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.