A Lutheran Says What?

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

Life Together in Focus Sermon on Luke 10: 38-42 July 22, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 21, 2019.

Children’s Sermon: Have a hoola hoop, gather the children forward and have the hoola hoop laying on the ground. “We are going to pick this hoola hoop up with each of us only using one finger. Ok here we go!” Let them work together and see if they can do it. Offer hints and help if necessary. Once they have it lifted to waist level have them stop and hold it. “You did it! Working together and focusing on the same task, made this possible. Now that you have it lifted- I’m going to ask you some questions: If you don’t like to hoola hoop, or don’t know how, let go and step back. Ok come back and hold the hoola hoop again. If you like to read instead of watch tv step back. Ok come back. If you like to play outdoors more than video games step back. If you like video games more than playing outdoors, step back. What happens when we lose someone from our hoola hoop? It drops. We need everyone to keep it up off the ground don’t we? And despite the differences we just talked about-we all liked to do different things-we worked together to get the hoola hoop lifted. Our bible story reminds me of this working together, how we live together, even though we are different people. Martha and Mary were sisters who liked different things. Mary wanted to sit and learn from Jesus to show her love for him and Martha wanted to make sure that everyone had enough food to show that she loved Jesus. They both loved Jesus and both had good gifts to share. But Martha on this day, wanted Mary to be just like her and help serve and cook. And she was mad about it. Has that ever happened to you? When you wanted someone to like the same things and do the same things as you, but they wouldn’t? Yep. It’s happened to me! Martha was so mad that she told Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus knew that Martha loved him, and had many gifts as did Mary, but at this time was so worried about small details that didn’t matter, that she lost her focus on Jesus. Jesus reminds Martha that Mary is staying focused on what matters, Jesus, and so should she and so should we. Just like when we focused together to lift the hoola hoop, we can stay focused on Jesus by not worrying about who likes what, or is like us or different from us but how we work together to show Jesus’ love in the world. When we focus on Jesus, this is what we do. We focus on Jesus’ message of God’s love, grace and forgiveness for everyone. What helps you focus on Jesus? Prayer? Reading the bible? Helping people in need? This week say this blessing to one another in your house : +Jesus holds all people together in love+

A few years ago, I added yoga to my fitness routine mostly because as a distance runner, I needed something that would help me to stretch my tight hammies. And I need to work on balance. I have the grace and balance of a water buffalo, which is to say, none. I can trip and wipeout on a perfectly safe floor-and have! My mom recognized this in me at an early age and put me in every ballet class she could find but to no avail. I’m just not very coordinated. My mom used to say that I stood behind the door when God was passing out gracefulness. So, I took up yoga. What a train wreck I was at first. I would wobble and bobble, fall, look at certain poses and just laugh as there was no way that was ever going to happen. And I was certainly self-conscious. I would be trying to get into a pose and I would look up to see all the graceful people around me and inevitably, I would fall. The teacher would gently remind us all (probably mostly me) to find a focal spot and don’t look anywhere else to help you center. At first that didn’t even help me, as if I’m honest, I only focused on it for a bit and would become frustrated that I still wasn’t doing the pose like everyone else. The teacher would also say annoying things like “don’t compare yourself to others, this is your body, do what you can do and focus on that.” Sigh. You mean it’s not a competition to see who is the best at yoga? Mind. Blown. I kept going to yoga classes for some reason, even though I was uncomfortable, usually couldn’t wait for them to be over, and it only seemed to remind me of all my bodily weaknesses.

Then over time, something shifted. I started focusing on what I was doing and (mostly) quit looking around me at what other people were doing. When I did that, I could hold those uncomfortable and tricky balance poses. Now the second I looked over at the Gumby person on the mat next to me, I would fall. It’s all about focus, letting differences, competition, and worry, go. It’s about trusting in what God has given me, sinking into the promise that it’s enough, and that through Jesus, who I am is enough as are all the other people around me in that space. When I simultaneously focus and let go, not only in yoga class but in life and ministry, I can surrender to the flow of the Holy Spirit that surrounds me and us all that sweeps us up into what Jesus tells Martha is the only needed thing: Focusing on Jesus.

Focusing on Jesus seems so simple doesn’t it? We come to worship, we pray, we read the scriptures, the word of God, experience the Eucharist and then…we look up and get distracted and fall out of the balance of seeing people around us how Jesus sees them. We worry that not everyone looks like us, thinks like us, values the same activities that we value. We see other people’s differences as a problem or competition instead of a gift. We see change as threat and not as promise of a vibrant future. We see life together in a community as conflict and division and not beautiful diversity and unity.

The Martha and Mary story has been much maligned in interpretive history. It’s been touted as one sister is right and the other one is wrong, or as a model of discipleship for all women for some weird reason, or that Jesus is scolding Martha. But I would offer that those interpretations are not actually in the text. Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she is wrong in serving. After all, just a chapter before, Jesus sends the 70 out and tells them to rely on people like Martha for hospitality. And last week we heard Jesus say go and serve your fellow humans. No service isn’t the issue. Focus is. Where do you want to focus Martha? On other people? On details of lunch that don’t ultimately matter? On your anger and self-righteousness? Focus on me, Jesus says.

And what do we see when we focus on Jesus? We see what life together can look be. When we focus on Jesus, we begin to see people and creation through the eyes of Jesus, who sees us all as created in God’s image, as the beloved community. Not in sameness or homogeneity, but in a myriad of the diverse gifts needed to proclaim the kingdom of God in a world that is so set on the either/or of life instead of being open to a both/and mindset. Who’s in and who’s out, who’s like me, who’s different. When we focus on Jesus, we truly see each other and we see the truth of life together as the writer of Colossians stated in our reading this morning, verse 17 “[Jesus] himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus holds all things-things we like and things we don’t like-together so that each day, we begin anew to let go of details, fears, worries, anxieties of changes, differences, what distracts us from loving our neighbor and proclaiming the good news of God’s love and grace. Jesus holds our tensions, holds the paradox and holds the mystery of life in the 21st century. Jesus holds our lives and holds us in life together, not for our own comforts and preferences, but so that as the people of God, our lives together through Christ make the word of God fully known to a world that is dying of division, anxiety and fear. Jesus holds us to each other and to God.

When we focus on Jesus, we witness the promise that began at creation: All creation in richness and diversity is good, humanity is very good and Jesus as Christ, the one who is, was and is still coming to us over and over for all time, holds us all together and hold us in the flow of the life  of the Holy Spirit and tethers us to the promises of God for abundant and eternal life, not someday but beginning today. So, we focus, we center our lives on the one needed thing for life together: Jesus. Amen.

 

Don’t Look Away Sermon on Luke 10: 25-37 July 14, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Hollady, UT on July 14, 2019. The texts were Colossians 1: 1-14 and Luke 10: 25-37

Children’ s Sermon: Who do we see? We’ve been talking about different road signs for the last few weeks and sometimes talking about something makes you more aware of it in your world. For instance, you might not look for falling rocks in the mountains until you see the sign telling you about them. But sometimes the signs go by so fast that you miss them. We are going to play a little game: Let’s start here at the front and we are going to quickly walk (don’t run for safety) to the back of the church. 1-2-3 lets go! Ok, now keep facing the back of the church. I’m going to ask you about the people you saw. (Ask a couple of specific questions about people in your space. Have it be detailed enough so the children won’t get them all correct.) So, we missed a few details about people didn’t we. Now we are going to walk back to the front but more slowly and I want you to pay attention to the people. It might be uncomfortable to stare!
Once you’re at the front again: So did you notice Mr. and Mrs. ? When we slow down, we notice people and really see them don’t we? Our Bible story is about this today. Jesus wants us to see everyone…and tells a story about who we see and who God wants us to see as our neighbor. Jesus tells the story about a hurt man and two people who should have slowed down to see and help the hurt man but didn’t. But the third man who stopped, the Samaritan, was someone who most people didn’t like, and they wouldn’t have even wanted this Samaritan to stop and help them! But Jesus wants us to know that when we slow down and get close to people we see them how God sees them, as people worthy of care, compassion and love. That’s our sign for today, to “Watch for Children of God.” I want you to notice people this week, around you, on the news, in your neighborhood, and see who needs our help and love.  I have these little care kits that you can put together during the sermon to help you to remember to slow down and care for all people!

 

 

We can become conditioned to our surroundings pretty quickly can’t we? What we see and what we don’t see? When we’re just in our routine moving quickly in and out of our day we might not really see what’s around us. Such as the church clean-up day yesterday….I thought, oh, yeah, we’ll pull a few weeds that’s not too bad. I even said to Mike before we left for church, I don’t really think this will take that long…and then I arrived and started looking at ALL. OF. THE. WEEDS. Every time I pulled one, I became aware of 10 more. Where did they all come from? I mean, I walk in and out of this church at least 5-6 days a week, a couple of times a day and I didn’t notice that many weeds…But when I got close and slowed down, I really saw them. All of them. Small, large, prickly, tree like, viney, all sorts of weeds!  And we do this with people in our environment as well. We can move so fast through our days that we might not notice who is around us, or when we do see people, we make fast, snap judgments about them, their place in our lives and if they are worth slowing down for. This particularly happens with people who are not like us and make us uncomfortable.

There is a book that was published about 11 years ago I read, called The Big Sort. This book offered that in America, even as the US was becoming more diverse, we were sorting ourselves geographically into more and more homogeneous communities. People wanted to only see people whom they could relate to, was the thesis. Now, this book has it’s opponents and perhaps overstates the case a bit, but if we’re honest there might be some truth to that-even if its not as dramatic only living in certain neighborhoods or regions of the country. We do this in many ways in our daily life. Even being here on a Sunday morning is one way that we could argue that we sort ourselves. While I know that we have a rich diversity of opinions here, there is still much about us that is similar you will have to admit.

And then there is the fact that we tend to not see those whom make us uncomfortable. We see someone coming towards us on the street and if we size them up from afar as a possible threat, we pass by on the other side. I know that I do this in psychological ways too, not only physically changing my location. On my way to church every day in Denver, there was always a person with a sign asking for money at the off ramp from I-25. I learned to not make eye contact and to look away…and I justified it with my knowledge that there was a syndicate of off ramp workers in Denver and that they signed up for a shift each day. At the four entrance/exit ramps at that one intersection-each one had a person holding a sign every day and I started to realize that there was a rotation. I chose to not really see them as a neighbor but as someone to avoid-they only wanted money-and so I would look away.

But then we get this parable from Jesus to the lawyer who asked: Who must I see as my neighbor Jesus? What must I do to see my neighbor? Jesus tells this parable to lay down some truth: We see what we want to see. Or really, we see what we allow ourselves to come close to. We can see someone as a victim who caused their own woes, who shouldn’t have even been there on the road, who shouldn’t have had anything of value, who shouldn’t have left their home anyway, who shouldn’t have worn that outfit, who shouldn’t have made poor choices. We can look away as the priest and Levite did, and avoid the people who might slow us down, keep us from important work, take too much of our time or might contaminate us somehow. We can see people as problems not to get close to-and even justify that to ourselves with sound logic-as I did with the off-ramp workers and not see people as, people. It’s easier to look away than to see what makes us uncomfortable.

Or we can risk coming close. When we come close-what happens to us is what the Samaritan discovered-we see people not as their problems or circumstances, but as people like us. People who are beloved by God. But be careful, because then you will be moved with compassion. I don’t do a lot of Greek in my sermons but the Greek verb here for “moved to pity”  is fabulous “splagchnizomai.” It means moved to you guts. When we get close to people-close enough to have to slow down to see the hairs on their head, to see their face, look into their eyes, we see their humanity and their divinity. And it stops us in our tracks. We can’t look away now-for they are us and we are them.

The real scandal of this text is what if the person in the ditch is us and the someone who sees and comes close to help us is someone whom we would be embarrassed to later admit helped us. What if they are of a religion that we don’t like and find oppressive, what if they are from a different political belief, or what if they give money to places we don’t support, what if they don’t have the correct documentation, or what if they think differently than us on an equality issue such as racism, refugees, LBGTQIA, gender justice, abortion, or the list can go on and on. And we are faced with wondering if we would really see and come close to them if they needed help. Would we be moved to our guts?

Who must we see as our neighbor and how will we see them? Jesus tells us to slow down-so that we can really see people and they can really see us. This mutual seeing is all about mercy for one another amid our differences, diversity and polarization. When we see each other, we are seeing Christ.  God’s mercy became flesh in Jesus to show us that God wants to come close to us-to really see us-every part of us and wants us to come close to each other in the mercy and love. God sees us with this mercy and love-and God is moved to God’s very guts.  God sees us, God doesn’t look away and sees even the parts that aren’t so lovable, to proclaim that mercy, forgiveness, compassion and love has come close. We live daily in this mercy and it slows us down-to see other people with God’s eyes of grace. We come close and see all people as our neighbor deserving of care and compassion and this can change the world. We slow down, don’t look away and watch for the children of God. Thanks be to God.

 

The Kingdom of God Is Near But the Road Might Be Rough Sermon on Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20 July 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on July 7, 2019. The texts were Galatians 6: 1-17 and Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

Children’s sermon: Have a large poster board with the words written largely: KINGDOM OF GOD. Have crayons, stickers available for the children to use. Ask them if they have ever felt left out. Talk about today’s gospel from Luke and Galatians where Jesus sends the 70 missionaries out to everyone about God’s kingdom being near and how that message is for everyone, even people who don’t believe it or like it. And how Paul talks about how we are to work for the good of all, we are all together. And this all together-the 70 working with Jesus and Paul telling people about the Kingdom of God, is what joy (Luke 10:17) is all about! It’s not about if everyone we tell about Jesus comes to OSLC or is our friend, but that we are all together in God’s love no matter what! Then ask the children (and adults as a prayer station) to write under each letter of KINGDOM OF GOD names of people, or groups of people who are included in God’s love (hint: everyone! This poster board should be full!)

I asked the children and now I’ll ask you all: have you ever been left out? Rejected? Yep, we all have! Sometimes it’s dramatic such as a break-up or an argument with someone you love, or you didn’t get a job you really wanted, or into a educational program you dreamed about. But sometimes it’s less obvious. You can simply be ignored, or in a place where there is an expectation that you will behave a certain way, or like certain things and when you stay true to yourself, the people around you don’t accept your differences and so don’t accept you. Being rejected, ignored or unaccepted, can make you reexamine yourself and wonder if you should change your thoughts, actions, words, or completely change who you are to fit in.  We all experiment with our identity growing up particularly in the teen years, but if we’re honest even as adults, it’s easy to think that who we are isn’t enough. Or we can judge others by their behaviors, likes and dislikes and criticize them for not being like us. We can subtly and not so subtly, send the message to people that they should change to conform to what makes us comfortable. It takes courage and vulnerability simultaneously to stay grounded in what matters and as our sign for today warns us, it can be a rough road.

Rough roads are not always to be avoided as they can also be a path that leads us to a deeper truth and can help us keep “the main thing the main thing” in our lives. Rough roads can be focusing as if you get distracted, it can lead to even bigger challenges. If you’ve ever driven or hiked on difficult terrain, you know what I’m talking about.

In our Luke passage today, the 70 are sent out to proclaim a very important message. And Jesus is clear that the road will be rough. They will be completely dependent on the people they meet, they will eat food they don’t like, stay in places for an uncomfortable amount of time (Jesus is telling them to overstay their welcome!), they will work hard, curing the sick, and they will more than likely be rejected. Sounds inviting doesn’t it? Sign me up Jesus! But Jesus is clear that the main point of their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to unequivocally declare that the Kingdom of God has come near to all-the welcoming, the strangers, the sick, the unbelieving, the unaccepting. The Kingdom of God is near to all whether they know it or not. This Kingdom is for all.

And when they return to Jesus full of joy, it’s not only because they had some successes (isn’t interesting that they don’t name their failures? Which I’m sure there were many!), but because they experienced this Kingdom of God for themselves in being together in community no matter how rough or smooth the road. Now, they also had a bit of ego tied into this: Jesus, you’re right we can do anything, even the demons submitted to us! Human nature hasn’t changed in 2000 years…Jesus tempers their egos by reminding them that their successes and failures are nothing, what is everything is that they are part of God’s mission to bring the kingdom off love to the world. This is the main thing, even in their own mission.

It seems so simple doesn’t it? All we have to do is proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. Done. And yet…We know that it’s a rough road to do so, even in the 21st century, or maybe especially in the 21st century. We set up a table at Venture Out to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near and some people love that we are there, and some people walk very quickly past our booth. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we house families experiencing homelessness and we know that four families at a time is only a drop in the bucket. We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near when we welcome and accept all people of every race, color, gender, sexual orientation into this family of faith and there are people who will reject this promise for God’s love for all people. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near when we strive to steward the earth with care and there are people who will deny this as reality. We proclaim the kingdom of God is near with our daily lives, with generosity of time, words, talents and gifts for people we don’t know well or have never met, and there are people who will shake their head at our naivety.  But Jesus declares to us that when the road is rough, God’s Holy Spirit is guiding us and continually reorienting us-through community, bread, wine, water and word-to the main thing of God’s mercy, hope and love for the entire world.

And we can forget that we need to be grounded in God’s community and kingdom as we try and navigate the rough roads alone. We can put our own human egos, rules and boundaries into this mission work as Jesus cautions. We can get stuck in thinking that the success or failure of this message is dependent on us, our own abilities and talents. Jesus reminds the 70, and us, that all power and authority belong to God alone that God gives away for the sake of including all people into this unconditional and transformative love. We are not only recipients of this love but participant as well. This is the good news that the coming of the Kingdom of God is for all, those who accept it and those who reject it. The promise of God coming near isn’t dependent upon the ability of the person to receive it and it’s not dependent on the messenger. God has written our names in heaven, on God’s own heart to declare that our worth in God’s kingdom isn’t dependent on our abilities or gifts but is simply found in belonging to God. This is our true identity that never changes, no matter how we try or what other people might want us to be. We are never left out in God’s kingdom and neither is anyone else.

Paul reiterates this point in Galatians 6. After six chapters of breaking down why Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised to be brought into the new family of Jesus followers and being clear about the subversion of the law, at the end of the day, Paul soundly ends this letter (writing in large letters) that none of that human stuff matters. Follow the law, don’t follow the law, whatever, but just know that you are made new in the love of God through Jesus Christ simply because God loves you. This unconditional love always surrounds you  at all times and in all places-especially when the road is rough. God’s kingdom, where all are made whole, where all are included, where power and authority are turned upside down and where all names are written and known, is for the whole world, no matter what. We can rest in the peace that the Kingdom of God has come near, includes you and will stay. Thanks be to God.