A Lutheran Says What?

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

Worth Our Salt Sermon on Mark 9: 38-50 September 26, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 26, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’ Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Psalm 19
Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Mark 9: 38-50

Young Friends message:
Have some salt to show them. Ask them and the adults, how much money do you think is in this little packet of salt? Yes, probably only a few cents worth. If I were to give you some salt for your birthday or Christmas, you probably wouldn’t be impressed. It’s not worth very much in money but it’s worth a whole lot in our lives. What are some things that salt does? Salt does many important things, but we actually need a good balance of salt in our bodies to live. Without it, our bodies don’t work properly. Even though it’s not worth much, you can’t buy anything with it, it’s very valuable to us.  But in Jesus’ time, salt was like money, and was more valuable than gold. People were paid for jobs in salt. In our bible story today, it starts out with the disciple John being very worried that someone else was good at casting out demons, or helping people in Jesus’ name, and he was jealous. Jesus tells him that anyone who is helping people and loving people in God’s name is valuable. Jesus then goes on to say some very scary things about body parts being cut off. Jesus does not mean for us to cut off or harm any part of our body. But Jesus is trying to get our attention that what we may think is valuable or impressive may actually be harmful to someone else, and that our mission in God’s kingdom is to make sure that everyone knows that they are included in God’s love and promises. That no matter what they look like, what they do, where they live, what they do or don’t have, they are more valuable to God than salt and should see each other as valuable too. The saying you might have heard that derives from this is “someone is worth their salt.” You are valuable to God and to us here at OSLC, more valuable than money, gold or salt. I have a reminder for you of this-a baggie with some salt and the saying “you are worth your salt.” We’re going to talk a little more about this.

If you had one hour to pack up your car and leave because of a fire, or some other disaster, what would you take? Outside of important legal documents, for me, I would grab pictures. Not a piece of china or crystal, not a piece of furniture or another object that might have monetary value. I would take items that are probably only valuable to me, because they offer me a connection to someone and something that can’t be replaced by money or other material means. Most of what I own, doesn’t have monetary value, only sentimental value. A saying I’ve heard is “something only has value if someone else wants it.” That’s a hard fact for most of us. We think our children will want some of our things one day, but the truth is that they often don’t. Our material things don’t have any meaning to anyone outside of us. No matter how much we want other people to place value on the same things that we do. This can happen with traditions as well. Such as sending Christmas cards used to have meaning for me, but it honestly no longer does since with social media, I keep up with the folks that I want to throughout the year. It’s a tradition that many have given up as it no longer holds the value that it once did. And it frees up time, worry and money in a season that is already fraught with stress and removed an obstacle from focusing on what really matters.
What’s truly valuable is a hard conversation, whether it’s material objects, or traditions. We like to think that what we find meaningful is meaningful for everyone else, in all times and in all places but sometimes we find that what we think is meaningful, can be a stumbling block for someone else. In the 21st century church, we’re wrestling with this truth. Traditions that seem immutable and monolithic aren’t valuable to different generations, demographics and cultures. As a matter of fact, they are a stumbling block for them to even consider being a part of a Christian community. It can be a stumbling block that worship is Sunday mornings, or that communities aren’t racially diverse, or mainly accessible to able-bodied, neurotypical folks, or when churches are more concerned about who they keep separate from than seeking authentic partnerships. Or more personally, I can be a stumbling block for others to experience the healing of Jesus, when I don’t advocate for my Haitian siblings on the border, or I’m too afraid of tarnishing my reputation or being called radical that I don’t stand firm to support the human rights of bodily autonomy of pregnant people and LBGTQIA+. I can be a stumbling block when I’m more worried about myself, what I might lose, than what my neighbor has already lost. I can be a stumbling block when I succumb to my privilege, being “nice” and quietism instead of living for the good news of Jesus Christ in the world. I have to wonder if part of the decline in participation in mainline Christianity, such as the Lutheran church, is linked to that we refuse to wrestle with and cut off what is no longer valuable for people in our church systems, that we cling to what we like, are comfortable with and are used to, instead of focusing on what is truly valuable to bring in the kingdom of God. Something only has value if someone else wants it.

Many people, particularly younger people, are searching for true value, authentic community, community who accepts them just as they are and doesn’t make them hustle for their worth. Community that exists to transform the world, to care for creation, community that clearly sees the hard realities of our society and faithfully engages. Community that is rooted in something beyond themselves, something more precious than much fine gold or honey as the psalmist writes. A community that is worth its salt: people are looking for life, for peace, as Jesus offers his followers today in this gruesome passage of amputations, and the fires of hell, Gehenna. This talk of hell isn’t about the afterlife, it’s about being in the garbage heap outside of Jerusalem where refuse, objects with no use or value were disposed of by fire. But there is good news here for us in this horror story.

Jesus names the reality that we think we need to compete for our worth, and Jesus counters that because of the word of God, the name of Jesus, the promises of the good news of wholeness, abundant life, connection and love we are already worthy. Or is as valuable as salt, which as I mentioned to our young friends, in the ancient world was used as currency and was more valuable than gold. What and who has value in God’s economy isn’t the same as the world’s economy, Jesus says. You have worth because you are God’s, AND so does everyone else.
But we worry about what we might lose if we cut off the things and traditions that we love and know, as dearly as we love and know our own appendages. Will the church have value if it no longer looks like what we grew up with, or doesn’t have all the programs we’re used to, or doesn’t use a building, or has leadership that looks different than in the past? Or will we then clearly understand what has true value: God’s living word of love for us and our neighbors.  We can see how people around us are also worth their salt to God and understand that in removing stumbling blocks, even if we love the stumbling blocks, we gain so much more than what we gave up. We gain wholeness in ourselves, in our community and in God. We gain peace with each other. We gain life beyond arbitrary traditions and human rules to freely live as God’s people in God’s economy valued and beloved. We live as people worth our salt. Thanks be to God.

 

Drawn In Sermon on Mark 9: 30-37 September 19, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 19, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Jeremiah 11: 18-20
Psalm 54
Mark 9: 30-37

Young Friends Message: I am sharing the book today: “Maybe God Is Like That Too” by Jennifer Grant, illustrated by Benjamin Schipper and published by Sparkhouse Family 2017.

When was a time when you felt truly welcomed to a new place or event? One such time for me was when I was still in seminary and I was taking a class in Chicago through the Seminary Consortium for Urban Parish Education (SCUPE), on Faith Based Community Organizing. It was in January 2012 and over MLK Jr. Weekend. Two of my roommates and I learned that Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King, MLK’s youngest daughter, would be preaching at mostly Black St. Sabina Catholic Church on the south side of Chicago that Sunday. St. Sabina was one of the parishes we were studying on community engagement. We took the El and a bus that cold Sunday morning and ended up entering the sanctuary through a side door. But a wonderful, warm woman saw the three middle aged white women enter the wrong door into an all Black church and she swooped over, put her arm around me and drew me in close to her and said, “child, I’m so glad you are here, I’ve been waiting for you. Let me show you three to the best pew for worship today.” And she did. She drew us into the center of the sanctuary literally smack dab in the middle and sat us in the best vantage point to see Rev. Dr. King preach. She brought us a bulletin, made sure that we knew that we knew where the restrooms were, and this church had a Sunday morning snack bar in the basement. She drew us into the community. She didn’t seem surprised to see us, it was as if she had been looking for us to arrive. This woman made sure that we knew that we belonged there that morning.

Belonging is a basic need for us humans. We are wired for connection; without that connection, we wither. Yet the feeling of belonging often feels like a surprise or a shock to us. When we belong, we share many aspects of our lives with a certain group of people such as dress, speech, rituals, days of worship, music, doctrines, traditions, and commonly held beliefs. Some of these aspects are what drew us in and connected us, but the irony is that these aspects can leave people out. We rarely seek out new or different. Like the woman at St. Sabina’s we don’t make a beeline toward a new and different face. Part of our wiring is also to be suspicious of new and different. It’s a loop that is hard to short circuit.

The idea of who belonged and who was accepted is as old as Genesis 3 when the first people first realized that they were separate from God. The Bible is a story of God drawing God’s people back into full belonging and oneness with God and each other. No separation. Jesus is God as human, the one who holds divinity and humanity together, who draws us all into oneness with God and one another.
The disciples had a front row seat to this project, and it caused them fear. Their whole lives had been one of figuring out where and to whom they belonged and to whom they belonged. Their religion? The Romans? Their vocations? Jesus over and over says, no, you belong to someone and something grander: God. But it’s not what you think. Jesus tells them that Jesus belongs to God and will suffer, be killed by the other communities, but will rise again. The disciples aren’t exactly drawn into dig deeper into this news. It’s not the kind of belonging that they want. They want to belong to something and someone who is powerful, great, has authority, and status. They want belonging that brings worldly security.
Jesus patiently, again, tells them that what and who they belong to is one who serves, one who supports, one who draws people into abundant life. This is what belonging to God is like: it’s knowing that when we are drawn in by God’s love together, there is so much more than the world can offer. To shock the disciples into fully grasping this, Jesus draws a child into their center. A child, in the ancient world, had zero value. Children were the most vulnerable and least worthy in Jesus’ time. For Jesus to draw this child into his arms, is scandalous. Jesus declares that accepting, centering, connecting, belonging to this child is the point, that welcoming Jesus, is welcoming God. Belonging to God is belonging to the weakest, least valuable person in the community. It’s drawing yourself to people with whom you would rather not be connected. They might need something from you.
This is still scandalous today, and I know that I, like the disciples, struggle with this radical belonging. It means that I am drawn to the person I walk past sleeping on a bench. I am drawn to the person with differing political persuasions. I am drawn to the person who is fleeing their country to escape poverty, war and oppression, like the 14,000 Haitians on our border needing refuge. I am drawn to the person whose gender or sexual identity expression is new to me. I am drawn to the person with a differing faith tradition. I am drawn to the person working tirelessly in hospitals who need me to do my part to alleviate their strain. I am drawn to the person who is grieving, celebrating, or unsure what is next for them. I am drawn to the person who has differing health needs, such as our unvaccinated children who need protection from the community around them. When Jesus puts his arms around me and draws me close, he is also drawing close all the people from whom I desire a great distance. Jesus draws me in, and draws you in, just as we are, Jesus doesn’t care if we are great by the world’s standards. We are great because God is greater, because we belong to and are loved by God, not what for what we do, not for what we don’t do. God says that what and whom God creates and draws close to is great too: you, me, people whom we haven’t met yet, and may never meet.  
This is God’s hope, vision and call to us all: be drawn to each other, welcome one another, to see God in all people. Jesus draws us in to God’s kingdom where we belong to one another with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.

 

Getting Our Attention: Sermon on Transfiguration Sunday, Epiphany 6B February 12, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 14, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

2Kings 2: 1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Mark 9: 2-9

I will admit to you that my planner is my life. Many of you have heard me say: If it doesn’t get into my planner, it doesn’t exist. Each day, I look at my calendar to see what should get my attention. Is it emails? Pastoral care calls? Holy Week planning? Sermon prep? Paying bills? House maintenance? Or the now complex task of procuring groceries without contracting a disease? And then there’s the stuff that creeps up that I DON’T plan for: the so-called “emergencies” that suddenly grab my full and complete attention, whether they should or not. And if I’m honest, then there are the things that grab my attention because they are simply distractions from what I should really be doing.  TV programs, my phone, social media, and more can get my attention. I am self-aware enough to know that what gets my attention is not always what SHOULD get my attention. I also know that left to my own devices, I will give my attention to situations and distractions that aren’t life-giving, or feed my ego, or keep me from what truly matters. For this reason, I bought a different kind of planner for this year. It’s a liturgical year calendar, which is church geek speak for it starts at Advent and ends at Christ the King Sunday. Each day there is a one sentence prayer, the daily office scriptures, and a reminder to keep the main thing the main thing. I wanted a planner to remind me that it is God who should get my attention each day. I would love to tell you that it’s working beautifully and each day I give my full attention to God and listen for God’s word in everything I do. But if I said that, I would be lying. Even with this planner, what tends to get my attention is whoever is the most demanding in my email, texts or ear, or the outrageous Twitter thread, or our national drama, or whatever is shinier, easier, and self-gratifying in my day, or whatever Amazon’s deal of the day might be. (But have you seen some of those deals?)

I can convince myself that I am giving my attention to God through my to-do lists, as giving those distractions my full attention seems far safer than truly giving God my full attention. I know that giving God my full attention, would mean a focus not on myself and what I want or what I think is important. And yet, there have been times that God has commanded my full attention. Usually, it’s when I’m at my most confused, exhausted, fearful or angry. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth. And even then, my ego works overtime to put the attention back where I think it belongs, on me. But God doesn’t give up and is ok even with the negative attention I offer. God knows that as a human, I’m a hard sell on giving my full attention to anyone but myself, so God goes to great lengths to lure me into God’s love and care.

Evidence of God’s desire to get our full attention is in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus, God with us, is God’s ultimate attention grabber and yet, as we read in the gospels, humanity, even or especially the disciples, still miss it. Healings, casting out of demons, inclusion of the outcasts, all are easily dismissed, and people focus not on the care and mercy offered, but the rules broken, the human hierarchy dismantled and the need to control what they can’t understand. This story that we call the Transfiguration of Jesus is no exception. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain, a place in Jewish cosmology where one experiences the divine. He glows, like he swallowed radium and even his clothing was bright enough to get the attention of someone miles away. And if that wasn’t enough, Elijah and Moses appeared, both of whom were servants for God, but God had to work really hard to even get their attention from time to time. God grabbed Moses’ attention by manifesting as a talking burning bush that wasn’t consumed and had to get Elijah’s attention that God could be in the sheer silence, not only in big grand theophanies of wind, fire and earthquakes. Moses and Elijah constantly had their attention pulled away from what really mattered.

But dear Peter’s attention couldn’t be so easily persuaded away from himself. “It’s good we’re here! Let me build something!” I would love to criticize this, but I recognize myself in this reaction, so I’m going to give Peter a pass. But God, God tries again. This time a cloud overshadows them, and God speaks through the cloud “Hey, this is Jesus my son, could you do me a solid and please pay attention! Listen to him!” For me, the most poignant part of this story is verse 8, “Suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” Everything that could have taken their attention elsewhere, was gone. Their attention had be on Jesus, because at the end of it all, Jesus was the only one there, and nothing else mattered. Only Jesus.

This is what God wants for us, for our attention to be so focused on Jesus that Jesus, is all that we see. It’s Jesus’ love, care and mercy that get my attention each day. I have to admit that God sometimes has to work hard to get my attention as I don’t always want to notice. I have to listen to God’s voice as it whispers in the tears and heartbreak of my neighbor; as God’s voice thunders through the chants of my neighbor demanding justice and dignity; as God’s voice crackles in storms, wildfires and destruction of ecosystems; as God’s voice sings out the love that longs to be free in all people of every gender and orientation; as God’s voice heralds’ true life, life that is attentive to God’s love for us all through Jesus.

God’s attentive and loving gaze on us and creation craves to be seen, heard and noticed, not for God’s sake but for our own sake, and for our and creation’s healing and wholeness. But giving God our full attention brings risk, for then we will see ourselves and each human being we encounter in light and truth, through the gaze of Jesus. It means that we can’t look away from the suffering, pain and fear, for our own safety and comfort, but like Jesus, we will fully give our attention to the people and places in our community who need to know that they are worthy of God’s and our, full attention. We will give our attention to the full inclusion of each person in God’s promises. Giving God our full attention will mean less attention on ourselves, and that is part of our journey in Lent where we admit this truth of self-absorption and ask for God’s grace and help in returning God’s attentive gaze of love. When we return God’s loving gaze, we see Jesus Christ and see the life Jesus promised us all and that will hold our attention. Thanks be to God.

 

Fear and asking the wrong questions Reflection on Mark 9: 30-37 Pentecost 17B September 16, 2015

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*I am not preaching this week but I was asked to give a reflection at a prayer worship service. Just a few thoughts on Mark 9.

Mark 9: 30-37
Fear is a powerful motivator: So I’ve recently taken up a new health regime as I’ve been noticing a few weird things that are just attributed to middle age. So, I decided that I wanted to not just lose a little weight but feel better and maybe try and slow down the aging process now that I’m in my 40’s. I know, I know, the optimism of youth! So, armed with what is probably a little bit of dangerous information, I went to a health store privately owned by a nutritionist. I bought vitamins with a 92% absorption rate, fish oil, probiotics and protein shake mix. And so, armed with all of this stuff and a new workout routine in addition to my running, I have pretty convincingly told myself that I don’t need to fear aging anymore. I can do this!
Hmmm….yet, none of the aging stuff has gone away. Nothing has really changed. I feel a little better, maybe less tired but my husband is pretty sure that’s just a placebo effect. He’s probably right. I’m getting older and changing whether I like it or not. Now, have I gone to my wonderful doctor with whom I have a great relationship with? Oh no, as he’ll probably just tell me, yep, getting older!
The disciples were dealing with a lot of fear throughout Mark. Fear at not just the miraculous and unexplainable feats of Jesus but here in the middle of Mark, fear at what Jesus says is coming next. Suffering, a cross, death and what’s this about rising again, Jesus? It was heady, scary stuff. Stuff that they definitely did not want to think about day to day. After all, there were important questions to ask such as “who is the greatest? Who’s the best disciple?” Inquiring minds want to know. Fear was keeping them from confronting the tough stuff with Jesus and kept them thinking about themselves, their own needs and their own comforts. Vulnerably asking what Jesus was talking about and how they might fit into such a plan would just be too risky and they probably didn’t really want to know.
What would you do or ask if you weren’t afraid? About your faith? About Bethany? About your life?
What does it mean to be vulnerable? What’s at risk when we open up about what we’re afraid of? Is it easier to be vulnerable or to accept vulnerability in other people around us?
Good news: Jesus proclaims there is power in vulnerability. When we are vulnerable, like a child, we are open to all of the ways that the kingdom of God comes to us just as we are, wherever we are. God doesn’t assess status based on who’s the greatest, the wealthiest, the smartest or most valuable to society, but declares that the only status that is important is that of beloved child of God. Do not be afraid! Amen.

 

People of a Pretty Good Story: Transfiguration Mark 9: 2-9 Feb. 15, 2015 February 16, 2015

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One of the challenges of being a Christian in the 21st century is that in this age of scientific reasoning, logic, strategic plans and Gallup polls is that there is little room for mystery. Now we do love a good story and we have plenty of television shows, movies and books such as Supernatural, Grimm, Once a Upon a Time, or Twilight that might spark some conversation around things that go bump in the night or other things we can’t understand but it seems easier to talk about the premise of these shows than our experiences and encounters with God. I’ve been thinking about how we don’t know how to talk about God in our lives without thinking that we need some sort of proof to back it up, how we talk more about what we do as Christians or how as an institutional church we get stuck in talking more about strategies for bringing people to church (Sunday School, music, programs, groups, how to be seen in the community). We love to suck the mystery right out of life and our relationship with God. How easily we lose sight of what is central to who we are and who Jesus is. We often don’t know what to say about Jesus in our lives and the thought of talking about Jesus terrifies us.

Apparently this issue in not new to the 21st century as Peter reminds us. Peter experiences this supernatural, mysterious event of being in the presence of a transfigured, transformed Jesus. Peter, James and John witness the kingdom of God being revealed through Jesus as well as the presence of Moses and Elijah, Israelite heroes long dead but herald the coming of a new age. The disciples were given a glimpse of who Jesus is for them and for the world. Jesus is more than just a teacher, healer or nice guy, as the disciples hear proclaimed by the voice from the cloud: “This is my Son, the beloved;  listen to him!”  Peter’s gut reaction to this encounter was to suck all of the mystery of Jesus out of the event as it’s clear that no one would ever believe him and so proof, a way to capture this moment in time was necessary; just his story would never be enough. Building a hut for each of these important figures ought to do it! Maybe Peter thought he could give tours to people of the mountain top with the three dwellings and then that would bring people to faith in Jesus? Without some sort of tangible object to point to this was a story that would surely get a few raised eyebrows and ignored as a figment of these three disciples imagination. This thought alone would terrify them, they would be thought of as crazy if they told anyone; they have no proof that Jesus is God’s son-the promised messiah, other than their own account from this day. At the end of the day, all they had left was Jesus-is that enough?

We, too, worry that our own encounters with the living Christ, are not enough. We think that we don’t have adequate words to give life to our stories, we don’t have a hut, a picture, we don’t know what to say and it scares us to death that we will look crazy, or in my case, crazier than usual. Yet, we all do have these encounters, each one of us, I am confident has a story to tell about God in our lives. But we know that talking about Jesus in our culture is not all that popular and so we let fear of trying to explain the mystery of faith distract us. We know that we can’t quantify for the world how Jesus showing up in our lives is not about pie charts, strategies, empirical data or proof but is about deep emotion, deep connections with other people, deep mystery and deep love that is beyond what is celebrated on Valentine’s Day.

But what Peter didn’t quite get and what we struggle with too is that we are not people of proof,  but people of the story. Not just any story but God’s story. When God says to the disciples, “This is my son, the beloved, listen to him!” it’s not to listen to Jesus for rules, or commands but to listen to Jesus’ life, listen to the story of God’s love for the world that Jesus’ words and actions convey.

God sent Jesus as tangible proof of God’s love, yes, but it’s more than that, Jesus with humanity personally continues to tell us the story begun at creation; a story that includes all of us, God and how we are intertwined into this story. Stories connect us, person to person, age to age, generation to generation. Jesus came with words and actions of healing, teaching, praying, suffering, dying and rising to share God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and hope. Our story with God encompasses times when we are high on a mountain top, moments of bright light and clarity, journeys down into a valley with uncertainty and questions and moments of fear. Our story is one where we look up and there is only Jesus, Jesus who promises to be with us always, offers us community to share our faith journey and our stories of our encounters with God that defy words and proof.

God’s story is one that the world needs to hear, can change the world and we bring with us into our daily lives whether we know it or not. I wonder if we really believe that this story-our stories of Jesus can change, transform or transfigure the world. What if we offered our community the mystery of God who loves them just the way they are, who is with them always, even when they can’t feel God, the mystery of unconditional love and acceptance from the people of God and the hope that God is at work and won’t stop until all is reconciled and the kingdom of God is fully revealed? What if we believed that we tell it every day, wherever we are. What if we believed that we tell it at work, school, and in how we choose to spend our free time. Jesus’ story of eternal life for all, mercy and forgiveness lives through us all of the time. We don’t necessarily have tangible, concrete huts to prove God’s story, but what we do have is who we are as people of God and the promises of Jesus Christ. And it’s enough. Thanks be to God.