A Lutheran Says What?

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

Ordinary Gifts, God’s Extraordinary Love or How I got in trouble at PrideFest June 22, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can view the sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts for the day were Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Mark 4: 26-34.

Yesterday, I volunteered a shift at the Episcopal and Lutheran Reconciling Ministries booth at Pridefest. We handed out “Love your neighbor” stickers, rainbow bracelets, rainbow heart temporary tattoos, and those little “Dum-dum” suckers with a note attached saying “God knows that UR fabulous.” Nothing overly exciting but it sparked conversations with people. I had on my clergy shirt and stole, so I was asked lots of questions and being fairly extroverted, I also talked to a lot of people. Ask me later how I got in trouble with the Pridefest security for being too extroverted. I wasn’t supposed to wander from our booth and I was blocking the foot traffic by the people stopping to talk to me. “Hmmm Reverend, we really need you to stay by your booth, we can’t have you in the middle…” Mostly, people wanted to say thank you for being out there and being Church who loved no matter what. Most said it with tears in their eyes. All we did was show up with some cheap swag, talk to people and offer lists of congregations who are officially Reconciling in Christ, to refer them for safe and welcoming places to worship. Yet, time after time, we were told thank you, we were told sacred stories of harm, powerlessness and dismissal, from both Church and society, and how simply our presence in the love of Jesus was healing.

Small actions that matter and make a difference. But I have to admit, I tend to equate my actions to my worth. I believe society’s message of: “What we do, is the same as who we are.” By extrapolation, the more grandiose, the more public, the more popular, greater our status, our actions or our jobs, then the more important, significant, and powerful we are. This is what we tell ourselves, this is what we see in the media. We all think that we need to be somebody, somebody important. And not just somebody, we have to be THE body, the person who is the most significant, the most important, the most powerful-or we don’t matter at all. All or nothing.

The kingdom of God, Jesus says is as if some farmer without a name scatters the seeds and then simply does nothing but goes to sleep and get up the next morning like the other 7 billion people on the planet. Or the kingdom of God is like a tiny seed that grows into a bushy weed that spreads everywhere and isn’t good for much, other than some birds might use it for shelter. Interestingly, there is no one or nothing of any power, significance or importance in these parables. No kings, no Harvard educated economist, no super farmer who can grow any kind of seed overnight into a crop that will feed every hungry person on the planet. No pine beetle resistant tree, no giant redwood, or sequoia tree that could give shelter to hundreds of birds. Nope. Just ordinary, everyday people and plants, small shrubs, and no named farmers. Yet, Jesus says the kingdom of God is found here. In the ordinary, in the mundane, insignificant, those without power by worldly standards.

Jesus doesn’t want us to miss that power isn’t the goal. Being noticed, being the best, the tallest, the richest, the biggest isn’t necessarily where God is at work, Jesus says. Look for the small, the everyday, the ordinary. Look where the world won’t look. Look on Colfax Ave. Look at the volunteer hospital receptionist. Look at the sanitation workers. Look at the public school teachers. Look at the people helping those seeking asylum from unsafe countries. Look at who or what almost seems invisible, insignificant, powerless.

We have an epidemic for the need of power and significance in our culture and it’s literally killing us. We are told, and we believe that we must exude power, importance, and control, to be loved, have worth and significance. And when we don’t believe that we measure up, it’s devastating for us. What if we were to realize our significance in being ordinary and yet deeply loved? How would that change how we see ourselves and others? Martin Luther King Jr once said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” We won’t all do great things, but we can do small things with great love. The love of God that permeates our ordinariness with God’s greatness. We simply live our lives, doing what we do, not worrying about being the best, God doesn’t necessarily need what the world considers greatness or the best of the best. God needs our courage to be faithful in whatever it is that we do. God worked in a small shepherd boy to take down a giant and become king; God worked in man with a speech impediment to free the Israelites from Egypt; and God worked through a teenage girl to bear the Messiah to gather all of humanity back to God. Ordinary people, God’s extraordinary work.

Simple acts of caring, such as giving respect to all people, giving a smile, a word of encouragement or kindness, advocating for the voiceless in our world, is God’s love at work through us. Living with honesty and integrity so that people know our hearts and not just our ambitions is God’s love at work through us. God works through even our smallest, most ordinary gift to show God’s great love.

This week at VBS we talked about God Sightings with the children and youth. We asked them each day where they saw God at work. We wrote them on these sand dollars, small little sea creatures that have great beauty to remind us that small things are very important. Here are some of their answers: Kids saw God when someone refilled their water bottle for them, when they helped to pick up trash, when they were playing football with their papa, at bible story, at snack, at crafts, singing, playing together at games, when they were hugged by their mom, in prayer, in the trees, and yes, in silence.

Not THE best snack, or the most fun game, nope just everyday activities infused with the activity of God.

I’ve asked two of our youth Abby Mortinsen and Jeremiah Brayton to share with you where they saw God this week:

 

I’m going to ask the children to come forward and share where you saw God this week? How can you share God’s love? Who has shared God’s love with you? Today we celebrate the men in our lives who do ordinary things for us everyday that show us God’s love. They might teach SS, VBS, read to you, make you food when your hungry, give you hugs, play games with you, all kinds of things! We have a cross pin to give them today to remind them that they do all of these ordinary things with the great love of Jesus in their hearts.

But first lets pray:

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Ordinariness, Best Friends, Dandelions and the Kingdom of God Mark 4: 26-34 June 14, 2015 June 14, 2015

I’ve known my best friend for 14 years now and looking back on our relationship, I can’t quite pinpoint the moment where are relationship deepened from acquaintances at work, to friends to best friend-my go-to person for joys and sorrows. It just sort of happened; we didn’t one day say, “we should try and be best friends,” no, it was more that we just had a daily life rhythm that connected and fostered that growth. We had children similar ages and we did work together at the same congregation in a connected role and so we began to know each other’s business, if you will, as well as sharing our life experiences-the ordinary and the extraordinary. We began to intertwine, even to sharing childcare. Our children consider themselves one of five siblings to this day.  We realized that we were always there for one another. Sometimes that connectedness is hard, we are aware of each other’s business and it can be uncomfortable and maybe too real. This kind of connectivity reveals the reality being changed and shaped by another person. We are not the same people we were 14 years ago because of one another’s presence. Now, we did not become the same person, and we most definitely have other friends and our spouses come first (well, most of the time!).

We are also each other’s truth tellers. We can speak the truth to each other about the consequences of our words and behaviors. Again, it’s uncomfortable, but it offers each other a mirror in which we can see a bit more clearly who we are as children of God and how we can grow, learn and be all that God created us to be in the world and for the world. Frankly, it’s comforting to know that there is someone who is authentic with me and will tell me to stop it, suck it up or challenge my thinking. It’s also comforting to know that when we agree with what the other is doing or feeling that it’s genuine, not just pandering or telling each other what we want to hear in order to feel good about ourselves or the situation. Love and support does not always look like agreement, sometimes it’s a swift kick in the fanny!
I hope and pray, that we all have at least one of these kinds of people in our lives (I’m blessed to have two-my husband Mike also fits in this category.) We may not understand why these people love and support us and are simply there for us no matter what. These sorts of companions on our life’s journey are constant, persistent and all up in our business whether we like it or not. Our ordinary lives intertwine and that frankly is extraordinary.

Our two parables in Mark this morning highlight the mystery of our lives intertwining with God, with each other and with creation. It’s important to remember that parables are not supposed to have nice, neat endings and are not to expound on some moral or ethical teaching but are designed to invite us into mystery, wondering and exploration. Jesus offers us two such ideas, both with agricultural frames. In the first, a farmer scatters seeds and they grow without the farmer understanding or doing anything extraordinary other than living his ordinary life and in the second, an invasive weed that is mostly unnoticed except when it’s invading your space. What if a relationship with God, the kingdom of God intertwining in your daily life, is about ordinary routines such as sleeping and rising and an invasive weed that you can’t get rid of no matter how hard you try?

Jesus is inviting us into the simultaneous hiddeness and revelation of God’s presence in our daily lives and in creation. God’s kingdom is everywhere around us and is part of everything we do in our day and yet we don’t always notice it. As we go to our jobs, school, the grocery store, as we sleep, eat, and interact with one another in our ordinary daily life, we are living in the kingdom of God. The seeds of God’s love and grace are ones that we carry with us and spread whether we know it or not and whether we do anything or not. We connect with other people and we just never know what God is going to do with those relationships or what will grow. All we can do is be who God created us to be and bring all of ourselves into our everyday lives in the world.

In our daily rhythm with each other and with God, we are also growing and being shaped by the kingdom of God. We grow together, intertwine with each other or are shaped by our daily faith practices in community of care, worship, prayer, Bible study, and holy conversations. It’s not so much a nice neat garden as it is a field of wild flowers.  The kingdom of God is everywhere, includes everyone and we can’t control it, like dandelions in our yard. This connectivity is ordinary, extraordinary, comforting, disconcerting and messy.

Jesus is inviting us to imagine what we can’t imagine: God is working in the world in our ordinary daily routines, where we least expect it, in spite of what we do or don’t do and God’s kingdom is all around us and invading our space all the time. Like our close friends, God is in our business, in our daily life, in our sleeping and rising, invasively growing around us all the time. Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it.”

This awareness the holiness of the kingdom of God around us all the time is difficult for us to remember. We easily look for God in the extraordinary such as a CO sunset or a magnificent painting but miss God in the routines of three meals a day with hungry and active toddlers, in rush hour traffic, paperwork, nonsensical phone calls with friends, doctor appointments, tense conversations with teenagers, being bored, yard work, etc. God’s kingdom is as ordinary as all of those activities and yet, isn’t it extraordinary that we have this God who walks with us in our daily boredom, muck, dirt, and routine? God’s kingdom comes to us in whatever way necessary so that God’s presence with us in all times and in all places can be revealed.  The presence of God is seeds, shrubs, birds, grain, water, bread and wine. We proclaimed this morning to Luke, that in ordinary water amongst ordinary people, with our ordinary words; that he is part of the kingdom of God and God is with Luke today and every day.  In the ordinary water there is holy, a set a part mystery with his life with God.

In Jesus, God proclaims that relationship with us, all of humanity and creation, is what God desires most. Our imaginations can’t grasp this so we have each other to point to this in breaking of the kingdom wherever we see it. We ask and wonder, “what is the kingdom of God like?” It is like calling a friend and saying “I’m sorry,” it’s sitting with our children and reading a favorite book over and over, it’s tears of laughter and words of truth with a friend, it’s offering a kind word of grace to the cable repair person who is three hours late, it’s checking on that cranky neighbor you haven’t seen in a while, it’s a farmer planting seeds not knowing how they will grow but trusting that they will, or it’s  a mustard seed that grows to be the greatest of shrubs. Jesus assures us that God’s kingdom is coming, it’s already here and it’s for us all. Thanks be to God.