A Lutheran Says What?

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

It’s Been a Year Sermon on Ephesians 2 March 12, 2021

This sermon was offered to the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 14, 2021, one year after the COVID19 shutdown. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Numbers 21:4-9
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Children’s message: Have a battery operated candle or flashlight. Have the batteries out or placed incorrectly so that it doesn’t work. Say, “It’s been a long year hasn’t it? It’s been a year of learning about stuff we never knew like social distancing, masks, vaccines and so much more! I’ve learned how much I miss all of you for one thing! I miss singing with you, dancing with you, playing games and praising Jesus with you! What have you learned this year? I’ve also learned that being alone is hard and that being alone isn’t what God wants for us and our lives. It made me think of this battery operated candle. When the batteries are out or not in correctly, it doesn’t work. It can’t work without the power from the batteries. But when the batteries are in place and correctly connected, it lights up! Then we can see clearly around us. In our Ephesians story today, Paul is writing to people about how we live together. How we have to act how God acts with love and grace. Kind like how the batteries and the candle all have to work together to give light.  If we’re not connected to each other and God, we can’t give off light for others to see God’s love and grace. That’s why we gather, even on Youtube or Zoom, to connect to God, to remember that God will love us forever no matter what and that is what grace is. AND God wants us to live together, our way of life, in this same forever love and grace. Think about how you can shine with God’s love this week! We’re going to keep talking about this….

It’s been a year. It’s been a year since our whole way of life was disrupted.  It’s been a year since we’ve worshiped in person in the sanctuary together. It’s been a year of hardship, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, turmoil, revelations, transformations and learning. It’s been a year for me of doing ministry in a way that I never imagined. It’s been a year of digital worship, or small groups outside. Many, many phone calls, texts and FaceBook messenger. It’s been a year of difficult conversations as we navigate differing perspectives and experiences. It’s been a year of clarifying what really matters, how we care for one another and our neighbors. It’s been a year that has revealed where our society is healthy, and where it most certainly is not. It’s been a year for me, of gratitude for you the beloved people of OSLC and all who have partnered with us. It’s been a year where I witnessed your compassion, generosity, graciousness, and love for one another and myself. (And as an aside, oh my how I love you all and I’m so grateful for God to have called me here!) It’s been a year, and now we embark on another year, another Lent, another Easter of navigating something new, a new way of life.

It’s not what we imagined, wanted or bargained for. We yearn to go back to the way life was just a little over a year ago, before we knew what was to be, before we knew the hardship, the sickness, the death, the fear. We yearn to go back to when we were comfortable, or at least thought we were. But the truth is that COVID19 wasn’t the true reason for our hardship, it was the catalyst, but we were all experiencing a sickness of one sort or another before March of 2020. We were and still are, soul sick. We were already afraid of the future, even when we thought that future didn’t entail a deadly pandemic. We were afraid of how the world was changing, how we were changing, how we weren’t in control. We were already suspicious of our neighbor and the decisions they made. We were already competing for resources, power and privilege.

The truth is that COVID19 revealed that our way of life, wasn’t working. COVID19 revealed a crisis, a need to re-evaluate how we live together and what it means to live in response to God’s grace. There were a few voices that tried to assert that COVID19 was God’s judgment against some group of people with whom the disagreed, that God was condemning non-Christians, or LBGTQIA+ folks, or people who wanted to allow immigrants across our borders, or some other made-up distinction and compartmentalizing of human beings. But as Jesus tells Nicodemus in their cover of darkness meeting, God doesn’t condemn the world or the people whom God lovingly created. God’s judgment, the crisis, is that God desperately loves us and creation and desires nothing more than for us to love God and each other. God sending Jesus into the world to live in our midst as one of us, is a sign of this love, for God’s desire for abiding connection with us. Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ raised on cross for the world to behold the power of sin, Jesus raised from the dead for the world to behold God’s “no” to death, and Jesus’ raised to God’s side, for the world to behold that heaven and earth are connected, are one in the life and Kin-dom of God and separation is no more.
And this is all a gift from God freely given, God’s grace is given despite our actions or inaction. Through the faith of Jesus, the trust in God’s will and desire, we are connected to this flow of love for the world. And God wants love to be our way of life, Paul writes to the Ephesians. Quit worrying about yourselves, your salvation, it’s already done. Your way of life in now one of response to God’s grace and love. Yes, this is a disruption of how we are living now. Yes, it will mean a hard look at the truth of the world around us. Yes, what will be revealed will be painful, and we will not be able to go back to our old way of life, and it wasn’t working anyway.

It’s been a year, a year where God has so loved the world and Jesus has been present. It’s been a year where God’s presence was not one of condemning us or offering God’s wrath, but of revealing where healing, wholeness, justice and mercy are desperately needed in our communities and in our world. It’s been a year that exposed that we were dead a year ago in status quo, in comfort, in security and now we’ve been made alive in truth. We now look at the truth head on, we see the snakes that are biting and killing and say no. We see the truth that worrying about ourselves, making decisions that are about our own wants and not for the health, well-being and safety of our neighbor brings harm to us all. We see the truth that much of our society, our way of life together, needs to be disrupted by God’s grace and love. We see the truth that this is our baptismal life, to be this graceful and loving disruption of sickness, separation and death.
It’s been a year, and I pray that it’s a year that we don’t try and sweep under the rug, simply forget, or try and ignore. I pray that it’s a year that we recognize that our way of life has been and will continue to be disrupted by God’s love, grace and mercy through Jesus. I pray that it’s a year that we hold on to as a witness that our way of life together is intertwined to God’s life and God’s desire for abundant life for all humanity and creation. It’s been a year, a year that has changed everything and exposed that our way of life is always held in God’s eternal presence and grace. Amen.

Prayers of the People:

Prayers of the People

Let us lift up our prayers today for ourselves, our neighbors, our community and our world.
A brief silence.

God of all, it has been a year. A year since we have worshiped in our usual spaces, a year since we have sung together praises of love, a year since we could freely have human contact, a year of change, a year of uncertainty. Hear our laments and our grief, God, as we now recall our experiences of this year.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Creative God, it has been a year. It has been a year of newness, change, creativity, and worshiping how we never thought possible, gathering how we never thought possible and doing ministry in ways that we never thought possible. But you saw the possibilities and called us into them with you. Thank you for the strength and courage in the past year to join you in bringing creation alive in our midst.
Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Healing God, it has been a year. A year of bodies hurting, of minds suffering, of hearts breaking and death mounting. It’s been a year for the medical teams who have worked tirelessly and we pray for sabbath rest for them. It’s been a year for the essential workers and we pray for economic justice for them. It’s been a year for our educators and we pray for a society that supports them. It’s been a year for those who work for racial justice and we pray to be part of the transformation with them.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Listening God, it’s been a year. And we begin a new year with tender hope, hope that things may return to normal and a desire for a new normal. As we go forward from this year, remind us to bring with us all that we have learned and experienced. As we go forward from this year, may our hearts be more open, may our ears more attentive and our eyes clearer to the revelation of your kin-dom. As we go forward from this year, may we refuse the normal that was oppressing and harming people of color, immigrants, refugees and our LBGQTIA+ siblings. As we go forward from this year, may it be for justice and peace.

Lord in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Loving God, It’s been a year and you have been always near. You hear our prayers, you give us strength, courage for the journey and hold us in love.

Amen.

 

The Crisis of “For God So Loved the World” Lent 4B John 3:1-21 March 16, 2015

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 1:27 am
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How many of you can remember either your first year of college, or the first year you lived on your own? It was scary at first wasn’t it? We longed for the familiarity, comfort and security of living at home with our family (even though we probably pushed back on them). We didn’t know who we were, what we were doing or where we were going. Being on our own was a completely new way of living for us. It was frightening and exciting all at the same time. In a sense, this new found freedom and new way of living was a crisis for many of us. But it was a crisis that moved us from where we were as teenagers into adulthood. It was a crisis that opened up for us the possibilities of who we were and who we could become. If not for that crisis though, we might not have met our spouses and had our own children otherwise, or had the vocations that we now have. I know my parents were supportive but out of love, knew I had to be in the crisis and risk a little in order to grow and be all God created me to be. I think all of us would say that was worth the risk of moving out of our family’s homes.
A crisis can be caused by a positive event in our lives, as well as a negative event. It’s a defining period of time where we see the world differently, see our lives through a new lens and are open to new possibilities. Moving away from home, getting married, a new job, a new baby, a uncertain diagnosis, job loss or death of a loved one or any new experience invites us to think, be and live in a different way. Sometimes we handle a crisis well; we open up to the new way of living and explore it, learn from it and grow. Sometimes not so well. Sometimes we choose to go back to what we know and are familiar with, stay stuck if you will in the comfortable, even if that is not ultimately what is best for us, or the people around us. The system of what we know runs smack into something we have never seen before, and in that crisis, we are presented with a choice of what to do next.
Nicodemus, in John 3, is in such a crisis. He is a Pharisee, steeped in the Jewish system of the temple, the law and what he thinks it means to be God’s chosen people. Nicodemus, as a leader, personally benefits from this system; he’s comfortable, he has status, power and probably some financial security. But he admits that when he experiences Jesus and what Jesus is doing in the world, it puts him in crisis. He sees that everything Jesus does points to God and is part of who God is, despite the fact that it doesn’t follow the system Nicodemus currently knows and takes part. So, Jesus’ very presence causes a crisis for him; what he knows is running head long into a new way and what does it all mean?
Jesus affirms for Nicodemus that he does indeed recognize God’s work and
Jesus also affirms his crisis. Yep, Jesus says, this is new, God is doing a new thing
and let me tell you a bit more because it’s not what you think and it’s going to put the whole system that you know into a deeper crisis. God has come to be among you and so you cannot stay the same, the world cannot stay the same and the system that you cling to, cannot stay the same, no matter how hard you try to cling to it. The world cannot stay the same because God loves the world too much to leave it, and us, alone. God sees who God created us to be and wants that transformation for us.
John 3:16 is probably the most quoted Bible verse and yet, is the most misunderstood. Cherry picked from the middle of this rich story of the encounter of Jesus and Nicodemus, it loses it depth, breadth and role of God shaking up the world’s system and gets used to set up and support our own comfortable system that we can control and cling to. It becomes an indictment or a measuring stick for who’s in and who’s out. We focus our attention on the “who believes” and we gloss over God’s sacrificial and unconditional love for the whole world. And we completely ignore verse 17, that this in breaking of the kingdom of God through Jesus for the purpose of all people being gathered to God. We dilute this whole story down to one of pointing our fingers at people who think different than us, we use it as a self-justification that what we believe is correct and therefore makes us ok with God. We make it about us and not the world.
In doing so, we are attempting to keep ourselves comfortable and ignore the crisis at hand. The root of the words condemnation and judgment used in John is the same as our English word of crisis. Jesus coming into the world, the spirit blowing where she chooses presents a crisis, judgment or condemnation for us all. The light of God is now in the world and now everything is exposed whether we like it or not. The whole world, our whole system that we think keeps us comfortable, safe, and secure is in crisis. God is doing and showing us a new thing through Jesus and it’s a good thing but it presents us with some choices, even though that makes us uncomfortable to think about.
One of the tensions in this story is that Jesus acknowledges that not everyone will be on board, there will always be the naysayers, those who will resist the change to the system and will respond to the crisis of the light and love of God coming into the world by doubling down on the system that keeps them in their safe cocoon of the illusion of having power and control. It doesn’t mean that salvation is not theirs because Jesus is equally clear on that: God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and grace are for all-the whole world whether they like it or not or acknowledge it or not. That’s done; no one needs to worry about that. But Jesus invites all people now thrown into the crisis of God’s presence with them always, to be transformed, to grow, learn and made new, not just so that we can say that we believe and are ok, but to transform the world around us with God’s love and mercy. Our participation in God’s new system of love matters, God’s system won’t leave us alone to our own devices but offers us a way of truly responding and being a part of what God is up to around us. It’s risky because we will be set free from the world’s system and transformed by God’s presence and God’s system.
It’s risky when we step out of our comfort zone to volunteer at the Denver Rescue Mission, when we think about new ways of doing confirmation such as our Lakewood Lutheran Confirmation Cluster, when we put relationships with each other first and disregard our differences in preferences for how we live our lives, how we do Bible study, or worship, when we admit that we don’t know exactly what God is raising up but are willing to look for signs of new life and nurture them. It’s risky by the standards of the world to live this way and you need to know that. But love is always worth the risk. God risked through the cross and the empty tomb God’s very own son, Jesus, because loving us and the whole of creation is worth the risk. You, me, and all people are worth the risk to God. Like Nicodemus, we aren’t able to imagine that Jesus’ death on the cross is really about life and that the empty tomb is really about no separation from God and God’s system, but is about God’s imagination for life, hope and forgiveness. This carried Nicodemus and carries us through the crisis of the new way of system of living in Jesus. God is here no matter what and invites us each and every day to imagine and participate with God in this risky endeavor of love. Thanks be to God!