A Lutheran Says What?

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

God Loves Each Piece of Us Sermon on Matthew 5: 21-37 Epiphany 6A February 16, 2020

This sermon was preached on February 16, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Deuteronomy 30:15-30
1 Corinthians 3: 1-9
Matthew 5: 21-37

Children’s sermon: Gather the children up front. Have a simple puzzle for the children to put together. I have a puzzle here and I’m wondering if we can put this together. (Have one piece that doesn’t fit.) These are a lot of pieces and it looks like this one doesn’t fit. Sometimes our lives are like that. We have all of these pieces of our lives that seem to go together and they make sense and then we get an odd piece that we just don’t know what to do with and it we try and try and make it fit, and we get mad, frustrated and worry that there is something wrong with us that we can’t make this  piece fit the way we want to. Well, our bible story is like that today. We just read pieces of what we call the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount-Jesus was teaching the people about God like we teach each other about God here each Sunday and anytime we get together. Jesus’ sermon was much longer than what I try and talk and it seems like he was talking about a lot of different things, which I try not to do, but you know…the Sermon started two weeks ago with the Beatitudes, then last week we had salt and light-both really nice things to think about. Well, this week we get more pieces of the sermon and they don’t seem to fit the rest of it! Jesus is talking about some hard things that we don’t like to think about like anger and hurting each other and lying to each other. Do you ever get angry? Have you ever tried to convince someone that a lie was the truth? Have you ever hurt someone’s feelings or made someone lose something? Yeah, we’ve all done those things-all of us! And Jesus knows it. Jesus knows that there are pieces of our lives that we don’t like, that don’t fit, that we don’t like to talk about, that make us feel bad about ourselves. But here’s the thing: Jesus loves every piece of you. All of them-the ones that fit and the ones that we think don’t fit. With God, all of our pieces fit together to create a picture of God’s love to share with everyone we meet. Here’s the piece that fits….Jesus says when we can admit to hard stuff and deal with it, we all fit together better. Here’s a puzzle piece for you to take home to remind you that Jesus loves every piece of you. Let’s pray:

I don’t know about you, but there are pieces of my life and of myself that I just don’t know what to do with. Pieces that are disjointed, incongruent, don’t fit for some reason or another. I’m a complex human that way, I guess. Such when I was a teacher I could have all the patience in the world with the children in my classroom and then I would come home and wasn’t always as patient with my own! Incongruent pieces of me.

We continue through the Sermon on the Mount today and we get these four seemingly random pieces of discussion from Jesus. The scholarly term for this section of the sermon on the mount that starts here in verse 21 and goes to the end of chapter 5: is the “antitheses.” Jesus says, “you’ve heard it said…but I say to you.” And it might seem that Jesus is overruling the law but if we look deeper that is not really what’s going on. Jesus is being antithetical but not to God’s law-Jesus is being antithetical to human hardness and sin-which is anything that separates us from God and each other. Jesus deals head on with the pieces of how our lives together that make us uncomfortable, cause us to squirm and make us wonder if we just should have read the psalm today and been done.

But our lives don’t work that way. We don’t get to pick the pieces of our lives that we like, are comfortable with, can easily explain and make fit. Jesus names pieces that we would prefer to be not named, to be hidden and brushed aside. Jesus says: hey maybe you might notice that big hole in your life where you can’t quite get anything to fit into. Well, God has something to say about that hole.

Jesus wants us to live together, all the different pieces of us, as one, in wholeness, unity and love. This means reshaping our piece to fit with our neighbors. Anger, adultery, divorce and swearing oaths are as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago. When we are angry with someone, it’s akin to murder Jesus says. Anger kills any chance of relationship, of working together, of love growing, of God’s people as salt and light for the world. If you know truly angry people, people who walk around angry about everything and everyone in their lives-then you know someone who is in hell. It’s not a place where God sends us in the afterlife, it’s a place we create for ourselves when we separate ourselves from God and each other. When we choose to not see people created in God’s divine image, we have decided that our judgment is the only one that matters. Humility to ask forgiveness, Jesus says, is the antidote to anger and to build relationships. Jesus takes the pieces of us that lean toward anger and soften our hearts to our siblings in Christ.

And then there are pieces of humanity that have haunted us since the first people knew that they were unclothed, and Jesus wants to free us from that history. Adultery and divorce are about more than just an action: it’s our understanding of how we are connected and how we care for each other. In Jesus day and if we’re honest we still live in remnants of this, women were property. Women were objects and women caused men to do things-men had no responsibility or accountability when it came to adultery and divorce. In adultery, women were scapegoats. Jesus does a radical move and says that men have responsibility and accountability over their actions, women aren’t the issue, perhaps the piece that is missing is that women should be seen as created in God’s image and are beloved with value, agency and dignity. People aren’t to be used, they are to be cherished as God cherishes us.

In matters of divorce, women had no voice or agency, either. Mosaic law allowed for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all-from dinner was burned to they didn’t produce any sons-and women had no recourse. And women couldn’t divorce their husbands no matter how unhealthy and abusive the situation might be. The reality was that if a woman didn’t have a husband, she had nothing, literally. No place to live, no security, no protection.  Often the woman’s family wouldn’t take her back in and the most common result was that she was destitute and many resorted to prostitution, which is adultery: we see the cycle. And still today there is a negative economic reality to divorce. Jesus reveals that the law was affirming that relationships matter, that we are to care for one another, and we don’t discard someone casually in order to just be with someone else. Now, I want to be clear, there are healthy, good and important reasons for marriages to end and Jesus isn’t saying that staying married is what matters. Divorce is a reality, as relationships are hard, complex and messy. What Jesus is turning upside down is that the law was never to support any human social patterns, such as patriarchy and misogyny, that harm, denigrate and devalue any piece of the body of Christ. Jesus reveals that God’s will is for those who are vulnerable to be centered as an important and equal piece of God’s kingdom.

The more our words, thoughts and actions fit together the better. We shouldn’t need to swear an oath for people to know that what we say is what we mean. Lies and manipulations don’t fit in God’s kingdom. God’s words and actions are clear, congruent and lovingly true and this is what we should strive for as well. Not for ourselves but so that our neighbor knows that we can be trusted with their well-being, that we aren’t looking out only for ourselves. We handle our anger with humility, we don’t use people for our own gain, or treat them as objects, or discard them thoughtlessly and we walk the walk we talk.

Jesus takes all these hard pieces of our lives and helps us to put them together, not individually but as a community to be a part of God’s p-e-a-c-e. When we can trust all the hard pieces of our lives to God, we then will live in God’s peace that passes all understanding. When we join our pieces together, we live into God’s bigger picture: God’s desire for wholeness, love, care, mercy and hope for all people and for creation. God names us blessed, salt and light and as integral pieces in God’s mission and work here on earth to bring about the kingdom where no one is separated from God’s love, where people know their value and are treated with dignity and worth and where we all, creatures and creation fit together in peace. Thanks be to God.

 

Revealing the Truth Sermon on Luke 12 and Colossians 3 August 4, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on August 4, 2019.

The texts were Psalm 49: -1-12, Colossians 3: 1-11 and Luke 12: 13-21

Children’s sermon: Two truths and a lie. Tell three statements and have the children guess which of the three statements I give about my life is the lie. Do it a couple of times, if there is an adult or older child present, then ask them to offer two truths and a lie about their life. What is true about our lives? Sometimes, we don’t even know! Have you ever known someone who wasn’t completely honest about themselves or maybe you told a lie about yourself? We have all done it because we want to fit in, or be someone we are not, or not get in to trouble. But being honest about who we are is important. When we aren’t honest, we can get focused on only ourselves, keeping the lies going and start to believe our own lies! I start to believe that maybe I can be something or someone I’m not. But our bible passages for today talk about what is true: that our lives are meant for  focusing on loving God and each other. That God is the one who gives us all that we have and is with us all the time. When we only listen to ourselves, we just keep hearing the lies that we tell and forget that God wants us to be who God created us to be. And that God created us to live together and to care for each other, no matter what. How can we do that? Should we be honest with each other? Should we share what we have? Yes! I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about that but first let’s pray:

You might remember the movie the Truman Show with Jim Carey from several years ago. The premise was that there was a man who lived his whole life at part of a reality TV show and didn’t know it. But then some pieces started to not add up for him and he discovered that his whole existence wasn’t what he thought it was. Everyone in his life were actors, the town was a sound stage and everything revolved around him. His entire life was a lie, essentially. Nothing was real, and he didn’t even have a concept of what an authentic existence outside of the controlled TV environment might be like. Nothing had ever been demanded of him. His relationships were all centered around him, his job was catered to him and even the weather was controlled. Everything was carefully scripted to present one story only. In some ways, it should have been idyllic and perfect. But when the truth was revealed, Truman realized his isolation, his separateness and the emptiness of his life. At the end he asks of the creator of the show “Who am I?” and then walks through the door to the real world, to his new, authentic and unscripted life.

Now this movie is of course fiction and an exaggeration of inauthenticity, but it begs the question of us all: what is true in our lives? Where do we find value, meaning and truth? Psalm 49 and Luke 12 seem to be taking on greed and our relationship to money and possessions, but I think that there is more here than that. What is demanded of us in our lives, who are we, and as we read in Colossians, what life will we live?

The demands of modern life are many and perhaps not that different than in Jesus’ time. We have the demands of survival, the demands of family relationships, the demands of work, and of our friends. And all these demands can make us greedy. Maybe not only greedy with our money and possessions, but greedy with our time, our status, our security or safety, and greedy with our sense of power and autonomy. And greed is indeed idolatry-that is something that we give a higher value and priority to than anything else in our lives. The truth of greed is that is turns our focus inward-to me, myself and I. Like the rich man in the parable, we start to talk only to ourselves, think that our accomplishments were done only by ourselves and scarier yet, we only listen to ourselves. We live our lives in isolation and separation, afraid to hear anyone else because to do so might reveal the delusions that we live in, such as the delusion that we don’t need anyone else, that we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and that the perspective we have, is the only one. Much like in the Truman Show, we follow a script that we tell ourselves is necessary, needed and even holy, yet if we are honest, we are really following the script that the world has offered us. It’s easier to simply follow the script that everyone else seems to be reading from, than to ask the harder questions, isn’t it?

To be clear, Jesus isn’t saying that planning for the future and being good stewards with resources is a problem-not at all! The foolishness comes in when we do follow society’s script, thinking is all about us and up to us and we always need more. Protect what you have, worry about something being taken from you, whether it’s money, material possessions, status, power or privilege. Build a bigger barn, bigger walls, to keep it all to yourself. But for what? Is that what life is all about? Is that the story we want for our lives?

But then God interrupts, speaks into the life of the rich man and into our lives. God flips the script if you will, calling us to remember that there is more than just us, more at stake than our own individual futures. Living in God’s demands, in God’s story for our lives, is a revelation of truth, a pulling back of the camera shot to see what is really happening and the truth that God is the author of our lives. God’s story for us is clear: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. God is the one who provides all that we have and is still with us even when we try and go it alone. We are part of a larger story, part of a whole where love for God, love for each other and mutual loving community is the mandate. Through Jesus, God interrupts our regularly scheduled program to reveal to us the work of God’s kingdom, the truth of Christ in us all and in all of creation. The truth of our lives, that Jesus gathers us all together as one people and through Christ we are interconnected, even if we don’t recognize it or like it. Our actions and inactions send ripples through the body of Christ and matter to our neighbor. This is why we must stand up and speak out against the lies that divide us, most notably in recent weeks and months, the lies that propagate racism and white supremacy. The lies that the man in El Paso believed and led him to kill 20 people and injure dozens more must be denounced and brought to the light. We don’t know what lies the shooter in Dayton believed but we can guess that they were powerful. These lies can’t be allowed to masquerade as truth.

In our baptisms we promise to live among God’s faithful people, to be a part of God’s work of reconciliation in the world that is for all people. This means that I must listen to more than myself, I end my monologue and enter into the dialogue, into the story with God and with others. I must die to those things that don’t bring me into mutual connection and life with my neighbor-I need to look out beyond the walls of safety and security I have built up, to see what God sees. When I look at God’s people and God’s creation with the eyes of Christ, I can be rich, generous toward my neighbor and therefore rich and generous toward God. Martin Luther is quoted as having said “God doesn’t need my good works but my neighbor does.” God doesn’t write a script that we have to follow word for word for us to have value, worth and love, we’re not puppets on a string. But God offers us a role, a chance to improv, to help write the story and use our gifts wherever we can to flip the script for other people around us who are caught trying to live by the world’s script and don’t know how to set it down and walk off stage to what God has waiting for them in life through Jesus Christ.

Our lives are being demanded of us this very day, to live into the story of Christ’s love and grace loose in the world. We live in the truth that we and all people are clothed in God’s image of love, renewed by grace and brought into the community of Christ where all lives have meaning, worth and value. The truth of who we are, is how we live. We listen for God and for one another, we plan for the future with God’s mission of radical love in mind, we focus on what matters, we care for people and relationships more than things and we live lives of generosity of time, spirit, gifts, privilege and possessions so that the world may see Christ in us and we may see Christ in the world. This is the truth and the demand of our lives in the life of Christ. Thanks be to God.