A Lutheran Says What?

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

Don’t Look Away Sermon on Reign of Christ Sunday November 20, 2020

This sermon was proclaimed on Nov. 22, 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 for Christ the King Sunday were:

Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Matthew 25: 31-46

Have you heard of the “red car” phenomena? It goes something like this: You decided that you want to buy a red car, and suddenly, it’s all that you see. You notice how many red cars are in your neighborhood, at work, for sale, etc. This psychology works in all kinds of ways. Once, as a child, I wanted a certain doll and that commercial for the doll was on all the time so I thought that meant I should have it. That is not what that meant, by the way.But something gets your attention and then it’s all that you can see. And once you notice, you can’t unsee it. Often it is positive such as an object that might truly be useful to us and other times, it’s something we wish we had never seen, such as a tragedy. We might think that it’s not good to see those negative situations and try to sweep it under a rug. But often, once we know, it doesn’t just go away. And we all know that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
This year has given us much that we can’t unsee. Things that we didn’t or refused to see before now. We can’t unsee disparity of responses to a deadly disease, where often money was prioritized over health and well-being of people. We can’t unsee communities of color, Native American and immigrant communities ravaged at an alarming rate from COVID19 versus white communities. We can’t unsee low wage workers suddenly become essential or unsee the growing numbers of infected and or the dead stacked up in morgue trailers or put in unmarked graves. We can’t unsee the final straw in institutional racism and white supremacy break as people can’t unsee George Floyd calling out to his mother as he was murdered. We can’t unsee the long lines at food banks, or the people facing losing housing or the effects of climate change destroying communities. And maybe that’s the point.

In our gospel text today, there is a lot going on, and to add more freight to the passage, it’s Christ the King Sunday. As a fairly new liturgical holiday, (and if I’m honest, not my favorite as the “king” language seems a bit patriarchal, colonial and hierarchal and gives me hives) it originated less than 100 years ago by a Pope Pius XI in an attempt to build a coalition of resistance to the rise of fascism he was witnessing in the world. He declared a Sunday (originally in the spring) to be Christ the King or the Reign of Christ Sunday. He was very concerned about what he was seeing with people professing their faith in and allegiance to authoritarian charismatic leaders rather than to God. Or worse, conflating that leader with God’s will. The intent was a Sunday to reflect and confess that God is sovereign and people are not. A day to recalibrate political views and hearts to what God sees and desires for God’s creation. The Pope’s hope, perhaps naïve hope, is that people would see and understand the harm happening and remember that they follow a God of love. It was his attempt to halt what would take place in the 30’s and 40’s with xenophobia, genocide, racism, homophobia, war, and hate, all supported and even sanctioned by many institutional churches. Not all churches, it’s true, but too many stayed silent or spoke out too late against these atrocities. In the end it was clear that the Church was complicit in the suffering and oppression that the church is supposed to alleviate. The Church looked away while 6 million people: Jews, LBGTQIA, refugees and supposed traitors went to death camps. They looked away while whole countries and communities were decimated. They looked away while people went hungry, unclothed, and languished from disease and torture. They look away from the rising black smoke from burning bodies in the crematorium. They looked toward their own comfort, safety, and security. They looked toward proximity to power and authority. They looked to ensure their own future and prosperity. They looked to be their own king in their lives. This is what Pope Pius didn’t want to see.

They forgot, as we do, that they serve a different kind of king, or really the anti-king. A king who renounces his own power and authority, a king who is put to death for boldly hanging out with the powerless and seeking to protect them from suffering, a king who sees the world not for what it can offer him but what he can offer the world. A king who sees the world as it should be, not as it is. Most of the world, particularly those with power and status, clearly didn’t truly see Jesus. To see Jesus is to see the world differently. It’s to look beyond oneself and not look away when harm is being done.

Interestingly, in Matthew 25 neither the sheep nor the goats, knew when they had seen Jesus. They both asked, “When did we see you and when did we not see you?” Jesus simply states that we see Jesus when we see people whom we don’t want or refuse to see. You see, when we see Jesus, we have to see everyone who comes along with Jesus. Jesus was always with the wrong crowd, the authorities said, the people who weren’t considered upstanding members of society, according to arbitrary rules. But it’s those people who Jesus saw, and knew by name. People who have been incarcerated, who live without housing, people on borders shoved together in overcrowded cells, people who suffer from addiction, people with disabilities. We can’t see Jesus and not see the whole community of Jesus. And not just see them, but be in relationship and learn their names, their lives, their wisdom and work together to relieve the suffering of all.

What we forget is that Jesus sees us, too, our wholes selves, each intricate piece of us, the part of us that is a sheep and the part of us that is a goat. Jesus doesn’t want us to be separated into categories or separated within ourselves. Jesus wants us to be whole, to be one, as that is how Jesus sees us-all people and creation-together. Not as sheep or goats, or rich or poor, or hungry or too well fed, healthy or sick. Jesus understands that we all suffer when we separate and categorize one another and ourselves. We languish in our own incompleteness in not recognizing gifts in people whom we assume don’t have anything to offer us. Jesus is an “anti-king” who can give us the vision of how we should see and understand the value not only in ourselves but in all people and the world. Jesus sees and calls us to this God vision.

Yes, it’s hard, yes we will be uncomfortable. It is risky to see the world this way, as it will compel us to act and others may try and separate from us. But that’s what it is to see, be a part of Christ’s reign of fulfilling love and belong to Jesus’ anti-kingdom, it’s to see and belong to the one body of Christ, a living, breathing, acting and loving force that refuses to not look away from who and what matters to Jesus and in Christ’s kingdom and kin-dom. May we only see Jesus.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

Our Piece Sermon On Ruth July 10, 2020

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 11:17 pm
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This sermon was preached on July 12, 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:
Ruth 1: 1-17, 3: 1-5, 4: 13-17

It’s been heartbreaking and perhaps a bit frustrating witnessing and experiencing how our cities, states and nation is wrestling with being community right now. It seems that we are fracturing into several pieces at a time when we need to be cohesive. We know that our actions don’t happen in a vacuum, we know that we impact one another, we want people valued, we want people cared for, we want people to be safe and we want those things for ourselves. We hear the words of Jesus echo in our ears from Matthew 25: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it to me.” As people who follow Jesus, who take seriously the mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves and to lay down our life for our friends, we often ask ourselves, “what does that really look like in my every day life to care for people whom I don’t know, who aren’t like me, and think and live differently from me? What does unity look like when there are so many pieces?” The challenges in our communities loom large and finding common story, identity and unity is paramount.

How we live together as people has been a struggle since, well, there were people! We have lots of examples in the news, history, literature and our own Bible of how it most often goes poorly. But every now and again we get a glimpse of what it looks like to live together well in community and when we see it, we cling to it. Such as the book of Ruth in our biblical witness. The book of Ruth is beloved by both Jewish and Christian believers because it is an example of what living together out of true love, love that God has first shown us, can look like. How people with many different traditions, nationalities, religions and identities bring their pieces together for a vision of a unified future and story.

Our first glimpse of caring community in Ruth occurs when Naomi’s husband and sons die, she and her daughters-in-law are left alone and childless. Naomi decides to return to her homeland that they had fled ten years earlier, because of famine. Naomi’s daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, are Moabites, enemies of the Israelites and would be not welcome in Judah, so she sends them back to their homes-which is the safe and expected thing to do. Orpah goes, but Ruth, stays with Naomi, perhaps recognizing that the older woman shouldn’t be alone in her grief, shouldn’t be alone period. Ruth cared for Naomi more than she worried about her fate as a Moabite in Judah. Ancient tradition didn’t dictate that Ruth had any obligation to Naomi, but she went with her anyway, together is better than alone.

Naomi in turn, realizes that Ruth should be remarried, as in the ancient world, women were protected and only had value in connection with male relatives. Helping Ruth connect and marry Boaz, was a gesture of care that Naomi certainly didn’t have to do either. And then we meet Boaz, who immediately recognized the vulnerability of Ruth, a foreign immigrant, poor widow gleaning food from the fields and gave her protection, extra food and status among his own people. That was also not necessary or expected. But it was the kind and righteous thing to do, Boaz seemed to recognize that anyone in need in the community would impact the community. Ruth and Boaz’s relationship was also unlikely as she was a Moabite. Although we find out that Naomi and Boaz are related, Boaz doesn’t have any obligation to Ruth, and marrying an outsider, was not accepted. But the community seemed to support their marriage as when Ruth gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David, the townswomen offered Naomi the affirmation that Ruth was worth more than seven sons-that alone is remarkable. Ruth’s piece in the community was valued.

People caring for one another’s safety, health and welfare even if we’re not related, are outsiders, different social statuses, is what God desires for us. This story gives us a glimpse of what it looks like when people live God’s commandments out of love and not from fear. When we live from the promises of God’s unwavering, unending and unconditional love, we can live for each other. As we see in this story, it’s actions that connect us to our own humanity that make a difference, such as staying with someone in their grief, offering food to someone in need from our plenty, welcoming and befriending people from different lands, different faiths and different viewpoints. The book of Ruth shows us that our everyday lives rooted in God’s love, can ripple through the community and the generations. These caring people had a piece in God’s larger story of salvation, wholeness and redemption through Jesus. Jesus calls us to offer our piece in the story too, rooting ourselves in God’s love to live in care for others, to show the world that life together in harmony and unity is possible. We are the beloved community.

We, as followers of Jesus, witness that our identity is not who we are as individuals, but our identity is found in whom we belong, God. We do things that might inconvenience ourselves because as part of God’s people, we care for our neighbor who needs us. Right now, we wear masks, we pay attention with our in person interactions and the places we decide to go, we create welcome and care for immigrants and refugees, we listen to voices that are grieving and despondent from death, suffering and injustice. We don’t act or speak from fear, self-interest or scarcity but like the townspeople, offer our voices of affirmation and value for people who typically are not affirmed or valued in our community.

In our baptism, we are set apart to do this work that Jesus calls us to do: to identify with the outcast, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the foreigner, the thirsty, the poor and to care for them as though they were Christ. Jesus knows that when we live in this way, caring for each other today, we are also determining our future. Together, we can write and tell a story of a future, like Ruth, that points to God’s work of collecting the fractured pieces of ourselves today and creating community that is loving, hopeful, safe and unified. And we offer our piece in God’s work so that humanity and creation can be whole. Thanks be to God.

Blessing of the Masks:

You are invited to hold or wear your mask as we bless this object that signifies caring community at this time:

Holy God, throughout history you have provided us with items, knowledge and science that witness to your care and attentiveness to our bodies. You stitched clothing for the first people, you instructed Noah to build an ark, you gave food and water to the Israelites, your Son Jesus, fed 5000 with a few loaves and fishes, healed suffering bodies and minds and he broke bread and poured wine so that we may be one with Christ. These masks are a sign of this oneness, of selfless love and care for our each other. Bless all who wear and all who see them, and may they be a reminder that together, we build a strong community of love and care for all. May your peace that passes all understanding be with us all. Amen.

 

Seen and Heard Sermon on Exodus 16 & 17 July 5, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 5, 2020. We continue in our summer series “I Love to Tell the Story.” It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were Exodus 16: 1-18 and 17: 1-7

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs points out that when your basic needs aren’t being met, food, shelter, clothing and safety, you can’t focus on anything else. We all know this, on a personal level, when you’re extremely hungry or thirsty, the only thing you can focus on is rectifying that situation. When there is hunger and thirst on a community level, an entire group of people are kept in a pattern that doesn’t allow for worry on a collective about the future, education, neighborhood, or anything past survival. Survival becomes the only thing you can think or talk about. And you wonder if anyone sees your needs and hears your cries for the basics of life that others seem to have. You feel invisible. Your focus on these needs might be heard as complaining, which culturally for us in our society is taboo. We are enculturated to not ask for help, that not meeting our own basic needs is a failure and to just push forward no matter the suffering.  We are taught and perpetuate the myth that it is better to not be seen or heard at all, then to be seen or heard as a problem. But the problem with that is that it leads to other problems.

Complaining has such a negative connotation in our culture that we judge and label people who complain. “Oh, that person is just complaining to complain.” Or “they should quit complaining and do something about it.” I know I’ve done it. We think complainers are weak and self-centered, and we certainly don’t want to be labeled that or around those people. When I read our two stories from Exodus for this week, my first thought is “why are the Israelites complaining to Moses and God after being liberated from the Egyptians? It seems ungrateful.” But I then I realized what the Israelites where unhappy about: they were hungry and thirsty. Their basic needs for human existence weren’t being met, they were in the middle of a desert where they couldn’t meet these basic needs themselves, they needed help and they weren’t sure if God really saw them.

The Israelites genuinely wondered what God was up to and if God was perhaps no better than Pharaoh, who had only seen them as free labor with no value. Maybe it’s better to be seen as less than, and have some food, than not seen at all by God in the desert? We might view that as a lack of faith, but again, I will admit to questioning God’s motives or lack of action every now and again too, wondering if God really sees the situation I’m in. Moses’ reaction to the demands of the Israelites is interesting. He takes it very personally and immediately deflects to God by saying, “This isn’t my problem, it’s God’s. Don’t look at me!”

God did look at Moses though, and God saw and heard the Israelites. God saw and heard their grumblings and didn’t chastise them, didn’t become annoyed, but instead said yes, I will give them what they ask for, bread from heaven, quail from the sky and water from a rock and even more, they will see the glory of God. God wanted them to know that God saw them for who’s they were-God’s. And God will give them what they need to survive, acknowledging that basic needs are a reality, not a nicety. And God gave them agency to gather their own food, to have a part in the provision. God doesn’t just give charity, God gives empowerment and dignity. God looked to Moses to provide leadership, God looked to the people to share, and God looked to the people to keep moving. God showed the Israelites to keep looking and listening for God who will meet their needs in unexpected ways.

Being seen and heard is a basic human need as much as food and water. The Israelites wanted to know that they mattered to God and so do we. Admitting that I have needs isn’t a lack of faith, it’s an act of bold faith that as someone created in God’s image, as someone with dignity and worth, these needs should be met. It’s a proclamation that if I have value and worth to be seen, heard and responded to by God, then other people do too. It’s a statement that the needs of our bodies do indeed matter, each body, are gifts that God promises to provide for. God does indeed provide, and not just for some individuals, but for the whole community. All the Israelites were included, all had what they needed.

God calls people such as Moses to lead and work with God to provide for the needs of the people. God calls to us to see, hear and act for the needs of our neighbors, their reality of what their bodies need for health, safety and life. Right now, many people are crying out for basic needs, to be seen and heard. They are crying out for us to act. We show that we see, hear and act for the care of our neighbor and to show that their bodies matter, when we wear a mask, when we say “no” to harm being done, when we protect our clean drinking water sources, when we ensure that food is not hoarded but shared, when we work to ensure fair pay for essential workers, for health care for those without, for human and civil rights for those denied, creating spaces for people who are disabled, and when we hear the words of Jesus in our ears: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it to me.” We meet basic needs, when we see Christ in people whom we dislike, fear or don’t understand. When we see and hear each other as God does, we will act how God does, for the sake of people hungry and thirsty for food, water, grace, mercy and justice. Amen.

 

Risking it all-Matthew 25:14-30 Nov. 16, 2014 November 17, 2014

Filed under: sermon,Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 3:57 am
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(This is the sermon I preached at the first worship service this morning, 11-16. The second worship service went, well, differently…)

I posted this question to my Facebook page about risk-risks you’ve taken and how did it go, and what’s the one risk you wish you had taken. I had several responses in the course of a few minutes! It was crazy how the conversation about risk just kept going! Over 20 diverse people (from all walks of life, professions and denominations) told me about the risks of vocational decisions, moving, leaving harmful situations, marriage, having children, changing one’s mind about something, divorce and leaving family and friends. Risk is a part of life. They commented that these things were HARD. These weren’t calculated risks like which carpet to choose but risks that altered the way they lived their daily lives. Yet, I didn’t hear one person regret a risk that they actually followed through on. Some even commented that the risk they took that initially felt and looked like failure (such as their divorce) turned out to be a meaningful step to wholeness and joy. The only regret talked about was for risks not taken.
Risk is often an invitation to something that we’ve never done before or to think differently about our lives and the world around us. When we take a risk, when we step out beyond our fears, we are stepping into a vision that is bigger than ourselves. We are stepping into a vision that is beyond what we can imagine, explain or fully grasp. Many people on the FB conversation pointed to the fact that it was because of risk that they took, they grew, they were transformed and they now live with people differently. Risk is an acknowledgment that maybe there’s more than what we can presently see. The apostle Paul names this in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, as seeing in mirror, dimly. We don’t know exactly where the risk will take us, only that it will indeed move us from where we are now.
Risk also forces us to explore who were really are and often forces us to redefine what success means for us. When you are uncertain about the future, you begin to know more about yourself, your identity, your gifts, and your short-comings. Success, in the face of risk, ceases to be measured in dollars earned, our title or position but takes on a quality of being true to who we are. Success becomes about living out of our gifts and passions and not into material things. Taking risks also makes us vulnerable and exposed to judgment, and yet, often risk connects us with others around us in ways that are not possible when we shelter ourselves and don’t step out into the unknown. Risk drives us to community-finding other risk takers for partnership on the journey. The conversation of risk brought 20 people (many who don’t know each other) into honest conversation about risk and the reality of fear.
Matthew’s community would have been wrestling with risk. Things would not have been easy for these early Christians. Their risk was not about being given a funny look when they mentioned their church or Jesus in the grocery store line or at a dinner party(as it is for us) but risk was that their community could dissolve at any time, they could be arrested and put to death for their belief in this radical God who risked everything to be with humans, who hung out with the unclean and the criminals, who spoke truth to power, who gave up life on a cross to show forgiveness, mercy and love, and who was resurrected to break the barriers of death and despair.
Matthew places this story about three slaves right before Jesus begins his journey to the cross and uses it to turn the definitions of success and risk on its head for his community and for us. Matthew is making the point that the greatest risk with this precious story of the love of Jesus Christ, is to bury it and not do anything. The greater risk is to do nothing, accept the status quo, be safe and be sure that no one is inconvenienced or uncomfortable. Matthew doesn’t spend a lot of time on the first two slaves other than to point out that their only reward is more work in the master’s realm and they have the joy of relationship with the master. But Matthew spends some time telling us about the third slave and his issues. The third slave proclaims his fear of the master but really that fear is about himself. In his fear, he couldn’t see beyond himself or see a bigger picture outside of his own perspective. He was afraid to fail and so did nothing. In the doing nothing, he had already failed.
Matthew knew that his community had been given much already. They had received the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, they had each other for support to live their identity as beloved children of God and they had all of this in abundance. They were people who had absolutely nothing to lose and by living their daily lives proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in their neighborhoods and towns, the world had everything to gain. God’s abundance is to be shared and not buried underground. Yet, it seems fear was rampant in this early Christian community. Fear was overtaking the joy of living in relationship with God and with one another.
What is it for us here as the gathered community of LCM to live in the joy in our relationship with God and each other? Like Matthew’s community, we have been given much. We, too, have been given freedom from sin and death, freedom from worrying about messing up, unconditional love, we have been given our core identity as a child of God, we have been given each other, this gathered community, no matter what time you worship, for deepening our faith, caring for each other and the neighborhood. God has provided us everything we need to risk sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. We know that we are called to take this risk: we know that we will not be comfortable, we might be afraid, we know that our risk might seem like failure, and we know that success in God’s kingdom is nowhere near the same as the worlds.
While we here at LCM, may not risk our physical lives to proclaim the gospel, we are living in a time not unlike the early church. The culture and society around us is suspect of Christianity and Christians. We believe crazy stuff like unconditional love from God, resurrection from the dead and eternal life, forgiveness for all, the primacy of community and living one’s life for their neighbor, and caring for those whom society neglects. Living out our core identity as followers of Jesus Christ, makes us different than the rest of the world. It means decentering our personal preferences, it means we gather with other to read and wrestle with ancient texts that still speak truths, we serve and care for those in need daily, we truly believe that continuing the ministry that Jesus began of revealing God’s love to the world makes a difference. Following Jesus means risking not being popular, risking not being comfortable, risking not worrying about ourselves, risking being part of a community that will change us, risking that we will no longer be who we were before we began the journey. But in that risk is the deep joy of being who God created us to be. It turns out that living from a place of deep joy in the life of God with the people of God is the definition of success the world needs to hear.
God has trusted us with much in God’s kingdom. God calls us to be faithfully risky with the treasure of God’s unconditional love, grace and God’s vision of success for the world. We are called to be faithful-not perfect. We are free to do whatever is necessary: love with great risk, share generously with great risk, offer peace with great risk, connect to the neighborhood with great risk, or whatever God calls us into participation with her. It will transform us, not leave us the same, move us beyond ourselves and our own preferences, deepen our faith yet fill us with joy. Thanks be to God.