A Lutheran Says What?

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

Beyond Expectations Luke 2 Christmas Eve October 30, 2020

This sermon was recorded October 30,2020 for our Christmas Eve worship. Yep, we’re early as we have a lot of video to edit! It will be on YouTube on Dec. 23, 2020 Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Isaiah 9: 2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2: 1-20

Sometimes life is beyond our expectations. I think it’s fair to say that this year fits that description. At Christmas last year, we were looking into the future with the expectation that life would only be better, or least not this. I have to say that it’s beyond my expectation to be leading worship mostly on-line, or that in person communion would become dangerous. It is beyond my expectation that I would wear a mask anytime I left the house, and leaving would be rare. It’s beyond my expectation that I would have Zoom fatigue. And it’s completely beyond my expectation to be writing and recording a Christmas Eve sermon in late October. (Happy Halloween everyone!) It’s beyond our expectations that our celebrations and worship are so different and, well, unexpected.

Expectations are notoriously challenging, as they are rarely met. Expectations are built on what we know about our present and our experience of the past, what we think we can control and know our future. Expectations have an almost truth like quality to them, as we commonly cement expectations into our own consciousness. Expectations are about what we can imagine, what we want to be true, and based on our limited experiences. When expectations aren’t met, it’s disorienting, and we’re often disappointed and disillusioned. Even when expectations are exceeded, it’s just as challenging, as it still requires a shift in our thinking and response. Anything beyond our expectations, transforms us.

The beloved Luke 2 Jesus birth narrative states that Mary “was expecting a child.” Expecting. Mary probably had certain expectations for her life and life with Joseph. I’m willing to guess that conception of a child out of wedlock by the Holy Spirit, being told by the Angel Gabriel that the baby would be the Son of the Most High who would save the world and giving birth among animals were beyond her and Joseph’s expectations.

It was beyond the expectations of the shepherds on duty that night outside of Bethlehem to be serenaded by a multitude of the heavenly hosts about the birth of the Messiah. The people of Israel had been expecting a Messiah for a long time, but it was beyond the expectation of these shepherds, on the lowest rung of society, that they would be the first to hear or see it for themselves. It was beyond anyone’s expectation that this new family would have as their first visitors the shepherds who shared the angelic message of the expectation of this new frail baby. It was beyond their expectation of what the coming years would bring for this newborn, how his life would transform the world, shatter the expectations of so many people, break open hearts and imaginations, and two thousand years later we would be ruminating on their story. Some of their expectations would go unmet, yet God’s presence, love and mercy would turn out to be beyond what they could expect or imagine.

The truth is that we have many unmet expectations this year. We expected to attend a candlelight worship, to sing Silent Night together, watch the children dressed as angels, hear the choir sing, and be together. We expected family gatherings, joyous meals, meaningful gifts, and festive parties. And as I am preaching this sermon on October 30, I am obviously projecting expectations on what December 24 will be like for me and for you. I don’t actually know what the next two months will bring, I don’t know what to expect. Just like Joseph and Mary who never expected to parent the Son of God, or the shepherds who never expected to be the first witnesses to God’s incarnation with humanity and creation, we just don’t know what to expect for the coming weeks, months or year.

In the unmet expectations this year, the truth is also that God’s presence and work in our midst has been beyond my expectation. It’s beyond expectation how OSLC would turn our focus so rapidly and unwaveringly to protecting and caring for our community outside our walls, how robustly we would respond to digital worship and embrace Zoom simply to see each other.

God has shown up and shattered our expectations of what life can be, and what life should be in this pandemic. Just as it is beyond human expectation for God to show up as a baby in the middle of nowhere 2000 years ago, in Jesus, to live as one of us, so too it’s beyond expectation how God shows up in our midst today. God shows up in holy Facetimes with beloved family in assisted living facilities, in sacred Zoom family game nights, in smiling eyes above masked faces, in funding organizations for neighbors in need, in difficult conversations of articulating our faith in the midst of political and racial upheaval. God’s very presence has unexpectedly bound us to one another despite distancing. We are together beyond our expectations.

God is all about shattering our expectations, showing us that life with God is beyond anything we can expect because God’s expectation for us and creation transforms us, reorients us to what is true even when we don’t expect it. God transforms our unmet expectations into wholeness, healing, new life and love. We trust and expect God’s presence no matter where we are, even if the situation is beyond our expectations. God promises that life with God, through the love and grace of Jesus Christ, will always be beyond our expectations. Amen, and Merry Christmas!


Good News of Great Joy!Sermon for Christmas Eve 2018 December 28, 2018

This sermon was preached on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. and Dec. 24 and 7 pm. Both can be found on http://www.bethanylive.org

The text was Luke 2: 1-20

Children’s sermon: Bring the children forward and have a plain amazon box.

I’m sure you recognize this! It’s an Amazon box! We seemed to have many of these come to our door this week! And I’m sure you did too! Every time a box came to our home, it was a reminder that someone who lived far away in our family or from our friends was thinking of us! Now, the plain box itself is one thing, but then when we open it, the gifts inside are decorated with fun paper or bows, like this, on them. When we wrap gifts, we often think of how special that person is to us and we hope that the gift we send makes them happy. But it’s not really about the gifts. Maybe in the past you’ve received a toy that you really wanted, fun new pajamas, a new bike or gaming system and that made you happy. But toys break, we outgrow pajamas or bikes and technology will stop working. Does that mean that the person who gave you those things no longer loves you? NO! Those things made us happy, being loved never stops and that is what joy is all about. Joy is about being connected to love: people who love us: moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, friends, teachers, and that we love all of those people too.

In our Christmas story tonight we heard an angel tell the shepherds good news of great joy for ALL people. What was that good news? Jesus was born!!! God loves us so much that God came to us as baby Jesus, to connect us to God’s love and to each other and this is great joy! Everyone, you, me, everyone here, everyone in the world, is connected to God and God’s love and are filled with Great Joy! God wanted the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and us to know that we are loved, and are God’s Great Joy. We are part of God forever. And God’s Great Joy can’t be put in a box or under our tree, It’s so big that it covers the whole world! And so as people who are God’s Great Joy-our job is to tell everyone we see that they are God’s Great Joy too! Just like we put bows on presents to remind the person that they are special, I have a bow for each of you tonight to remind you that you are special, connected to God and God’s Great Joy forever!

It’s easy to feel isolated and alone in our world today. Between long hours at work, everyday tasks at home, child care, caring for aging parents, and the list goes on and on, it’s difficult to find time to deeply connect with friends, family or even ourselves. Researchers have found that we are more isolated than ever in our modern times, despite technology that can connect us instantly. The greatest threat to the health of people over the age of 65 is loneliness. But loneliness isn’t only about geography, not being able to leave your home. Life situations can also make us feel lonely. Have you ever felt alone in a crowded room such as this one tonight? Things like divorce, job difficulties, money issues, health issues, depression, can all make us feel alone and can be isolating.  I remember the loneliness of being at home with very young children who didn’t speak in complete sentences and all I wanted most days was another adult to talk to about anything. I loved playgroups and my Mothers of Preschoolers group where I could actually hear sentences that consisted of more than three words about topics besides Cheerios. I loved being with my children, yet it’s hard to be a parent in the best of situations and I sometimes struggled. Going to MOPS connected me with other moms and they shared their struggles with me and we all felt less alone.

We are wired for connection as human beings. This is not an accident or a coincidence. As humans, each one of us, created in God’s own image, God embedded in our hearts, minds and bodies the need to be together in community. This is the heart of our Christmas story tonight. I can only imagine the loneliness of Mary and Joseph as just the two of them trudged along for miles with a donkey-only to arrive in a town where no one knew them or would welcome them in. The loneliness and fear of having a baby with no mother or mother-in-law, aunt or grandma to hold your hand as a family of two became three. Or the loneliness of the shepherds out in the middle of nowhere, outcast and looked down upon from society because of their vocation with smelly animals. Yes, perhaps two or three of them worked together, but it was still lonely work.

But then, it all changed. An angel appeared out of the dark and proclaimed that loneliness is dispelled, there is good news! God has come to be with you! You are not alone! God’s love, God’s great joy connects you to God and to all of God’s people, no matter what you do for a job, no matter who you are, no matter how much money you make, how much you do or don’t struggle, how large your family is, or where you live. Go and see that you are connected with God’s great love and joy! And the shepherds went to Bethlehem, to connect with Mary and Joseph, to let them know that they are not alone either, that God is connecting unlikely people, in unlikely ways, for great purpose of sharing God’s Great Joy with all the earth!

God’s Great Joy is good news for us all tonight. God’s Great Joy through Jesus connects us, to God and to each other. We matter, our neighbors near and far matter as we are all connected to God’s work of love in the world. This Great Joy is pure gift, it doesn’t depend on what we do or don’t do, because like the angels came to the shepherds, this Great Joy finds us no matter where we are.

This Great Joy is so expansive that it can’t be contained to a manger, to a stable, to the shepherding fields, to the skies filled with angels, to a cross or an empty tomb. God’s Great Joy can’t be contained to you, me, this building, Denver or Colorado. God’s Great Joy blankets the earth and connects us all so that loneliness, darkness, despair and death are no more. Jesus, who is love, light and joy made flesh to be with humanity, is God’s promise that nothing disconnects us from God, or each other. This is grace. This is indeed Great Joy. This is for us all and it is for you.

Like the shepherds, we can’t hold this Great Joy inside, and so we go to glorify and praise God with our whole lives. We share this Great Joy when we offer a smile to a stranger, write a note to someone who needs affirmation, collect food for a those in need, say a prayer for those who suffer, take time to listen to an opinion different from our own, lift our voice for those who are voiceless in our world, or simply say “You are loved” to someone who needs to be reminded.

Good news of Great Joy: God came to us, to connect with us and to connect us to each other. Great Joy is from God and overflows and for all people. You are part of God’s Great Joy, now and forever. Glory to God in the highest.


Messy Love Luke 2: 41-52 Christmas 2 Year C December 27, 2015

Holidays where gathering as family is that the heart of the activities are not always what we expect them to be. I think that naming this is the gift of our service of remembrance today at 10 a.m. But whether we lost a loved one this year or ten years ago naming that the holidays are full of mixed emotions for many of us is cathartic and healthy. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a “Debby Downer” here two days after Christmas! Sometimes it IS absolutely what we envision: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, children and grandchildren gathered around a table overflowing with traditional favorite food, laughing, relaxing and having a great time. I have witnessed such days and I hope that you have at least one such day that you can recollect. But if we’re honest, most of our holidays or special planned days don’t go exactly how we envisioned, for lots of reasons. People have to work, get sick, are in a dispute with another family member, or simply don’t come. More difficult is when a chair is empty never to be filled by that person again because they have died. I’ve had more of those kinds of holidays than I would like to recollect and maybe you have as well. Reality is that holidays can be difficult when it seems the rest of the world is joyous and festive and you are remembering who used to be around the table celebrating with you and now they are…not. Even in the healthiest or most functional family system, holidays are a messy experience and let’s be honest, who’s all that functional? I like to say that my family has put the FUN in dysfunctional. Sometimes just owning your dysfunction is helpful and remembering that no family is perfect can be relieving!

Our Luke story today tells us that even the Holy Family, had its share of messiness. They had gone to Jerusalem to Passover, a big family oriented festival where they had spent time with their loved ones, going to Temple, eating and catching up. All seemed to be fine until the big family unit set out for home. It says that Mary and Joseph realized quite a ways down the road that their 12 year old son wasn’t with the family caravan. How can the parents of the Son of God lose him?

In a panic, I’m sure, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus. Where could he be? Grandma’s house? No. Uncle’s house? No. Friend’s house? No. Surely, he wouldn’t be in the Temple? What middle school aged youth would stay for extra confirmation? Yet, after three days, that is exactly where his parents found him, with the scribes being taught and even more miraculously, teaching. Mom and Dad were initially relieved but then were upset that Jesus wouldn’t just follow directions and join the caravan home. And right there in front of the Rabbi, their nearly teenaged son, smarts off to them about of course he is in his Father’s house and why were they looking for him? Not the serene scene of mother and baby in the stable from a few nights ago. It didn’t take long for things to change.

Even for Mary, mothering the Son of God, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Prince of Peace was not all it was cracked up to be. Those reversals she sang about when she was pregnant about the high being made low and the low being made high? Yeah, those aren’t so simple now are they? This was messy. This is not going the way she thought. Who is her son and what does this mean?

Messy indeed. Luke’s gospel isn’t afraid of the messiness, the incongruities, the complex emotions, situations and realities of our human lives. In this story Luke foreshadows the confusion and messiness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Three days of not knowing what is going on. Three days of waiting in uncertainty. Three days of tumultuous emotions. Three days of asking “why”? Three days that will transform us and the world.

The reality is that our lives are messy. Our lives are not what we had planned. Spouses, children, parents, loved ones, and friends die and we don’t know why. We wrestle with the reality of our pain and sorrow in the midst of a season where we celebrate joy, newness, sing lullabies to new babies, and praises to a King. We might vacillate between really enjoying the season and our sorrow.  It can all feel so hallow, shallow, and inauthentic at times. Friends and family may want us to not be sad but it’s not that simple. We grieve deeply because we love deeply. If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t grieve. That’s not a consolation or a platitude, but a reality. Love is risky, love changes us, love forever binds us together and so its bonds do not break when someone dies, they are stretched and so as we grieve, we wrestle with the stretching of our love for those who have died. Mary knew from the time of Jesus’ birth that at some level that her love for her son would pierce her heart and stretch her love from life to death. Many of us can attest to loving someone so deeply that we know we have the real risk of pain.

Jesus Christ, God as a human, was God’s deep, risky, transformative and binding love for us. Jesus was God’s love stretching to earthly life, to earthly death to eternal life for us all. God’s love is so vast that it stretches to encompass us all-binding us with all of creation together with God forever. God’s love stretches to swallow up death and our Colossians text reminds us that we put on the clothes of love and eternal life with God. God’s love through Jesus transcends the reality of love in this life where love is connected with grief. God’s love promises to wipe every tear from our eyes, make us whole, united with God now and forever.

This is our hope that we proclaim in our worship each and every week, in word, in water, bread and wine. We proclaim this hope sometimes with songs of praise and sometimes with songs of lament but always with words that dwell in us richly even when we don’t have any words at all. This hope that is offered for all through Jesus Christ, is one in which we rest, even when we have a hard time understanding or believing this mysterious and unconditional gift from God. When we gather as the people of God, we do so in all of our messiness, in all of our differences, in all of our stories of “why,” in order to point to our hope in Christ for each other when we have a hard time seeing it, experiencing it or feeling it. This is the importance of a faith community for us in all seasons of our lives. I know that I have had people in my life who in hard times pointed to the love and hope of Christ for me when I needed it and I pray that I have been that light for other people as well.  We need each other on this faith journey. We gather together for the wisdom of the elder in our midst and the wonder of the child. We gather together because we need each other for wholeness, Christ binds us together in love not just for our sake but for the sake of the world. We gather to point to the hope in Christ in the messy, imperfect world around us. God, in Jesus, works through messiness, our imperfections, our sorrows, to reveal God’s promises of wholeness, peace, justice and love this day. Thanks be to God.


This Day! Luke 2:1-20 Christmas Eve 2015 Year C December 26, 2015

“In those days.” We hear those words and it conjures up the beginning of a story from the past. Many of our personal and family stories could begin that way. In those days, grandma and grandpa were still here and grandma always made us special cookies. In those days, we were so poor that we got fruit one year in our stockings. In those days, we had energy and could go to a Christmas party a night and not tire. In those days, we didn’t worry about aging, global warming, terrorism, church decline or any of the other modern chaos. In those days, we didn’t have the medical technology that would have kept grandma healthier longer. In those days, we didn’t have nearly all of the luxuries that we do today. In those days, the economy was bad, or in those days the economy was good. In those days, we had less fear. In those days we had less anxiety. In those days, those were the days.

We can get stuck in the past. We can hang on to the nostalgia of what used to be and compare it to how it is this day. This day never seems quite as shiny or satisfying as “in those days.” It seems that this day has only has fear, uncertainty and anxiety. In those days, we knew what was what. We could count on social security, family, health, or wherever we found our certainty. In those days.

Our story of the birth of Jesus begins with the words, “in those days” and we can let those words lead us to believe that this story is about what happened a long time ago and life was different, life was simpler, life was predictable. In those days, when that decree went out from Emperor Augustus and we had to go to Bethlehem even though I was 9 months pregnant? Remember how we traveled? Remember those days? It’s easy to romanticize this story of Jesus’ birth in a particular place and time and it’s easy to chalk it up to something that happened two thousand years ago but doesn’t have any relevance for us today. It’s nice story for us to hear about a new baby, young parents and peaceful, silent night. It is a story about an event that happened “in those days,” but it also so much more.

The story that opens with “in those days,” quickly moves to what is happening on “this day.” On “this day” the angel said, a savior is born. The long awaited messiah has arrived. This is the day! Whatever happened “in those days” is now transformed because of this day! This day God has come to us. This day God walks among us. This day your salvation has come. This day, this story, this baby, is not about the past at all but the present and the future. This day, God’s promises for forgiveness, grace and hope are real among us. God promises to break into the world in unlikely places each and every day-not just one time in the past, “in those days,” but today-right here right now where we are least looking!

The first to hear this good news were shepherds, lowly stinky shepherds, who were out in their fields with the sheep because they didn’t even rank high enough to be counted in the census. No one cared if they were included in kingdom or not. But to God, they counted. On this day, God proclaimed that no one is too lowly or unimportant for God’s kingdom. On this day, all people and all creation counts in God’s kingdom. On this day, God revealed where love had entered into the world. This day God gave a sign that “in those days” were gone and there is only “this day” of love, grace and hope from “this day” forward.

The shepherds were the first to discover that this is a different kind of king and a different kind of kingdom. Instead of a palace, a barn. Instead of a throne or fancy bassinet, a manger where animals ate. Instead of a parade or a coronation, angels with music to a few outsiders. Instead of family with useful gifts, the shepherds who only brought with them their story of what God was doing in the world. This new kingdom that arrived on this day, proclaimed that what the world knew of power, authority and community was being made new. Power now looked like a new baby, authority now looked like love, and community now looked like all people-shepherds, teenage mothers, carpenters, refugees, innkeepers, you and me.

This king came to serve, love and gather all to the source of not just this day, but all of our days. This day a savior has been born, and this day points us to the cross and the empty tomb with the promise of God declaring power over death. This day Jesus comes to us in the bread and in the wine to declare God’s promise to over and over offer grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope to all people.

This day two thousand years ago, transforms this day, here and now. God takes all of in those days, and proclaims “Don’t miss what I am doing this day! Don’t get stuck in the past!” This day we don’t have to fear because God is with us. This day we know that God walks with us in our grief and sorrow. This day we know that God rejoices with us. This day we celebrate that no matter what we say or do this day, God promises to transform our hearts, minds and souls for tomorrow so that when “this day” arrives again, we get another day of living and sharing in the love and peace of Jesus Christ. With the angels and the shepherds we tell the whole world what we have heard, the good news of what God is doing this day to all who can hear, for this day, and every day now and forever, God lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry, and brings peace, love and hope through Jesus Christ. This day is the day that the whole world is waiting to hear: a savior is born. Amen.