A Lutheran Says What?

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

Jesus says #TimesUp It’s All About Love: Sermon on Mark 1:21-28 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 January 29, 2018

This Sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on Jan. 28, 2018. You can view it at http://www.bethanylive.org and look it up by the date.

The texts for the day were Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Mark 1: 21-28

 

Sometimes things are not always what they seem. The issue at hand is not really the issue at all. The toddler refusing to put a shirt is not about wearing a shirt, but about making their own choices. Or a teenager telling a parent that they don’t want them around, isn’t about overprotective or clingy parents, it’s wondering how much freedom their parents will allow. How much time do their parents really have for them, or how much do their parents really care?  Or in a marriage relationship, we don’t really dig in our heels about what time dinner is, or who should do the dishes or laundry, we’re wondering if we are in true partnership, heard and cared for. We tend to spend an inordinate amount of energy worrying about the wrong things and the actual issue can never be addressed. Often, every conflict boils down to fear. Fear of losing control of personal or communal boundaries.

I’ve noticed quite a bit of conversation in the air about boundaries. We encounter the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements as well as conversations about who is allowed to cross boundaries of countries, neighborhoods, etc. Boundaries communicate expectations and safety, we have boundaries for healthy relationships, boundaries that protect futures. Boundaries mostly seem positive but sometimes the question must be asked, positive for whom? Boundaries or the illusion of boundaries can also be used to control people or situations and when boundaries are in the hands of those with the most power and the most to lose from boundaries changing, damage can be done. We know that when someone crosses boundaries of our human worth, dignity and agency that person is suspect and dangerous. Personal boundary crossing raises red flags in our consciousness and we can even feel it in our bodies.

Damaging boundary crossing might be when people offer unsolicited opinions about us, harsh critiques, or words of how we make them uncomfortable, and when this happens, especially under the cloak of anonymity, it’s a boundary that has been crossed to the detriment of all involved. Sometimes our very existence can cross a societal norm boundary, and this makes people question the truth about boundaries and our human need to keep people in certain categories.

Our Mark 1 and 1 Corinthians 8 texts are not what they seem. In Mark, we might say this passage is about Jesus teaching with authority, or about demons, or an exorcism. In 1 Corinthians we might say that passage is about food, meat, idols or culture. But both passages are actually about boundaries. Jesus first public act in the gospel of Mark, reveals what God thinks about boundaries. We got a foretaste of that from the baptism story when the heavens were torn open and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. God’s love couldn’t even be contained by the boundary of heaven! Jesus wrestles with Satan, calls some disciples and then goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, like any good Jewish person. But Jesus did something that the ordinary person entering synagogue did not do: he taught with authority. Boundary crossed. Only the rabbis and scribes had any religious authority-but the people were caught by the nature of Jesus’ teaching. It was different, it was authentic, it revealed something about God and God’s nature. It was so revealing that a man also in the synagogue with an unclean spirit called Jesus by his true identity: Holy One of God! An unclean spirit in the synagogue is indeed another boundary crossed, in case you are wondering! We don’t know if no one knew this man had an unclean spirit or if the man had been outside and came in when he heard Jesus, we just don’t know. What we do know about Jewish purity laws is that this would have been a cause for great concern. The man should have been cast out away from everyone else for safety, but Jesus didn’t do that, he crossed the boundary and went toward the conflict, the uncleanliness, he took the issue head on.

He saw the man not as a someone to keep boundaried, but as a beloved child of God needing to be freed from a harmful boundary. Jesus leapt over the human boundary of cleanliness to bring this man into community. Jesus does this. Jesus declares that boundaries that harm us and keep us from being all who God created us to be are no more.

Jesus call us out of our human boundaries for the sake of proclaiming the gospel. God says that nothing should separate us from God and so whatever cultural norms we do or do not adhere to are irrelevant. That might mean we have to let go of worrying about how other people think we should act or how we think people around us should act. I encounter this often in my day to day life. Society tells us that women are to be small, meek and quiet. Culture tells us that we can’t take up much room, we have to leave room for the men. My spiritual director calls that spiritual anorexia. We tend to think that anorexia is about food and body image, and while that is a piece of it, it’s actually about infantilism. Encouraging women and girls to look younger is more about control. Children are helpless, lack agency and voice, women can be boundaried in this way. It’s dangerous not just to bodies but to minds and souls of girls and women as well as boys and men. We know that God calls women to be equally bold, big and loud as our brothers for the sake of proclaiming the love of God. Society tells us that men are to be tough, non-emotional, or grandiose. Plus the pressure of soul wage earner. We know that God also calls men to be equally gentle, emotional, and true partners with their sisters in the proclamation of the gospel. It’s not an either/or it’s a both/and. There’s room for all and we have to shed the worry of fitting into a boundary that is human made and not God made.

In 1 Cor. Paul is not worried about who eats what food from idols but about the boundaries that have arisen in the community. Some in the Corinth church were elite, educated and thought mostly of their own needs. Paul recognized that some in the community were struggling to understand the freedom in this pure grace from God and were still tripped up by the gods and idols of their culture around them. The elite and educated didn’t see that their eating meat from idol worship was confusing for some and frankly, the elite didn’t care. They had what was making them comfortable and what they understood, so that’s all that matters. But the dichotomy of the haves and the have nots was straining the relationships within the community and Paul beautifully lays waste to this human made boundary: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” If a boundary isn’t about love, it’s not a real boundary. And not the kind of love where you might say to someone, “I’m lovingly telling you to stay in a boundary that makes me comfortable.” No, it’s a boundary of selflessness where you put your own comforts and needs aside for you neighbor. Boundaries, Jesus declares throughout the gospels, are always about your neighbor in need. Boundaries often do make us uncomfortable as they are almost rarely about us.

But boundaries help us to name fear and anxiety when we feel it and to know that poor boundaries are often the core of conflict. Jesus proclaims that we go towards the conflict, towards the fear and anxiety to walk together, to learn from one another, to peel back the outward layers where we can get stuck in useless debate and never get to the real issue. Jesus very existence erases human boundaries. God creates boundaries for healing, wholeness, community, and living as the beloved body of Christ. God draws us all into the boundary of unending, abiding and steadfast love in the kingdom of God. This is good news indeed, and not just for some, but for all people. Amen.

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“Hold On: Here is your God!” Sermon for Advent 2, Dec. 10, 2017 Year B December 11, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village. To view the sermon go to http://www.bethanylive.org and go to the correct date.

Children’s time. Gather the children and ask where do you see God around you right now? Point God out to me. It can be hard to see God sometimes can’t it? And we forget that God is with us always. Walk to the font. In the bible story I just read, there was this guy, Jesus’ cousin, who was telling people that God was with them always, forgiving them when they did wrong things and holding on to them. He was splashing them with water, what’s that called? Baptism! And the water that clings to us reminds us that God clings to us too. BUT John told the people something else. That God does hold us but that through Jesus who was coming, we will be not only be baptized with water, but God’s Holy Spirit will cling to us too! This means that we have work to do with God and for God. Just as you helped me to see God right here, right now, we have to tell everyone we meet Here is your God and God holds on to you! This is why we light a candle and say to the newly baptized person, even if they are a baby “Let you light so shine before others that they might see your good works that glorify your father in heaven.” We are part of Jesus’ light and work in the world! Jesus wants us to hold on to that truth that each one of us has important work to do. Here is a glow stick to help you remember to hold on to God. I’m going to talk some more about this and every time you hear me say “Hold on Here is your God!” I want you to wave your glow stick, ok? Let’s pray:

In many facets of our life, it might seem like we are barely holding on. I know that when our children were young, I was serving full-time in a congregation, my spouse was working full-time, we had piano lessons, ballet, t-ball, church choir, and all of the school activities, most days I felt like I was barely holding on to sanity and let alone time management to get done the mundane activities such as laundry, grocery shopping and house cleaning. We grasp each day with both hands and hope that we can just hold on through another day.

And then there are the times when we hold on because we just can’t let go of someone or something even when we should. Relationships that aren’t healthy, jobs that is no longer life giving, long held beliefs about groups of people or ourselves. Or we hold on to the way life used to be or to our vision of the way life should have been, or even the way church used to be and it can be painful or harmful to continue to hold on to those ideas. Sometimes we have to let go in order to hold on to what God is doing.

And then there are times when we don’t even know what to hold on to: what we should hold on to might be risky or down right overwhelming. Maybe a new vocation at an older age, I started seminary at 36 with two young children! Maybe a move out of state away from family for an exciting opportunity. Maybe leaving what is comfortable and known for unknown and but perhaps will be meaningful and fulfilling.

Our theme for Advent is “Hold On.” Exploring how we hold on to God and God’s promises in our lives. When we are in distress or overwhelmed with our lives or the world we live in, it can be difficult to know who or what to hold on to. In Isaiah 40, the Israelites have been taken to Babylon in exile and they feel as if they have lost their grip on God or more accurately, that God has let them go. The opening lines of our Isaiah text are words of comfort to a people who are decidedly uncomfortable with their current state of affairs. They are away from Jerusalem; the Temple is destroyed and they can’t practice their religion they way they used to or think they should.

But then the voice of God breaks in with a word of hope and words of mission for the prophet and the people. Cry out! God says.  Which can translate to Preach! The prophet responds what shall I preach? Or again a better translation is Why shall I preach! The people are turning away. Why God says? Because “Here is your God!” Right here, right now holding on to you even if you can’t feel it, or see it or know it. I am here with you, even in exile, even in discomfort, even in your own lack of faith, I am here and always have been and always will be God says! Preach this good news from the highest mountain top! Hold on to this good news that God is holding on to you, to all of you, with the power of God’s mighty arms and with the tender care of a shepherd caring for his sheep.

Our gospel of Mark this morning invites us right off the bat into our theme. Mark’s gospel begins with a bang with these words: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark then immediately moves us into the mission and work of John the Baptist who essentially says to his community and to us: Ready or not, here we go! Hold on! It’s about to be a wild ride with God!

The people who were flocking to John, were desperate to hold on that perhaps their lives meant something. In first century Palestine, baptism was not a new thing. This was part of a Jewish ritual of cleansing, but John was drawing people out to the wilderness, away from the seat of government and religious authority with this message of repentance or a clearer definition is having a change of heart. Mark writes that people from the whole of Judean countryside and ALL people of Jerusalem were coming. This was extremely inclusive, it was not only the Jewish people, not only the elite, not only the poor, not only the educated, not only the religious, but all. And to this diverse crowd John proclaims something even more amazing than the forgiveness of sins: Hold on! There’s more! Not only are your sins cleansed and you can turn around to God, but through the one who is coming, all of you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit who comes and brings you all into what God is up to in the world. Here is your God! Breaking into the world, coming to you, to hold on to you, to never let you go and to bring you into the purpose and mission of the kingdom of God. Hold on!

The world around us is looking for such good news to hold on to. People are desperate for this good news, desperate for the truth, capital T truth for their lives.  As people called by God, what shall we preach to them? Or why shall we preach to them? Does it matter in a world that seems to have turned away? God tells us through our baptisms, yes! It matters that our lights shine and we hold on to our call to preach and be the good news of Emmanuel, God with us. We preach it not only to others but perhaps most importantly to ourselves. We can preach the truth of “Hold on: Here is your God” who breaks into our lives as a baby from a backwater town in Palestine. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we bridge divisions for true dialog and healing. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we speak out against injustices so that the road is level for all people and particularly for those who face discrimination based on color, religion, gender or sexual orientation. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we step outside our comfort zones and hear someone else’s story of pain and are willing to share our own. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we let go of how we think the world should be and reach out for new thing that God is up to. We preach Hold On: Here is your God when we follow Jesus and stand with the poor, the marginalized and the forsaken.

We preach Hold One: Here is your God when we receive and offer to all the signs of the promises of God for us to hold onto, even when it’s hard to grasp them. Hold On: Here is your God in water, in the bread and in the wine for us to hold on with both hands to the truth of God’s presence with us no matter how difficult, treacherous, or steep the road of our lives may be. Preach this truth of the good news of Jesus Christ with me this week “Hold on! Here is your God.” Preach it with every aspect of your lives, preach it at work, preach it at school, preach it! Preach it and hold on with your whole being to the good news of God breaking into our lives and the world with promises of love, forgiveness, mercy and hope. Hold on! Here is your God.

 

We Have Lent All Wrong Mark 1: 9-15 Year B Lent 1 February 24, 2015

I think we have Lent all wrong. On Ash Wednesday I was in a really good mood and when it came time for worship, I honestly wasn’t feeling all that penitential or somber. Now, I’m not really known for reverence or piety anyway and as someone that evening pointed out to me, why did I have to act differently than I normally do? Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that some times and places are sacred and holy and not all behavior is acceptable at those times, but I do sometimes struggle with the seemingly artificial somberness of Lent for me. This week on Facebook and in general conversations, I heard people talking about what they are giving up or adding for Lent in order to spend more time with their family (such as in giving up FB or all social media), to lose weight, to be more productive at work, to give their Starbucks money to a charity, or even to start a new spiritual practice that they are sure will bring them closer to God. None of these things are in and of themselves bad but it got me to wondering what Lent is all about. Is it a time of Christian New Year’s resolutions? Is it really self help disguised as piety for Jesus? Is it the modern day equivalent of the medieval practice of self flagellation?  If that’s what it’s about, then do these scripture readings simply support the fact that we have temptations (not the musical group) that we have to overcome for God to love us or to experience Jesus? Is there nothing of God in chocolate and Facebook?

So, “what is Lent, really”? And what does this Mark 1 story have to do with giving stuff up so that we are closer to God? Do you know what the word Lent means? Spring! Hope! New Life! Green grass, tulips, baby animals, baseball and short sleeves! Lent does not mean suffering, denial, death, sadness, and let’s all be Eyeore’s for six weeks under a gray gloomy cloud. I think we have Lent all wrong.

We are once again revisiting Mark 1 the baptism of Jesus that we just read a few weeks ago at the beginning of Epiphany. This time we lose the John the Baptist stuff and gain the four verses of Jesus in the wilderness and proclamation of the Kingdom of God coming near. I, frankly, preferred dealing with the loveliness of Jesus’ baptism versus wilderness and temptation.  Let’s talk about glory a little bit more, Lent is so sad and dismal! I miss Epiphany with the light and the revelation and the shine Jesus shine.  But here’s where once again, we get Lent all wrong.

We hear these two verses of Jesus being driven out to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and tempted by Satan and immediately ask the question “why”? Why would God drive Jesus to the wilderness for temptation? We tend to interpret these verses to mean that maybe we are to accept that God causes us to be tempted and tested for strengthening our faith. Or that it means that we need to rid ourselves of any temptations in Lent that might be from Satan.  A popular theory in our culture is that God has a purpose for our own personal time in the wilderness, whether that is physical or mental disease, joblessness, financial insecurity, loneliness, fear of what’s going on in our world, or just fear in general. What if we have this wilderness thing all wrong?

Yes, the Holy Spirit did drive, or the Greek is hurl which I love, Jesus out to the wilderness but it’s not that God was tempting Jesus or giving him difficulties to make him stronger in faith or to make a point. Jesus was sent out to the hard, barren places because they exist in our lives. This IS reality whether we like it or not, even for Jesus. And God didn’t tempt Jesus or cause or allow Satan to tempt Jesus, Satan just did because evil is real, the unknown and brokenness of our world is real. What if Jesus was sent to the wilderness not for Jesus but for Satan? What if the Spirit hurled Jesus to confront the reality of evil and brokenness with God’s love? God is proclaiming that Jesus is even for Satan and God will meet Satan right where evil is, with love. There is no where that God’s love can’t be hurled and to no one that God’s love will be denied.

There are wilderness times and places for us all. God doesn’t cause them, allow them or use them to teach us a lesson or for a purpose. Why there are wilderness places, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that other than we live in a world that is broken, the kingdom of God is near but not yet fully come. I don’t know why people get sick and die, I don’t know why groups of people think that they have the right to kill other people in God’s name, and I don’t know why people go to bed hungry, lonely, cold or with no bed at all. I don’t know why evil exists and why we fight with one another over silly and inconsequential things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. All I know is that I have wandered in the desert, I have experienced those places where I was sure that God didn’t exist or was sure that when God said that everyone is loved, God didn’t mean THOSE other people who cause suffering and harm. I have been in the wilderness and I was met with God’s unconditional love and grace.

I think we have this journey of Lent all wrong, it isn’t about us and what we add on or give up.  This journey of Lent is the journey of God being with us always even if we are in the reality of the wilderness with wild beasts.   Lent is not about what we think we need to do differently to be closer to God but the reality that the kingdom of God is nearer than you think. Lent is about the good news that the love of Jesus will meet you wherever you are, whoever you are, no matter what you do or don’t do. This journey of Lent is about how everything in our lives is of God even if we don’t see it, experience it or recognize it. Everything. Even the people, places and situations you don’t like and feel like barren wilderness with wild beasts.

The wilderness exists and when we are in those places of wilderness, as God’s people, we bring the love and light of Jesus with us. The spirit drives us out to places we don’t want to go because we are people also hurled into the world, not people called to sit in safety. We go to places in our world that are hard because that’s part of all of our life’s journeys but they are places where God already is at work with love, hope and mercy. We are the ones who point to God’s loving work in those broken times and places that exist and we don’t know why.

I think we might have Lent all wrong because we make it about us and not about God. But the kingdom of God has come near even when we get it wrong and God offers us over and over the story each and every day of God’s promise of hope, new life, continual presence, unconditional love and forgiveness. This Lent, let’s tell the story, the kingdom of God is near and near us all. The kingdom of God is at work in the world, in the joyful and peaceful places and situations and in the hard, difficult and barren places. God is everywhere at all times and in all places and that is the good news to proclaim. Amen.

 

#likeachildofGod Mark 1:29-39 #preachlikeagirl February 8, 2015

An interesting first occurred at the Super Bowl last week. No, it wasn’t the extremely misguided decision to pass the football instead of running it one yard, although seriously. No, it was a commercial from a company that made history. I’m probably about to make some men in my midst uncomfortable but you’ll be fine. For the first time in Super Bowl commercial history, a feminine care product was advertised. Ok, everyone cough and don’t make eye contact. The company Always spent about 3 million dollars of their precious advertising budget for a commercial that didn’t even directly show or talk about their product. Instead, they took head on the gender and the gender gap issue during the most consumer and arguably patriarchal television event of the year. Their premise was the idea behind the phrase “like a girl.” Now, this phrase is commonly used in a pejorative way such as “you run like a girl, you throw like a girl, you cry like a girl, you hit like a girl,” and it’s often directed at our young men.

They asked some grown young women to do some athletic activities that are normally associated with men, “like a girl.” They showed clips of women running kind of silly, throwing poorly, swinging a bat poorly and laughing at themselves. Then they asked some 9 and 10 year old girls to do these things “like a girl.” The difference was astounding. The young girls did these activities to the best of their ability, with a look of determination and grit on their faces and taking it very seriously that they were very good at these activities. All of who they were as a girl was a positive and life giving identity no matter what activity they were doing. Research shows that girls think that they can do and be whatever and whoever they dream until about age 13. At age 7 an equal number of boys and girls think that they can be president of the US. By age 14 only about 7% of girls think they could be president as compared to 50% of boys. Leadership ambition peaks for girls at age 8. Who we are as a female in our culture is tightly linked with what girls and women think we are capable of being and doing. Being who you are, your identity, and what you do are woven closely together.

The Always company has actually had this ad campaign on Youtube for about a year with the hashtag #likeagirl. The idea that women are enough in their own bodies and can do anything is an idea that the executives at Always thought was worth their time and energy. Is it completely altruistic? Of course not! They want to sell their product! But they purposely subverted the cultural meaning of “like a girl” and turned it into a national conversation. One of my preaching professors from Luther Seminary, Karoline Lewis, even started a hashtag #preachlikeagirl which I love!  Who we are as women, means that we do everything like a girl and that is not only enough, but it’s good enough just who we are as God created us to be, in all aspects. Women, as well as men, should be freed from how culture and society thinks we should act.

At first glance, verses 29-31 of our Mark story might appear to smack of cultural norms around the roles of women in the time of Jesus. It’s still the Sabbath, and after casting out the demon and teaching in the synagogue, Jesus goes to the home of Andrew and Simon (along with the other two so-far called disciples James and John) to find Simon’s mother in law (completely identified only through her son in law Simon with no name of her own) in bed with a fever. Fevers were serious business and often deadly. More than that, it would have isolated her from anyone else out of fear of contamination. If you’ve ever had a high fever, you know that you are not yourself. You can’t do much of anything.

Jesus was at once, Mark writes, told about Simon’s MIL and Jesus didn’t even hesitate to go to her. No one else had thought or even tried to help her. For one thing it was still the Sabbath and so work was strictly prohibited plus the problem that she was unclean. But Jesus isn’t worried about the cultural rules or what people will think and only is concerned about this woman. Jesus takes her by her hand and lifts her up, the same word used in 16:6 for Jesus being raised, and the fever leaves her. She is free from what kept her from being all she could be. She is returned to community and made whole despite Jewish laws of Sabbath.

But then this woman actually does something that is not only bold but is a statement about who she is and what this day for her and us all, really means, she serves. Not just makes dinner or cleans up her own room, but the word here is the same as in 1: 13 when the angels waited on Jesus-she is a devoted servant and follower of Jesus, God incarnate. I read that she could be called the first deacon or true follower of Jesus. So this is a first in the gospel of Mark for someone to actively respond to Jesus. In her serving, she was a leader in how we should respond to Jesus who came to serve. This unnamed woman gets that Jesus came to serve, had served her and now she proclaims with all who she is the good news of Jesus’ presence in the world.

She doesn’t ask permission to work on the Sabbath but serves without a thought to the possible consequences for not following the rules because of who now she truly is freed from the fever, she is part of Jesus’ radical announcement that the kingdom of God is breaking into human lives and human rules. This day heralds a shift in how we live together as the people of God and how we live in the world. We quit worrying about rules, ourselves, what others might think of us and love and serve each other as Jesus first loves and serves us. Simon’s MIL, because of whom she knew she was as a person made whole through Jesus, was unafraid to be and act in response to being made a whole child of God, she was unafraid of what others might think of her blatant and bold dismissal of cultural norms, she didn’t worry about fitting into the system.  All of who she was, was enough, she ignored the cultural restrictions and she responded like a girl, if you will.

The coming of Jesus and of the kingdom of God, proclaims that we are more than what the world tells us that we are: we are more than just male, female, sick, healthy, rich, poor, white, black, gay, straight, outspoken, meek, athletic, intellectual, leader or follower. Over and over again in the gospel of Mark and the other Gospels we read of story after story of Jesus proclaiming that in God’s kingdom, such distinctions don’t exist-the only identity that matters is that of child of God. With these casting out of demon and healing stories, we can be tricked by our own humanness into thinking that Jesus came to perform radical miracles that will do for us exactly what we want, when we want it, for our own purposes. But Mark is clear that is not it at all: Jesus came to dwell among us to reveal that in the kingdom of God, our human restrictions, cultural taboos and social boundaries are false, all are children of God and God desires to lift us up-to resurrect us- to our whole selves as made in God’s image, free from death and anything that separates us from God, for the sake of serving God and God’s whole world. Who we are, just being a whole child of God, informs our actions.

So, while the Always Company wants women and girls to do things “#likeagirl,” God calls us to be #likeachildofGod, whose whole life bears witness to God’s grace, love and forgiveness for all. #likeachildofGod who serves not just people in need but partners with another child of God in a full relationship, and so is served by them as well. #likeachildofGod who offers community, love and belonging to everyone, even if they make us uncomfortable, challenge our thinking and change us. #likeachildofGod who can rest in the trust that God is present always and that the promise is that God will take us by the hand, lift us to be with God forever and love us no matter what. Thanks be to God!

*This week let’s Tweet, FB and Instagram all of the ways that we are grateful to be freed in the love and mercy of Jesus to serve God and the world at #likeachildofGod Let’s see if we can get it to trend!

 

OS 2.0 God’s Operating System Mark 1: 21-28 February 1, 2015

I always am amused when the newest iPhone or iPad or gadget de jour is released; everyone waits in line for hours or days, with excitement that rivals that of Christmas or their birthday, and the confidence that THIS newest version of technology will be awesome, exactly what they want it to be and will change their lives for the better. And then it’s released and people have a day or two learning their new gadget and then the complaints start rolling in. “Why doesn’t my iTunes sync like before? Where is the weather app? Oh I really don’t like the new keyboard layout. I have no idea how to actually answer a phone call. The map app drove me into a lake!” While many features of the new technology are wonderful, what people inevitably focus on is the newness of the operating system that causes them to have to do something different from before. Some will complain, but learn from someone else (like a grandchild) and adapt, some will go back to their old technology and operating system and some will keep the new technology but ignore whatever it is they don’t understand about the new system.
This is the human cycle around something new in our lives. We are bombarded with “new” at an ever increasing rate in our 21st century world. Something “new” is discovered, revealed, and integrated nearly daily thanks to social media, the inter-webs, television, and our global networking. It can be exhausting, even for this Gen Xer. Luckily, I have teenagers all around me who will coax (ok, harass) me into learning, growing and embracing the newness when I think I’ve reached my capacity for change.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, this cycle of how we adapt to new isn’t new. In the educational psychology realm it’s referred to as “disequilibrium” and it’s actually necessary for learning. Our brains have to be a little thrown off, if you will, in order to absorb and integrate (that’s key in education) new information or experiences. Alongside disequilibrium is the necessity of group think. If you experience disequilibrium in a vacuum all by yourself, odds are you won’t integrate as much information, reject more of it and frankly, have better odds of becoming stagnate and resistant to new information. Our brains are actually wired for community. So upsetting whole systems of people is the quickest way to integrate new ideas. Apple and Facebook are the reigning champions of this in our culture. They keep pushing new ways of thinking on us and we keep accepting it-albeit sometimes begrudgingly.
The gospel of Mark heralds what change can do to a large group of people quickly. I love the gospel of Mark. Pastor Rob asked me if it was my favorite gospel and I realized, yes, yes it is. Couple of reasons: 1) it’s the Reader’s Digest version of Jesus-16 chapters-neat and tidy. 2) Things happen quickly! Jesus gets stuff done! Hallelujah! 3) Status quo is so blatantly ignored and challenged that it makes your head spin. Yes, this is the gospel for me. And this episode from Mark 1 highlights all of these things-eight verses and the whole world changes for a group of people in a synagogue.
Jesus, fresh from baptism and gathering a few companions for the journey, decides to go to synagogue on the Sabbath. Status quo enough, right? But the second Jesus opened his mouth to talk and teach; status quo was disrupted. The system was altered. His teaching was different, new, astounding, and de-centering. It was so new that an unclean spirit in a man took notice and was immediately aware that it’s time was up. Jesus teaching was so different that people began to talk amongst themselves and wondering what to do not just with the teaching that they had heard with their ears, but the teaching that they had seen with their eyes. The people were used to coming to synagogue and hearing about God and being taught, but for the words of God’s presence to be made into actions right in front of them? No real framework for that! This was not a magic trick or an illusion of a demon being exorcised-Jesus’ commanding word made healing, freeing and life-giving stuff-happen. What is this, they kept asking each other? What do we do with this new information? Who is this? Is Jesus the Holy One of God as the unclean spirit said? Can you hear the den of conversation in that synagogue on a Saturday as they grappled with this new operating system? The man who was freed from the demon was changed forever, right there in everyone’s presence. Abundant life was offered him freely, the man didn’t participate or promise to do anything to be freed from his demon. Jesus simply did it, revealing that something new in the earthly system was happening and everyone was confused.
Jesus’ very presence on earth, God dwelling among us, sets the whole world into disequilibrium. Jesus reveals that the world’s system of what separates us from God: the demons of fear, scarcity, consumerism, ego, self-preservation, materialism, (what are other demons you deal with?) are no longer the dominate system that we live in. God proclaims that the system of love, abundance, wholeness, community, and joy is now being revealed and available to all. But this system will change us, we will have to do things differently. God’s system is one of transformation, being made new every day, constant integration of our identity in God’s system as a beloved child of God above and before anything else. God’s system isn’t afraid of change and confronting what demons need to go, in order for this new way of being the people of God to be not just heard, but seen, lived, and experienced by all.
God’s system will and does transform us-it throw us into disequilibrium here at LCM in Lakewood, CO in 2015. Each and every day we are invited into the newness of God’s operating system through the love and mercy of Jesus Christ to be amazed at what God is up to and we wrestle as a community with the questions “what is this? Did you see what Jesus did?” We might be swept up into this system and try to ignore what we don’t understand, try to adapt and realize that we need all the voices of all the generations and demographics around the table to reveal to one another how astounding God’s new system is compared to the world’s operating system.
We might be tired and unsure if we have the capacity for much more to be new. But Jesus assures us that he is leading the way in this new operating system and has done the hard work of removing the demons of fear and death that keep us from God’s offer of abundant life. Instead of being pushed along as the world tries to, the Holy Spirit accompanies us and walks with us so that as we live our lives we are participating in God’s work of loving our neighbors, feeding those who are hungry, being with the lonely, standing with those who others ignore, and all of the ways that our very lives are a new way of operating in the world. Jesus’ new teaching promises that God’s system of love, mercy and forgiveness can be accessed, experienced, and lived into by all and will make us different. Jesus teaches us that God is transforming us and the whole of creation right here, right now and each and every day; revealing who God is and who we are as God’s people for the sake of the whole world. Thanks be to God!

 

Flooding the World with God’s Love: Don’t Water Down Baptism Mark 1: 4-11, Year B January 18, 2015

We love baptisms, or at least I do! I love the joy, the families, the special outfits, the fun pictures, the pretty napkins, the beautiful quilts, the crafted faith chests. And let’s not forget the cuteness of babies! Babies who squirm as we sprinkle cool water on their warm heads while being held in the safety of mom or dad’s arms. It’s a sacred and joyous day! It’s a day that as families we plan for, grandparents and sponsors fly in, sometimes a party is held and it makes a nice page in our children’s baby book. Now, we know that it’s so much more than that as well. Baptism is a common thread that weaves directly from Jesus to us today. It’s a public proclamation that God names and claims us. Baptism is God’s action of love, grace and forgiveness towards us, the children of God. It’s also about the promises made by family and the community of God’s people to journey together and share with one another the tenets of our faith. It’s also a ritual that connects us to the ancient Christian church. We tell the story of faith from generation to generation. But, please excuse the pun, I wonder if we’ve watered down baptism.  God uses this very destructive, untamable and unpredictable element of water, to declare that God’s activity is loose in the world through Jesus and through us.  I wonder if by focusing on just the day we’ve diluted the wildness and the adventurous journey that baptism really is. I wonder if we really understand why Jesus’ baptism and our baptism matters.

The gospel writer of Mark, begins his entire witness of the ministry of Jesus Christ with the baptism of Jesus. Not with serene stories of an adorable baby, angels singing or special gifts from foreign visitors but with Jesus going to the wilderness, leaving behind the town in which he grew up. Jesus didn’t go to the temple or to a nice clean synagogue to begin ministry or even do much ministry at all. But, instead, he headed to the middle of nowhere, with a large motley crew of people from all walks of life, to a swiftly flowing river; a river that during the spring runoff can be volatile, a river that served as a border that divided people and cultures. For Mark, this river running through wilderness is where the story begins. Jesus at the Jordan, submersed completely under the water, holding his breath, being baptized by a rough and tumble looking guy (no pretty albs or stoles), trusting that John will pull him up from the destructive waters, emerging to the sky tearing open and the Holy Spirit of God dive bombing him like a kamikaze dove. Then the words of acceptance and inclusion booming “You are mine and I love you.”

This moment for the writer, is not about just this day but about the rest of Jesus’ life on earth, how Jesus’ baptismal day shaped all of the rest of his days and how it reveals the promise for everyone of eternal life to come. Jesus’ baptism is not about a pretty gown, a party or a certificate for Jesus’ scrapbook. This near drowning experience was the first day of a risky journey that began out in the middle of nowhere, progressed to a cross on a hill outside of the city, and then to a tomb that would be empty of death, yet full of life and hope. It seems that risk and God’s love go hand in hand.

Each and every episode of Jesus’ ministry in Mark, flows from this one. Jesus washes people with healing, love, forgiveness and grace. Jesus tears through the clouds of people’s lives with the words that they are God’s beloved children and God is pleased with them just the way they are. Jesus goes to the wild places of people’s lives and declares God’s loving activity in the midst of chaos, disease, hunger, poverty, loneliness, division and fear. Jesus’ baptism is not a once and only experience that is a nice story for family reunions, but his baptism is a launching point that set into motion his journey of now and forever revealing God in the world.

Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because God didn’t claim him before the water touched his head, because God did, Jesus’ baptism mattered, not because it made him part of a special club, because it didn’t, but Jesus’ baptism with wild water mattered because God wants us all in the flow of God’s radical, unpredictable, untamable and always risky love for us and to us. In baptism, the human and yet divine Jesus brings us all into the living water that floods out the world’s truth conditional, “if-then” clauses of acceptance and fills us God’s truth of unconditional acceptance of us no matter what.

Our baptism matters, not because it’s a marker of who’s in or who’s out, but because God launches us from the shore of the font, so that we flood the world with love, mercy, and forgiveness everywhere we go so that all people will know that God splashes them too. God offers the world the freedom from drowning in the rigid “in or out” systems of the world: consumerism, elitism, divisions, and all of the ways that we separate ourselves from one another. Jesus’ baptism matters as it is God’s action that flows through Jesus to us in our baptism so that, every time we walk out the doors of this church or our homes, we are a flood of God’s love for all of creation. Our baptism into the revelation and flood of God’s love for the world, matters when we feed people through The Action Center or Denver Rescue Mission; our baptisms matter when we act with integrity at our jobs, at school or with coworkers; our baptisms matter when we speak out against injustice and hate for someone of a different race, social class, religion or sexual orientation; our baptism matters when we can stand in the complexity of solidarity with people who have been victims of injustice as well as the people who bravely live to protect others, keep peace and promote justice. Our baptism matters as it is a revelation of God connecting all people through common water to be one people of God.

Every day is our baptismal day. Every day God’s activity is loose in the world-through the love of Jesus Christ, the movement of the Holy Spirit and through each of us. Every day we participate with God in the journey into the wilderness and uncertainty with the words of being God’s beloved child ringing in our ears. Every day we risk to live out our story of faith, revealing to our neighbors what it means to be submersed in the waters of God’s promises of unconditional love and eternal life for us all.  Everyday Jesus’ love, hope and mercy matters to the world and so does our participation with God. Every day we are all God’s beloved children. Thanks be to God.

*Another way that we talk about being God’s hands and feet in the world is to say that we reflect the light of Christ. We offer a candle to the newly baptized to remind them of this fact. We will now remember that our baptism matters as we reflect what God is already doing in the world, by lighting a candle and singing “This Little Light of Mine.”