A Lutheran Says What?

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

Memory Loss Sermon on Ephesians 2: 11-22 July 21, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 18, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Jeremiah 23: 1-6
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Young Friends Message:

My grandmother died of early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 69. I was 22. The last time I had a chance to visit with her was about seven months before she died on Easter Sunday, 1995. She was already in a memory care facility where she spent her days walking the horseshoe shaped hallway over and over. I went and walked with her for awhile one day not sure how that would be. She didn’t seem to know who I was and spoke mostly of events that happened in her early childhood. I simply listened and kept pace, as she was still quick and spry! Her muscles remembered what to do it seemed, even when her brain could not. Except, occasionally she would look at me or say something that made me wonder if a glimmer of memory was seeping through the cracks of the disease. As our visit was wrapping up, she suddenly and almost dramatically turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, “I love you.” And then just as quickly as that came, it was gone. I don’t know if she really knew who I was. I suspect she had a sudden gut feeling that I was someone she loved even if she couldn’t remember my name, our relationship, why I was there or why she was in a facility. All she knew was on a bodily level was a certitude of love. I think of this experience with her often as in my vocational life as a pastor, as I have similar encounters with folks who have memory loss. The moment I put bread and wine in their hands, their bodies remember what to do. They may not remember their own names or families, but when I begin the Lord’s Prayer, they immediately pray with me, word for every holy word.  Or the sing the words of a favorite hymn. What their brain forgets, their body and heart remember what is true at a core, DNA, base level.

I admit to having spiritual memory loss most days. I go about my day just keeping pace with what needs to happen in my assessment to “get things done.” I see the tasks laid out in my planner: the emails, the sermon prep, the worship prep, planning for faith formation, bible studies, setting up zoom links, keeping the building maintained and the loops that can feel so important, and maybe some of it is. The tasks cause me to think that I’m making progress somehow, that I’m building something that will last with my busyness. Yet, I return to the same thing over and over and maybe that’s not where I’m supposed to be going. I forget that my worth isn’t in my doing but in my being. I forget that at the end of the day, my checked off task list won’t remind me of what really matters at a core, DNA, base level. Maybe you have a similar experience some days.

When my days are filled to the brim of frenetic movement from one task to the next, there are times when my body will indeed remember what my brain forgets is at the core: love. Love that remembers that my heart, brain and body are all connected, love that remembers that I am connected to all of you and your hearts, brains and bodies, love from God that is indeed here to build, but not through a task list, but through love in Jesus. Love that is strong enough to tear down any dividing walls of hostility whether it’s diseases of mind, body or spirit, social diseases, or our own egos and need to be right. Love that remembers that any rule or law that excludes or separates isn’t from God. Love that remembers that buildings don’t contain God, our bodies do. Love that remembers temples and sanctuaries aren’t human made but God created. Love that remembers God’s purpose, plan and will is for humanity, creation and God to be one, to be whole, to be in peace. Love that is at the core, in the DNA at the base level of all creation. Love that is built on the love of Jesus that refused to play the memory game of the world and constantly shook people to remembering that we are not to be pitted against each other for resources, or status or worth. Jesus called us to remember him, to remember that we are his body, wholly and holy his body, on earth and can’t be, won’t be separated by powers and principalities. Remember me, Jesus says, and remember that you are one.

I don’t want to forget this; I need to remember those who have gone before us and left us deep reminders of this truth. Yesterday, I was reminded that it was the one year anniversary of the death of John Lewis, the great civil rights activist, who fought his whole life, literally putting his body on the line, for voting rights for Black people, Indigenous people and other marginalized people. He never forgot that his life was to build a memory of love and justice that would outlive him. Yet, I’m guilty of letting my comfort and privilege give me amnesia and forgetting what Lewis, King, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and so many others risked their lives to spark our memories that we are to remember that we are all part of God’s kingdom, and we all have worth. I want to remember to get into “good trouble” and not worry about my own reputation, but remember the divinity of my neighbor oppressed by racial, social, gender, economic or any prejudice. I want to remember that Jesus never acquiesced to unjust religious or civil laws but worked to overturn them at every opportunity. Jesus never shrugged his shoulders and figured nothing could be done, but always reminded people that the power of God is at work in them and through them and yes, when they act for love, radical love, injustice can be undone. I want, I need, to remember this truth. I need to remember that God’s love isn’t a nice phrase we say, but a call to action for the coming of God’s kingdom.

I thank God for this memory of love that my grandmother had on that day, as it reminded me of the promise of love from God. I thank God for the memory of love that Jesus poured out to us in the bread and wine and from his own body on the cross. I thank God for the memory of love that lives in all of you. I thank God for God’s memory of love that never waivers, never leaves us, and never forgets, even when we do. Thanks be to God.

 

Loaded Words: Sermon on Amos 1 (Beginning of our sermon series on Amos) June 15, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 6, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. It is week one of our sermon series on Amos: Let Justice Roll Like Waters

The texts were:
Amos 1:1-2:5
Mark 6: 1-6

Young Friends Message: Have the first verses of John 1 (as many as you need for the number of children/youth you have or solicit some adult help! I only used the first two verses.) printed out. I broke them down into small phrases and numbered the phrases 1-6.  Distribute them to the children/youth randomly. Make sure they are not in numerical order! Go around your circle or group randomly and ask the children/youth to read their phrase. It will be all jumbled! Then ask them to read in numerical order. It will make sense! We have to start at the beginning for things to make sense, and sometimes that’s hard for us! But God always starts at the beginning with us, which is the story of life that is about love and wholeness for all. We’re learning about Amos for the next few weeks and we’re starting with his words on how God is the Lord of all nations, everyone no matter what. It’s a good place to start and a reminder for us that God is STILL the Lord of everyone in the world, and loves us all. We’re going to talk more about how we can tell the story of God’s love for the world, even if the words are hard and might sound scary.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start isn’t it? There is so much that you want or need to say that it’s hard to not blurt every thought inside your head out at once. Particularly when there is a lot of emotion involved, or when it’s words that have been welling up inside of you for a long time and the dam that is your filter can’t contain them anymore. The last time I preached on Amos was kinda like that! I love the prophetic literature in the Bible so much that I get really excited when I get to preach on them. I fancy myself a solid preacher/writer but even I forget basics from time to time. When I was on internship, Amos 5 came up in the lectionary on my week to preach. I was fresh off of a class on the prophets so I had ALL THE WORDS about Amos. I felt the pressure of having to say everything, to convey the importance of it all at one time. And to the chagrin of the congregation, for about 25 minutes, I indeed told them all the words on Amos. After church my dear, supportive, husband, looked at me and said, “that was a fabulous sermon SERIES on Amos.” Yes, I had preached a whole sermon series in one sermon…not recommended by the way. We have since referred to it as the “Amos incident” and when I muse that I am concerned my sermon might be too long, Mike will say “it’s not the Amos Incident again is it?” He’s looking out for all of you! I promise that this sermon won’t become a hostage situation. The good news for you is that this IS a sermon series on Amos for the next six weeks so I don’t have to tell you everything today! I can filter all my words.

The gift of a prophet, as we see in our biblical literature, is that they too often filter their words, they speak to a specific people, in a specific time, with a specific message. They actually don’t try and give people all the information all at once and it’s why God sent multiple prophets. Each one has a message from God that only they can tell with their particular personality and skill. Prophets have laser focus that cut through the curtains that veil the people’s vision from seeing what God sees and what God wants the people to see. Prophets offer a lay of the cultural landscape, a truth telling that is hard to hear and hard to ignore. And true prophets speak hard things out of love and concern for people, not out of spite, hate or division. Prophets tell people what is really happening, even if the people don’t like it, even to their own risk, demise and ostracization. We are blessed with many prophets throughout the ages into today. Amos, Elijah, Isaiah, Paul, Martin Luther, MLK Jr. Lenny Duncan, and more.
Like most prophets in the OT, Amos wasn’t a full-time religious person. Amos was a 8th century BCE, middle-class herder, and orchard owner. He knew a bit of the geopolitical landscape around him, but he was basically an ordinary person who lived in the southern kingdom of Judah. But Amos heard the voice of God, heard words from God he couldn’t ignore and a message that was too important to keep to himself. He had a loaded message of repentance and devastation for the people of God. His very name hallmarks this as Amos means “to load or to carry a load.” Martin Luther said of Amos: “He can well be called Amos, that is ‘a burden,’ one who is hard to get along with and irritating…” Prophets, as Jesus said, are not without honor, except in their hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house. Amos, like most prophets, was probably not well-liked for his messages. Amos did prophesy in Israel, not his own country of Judah, but Judah and Israel are siblings, still connected by the common identity of worship of Yahweh, the Torah, and the Commandments. Amos’ words from the Lord, were to bring the people back to this truth, this reality and were to point out where they were falling short on this basic of their communal lives.
            At this time in history, Israel and Judah were experiencing relative peace and prosperity, or at least the upper echelons were. Yet, Israel and Judah had grown complacent in their worship, in their prosperity, confident that their security was due to their own abilities, skill and doing. Israel and Judah were more interested in being like other kingdoms in the ancient near east, more interested in their own well-being, wealth, and military might, than in being the people of God. Worship focused on self-gratification and affirmation, and rituals were acts of piety for performance. They had abandoned their true identity as God’s people and the real tragedy was who was being oppressed, harmed and marginalized because of this lack of identity. They didn’t care for the orphaned or the widow, they didn’t provide for the poor, they didn’t welcome the stranger. They were striving to fit in with the nations around them. This is why Amos starts his proclamation by pointing out the transgressions of the kingdoms around Israel, including Judah. God is indeed interested in Israel, but God is also the Lord of all kingdoms. Israel is supposed to be the beacon, the witness, the example to the other nations, not assimilate to them.
But it’s hard to see wealth, status, power and not want that for ourselves. It stokes our egos; it provides momentary contentment. Until, as Amos will point out, it is not contentment for all. Wealth, status and power in our world for some, tends to mean a lack of those things for others. When wealth, status and power are shared, we get itchy as we worry that there won’t be any or enough for us. Jesus came to proclaim that God wants wealth, status and power evenly distributed to and for all people and those with wealth, status and power didn’t like it. It is loaded with all kinds of implications that mean a change in how we all live together, particularly those of us who can admit that we have a disproportionate amount of wealth, status and power. We forget that when we share wealth, status and power, it increases not diminishes. Diminishment leads to diminishment; abundance leads to abundance. Jesus had a hard time offering healing power to people who didn’t want it shared. It was too much for the people to bear that Jesus proclaimed a message that went against conventional wisdom of hoarding. Unbelief is not wanting to see what is true, what is real and what is healing. Unbelief is turning away from the loaded message that is a hard burden to bear.

But God doesn’t give up. God’s word that we need to hear, even if it’s hard, comes to us, embraces us and doesn’t let us go. God is willing to bear the burden of the message, all the way to the cross, for the message of healing, wholeness and justice to roar through creation like a lion. A message that shakes us to our core, shakes us out of complacency, shakes us to action for belief in what is true, shakes us to also bear that message to the world. And this is where we begin each day, where we start: open to the word of the Lord that is loaded with transforming implications not only for the world, but for us and our lives. Thanks be to God!

 

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.