A Lutheran Says What?

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

Burned Out An Ash Wednesday Sermon March 6, 2019 March 7, 2019

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO on March 6, 2019. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts for the day were Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 6: 1-21

 

We live in what many psychologists call a “burn out” culture. We have 24 hour news cycles, constant connectivity, the ability to work from anywhere, anytime, the mentality of “work hard, play harder,” the idol of busyness, the pressure to have the perfect home, family, physique, diet, the list goes on and on. We have never ending “to-do” lists and feel the pressure of not being worthy or enough. So we put on masks to cover up our unworthiness, the pressure, the tension and even figure out how to glorify the masks. “Oh I’m so busy!” we say! Translated, that means, “aren’t we so important to people and without us it all falls apart.” Another translation could be “I need to be needed and without being busy, needed and noticed by everyone, I’m a nobody.” So, with that tape running through our minds, we think we have to hustle for our worth, we keep on our masks of self-importance and perfection-until we can’t. We burn out. Sometimes it’s subtle and we simply become exhausted and take a break and try to reorder our priorities. But sometimes, it’s more insidious, isn’t it? It’s a health diagnosis, it’s depression, it’s destructive relationships, it’s doubling down on power and control in our own lives or tightening that mask of the image that we show the world, while internally we are literally dying, becoming ashes, dust.

We’ve all experienced some form of “burn-out,” I know that I have. I reach a point where I’m not really me, not the best version of myself to anyone, anywhere. I slip on the mask of strength, perfection, having it all together, the perfect wife, mother, pastor. But here’s the thing about masks: they aren’t built to stay on. Eventually, it will slip, and then I’m grateful for family, friends, trusted colleagues who see beneath my mask and say, “hey this mask isn’t really you. This isn’t who I know you to be. How can I help you recover your true self, your true identity and come into new life?”

On Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, we start with the reality of our masks. We admit that we are burned out of the masks we wear, of trying too hard, and we are afraid of being a pile of ashes. We are weary of being in the dark of our masks. We long for light, life, freedom, truth, grace. We long to be reassured that we are loved but we cling to the fear that we need to earn love. So we end up sliding those masks right back on, even though we know that they aren’t really us.

These masks are not new to modern times. Jesus names these masks in our Matthew reading as hypocrisy. Jesus points out the masks of religious piety, of putting on a mask of self-importance, worth, and pride are as much an issue as the other masks that we might try on. Religious rituals themselves are not the issue, doing religious rituals to prove your worth is wearing the mask of false identity. You are not created to serve you, you created for relationship with God and neighbor. You were created to bring your true and whole self into the light, to be the light of Christ.

Giving alms publicly means nothing if you withhold basic needs from your neighbor in private. Praying out loud with eloquent words and complex sentence structures means nothing if your everyday words to your neighbor are cruel, unloving, oppressive, homophobic, racist, sexist, classist, and hurtful. Showing that you are fasting means nothing if in the rest of your life you serve your own interests, as Isaiah writes, you hoard and take more than you need with no thought of others. It’s a lot of energy and work to act one way in public and be someone else in private. It can burn you out.

Jesus invites us to take off the masks of hypocrisy, to expose our true identity, to be God’s own people of light. The return to our authentic selves, unmasked, vulnerable and beloved. This is a rich gift that never fades, never breaks, and can never be taken from you. It’s from where true life flows. This new life is what God promises to do with the ashes of our masks, the pieces of us that burn away when we turn again to trust God for all of who we are and all that we need. This is why Jesus teaches what we now call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, Mark and Luke. This prayer has simple and unpretentious words that names us as God’s own, names us as worthy, grounds us in accountable and beloved community and reorients us to the reality that we can’t control our lives, we can’t hide behind our masks of independence, autonomy, busyness, perfection or ego. They are words with which we can cry out from the dark to the Lord, our parent, and God responds: Here I am. They are words that each time we say them together as the people of God, breathe new life into our ashes, the dust of who we are and remind us that the promise is indeed there is abundant life in being who God created us to be, instead of trying to be someone else. The Lord’s Prayer names our treasure that we are God’s here on earth and for all of eternity.

We all come to a place where we burn-out, we are a nothing more than dust and ash. As our masks slide off, we call out to God and God responds with the light of Christ and the truth of being sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. This cross that is placed on our foreheads is dirty, messy, and imperfect, but it reveals the truth of what is behind our masks: that we are worthy just as we are, deeply and unconditionally loved and set free to be who God truly created us to be. We are reflections of Christ’s light and love to a world that is hiding in the darkness of their masks and to hear the words: Remember you are God’s and to God you shall return. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Plastic, Plastic Everywhere! February 13, 2016

I promised to blog and give up dates as to how this journey is going so far. You will find brutal honesty the only way I roll. This. Is. Hard. I went to the grocery store tonight and ran out of the mesh produce bags that I had diligently bought. Even doubling up on produce in the bags! I scrambled looking for more to purchase at the store, but they did not have any….except…I realized they are essentially mesh laundry bags! So, I bought a pack of three and continued on. As I shopped, I was overcome with all of the packaging. A plastic bag for an item and an item for a plastic bag. When I checked out, the bagging person, on auto-pilot asked, “Meat in a plastic bag?” placing the one meat item I purchased into a plastic bag as she asked it. “NO!” I proclaimed to her amazement. “I’m not using plastic bags for Lent.” She was literally stunned and stuttered…”I don’t know what to do then…” “Just put it in this grocery bag (reusable) and it will be fine. It’s already wrapped in plastic.” She stared at me for a minute and then placed the salmon in the bag. Let’s just say that this might have been the strangest interaction she had had all day.

I arrived home and started unloading the car. Mike came out to help me and as we put away the food, it occurred to me that I really hadn’t spoken to him about my Lenten discipline. (In my defense, I’ve been out of town, it was Ash Wednesday and he had a CO Wind Ensemble rehearsal last night. One of those weeks.) I began to tell him about my experiment and how the one place I’m struggling is with the garbage bags. “Well, I guess we could use paper bags…” I began and Mike without even turning to look at me said, “No. We’re not adding smell and mess into our Lent.” So, I guess I’m off the hook there. I might look for some biodegradable plastic garbage bags though. Just don’t tell Mike.

(I have not done much reading on social justice yet, I hope to get to some tonight or tomorrow.)

 

 

We Have Lent All Wrong Mark 1: 9-15 Year B Lent 1 February 24, 2015

I think we have Lent all wrong. On Ash Wednesday I was in a really good mood and when it came time for worship, I honestly wasn’t feeling all that penitential or somber. Now, I’m not really known for reverence or piety anyway and as someone that evening pointed out to me, why did I have to act differently than I normally do? Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that some times and places are sacred and holy and not all behavior is acceptable at those times, but I do sometimes struggle with the seemingly artificial somberness of Lent for me. This week on Facebook and in general conversations, I heard people talking about what they are giving up or adding for Lent in order to spend more time with their family (such as in giving up FB or all social media), to lose weight, to be more productive at work, to give their Starbucks money to a charity, or even to start a new spiritual practice that they are sure will bring them closer to God. None of these things are in and of themselves bad but it got me to wondering what Lent is all about. Is it a time of Christian New Year’s resolutions? Is it really self help disguised as piety for Jesus? Is it the modern day equivalent of the medieval practice of self flagellation?  If that’s what it’s about, then do these scripture readings simply support the fact that we have temptations (not the musical group) that we have to overcome for God to love us or to experience Jesus? Is there nothing of God in chocolate and Facebook?

So, “what is Lent, really”? And what does this Mark 1 story have to do with giving stuff up so that we are closer to God? Do you know what the word Lent means? Spring! Hope! New Life! Green grass, tulips, baby animals, baseball and short sleeves! Lent does not mean suffering, denial, death, sadness, and let’s all be Eyeore’s for six weeks under a gray gloomy cloud. I think we have Lent all wrong.

We are once again revisiting Mark 1 the baptism of Jesus that we just read a few weeks ago at the beginning of Epiphany. This time we lose the John the Baptist stuff and gain the four verses of Jesus in the wilderness and proclamation of the Kingdom of God coming near. I, frankly, preferred dealing with the loveliness of Jesus’ baptism versus wilderness and temptation.  Let’s talk about glory a little bit more, Lent is so sad and dismal! I miss Epiphany with the light and the revelation and the shine Jesus shine.  But here’s where once again, we get Lent all wrong.

We hear these two verses of Jesus being driven out to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and tempted by Satan and immediately ask the question “why”? Why would God drive Jesus to the wilderness for temptation? We tend to interpret these verses to mean that maybe we are to accept that God causes us to be tempted and tested for strengthening our faith. Or that it means that we need to rid ourselves of any temptations in Lent that might be from Satan.  A popular theory in our culture is that God has a purpose for our own personal time in the wilderness, whether that is physical or mental disease, joblessness, financial insecurity, loneliness, fear of what’s going on in our world, or just fear in general. What if we have this wilderness thing all wrong?

Yes, the Holy Spirit did drive, or the Greek is hurl which I love, Jesus out to the wilderness but it’s not that God was tempting Jesus or giving him difficulties to make him stronger in faith or to make a point. Jesus was sent out to the hard, barren places because they exist in our lives. This IS reality whether we like it or not, even for Jesus. And God didn’t tempt Jesus or cause or allow Satan to tempt Jesus, Satan just did because evil is real, the unknown and brokenness of our world is real. What if Jesus was sent to the wilderness not for Jesus but for Satan? What if the Spirit hurled Jesus to confront the reality of evil and brokenness with God’s love? God is proclaiming that Jesus is even for Satan and God will meet Satan right where evil is, with love. There is no where that God’s love can’t be hurled and to no one that God’s love will be denied.

There are wilderness times and places for us all. God doesn’t cause them, allow them or use them to teach us a lesson or for a purpose. Why there are wilderness places, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that other than we live in a world that is broken, the kingdom of God is near but not yet fully come. I don’t know why people get sick and die, I don’t know why groups of people think that they have the right to kill other people in God’s name, and I don’t know why people go to bed hungry, lonely, cold or with no bed at all. I don’t know why evil exists and why we fight with one another over silly and inconsequential things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. All I know is that I have wandered in the desert, I have experienced those places where I was sure that God didn’t exist or was sure that when God said that everyone is loved, God didn’t mean THOSE other people who cause suffering and harm. I have been in the wilderness and I was met with God’s unconditional love and grace.

I think we have this journey of Lent all wrong, it isn’t about us and what we add on or give up.  This journey of Lent is the journey of God being with us always even if we are in the reality of the wilderness with wild beasts.   Lent is not about what we think we need to do differently to be closer to God but the reality that the kingdom of God is nearer than you think. Lent is about the good news that the love of Jesus will meet you wherever you are, whoever you are, no matter what you do or don’t do. This journey of Lent is about how everything in our lives is of God even if we don’t see it, experience it or recognize it. Everything. Even the people, places and situations you don’t like and feel like barren wilderness with wild beasts.

The wilderness exists and when we are in those places of wilderness, as God’s people, we bring the love and light of Jesus with us. The spirit drives us out to places we don’t want to go because we are people also hurled into the world, not people called to sit in safety. We go to places in our world that are hard because that’s part of all of our life’s journeys but they are places where God already is at work with love, hope and mercy. We are the ones who point to God’s loving work in those broken times and places that exist and we don’t know why.

I think we might have Lent all wrong because we make it about us and not about God. But the kingdom of God has come near even when we get it wrong and God offers us over and over the story each and every day of God’s promise of hope, new life, continual presence, unconditional love and forgiveness. This Lent, let’s tell the story, the kingdom of God is near and near us all. The kingdom of God is at work in the world, in the joyful and peaceful places and situations and in the hard, difficult and barren places. God is everywhere at all times and in all places and that is the good news to proclaim. Amen.