A Lutheran Says What?

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

Hard To Stop A Sermon on Luke 11 July 28, 2019

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 28, 2019.

The texts were Colossians 2: 6-15 and Luke 11: 1-13

Children’s sermon: Play Red Light, Green Light with a twist! When I say Green light you are going to walk to me. When I say red light you are going to stop but you are going to thank God for something, or ask God for something. Ok let’s play! After the children get to the front: “Normally when we play this game, red light means freeze-don’t move-don’t do anything! But stopping doesn’t always mean that we aren’t doing things. Stopping can be an important part of our lives-when we stop-we have time for other people and God. We’ve been looking at all of these different road signs the past few weeks that help us look for God and God’s love and grace in our lives. But today we have a stop sign and it’s not just because we are at the end of our sermon series! Our bible story this morning is about learning to stop and notice what is important. Jesus and his disciples have been on the road a long time now in the gospel of Luke and our story starts this morning with Jesus stopping and praying. The disciples want to know more about this prayer time! So he teaches them a short prayer and it starts with Our Father-so who do you think is the most important person in Jesus life? God! Yes! And so who is the most important in our lives? God! This bible story is about who God is: God is the one who gives us all that we need, not what we want necessarily, but what we need. We need food, but we might want pizza over vegetables that are healthy for us. We need to be safe but we don’t need to be isolated from everything that might be hard in our lives. Jesus teaches his disciples that God wants us to be bold in what we ask for and know that God hears us and is with us for what we need, even if it doesn’t seem like it. One of the hardest things is when we pray and what we pray for doesn’t happen-we think that maybe God didn’t hear, or didn’t care. But the truth is that God always hears and cares but things don’t always work the way we want them to. There are just some things that we can’t understand and even as adults it’s hard! But Jesus says, God loves you and will care for you and for all people no matter what. So we pray to stop and remind ourselves that this is always true. I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about that and I want you to listen too as this is really important and hard stuff! I might even ask you to help me in my sermon today! Ok?

We just don’t know when to stop. An interesting phenomena that has been created in the past 10 years or so is the concept of “binge watching” shows on services such as Hulu, Netflix or Amazon. It used to be that you had a show that you watched once a week or so and you had to wait patiently for next week’s episode. Now, a whole season gets released at once and you can watch the whole season in one sitting! You don’t have to stop! And a whole culture has arisen around this concept. You are encouraged to not stop, don’t leave your house, order in food, and have a comfy couch. This was the next logical iteration of our culture when you think about the last 60 years or so. Being on the go and not stopping until everything is done is a strong value in our society. And it’s not a bad thing, unless it goes unchecked and out of balance. And now in our 21st century culture of busyness, stopping isn’t even an option. We have the 24 hour news cycle, constant connectivity that allows (or forces) us to work 24 hours a day, we are convinced that the busier we are, the more we go-go-go, the more worth we have. Being labeled a “go-getter” is a high compliment, isn’t it?

Tv and work aren’t the only thing we can’t stop doing-addictions are on the rise-we can’t stop looking at our phones, we can’t stop shopping, consuming, gambling, overeating, over drinking. And even if we do stop those things, our brains often can’t stop worrying about all the things that we can’t control, we can’t stop complaining about all the things that we don’t like. We just can’t stop.

And why is that? What keeps us from stopping? What are we afraid of if we were to just stop-stop with hyper connectivity, stop with busyness, stop over consuming, stop worrying and stop complaining? If we stop, what will we notice and discover? There is much research that shows that stopping and having nothing to do is recharging and renewing for kids and adults. Ironically, busyness also makes us lonely. This is highlighted such as when the power goes out and there is no internet, tv or things to do but card games and talking? People often talk about how nice it was to be forced to be disconnected from the outside world but reconnected to those close to them. But it can also bring us face to face with some realities in our lives. If we have time and space that is not filled with noise and activity and our brains aren’t obsessing on everything wrong in our lives-we start to have time to reflect on deeper truths in our lives and that can bring pain and uncertainty. When life circumstances force us to stop: physical challenges, job loss, or death of a loved one, it can cause us to wonder who we are apart from the constant “on-the-go” that defines us. Stopping is often something that we avoid rather than embrace.

Our Luke passage begins to today with Jesus stopping to pray. He and the disciples were traveling to Jerusalem where Jesus knew that his time on earth would end. But as he moved toward the event of the cross, he stopped. All the gospels highlight Jesus’ stopping to pray, but Luke emphasizes prayer more than the other three gospels. At every important juncture in his ministry, Jesus stopped to pray to God. This time out seemed to give Jesus reorientation, clarity and vision and the disciples even knew it. Teach us to pray too, they ask. And Jesus stops and gives them these words that we now know so well. These words that gives God a name, Father, loving parent. Words that ask for God’s kingdom, for daily bread, for forgiveness and for help in times of trouble. Notice that pleasantries such as “please” and “thank you” are not present in this prayer. It’s clear and direct for connection to God and for daily needs.

But then Jesus also offers a parable on prayer to clarify what prayer is and what it isn’t. In this parable, a neighbor comes to another neighbor late at night in need. He needs bread for a late arriving traveling guest and hospitality in the ancient world is serious business. Culture dictates that he offer anything his guest could need and everyone hearing this story from Jesus would understand that. The other neighbor had an obligation to help the one in need, despite hardship. Jesus offers that the first man will be helped simply because of the relationship with his neighbor. The word translated as “persistent” really means “shameless.” The first man is shameless in his need and is vulnerable to the mercy of his neighbor. But he also knows that he is part of connected community and the neighbor will stop and help.

Jesus is clear that prayer is trust in God’s mercy, prayer is being shameless before God with our every need. Prayer is relationship and connection at our most vulnerable and needy time to God and each other. Prayer isn’t control of what happens in our lives, prayer isn’t a Magic 8 Ball where we get an immediate answer. Prayer isn’t really about answers at all, which is difficult for us. We want prayer to cure cancer, to heal our marriages and relationships with our children, to get us our next job, to ensure that our lives are easy and what we want them to be. But this isn’t the promise in prayer. Jesus witnesses to this even from the cross-he prays for God to forgive those who are killing him and for God to hold his spirit. Jesus prays to be connected to God’s presence and for the people around him. Jesus knows that it’s hard for us to stop trying to give the illusion of not needing anyone and to stop trying to control every aspect of our lives. Prayer is trust that no matter how hard and painful things are, God is there, even when it’s not the outcome we want, even when it hurts.

When we pray, we are stopping and recognizing our shameless need for mercy, help and connection with God and God’s people. Stopping to pray, Jesus says, reorients us with God’s will and stops us in projecting our own will. Stopping to pray puts all the noise and activity of the world in proper perspective, to be aligned with God’s promises and vision: living into our identity as God’s beloved people who witness to the world. People who stop worrying about only themselves, people who stop giving into their own ego and pride, people who stop hate, people who stop the cycle of fear, people who stop buying into the culture of over-consumerism, people who stop to offer God’s vision of love, generosity and mercy to all people in all places.

It’s hard for us to stop, but stopping to pray, to connect and to stand shameless before the One who is source of our identity, life and hope is exactly what God desires for us to do. And when we stop, we notice that God’s promises to provide for our daily needs, and to respond to us in deep, unending and unconditional love has been with us all along. Amen.

 

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.

 

 

Only For God Jeremiah 1: 4-10 Epiphany 4, Year C, January 31st February 11, 2016

 

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

 

Some of you know that before I went to seminary I was a director of a Lutheran early childhood center. When I started the school in 2003, one of the visions for the school was to proclaim God’s work in the community around St. Matthew Lutheran located in a first ring suburb of Portland, OR, one of the least churched areas of the world. Surveys have shown that if every pew was full on a Sunday morning in Portland it would be only 4% of the population. It is a mission field indeed. We knew God was at work in Portland and we knew that proclaiming God’s word of love and grace was an important way we could participate with God. And so, in the DNA of the school were faith practices. Early on in the program we decided to teach the preschoolers the Lord’s Prayer and have the children lead the prayer in worship on Palm Sunday, followed by a potluck brunch, of course! We started teaching the Lord’s Prayer as part of our snack time prayer right away in September. We would sing our “Thank You” song and then pray the Lord’s Prayer. We used actions to help them learn it and our first Family Faith Night of the year was centered on the faith practice of prayer and specifically the Lord’s Prayer.

In this diverse and mostly secular Pacific NW culture, curiously we would have about 80% of our families attend to play games, make remembrances of the scripture (otherwise known as crafts-but anything that is made with their hands and goes home is important) and of course, enjoy treats. We had diversity in the abilities of the children as well as diversity in the faith backgrounds: from the nones (completely unchurched), Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, other Christian denominations to lifelong Lutherans.

One year, a family registered for the school in which the mom was a lifelong Lutheran and dad was a none. Their oldest child was an adorable three year old little girl named Ella. Mom wanted the children brought up in the Christian faith and dad frankly didn’t see the point. He was not thrilled to have Ella at an overtly Christian school and told me so. We began teaching the children the Lord’s Prayer and held our first family faith night. Dad did not attend with mom and Ella. Ella began to know the prayer pretty well and started insisting that they say it before dinner at home. Dad confessed he didn’t know it and Ella told him that they could learn it together. Even though Ella herself didn’t know it perfectly, Ella taught her dad what she knew of the Lord’s Prayer. She wasn’t concerned about details or exact words, she simply wanted her dad to pray with her because he didn’t know about God. Being only three didn’t stop her.

Palm Sunday arrived. The children were all excited and some parents were nervous as for many it was their first time in worship. We came to the point of the worship service where we had the children move up front for the communion liturgy. As we were organizing 60 three through five year olds, Ella began to call to her dad from the front. “Daddy, come up with me! You learned it too!” Dad gestured and shook his head no, of course, not wanting to take anything away from the hard work of the children. But Ella persisted, “Daddy you have to come up! You learned it just like me!” It was obvious that worship would not continue until dad came up. So, this six foot plus dad came and knelt beside his petite three-year-old daughter and together they all prayed the Lord’s Prayer, from memory, to God who was, who is and who will be forever. The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable and everyone had tears in their eyes, including Ella’s dad. Pastor Eric choked his way through the rest of the liturgy.

We had all been witnesses to what our faith is really about: being together on the journey and learning from each other along the way. Life in God is this: God working through a child to open up an adult to the love and presence of Christ. An adult being offered hope through the ancient words prayed by children embodies the mystery of our faith. God did this, even though Ella didn’t have a theological degree; even though she couldn’t read; even though she was only three.

“Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” I am only a parent; I am only a grandparent; I am only a new believer; I am only a teacher; I am only an IT person; I am only a pastor; I am only a real estate broker; I am only a child; I am only…” We get easily caught into thinking that we don’t have what God needs to really do wondrous things and proclaim God’s word of salvation and wholeness for the world. We come up with a list of “only’s.” If I only knew the Bible better; if I only prayed more; if I only went to worship more often; if I only could get the courage to invite my neighbor to bible study; if I only had eloquent and encouraging words; if I were only more giving; if I only served selflessly. We make faith practices into a to-do list, or a prerequisite for being able to participate in God’s redeeming work.

Jeremiah also fell into that trap of the “only’s.” He knew that he was inadequate, without the proper training or lineage, of a priest. He knew that left on his own, he had nothing. He was only a boy; if he only had the right words. But God didn’t call Jeremiah because of his education, his lineage, his age, his skill set, or his piety. God called Jeremiah because Jeremiah belonged to God. God called Jeremiah because God calls all kinds of people, a motley crew, if you will, to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. God knows that in order to reach all people, not just the Israelites, not just the ones who show up to church on a Sunday morning, not just the ones who know the Bible, not just the ones who pray, but to reach all people, God calls all people from all kinds of backgrounds, ages, stages, and abilities. God calls you.  God proclaimed to Jeremiah and to us that God removes our “only’s.” God proclaims that the only “only” that matters is that we belong and are beloved by God. Jeremiah was known by God before he ever drew breath. Jeremiah would have heard while in the womb the prayers from the temple, the words from the scroll of the Torah, the songs of worship and the promises of God. These faith practices didn’t qualify him for the work to which God called him, but rooted him in his only identity, a child of God who always loves us and removes our fear.

Faith practices remind us that with God, a boy can tell a whole nation that they must repent or fall to the coming army. With God, a boy can proclaim that God will not forsake God’s people. With God, a three-year-old can open up her dad to God’s love. With God, a baby giggling down the aisle to communion can point us to the joy in the Lord. With God, a retired person can help a youth uncover their God given gifts. With God, a congregation of faithful followers of Christ can reveal to a cynical and hardened culture that hope, faith and love are real, are here, and those promises from our ever present God will not fail. With God, death on a cross can be new life and with God, an empty tomb can be the end of all separation from God.

Faith practices aren’t so that we can know enough, but remind us that with God, we are enough. Faith practices connect us to what God is doing to transform the world through the love of Jesus Christ. Faith practices bind us, young and old, in community to share the journey that is not always easy. We are moved by the wonder of the child and the wisdom of the adult and marvel that God literally wired us for one another in all stages of life. Faith practices root us, nurture us and send us out bursting with love, hope and grace into a world that is desperate to hear that they too are known and loved by God, even if our words are imperfect. Like Ella, do not be afraid that you are “only you,” but go with the confidence that you are called and loved by the one and only God of all creation, who will remove all of your fear. Amen.