A Lutheran Says What?

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

Signs of Life Sermon for Lent 1B February 19, 2021

This sermon was preached for the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 21, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please subscribe!

The texts were:

Genesis 9: 8-17
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 9-15

It was riveting to watch the Mars Rover, Perseverance, land this week. The joy of the Nasa and JPL crew was palpable as the rover transmitted first pictures of the surface of the red planet. The rover projected a barren terrain: only sand and rocks, no plant life, trees, lakes, or rivers. The mission is to determine if life is possible or was ever possible on Mars, as currently, it appears that there are no signs of life to be found. But the recent discovery of the possibility of water, 4 million years ago in the Jezero Crater, opens the door and the imagination to dig deeper, literally, into the sand and rocks, to see if life is indeed present and possible. This most certainly captures my imagination, as if there is life on Mars, it will be unlike anything we have ever seen. The possibility exists of life and we might miss it because it will be so foreign to us and outside our scope of experience. This scientific mission names a truth for us on this planet earth. I often only take in at face value the surface of the terrain around me, whether that’s the actual earth, which at this time of year seems to be as lifeless as Mars, or my day-to-day encounters with people and places. I don’t take the time, possess the curiosity or have the imagination to wonder about what I don’t understand and what I don’t know. I make assumptions about situations and people sometimes writing them off as lifeless, useless, and arid. I assume that there is nothing life-giving able to come from that place or relationship. I don’t dig deeper; I don’t allow for the possibility for my mind to be changed. I believe that what I see, is all there is to see. Only sand, only rocks, only snow, only barrenness.

Lent beginning at the end of winter, when most life is dead or hibernating, is not simply a happy coincidence. Lent was wisely ascribed by the religious folks to begin the six weeks leading up to Easter, when signs of life are harder to find. And the texts that we encounter in worship, call us to dig deeper, go beyond the surface terrain and look under the rocks, dig in the sand, and the see past the barrenness to see signs of new life. Every first Sunday of Lent we read about Jesus in the desert. Each version from Matthew, Mark and Luke are slightly different, offering a myriad of insights, but Mark’s our reading today, and it is the briefest, two verses. After Jesus is baptized (also a brief version) the Holy Spirit drives Jesus, or literally in the Greek, throws Jesus into the wilderness or the desert. He’s tested by Satan, is with some wild beasts and the angels who erve him. This story would have been much kinder and easier to digest if it went right from Jesus’ baptism with the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and the loving words from God, to Jesus proclaiming that God’s kingdom is here, turn around and believe in the good news! But that’s not what we have. In between those two stories, Jesus is thrown into a dangerous place where few people could survive. No water, no food, no shelter, only sand, rocks and the blazing Middle Eastern sun. Not a very hospitable place for life. Yet, Mark adds the detail that there are wild beasts there. So, there is apparently SOME life to be found. And if that isn’t enough, the angels are there too, serving Jesus, that is to care for his life. Despite Satan’s attempts to prove otherwise, there were signs of life in that wild place. Maybe not the life that Jesus would have preferred, or the kind of life that brings comfort and ease, but it was life finding a way against all odds.

This is the good news that Jesus then proclaims in Galilee. Yes, John is arrested and most likely will be killed, yes, you might be surrounded by desert, death, lifelessness, hopelessness, but God’s kingdom is also here! God’s kingdom is the sign of life that you are looking for! It’s life that meets you at the waters edge, in the cold, parched, and dead places in your life, in suffering, in hopelessness and helplessness. God never gives up on revealing abundant life, over and over God chooses life. God creates life from the chaos of the void, calls forth life from a flood, gives life to God’s people in the desert for 40 years, God offers a new life to the exiles, and in Jesus, God proclaims that death will not abound for humanity or creation only life eternal.

God sends signs of life: The bow in the clouds, manna on the ground, water from a rock, a sprig from the dead stump of Jesse, a baby in a feeding trough, God’s son on a cross and a tomb that is empty. Not always the signs we look for or can understand but signs of life, nonetheless. Signs of God’s promise of life are all around us today: people volunteering to give vaccines, Navy pilots rescuing sea turtles in TX, animals keeping their humans warm in subzero temps, people serving their neighbors who live on the streets in the bitter cold, hospital staff working overtime to heal broken bodies, voices in unity demanding equity and dignity for Black, Indigenous and LBGTQIA folks, there are signs of life.

Jesus calls us to be God’s signs of life in the world. We are part of the promise that life finds a way even when it seems impossible. Drenched in the life-giving waters of our baptism and nourished by Jesus’ very body, we are walking, breathing, loving signs of life. We are signs of life when we refuse to allow any person be denigrated, we are signs of life when we ensure that children and families have safe and adequate housing, food and medical care, we are signs of life for MillCreek Elementary families, we are signs of life for Family Promise guests and Linus Project children, we are signs of life when we realize that we can’t sit silently on the shoreline, we have to get into the water, we go into the desert, not alone but by and with the Holy Spirit and each other to usher in the life that God has envisioned from day one of creation. Life in harmony, life in balance, life abundant and life for all. It’s risky to be those signs of life, like the Mars Rover, we might feel like we’re being hurtled through space towards an unknown future. But unlike the Mars Rover we know that we go with God and one another and God knows what’s coming: God’s realm where signs of life aren’t hard to see but are abundantly found, in creation, in you, in me and in us all. Amen.

 

It’s Raining Sermon on Noah and the Promise June 14, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 14, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The text was Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18, 8: 1-12, 9: 8-13

“When it rains it pours” the old saying goes. And it feels to me like it has been pouring for a long time. And every time I think that there might be a break in the clouds, another storm moves in. So much rain all the time can be wearying. I’m from Seattle and lived in OR for many years, and day after day of rain and clouds is just the norm about nine months out of the year. So you start to look for any glimpses of sun. The meteorologists called them “sun breaks.” They would give you time frames during the day when you might see some sun so that you could go out and soak it in, or get your kids outside for a bit. Usually, the window was narrow, just a couple of hours, and it could be easy to miss.

For the past few months, it’s been pouring down rain with few sun breaks. I feel as though I’m drowning in information, crisis, emotions and worries and I’m not sure I’m that great a swimmer. When the pandemic hit, we all scrambled making decisions based on preliminary data and sorting out experts from opinions. And we’re still doing that nearly four months in because, it turns out, we’ve never seen this virus and we have no idea what the short term or let alone long term consequences of COVID 19 might be. How many will die? Who will have complications with limited quality of life? And how long will nearly 20% of our working population be unemployed? What about those with no health insurance or savings?
Then we had an earthquake, because, well, why not, and then something about murder hornets that never fully materialized, but the super volcano at Yellowstone stepped in nicely into that anxiety void.  And the strongest cyclone on record devastated the Bay of Bengal, reminding us of the earth’s fragility. And then the murder of George Floyd nearly three weeks ago, pulled the curtain back on centuries of the oppression and devaluing of black and brown bodies on this continent and sparked a movement of people of all colors proclaiming that this will no longer be accepted. And with the backdrop of these global and national events, everyday challenges continue for many us: chronic illnesses, broken relationships, isolation from family and family events canceled, and more. It just keeps raining.

The truth is that this pandemic has made us all look up and see the weather for what it is. It’s been raining, flooding for many people for a long time before the pandemic and the water levels have now risen to a point where we can no longer ignore the little bit of water seeping into the basement from time to time, such as we remember the Emanuel 9 martyrs from five years ago this week, and the 49 people killed at the Pulse nightclub massacre four years ago this week. The water is rising, and the foundation is now under water and we can see that we need to either learn to swim, get some life preservers, or build an ark. The truth is that we can’t do any of things on our own. Trying to do things on our own is what has led to this flood. We keep trying to just bail out just enough water until we’re comfortable again. But the water isn’t going away, and we feel aimlessly adrift.

The flood narrative in Genesis 6-9 has many layers to it but the truth of this story that again, has many counterparts in other ancient near east cultures, is that God acts in the flood, with the water, for new life and mercy. Yes, God does allow the flood to come, and yes, it’s very hard to think about all the people and living creatures who drowned, and we tend to gloss over that part. We need to name that this part of God’s action in the story is uncomfortable and incongruent perhaps with how we want God to act. God decides to save a few humans, whom we assume are better than us, but as we learn later, turn out to be typical messy people, and a sampling of every living creature. God shuts them into the dark, damp and smelly ark where they float on top of the flood waters for 40 days while the rains pour down. Then God remembers them, now this doesn’t mean that God forgot them, no not at all. In Hebrew literature, divine remembering is God being moved to act with compassion. God acts on behalf of the living creatures and sends God’s own breath, Spirit, ruah, drying the land, sets them on top of the mountain and after a total of 190 days, lets them out. I’m sure the people had begun to wonder if they were ever going to survive the flood themselves, if they were going to drown or what would happen when the flood was over.

The people and the animals entered into a new world. God had decided to create again,  and for Noah, his family and the creatures, it was a second chance, God offered them new life.  God recognized that the destruction of the flood isn’t the only way to create new life, and so God offered a covenant, a promise to act on the behalf of people and creatures in new way going forward. God placed a bow in the sky as a sign of this promise, and the word for bow, is for the weapon, bow and arrow. But God takes something that is used to harm and made it a multi-colored promise for new life with all creatures and creation. No matter how much rain comes, no matter how high the flood waters get, God will act with compassion, mercy and love, for us all, this is the truth in which we can place our faith and hope. God’s promise of life destroys death.

It’s raining beloved in Christ, and the flood waters are rising. God is calling us to imagine what this flood might be washing away and what new life is springing forth. God is washing away systems of racism, white supremacy, homophobia, violence and hate to bring forth new life that honors diversity, inclusion of all as created as divine, beloved and interconnected. God is acting on our behalf, and we need to step out of our arks of safety that we’ve created for ourselves to see the new creation that God is revealing, to see the rainbow, the promise that God, through Jesus, wraps us in mercy and love. We see the sun breaks, where the storm clouds work with the light to create something astonishing and gorgeous. It’s raining and the Son shines through. Amen.

 

Insurance, Mayhem and What God Sees Sermon for Affirmation of Baptism Sunday June 2, 2019 June 9, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts were chosen by the two youth affirming their baptism.

Genesis 6:11: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”

Matthew 6: 25-34:

Children’s time: What God sees.

I have worn these glasses since I was 11. They help me to see things far away and up close. Without them, I can’t see important things, like you! What are other objects that help us to see things more clearly? Yes, binoculars, telescopes, all help us to see God’s universe, near and far! We might miss seeing something unique and interesting! Well, these Bible passages read by Aidan and Katie today remind me of what God sees and wants us to see. The Genesis text seems a little hard to hear but when you put it with the Matthew text where Jesus says not to worry, we remember that it’s a good thing that God sees the hard stuff in our lives too. Good sees it all as God created it! In Genesis 1, the very beginning of the Bible, we read the creation story and every time God created something God said what? Do you remember? Is there an adult who remembers? Yes! God saw that it was Good! And when God created humans, God said that we were “very good!” God loves what God has created. God sees us as good and doesn’t want us to be hurt or unkind to one another. In the Genesis verse, people were being unkind and hurting one another and hurting the earth. God saw this and didn’t look away but knew that something had to change. This is the beginning of the Noah’s Ark story or the great flood. Now we know that the people saved were Noah and his family as well as all those animals. And when the flood was over, God sent a rainbow to let the people and animals know that they didn’t have to worry about another flood-this was a promise from God that this wouldn’t happen again. But we still worry don’t we? What do you worry about? That’s what Jesus is talking about in the Matthew story. When we worry about flooding, we worry about what to eat, drink or wear, we are worrying and seeing only ourselves. But Jesus reminds us that by not worrying, we can know that God sees us, God loves us and thinks we are very good. When we stop worrying-we can see God’s love and care all around us! the flowers bloom each year, how the birds are fed, people who care for us. We don’t have to worry about is being alone, or being afraid as God promises to be with us no matter what-even if there are scary things happening or we don’t know where food or clothing might come from. God promises good for us because we are precious to God. And Jesus tells us that if we look, we can see God’s love and care all around us, even if we don’t have a telescope! I have a blessing for you today: +You are God’s precious joy+

 

What are things that you worry about? I’m a worrier: mostly about silly things I can’t control-especially at 2 a.m. It seems everywhere we look there are reasons to worry in our community and throughout the world. Now it might seem prudent to worry about somethings such as our health, retirement, our children, as this worry can lead us to make sound choices today that we think will ensure a certain type of outcome for tomorrow, and some of these choices are a good thing! But we think that our worrying, will create some sort of guarantee of controlling outcomes-like an insurance policy that covers us. This is the heart of the insurance industry-isn’t it? I love that one commercial with the man who personifies “mayhem.” In one commercial a car owner is at a football game and gets a facetime call from Mayhem who informs the man that he is about to steal his car. All the car owner can do is watch helplessly as this happens. The company is wanting you to worry about mayhem and then claim that you can protect yourself from it with their policy. Maybe you can a bit, but truth is that mayhem is simply part of life and no insurance policy can totally protect you from it.

We don’t like to think about that reality too often as it leads to anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. But what do we do when that reality smacks us right where we live? When it’s more than just our car being stolen or our she-shed burning down. What about when it’s something a bit more substantive such as a loved one dying, a scary diagnosis, a long term relationship ending, or more systematic challenges such as lack of healthcare, climate change, wars, immigration crisis, racism or as was lifted up at the Utah Pride Interfaith Worship service, the reality of violence against those who are LBGTQI or on the margins of any kind. It’s mayhem, it’s violent and God sees it all.

But we have this God that doesn’t just watch from a distance, the Bette Midler song is incorrect. God is watching us but not from a distance, God is watching us up close and personal. All up in our grill as the kids say. We are all precious to God, so much so that God doesn’t leave us alone in the mayhem-even when it’s of our own doing. God doesn’t judge the mess-God comes down into it. That’s the scandal of Jesus. Jesus comes to us in our mess-acknowledges it and doesn’t try and explain it away. You see, the words in Matthew 6 can seem a bit Polly Anna-don’t worry! And we say, that’s easy for you to say Jesus, your well, Jesus! God’s son! And yet, we need to remember that the very human Jesus was an itinerant preacher, he relied on other people to support him-he lived in what we would consider a bit of a commune. Jesus knew that he couldn’t control the outcome of day to day life. And Jesus knew his mission-to reveal the truth of the radical, life-transforming grace and love of God is the promised outcome for the world. That world that would soon kill him for this message that breaks systems of mayhem and violence. The powers and authorities knew that worry of mayhem and violence keep the masses in line-after all, if you’re so busy making sure that no one takes your stuff, encroaches on your turf, or gets more than you then you don’t notice the powers and authorities taking advantage of your fear and worry. They want you live in the falsehood that the outcome of not worrying and protecting yourself was death. But freeing people from worry of mayhem, violence and death, would mean that people wouldn’t be afraid-they would live differently. They would live not only looking out for what’s best for them, but would be free to care about their neighbor and the world. To be clear, not worrying isn’t about not planning for the future, but it IS about not being afraid to live fully as who you are as a beloved child of God TODAY and delighting when other people do the same!

God sees the entire world: the good and the bad and loves it and us too much to leave us alone in it. Through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, normally today we would be celebrating Ascension Sunday, God acts to destroy violence and death in the. God acts to bear joyous life and calls us to see and also bear this life, abundant life, even in the midst of harm, fear and violence. Goodness and life is about what God sees and does.

Aidan and Alex, this is what your claiming your baptismal faith for yourselves today means: God sees you, just as you are as God’s precious and beloved young men. God sees you because God is with you right here, right now and always. No amount of mayhem, violence or fear separates you from God’s love and care. And so with this truth, you don’t have to worry-you are free to be who God is calling you to be through the waters of baptism and the promises made by your parents all those years ago that you now claim today: You are free to join in the mission of God in God’s kingdom with all of your gifts, passions and talents. You, just as you are, have this day and we pray so many more, to live boldly and to show God’s colorful promises in a world where all too often people only see the darkness of mayhem and violence. Be and act on Christ’s vision-God’s life, love and mercy.

This is our insurance and assurance: God sees us, doesn’t leave us hopeless or helpless but comes along side us in love and grace to move hearts and to reorient lives. God’s hands hold our todays and tomorrows. Don’t worry, live boldly, be who you are fearlessly, bloom brightly and fly freely. +You are God’s precious joy!+ Thanks be to God!