A Lutheran Says What?

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

Rock Bottom Sermon Matthew 21: 33-46 October 2, 2020

This sermon was preached on Oct. 4, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 80:7-15
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21: 33-46

I have had the experience a few times in my life of hitting rock bottom. Now, realize that is perhaps not as dramatic as it sounds. That term has some strong connotations in our culture, mostly associated with the disease of addiction, but Fr. Richard Rohr notes that as a culture as whole, we are a very addictive people and discusses the 12 Steps from AA and spirituality. We’re all addicted to something, whether it’s work, diet coke, food, tv, social media, exercise, shopping, doomscrolling, there is something that each of us does that keeps us from perhaps healthier pursuits. For many, it’s mostly an eccentricity and doesn’t interfere with daily life, but every now and again, we all reach a point with a situation that causes us to realize that we aren’t managing very well. That’s hitting rock bottom. It’s being crushed and broken open to see something truthfully and to acknowledge that something has to change.  One time, for me, it was the recognition that I needed to lose the weight I had gained from having three children, to be healthier. Our youngest was medically fragile and after his first surgery at seven months old, I hit rock bottom in realizing that he would need care his whole life and I needed to be around as long as possible. I hit rock bottom and knew I had to change. So I began to eat differently, exercising differently and got healthier, to take care of Ben. I saw my life differently than I did to before, and changes were needed. After admitting this was true, I was broken open to do and live in a new way. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was living out the first principle in AA’s 12 step program: to admit that we are powerless [over alcohol] and our lives have become unmanageable. We can’t simply go the way we are and be healthy.

In our reading this week, Jesus continues his occupation of the Temple and confrontation with the chief priests and elders. He tells them another parable, offers a scripture from Psalm 118 and has stinging words for these supposed leaders. Jesus is laying down some harsh truths. In the parable, the tenets were supposed to care for the land, collaborate with the landowner, give the servants of the landowner the fruits of the land and their labor, for the landowners use. But the tenets became unmanageable, they forgot that none of the land, the produce was theirs. It all belonged to the landowner. They harmed and killed the servants of the landowner, addicted to their own power and authority. The landowner then sent his own son thinking that might manage the situation, but they threw him out and killed him too. They only cared about their own wealth, status, wants and future. They didn’t even realize that they were unhealthy and unmanageable. They thought they had it all under control, they didn’t realize that they were really hitting rock bottom.

Jesus knew that the chief priest, the elders and the pharisees would simply keep operating the way they always had, rejecting anyone who challenged their power and authority, getting rid of them, debasing or discrediting them. They were addicted to their own power and authority like the tenets. They didn’t even know how unmanageable and unhealthy they were, not only for themselves, but for everyone else too. Lie the tenets as well, they forgot that their work was not for them but for God and God’s people. Jesus knew that they would have to be broken by the reality of God’s kingdom, hit rock bottom, in trying to manage it all themselves as if it was their kingdom.

We’re not different than those chief priests, elders and pharisees, here in 2020. We think that we can manage it all, the way we always have, we just need to keep complete control, try harder, grab on to whatever we can, discard anyone and anything that challenges us. But we can’t manage it all and we are hitting rock bottom. We are being crushed by the truth and reality that we aren’t in control, that nothing is really ours, and we have to work together and with God for anything of value and worth to be produced. We can’t continue to abuse God’s creation, the earth, and use up all of her resources. We can’t continue to dump millions of tons of plastic into our oceans, we can’t continue to ignore climate change that brings the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever, weeks to months of no rain in other places, wildfires that destroy ecosystems, livelihoods, and lives. We can’t continue to not deal directly with COVID19, to make compassionate decisions for others. We can’t continue to sit in our white privilege while our siblings of color are harmed and killed by oppressive and unjust systems. We can’t continue to think that we are managing all of this, because we’re not.

But we aren’t supposed to manage everything. Jesus knows that we will hit rock bottom and be crushed, we will realize that we are powerless, and our lives are unmanageable the way they are. But in being broken we can be transformed. Our broken pieces can be rebuilt on the Holy One who is the foundation and owner of the heavens and the earth and all that is in it. When we hit rock bottom, when we admit that we are broken and powerless, God is there. God sent Jesus to be the foundation, the cornerstone that transforms, rebuilds and renews us in love. This is when we produce fruits of the kingdom, when we are broken open and can admit that it’s not about us, but it’s about what God needs from us for the flourishing of all creation and humanity. Jesus, the cornerstone, the first fruits of God’s reality of eternal life, comes to us over and over with this invitation from our brokenness to produce fruits of the kingdom: care, love, forgiveness, mercy and hope. We hit rock bottom, and in our breaking find that we fall into God’s wholeness.

You are loved. You are beloved. Go and be love. Amen.

 

We Are Shaken Sermon for Palm Sunday April 5, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on April 5, 2020, Palm Sunday in Holladay, UT. You can view it on YouTube: our channel name is Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts:
Isaiah 4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Phil. 2: 5-11
Matthew 21: 1-11

Today’s gospel reading of Jesus entering Jerusalem certainly seems like a far-fetched concept these days to us. Where our streets are eerily desolate, empty and quiet, the streets of Jerusalem in our Matthew passage are crowded, chaotic and cacophonous. There were people shouting “Hosanna!” which transliterated from Hebrew means “Save us now!” and waving palm branches, laying down cloaks on the road with the branches to welcome Jesus. Jesus was in the middle of this crush of people as they made their way into the heart of the city. It will be a long time before we see anything that might resemble such a parade.

This is a day where we too would typically have palm branches, sing “Hosanna!” with the children and choir processing in parade fashion. But the sanctuary is quiet and we are at home. While it seems that our experience is the complete opposite of what was happening in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, in reality they are very much the same. We read that the city of Jerusalem was in turmoil, and that word turmoil in the Greek is the same word that we encounter in Matthew 27:51 for the earthquake that occurred at the time of Jesus’ death and for the earthquake in 28: 2 that rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb. The earth shook at the arrival, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our lives are similarly shaken.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was revealing the truth of who he was and who God is in relationship with humanity and creation. Jesus entering Jerusalem revealed the truth that there was no going back to the good old days of wandering the countryside, healing, teaching, feeding, and praying. There was no going back to what to the disciples, must have looked like Jesus in control of the situation. Jesus knew that there was no going back and went head on into the crisis and chaos of betrayal, isolation, and death. Jesus also went head on into the heart of the matter, to the people to dispel the human illusions of security, power and control, to point to God at work redeeming, saving and loving humanity even when it seemed all was lost. Jesus went forward in the confidence and trust of God’s presence, even when he was scared, even when he suffered, even when he died.

We too have entered into turmoil and are shaken. The earth beneath us all has shifted, literally in the past two weeks with the earthquake in Magna, as well as emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically for us with the pandemic. Our whole world, experiences and lives has been shaken up, turned upside down and changed forever. We long to go back to just a few short weeks ago, when we could be together without fear of illness, when we could get toilet paper anytime we wanted, when we could keep travel plans, when we could have a sense of security, do whatever we pleased and had, we thought, control over our lives. But we’ve learned in the past few weeks any sense of control, comfort, security and autonomy were illusions. What’s been revealed to us is deep global interconnectedness, that there is much we don’t and can’t control and what we place security in: finances, work, material goods, health aren’t guaranteed and are fleeing at best. What’s been revealed is what truly matters when the ground beneath us is shifting and unsteady.

This is where Jesus indeed enters in. Jesus enters into our turmoil, hears our cries of “Save us now!” and comes to us and reveals to us God’s mercy, peace and tenderness when everything seems chaotic and hopeless. Jesus enters, not as a worldly king wielding words of quick fixes, placating comforts, self-serving assurances or blame, no, Jesus enters as a king whose kingdom offers actions of humility, servanthood and selflessness. Jesus incurs risk, suffering and death to enter the turmoil of humanity to reveal that there is more, there is hope, there is healing, there is light and there is life. God is at work all the way to the cross.

As the people of God, we go forward despite turmoil, chaos, despair and fear, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, lifting our palms in confidence, in trust and in love. We lift our palms to sweep back the curtain of the illusions of security,  control, comfort and autonomy to reveal that those things were never going to save us. We can’t go back to what was, we know too much, we’ve seen too much. We go forward toward what we know, lifting our palms to what does save us: God’s promises of being with us in suffering, walking with us in fear and at work in the darkest nights for the dawn of new life. New life that will be like nothing we have experienced before, new life that ushers in God’s kingdom where true security is found in doing what is beneficial for our neighbor, in sharing power, in letting go of control, in getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and in proclaiming radical, equalizing, unifying, ego-destroying, sacrificial and earth shaking grace and love. Amen.

 

What Fits? Homily on Matthew 21: 1-9 December 7, 2015

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*The text for this homily is Matthew 21: 1-9 and Romans 13: 11-14. This sermon was part of a vespers Bach cantata worship service at Bethany Lutheran Church on Dec. 6th, 2015.

 

We live in a world where things don’t always seem to fit. I often feel this is highlighted in this season of Advent or what our culture has been celebrating since October: Christmas.  We are told by Lexus, Target, Walmart, and every other retailer in the world that this time of year is magical. Christmas is magical. All around is a Silent Night. Idyllic scenes of snow, peaceful and happy families gathered around a fireplace sipping coffee or hot cocoa, laughing and opening just the perfect gift. This is the picture that we are all sold in this season and we buy it hook, line and sinker.

But it doesn’t jive with our reality. Reality where in-laws don’t always get along; children don’t play nicely together, expensive gifts are not possible, beloved family members are missing for a variety of reasons, disease makes it impossible to feel hopeful, people are killed while at a work holiday party, or at school or while at a concert. Things just don’t fit how we think they should. The season seems off, not quite what we have built it up to be in our minds or what the world wants us to think it should be.

The Matthew 21 reading struck me as not quite fitting in with this season of Advent, or really almost Christmas and our other winter festive themes. You see in our modern Church year, this reading comes on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It’s Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem right before Passover, right before he is killed on a cross as an enemy of the state. This is not the pastoral scene of young parents welcoming their sweet baby boy that we are used to hearing in December. But you see, this gospel reading was the scripture that Bach would have heard at Advent. This would be the biblical passage for those in attendance in worship. The people would be expecting the juxtaposition of Jesus final coming to the holy city as they prepared for Jesus’ coming to the world-God incarnate, made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us.

The crowds in Matthew 21 shouting Hosanna, which means “Save us now!” are not the cries of Merry Christmas or caroling choirs that we expect. But I wonder if the words “Save us now!” shouted to Jesus as he rode in on a lowly donkey are exactly what we need to hear today-even if it seems to not fit. Unlike other worldly leaders, Jesus was entering Jerusalem amidst fanfare but not as a typical celebrity or king. Jesus, as God dwelling among us, didn’t fit what the Jewish people thought of as a messiah and certainly didn’t fit the Roman Empire’s version of a leader. Unlike a worldly king, Jesus came to humanity not to demand service but to serve. Jesus entered into the world not to point to himself but to God. Jesus entered the world not to conquer the world with violence but to conquer our hearts with God’s unconditional love. Jesus entered the world not to judge but to forgive. None of that fit with what the people knew of a messiah and a king.

But they also knew that how they were living, didn’t fit, either. They were broken, lonely, stressed out, sick, hurting, oppressing one another, killing one another and the only words they had were “Save us now!”  We also know today that how we are living, doesn’t fit. We know that we are created for more than what the world tells us. We are created to be more than consumers, more than taxpayers, more than medical patients, more than lonely people, more than political affiliations, more than whatever label others try to put on us. We are created in God’s image, we are created as God’s beloved people and we know that doesn’t fit with who we are today.

So maybe the words “Save us now!” are the perfect fit for this Advent season. Maybe the words “Save us now!” are exactly the prayer and the cry of our hearts as one people of God. Save us now from brokenness, save us now from fear, save us now from isolation, save us now from division and save us now from anything that separates us from you, God and your eternal and unconditional love through Jesus Christ.

Jesus entering the world didn’t fit the world’s plan, but it fit God’s plan. God promises to enter into our daily lives no matter how broken or how much we think we don’t fit into God’s plan. Through Jesus’ entering into the world through human birth, human suffering, human death and divine resurrection, God proclaims to us this Advent season that we all fit. We all fit into God’s very life and heart. We fit into the work that God is doing to save not just us but all people and all of creation. We fit into God’s plan of life and love forever. Hosanna, save us now, are the very words we need this Advent season. Amen.