A Lutheran Says What?

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

You Belong Here! Sermon on Ephesians 2 August 5, 2018

You can watch this sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org. It was proclaimed on July 22, 2018 at Bethany Lutheran Church at Cherry Hills Village, CO.

The text is Ephesians 2: 11-22

Have kids come forward

You belong here. Those are words that we all ache to have said to us. We want to be known and to know others. We want to have all the parts of us that we like and those parts of us that we don’t, loved all the same, no matter what. It’s a basic human need. We all have stories of times when we deeply belonged whether it was family or a social group as well as stories of when we knew that no matter what we would never belong. Worse yet, to think that you belong to group only to find out that you really don’t. This need to belong drives us in many ways. It can drive us to build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt by rejection.  To build walls around institutions that we love to ensure that nothing will harm it or change it. We build walls to give ourselves a sense of safety and identity in what seems to be a chaotic and lonely world. We yearn to know exactly where we belong.

Kids, I have two tables of duplos here. Choose which table you want to be at, but you can’t all be at the same table, you’ll be in two groups. This group is named “Echahd” and this group is “ena.”  Ok, with these duplos on your table, build something together while I keep talking with the adults. I’ll check in with you in a minute. You can build anything you want as long as you work together. Does that sound good?

So the children just quickly sorted themselves into groups and science tells us that even at this young age, they probably sized the other children up and if we had time to go deeper with them and if they could even articulate it, sorted themselves pretty well into like-minded groups. We could probably find something that they have in common. We do this all the time consciously and unconsciously.


And once we find that niche of people, our tribe if you will, we rarely look outside of that group, or more specifically, we almost never ask, “who is missing from our group?” “Whom should we let in?” Most of the time, we belong to closed groups, this is who we are, these are the people who belong and that’s that.

But the flip side is of course, at one point your now best friend or spouse was at one time a stranger to whom you gave a chance. You opened up and risked getting to know them and connecting with them. What was created was a new relationship, a new partnership or a new family. When you risked learning about one another you discovered pieces that were in common, pieces that could be a foundation for the new created relationship.

We are continuing our Ephesians sermon series this week and in Ephesians 2, we read about the real struggle of forging a new community. There was apparently a separation problem, those who were Jewish followers of Jesus and those who were Gentile followers of Jesus. To be Jewish was a very specific identity. It involved more than just belief but your whole way of living. It wasn’t only about going to synagogue or Temple, no it was what you ate, what you wore, where you went, what you touched or didn’t touch. The Jewish converts really accepted Jesus, but being human, still held on to their embedded traditions about how one lives as a believer and how one belongs to a faith tradition. In case you didn’t know, change is hard! Change in how you worship, live and think about God? Well, how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Why would we change it? We like the dark! Seriously…

(Give kids a one minute warning.) And then you had the Gentiles, people who were not Jewish. They lived very differently and followed none of those prescribed actions. The Jewish people had been taught to tolerate the Gentiles to a point, maybe more to pity them that they aren’t Jewish, but to maintain a safe distance to not have them rub off on them, as they didn’t really belong. Sort of like how as parents we teach our children know that they should love everyone, but subtly let them know that if they don’t want to invite that kid who always breaks stuff over to play, you’re fine with that, as your kid will talk to him at the bus stop and that’s good enough. Now the Gentiles weren’t always so fond of their strict new brothers and sisters in Christ either. I would imagine that the Jewish followers of Jesus would seem well, draconian and a serious buzzkill to any get together in this fledgling Christian community called The Way. The Way was radical community, radical generosity, radical collaboration, radical inclusion, radical love, which would blow the mind of any good rule follower!

How can these two groups learn to live together? Ok, kids, how are the creations coming? Let me see group “Echahd” : Tell me how you all worked together?  Ok Let’s look at group Ena: Tell me about how you worked together? These are great! Ok, pull the tables together and now I want you to take these two creations and make one creation together. Using every piece of the two existing creations, so you will probably have to take some of what you already built apart. Ok go!

Jesus wasn’t a rule freak, he didn’t care about the religious rules, the civil laws, Jesus only cared about people. Jesus cared so much that he wasn’t afraid to come near to our messiness, our brokenness and our sickness. In Mark we read when Jesus saw the people coming to them on the countryside, he had compassion for them. Compassion means “with suffering.” Jesus suffered with them in their desperation, as they were separated from the community, sheep without a shepherd they were aching to belong and be known, but their physical diseases, their brokenness and being outside the religious rules kept them from belonging. The scandal of Jesus’ ministry is that Jesus takes people whom the world says don’t belong together and makes them one. It’s more than coexisting, which is simply tolerance. The Coexist bumper sticker we’ve all seen doesn’t quite get it right. Jesus is about more than tolerance. Jesus brings people who are near, far, rich, poor, healthy, sick, Jew, Greek, slave, free, male female, rural, urban, black, white, native, immigrant, straight, gay, and pulls us all together as the cornerstone of a new community that abolishes all labels and shows us another way-the new beloved people/body of Christ where all people belong. Cornerstones not only connect two dimensionally, but connects the structure to the foundation. Jesus as our cornerstone connects us not only to one another but to God our foundation, the foundation of the One Body of Christ.

This is what makes us truly one, we are one in the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of a God who crushes all divisions. No matter how many walls that we put up, Christ with compassion, breaks down. Over and over again. Not someday in the future, but right here right now. The cross of Jesus is strong enough to break walls of fear and hostility, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls of our egos, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls around our hearts wide open for compassion and solidarity of our neighbor. When our hearts are broken open by the cross, Jesus can take those pieces and tightly connect us like these duplos, who need one another, to build the kingdom of God where every piece belongs. A holy place right here on earth where God dwells in our hearts, in our homes, in our community and in the world. God dwells here because we dwell here with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.

The names of the groups I gave the children are the words echahd “one” in Hebrew and Ena-“one” in Greek. They took their separate “oneness” and combined to be one new creation here in Christ where each duplo piece had a place and belonged. I love what you have built! This creation reminds us that together we build love in the world for Jesus and tell everyone that they belong to God. How can you show or tell your friends that they belong to God?

In the cross of Jesus, walls are broken, hostility ends, peace pervades and love, well, love builds us as One In Christ and God proclaims: YOU BELONG HERE. And all God’s people say: Amen.


It Matters That We Matter Sermon on Acts 3 April 16, 2016

On Monday evening, I had the opportunity to worship with the young adults with Urban Servant Corps. I had been invited to come and lead worship around the topic and information on the ELCA’s social statement: Women and Justice: One In Christ and the newly minted social message on gender based violence. I’ve been what’s called a “process builder” for the Rocky Mountain Synod on the Social statement since 2013 offering listening events and feedback to the church wide task force as well as offering presentations on the findings. I was asked to wrap worship, including Holy Communion, around this very difficult conversation on sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse based on perceived expressions of gender and sexual orientation. Tricky to say the least and I wasn’t sure how this would be received. After all, I’m well aware of my own generational biases and these young adults are much closer to the age of my children than myself. No matter how hip, cool and relevant I think I am, my children assure me that I am indeed not.

But while we had these different generational lenses on how we enter into the conversation, we were all wrestling with the tension inherent to Christianity: the good news that Jesus is risen, the tomb is empty and death and suffering are conquered. We will have eternal life someday with God. And yet, there is the reality of the here and now that suffering is real, any kind of pain of mind, body or spirit is real and our physical bodies matter. It matters that we are bodies created in the image of God. Not esoterically, or spiritually, but physical manifestations of the divine. Male, female, tall, short, black, white, gay, straight, two legs or one, all ten fingers or fewer, a fully functioning heart, or a broken one, a brain that becomes overwhelmed by stimuli easily, or can tolerate noise, social or introverted, unable to walk or an elite runner. Galatians 3: 28, the foundational Bible verse for the social statement work: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer free or slave, no longer male or female, all are one in Christ Jesus”, sounds lovely, utopian and a wonderful goal to assent to someday, when we all see Jesus face to face. But I think Paul didn’t mean that in a someday by and by sense or only when it was easy, comfortable, accessible and safe. Paul knew that bodies mattered to Jesus in the here and now, no matter what the cost. And when MLK quoted this verse in his last speech before his assassination, 48 years ago Monday, I think that King also exactly understood the cost of this truth.

For the now apostles, it had been less than two months since the death and resurrection of Jesus. They had received the Holy Spirit, they had converts being added to their numbers day by day and they were still very much on the radar of the Roman and Jewish authorities. Hiding, or at least laying low and not making any noise, would have been the prudent, smart, and safe thing to do. But that’s not what they did. We read that Peter and John were going to the temple; remember that the apostles and early converts did not identify as Christians but Jewish Jesus followers. At the gate of the temple, they came upon this man who had been born differently abled, not able to walk and in first century Palestine, he did not have worth, and most certainly was not considered created in the image of the divine. Each day, he was placed on the outside of the temple by his family, to beg for alms from the good, proper and pious church goers who were required by Jewish law to give mitzah, commitment to do good which included giving away money. So, much like we give a $5 or a $10 or even a blessing bag to those who stand on the street corners with signs, people just threw money at him without really looking at him, probably judging him for his own misfortune (after all he must have done “something” to deserve this) and pushing down the fear that they themselves are only one mishap away from such a fate. They were terrified to identify with him.

But Peter and John saw this man. Really saw him, body, mind and spirit. Now, the safe thing would have been to just go to temple, pray and go home, but really seeing this man, knowing that his body mattered to God, knowing that his inclusion in community mattered to God, seeing themselves as connected, Peter and John couldn’t just go on with their own lives, worrying about only themselves. Peter looked at the man and told him to look at them. Connected equally before God. Connected equally in God’s image. Connected equally in God’s love. The man assumed he was about to receive alms but Peter had something better-something that no matter what the risk or cost to himself, he couldn’t keep to himself. He offered him healing in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He didn’t first demand a faith statement, an assent to some sort of proper belief of God, no, Peter freely offered what he had first been given, Jesus’ message of love and that he mattered. And Peter also didn’t offer the man a platitude of someday, in heaven being healed. He was being healed today, right now, in public. The man got up and walked but more than that, entered the temple, with all of those who had excluded him his whole life. He leapt and praised God not just because he could walk, but because his body had mattered to someone, he was no longer isolated, he now could offer himself as part of the community and the community benefitted from his presence and praise.

We didn’t read on in Acts to hear what happened next, but it is important. You see, after acknowledging that bodies in the here and now mattered to God, Peter pointed to this act not as something he, himself had done but as a sign of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, what God is up to and this was available to all people no matter the condition of their mind, body or spirit. Peter and John boldly proclaimed that the old system of the world, was not God’s system. The world’s system of worth, was not God’s system. The priests and other Jewish leadership didn’t like this at all. It was disruptive, it was uncomfortable, and it threatened their power and control. The healing and proclamation of this man as a beloved child of God ushered in the first of many post-resurrection clashes between the apostles and the authorities. In true non-violent resistance form, Peter and John were arrested for radical inclusion, pushing on the status quo and disrupting the systems of privilege and entitlement.

The man, who went from immobility to freedom, is not only a sign of God’s kingdom to come but also highlights the inconsistencies in our lives and the things that we don’t understand as we await the fullness of time in the return of Christ. Why are some healed physically in the here and now and not everyone? Why do some people experience a miracle and not others? Why does God allow injustice? I’m here to say with confidence, I don’t know. I struggle with this as well any time I read the healing stories in the Bible. But here’s what I wonder and I invite you to wonder with me.

What if we are called to really see people as God sees them, not as broken, different or disabled, but as whole and beloved children of God and a part of us? What if really seeing people and including them despite the risk of our own comfort, safety or privilege DOES bring healing in ways that only God can heal through us? What if we allowed ourselves to truly be seen by our neighbor, brokenness and all and be healed by one another? What if when Jesus says with the bread and the wine, do this to re-member me, is not about a memory or nostalgia but being re-assembled, re-membered into the one body of Christ in order for the whole of creation to be re-assembled, re-membered as one, one in hope for reconciliation in the here and now, one in solidarity with those in our society who are told that their bodies don’t matter, one in the unconditional love of Christ in the here and now and forever? What if we are the ones, like Peter and John, who are called to risk pointing to the in-breaking of God’s system in the world?

The good news is that despite our human differences, our human biases and our human fear, Christ proclaims that we all are one in Christ, we all belong to Christ and we are in the here and now, truly seen, forgiven and loved through Christ. Thanks be to God.


Garages and Loving Our Neighbor Philippians 2: 1-8 December 14, 2015

Have you noticed the change in house designs over the past 30 years or so? It’s a subtle and yet interesting phenomenon that has many nuanced pieces to it but it’s one that makes me wonder. I have even bought, in my life, two of these kinds of homes. What change is that you wonder? The placement of the garage and the front door. Garages are now prominent on the front of the house in most newer neighborhoods (although interestingly there are a few places where garages are moved again to the rear of the home) with front doors with little porches off to one side and larger patios out back in a private yard (where garages used to be). As I said, there are probably several reasons for this change, such as we now have two cars in a household so we need a bigger garage, you can place living space on top of the garage for a smaller footprint on a lot are just two that come to mind. But whether this is an outcome or a culture change, we now can drive home from work, drive into our garage, put our garage doors down and enter our homes all without ever making eye contact with a neighbor. When you BBQ or have friends over-there is no space out front, so you are in your fenced backyard. You know the old saying “Good fences make good neighbors.”

If we think about it, we have a ton of control over who we let into our daily lives now. We don’t even have to know our neighbors. We get to pick and choose who we make contact with, who we meet, who we enter into relationship with and who we even casually bump into. We can choose to only have conversations with like minded people. If we are honest, this is about fear. Fear of who our neighbors might be. Fear of being used by them (you know that one neighbor who ALWAYS needs something?), fear of not getting along, fear that our neighbor might be not share our values, fear that they might be different than us, fear that they might be a serial killer, fear that they might be a terrorist, or even the fear that WE might need them, be a burden or end up in a deep and lasting relationship. How many times on the news do we hear a neighbor saying, “I had no idea what was going on next door.”

This separation also allows us to judge our neighbor without really knowing them. We see the sign in the yard of who is remodeling their kitchen, the sign where a high school student made the varsity squad, the bumper sticker of their honor roll kid, and we can judge that they have it all together and wouldn’t want to be friends with us anyway because we have none of those things going on. Not knowing our neighbor can affirm our assumption that we are not enough by the world’s standards. We can feel what we call humiliated; lesser than and not worthy. Or we can see the junk pile in the front yard, all of the beer cans or wine bottles in the recycling bin, hear the children fighting, the adults fighting, see the un-mown lawn, the newspapers piled up on the micro-porch and think or even say, “well at least I’m not that” and humiliate our neighbor. Not knowing our neighbors can also allow us to feel fairly good about ourselves and doesn’t require any self reflection either. If we never are confronted with our neighbors’ messiness, then we don’t have to deal with our own.

So, culturally we have found ways to separate ourselves, give people just a passing glance of who we may or may not be, garages where we can hide just being one of many. Yet, we yearn for something more. Our hearts and souls stir for connectivity, for intimacy, for deep and authentic community. We know that we feel most empty when we are isolated. Ask any of our older members who yearn to come to worship but health or mobility challenges keep them at home alone. We live in the tension of the fear of who should we let in and our need for community. We live in the tension of looking out for our own best interests under the guise of staying protected, and the emptiness of division that we attempt to fill with new cars for those garages, larger homes, more material possessions, busy jobs, or hobbies. None of those things are inherently a problem, unless they are where we think we are finding our primary worth and identity.

While we’re today simply able to structure our buildings to support this tension, this is not a new challenge. Apparently, the ancient people of Philippi were trying to figure out this community thing in light of what they knew about God through Jesus. The Philippians were living in the tension of diversity, of who to let in to their lives, who to be in community with, what rooted them and bound them together and how the gospel moved them from the cultural norms of making sure you have enough for yourself, and protecting what you have… to seeing each other as God sees them.

Paul pleads with them to get off of the “either/or” treadmill of either someone is for us or against us. Paul reminds them that the gospel of Jesus Christ pulls us into a completely different way of being in the world. It’s not the either only be in relationship with those exactly like you and then afraid of everyone else or being isolated and alone so that no one can hurt you. The gospel lights the way for another possibility. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection models for us the truth of who we are and “who’s” we are. Love, unity and sameness are not about assimilation, safety, and easy relationships but the deep, messy, risky relationships where we reveal ourselves to our neighbor and discover that they struggle with all of the same challenges that we do. Hearing someone else’s struggles, loves, sorrows and joys often elicits a heartfelt, “ME TOO!” While we have different lives, we all share falling short, not feeling like enough, having days where we seem all together followed by days of feeling very human. This common humanity binds us together in ways that we can’t ignore; we are created for community with one another and with God.

Jesus, God incarnate, was God’s “Me too” to humanity. God saw the separation between each other and from God and chose, desired to come and live in the tension with us and to draw us into life with God and each other. God calls out our false sense of control of who is our neighbor and reveals that when God chose to come to us, to be our actual human neighbor, God chose all of us together. Jesus’ life among us proclaims another way besides isolation, judgment, self-protection, ambition and fear. Jesus’ very human life points to unity in diversity. Same love, same mind, and full accord isn’t being a clone of each other, but it’s knowing our neighbor, seeing our neighbor, loving our neighbor, allowing our neighbor to really see us,  seeing Christ in them and saying, “me too.” God sees our common struggle with sin-which is anything that separates us from God and declares that this separation is no more. Through the humanity of Jesus, God came to be in our mess. God wasn’t afraid of really being with us and seeing all of the pieces of ourselves that we try and hide. God wasn’t afraid of the risk of getting hurt, being used, suffering or even dying at the hands of a neighbor. Relationship with us, God’s beloved children, was worth any risk, any hurt, any inconvenience.

Jesus transforms our common human ambition, common human judgment, common human self-interest, common human struggle with self worth, and common human fear into deep community and joy through the love of God that is for all people in all times and in all places. Connecting to this love pulls us into deep relationship with each other, as we share the same love, grace, mercy and hope in Christ Jesus. This love banishes all fear of our neighbor as God’s love transforms our relationships to not being about us, but others. This love banishes our fear of who we are as God’s love transforms us because it’s also all about us. This love banishes all division as God’s love transforms our separation into true community.

Jesus comes to us today and every day in ordinary and extraordinary ways for authentic experiences of Jesus’ love and love of neighbor. In ordinary bread, wine and water, elements that all of humanity needs for physical survival, the living Christ gathers us all as one, connects us and transforms our fear of others into openness and common ground. Jesus comes to us to open our garage doors, open our hearts and open our lives to show us a new way to live in hope and not fear, a new way to live in community and not isolation, a new way to live in abundance and not scarcity, a new way to live with others, for others in the form of Jesus’ love. Thanks be to God.


Jesus Doesn’t Cross the Line But Erases It, Mark 3: 20-35, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 7, 2015 June 7, 2015

Living with people is hard. How many of you remember, or still do it, as a kid going on a car trip with your family and friends and it wasn’t too far into the trip that you and your siblings divided up the car space? You drew that imaginary line down the middle of the back seat and said “Don’t cross this line!” You all wanted your own space and usually by five minutes into a trip someone was already annoying someone else. Even though you were supposed to be on a fun family trip! But it seems that siblings are always jockeying for space, differentiation and to get their fair share.  As human beings, we are constantly sorting ourselves. Whether it’s our co-workers, family members, friends, acquaintances, we make distinctions between one another around beliefs, convictions, values and morals. We like to draw imaginary lines in the sand and firmly plant ourselves on the side opposite of those with whom we disagree, don’t quite see eye to eye, or just think we need distance from. It gets even muddier when people don’t neatly fit into one category or stay on their proper side of the line.

Living with people is hard! So as humans, we tend to divide things up, we sometimes call it sharing, but in reality it’s dividing. We divide up everything and everyone into categories, we divide up our time, we divide up our resources, we divide up our love, and we divide up our compassion. We think that without dividing up, without sharing, we won’t have enough, there won’t be anything left for us or we won’t know where we or others fit in the bigger picture. We operate from a sense of scarcity. We like order, neatness and control. We assume that with divisions and categories in place, we can control the world around us, our families and our friends. We know exactly where we stand on our side of the line.

Jesus’ family was desperately trying to control this situation in Mark 3. Jesus had returned home, always a contentious thing as a young adult and much had happened to Jesus while he had been gone. He had been baptized by his cousin John, spent 40 days in the wilderness with Satan, called disciples, cast out demons on the Sabbath, and had done some healing, essentially, Jesus has spent the last couple of weeks completely bucking the system and revealing this new thing that God is up to among humanity, even among people whom society shuns and declares outside of God’s reach. So, now we catch up with Jesus in the story of Mark just trying to eat dinner.

Living with people is hard and as soon as Jesus returns to his neighborhood, trouble brews. Jesus was no longer the quirky but cute son of a carpenter but had moved beyond that category, he crossed the line and was now someone that no one recognized, not even his family! People were calling Jesus crazy, which was and still is a serious thing.

Scribes arrived on the scene and immediately drew a line in the sand that clearly put Jesus on the opposite side of all good law abiding Jewish people. If the scribes could just convince everyone that Jesus is on the side of the line with evil, with Satan, then the order of life as they knew it could continue. “Nothing to see here, the scribes and Sanhedrin are still in control, God is God as contained in the rule book and all is right with the world.”

But Jesus wouldn’t allow that line to be drawn. Jesus is clear with the crowd that has gathered, that division, drawing lines of who’s in and who’s out, claiming that only some are worthy to be called family, that only some will be gathered to God– is not what God is about, is not what Jesus came to reveal about God’s love and mercy in the world.

Jesus states that people will be forgiven no matter what they say or do but then offers us this tricky statement about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, which has had many hurtful and dividing interpretations over the past 2000 years. This extreme statement from Jesus should not be taken out of context but placed firmly in the midst of this story of family, divided houses that cannot stand, all being included in the family of God and the whole of God’s love story for creation. A blaspheme is a statement showing a lack of respect or a claim that one possesses the same divine powers as God. Jesus is pointing out the fallacy of humans to think that they control God, or control God’s kingdom, or know God’s will with certainty. We like to think that we can somehow know or interpret what “God’s will” is but if we’re honest we throw that phrase around to justify our own behavior or to try and explain the unexplainable in our lives.

But if I may be so bold, I wonder if  it’s in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s son, that we do get a glimpse of “God’s will.”  What if the will of God is the radical inclusivity and love that Jesus proclaimed, taught and lived? What if the will of God is that division of any kind is forever erased? Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reveals who God is and what God is doing: loving and including everyone in the kingdom of God. We, as God’s people, are invited in by God to reveal what God is doing by loving, including and erasing all divisions around us. It’s tempting for us to assume that we know who God does or doesn’t love, who is included in grace and mercy or not and draw a line to keep “those people” away from us. But I’ve heard it said somewhere that anytime you draw a line between you and someone else, Jesus is always on the other side.

But here’s the good news, even in this seemingly harsh statement on a so-called “eternal sin”, God’s grace is still extended. The bigger picture is that Jesus in his death and resurrection forgives all sin, all of the times we try to be God or guess the mind of God for our own comfort or control. On the cross, Jesus gathers us all to him, and declares that nothing that we do, say or think can separate us or draw a line in the sand, between us and God. Jesus’ love erases all of our lines between God and each other. In the kingdom of God, there is only unity, forgiveness, love and mercy, even when living with people is hard.

What would it look like if we here at LOTH (Lord of the Hills) declared that lines, divisions and categories are no more and that in our gift of diversity we are one people of God, unified, one family, proclaiming God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for the entirety of creation? What if we reflected only the love of Christ to one another so that no one is on the outside but the circle of welcome is widened for all? What if we went out to the neighborhood around us with this message of radical inclusivity in the kingdom of God? Look at all of the ways that we already to do that! Preschool, supporting New Beginnings, VBS, opening our building up to other congregations and organizations, just to name a few. Where is God calling us next to erase a line and include people?

Living with people is hard and messy, there is no denying that. But God promises to live in our midst and reveal that in that difficulty is renewal, unity and love for all. In the bread and in the wine that we share each time we gather for worship, Jesus proclaims that we are gathered in one community, to be God’s one holy people for the sole purpose of gathering all of God’s people to the table; where God’s kingdom of forgiveness and grace breaks into the world with a force that can’t be ignored or explained away. Jesus declares that we are one people, one house united and the lines between us and God are erased, Thanks be to God, amen.


#YesAllWomen (and men) don’t want to live in fear May 31, 2014

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I have been reading the tweets and blog posts all week from the #yesallwomen on Twitter and Facebook. Honestly, I did not jump in with any tweets or blogs of own until today. Why? It’s not because I am ambivalent or because I don’t think that I have faced discrimination. I am not ambivalent and I, too, was raised in the culture of both subtle and overt gender inequality and misogyny (as have all women, hence the hashtag). It struck me today that it was partially out of fear that I haven’t added my voice to this conversation. Fear. I was afraid of being labeled “one of those feminists.” I was afraid that to name some of the ways this affects me is to give it more power. I was afraid that my place of privilege as a white, heterosexual woman would be hurtful to my sisters who were LBGT or of another race. Let me say now that I understand that being born a white woman in America is akin to winning the lottery in other parts of the world. I have more resources, power and autonomy than most women in other countries will ever possess. I am beyond lucky and blessed-that is my privilege. When I realized that fear was keeping me from speaking out, I kicked myself for I am not a person who operates out of fear in my life. I have this privilege and I should use it to both reveal the brokenness in the world and the true presence of God and not allow fear to weigh into my decision making.

This social media conversation surfaced in me all the ways that fear does dictate my life and the lives of women. I am afraid to send my 17 year old daughter off to college. I’m not afraid that she will flunk out, I’m not afraid of the finances (well, maybe a little), I’m not afraid she won’t make friends. I am afraid of the statistics of sexual assault on our college campuses. I am afraid that what my daughter will really learn is that men are to be feared and not trusted. I’m afraid of these things because its what all women on a college campus learn. Don’t go out at night, don’t be alone, don’t walk down that street, don’t drink something that you didn’t watch be poured, don’t wear that dress, don’t be too nice to that guy, don’t touch that guy, don’t be too pretty, don’t be too smart. I wish I could say that all of that changes after college, but it never does.

It becomes subconscious the way the fear controls how women move in the world. Just today, I was at Target in the check out line, when a man came up behind me in line. He stood very close (too close) to me and was muttering something and looking at me intently. Yes, this might freak a man out as well, but I had in the matter of seconds four exit strategies in mind, what to do if he followed me, got my phone and keys out, and made note that I had spotted a police officer in the parking lot on my way in. Now, I am willing to bet that most men would not have thought that completely through all while buying granola bars. But women have been trained to do this as part of our daily routine. We don’t even realize we are doing it most of the time. We always have a worst case scenario running through our brains. When we see a man, we immediately do a risk assessment. How sad and heartbreaking is that?

This is why I am also afraid for my son. I am afraid that no matter how his dad and I have raised him to respect women, to see each woman as a beloved child of God (just as he is), to see women as equal partners in life, work and friendships, that he will be seen by women as a risk to be assessed. (My husband admits to crossing the street if he is approaching a woman who is by herself so as not to cause her any alarm.)

The #yesallwomen conversation brings to light what has been in the dark far too long. It gives space and voice to the reality that God didn’t create us for division and fear. God created men and women in God’s image to reveal the kingdom of God in the world, to reveal true Shalom peace and to treat each other with full respect and equality. God created us to speak truth and to hear truth from one another. God, our father and our mother, created us for unity and to affirm and celebrate our God given differences. So, I guess I am “one of those feminists” who believes that God is in this struggle, that this is not just about me and women but is about us all. What effects me, effects my husband, my daughter, my son, my best friend, her husband and children, my partners in ministry, my local and global neighbor.

Jesus prays in John 17: 11 and 21 that we may all be one. We are all one in this conversation and this is why I will not let fear determine my voice, my ministry or my life. What will you add, both my sisters and brothers, to this conversation? Don’t be afraid; we are all one in Christ.


Difficult conversations and being one in Christ: Matthew 5:21-37 February 16, 2014 February 16, 2014

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 9:00 pm
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In chapter 5 of Matthew-Jesus is really just getting started in his sermon about what it is to live together as people of God. Jesus is not afraid to have these difficult, taboo and even down right hard conversations about life in community. All of these statements about anger, adultery, divorce and telling the truth to one another are not nice, neat, coffee and donut hour types of talks. Jesus is calling out on the carpet the fact that we might know and follow religious or civil laws- but only for our own sake or protection. We adhere to laws so that we can say that we are law abiding people. Jesus proclaims that laws are so much more than just being blameless but about giving life and dignity to all people.
These four issues that Jesus takes on in today’s readings are steeped in relationships. Relationships with neighbors, friends, and spouses. Jesus addressing adultery and divorce in this manner, is pretty radical for first century Palestine. In Jesus’ time, women were property and had little to no say in their own lives. If their husband wanted to divorce them, the woman was then without a home, protection, income or community. Women were not seen as full people and were often blamed for any improper behavior of men so its radical for Jesus to claim that if a man lusts after a woman, it is not her fault. How she dressed, or acted or where she happened to be at a certain time of day was not the cause of another person’s actions.
So these laws from Deuteronomy might have allowed for the human reality of broken relationships and imperfect people but Jesus is pointing out that they don’t always affirm human worth. Those things simply can’t be legislated but has to be rooted in something more than just what makes life easier; living together as people of God has to be rooted in love that calls for seeing all people as truly made in God’s image and with inherent worth.
This issue of all people having equal worth has unfortunately not been fully resolved. Some of you may know, I was in Chicago at the ELCA offices to be trained as a process builder for the social statement Women and Justice: One in Christ that will be in process over the coming years. What that means is that I will facilitate listening events in this synod around the issues of women, justice, safety, equality, cultural norms, media, etc. Some of these topics are not easy. How do we enter into the conversation as a church around the uncomfortable realities of women in the US and in the world of abuse, media and cultural objectification, inequality in leadership positions, access to education and in socio-economics? What do we as a people of God have to say about this?
We too have laws in the US and abroad that are intended to remedy some of these issues, but the reality is that laws don’t solve all of the problems. Of course this is not only a gender issue: racial, sexual orientation and other forms of inequality exist. But I am choosing what is my lived experience.
Here are some examples of how laws in the US have not improved equality for women. In the US Women make up 51% of the population but only 17% of government officials are women. In the 2010 midterm elections women lost ground in representation for the first time since 1979 and at that rate women will achieve parity with men in government in 500 years. Yes, 500 years. The US is 90th in the world for female leadership-behind countries like Iraq. Women earn $.82 on average for every dollar a man earns. This is an average and hispanic women earn $. 59 on the dollar and and African American women earn about $.78 on the dollar. White women do better and Asian women make the most at $.88 on the dollar. This is in spite of equal pay legislation. Media representation of women is a major issue in our country but at the heart of that issue is that women only make up 3% of leadership in media corporations.
It’s not just secular leadership where this inequality exists. Many denominations do not allow female leadership-and before we pat ourselves on the back in the ELCA- women make up a little better than 50% of the Masters of Divinity, ordained track students in seminaries but the ELCA reports that only 19% of actual ordained clergy in a call are women. There are congregations who will never call a female pastor. And this is just a snapshot of the US, we could use the whole rest of the day to discuss the life of women across the globe. Despite laws, resolutions, and good intentions, we still have not figured out how to truly speak plainly, listen openly and go beyond laws that are just about what’s fair and move to what is loving, life giving, and builds authentic community where everyone’s worth as a child of God is affirmed and upheld.
Jesus proclaims that the second we stop seeing the person in front of us as a child of God as a whole and complete person who is not there for our own use or neglect then we have damaged their humanity as well as damaged our own. Because we are all made in God’s image, we are also interconnected and the only way to live in community as one people of God is to keep this fact in front of us at all times. The only law that we need to worry about is the that of God’s unending and unconditional love and grace for us all. This is the law to live fully into.
In this text today, Jesus tells us the truth about how difficult it can be to live together in healthy, life giving and loving relationships. We can’t do it on our own, no matter how hard we try with great and well intentioned laws. Jesus shows us the possibility and reality of another way of life together. Jesus included women, gentiles, tax collectors, the unclean, the non religious, the foreigner all sorts of people into community and relationship with him and each other. Jesus very presence tells us how much God loves us—enough that God sent Jesus to tell us these hard things and to show us that our differences and uniqueness are a gift from God that should be affirmed and cherished by a whole community.
To God, it matters that we are all together, that we work together, it matters that we speak into darkness, it matters when we are complacent and silent on issues that deny full and abundant life to anyone for any reason. It matters that we offer and receive forgiveness from one another, it matters that we build each other up and tell the truth. This is the real messiness of life together. But in the midst of all of this talk of law today-Jesus is clear with the good news: in God’s kingdom here and now we all matter, we can point to and offer God’s vision of what the world could be like when all people are truly equal, all have dignity and all have a voice. God proclaims this radical equality of us all in the waters of baptism, and in welcoming all to the table to share in the bread and the wine with the promises to be with all of us for all time. These sacraments do more than draw us into the life of God but into life with one another, for the sake of a world waiting for this reality. Thanks be to God for our lives together as one people of God.