A Lutheran Says What?

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

Do you have the guts to be a disciple? Sermon on Luke 14: 25-33 September 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on September 8, 2019.

Texts: Psalm 1, Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Luke 14: 25-33

Children’s sermon: It’s Rally Sunday! Today is a day that we celebrate the beginning of SS for the year and being together. Being together is fun and important. Do we have to be together here at Our Saviour’s? Can we choose something else? Yep we can! What two things do I have here: yep, a marshmallow and an apple. How are they similar? Both food, both kinda sweet. What happens if we eat a lot of marshmallows? We don’t feel good, we get sick! They are not nutrition and are not really good for us. If we eat them every day, it’s not good for our bodies long term is it? How about the apple? We can eat an apple everyday (along with other good foods) and it’s ok for our bodies. Apples have nutrients that we need to be healthy. So in order to have a healthy body, which one should we choose most often? Yes, the apple. That give our bodies a good foundation to run around, play, have fun and help others! We know that our bodies work better when we make good choices, even though it’s hard. In our bible lessons today, Jesus has some hard things for us to hear. Jesus knows that we have lots of choices in our lives: things that are good for us and things that aren’t. But Jesus says that God offers us only good things for a good life. Now, a good life doesn’t mean an easy one, things might be hard sometimes. What’s hard for you? Yep, those things are hard. And Jesus says that hard things are even harder when we don’t have God as the most important thing in our lives. Coming to church isn’t the only way to put God first. Jesus says that putting God first means that we don’t worry more about our stuff, our houses, even our friends and family than following Jesus. That seems really weird, because God wants us to love and care for people too, but sometimes we get confused-like we might think that eating marshmallows is ok instead of apples because they taste better to us.  Just as putting healthy foods first into our bodies makes us feel good, so does putting God first in our lives. God has put us first in God’s life and has promised to be with us in our lives no matter what and we can trust that, even when we don’t make good choices, God is with us and loves us. At OSLC we are going to focus on that this year and that is worth celebrating today! Let’s pray:

Have you seen the show on HGTV “Fixer Upper” or at least know the premise of it? A couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines, help people in Waco, TX take the worst house in the best neighborhoods and fix them up. The families tell the Gaines’ their budget, their hopes and dreams for the house, how that will improve their lives and how long they want the renovation to take. The Gaines show them several properties, list out the work that needs to be done to get the house remodeled to what the family wants, details the budget and the timeframe. The renovation always starts with demolition day. This is when everything is deconstructed so that the house can be transformed. Walls come down, flooring comes up, cabinets are removed from the walls. Now of course, it’s not good tv unless something goes wrong, and if you’ve ever done any home improvement yourself, you know that something always does go wrong. As demolition happens things are revealed: a wall that was to be removed turns out to be load bearing, pipes are too old, the electricity was done incorrectly 50 years ago, subflooring that has water damage, the list goes on. The families are stressed and worried that their budget isn’t enough or they can’t get done what they really want done. But in the end, Chip and Joanna always come through and the house comes together and is reconstructed in ways that the family never imagined. They are always moved to cries of joy and excitement for their lives ahead in their home, the deconstruction and hard work was all worth it. I love the ending line of their opening credits: DO you have the guts to take on a fixer upper? After all, it’s not easy and not for everyone.

We could say the same of Jesus from today’s gospel lesson. Here we get an all too real, honest and perhaps cranky Jesus. After all, he’s been traveling now towards Jerusalem for a while, going to dinner parties, teaching in synagogues, healing, telling parables, and maybe he needs a nap or maybe Jesus just doesn’t like crowds. The opening lines of our text are sharp and piercing as he says to the large crowd, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” The disciples had to be thinking two things 1) do I hate everyone and myself? And 2) this is not going to look good on a billboard or t-shirt. Jesus, there is a huge crowd following: say something inspirational and tweetable! Something pithy that we can make a meme out of! But instead Jesus appears to be saying, “Do you have the guts to be my disciple?” How is this helpful?

This is one of those texts that makes us uncomfortable and that is exactly the point. Jesus is deconstructing everything we know about life. Can we walk away from our only means of survival-which in Jesus’ time was your family? Can you get rid of everything you own-again even if it’s a means of survival? What happens when all that’s left are the gapping holes where you can see the pipes, the wires and we’re left completely vulnerable? Do we have what it takes to do this?  Jesus knows that choosing what really matters each day means confronting our own impulses for what’s easy, cheap and fast. We need to do a little demolition work to reveal what’s important, or load bearing if you will. To say that we put survival, our comforts as primary in our lives sounds perfectly acceptable and maybe even holy until we realize that those things aren’t a strong foundation. Those are human foundations that will fall.

What we focus on matters and Jesus is clear that true disciples have one focus, one foundation: God. Our Deuteronomy text highlights the Israelites struggle with this as they wandered around for 40 years waiting to go into the promised land. They made idols, they got cranky about food, they tried assimilating to other cultures. Moses laid it out plainly for them: what will you focus on-life or death? And then he admonished them to choose life. Why? Not because choosing life with God is easy, it’s not. But choosing life means that you acknowledge that it is God who is our foundation and rebuilds us when everything falls apart. Choosing life is about being connected to something that is more than about mere survival but is about what Jesus tells us in John 10: that God comes to us to give us life and to give it abundantly. Death is separation from God and God’s promises of a transformative life.

As Jesus tells us in the parables, God has already done the budget, God already knows how much the cost of redemption, resurrection, restoration, and relationship is and comes to us with the word of peace amid the battles in our lives. We tend to think it’s up to us to count the costs but we need to focus on God as the builder and the king. The creator who decided at the beginning of time that relationship with creation and humanity was worth any price, even the price of God’s own son. That’s not a guilt trip by any means! It’s a reassurance that God will never leave us. When we truly follow Jesus, we do the hard work of demolition, distancing ourselves from the idols of possessions, status quo, and mere survival. We live with God as our foundation. God will be with us, over and over coming to us with a word of peace, hope and the promises of new life, no matter where we are.
We begin a new program year today at Our Saviour’s and it’s a year where we will proclaim this foundation in God.  We will live our mission statement: “A Spirit filled community that reaches out and cares for all.” We boldly step out in faith and keep our focus on following Jesus. We don’t get caught in clinging to the worry of survival but each day pick up the cross of Christ-the cross that transforms our old lives into new ones. The promises of new life that God is building right here, right now. It might be hard some days, and we might think that we don’t have the guts to be a disciple, but Jesus calls us through the waters of baptism and says that we have everything we need for this mission. We won’t be perfect disciples, but each day we are renewed to try again, together, as community, to choose life on this day and every day. The old life will be demolished and the new life of God’s wholeness, love, mercy and grace wil transforms us and the world. Thanks be to God.

 

God’s Power of Love Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14 September 1, 2019

This sermon was preached on Sept. 1, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.
The texts were Psalm 112, Hebrews 1-8, 15-16 Luke 14: 1,7-14

Children’s sermon: What are your favorite super heros? Or movie/tv characters? Why do they do that no one else can? Do you wish you could do that? Yes, we can often want to be someone else, or want to be around certain people because they make us feel good about ourselves or safe and secure. Did you know that you, each one of you, have a superpower? Yep! We all do! Jesus talks about this superpower in our bible story today. Now it doesn’t seem like Jesus is talking about superpowers-but he is! Jesus gets invited to a dinner by some people who want to know more about him-they want to see if Jesus is really who he says he is-they have heard he has powers. Jesus Heals people, touches people who are sick and doesn’t worry about getting sick himself, he talks to people whom no one else will, hangs out with people who no one else likes, loves all people no matter who they are. Jesus did have power-the power of God’s love! Jesus knew that he was being watched at this dinner and do you know what he did? Showed God’s love! At this dinner party Jesus watched the other people too. In Jesus day where you sat for dinner mattered. The really important people all sat at the head of the table together and less important people sat further away. He watched as some pretended to be more important than they were, more popular than they were and made other people feel less important by not having a place at the table for them. But Jesus told them a story to help them and us realize that we have a superpower that makes sure everyone is important: God’s Love! Jesus said that when we invite people who no one else wants to be around-make all people feel included, make room for them, we show God’s love. When people know that they are loved, then they can use their superpower of love too! This is a power that we all have through God no matter what we can do or not do, even if we are little and young. Here’s a way for you to use your superpower right here, right now. Here are cards and markers, draw, write notes of love or friendship (which is a form of love) to your family, friends, someone here today that you think needs to be told that they are loved and have this same superpower of love. Let’s pray:

They come into the fellowship hall a few at a time. Many walking independently, some in wheelchairs, some guided by care givers. They are people whom most assume are powerless over much of their lives and so are treated as powerless and unimportant most of the time. But on this afternoon, they feel valued and important. Everyone eats together around tables sharing food and tidbits from their week. After eating, they offer their gifts, creating cards of care for Habitat for Humanity families or those in assisted living facilities, gifts to share with friends, blessings bags to hand to those who are hungry, creating prayer reminders, and materials to help share information about this unique gathering with others. Then the community gathers in the sacred space of the chapel, a worship space where many have never been invited into or are have never been truly welcomed into just as they are. And if they are in those spaces, there are not accommodations for their visual or hearing differences, their verbal outbursts, unpredictable movements, noise and visual sensitivities, and other physical realities. But in this space, on this afternoon, everyone is invited, accepted and accommodated. Noise canceling headphones are available, there is a corner with dimmed lights and a tent for visual sensory deprivation, prayers, songs, scripture readings are communally and imperfectly led, the gospel is proclaimed through conversation, games, activities. Offerings are collected: words and pictures are put on laminated cards with dry erase markers that proclaim what of themselves will be offered to God this day and then the cards are read out loud as the prayers of the people. Bread and grape juice are distributed by those whom are usually excluded from the table, by people whom most assume don’t have the capacity to understand the gifts of God’s grace or distributed by children whom the adults assume are too young to understand. The words aren’t exact, “Jesus bread is for you,” or “juice of Christ to drink” but the intent and the love are clear and the power of those words and actions moves many to tears. All have a place at the table.

Songs are led by anyone who desires to lead and an occasional solo is spontaneously offered. Throughout the worship there is random talking, walking around, times when everything stops to answer a question, times when what was planned to happen doesn’t, something else does and it’s better. In this sacred space and time, all who are gathered matter, have a voice, and are part of the power of authentic community. The guests are given power to unabashedly share their gifts of love, joy and presence, the care givers who bring the guests feel the power in their holy work for caring for those whom society ignores and pushes to the side, the caring support people, people like me, are shown what true power, true love and true worth look like in God’s kingdom. We are changed by the presence of those who are usually not in our daily lives or in our supposedly sacred spaces of worship. We see clearly that God’s kingdom comes when those who seemingly have all the power, share it, give it away to those whom society hides, ignores, and deems unworthy and unimportant. When all are invited, included and given their own power as God’s beloved people, the power of love through Jesus is unleashed to reveal true community in God’s love. This community we call Rejoicing Spirits is all about the power of love, God’s love that flows through us all, and the strength of this love that has power to change the world. Rejoicing Spirits does the hard work of love in action, revealing the truth that all are important and have a place in God’s kingdom.

Jesus knows this power, Jesus sees that when not everyone is included, when some claim more power for themselves, pushing others to the outside, that our collective power is diminished and some people are harmed. When we assume that we are more important than other people, when we place value on human lives-whether that is through economic status, gender, age, ability, citizenship, or when we think that being close to people who have worldly status and power gives us status and power and that being with people whom society deems without value reflects on our own worth, we misuse our power of love. It becomes love of self and not love of neighbor. The shadow side of power is revealed.

God is the source and originator of this power of love and pours it out into us all and the world through Jesus. God is not afraid to share God’s power with us through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry is one of showing how God’s power works in the world. God’s power is always used for wholeness, joy, dignity and worth for all creation. Jesus shows that God’s power that grows stronger when it is shared and is mutual. It’s power to live as our authentic selves not worrying about what someone might do to us-as God’s power removes fear. This power opens us up to awareness-awareness of who is sitting in a lower place at the tables in our community, and power to unabashedly point to the value and worth of all people.  On Friday, some of the Salt Lake City community, clergy, lay people and a couple of state legislators, gathered in loving power to support Cecelia, a woman who advocates for women of color in her community to receive healthcare and educational opportunities, a woman who lifts others up and is vital to her family and her neighborhood. The group pointed to the love she shows and that she should not be deported to Mexico where she faces certain violence, trauma and possible death. She has worth and importance right here despite paperwork. Worth is not a piece of paper or a label, worth is being loved by God. Jesus proclaims that labels are not statuses of worth, and the power of God’s love flows to those who feel powerless in our society: not only Cecelia but all immigrants, refugees, the sick, the differently abled, the under employed, the unhoused. Our scriptures over and over recall that God welcomes all and we are to imitate that welcome. Love is the power to do the hard work to change the circumstances that denies anyone their worth. And we can’t just talk about this hard work of love, we have to do it.

We have this power. With the power of God’s love, we include and invite those who are missing from our sacred worship spaces. With the power of God’s love, we offer radical hospitality and welcome to people whom others ignore. With the power of God’s love, we value all people ahead of our own wants, needs and fears. With the power of Gods’ love from Jesus, we act to love to all around us, even when we are uncomfortable, even if we are mocked, dismissed, uninvited and marginalized ourselves. We trust in this power of love from Jesus that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Jesus who invites us to claim this power of love that changes us, transforms our actions, our hearts and turns the whole world upside down. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Always Worth It, Sermon on Luke 14: 25-33 July 1, 2016

*This sermon can be viewed on the archives of http://www.bethanylive.org June 29, 2016
This text is hard. I read numerous commentaries, some said God is the king, or the tower builder, or some wrote that Jesus is talking about transforming families, Jesus is saying that you have to give up all your possessions, you have to suffer to be a disciple, on and on. I read and reread those and none of that resonated and didn’t even make that much sense to me. I tried looking at this parable from a Lutheran lens, where’s God active? Where’s God’s grace named? Mmmm not obvious… I tried looking at it from what we know about the gospel of Luke: community matters, social justice matters, caring for the poor and marginalized matters. I got bumpkis. Parables are often hyperbolic and metaphorical. Ok….nope, doesn’t really work with this either. Here’s the deal: This parable is hard because sometimes, life and following Jesus is hard. This parable doesn’t really make much sense because sometimes, life and following Jesus doesn’t make much sense. This parable makes us very uncomfortable because sometimes, life and following Jesus is uncomfortable.
This is not a touchy, feely let me give you some free bread and fish Jesus. This is a Jesus who is more akin to what we might recognize from the Old Testament, Jesus seems to be saying that it means something to be God’s people and there are hard things that you may have to do. In our Bible in 90 Days bible study class we just survived reading Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We read through all of the laws and what God expects out of God’s people-not to make God happy or to appease God’s anger but to make living together as a people a bit more just, fair, and life-giving. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, don’t withhold from the foreigner or the widow, don’t harm each other, don’t take up after other gods or idols because they are shiny and easier to deal with. You are a set apart people, so you should probably act like it. If something or someone is in your way, keeping you from not acting like part of the people of God, remove it. Harsh isn’t it? We don’t like that at all. We love our version of God that loves us just the way we are. We love to rest in the idea that we are ok and nothing more is required of us. That is great pop psychology, but not really what being a disciple is all about. We want God to affirm all that we like, all whom we like and for God to operate in the way that makes sense to us. We like to predict what God will do, who God will bless, and who God will correct. We make God into our own image.
You see, those laws, those seemingly harsh, impossible, limiting, offensive, guilt-ridden laws, were not about punishment, exclusion or God’s love and grace having conditions. The law was about God loving us too much to leave us alone and to our own devices. The law was about breaking us open in order for God’s grace to pour into us and through us to the world. God breaks us open to make us whole, whole as a person and as a community. God breaks us open with the law to make room for God and each other in our lives. God’s heart is to be in relationship with us, whom God created. God desires only good for us, not perfection, and that could mean separating from anything or anyone who diminishes our fullness as a child of God. God created us in God’s image and God will continue to work in us, through us and around us to reveal the true us, which is indeed in God’s image.
That sometimes looks like separating from even your family, Jesus says. Family was everything in first century Palestine and it’s even the crux of Levitical law-but Jesus recognizes that those closest to us can also lead us away from God. It might cost you relationships to follow Jesus. Like James and John, the sons of Zebedee, you might have to drop your nets and walk away, leaving your own father standing alone on his boat. It might cost you the understanding of your friends and family as you go a different way.
Sometimes that looks like separating from the life you once knew, Jesus says. It might cost you when you walk away from the life you’ve always known, your own privilege, financial security, and comfortableness. When we drop our nets to follow Jesus, we are picking up the risk and the cost of building the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, we build messy, risky relationships with those whom society pushes to the edges but God commands us to love, our neighbors, all of our neighbors: our Muslim neighbors, our LBGTQI neighbors, our black neighbors, our native neighbors, our Asian neighbors, our Jewish neighbors, our Hindu neighbors, our immigrant neighbors. We will lose our privilege, we will lose our comfort, we will lose our status, but we will also lose our prejudice, and we will lose our ego. You will lose everything that you know today. It will be hard and there is a cost.
There is a cost. Can you afford it? Will you afford it? Can you afford not to? Can we as a people of God afford to stay in our bubble of what we know, of the world telling us that we are only as important as our status, who we hang out with, what we own and where we live? Can we afford to continue to wage war on those who differ from us, who scare us and whom we want to exclude from God’s kingdom? What is it costing us? Jesus says it’s costing us our very lives.
We were not created to own stuff, to wage war, for unhealthy relationships, or for death. God created us for life. God created us to reveal God’s Shalom, which is wholeness, grace, and love. The way of Shalom is not the way of the world. The world levies taxes on us that we will never be able to repay. There will never be enough to satisfy the bill of ego, material possessions, and status. But in God’s kingdom, there is not only enough, but we are enough, not because of what we say or do, but because of who God is, and what God promises: the promise to be with us always, the promise to fill us with the Holy Spirit that is always making us new and transforming our lives, our relationships and all of creation. We are enough for God to work with and we are worth the cost for God. God so wants us to know abundant life, love and grace that God risked great cost in Jesus. Jesus came to proclaim that love poured into us is always worth the cost-even his own life. This love transcends any separation from God and Jesus promises that this love is everything that we need and is free to us.
We are called to reflect and be this love from Jesus. But Jesus knows and affirms that for us, love that is not about self, is hard. Love that pulls you out of your own needs and wants is risky. Love that moves us to change our behaviors so that our neighbor knows this same love is costly. But when we connect with that love of God for the sake of following Jesus out into the world for the sake of our neighbor, it’s always, always worth it, not matter what the cost. Amen.