A Lutheran Says What?

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

Signs of Life Sermon for Lent 1B February 19, 2021

This sermon was preached for the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 21, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please subscribe!

The texts were:

Genesis 9: 8-17
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 9-15

It was riveting to watch the Mars Rover, Perseverance, land this week. The joy of the Nasa and JPL crew was palpable as the rover transmitted first pictures of the surface of the red planet. The rover projected a barren terrain: only sand and rocks, no plant life, trees, lakes, or rivers. The mission is to determine if life is possible or was ever possible on Mars, as currently, it appears that there are no signs of life to be found. But the recent discovery of the possibility of water, 4 million years ago in the Jezero Crater, opens the door and the imagination to dig deeper, literally, into the sand and rocks, to see if life is indeed present and possible. This most certainly captures my imagination, as if there is life on Mars, it will be unlike anything we have ever seen. The possibility exists of life and we might miss it because it will be so foreign to us and outside our scope of experience. This scientific mission names a truth for us on this planet earth. I often only take in at face value the surface of the terrain around me, whether that’s the actual earth, which at this time of year seems to be as lifeless as Mars, or my day-to-day encounters with people and places. I don’t take the time, possess the curiosity or have the imagination to wonder about what I don’t understand and what I don’t know. I make assumptions about situations and people sometimes writing them off as lifeless, useless, and arid. I assume that there is nothing life-giving able to come from that place or relationship. I don’t dig deeper; I don’t allow for the possibility for my mind to be changed. I believe that what I see, is all there is to see. Only sand, only rocks, only snow, only barrenness.

Lent beginning at the end of winter, when most life is dead or hibernating, is not simply a happy coincidence. Lent was wisely ascribed by the religious folks to begin the six weeks leading up to Easter, when signs of life are harder to find. And the texts that we encounter in worship, call us to dig deeper, go beyond the surface terrain and look under the rocks, dig in the sand, and the see past the barrenness to see signs of new life. Every first Sunday of Lent we read about Jesus in the desert. Each version from Matthew, Mark and Luke are slightly different, offering a myriad of insights, but Mark’s our reading today, and it is the briefest, two verses. After Jesus is baptized (also a brief version) the Holy Spirit drives Jesus, or literally in the Greek, throws Jesus into the wilderness or the desert. He’s tested by Satan, is with some wild beasts and the angels who erve him. This story would have been much kinder and easier to digest if it went right from Jesus’ baptism with the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and the loving words from God, to Jesus proclaiming that God’s kingdom is here, turn around and believe in the good news! But that’s not what we have. In between those two stories, Jesus is thrown into a dangerous place where few people could survive. No water, no food, no shelter, only sand, rocks and the blazing Middle Eastern sun. Not a very hospitable place for life. Yet, Mark adds the detail that there are wild beasts there. So, there is apparently SOME life to be found. And if that isn’t enough, the angels are there too, serving Jesus, that is to care for his life. Despite Satan’s attempts to prove otherwise, there were signs of life in that wild place. Maybe not the life that Jesus would have preferred, or the kind of life that brings comfort and ease, but it was life finding a way against all odds.

This is the good news that Jesus then proclaims in Galilee. Yes, John is arrested and most likely will be killed, yes, you might be surrounded by desert, death, lifelessness, hopelessness, but God’s kingdom is also here! God’s kingdom is the sign of life that you are looking for! It’s life that meets you at the waters edge, in the cold, parched, and dead places in your life, in suffering, in hopelessness and helplessness. God never gives up on revealing abundant life, over and over God chooses life. God creates life from the chaos of the void, calls forth life from a flood, gives life to God’s people in the desert for 40 years, God offers a new life to the exiles, and in Jesus, God proclaims that death will not abound for humanity or creation only life eternal.

God sends signs of life: The bow in the clouds, manna on the ground, water from a rock, a sprig from the dead stump of Jesse, a baby in a feeding trough, God’s son on a cross and a tomb that is empty. Not always the signs we look for or can understand but signs of life, nonetheless. Signs of God’s promise of life are all around us today: people volunteering to give vaccines, Navy pilots rescuing sea turtles in TX, animals keeping their humans warm in subzero temps, people serving their neighbors who live on the streets in the bitter cold, hospital staff working overtime to heal broken bodies, voices in unity demanding equity and dignity for Black, Indigenous and LBGTQIA folks, there are signs of life.

Jesus calls us to be God’s signs of life in the world. We are part of the promise that life finds a way even when it seems impossible. Drenched in the life-giving waters of our baptism and nourished by Jesus’ very body, we are walking, breathing, loving signs of life. We are signs of life when we refuse to allow any person be denigrated, we are signs of life when we ensure that children and families have safe and adequate housing, food and medical care, we are signs of life for MillCreek Elementary families, we are signs of life for Family Promise guests and Linus Project children, we are signs of life when we realize that we can’t sit silently on the shoreline, we have to get into the water, we go into the desert, not alone but by and with the Holy Spirit and each other to usher in the life that God has envisioned from day one of creation. Life in harmony, life in balance, life abundant and life for all. It’s risky to be those signs of life, like the Mars Rover, we might feel like we’re being hurtled through space towards an unknown future. But unlike the Mars Rover we know that we go with God and one another and God knows what’s coming: God’s realm where signs of life aren’t hard to see but are abundantly found, in creation, in you, in me and in us all. Amen.

 

Breaking the Cycle Sermon on Isaiah 40 February 6, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 7, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 147: 1-11, 20c
Isaiah 40: 21-31
Mark 1: 29-39

If you are feeling weary, you’re not alone. Everyday brings a news article or story on how people throughout the world are living with a heightened sense of fear, anxiety and worry right now. Our brains and parasympathetic systems are constantly under the stress of keeping us safe without the usual breaks. Many mental health professionals are warning of the rise of people experiencing “burnout.” Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” in 1975[1] and offered three components: 1) emotional exhaustion-fatigue from caring about too much for too long or what we call compassion fatigue 2) depersonalization-the depletion of empathy, caring or compassion, 3) decreased sense of accomplishment or feeling that nothing you do matters. Burnout was a staple of our modern environment before the pandemic and now it’s rampant- 78% percent of Americans say that the pandemic has increased their stress levels, and 67% say that the stress has gotten worse as the pandemic wears on.[2] And many health and human professionals are suffering: nearly 30% of teachers are considering leaving the profession[3], 51% of doctors are reporting burnout and are considering leaving medicine[4] and in my own profession, clergy burnout is at the highest levels ever experienced. Before the pandemic over 50% of clergy quit after five years of ministry. The statistic now pushes that to 70% and trends are showing a mass exodus of clergy in the coming year after the stress of the pandemic[5]. Burnout is more than just needing a tropical vacation, although I vote we try that, or a nap, there’s no quick fix for it. Burnout is being stuck in a long-term stress cycle that you can’t complete. It’s a pattern of emotional and psychological abuse in many ways. Burnout can lead us to forget many things: our worth, our dignity, and our need for authentic connection. We not only lack energy, compassion and care for others, we lack those vital necessities for ourselves. We may blame ourselves and decide that we just need to exercise, eat, Netflix, nap, or vacation our way out of burnout. But in honesty, that usually leads to more burnout as it doesn’t heal the underlining trauma of continuing to operate under a framework that our worth is in what we produce and do for others. Burnout (and ironically recovering from burnout) has become a badge of honor in our society, as being a consumer and the flipside, being consumed is prized. But burnout isn’t God’s desire for us or creation. Rest shouldn’t be revolutionary, as God embedded rest, sabbath into the very framework of creation. God took time to just be God. The problem is that we twist the idea of sabbath and make it a “to-do” instead of a “to-be.”

While the word burnout is new, the experience is not. In 587 BCE when the Babylonian Empire ravaged Israel, destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, and hauled the prominent Israelites away to exile, the people of Israel were already tired. They had been dealing with the Assyrian assault for nearly 150 years at this point. They had been living in the chronic stress cycle of paying tributes they couldn’t afford, oppression of their identity, separation from family and community support, loss of autonomy, connection to the land, themselves and to God. They felt useless and that they had nothing left to give. So, by the time we get to around 520 BCE, approximately when our Isaiah text we read today was written, the people are beyond tired, they are burned out. Isaiah repeats in verse 29 what the Israelites have been lamenting: Why are you hiding God? Why do you ignore us? Don’t we matter? They have lost hope that anything other than suffering, tragedy, and separation was possible for them. They were stuck in a burnout cycle.
Isaiah seems to chide them with the questions of verses 21, 25, and 28: Have you forgotten everything? Have you forgotten who God is and was and will be? Do you really think that God has forgotten you? No. God is not human, and God doesn’t forget, God will never burnout on caring, loving and having compassion for you. God heard your cries from Egypt, God hears your cries now and remembers you. The trouble is, do you hear and remember God? God remembered your need for food, water and security in the desert and provided. God heard your pleas for king like other nations. God cried out to you through the prophets telling you that giving into the world’s worries for wealth, power and status will only lead to the cycle of worry about wealth, power and status. God warned you that putting your trust in these things and in yourself will lead to the cycle of death and destruction. God calls you to remember that cycle of work and rest is holy, and leads to the cycle of hope in the promises of God to provide, that you will have and will be enough.
We need to hear this again today, and if we’re honest, again and again, each day because we forget. We forget that the more we try to control our lives, to get back to normal, back to the cycle of doing, buying, and competing, the more we forget that it is God who offers us a cycle of life. God’s cycle of holy work and holy rest is a statement of holy resistance from what the world wants, it’s a statement of our identity as God’s own, and it’s a statement of trust. We trust that we don’t have to have to have all of the answers on our own, we trust that we don’t have to hoard resources, we trust in God’s creation there is always enough. We trust that when we are at our lowest, most weary, helpless and hopeless, God sees us, and Jesus offers his hand to raise us up from our fever-pitched cycles of overdoing and fitting in and says, “be raised up for true life where you are loved for who you are and who’s you are.” We are raised up with Jesus’ love to remember that it all rests on the cycles of God’s love and wholeness, and we rest and wait and hope in God’s promises that we are more than what we do, we are enough as we are. Our power is God’s power, our strength is God’s strength, not our own. I know that this is easier said than done, I know that I have a long way to go to break the cycles of self-doubt, of proving my worth and fitting in to the world’s definition of success and value. I know that to be refreshed and renewed, I need to trust in holy rest that God will be all of who God is, who is to love all of who I am. I know that I need to free you and all my neighbors from these worldly cycles so that together we wait, rest, hope and are renewed in God’s promises to break the cycle weariness for life where we are more than enough, just as we are where we are. Amen.


[1] Page xi Introducion, Burnout:The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Nagasoki, E. Nagagsoki, A. 2020 Ballatine Books

[2] Stress in America 2020 www.apa.org Emma Adam, PhD, Northwestern University; Earl Turner, PhD, Pepperdine University

[3] Singer, Natasha “Teaching in the Pandemic: “This Is Not Sustainable,” New York Times 12-3-2020

[4] Frellick, Marcia, www.medscape.com, 1-25-21

[5] Barna Group 2-3-2020

 

Jesus Has Everything To Do With Us Sermon on Mark 1 January 30, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Jan. 31, 2021. We celebrated Reconciling in Christ Sunday. Worship can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
Psalm 111
Mark 1: 21-28

I have to be honest, there are occasionally people that I try and avoid. Sometimes it’s people I know and I don’t want have anything to do with them, but often, I also avoid people I barely know as I make quick assumptions about them based on what they look like, how they might speak or other fairly shallow exterior traits. I justify the avoidance by telling myself “well, I don’t want anything to do with them, as it might lead to trouble or drama that I don’t want.” The real trouble is that when I do this, I don’t ascribe to them their full humanity, I don’t see any connection with them. When I do that, I also can let myself off the hook and curl up safely in my own cocoon assume what’s happening to other people in other communities has nothing to do with me. I don’t know them, they don’t live here, so they’re not my problem. Well, during a global pandemic, we now know how connected we are and that what happens to other people, in other places can and does directly affect us. We feel the impact of other people’s actions on us and they feel ours. This has always been true, but we tend to ignore that truth or rationalize it away, usually in the name of independence, autonomy and self-righteousness. Such as with the HIV pandemic in the 1980’s. HIV, and the disease it causes AIDS, was at first wrongly attributed only to homosexuality, and LBGTQIA+ people were scapegoated as the cause. Some people, including those who professed to be “Christian,” refused compassion and care for those suffering, as originally many incorrectly assumed it wouldn’t affect people who are heterosexual. It was easy for many “Christians” at the time to marginalize and dehumanize a whole segment of our population based on a couple biblical passages poorly translated from ancient languages and contexts into modern English with a homophobic bias, and smugly proclaim that whatever is happening to “those people” is deserved, their suffering doesn’t impact us and we have nothing to do with them.  It’s more comfortable to focus on the parts of the Bible that we decide affirm our biases and divisions even if it destroys other people’s humanity, than to dwell on how many times we are commanded to love and care for our neighbor to the point of self-risk.

Then, as we are now, we were dealing with a virus that ironically doesn’t compartmentalize us-but sees us all equally as human hosts. Viruses don’t care a wit about how we divide ourselves, how we think that we are different, better or unique from each other. It seems that these unicellular organisms might understand more about connectedness than we do. Viruses don’t leave us alone because we ascribe to certain religions, political affiliations, are in certain tax bracket, are in particular family configuration, or because of who we love or who we don’t. We put our trust in the false identities that we’ve created for ourselves to provide us with control and safety. We reside in our insulated bubble and so bad situations will have nothing to do with us. We want to be God in our own lives. But ultimately that’s hubris and sin and doesn’t hold up. We don’t like being in proximity with the suffering, as it’s too real, too humbling. When all our labels and divisions are erased, when we can’t deny that what Paul writes in Galatians 3: 28 is true, “in Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek,” we wonder “will this destroy us?” And what if our worry about ourselves is exactly what needs to be destroyed?

The man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit, is seemingly ignored by everyone present, including the supposed religious leadership. But Jesus sees the man, and the unclean spirits recognize Jesus as well as he presents a threat to their comfort. They (and note that this is plural) ask him “what have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” Why don’t you just leave us alone Jesus? Everyone else is! We like things just the way they are. But Jesus is clear that he has come because leaving things as they are, is not the desire of God. Jesus proclaims that God’s kingdom is all about destroying what is harmful, what divides, and what kills abundant life. Jesus commands the unclean spirits to leave the man and we read that the man convulses; sometimes it’s painful to have the status quo disrupted in our lives.
It’s tempting to think of the man as the “other” as “them” and to rationalize the unclean spirit away as mental or physical illness or some other malady. But Mark offers this story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because the man with the unclean spirit is us. Jesus encounters us and we wonder what Jesus has to do with us? Sure, Jesus is great but we don’t want things to change, we’re comfortable with the uncleanliness that we know, versus the wholeness that we don’t. We’re afraid of everything we know and who we being destroyed, and that’s more frightening than the pain of the status quo. We’re comfortable with our own bigotry and biases, we’re comfortable reading the Bible literally when it suits us and ignoring what makes us uncomfortable. We’re comfortable thinking that the Bible and Church is the same thing as God. (It’s not.) We’re comfortable ascribing our successes and security to our own cleverness, assuming anyone who doesn’t have our successes must simply be less clever than we are. We’re comfortable assuming that it’s all about us and what makes us well, comfortable. To have these unclean spirits driven from us will cause us to convulse, as we will fight to keep status quo and we will question Jesus on why has he come to make us uncomfortable, is it really better to include and love all people more than a few misconstrued passages in the Bible, is it really better to worry about people I’ve never met who make me uncomfortable more than myself? Is it really better to stand against economic and political systems that are harming my neighbor if they are benefitting me?
The good news is that Jesus comes and sees us, sees our unclean spirits that divide, scapegoat and harm, and Jesus says “Guess what, I have everything to do with you. And yes, I have come to destroy evil, sin and death in you and in the world.”  Jesus came as God’s word made flesh to reveal that we are all connected in God’s love, and anything that disconnects us from God or each other, is not God’s will. God created us all just as we are in great diversity to reflect God’s love for diversity. Jesus came because God wants us all to be free from the unclean spirits that we harbor, God wants us all to see that God has EVERYTHING to do with us. God wants us to see our interconnectedness, to see the love and mercy that have everything to do with God and us. God won’t leave us alone, because God wants us. We are wanted. We are wanted so much that Jesus comes right at us and it scares us, because we recognize that nothing will be the same again. On this Reconciling in Christ Sunday, this is what we proclaim: that God wants us and every person. God wants each beautiful LBGTQIA+ person, God wants each Black person, God wants each indigenous person, God wants each person whom the world says they don’t want. We proclaim that in his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus came and destroyed evil, sin and death and in that new reality we now want what God wants: to create the beloved community, to want and welcome each person as God’s very own. We want to work with God to reveal to the ends of the earth that Jesus has everything to do with us, and will destroy what disconnects us from God’s love. Amen. 

 

Unhooked Sermon on Mark 1 January 22, 2021

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This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT, on Jan. 24. Worship can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Jonah 3: 1-5,10
Psalm 62: 5-12
Mark 1: 14-20

My grandpa Emmons loved to fish. He had a fishing boat and took us grandkids out often. I was three years old the first time I went fishing with him. I actually caught one, probably with a lot of help, and was made to hold the slimy thing for a picture. My look of confusion says it all. Fishing takes patience and a bit of fortitude. Once you catch a fish, you have to get it off the hook. It’s not as easy you might think as the fish fears it’s dying and is fighting you. It’s flailing around trying to get away while you pull the hook out of it’s mouth to put it in your bucket or catch and release. All the fish know is that one minute they’re swimming around looking for their daily meal and the next thing they know they are hooked. I kinda feel bad for the fish. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing fish, but it must feel helpless to be hooked and know that you can’t unhook yourself to get free or to be afraid of even being unhooked. I know that there are times that I’m innocently swimming through my day, and without even realizing it, I get hooked into something that isn’t the best for me, isn’t life-giving, isn’t the best use of my time of time and gifts. And I can’t unhook myself. So, I flail around trying to figure out what comes next. In so many ways, I’m not in any more control than the fish.

Being hooked isn’t just about fishing. As people, we DO get hooked fairly easily: hooked on tv shows, on books, internet shopping, social media, our own opinions and viewpoints, and the list goes on. Being hooked is part of being human. We’re all hooked on or to something, and it’s so much a part of our everyday life, we don’t even realize that we’re hooked until someone comes along to unhook us. And then we fight them, as unhooking can hurt, we’ve become so used to the hook that it doesn’t occur to us that it might be doing us harm. And if we’re unhooked, or off the hook, then what? What happens next?

In our story of Mark there are many remarkable undercurrents and luckily, I don’t have to preach them all today, we’ll have this passage again in three years, but the one that resonated with me this time, is how willingly the new disciples were unhooked from their everyday lives, livelihoods and families by Jesus. Jesus, fresh from 40 days of temptation in the desert where Satan tried to hook him with worldly powers and status, comes to the Sea of Galilee, a fairly unassuming location. He walks the shore and sees these young men doing an important job in the ancient near east culture, fishing. Fish were a staple of the Mediterranean diet and fishing was a decent income. While no one in this profession got rich, they didn’t starve either. And it tended to be a family business, so generations worked together, and the expectation was that the sons would take over the family business.  It was an identity, as most professions were in the ancient world, and unhooking from one’s identity, from your family, expectations and profession was not a small feat.

But Jesus is undaunted by the social expectations and climate and calls to Simon, Andrew, James and John and unhooks them from all that they know. The writer of Mark doesn’t indicate that there was any resistance or flailing against the unhooking and writes that the four young men are willingly unhooked and go with Jesus. Really, this is the first miracle in Mark’s gospel and everything else flows from it. I mean the heavens tearing open at Jesus’ baptism is nice, but these four people hear one sentence from Jesus and unhook from everything they know to this new way of living? It’s as incredible as the Ninevites trusting in Jonah’s one sentence of condemnation and unhooking themselves from the violence and harm they were perpetrating. The newbie disciples had to know that the people in town would talk, rumors would fly and they would lose whatever social status they had. I have personally never changed my own mind after hearing only one sentence, nor have I ever witnessed anyone changing their minds after one sentence. I dream about that honestly, where one sentence, just the right wording, would unhook people from harmful ways of thinking and acting towards themselves and other people.

I dream about being unhooked myself, unhooked from worrying about what other people think of me, unhooked from my own ego, pride, unhooked from everything and maybe even everyone I know. I need Jesus to come and remove the me from the hook so that I can follow and unhook others. People around us are begging to be unhooked from the rat race of materialism, or unhooked from the reality of unequal and inadequate wages, unhooked from inaccessible housing costs, food costs, education costs, unhooked from worry of becoming ill with little to no health insurance,  unhooked from dysfunctional family systems, unhooked from fear of change. God’s desire is for us all to be unhooked from the injustices and lies of the world. God’s promise in Jesus is that we all can be unhooked; we don’t have to stay on the hook that is killing us. We are hooked, and Jesus comes and says, come, follow me. Jesus removes the hook that connects us to fear and death, and offers us freedom, peace and life. We are called, unhooked, liberated and brought into Jesus’ sea, where we are washed, claimed and loved. We live unhooked and free for true life. Amen.

 

We’re Torn Apart: Sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday January 9, 2021

This sermon was preached on Jan. 10, 2021, at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. You can view it on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Genesis 1: 1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19: 1-7
Mark 1: 4-11

I’ve been torn this week. Torn about what to say. Torn about how to feel. Torn about my own weariness. I’m torn apart. The events of this week nationally, congregationally, and personally have left me torn. Frayed edges of my heart, spirit and soul that need mended, that need put back together, that need smoothed somehow. I’m torn and you need to know that. I’m torn and yet convicted. The events that we witnessed this week, of this year, and of the past 400 years of white supremacy are leaving us all frayed and in need of repair. We witnessed the very tearing of the fabric of our lives together as peoples of this nation. But we have to be honest, that this tearing isn’t new. It’s the final ripping apart of a small tear that began long before us but now it’s up to us to stitch back together. For decades, centuries, we watched as we’ve torn ourselves apart with words and actions of fear, hate and bigotry. We’ve torn ourselves apart with racism, sexism, nationalism, and yes, our very religions. And yes, you might be thinking, “well this is the story of humanity. We tear ourselves apart.” It’s as if we’d rather be torn apart than do the harder work of being the needle and thread, the patch that brings us back together.

God has been watching us tear ourselves apart and it tears apart God. God loves us, all creation and it simply tears God up to see how we treat each other, treat the earth, and treat ourselves. But God acts though being torn up. God tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism to send the Holy Spirit to Jesus. The word in Greek for “torn apart” is schizo, where we get our word schism. God has witnessed the schisms of the world, of humanity from the first schism where humans thought that they knew more than God. All of history is God at work in this schism, sending angels, prophets, and judges with words that called God’s people to see the schism that they have created, to repent, to have courage to do and say what needs to be done. Repairing the schisms of our world, where we are tearing ourselves apart is not for the faint of heart, it’s why God had to come and be flesh in our midst. Only God has that kind of courage, strength and power that was culminated in Jesus. Jesus’ baptism inaugurates him for the vulnerable and courageous work of repairing the schism between the world and God’s kingdom. Jesus shines a light on it, and says it can be mended, but it might hurt as when our own flesh is torn open and a doctor stitches us back together.

At Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit falls through the rip in the heavens and lands on him, God’s very voice booms with the words, “you are my Son, the beloved.” And then the very next thing that happens, which we will read in a couple of weeks, is that Jesus is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, for his ministry to begin. Jesus is sent right out to the edges of the frayed fabric of society, right to where flesh was torn and bleeding, right to where violence of minds, bodies and souls were ripping through communities. Jesus spoke words of healing, not just of ripped bodies but of torn hearts. Jesus words of healing and love also ripped open the truth of powers and principalities, the truth of following along with status quo where some lives did indeed matter more than others. Jesus, as God’s beloved, acted for healing, lifted up those whom were being sacrificed to keep schisms justified and normalized. Jesus refused to do any tearing but only sought to mend, through concrete actions of solidarity for those on the margins and with God’s mission of life, wholeness and abundance for all. Jesus’ baptism sent him right to where his own body would be torn and ripped, on the cross, as a testament to what we can do to one of our own. If we’re honest, we tend to sentimentalize this gruesome act and we move directly to the “yes but then God raised Jesus and everything is ok!” Well, for a long time, things were not ok and what was real was the tearing and ripping apart.

My beloveds, everything is not ok. We live in that time of tearing and ripping. In our own baptisms, we proclaim that we are baptized with Jesus, and we proclaim that the Holy Spirit rips through the heavens to land on us too. As God’s baptized people, we are called to go to where the schisms are, we are sent to the frayed edges of our world, we are pushed to the places where we are tearing ourselves apart as humanity. We are called to be courageous, and in our Lutheran tradition in the theology of the cross, to call a thing what it is. To say no to violent actions and words that are tearing our nation and society apart. To leave the comforts of our privilege behind. To stand up to would be tyrants and rebuff words that incite violence, hate, and destruction. To point out the disparities in how people of different skin colors, genders, ethnicities, religions are being treated by the government and governmental agencies. If you ever wondered what you would have done during the rise of Hilterism in Germany or in the civil rights movement of this country, you’re doing it right now. This is our baptismal moment. We promise in our baptismal vows to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. We must be willing to go the schism. We are being torn from our comforts, our privilege, our egos, our status and driven out into the world. I am beginning to think that there is grace in not being in our buildings right now. We are not baptized to sit in a building, we are baptized to go out into the world as menders.
I’m not naïve, although I’ll admit to being idealistic. I know that many of you right now might be uncomfortable or even angry with me right now for being “political.” Yes, I’m very concerned about how we live together. Jesus was too. I know that this is asking a lot.  This will mean that we speak and act in ways that will be much like the speaking in tongues that occurred in the Acts 19 passage-for when the Holy Spirit lands on us, we are torn from our old selves and our old ways and are made new, and we will be strange to the rest of the world, as Jesus was strange and that is why the world nailed him to a cross. Anything different than the ways of the world must be denied. But here’s what I believe with my whole heart, dear ones and why I became a pastor: I believe that when enough of us stand in the truth of the gospel, the gospel that only has words of healing, reconciliation and love, then nothing, nothing, can stop God’s wholeness from mending what we have torn. God’s power to mend, is greater than our power to tear apart. I want to be a mender, I want to mend myself and be wholly and made holy with Christ. I want to go to the frayed edges and do whatever is necessary, even if it’s unpopular, to heal you, to heal our community, to heal our nation and to heal the world. I believe that we don’t have to continue to tear ourselves apart. I don’t. I believe that Jesus gives me this courage, this strength, this conviction, because I surely don’t possess it on my own,

While we live in a time of tearing apart, we do know the end of the story. We do know that in the tearing open, Jesus comes. We do know that God’s words and actions only bring life, and life abundant for all. We do know that the tomb is empty and that wholeness, for us to be stitched together in the promises of God, is real. We do know that we will not always be torn apart for Jesus mends us together. Amen.

 

Little Comfort Sermon for Advent 2 December 4, 2020

This sermon was preached on Dec. 6, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

*The written manuscript contains coarse lanuage that may not be suitable for all ages. This language is NOT in the recording. But it’s an honest account of the dialogue.

The texts were:

Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13
Isaiah 40: 1-11
Mark 1: 1-8

It seems right now in our world that there is little comfort. We look around for what might make us feel secure, hopeful, or safe and it’s scarce. We see death tolls mounting, people suffering long term effects of a new virus, thousands of cars lined up to receive food assistance, a surge of unhoused people, continued violence and oppression of a people who only want the humanity,  justice and equality denied to them for over 400 years, and politicians on every side posturing for their own gain and comfort and not for care of people. There seems to be little to give us comfort. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be uncomfortable if I can help it and it’s uncomfortable to watch other people be uncomfortable so I do whatever I can to maintain the comfort of myself and everyone around me. So I avoid difficult conversations, binge on Netflix, snack on chips and guac, hide out in my beautiful new home office and read all the books I’ve been buying off of Amazon. But there’s a fine line between comfort and denial.

Comfort is a tricky concept, and there have been more times in my life than I can count when I’ve been uncomfortable: being the new girl at school every two years or so (sometimes less), first day of college, graduate school, jobs, parenting, and, I don’t put this in sermons much, but it’s apropos here, I’m permanently uncomfortable with missing our child who died, Ben. When he died, so many people watched my discomfort and wanted to avoid it or fix it. Some brought meals, cards, flowers, spoke words like “it will be ok,” “you won’t always be this sad,” which were kind and appreciated actions but sometimes people also avoided talking to me or even looking at me and if they did, said really unhelpful things like “God needed another angel,” “God has a purpose for this” or “God is teaching you something.” To be clear, God didn’t need another angel and no God doesn’t use a 15-month old to teach his 32 year-old mother “a lesson.” I learned that when people offered platitudes that those words were more about the other person’s discomfort, their need to distance themselves hoping this horrible thing couldn’t happen to them. And I learned that all of the well-intentioned help didn’t really bring comfort. No one could fix this and pretending that they could or pretending that it didn’t happen, brought my family and me little comfort. A few weeks after Ben died, I had gone back to work at St. Matthew Lutheran church and was having a hard day. I went into Pastor Jim’s office and just sat silently slumped in a chair. He studied at me for a few minutes and said, “this is bullshit isn’t it?” “Yes!” I cried, so much bullshit! (*I said “crap” when I preached this….) and we spent the next 30 minutes proclaiming with every expletive we knew how horrible Ben’s death was. And you know what? I felt comforted. Because the truth of my pain, suffering and sorrow was named, given the space that it deserved and acknowledged. Because Pr. Jim was willing to sit in the discomfort with me and not try and fix it. I learned that real comfort, is naming truth and not being alone. Attempting to give comfort that doesn’t name the truth, or isolates a person, only leads to more discomfort, pain and suffering.

This is a truth that God knows and understands. When Isaiah proclaims “Comfort, O Comfort my people,” he’s not saying that it’s time to find a cozy blanket, a television show and chips, he’s saying that God is naming the truth of the Israelites situation-the sins that they committed resulted in these harsh consequences that perhaps had gone too far. The comfort that is needed is for the Israelites to hear, acknowledge and then act on is the truth that God is serious about how they lived together and treated each other, and that worrying about one’s own needs isn’t actually comfort. Isaiah also names the truth that the people are flaky and inconsistent and likely to stumble again. And yet, there is the comfort of the truth is that God is present and where God is, grace, mercy, love and hope are also present for all. “Here is your God,” Isaiah proclaims, God is here, with you in your discomfort, and in the truth of who you are and whose you are.

The truth of the matter is that we try to comfort ourselves. We substitute false, quick, cheap and easy comfort for the true comfort that comes from God. When true comfort comes, it names the truth, the truth of who we are and what God’s coming kin-dom means for us all. It lays us bare, like a desolate desert, and reveals the fact that we have been trying to hide from God’s truth because it’s painful, hard, and will require something from us. John the baptizer declares that we have to face the truth of the consequences of our actions, confession and repentance, for healing to begin. And it’s not individual, it’s communal, it’s always about all of us together. God’s truth is that all people, from every corner of the earth, from the rural country sides, the cities, the suburbs, are gathered equally in the comfort of the God’s presence. The good news of Jesus Christ, God with us, is found in the least of these, in the wilderness, in the poor, in the disenfranchised, in the silenced. The truth that this good news of Jesus is here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Being comfortable by worldly standards of wealth, status, power, isn’t the comfort that Jesus brings. Jesus brings the comfort of truth telling that frees us from own false comforts in our racial, gender and sexual orientation caste system, from consumerism, capitalism, hierarchy, self-agency and autonomy. Jesus names the truth that these comforts only lead to the discomfort and reality of communal oppression and death.

Jesus does indeed come to bring comfort, true comfort for our lives. The truth that we are a captive to sin and cannot free ourselves, the truth that we have harmed and not loved our neighbor or ourselves in the things that we have done and left undone. The truth that we contribute and fall prey to the idols of false comfort in our midst. And the truth that we can step into the discomfort of our brokenness to receive the comfort of God’s grace and mercy, together, as one people. Jesus comes to us each day, to reveal the truth that he dwells with us in the discomfort of humanity’s suffering, to be with us and surround us with God’s comfort. Jesus comforting truth is God’s kin-dom is coming: that the world will turn upside down and those of us who think that the world will always be as it is with some holding all the power and others disempowered are about to be shown something new where power is not to be hoarded but shared, where rhetoric doesn’t separate but words heal. The comforting truth to those on the outside, on the bottom rungs will be brought up and filled and those who stand as mountains will be leveled. Jesus reveals the comforting truth that no matter our discomfort, we are loved today and forever. This is comfort and good news indeed.

 

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.

 

“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!