A Lutheran Says What?

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

Sabbath: It’s Not a Nap, Sermon on Psalm 23 and Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 Pentecost 8B July 19, 2015 July 19, 2015

I don’t know about you, but after this week and the past several weeks, I’m overwhelmed and weary. Not because of church work, not because of my spouse or children (although….), not because I’m now training for two running races back to back. I’m not physically or mentally weary, I’m spiritually and emotionally weary after the past few weeks. It seems that we “can’t get a break” from all of the ways that our world is broken and it keeps seeping into our daily lives. The Charleston massacre, the debates that have turned ugly over the SCOTUS ruling of marriage, this week’s shootings of Marines in TN, more overt racism leading to questionable deaths of minority, particularly black, Americans, and then the verdict of the Aurora Movie Shooting trial. He is guilty on 165 counts of brokenness and violence with the possibility of the death penalty in the balance. I don’t know what should happen to that young man who perpetrated unspeakable violence on innocent people, but I do know that even being found guilty, and no matter if he gets the death penalty or life in jail, it doesn’t answer the question of why he would do such a thing, why people died, why do these things happen? Why are people looking to hurt other people with weapons, words, thoughts, laws, or whatever is at their disposal? I’m weary of the “why,” and maybe you are too. I look for a way to disconnect, to get away, to not have it be my problem or not feel guilty that perhaps I’m not using my voice of privilege enough in the world to make a difference for someone who does not have the same power that I do. I don’t think that I’m alone in this.
I also wonder where God is in the mix of all of this. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a complete crisis of faith, but I’m not immune to thinking “God why don’t you just DO something about all of this? Maybe free will isn’t such a great idea for most of us. Why do we not readily see each other as children of God made in your image? Can’t we just have a break from all of this violence, neediness and hurt? I need a day to myself.”
I was pondering all of the happenings of this week, as well as the past few weeks nationally, globally and personally, against the backdrop of our passages from Psalms and Mark assigned for this morning. These passages could not have come at a better time for me and maybe for you. I’ve also been reading a book with some clergy colleagues by Walter Brueggemann called “Sabbath as Resistance,” which essentially is about the importance of rest, disconnecting, Shalom, and taking a break from the tyranny of the consumer, commodity systems of our American culture. That all sounds great but Brueggemann pulls a punch, Sabbath is not about you, getting the rest that you need, getting the break you deserve from work, Sabbath is about honoring your neighbor and his or her needs. You see Brueggemann connects Sabbath rest with radical justice, with pulling ourselves out of the culture of me, myself and I, fulfilling our needs and wants, making sure we have enough. We want to support ourselves and it’s our #1 excuse for working so many hours, having our children over scheduled with sports and other activities and all of the other ways that we fill our lives so that we feel important and secure our own future. But when we can pull ourselves out from that, only then can we recognize all of the ways that we exploit our local or global neighbor, put ourselves first over their well being, for our own desires and wants.
In Mark , Jesus’ disciples have returned after the hard work of healing, teaching and casting out of demons. They have seen a lot of need, a lot of disease, a lot of brokenness and a lot of violence. They are weary and hungry. Jesus acknowledges this and tells them to find a place to be alone and rest. So they attempt to do so, but are thwarted, the disciples couldn’t get a break from the neediness of the people. Jesus came and surveyed the situation and saw it for what it was: the reality of the human experience; the reality of people whom were not worth anything to society because of their disease, neediness, or brokenness. Jesus saw people whom the rest of the world had given up on, had forsaken and he had compassion for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Now here is what I have learned this week about the word compassion and about sheep. Compassion means “with suffering” and in the Greek the word is related to having a gut feeling. I learned that sheep actually don’t like to be all together and stay with their shepherd but prefer to scatter and do whatever they want and so the shepherd has the task of constantly walking around in their midst to pull them together and redirecting them. Constantly.
Jesus feels in his gut for these wandering, forsaken, and broken people. He and the disciples are pulled out of the human system of worrying about themselves into God’s system of using their Sabbath for the sake of their neighbor. They don’t get a break– in the sense that they go where no one else in that society would, toward the violence, suffering, disease and messiness and not away from it.
This is the tension of being the people of God. We get tired; we want to hide in our homes, our rooms or even in our churches and worry only about ourselves. We get overwhelmed by the need and look for a deserved secluded place to hide out, just for a while and then Jesus, we’ll be right back with you. But Jesus, our shepherd, the one who walks in our midst, who feels for us in his guts, God’s own guts, gathers us to God, no matter how much we wander, and show’s up in places where the world proclaims as “God forsaken.” Jesus reorients us to care for one another, reminds us that our voices DO matter, that when we think or question where God is, proclaims that Jesus is with us, walking through the crowds covering us with his garment and love for healing, wholeness and hope. Jesus reminds us that we lack nothing, we don’t want for anything, we have enough. We have enough volunteers for our ministries here at LOTH. We have enough money for whatever God calls us to be in our community. We have enough strength to stand against social, economic and physical injustice. We have enough courage to not fear danger. Our cup runs over with the goodness and faithful love of Jesus Christ that follows us and gathers us all of the days of our lives and into eternal life. The table that Jesus sets with abundant bread and wine, Jesus sets for all people, even those who might be hostile to us, our enemies, to the gospel message of radical equality and love for all creation.
God is in the places and situations that we might call “God forsaken.” But God forsakes no one, God comes to us all, walks with us, gathers us, sustains us when we’re weary, reorients us toward our neighbor, reveals the abundance that we already possess, banishes our thoughts of scarcity and says that we have enough and we are enough. We can trust and take Sabbath rest in those promises. God’s love, goodness, mercy are with us all of our days and we dwell with God forever. Amen

 

Looking for Power in All the Wrong Places Mark 6: 14-29 Pentecost 7B July 12, 2015 July 16, 2015

When I was two, I learned a new word and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to use it. (Now don’t worry this is a family friendly sermon.) One day I had my chance. My parents had taken me to a beach in northern CA where we were stationed at Vandenberg AFB with some friends. After a full day of playing on the beach and in the water, it was time to go home. My mother went to scoop me up and put me in the rather rudimentary 1972 car seat and I realized my chance to try out this word. I did not want to get into my car seat and I now had the vocabulary to articulate my desire for power and control. I put my hands on my hips and looked at my mother and said, “Now, wait a minute dumb-dumb.” Where I had heard that pejorative word, who knows, (older kids probably) but my two year old brain had quickly recognized that I could own more power by trying to take away someone else’s. What my two year old brain had not processed is that my parents were still bigger and waaaaaay smarter. I ended up in the car seat, screaming I’m sure, with my parents wondering why they bother to ever leave the house with me. *Kids-it is never ok to call names or say something mean to anyone-especially your parents! *Parents-you’re welcome.

Figuring out what you have power and control over in your life starts nearly at birth. Learning to control our limbs, head, and neck is about three months of work right there! Then there’s rolling over, crawling, walking, running, toileting, riding a bike and all of the gross motor skills. Alongside control of our physical bodies, we learn that our emotions can control our actions and how that can be good and bad. As we mature, we begin to want more power and control in our lives. The teen years are all about power and control. Figuring out what you can and can’t do without negative consequences is a major part of adolescence, as well as learning where you don’t have power in your life.

We are wired to like power, control, and agency. Unfortunately, we struggle to move past what my two year old brain had put together, that in order to have power, control and agency, we must diminish someone else’s.

On a cursory reading of today’s gospel text, we could say that the theme is power. Herod’s power over John, John’s unlikely power over Herod, Herodias’ (Herod’s wife) power over her daughter, Herod’s daughter’s power over Herod, the power of keeping up appearances, and then we have the power of Jesus and his disciples with the crowds that frightened the puppet king. Power is indeed a key player in this text. We see people entangled in a system solely based on the need for personal power over and against other people. In this ancient soap opera, the most powerful person-the person with the most political clout, the most agency, the most status-wins. And it’s all about winning with Herod. He is in a power struggle with Herodias and John. John had exposed Herod’s wrong doings in marrying his brother’s wife (Days of Our Lives, anyone?)  and that threatened Herod’s power. Herodias had obviously traded up in husbands and married for money and power. In first century Palestine, Herodias only had as much power as her husband, so if Herod lost power so did she. Herod must maintain control and agency over John, even though Mark tells us that he kind of liked John. John told the truth to Herod of his abuse of his power; Herod deep down knew it but was too afraid to act. What if he lost all of his friends, his pawn throne of the Roman Empire, the lavish banquets, and all of the royal trappings? What if he became a nobody in Jerusalem?

At the end of the day, power is about ensuring that we are a somebody. We are worthy, important, special, famous, a mover and a shaker. This means that if I am all of those things, then you can’t be. There is not enough power for all of us to share. We can’t all be important! What if you have more influence and control than I do? Then what?

Power is definitely a theme in this story. But not the power that Herod desires, Herodias fears and kills John. It’s not power that is control and agency over and against someone else, but it’s the power of presence. The kind of presence that is hard to grasp, seems elusive and yet is palpable all through this story that seems to be about human power at its worst, human agency at its worst and human fear at its worst.  There is another power at work that is barely named and appears to not be part of the equation: Jesus. Counter to the power of humanity that seeks power for its own sake, for its own elevation, for its own sense of control and self worth, Jesus offers the power of his presence. This presence gives away power instead of accumulating it. Jesus and the disciples are busy giving away God’s power of healing, mercy, grace and love, while Herod is busy hoarding his power. Power of presence is power that seeks to elevate others, offers freedom to others and empties itself out to others.

Too often we think of power as personal, individual and scarce. Just like I was sure that I needed to assert power over my parents to be happy and have well being, we look for ways to take power and not share it and the world encourages us to do this. But God proclaims that in God’ creation and kingdom that is a lie that we choose to believe. God emptied power into the most powerless creature on earth, a newborn baby. Through Jesus Christ, God reveals over and over again how real power is given away. When we put other people’s needs first, when we understand and say “no” to the world’s system that wants us to compete with our neighbor for money, resources and status, when we stand in solidarity with people whom are told that their lives don’t matter, when we act to support the black churches that have burned down, when we see past labels and see people as God sees them, beloved, no matter where they live, what they believe, whom they love and who loves them, we reveal the power of the presence of Christ. God’s power is love for all people no matter what and this power conquers all fear, all hatred, and all sin, which is anything that separates us from this power of love in Christ.

This power of love is not a theoretical concept or a sappy philosophical thought but is embodied in Jesus and his actions on the cross where the loss of worldly power became the ultimate of God’s power of love, reconciliation and presence in the systems that lead to suffering in this world. This power of God’s presence is tangible in the waters of baptism, in the bread and the wine and in each one of us. Through the Holy Spirit we live this powerful presence that is Christ’s power of love. In Christ’s power, God declares that we are all somebody; we are all somebody in the body of Christ and beloved children of God marked the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Christ’s power is at work in you, in me and in the world. Thanks be to God.