

This power of love is not a theoretical concept or a sappy philosophical thought but is embodied in Jesus and his actions on the cross where the loss of worldly power became the ultimate of God’s power of love, reconciliation and presence in the systems that lead to suffering in this world. This power of God’s presence is tangible in the waters of baptism, in the bread and the wine and in each one of us. Through the Holy Spirit we live this powerful presence that is Christ’s power of love. In Christ’s power, God declares that we are all somebody; we are all somebody in the body of Christ and beloved children of God marked the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Christ’s power is at work in you, in me and in the world. Thanks be to God.