A Lutheran Says What?

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

All In! Mark 12: 41-44 October 18, 2015 Pentecost 21B October 19, 2015

*With much love and gratitude to the people of Lord of the Hills, I preached this on my last Sunday serving as their bridge pastor.

diver

Many of us have the experience of learning to swim. At the beginning of classes we would slowly dip our toes in the water, then up to our waists, and then eventually go under water to learn to hold your breath. In order to learn to swim, you have to learn to go completely under water. The final test, of jumping off the diving board, is one that combines all of the skills and is supposed to increase your confidence of being able to jump in the deep end of the pool and swim to the side. I was not interested in that skill. . .I will confess to you that I took beginner lessons for 10 years and never really passed beginner level 1 as the last part of that test to jump off the low diving board and swim to the side was not for me. I do not like heights nor water and the two of those things combined led to a standoff between me and the instructor usually ending with me walking out to the edge of the diving board and standing there until they let me turn around and come down or the instructor threw me off the diving board. I was terrified of what would happen if I jumped in and couldn’t swim, couldn’t make it back to the edge of the pool. Once I was in the air, I knew I didn’t have complete control of the situation. It was better, it seemed to not jump at all than to risk, what appeared to me, to be certain death.

When I lived on Guam as a child, going to the pool was a nearly daily occurrence. All of my friends would be down in the deep end of the pool jumping off of the diving board, except me. One day, I decided that I would try. I gathered up all of my courage and jumped. I didn’t die. I didn’t drown. My 10 years of swim lessons kicked in and I swam to the side of the pool without drama or incident. I even found that it was a little fun…once I had decided to go all in, I saw what I had been missing. I had been missing the opportunity to truly interact with my friends, know my own limits, my courage and what I can actually do. I learned to trust those things and to trust that the people around me wouldn’t let me drown should something go wrong. It wasn’t fool hardy or death defying but simply a willingness to jump into something greater than all of my fears.

This little lesson has stayed with me in large and small ways. I don’t know about you, but it seems that things go better when I am “all in.” When we only tentatively step out, or just stick a big toe in to test the water, we don’t really see the whole picture and we don’t truly benefit from the experience, positive or negative. Being “all in” is scary, it’s risky but we know that there are situations that call for being “all in.” When we are in a committed relationship such as a marriage, or parenting we have to be “all in.” Or for when we’re in school, when we put our whole selves into learning or a project we are able to accomplish so much more. But we know that we risk so much more as well. If we’re “all in” in a relationship and someone else is not, we get hurt. If we are “all in” on a project and it doesn’t work out as we planned, we risk failing, and we risk losing control.

But there is also a gift and peace to being “all in.” When we are focused on being “all in” the risks seem worth it: love is always worth it, doing the ethical action is always worth it, truth is always worth it, trust is always worth it.

Jesus sat in the temple watching people offer their contributions. Now, many were contributing and that was great. But Jesus points out that many were contributing what made them comfortable and what allowed them to stay in control. Then comes the widow; what she offered was a pittance, nothing, barely noticeable or worth it in some ways. But it was all she had; she was “all in.” You see this little bit of money was her security, her control, her comfort. Yet, she recognized, not really. The amount she had wouldn’t even last her a day. Tomorrow was already risky and uncertain. This woman had the courage to recognize that she didn’t have control anyway, she didn’t have any promises of food, shelter or comfort (let alone luxuries) for tomorrow and that really none of us do. She recognized that putting everything she had in to the collection had nothing to do with money but everything about her relationship with God and the community in which she lived.

By giving all she had, she was trusting in the One who promised to give her everything she needed: love, belonging, caring community, forgiveness and life forever. This unnamed widow knew that God had already gone “all in” with her and all of God’s people, for God withholds nothing. Jesus is pointing out to the disciples that by his very presence among them, God says a big “yes, I’m all in” to humanity and creation. Lyssa, Cobi, and Sara, will say to God, today “I’m all in.” They will affirm the promises made for them at their baptism by their parents, sponsors and the faith community; caring community who went “all in” with them at the beginning of their faith journey. They will recognize the promises of God in their lives that are true and forever. Lyssa, Cobi and Sara, living your lives “all in” for God and God’s people won’t always be easy, it won’t always be comfortable and it won’t always work out the way you might think. But I can promise you that it will always be worth it. It’s always worth it because God is “all in” with you. Never forget that God loves you always, is with you always and promises that always is what you have in the life of God.

I have been blessed and I am grateful for my almost five months serving here with you at LOTH. Thank you for your warmth, thank you for your encouragement and thank you for your love and witness of Christ in your lives and in this place. This congregation embodies what it is to be “all in” with God. Despite bumps in the road, sharp curves and unexpected twists, you all continue to recognize, like the widow, that God is “all in” in Lord of the Hills and that your only response to God’s promises is to also say in word, deed and thought “We’re all in with you, God.” It’s risky, it’s not comfortable, and you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But God is here, God is with you, and God promises to care for your todays and your tomorrows. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we celebrate in the words of Holy Communion today that Torrin, Jack, Toryn, Josiah, Matt, Chloe, Brooke and Kate will participate in for the first time, in the bread and in the wine, we are reminded that being “all in” has a cost, it cost Jesus his life. It does cost us something as well to be “all in,” we have to die to our fear in order to fully live in God’s promises. But being “all in” also focuses us on trusting the love and presence of God and that God works all things for good. God works death into life, suffering into joy, sorrow into laughter, and anxiety into peace. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s “all in” for all people, in all times and in all places.

May God’s “all in” with you comfort you, bring you peace, love and joy now and forever,

 

 

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Who’s Image? Mark 12: 13-17 October 11, 2015 October 12, 2015

Denarius

*This week is the first week out of six, of focusing on discipleship at Lord of the Hills Lutheran Church in Centennial, CO. We are expanding our stewardship focus to recognize that generosity is a spiritual practice and part of being made in the image of God. We will be using alternate texts to the Revised Common Lectionary.

The Question about Paying Taxes

13 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

On Friday evening I attended the annual New Beginnings ministry fundraiser dinner gala. New Beginnings is a congregation that worships inside the walls of the Women’s Denver Correctional Facility. I have attended worship there a couple of times and each time I am left speechless and in awe of these women who have, through many different paths and circumstances, have landed behind bars. They have made bad choices; they broke the law; they harmed others and themselves. Yet, as they walk into the cafeteria turned worship area, sit in plastic chairs and suddenly they are like any other congregation of God’s people gathered for worship. They are in desperate need of forgiveness, they are in desperate need of love, they are in desperate need of newness; they are in desperate need of Jesus.

These women had tried creating an identity for themselves on the outside that ultimately landed them on the inside. They wanted others to see them in a certain way; they wanted to see themselves a certain way. Image is important when it seems that’s all we have left. Maybe it was the image of being tough, hardened, daring or risky. Maybe they had been told that they were not good, that they couldn’t be anything other than broken, worthless, and lawless. I am always struck by how many of these women aren’t that different from you or me. Perhaps the biggest difference is simply luck, a bit more of a stable family or a few more resources available. These visits of worshiping with the women at New Beginnings, always humble me with all of the privileges and resources that I have that allowed me to make better decisions. We all make poor decisions from time to time, but we have to admit that it’s our context in which we have been immersed that boundaries us. Our view of ourselves partially dictates if our decisions have the potential to land us incarcerated or not. If we are in a context that says we have agency, choice, dignity and worth, we are less likely to take away someone else’s agency, choice, dignity or worth. To whom do we truly belong? A family, a gang, or no one? And what is our true identity?

The world wants us to have and to uphold a certain image: one of wealth, power, status, beauty. We are bombarded each and every day with what we should look like, act like, believe, do, and say. Some of those things are fine and can be life giving. Some of those concepts are ones that tug at our core, that mask who we really are, that deny the pieces of ourselves that hold to a different standard of beauty, power and status.

Just like we heard last week, the Pharisees, once again come to try and trap Jesus. What is it with people who won’t give up trying to get you to be who they want you to be or try and pick at you until every flaw is revealed? This time the Pharisees and Herod’s people were looking for Jesus to denounce the emperor. Now, in the Roman Empire the Emperor was also called Lord, as he was considered a god. To denounce Caesar is to denounce a deity and is punishable by death. Jesus knew this, of course, and also knew the reality of the image of him with the leadership: he was a rabble rouser, a controversial figure, a dissenting voice, but could they also get him to live into an image of a criminal needing punishment?

Jesus saw that the Pharisees, Herod’s people, the crowds, and even the disciples were already trapped; trapped by the world’s economy of keeping up with the Joneses, falling in line with what someone else told you, belonging to an empire, belonging to a system that dictates who you are and what you should try and be. Jesus astutely asks: “Whose head (or image in the Greek) is this?” Of course they answered, “The emperor’s image.” By using the word “image” Jesus is pointing back to Genesis 1-the creation story where humans are made in God’s image. Humans only belong to God, not to a political system, not to a certain economic system, not to a church system, not to any other organization-just God.

The difficulty comes in when we attempt to separate parts of our lives as religious and parts of our lives as secular. We don’t recognize that all people are created in God’s image and belong to God-Criminals, politicians, dictators, those in government, economics and other seemingly ungodly systems. We like to think that we can predict whom and what God loves. Author Anne Lamott writes, “You can safely assume that you’ve created a God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all of the same people that you do.” God creates us, not the other way around and we belong to God, and not the other way around. There is nothing that doesn’t belong to God in our lives. Nothing. God who created the whole earth and universe out of nothingness, declared it good, also declared that everything is part of the very life and heart of God. It’s difficult for us to remember that the people we dislike, the systems we dislike, the organizations that we dislike, also belong to God.

Jesus back and forth on what seems to be about paying taxes, what we do with our money, is really about reorienting the disciples and us to the fact that we cannot separate any part of our lives from God, not our daily lives, not our possessions, not our relationships, and not our money. Our worth to God is simply that we are God’s: not what we wear, not what we own, not what we do, not what we say. Whatever image of ourselves we are trying to project to the rest of the world that isn’t rooted in belonging to fully to God will ultimately lead us to confusion, sorrow and brokenness. I heard stories Friday night that drove that point home. It was only when the women at New Beginnings truly embraced that the only image that matters is that of being in God’s image was when healing, wholeness and clarity began to take root. God’s image included forgiveness, grace, love and most importantly hope.

Living as someone created in the image of love and belonging to the source of that love, God, is powerful. Being in God’s image reminds us that it is God  who is worthy and so we and all people have ultimate worth to God.  It transforms every relationship in our lives;  from relationships with other people, to our relationship with how we share our time and passion for God, to our relationships with our material resources. It transforms our lives from segregation to wholeness where the promise of unconditional love, grace, and hope of Christ permeate each and every second of our lives. These promises from God that began when God blew Holy Spirit breathe into adamma, transform all of creation into the very life of God, where we participate in offering our whole selves, all aspects of our lives for the revealing of God’s kingdom.

In this transformation, we withhold nothing, as God has withheld nothing from us. We answer the invitation into a life of prayer, study, service, generosity, and worship not because it improves our image or gets us anything-what God gives God gives freely-but to invite everyone we come into contact with into the transformation of knowing that the only image that matters is one of being made in the image of God. Give to the world what is the world’s-give back the fear, anxiety, greed, scarcity and hopelessness and give to God what is God’s-joy, abundance, generosity, hope and your whole self. You are God’s precious child, now and forever. Amen.