A Lutheran Says What?

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

Statements of Faith Sermon on Mark 12: 38-44 October 23, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 25, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

We are in our Generosity Focus with our theme: Rooted in our past, embracing our Future. This first week is Reimagine.

The texts were:
Leviticus 19:9-10, 25: 8-12
Mark 12: 38-44

Luther only wanted to make a statement, not start a revolution. Martin Luther, 503 years ago, posted some statements on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, as he had done before, hoping to open up a conversation regarding the church system. The system that he had participated in his whole life, the system he actually loved, the system that had been in place for centuries, although with some evolution and nuance, the system that Luther believed was failing thousands of people. Luther considered his statements logical and obvious harms being perpetrated on innocent people who were reliant on the system and the structure to daily life it provided. But in truth, Luther’s statements were a vision, a reimagination of how the system, the world, the community of faith could operate. Luther saw through and beyond the system to something else, to something new. They were his statements of a reimagined life, of faith, daily living and community. That kind of reimagining, Luther soon found out, is always a threat to those in power in the system. Keeping the system stable and keeping those whom the system privileged comfortable was paramount at any costs. If some people were exploited, well, that’s just the way life works isn’t it? Nope, said Luther. When challenged by the powerful of the system, Luther was offered two choices, stay quiet and stay in the system, or be cast out from the system. Luther recognized that there was a third choice, and that was to follow his faith in God and God’s mission, risk everything to challenge and transform the system. Luther’s reimaging captured the imagination of many around him and the system was forced to alter. Many were upset, scared, bewildered, and angry that the status quo was shredded, for after Luther’s statements of faith, life was never the same again.

 Statements that change the world can be made with words, spoken or written, but sometimes statements are made with what seems to be simple actions. Jesus called attention to this fact in our Mark lesson today. Jesus highlights the statements that the scribes, the supposed leaders of the Temple, who were tasked with caring for the people spiritually and physically, really were. Their long robes and overly ornate prayers were statements of status quo, power, elitism, and privilege. He also pointed to the statements of the rich people giving to the Temple treasury, and how they made a show of the amount they gave, a revealing of their bank statements so to speak, and how the scribes often privileged and fawned over those who gave copious amounts, even if it was really only a sliver of their actual wealth.

Jesus carefully watched the widow approach the treasury deposit site. Widows, who were often poor, as a woman’s only status and power were in relationship to a male family member, were exempt from giving to the Temple as the Temple leaders were supposed to be caring from them. The Torah teachings are clear that widows, the poor, orphans and resident aliens, immigrants and refugees are to be provided for from the Temple treasury and the community. The widow put in her two coins, all that she had, even though it’s a pittance. Jesus honors her but maybe not for the reason we think. Yes, it’s an act of faith, yes, it’s a statement of giving all that she had, but here’s what I think Jesus is really saying: it’s a statement of reimagining. It’s a statement of defiance and calling out the system. No, she didn’t get in anyone’s face, no she doesn’t write an angry note to state her disappointment with the leaders. Those two coins might have come from the treasury to begin with, and weren’t enough to help her at all, and so she gives it back. She knows that the scribes are supposed to be caring for her, and not just her, but all in need, and they are giving some, but not enough. It was a token. It was enough to soothe the conscious of those with all the power and wealth. See we gave them something! It’s not our fault that they can’t actually live on that! It’s Rome’s fault! But the widow knows better. The widow is reimagining what true community looks like. What equal and just distribution of wealth could be. She is reimagining beyond the Roman Empire and beyond the institution of the Temple- to the kingdom of God. She’s recalling our Leviticus text of Jubilee and offering a vision of trusting God AND trusting each other to provide for all needs, including the earth.

Jesus pointed out this widow to the disciples and to us so that perhaps we too can reimagine. What statement of God’s vision do we want to offer in this time and place? We have to reimagine beyond our broken and human political system, beyond our broken and human institutional church and offer a vision to the world of God’s kingdom. Luther, while by no means perfect and he had his flaws, was attempting in his own way to do this. It’s the foundation of our faith tradition-to reimagine the world that centers the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of the world, of human greed, selfishness, and egocentricity. When we center the kingdom of God, we center a vision of wholeness, justice, mercy and community, not for some but for all.

I have been ruminating more and more on how my life can be such a statement of reimaging life ushering in the kingdom of God in our current world. I truly believe that as a world and a Church we are in a time of reimaging and our statements of faith with words and actions matter. Nothing will be the same after this pandemic, and do we have the imagination, like the widow, Luther and Jesus, to join what God is already up to? We must reimagine our statements of faith that our communal lives together are more important than our individual rights, so we wear masks, curb our activities to necessities only, don’t hoard, and offer patience and compassion with leaders and each other. Reimagine our statements of faith that in our lives together white supremacy, racism, homophobia, misogyny is a sin, that our consumer culture is killing and harming us and the earth, that there is enough for all, and that yes, we will have to set aside our own power, privilege and entitlement. Reimagine our statements of faith that enable our bank statements to match our vision of abundance. Our statements of faith matter, for our statements can reimagine the world, bring down unjust systems and reveal the mercy and grace of God for us all.

God’s statement is clear, God’s living statement is Jesus who states in words and actions what God reimagines the world to be. Jesus’ statement is to reimagine a world where death isn’t the final word, where God’s will is done, all humanity and creation exists in health, interdependence, mercy and hope and the tenacious love of Christ binds us together. You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen .

 

A Keen Eye A Sermon for Richard Weber August 14, 2020

Richard’s service was held on the west lawn of OSLC on August 14. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 121
Psalm 46
John 14: 1-7

Grace and peace to you from God the maker of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life and the Holy Spirit, who makes us one, amen.

Richard Herrmann Weber, born in Chicago, Illinois on October 7, 1947 to Heinrich and Sofie Weber and big brother Hank, was a man who had a keen eye for many things throughout his life. He saw the normal ups and downs of childhood and youth, the joy and sorrows that come from relationships, and the peaks and valleys of adulthood and career. Rich would see what was important and then go do it. Rich’s educational accomplishments, including degrees in social work, education and a PHD in clinical psychology, led to his vocational life of service in the Air Force and then in the Utah State Dept of Corrections. In these experiences, Rich saw a diversity of people and situations through his vocational choices and saw how he could accompany people on their journeys. Rich had an eye for how his presence with people mattered and Rich’s ability to see what was truly important, to see beyond the current situation to the bigger picture was a rare gift. Rich’s gift of insight is exemplified in a few ways, such as he had an eye for well-tailored and nice clothing. He could put together an outfit and tended to be quite dapper. And his good eye was fortuitous, as one day while with a friend, he noticed Marti as she sat by the pool where she was living. The friend, as I’m told, was a bit, shall we say, ungentlemanly and Rich saw that. He apologized to Marti for his friend, and Marti could see that this Rich fellow was different than others. And the rest we say is a beautiful 38 plus year history.
I know from my conversations with Rich, that what he treasured most was seeing his family, his children, Ashley and Justin and his grandchildren Bradley and Maxwell. For Rich, his family was his favorite vision.

Rich loved viewing God’s creation too. The family chose psalm 121 and 46 today because of Rich’s deep love for nature, for animals and everything that God created. Rich had an eye for the hand and the love of his creator in the natural world around him, and this setting today out here on our west lawn where we sit under the trees in view of the Wasatch front is testimony to Rich’s vision. Rich’s faith and trust in God was evident and anyone who knew Rich not only saw this faith and trust but saw God in Rich too. Jesus in our Gospel reading is clear that we have all seen God because we have seen Jesus and so our hearts don’t need to be troubled. Rich saw Jesus in the people around him, in his environment and in all aspects of his surroundings. When Rich’s heart would from time to time be troubled, whether it was concern for his family, or his own health challenges or issues in our society and world, Rich also spoke of where he saw Jesus, in his family, in his OSLC family and friends.

Jesus states in our gospel that seeing is trusting. Jesus knows the importance for us of the concrete reminders of God’s presence with us. The writer of psalm 46, the basis for Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, one of Rich’s favorites that we’ll hear in a moment, calls out that God is our refuge and our strength and our very help in times of trouble. And in Psalm 121, we can trust that when we look at the hills as Rich did, and we see what Rich saw: the handiwork of our creator God, who never sleeps but will keep watch over us and protect us when life is difficult. Essentially, God keeps an eye on us. Jesus knew these psalms too and calls us to see God’s presence all around us, and especially in one another. We know that God’s protection and care doesn’t mean that we aren’t spared from suffering and hardships but that we are never alone in those situations. We know that not only do we see God but God sees us. Rich trusted and knew that the promise is that God had a loving eye on him and us all, always. And we are to see the world how God sees the world, through the lens of love. This was a comfort for Rich and it is a comfort for us who now mourn Rich’s death and absence from our lives. In the coming weeks, months and years, we will see the promises of God through Jesus in each other, as we together we go forward. We rest in the comfort that God has an eye on our tears, our broken hearts and holds us just the way we are.
 And just as we saw Jesus in our brother in Christ, Rich, other people will see Jesus in us. We can witness to the love, grace and mercy of God who is our keeper, our refuge, who has prepared a room, a forever home for us and for all, who keeps our life right here, right now and in eternity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is the promise that Rich now claims and that is the promise for us today. We honor the love and witness of Rich’s faith, and show that same love and witness to others. We can keep an eye on each other as Christ commands us.

Like Rich, we have an eye for the promises of God all around us, we see Rich’s legacy of love and faith that he generously shared with us, we see that this love never ends and we see the hope that God  pours out to us each day. We trust, as Rich did, that God does keep an eye on us, loves us and that “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” Thanks be to God.

 

Renewed by Grace-We can’t unsee it! Sermon for Reformation Sunday Year C October 27, 2019

This sermon was preached on Oct. 27, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were:
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3: 19-28
John 8:31-36

 

Children’s sermon: masks-I have these masks here: It’s fun to wear masks and pretend to be someone or something else isn’t it? It’s not really who we are but we like to try out being different. We do this in other ways besides at Halloween-don’t we? We pretend to like something we don’t or don’t like something we do like to make friends. Sometimes that’s hard as we want to be something different-maybe act differently because we think that people will like us more, or wish that we had different abilities like in sports, or school or music. But God says that who we are is just right we are and that we always belong to God. And the truth is that you are loved by God just as you are-the good things and the not so good things. Today is called Reformation Sunday and it’s a day when we celebrate the truth of who we are as God’s people and we don’t have to pretend to be someone else. A man named Martin Luther, struggled with the fact that many people didn’t know the truth about how much God loved them no matter what and people can’t earn God’s love, it’s for everyone! That’s called grace. But this truth of grace was also hard…it meant that everything had to change with this truth. The Church had to change with this truth that God loves everyone. The church did change, but many people didn’t like it and were mad at Luther. Everything changes, God created the world to change: the seasons, plants growing and us growing and learning, the only thing that doesn’t change is God’s love for us and creation. Martin Luther knew that the truth of our lives is that things need to change so that more people can know God’s unchanging grace and love! Because of this grace and love we are free to share this with everyone we know to make sure that everyone knows this truth-that no matter what they do, say, who they pretend to be, or what other people think of them, they are God’s forever. That is the truth. Let’s pray:

I love mind benders: such as a friend pointing out that if you hear the words “big pharma” in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger it sounds like Arnold talking to a large farmer. You can’t unhear that can you? Or someone posted a picture of the famous painting by Edvard Munch “The Scream” and said maybe he was trying to draw a cocker spaniel…the hands are floppy dog ears…you can’t unsee that either! Or a pastor friend setting the “Lamb of God” to “Baby Shark.” (You’re welcome!) We’ve all had the experience that once someone points out an absurd perspective about something you can’t see or hear anything else! Whether it’s a painting or learning the correct lyrics to a song, these new perspectives shift us as you can’t go back to what you didn’t see, hear, know before. It can be all in fun such as the examples I just gave, or its life altering. It could be the moment you look at someone and realize you love them, or you see your loved one dying and you can’t deny that truth any longer, or the revelation that someone has lied to you, or hiding something from you, or you realize that a relationship is no longer viable or you admit you need help. Moments when you know some deeper truth than you did before and everything changes.

There are monumental periods in history built around these perspective shifts. Martin Ludder was a man who was a product of his time, he believed everything the Church taught him, even though it made him miserable and austere. But he lived within those rules thinking that was the truth of life-one had to earn love, especially the love of God, everything depended on one’s actions, thoughts and one was never going to get ahead. Right relationships meant doing all the right things. Until one day he was reading scripture and saw something that he hadn’t before-no not a puppy in a famous painting-but the truth of God’s grace that had nothing to do with his own works, only God’s unconditional love. It so altered his entire worldview and relationship with God that he couldn’t unsee it or unhear it. And like all good revelations-he had to share it on the social media platform of his time, the cathedral door. Now this wasn’t the first time Ludder had done this, but this time it went viral. Other people couldn’t unsee it or unhear it either. Powers and principalities tried to get Ludder to go back to before, or admit that he altered it, photoshopped this revelation in some way, but he couldn’t and wouldn’t and others stood with him in this truth. He was so convicted that he changed his name to the Greek word for truth Eleuthera-or Luther.

The truth of God’s love and grace for all people that set Luther free from his enslavement to his ego and works, he unleashed on the world.  Luther wanted this truth of God’s word of grace accessible for all people and translated into the language of the people. The truth that set Luther free wasn’t freedom to do whatever he wanted but freedom to live as God created him, freedom from the lies he told himself about his worthlessness, freedom from the lies of the Church that his relationship with God was dependent in his obedience to the rules, freedom from the lies of the world that told him his value was in his status. Luther experienced the truth that Jesus speaks of in John: the truth that Jesus dwells with us in the world revealing God’s gifts and glory through Jesus, because God loves us, cares for us and wants to be with us above all else. Once we see this, we can’t unsee it and it changes how we see everything.

The truth of God’s grace also means that we can’t unsee or unhear that we are not in control, we can’t save ourselves, we can’t hide behind the lies that we tell ourselves that give us the illusion of power in our lives. We can’t unsee ourselves as slaves to the individual and corporate sins of culture, our own egos, our greed, our addictions to self-righteousness, status quo and comfort. We can’t unsee that we are caught in the lies of systemic racism, economic injustice, homophobia, and poverty. We can’t unsee the damage that we do to one another trying to live in the lies of the world and not the truth of freedom in Jesus. The truth that Jesus says sets us free, is a hard truth. One that we aren’t always sure that we can handle seeing or hearing. It’s a truth that freedom isn’t only about us and our ability to do whatever we want. It’s the truth that God’s grace demands we act for our neighbor in this freedom. The truth is that God’s grace is for us all, renews us all and connects us all. It’s a truth that calls us at OSLC to vision, wonder and risk how we will be what the community needs. It’s a truth that means we might do what the world might consider foolish, to serve our neighbor. Yep, it doesn’t always make sense, but God in God’s kingdom, it’s always worth it. This is the heart of Luther’s revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not freedom if it’s only about ourselves. God’s unending and unconditional grace in our lives transforms us from slaves to the lies of the world, to people free in grace to serve others with all that we have to the glory of God.

Reformation isn’t only a day-Luther wouldn’t want us to even celebrate today because reformation happens daily-it’s living our lives refusing to unsee or unhear the truth of God’s renewing grace at work in the world for all people. It’s boldly proclaiming and translating the truth for 21st century hearts, ears and eyes that in God through Jesus Christ, everything has changed and will keep changing for the sake of freeing God’s people and creation so that God’s promises will be made known in the world. This grace renews us all and the world, and we can’t unsee it or unhear it. Thanks be to God.

 

Revealing the Truth Sermon on Luke 12 and Colossians 3 August 4, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on August 4, 2019.

The texts were Psalm 49: -1-12, Colossians 3: 1-11 and Luke 12: 13-21

Children’s sermon: Two truths and a lie. Tell three statements and have the children guess which of the three statements I give about my life is the lie. Do it a couple of times, if there is an adult or older child present, then ask them to offer two truths and a lie about their life. What is true about our lives? Sometimes, we don’t even know! Have you ever known someone who wasn’t completely honest about themselves or maybe you told a lie about yourself? We have all done it because we want to fit in, or be someone we are not, or not get in to trouble. But being honest about who we are is important. When we aren’t honest, we can get focused on only ourselves, keeping the lies going and start to believe our own lies! I start to believe that maybe I can be something or someone I’m not. But our bible passages for today talk about what is true: that our lives are meant for  focusing on loving God and each other. That God is the one who gives us all that we have and is with us all the time. When we only listen to ourselves, we just keep hearing the lies that we tell and forget that God wants us to be who God created us to be. And that God created us to live together and to care for each other, no matter what. How can we do that? Should we be honest with each other? Should we share what we have? Yes! I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about that but first let’s pray:

You might remember the movie the Truman Show with Jim Carey from several years ago. The premise was that there was a man who lived his whole life at part of a reality TV show and didn’t know it. But then some pieces started to not add up for him and he discovered that his whole existence wasn’t what he thought it was. Everyone in his life were actors, the town was a sound stage and everything revolved around him. His entire life was a lie, essentially. Nothing was real, and he didn’t even have a concept of what an authentic existence outside of the controlled TV environment might be like. Nothing had ever been demanded of him. His relationships were all centered around him, his job was catered to him and even the weather was controlled. Everything was carefully scripted to present one story only. In some ways, it should have been idyllic and perfect. But when the truth was revealed, Truman realized his isolation, his separateness and the emptiness of his life. At the end he asks of the creator of the show “Who am I?” and then walks through the door to the real world, to his new, authentic and unscripted life.

Now this movie is of course fiction and an exaggeration of inauthenticity, but it begs the question of us all: what is true in our lives? Where do we find value, meaning and truth? Psalm 49 and Luke 12 seem to be taking on greed and our relationship to money and possessions, but I think that there is more here than that. What is demanded of us in our lives, who are we, and as we read in Colossians, what life will we live?

The demands of modern life are many and perhaps not that different than in Jesus’ time. We have the demands of survival, the demands of family relationships, the demands of work, and of our friends. And all these demands can make us greedy. Maybe not only greedy with our money and possessions, but greedy with our time, our status, our security or safety, and greedy with our sense of power and autonomy. And greed is indeed idolatry-that is something that we give a higher value and priority to than anything else in our lives. The truth of greed is that is turns our focus inward-to me, myself and I. Like the rich man in the parable, we start to talk only to ourselves, think that our accomplishments were done only by ourselves and scarier yet, we only listen to ourselves. We live our lives in isolation and separation, afraid to hear anyone else because to do so might reveal the delusions that we live in, such as the delusion that we don’t need anyone else, that we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and that the perspective we have, is the only one. Much like in the Truman Show, we follow a script that we tell ourselves is necessary, needed and even holy, yet if we are honest, we are really following the script that the world has offered us. It’s easier to simply follow the script that everyone else seems to be reading from, than to ask the harder questions, isn’t it?

To be clear, Jesus isn’t saying that planning for the future and being good stewards with resources is a problem-not at all! The foolishness comes in when we do follow society’s script, thinking is all about us and up to us and we always need more. Protect what you have, worry about something being taken from you, whether it’s money, material possessions, status, power or privilege. Build a bigger barn, bigger walls, to keep it all to yourself. But for what? Is that what life is all about? Is that the story we want for our lives?

But then God interrupts, speaks into the life of the rich man and into our lives. God flips the script if you will, calling us to remember that there is more than just us, more at stake than our own individual futures. Living in God’s demands, in God’s story for our lives, is a revelation of truth, a pulling back of the camera shot to see what is really happening and the truth that God is the author of our lives. God’s story for us is clear: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. God is the one who provides all that we have and is still with us even when we try and go it alone. We are part of a larger story, part of a whole where love for God, love for each other and mutual loving community is the mandate. Through Jesus, God interrupts our regularly scheduled program to reveal to us the work of God’s kingdom, the truth of Christ in us all and in all of creation. The truth of our lives, that Jesus gathers us all together as one people and through Christ we are interconnected, even if we don’t recognize it or like it. Our actions and inactions send ripples through the body of Christ and matter to our neighbor. This is why we must stand up and speak out against the lies that divide us, most notably in recent weeks and months, the lies that propagate racism and white supremacy. The lies that the man in El Paso believed and led him to kill 20 people and injure dozens more must be denounced and brought to the light. We don’t know what lies the shooter in Dayton believed but we can guess that they were powerful. These lies can’t be allowed to masquerade as truth.

In our baptisms we promise to live among God’s faithful people, to be a part of God’s work of reconciliation in the world that is for all people. This means that I must listen to more than myself, I end my monologue and enter into the dialogue, into the story with God and with others. I must die to those things that don’t bring me into mutual connection and life with my neighbor-I need to look out beyond the walls of safety and security I have built up, to see what God sees. When I look at God’s people and God’s creation with the eyes of Christ, I can be rich, generous toward my neighbor and therefore rich and generous toward God. Martin Luther is quoted as having said “God doesn’t need my good works but my neighbor does.” God doesn’t write a script that we have to follow word for word for us to have value, worth and love, we’re not puppets on a string. But God offers us a role, a chance to improv, to help write the story and use our gifts wherever we can to flip the script for other people around us who are caught trying to live by the world’s script and don’t know how to set it down and walk off stage to what God has waiting for them in life through Jesus Christ.

Our lives are being demanded of us this very day, to live into the story of Christ’s love and grace loose in the world. We live in the truth that we and all people are clothed in God’s image of love, renewed by grace and brought into the community of Christ where all lives have meaning, worth and value. The truth of who we are, is how we live. We listen for God and for one another, we plan for the future with God’s mission of radical love in mind, we focus on what matters, we care for people and relationships more than things and we live lives of generosity of time, spirit, gifts, privilege and possessions so that the world may see Christ in us and we may see Christ in the world. This is the truth and the demand of our lives in the life of Christ. Thanks be to God.

 

Weeds, Wheat and God’s Field July 24, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on July 23rd, 2017. You can watch at http://www.bethanylive.org. I personally think that the 10:00 a.m. went better! 🙂

 

Matthew 13:24-30New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears[a]listen!

You’ve perhaps heard the saying that “a weed is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it to.”  Such as a rose bush in the middle of your cucumbers, while beautiful, can seem obtrusive and obnoxious. We like things orderly, rose bushes where rose bushes go and cucumbers where cucumbers go. Then we get this parable this morning about weeds that intrude on wheat. I think on so many levels this parable strikes at the heart of our personal fears. How do I know if I am weeds or wheat?  What about the person sitting next to me in the pew, or at work, or on the train, or my next door neighbor or the person who thinks politically differently from me, are they weeds or wheat? We want to know who’s in the correct place!

We like to think that we can discern between who is doing God’s good work and who is not, or we think that we already know, thank you very much. And it’s always the person who thinks differently from us, or what we might call “wrong” and so we don’t want to be around them. Upon first glance, this parable seems to support this kind of dualistic thinking. Those who are wheat will be gloriously gathered to God in heaven and those who are weeds will be sent to be burned where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those weeds will get what they deserve-punishment. Done. We desperately want to hang our hats on such certainty so that all can be right with the world.  The weeds and the wheat have no business together! God, fix this! Don’t let these weedy people be around me!

It would be very comforting and escapist for us to read this parable with the mindset that this is about some are right and some are wrong. But we know that life and people are not that clear cut and relationships are hard and messy. But mutual relationships with those who are different from ourselves requires us to examine and know ourselves fully. We want or need to believe that God will punish those who deserve it, and if we follow all the rules perfectly, we will be gathered as wheat. Jesus told parables to make the listener of any century do some hard work. But parables are not designed to be taken at face value. The word parable means to “throw alongside.” Jesus throws this parable alongside our daily lives to stop us in our tracks and wrestle with God for a while.

Martin Luther struggled with the dualistic thinking of his time of whom God gathers and whom God throws to the fires. Part of Luther’s genius is his epiphany that we are both wheat and weeds simultaneously and that God will continually forgives us and offers us unending grace. In our Lutheran theology, we proclaim that we are at any given time a weed, or a sinner and wheat, a saint. Sometimes an action that in one setting is saintly, can turn around and be sinful in another setting. And we don’t always even know we’ve done that!  Paul speaks of this as doing the evil he doesn’t want to and not doing the good he wants to do. No matter how we try, we can’t quite hit the mark it seems. But Paul is confident that God will use his (and our) weediness and transform it into wheat.

We desperately want to be wheat and yet, deep down we fear that we are the noxious weed. We project that fear on others-proclaiming them to be weeds, the ones not doing God’s work, the ones not following Jesus, in order to secure our own place in the field as wheat. We fear that if there are too many wheat, that there won’t be room for us. And we do this even in our church community! If I’m using my gifts, then there can’t be room for your gifts, there is only so much room in the field, you know. Our egos like to judge who are weeds and who are wheat. My actions are REALLY serving God, so your actions can’t be. What if there are different kinds of wheat and all can bear good fruit?

We also get hung up on the fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth imagery as some sort of reference to hell but in truth, I think it refers to our inward thoughts on ourselves and others. We can stir ourselves up into a frenzy comparing ourselves to others, judging other people’s decisions and actions, shaking our head at our own decisions and actions that we aren’t proud of and, if any of you have ever been awake at 3 a.m. with all these thoughts going around your head, you know what weeping and gnashing of teeth is all about. It’s that long, dark night of the soul, it’s the constant grudge holding and scorecard keeping that we do with each other. But when you let go of judging, comparing and ego, peace and grace flourish. Not only peace and grace to others, but perhaps more importantly, to ourselves.  We can’t offer others true grace and non-judgment until we can first offer it to ourselves. When we stop holding ourselves up to unrealistic standards of perfection, whether those standards are societal (wealth, health, body image, etc.) or religious (keeping all the commandments, doing whatever religious practices you believe will make you a better Christian) when we let go of that, is when we can truly live in God’s promise that God created us in God’s image and we are enough, more than enough and loved just the way we are. And so is our neighbor, co-worker, and family members even the ones who drive us crazy.

You see, this parable isn’t about who’s in or who’s out. It’s about God and God’s field. God’s field, where all are allowed to grow, no matter what. Weeds and wheat are side by side. What if when we see weeds, God sees wheat? What if we need those who seem planted out of place as we grow in God’s field? In rich diversity, we can hold each other accountable, learn from one another, forgive one another and be authentic community.  Childern’s Sermon: Invite children: cards, change cards, “does it matter who has the label weeds or wheat? Does it matter that we are all together and God loves us? Can we learn from each other, share our mistakes and our learnings to love God and each other even more?”  Explain the sermon notes.

 

The word seminary, means “seed bed.” God’s field, God’s seed bed, is about learning and going deeper into relationship with God and one another. It’s not a fancy theological degree. It’s engaging the world with all the complexity, uncertainty and gray areas through God’s vision.  It’s God’s patience and hope that floods the field, the seed bed, and everyone and everything growing in it, with love, forgiveness and grace freely poured out no matter of our actions, our status or who we think we are, weeds or wheat. We don’t have to worry about judging ourselves or others. God will come to judge, which is different from punishment by the way. Judgement is God’s proclaiming reconciliation of creation and humanity back to Godself in love. Punishment is what we do to ourselves when we try and be God, dividing ourselves out of fear, not looking with love upon our neighbor, judging actions we don’t understand, putting our own needs and wants ahead of others, allowing our ego determine our thoughts and actions.

Jesus understood that this is the human condition. We think that we know more than we do and put more trust in ourselves and our ego than in God. Jesus says, go deeper, go where it’s complex, go beyond black and white thinking, go and confront your ego, your hubris, your arrogance. Go and be confronted by the breathtaking foolishness of God’s love and grace to let weeds and wheat grow together. Audaciously live in the faith and hope of what we cannot yet see, where everyone will be gathered in God’s life-giving kingdom as adopted children of God, unconditionally loved and cared for, where none are left out, all live side by side, and God clothes all in righteousness. Go and recklessly share this reality in whatever part of the field you may live in-give your time and your resources to people not because you think they deserve it, but because God loves them (and you!) and loves the diversity  of all of us growing together in God’s field. Thanks be to God.

 

Who’s afraid of a little Reformation? Oct. 26th, 2014, Year A October 26, 2014

I’m going to share a secret with all of you….we live in a fear based culture. Are you shocked? No? Well fear is everywhere (Ebola anyone?) and we know that fear can also be a great motivator.  Fear can make us prudent and propel us to make good and healthy changes. Fear helps us to remember that we should wash our hands more often or that we should wear our seatbelts. We teach our children to not walk into on-coming traffic, or to not get into a car with someone they don’t know. A little bit of fear can be correcting and provide healthy boundaries. But unfortunately, for humans, if a little bit is good, than we assume that a lot must be better! So our fear spirals out of control until, ironically, fear controls everything that we do.  Fear can have power in our lives that changes our thoughts and behaviors and tells us a false story of who we are in the world.

So what are some of our collective fears? Loneliness, disease, financial struggles, unworthiness, war, death, messing up, rejection, etc. While we tend to think that the things we are afraid of are unique, they are universal aren’t they? We put up a façade to try and mask our fears from others, for “fear” of being seen as unstable, irrational or needy. What are some ways that culture tells us to respond to these fears? Buy more, do more, pretend more, dress in a certain way, food, alcohol, excessive exercise, be a certain shape or size, look a prescribed way, make sure you have enough for yourself, drive a certain car, live in a certain house, etc. The story that fear tells us is that we are alone, we don’t measure up, we must try harder and we must be who others want us to be.

This story of fear obviously isn’t new in the history of humanity. Fear has written stories of wars, words of hurt, self centered decisions, prejudice, and labeling. Fear can override every other emotion in us and cause us to act in a way that is not consistent with whom we actually are. So the question arises, what are we to do with the very real presence of fear in our lives? Fear is probably not going away.

This is the core of what a monk named Martin Luther wrestled with his whole life. He knew the story of fear by heart. He was terrified by the thought that he was not and would never be good enough for God to love him. He was terrified that God did see into his heart and knew that he was a fraud, a deviant, a nothing, a worm. Martin was terrified of his inability to control all of his thoughts, words and deeds. He was terrified that his own shortcomings, lack of knowledge, inabilities separated him from God and that there would never be enough self-flagellation, penance, or prayers to put him in right relationship with God. I know that Martin was not and still is not alone in his terror.

So Luther searched. He searched for anything that might relieve him of this terror and how he could make himself right with God. We tend to think this day as the pivotal moment of church reformation and all about Luther nailing 95 things that ticked him off about the Roman Church. But that event was actually not at all pivotal in Luther’s life or what the reformation was about. The Reformation was not about institutional church. It was about so much more than anything human or earthly. Luther’s pivotal moment came while reading Romans 1:17, which in my Lutheran Study Bible is under the heading “The Power of the Gospel.” Paul writes “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Those words in Romans at first deepened Luther’s terror as he fixated on the “righteousness of God,” and knew he fell short. He even wrote that this passage made him angry at God, as it made God a bully in his mind, just hanging out waiting to condemn us the second we mess up. But then he was struck by the phrase: “the one who is righteous will live by faith.” Luther had what he called a conversion moment (so yes, as a Lutheran we can have conversion stories!) and he realized that faith had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God. Righteousness, being in right relationship with God, had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God. Salvation had nothing to do with him at all-it was a gift from God through God’s son Jesus Christ. None of this was about Luther-it was all about God. It was a story of love and freedom that God had begun at the beginning of time and was continuing to write in Luther and in us all.

This freed Luther from his fear. It allowed the power of the good news of the love of God to transform him, to reform him and allow him to live his life fully in the promises of God. This is the heart of Luther’s reformation. He had this amazing story of good news that fear has no real power in our lives because God freely gives with love the promises of righteousness, grace, mercy and eternal life no matter what we do or say, and he couldn’t keep it to himself. He was freed in his life to do what mattered without fear of the possible worldly consequences of bucking the system, because he had this truth of the promises of God that are more powerful than any earthly promise or truth.

Today we, too, are recipients of this rich story of freedom, promises and transformation. Reformation Sunday is not about how the institutional church changed 500 years ago or about how the institutional church should change now. But it IS about how God is everyday reforming us-the people of God who are the living church in the world-making us new, and calling us to be free to do what matters in the world, without fear. This is the tapestry of God’s story of freedom, mercy, love and desire for relationship with us that weaves through time to all of those who have heard the story and are rooted in the story. The story of God’s grace wove its way through Luther’s life and is weaving its way into our lives and the lives of everyone today and the days to come. This story has power to transform our lives to free us do what matters.

Arianna is affirming her belief in these promises today and she is proclaiming that she is free to live in God’s story as a beloved child of God.  She is affirming that this power of God’s love and grace transforms her life everyday and for the rest of her life. The verse she chose for today is Joshua 1:9, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Wherever her life takes her, God’s story of love and grace are a part of her story forever.

This is what reformation means. Do not fear, do what matters, God is with you always creating you new. How will you live your life free from fear and transformed by the power of God’s promises? How does your story and God’s story weave together in a way that, like Luther, you can’t keep this transformation to yourself but need to let everyone know that God created us in God’s image, God loves us no matter what we do or say, that God meets us in our fear and says I will never leave you and God will transform us each and every day? There is power in this story: power to transform our fears into hope, power to transform me, you and all of creation for the sake of God’s love being revealed to all. Amen