A Lutheran Says What?

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

Finding Our Voice Sermon for Pentecost May 23, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of OSLC in Holladay, UT for Pentecost, May 23, 2021. It an be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Acts 2: 1-21
John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15

Young Friends Message:

What’s your favorite gift that you’ve ever been given? Do you still have it? Maybe yes, maybe no, I’ve been given so many great gifts over the years! I bet you have too! But did you know that God has given us gifts too? But God doesn’t give us gifts like toys, or books, or other stuff, God gives us gifts that we can share with each other! And each of our gifts our different! What are you good at? What do you like to do? Those are gifts that God has given you! The best gift that any of us has been given is Jesus, and Jesus’ gift was love. I want you to remember this week that you are a gift to the world too! All you have to do to unwrap this gift is look in the mirror! And the world needs you and your gifts! We’re going to talk a little bit more about that together.

I was terrified in my first classes for my Master of Divinity. I was so certain that everyone else possessed a good forty IQ points above me, and I had nothing to contribute. After all, up to this point I had a degree in elementary education, had taught preschool, and had been raising our children. My context and culture had been children and families, and young children at that. Sure, I had been on staff at a church for many years, but my landscape was different than theological leadership, very different from pastoral leadership. I had been out of school for 15 years when I re-entered academia and I was pretty sure I couldn’t go to school because my throat hurt and I was too old. My first graduate level course work was a two-week course at Gettysburg Seminary in PA, and it took about two seconds to realize that I was in a different culture. I didn’t speak the theological/academia language, for one thing. I would sit in a lecture diligently taking notes realizing the only words I knew were “the,” “and” and an occasional “Jesus” or “God.” Everything else was foreign. Hermeneutical lenses, eschatology, Parousia, Synoptic, Vulgate, Septuagint, Coptic all of these presumably English words swirled around me as if from another country. And then there were the words that were ACTUALLY not English like diaconia, ecclesia, Imago Dei, eres, mishpat, Greek, Latin and Hebrew thrown into the mix. I’m fairly sure the first couple of days I went back to my austere dorm room, which also seemed to be ground zero for a moth infestation and cried. Luckily, a nice 24-year-old young man seemed to notice my old lady pain and ineptitude and took pity on me. I was ok with pity at this point and he would sit next to me, put his notebook were I could see it and write definitions of all the weird words coming at me. He was my translator for those two weeks. I sat silent in class, not trusting that my voice could add anything of intelligence to the conversations.
When I got home, I had to write a culminating paper as the final. Again, this was my first foray into academia in 15 years, so I was understandably nervous. I did my best to regurgitate and use the language of the theological world, but it was difficult as those were not yet my words. I had my best friend, who was also an ordained pastor, read and critique my paper before I turned it in. She was very kind. When Leta returned my paper to me, it stood out that about half-way through the 20-page paper, she wrote “yay! Finally, your own voice!” She had recognized that the words that had come before weren’t mine, and rejoiced when my own words, my own theological thoughts about God, service and proclaiming God’s deed in the world, finally surfaced.

But honestly, I didn’t trust that voice and wondered if I should say anything at all. I hadn’t trusted my own voice most of my growing up. I didn’t trust my own voice to be worthy through four years of graduate school and the first few years of my ordained ministry. Trusting my own voice seemed hubris and arrogant. I worried that I wasn’t smart enough or possessed the correct language. I couldn’t imagine anyone voluntarily listening to me! I sometimes still don’t trust my voice-will I offend? Will I be coherent? But I’ve come to realize that not trusting my voice means that I’m not trusting God to show up. Trusting my voice has everything to do with faith that the Holy Spirit will indeed give me something to say, something that needs said and someone to hear and understand it. I realize that sitting silent is not an option as a beloved child of God in a world that desperately needs words that heal, love, and give hope.  This is the call of ministry it turns out. It’s the call of our baptisms to trust that we as the people of God, can’t be silent in a world of division, fear and hate, but must find our voices, each of our unique voices, for God’s words to be heard and understood. Even if our voices shake, even if other people don’t like them, even if we are ignored, mocked or misunderstood. Our words can bring down barriers, our words can heal, our words can bridge chasms, our words can point to the promises of God for life for all and they matter.

I wonder if this is how that first Pentecost with the disciples felt 2000 years ago. What was is like to hear their voices proclaiming God’s great deeds of power with words foreign to them? Did they wonder if what they were saying could be heard? If what they were saying mattered? When people began to gather, to listen, to take them seriously, it must have been astonishing. You mean, you can understand me? You are speaking my language? I’m guessing the response of some that they were simply drunk early in the morning should have been expected, after all, aren’t these just lowly Galileans? But Peter trusted God and the promise of the Holy Spirit. Maybe he recalled the words of Jesus from our John passage that they would testify, tell the world something meaningful and necessary about the love of God in the world. Jesus’ voice still rang in their ears and they could trust that they could add their voice to the conversation and cut across language, race, ethnic and cultural barriers to translate God’s love for all the world. The truth of God’s mission, as Jesus had told them, was that there is no division in God’s creation, all are one.

1) What cultural barriers have you encountered in a congregation, neighborhood or other setting?

2)  How does culture (secular culture, ethnic cultures, personal cultures) impact the mission of the Church and our church OSLC?

3) How can we set an example and advocate for an inclusive and just culture in our church and communities?

So we, too have a voice, a voice that we need to trust-a voice that God has given us and trust that God has given other people a voice that needs to be heard as well. We are called not only to use our voices for the wholeness, care and dignity of all people and creation, but we are called to ensure that neglected voices are heard: the voice of creation groaning under the weight of devastation and destruction, the voice of people vulnerable to abuse and oppression-migrants, children, people who are disabled, Black voices. And we need to discern when our voice needs to not be a solo but a chorus, or not the loudest.

Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, isn’t an historical event, but a promise of the on-going presence of God each day in our lives, giving us voice, giving us life, giving us our very being. Giving us these gifts to take with us as we go out, to live our faith, to lift our voices in the world. Pentecost did indeed create the church that day, a church that doesn’t stay quiet and in one place, but a church that is out, loud and diverse. The church isn’t a liturgy or the type of music, or a building, but the church is the people of God proclaiming God’s deeds of power in the world. Pentecost is indeed when we find our voice, we find that God has given us a voice and we are outed as having something to say about God’s kingdom right here, right now. We are outed as being different, in that we welcome diversity, all voices who speak of God’s deeds of loving power, inclusion and mercy into the world. Like Peter, we can use our voices to refute those voices that want to belittle, deny and make light of God’s power. We have found our voice from God, beloved people, let’s use it. Amen.

 

If It’s Your Last Night Maundy Thursday April 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Maundy Thursday April 1, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Exodus 12:14
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

If tonight were your last night on earth what would you do? What experiences would you want to have for your life to be complete or fulfilled? Or what is on your Bucket list?  Mike and I went to Paris four years ago this month as Mike had always wanted to go to Paris, as a side note, we did meet in 10th grade French class. He had a list of the museums, sites and activities that he wanted to do while there and we ran around the city (literally it seemed) for seven days trying to squeeze as much in as possible. It’s our human tendency to think that for our lives to mean anything, they have to be filled with novel and exciting experiences, something that stands out as special and unique. Going to Disney Land, climbing the Himalayas, visiting that faraway and exotic location, meeting a certain celebrity, or writing the great American novel. We worry that if we died tomorrow, we would feel incomplete, unfulfilled and that our lives were meaningless. How would people remember us? Will we be remembered for the book we wrote, the building we built, the money we had, the trips we took, what we completed, or is there something more?

We enter the scene in John’s gospel on the day before Jesus would die. Jesus knew that this night, was the last night of his earthly life. Jesus gathered with his disciples, his friends, for one last meal, one last time to be together. We tend to romanticize this scene, Jesus stooping to wash the feet of the disciples, Peter protesting, Judas walking out on Jesus. We focus on sentimentalizing all the words on love, loving one another, turning this scene in our heads and hearts into a Hallmark moment. But it’s anything but that. Jesus knew, perhaps like a cancer patient knows, that death was very near. He knew that it wouldn’t be a passive, peaceful death but one of horror, violence and suffering. It’s his last night on earth and Jesus wants it to mean something.

Jesus doesn’t pull out his bucket scroll and look forlornly at all of the places he didn’t go or things he didn’t do, such as float in the dead sea, or create a carpentry masterpiece, no Jesus knows that his life, the lives of his disciples, and our lives, mean more than that, and mean everything in the love of God. Jesus knew he had one day left and he didn’t worry about what he has or hasn’t completed, because that’s for God to worry about. Jesus trusted that God will complete God’s work and mission of love beyond his earthly existence. What Jesus does with his last night, is give the disciples a foretaste of what is to come in God’s unending love that completes them just the way they are. Jesus knew that they wouldn’t get it. We don’t get it when someone acts in a way that is utterly for the sake of someone else, even to their own detriment. Why would someone give away their money when they could buy some bucket list experiences? Why would someone choose exposure to a deadly virus to care for others? Why would someone offer water and food to undeserving people? Jesus doesn’t try and squeeze in as many activities as he can in his last night, instead he pours water, uncomfortably washes feet, grieves Judas’ decision to walk away from love and community, eats a simple meal, and reveals an active, decisive love that not only means something, but means everything for us and the world.
If tonight were your last night on earth what would you do? On this night, Jesus did what truly mattered, offering us the truth of God’s presence and love. Simple bread, a sip of wine, and an extraordinary love. A love that fulfills all needs, draws us together, satisfies our longings, and sends us to live each day as if it were our last, imitating Jesus, loving with God’s love to the fullest. Amen.  

 

On The Move Palm Sunday Sermon March 27, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on March 28, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Philippians 2: 5-11
Mark 11: 1-11

The law of inertia, is one that most of us learned in middle school or high school. Even if you didn’t formally learn it by its scientific name, it’s a law of physics that one might call “common sense.” A body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. If you’ve ever laid down on the couch after yard work or house cleaning, thinking you’ll just take a 15-minute breather only to still be on the couch an hour later, you know what the law of inertia is about. I’ll be intimately familiar with inertia next Sunday afternoon after Holy Week. It can be hard to get ourselves moving, whether it’s physically up off the couch, or emotionally, psychologically, spiritually to move our feelings, thinking and hearts in a new direction. What causes us to be moved to change, to engage our lives and world differently, to overcome the law of inertia, is elusive. We’ve all had the frustration of trying to move ourselves or a friend or family member to quit smoking, drinking or change their language.

 George Barna did a study about 15 years ago now, that showed worldview was set by age 13 and values by age 9. Whatever your values and worldview might be entering high school, are pretty much concretized. Of course, we might have life experiences that move us to shift those values and worldviews but usually it’s nuance and not upheaval. When people are moved, typically it is due to a personal major traumatic event. It’s why right now in our national discourse we have so much tension. We are trying to move people to new worldviews and values with stories and facts that aren’t necessarily personal. It’s real experiences, personal and communal experiences, that move people. What moves us, compels us to either physically or spiritually, change our course, and do a new thing is that the heart of our text for this Palm Sunday, what is called “The Triumphal Entry.” As I wrote in my Faith + Talk this week, that title is a bit of a misnomer, but it’s what we have to work with. I’m struck by all of the ways that Jesus moves people. Jesus leads his disciples to the outskirts of Jerusalem, a city teeming with people celebrating Passover. He moves two disciples to go get a colt, a young donkey, for which he had obviously planned ahead. He then moves with the crowds who are also pilgrims, entering the holy city, and they are moved to call out “Hosanna” which interestingly means, “Save us now!” It’s not a movement of joy, a movement of celebration as we often project on this story, it’s a political movement, a movement of people who are recalling that they are not free. The pilgrims recognize that just as they are entering the city, so are a whole legion of Roman soldiers along with Pontius Pilate. Pilate didn’t live in Jerusalem but out on the coast, and he came in each Passover with troops as a show of force to the occupied Jews. Passover was a holy time that celebrated God’s movement and action of liberation for the Israelites and the Roman government didn’t want them to get any funny ideas about God moving for them again.
But Jesus knew that was EXACTLY what God was up to. Jesus’ physical movement from the rural and outlying towns in Galilee to the center of power of the Roman Empire and the Temple Institution in Jerusalem, revealed that God is indeed moving right to the heart of what needs to be confronted and changed. God had come in Jesus to move all people toward God’s unconditional love, mercy and grace and to move people to recognize one another as worthy of love and care. Jesus was on the move, not only into Jerusalem, but into people’s lives and hearts. Jesus moved toward the conflict, toward the pain, toward the divisions, toward the unrest. And Jesus moved his disciples to do the same.
Jesus modeled for the people what it means to be moved, to have your heart and soul moved not for your own well-being but for the well-being of all people and creation. Jesus was moved by the lepers outcast, Jesus was moved by the separation of the man unhoused living in the tombs, Jesus was moved by the woman who begged for crumbs, Jesus was moved by the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus was moved by the crowds hungry and lost, Jesus was moved to offer his very life for the sake of ending the movement of evil, hate and death and affirming the movement of God’s kingdom of wholeness, peace and abundant life for the world. Jesus moved to move us.
Our baptism calls us to this movement. We move to see our lives together as God’s Church beyond our walls, we move and join the shouts of Hosanna, save us now for our black siblings, our refugee siblings, and our LBGTQIA+ siblings. We move and say no to economic disparity and poverty. We move to ensure healthcare is offered for all; we move to keep our society safe from senseless violence. We move to offer our neighbors tangible experiences of God’s mercy, wholeness and love to all people and creation, so that they too will join the movement of hope. We move even when the path leads through pain, suffering or even death. We move, knowing that we are part of a movement in which the horror of death on a cross, moves us to the mystery of the empty tomb, moves us to the promise of new life that stretches out to the end of the earth. Jesus calls us to follow and move but reminds us that we will not move alone. God moves with us, with pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night so that we move together as a beloved community. We are part of the movement of God’s kingdom that enters into the heart of what needs to move for hope, mercy, grace and love in and for the world. Thanks be to God.

 

A Multitude of Sins Sermon on Psalm 51 March 25, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed for the community at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The text was Psalm 51: 1-12

As humans, we can smell a cover up a 100 miles away, can’t we? We don’t like having truth hidden from us. We want to know the truth, what people might be hiding, what we don’t know. Unless, of course, it’s something that WE did that we don’t want anyone to know, then we try and distract, use smoke and mirrors like a master magician to get people around us to dismiss the faults or sins that we don’t want uncovered. The phrase “covers a multitude of sins” has been rattling around in my brain in connection with psalm 51. I know that I see my faults or sins as objects to be mitigated. If I do something that is less than attractive or isn’t the image I want to project, I try and cover it up through words, or actions that are designed to disguise or distract from what I did, to hide the truth. It could be as simple as make-up that covers a perceived facial flaw, to a mint to hide the garlic I had for lunch, to suddenly slowing down to the speed limit when I see a police officer. I know the truth, I know what’s under the make-up, behind the mint and the law I had just broken, but I don’t want anyone else to know. It seems harmless most of the time, doesn’t it? Until we take that train of thought all the way to its logical conclusion of hoping that we can cover up the bigger sins in our lives and hope no one, including God, will see them.

And there a multitude of sins that I have, individual ones and ones that we share communally that we do try and cover up: ignoring people we don’t like, or are different from us, the reality of our planet in crisis, people hungry, in poverty and unhoused. We try and cover up the sins of not truly loving creation and our neighbor, of covering up the truth of our own complacency, comfort and self-interest by recycling plastics, offering disingenuous pleasantries, or our left-over canned food to food banks, or money to other charities. I’m not suggesting that any of the above actions are wrong, but they allow us to cover up from ourselves the bigger truth that we refuse to address. What happens when we can no longer cover these sins up with charity and simplistic acts? What happens when we have climate crisis, whole groups of people hated and more and more families on the street? What happens when there are more tent cities than affordable housing? What happens when the truth is found out?

The psalm writer has come to this hard truth-that sins can’t be hidden or covered up forever, but they’re always found out. There will come a time when the make-up is removed, the garlic breath overpowers, the speed trap is up ahead, our healthcare, education, and social systems collapse under the weight of people neglected, undernourished, and unhoused. God already sees this truth and is waiting for us to come clean. The psalm offers us the path for coming clean that lays our hard truths at the merciful feet of God. We can’t come clean on our own, as when we try, the cover up will only continue. It is God who reveals the truth not only of who we are, but of who we can be. We can come clean, because God can’t cover up God’s unconditional and unrelenting love for us. God sees our sins, our faults, with God’s love transforms them and therefore transforms us. God who creates, creates the world, creates humanity, creates relationships, will create us new again and again. When we try and cover up, pull the sheets up over our heads to hide, God peaks underneath to coax us out, to call us to see ourselves in freedom, to see ourselves as worthy of restoration to wholeness, unity, and joy in the truth that we are loved and beloved.

God’s truth is new each day with love, newness and joy. May we never cover that up. Amen.

 

Hidden Faults Psalm 19 March 11, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay UT, on March 10 for Wednesday Lent Vespers Worship. It was Zoom and it can be viewed on the Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC Youtube Channel.

The text was Psalm 19

The first house we bought in 1996 was a 1952 starter home in Lincoln, NE. Being an older home, we soon discovered some issues. We were having trouble with water in our finished basement, as every time we had a heavy rain, which in the spring and summer in NE, could be often. When the contractor came to regrade the dirt around the foundation, he saw something that concerned him. He started taking down the sheetrock in the basement and discovered the foundation was caving in. It couldn’t be seen hidden behind the walls. The water problem was really part of a bigger problem that only could be solved by removing all the walls in the basement so that the faulty foundation was exposed. Once it was exposed, the big heavy “I-beams” were brought in to reinforce the foundation. It was expensive for us as a young couple with two small children, and painful to lose the basement as living space. But it would have been more painful had the faulty foundation remained hidden. The possibility was the losing the whole house.

Like the psalmist in verse 12, I’m pondering what it means for God to clear me of my hidden faults. It seems innocuous enough, maybe God will just come in with a soft eraser and gently wipe the slate clean. But I think it’s more akin to the foundation work we had to do on our house in NE. When God clears our hidden faults, it means demolition of whatever wall is covering up the fault so that it can be rectified. Maybe it’s carrying a metaphor too far, but I know when I am faced with some hard truth of myself, there is a wall that has to come down so that I don’t continue to perpetuate what is faulty and crumbling.

The psalmist is also clear that all humans have faults, yes, even me, yes, even you. It is God’s presence and truth that pulls down the walls around our faults not for guilt or shame but for community, healing, justice, peace, and wholeness. With wall removed, we see God’s glory and grace in our lives and in the world. It beckons us to have our words and deeds reflect God’s will for God’s people. God’s presence in creation is sure, never ending, from heaven to earth, from day to night. God’s presence reinforces our true identity as beloved, so that we are courageous in doing what is life-giving for our neighbor. We are reinforced and girded with God’s law of love on our hearts. Thanks be to God.

 

Hold On February 28, 2021

This sermon was preached for the community at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on February 28, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16
Romans 4: 13-25
Mark 8: 31-38

Children’s message: Have my bag handy:  My children, who are now grown-ups, always make fun of the size of my bag. I quit carrying a small bag after becoming a parent as I felt like I was always needing something I didn’t have. If they got hurt, I would need a first aid kit, snacks for when they were hungry, water for thirst, pen and paper for when they were bored, tissues, hand wipes, and more. If they needed something, I could help. And even after they were grown, I discovered that keeping these things around wasn’t a bad idea, not just for if I need them, but I could help someone else too. We all need help sometimes don’t we? We all get hurt, sick, lonely, hungry, sad, it’s just what happens in our lives. We don’t like it and we don’t like to think about it do we? Well our story about Jesus today is kinda about that. Jesus was walking along with his disciples and started telling them that he was going to be hurt and die, which happens to every person. But Peter didn’t want to talk about that. Peter wanted to believe that Jesus and hopefully himself as a friend of Jesus, would avoid ever being hurt and dying. But Jesus says, no, that’s not how life goes. We can’t pretend that we’ll never be hurt, sad or that people will never die. We have to be honest about that and tell the truth of how God is always with us especially when we are hurt, sad, lonely and dying. Jesus tells the disciples that they can’t pretend that hard and scary things won’t happen, because that doesn’t help. But they DO need to help other people through the hard and scary things, maybe crying with their friends and family, by sharing food, clothes and money, by saying no when someone is hurting someone else. That’s what “picking up our cross” means. Notice how the cross looks like a “t”? Well, Jesus wants us to follow him into the truth that yes, we might get scared and hurt, and the truth is also that God hold us and hold each other and help others when they need it-like what’s in my mom purse. I want you to draw or write what you have that you can share when a friend is hurt, scared or lonely.

 Full confession: I have always possessed a “gallows” sense of humor or maybe what is better described as Gen X snark. It’s probably because I’ve had a few life events that if I didn’t find the irony or the humor in, I’d cry all the time or be jaded. Well, and maybe I am both of those things, but mostly, the snarky thing. Call it irreverent, call it a coping strategy, but it’s all part of my charm. So, when the pandemic first started, and Mike and I would be watching the horrifying news each evening, all the poor decisions or simply lack of leadership happening, I would turn to him and say, “we’re all gonna die.” To which he would say, “yes but maybe not today.” Each day in 2020 would pass with some over the top new low, and I would look at Mike and say, “We’re all gonna die.” “yes,” he would say, “but maybe not today.” There’s been a couple of times with all of the chaos in the past two months where Mike has conceded where we might all die sooner versus later….
Despite my snark, it is true that we are all gonna die. From this life anyway. Yet, I think what is at the root of my snark is our ability as humans to think that we can outsmart reality, suffering, hurt and death. That WE’RE different from everyone else and we’ll escape it. But that’s just not how life works, it turns out. We often ask, “why me?” when bad things happen to us, but I’ve learned the real question is “why not me?” Suffering and death is a part of life and all the major world religions have at their core how we cope with life’s hard realities. But we live in a culture that tells us to deny aging and death: from commercials for anti-wrinkle creams, hair dyes, fat removal, to how we keep dying people hidden away in facilities and sanitize the dying process so that no one is uncomfortable. We are lulled into holding on to the deception that we can avoid the inevitable. We will do anything: any diet, any exercise routine, any procedure, any supplement, and hold on to any illusion or delusion to convince ourselves that we can outsmart aging, suffering and dying. Until we can’t. Until we trip and fall into the reality that we and everyone we know suffers and dies. But even then, our inner dialogue becomes one of rationalization that maybe they didn’t hold on tight enough, that their suffering was teaching them something, or us something, or worse, was God’s will. This is never true.
Peter is caught up in the very human delusion that he can escape the reality of suffering and death, after all he knows Jesus, the Messiah who will conquer all! The Messiah who will hold the Empire accountable and the Israelites will be conquerors and in power at last. But Jesus sees the self-deception that Peter is holding on to, and names it by calling him Satan, the deceiver. You see, Peter was still deceived that he was in control, he hadn’t figured out yet that following Jesus,aligning your life with God, isn’t going to spare you from hurt, suffering, oppression and death, it doesn’t spare you from being human. Following Jesus means that you let go of all the deceptions, all the fears, so that you can pick up your cross; you can pick up the truth that there is suffering in your life and the lives of people around you. The truth that we can’t honestly enter into the hurt of the world if our hands and hearts are clutching our own misconceptions, worries, fears and delusions. Picking up our cross means that we’ve let go of anything that doesn’t bring the fullness of life for ourselves and the people around us.

This isn’t easy, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s a journey that we have to be honest about and commit and recommit to every day. We can’t put our heads in the sand, or hope that someone else says the hard, but true thing. We can’t drive by the tent camps of people living on the streets and hold on to the myth that a solution is too expensive or the people won’t want it. We can’t watch over and over again as black and brown people are unjustly incarcerated and murdered by authorities and hold on to the lie that racism and white supremacy doesn’t exist and we don’t have a role. We can’t witness the denigration and lack of human rights of people who are LBGTQIA+ and hold on to the prejudice that they should be excluded. We can’t ignore the racist or sexist joke because we want to hold on to “niceness” or our need to be liked. Like Peter, we want to hold on to the delusion that following Jesus means that we should be able to hold on to our comfortable life, or hold suffering and death at bay, or that being church is about feeling good, safe, and secure.

We forget what the cross really means in our life. It’s not a sign of holding on to protection, piety, status quo or comfort. The cross was a symbol of abusive power for the Empire, for the powers and principalities as Paul calls it, and was used by the Empire to keep the marginalized people of the society in their place out of fear. But God doesn’t allow abuse to continue, let status quo stand, doesn’t let fear and death win. Jesus picked up the cross to turn it into a symbol of God holding on to God’s vision of justice, of God’s upheaval of worldly authorities and of God’s will for life and wholeness for all creation. Jesus picked up the cross to show us to let go of the myth that suffering is good, God’s will or redemptive, but to show us that suffering is reality AND that God is present; we aren’t alone in our suffering. Jesus picked up the cross to show us that God lets go of everything that doesn’t bring life, empties God’s hands to hold on to us, to reveal that when it’s hard, when it looks bleak, God’s love, justice, mercy and life will find a way to hold on.

We are called to empty our hands, to let go, so that we pick up our cross, we hold on, we hold on to one another when suffering abounds, to hold each other in God’s love and care, clearly name the oppression, abuse and harm being inflicted on our marginalized siblings and speak the truth to the powers of this world in love. Not love that is sentimental and mushy, but love that can hold on in tension, paradox and reality. This is Luther’s theology of the cross, that in the cross of Jesus, suffering, reality and wholeness in God’s mercy and grace can be held together. We pick our cross, the cross that holds us when nothing else can, and we let go of the delusions of what we think life should be. We let go of our false life to hold on to a true life of being held by God’s love, mercy and grace, in the reality of our lives. This is good news indeed. Amen.

 

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.

 

Getting Our Attention: Sermon on Transfiguration Sunday, Epiphany 6B February 12, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 14, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

2Kings 2: 1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Mark 9: 2-9

I will admit to you that my planner is my life. Many of you have heard me say: If it doesn’t get into my planner, it doesn’t exist. Each day, I look at my calendar to see what should get my attention. Is it emails? Pastoral care calls? Holy Week planning? Sermon prep? Paying bills? House maintenance? Or the now complex task of procuring groceries without contracting a disease? And then there’s the stuff that creeps up that I DON’T plan for: the so-called “emergencies” that suddenly grab my full and complete attention, whether they should or not. And if I’m honest, then there are the things that grab my attention because they are simply distractions from what I should really be doing.  TV programs, my phone, social media, and more can get my attention. I am self-aware enough to know that what gets my attention is not always what SHOULD get my attention. I also know that left to my own devices, I will give my attention to situations and distractions that aren’t life-giving, or feed my ego, or keep me from what truly matters. For this reason, I bought a different kind of planner for this year. It’s a liturgical year calendar, which is church geek speak for it starts at Advent and ends at Christ the King Sunday. Each day there is a one sentence prayer, the daily office scriptures, and a reminder to keep the main thing the main thing. I wanted a planner to remind me that it is God who should get my attention each day. I would love to tell you that it’s working beautifully and each day I give my full attention to God and listen for God’s word in everything I do. But if I said that, I would be lying. Even with this planner, what tends to get my attention is whoever is the most demanding in my email, texts or ear, or the outrageous Twitter thread, or our national drama, or whatever is shinier, easier, and self-gratifying in my day, or whatever Amazon’s deal of the day might be. (But have you seen some of those deals?)

I can convince myself that I am giving my attention to God through my to-do lists, as giving those distractions my full attention seems far safer than truly giving God my full attention. I know that giving God my full attention, would mean a focus not on myself and what I want or what I think is important. And yet, there have been times that God has commanded my full attention. Usually, it’s when I’m at my most confused, exhausted, fearful or angry. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth. And even then, my ego works overtime to put the attention back where I think it belongs, on me. But God doesn’t give up and is ok even with the negative attention I offer. God knows that as a human, I’m a hard sell on giving my full attention to anyone but myself, so God goes to great lengths to lure me into God’s love and care.

Evidence of God’s desire to get our full attention is in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus, God with us, is God’s ultimate attention grabber and yet, as we read in the gospels, humanity, even or especially the disciples, still miss it. Healings, casting out of demons, inclusion of the outcasts, all are easily dismissed, and people focus not on the care and mercy offered, but the rules broken, the human hierarchy dismantled and the need to control what they can’t understand. This story that we call the Transfiguration of Jesus is no exception. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain, a place in Jewish cosmology where one experiences the divine. He glows, like he swallowed radium and even his clothing was bright enough to get the attention of someone miles away. And if that wasn’t enough, Elijah and Moses appeared, both of whom were servants for God, but God had to work really hard to even get their attention from time to time. God grabbed Moses’ attention by manifesting as a talking burning bush that wasn’t consumed and had to get Elijah’s attention that God could be in the sheer silence, not only in big grand theophanies of wind, fire and earthquakes. Moses and Elijah constantly had their attention pulled away from what really mattered.

But dear Peter’s attention couldn’t be so easily persuaded away from himself. “It’s good we’re here! Let me build something!” I would love to criticize this, but I recognize myself in this reaction, so I’m going to give Peter a pass. But God, God tries again. This time a cloud overshadows them, and God speaks through the cloud “Hey, this is Jesus my son, could you do me a solid and please pay attention! Listen to him!” For me, the most poignant part of this story is verse 8, “Suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” Everything that could have taken their attention elsewhere, was gone. Their attention had be on Jesus, because at the end of it all, Jesus was the only one there, and nothing else mattered. Only Jesus.

This is what God wants for us, for our attention to be so focused on Jesus that Jesus, is all that we see. It’s Jesus’ love, care and mercy that get my attention each day. I have to admit that God sometimes has to work hard to get my attention as I don’t always want to notice. I have to listen to God’s voice as it whispers in the tears and heartbreak of my neighbor; as God’s voice thunders through the chants of my neighbor demanding justice and dignity; as God’s voice crackles in storms, wildfires and destruction of ecosystems; as God’s voice sings out the love that longs to be free in all people of every gender and orientation; as God’s voice heralds’ true life, life that is attentive to God’s love for us all through Jesus.

God’s attentive and loving gaze on us and creation craves to be seen, heard and noticed, not for God’s sake but for our own sake, and for our and creation’s healing and wholeness. But giving God our full attention brings risk, for then we will see ourselves and each human being we encounter in light and truth, through the gaze of Jesus. It means that we can’t look away from the suffering, pain and fear, for our own safety and comfort, but like Jesus, we will fully give our attention to the people and places in our community who need to know that they are worthy of God’s and our, full attention. We will give our attention to the full inclusion of each person in God’s promises. Giving God our full attention will mean less attention on ourselves, and that is part of our journey in Lent where we admit this truth of self-absorption and ask for God’s grace and help in returning God’s attentive gaze of love. When we return God’s loving gaze, we see Jesus Christ and see the life Jesus promised us all and that will hold our attention. Thanks be to God.

 

Jesus Has Everything To Do With Us Sermon on Mark 1 January 30, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Jan. 31, 2021. We celebrated Reconciling in Christ Sunday. Worship can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
Psalm 111
Mark 1: 21-28

I have to be honest, there are occasionally people that I try and avoid. Sometimes it’s people I know and I don’t want have anything to do with them, but often, I also avoid people I barely know as I make quick assumptions about them based on what they look like, how they might speak or other fairly shallow exterior traits. I justify the avoidance by telling myself “well, I don’t want anything to do with them, as it might lead to trouble or drama that I don’t want.” The real trouble is that when I do this, I don’t ascribe to them their full humanity, I don’t see any connection with them. When I do that, I also can let myself off the hook and curl up safely in my own cocoon assume what’s happening to other people in other communities has nothing to do with me. I don’t know them, they don’t live here, so they’re not my problem. Well, during a global pandemic, we now know how connected we are and that what happens to other people, in other places can and does directly affect us. We feel the impact of other people’s actions on us and they feel ours. This has always been true, but we tend to ignore that truth or rationalize it away, usually in the name of independence, autonomy and self-righteousness. Such as with the HIV pandemic in the 1980’s. HIV, and the disease it causes AIDS, was at first wrongly attributed only to homosexuality, and LBGTQIA+ people were scapegoated as the cause. Some people, including those who professed to be “Christian,” refused compassion and care for those suffering, as originally many incorrectly assumed it wouldn’t affect people who are heterosexual. It was easy for many “Christians” at the time to marginalize and dehumanize a whole segment of our population based on a couple biblical passages poorly translated from ancient languages and contexts into modern English with a homophobic bias, and smugly proclaim that whatever is happening to “those people” is deserved, their suffering doesn’t impact us and we have nothing to do with them.  It’s more comfortable to focus on the parts of the Bible that we decide affirm our biases and divisions even if it destroys other people’s humanity, than to dwell on how many times we are commanded to love and care for our neighbor to the point of self-risk.

Then, as we are now, we were dealing with a virus that ironically doesn’t compartmentalize us-but sees us all equally as human hosts. Viruses don’t care a wit about how we divide ourselves, how we think that we are different, better or unique from each other. It seems that these unicellular organisms might understand more about connectedness than we do. Viruses don’t leave us alone because we ascribe to certain religions, political affiliations, are in certain tax bracket, are in particular family configuration, or because of who we love or who we don’t. We put our trust in the false identities that we’ve created for ourselves to provide us with control and safety. We reside in our insulated bubble and so bad situations will have nothing to do with us. We want to be God in our own lives. But ultimately that’s hubris and sin and doesn’t hold up. We don’t like being in proximity with the suffering, as it’s too real, too humbling. When all our labels and divisions are erased, when we can’t deny that what Paul writes in Galatians 3: 28 is true, “in Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek,” we wonder “will this destroy us?” And what if our worry about ourselves is exactly what needs to be destroyed?

The man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit, is seemingly ignored by everyone present, including the supposed religious leadership. But Jesus sees the man, and the unclean spirits recognize Jesus as well as he presents a threat to their comfort. They (and note that this is plural) ask him “what have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” Why don’t you just leave us alone Jesus? Everyone else is! We like things just the way they are. But Jesus is clear that he has come because leaving things as they are, is not the desire of God. Jesus proclaims that God’s kingdom is all about destroying what is harmful, what divides, and what kills abundant life. Jesus commands the unclean spirits to leave the man and we read that the man convulses; sometimes it’s painful to have the status quo disrupted in our lives.
It’s tempting to think of the man as the “other” as “them” and to rationalize the unclean spirit away as mental or physical illness or some other malady. But Mark offers this story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because the man with the unclean spirit is us. Jesus encounters us and we wonder what Jesus has to do with us? Sure, Jesus is great but we don’t want things to change, we’re comfortable with the uncleanliness that we know, versus the wholeness that we don’t. We’re afraid of everything we know and who we being destroyed, and that’s more frightening than the pain of the status quo. We’re comfortable with our own bigotry and biases, we’re comfortable reading the Bible literally when it suits us and ignoring what makes us uncomfortable. We’re comfortable thinking that the Bible and Church is the same thing as God. (It’s not.) We’re comfortable ascribing our successes and security to our own cleverness, assuming anyone who doesn’t have our successes must simply be less clever than we are. We’re comfortable assuming that it’s all about us and what makes us well, comfortable. To have these unclean spirits driven from us will cause us to convulse, as we will fight to keep status quo and we will question Jesus on why has he come to make us uncomfortable, is it really better to include and love all people more than a few misconstrued passages in the Bible, is it really better to worry about people I’ve never met who make me uncomfortable more than myself? Is it really better to stand against economic and political systems that are harming my neighbor if they are benefitting me?
The good news is that Jesus comes and sees us, sees our unclean spirits that divide, scapegoat and harm, and Jesus says “Guess what, I have everything to do with you. And yes, I have come to destroy evil, sin and death in you and in the world.”  Jesus came as God’s word made flesh to reveal that we are all connected in God’s love, and anything that disconnects us from God or each other, is not God’s will. God created us all just as we are in great diversity to reflect God’s love for diversity. Jesus came because God wants us all to be free from the unclean spirits that we harbor, God wants us all to see that God has EVERYTHING to do with us. God wants us to see our interconnectedness, to see the love and mercy that have everything to do with God and us. God won’t leave us alone, because God wants us. We are wanted. We are wanted so much that Jesus comes right at us and it scares us, because we recognize that nothing will be the same again. On this Reconciling in Christ Sunday, this is what we proclaim: that God wants us and every person. God wants each beautiful LBGTQIA+ person, God wants each Black person, God wants each indigenous person, God wants each person whom the world says they don’t want. We proclaim that in his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus came and destroyed evil, sin and death and in that new reality we now want what God wants: to create the beloved community, to want and welcome each person as God’s very own. We want to work with God to reveal to the ends of the earth that Jesus has everything to do with us, and will destroy what disconnects us from God’s love. Amen. 

 

Pastoral Response on the Events of Jan. 6, 2021 January 9, 2021

*This will be available to be viewed on the Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC YouTube channel. It follows the worship service on Jan. 10, 2021.

As I have done too many times this year, I am obligated address the brokenness that has devastated us this week. Forgive me for my late and most likely inadequate response, as it took me some time to order my thoughts coherently. We all watched as foundations of our national life together were violated in words and violent deeds. I will name this for what it is: a sickness. It’s a sickness that has been running rampant in our country not only in the past few years, but for over 400 years. It’s easy to trace how we have arrived at this moment, where we now watch horrified as the cancerous cells of white supremacy, nationalism and hate masquerading as religion burst through the healthy cells of our lives together to metastasize. We watched our president refuse to defend our nation, or the people, but only defend himself and his own interests. Make no mistake, this was a coup attempt. And make no mistake, how these white terrorists were treated by the policing agencies is very different than how those protesting on behalf of Black Lives Matter were treated. This is not up for debate. It’s power pure and simple. Power is always dangerous and this week we know now how dangerous unchecked power can be.
We mourn not only for our nation but for the lives lost to this senseless violence. We mourn for people harmed in body, mind or spirit. We mourn for us all. But we will not simply sit in sackcloth and ashes. We will take our tears and turn them into necessary actions of God’s love and God’s justice. You see, as God’s people, we know that conflating our egos, our pride and our religious notions only brings destruction. Jesus didn’t come to affirm self-aggrandizing religion, he came to bring life, abundant life to all people and all nations. This is who we are and must be in the world. If our religion is causing us to hate, sit idle, be comfortable and worry about ourselves, it’s not of God. Following Jesus means that we move, we go straight to the discomfort, the brokenness, even if we’re afraid. We go, because that’s where Jesus already is, and it’s where our neighbor is. We must amplify the voices of the too long silenced, we must speak truth to power, to not allow lies, cover-ups, or violence to overcome the light of Christ’s love in our community or our nation. We, as a white congregation, must do this.
Let me be clear, this nation is not now nor ever was a Christian nation. We are nation that comes together in our diversity to be one in the most radial way, in love and trust. We are stronger in this diversity and God smiles upon us. We come with our own perspective, but never with our own arrogance, agenda or might. We enter into our damaged and fragile relationships with hearts of humility and a longing for lasting peace.
We must come together, we must see the truth of who we are and what is happening, even if we don’t like what we see, maybe especially if we don’t like what we see. We must go forward and build a better way.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

Pastor Brigette Weier