A Lutheran Says What?

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

Pay Attention! Sermon on John 1: 29-42 Year A January 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on Jan. 19, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9
John 1: 29-42

 

Children’s sermon: Have a tray (or a cookie sheet) of objects (have them be varied and as many as you can fit on the tray). Have the tray of objects covered by a sheet. Gather the children forward and say: “I have some fun objects covered up on this tray. I’m going to remove the cover for 30 seconds and I want you to see how many you can remember when I put the cover back on. Ok Go!” remove the sheet count to 30 in your head and then recover the tray. “Ok what was on the tray!” You can write them on a large sheet of paper if that helps or simply have a list of what is on the tray beside you that only you can see and check off as they name the objects. More than likely, they will not name all the objects and more than likely if they do, it will be a team effort. “Ok, I’m going to remove the cover again for 15 seconds and see how many more you can see.” Repeat the exercise. Now they might have all the objects. (Even if they got them all the first time, ask if they are sure and repeat the exercise.) You got them all! Great job seeing all of the things on this tray! You really paid attention and what you didn’t see the first time, you might have seen the second time, particularly if a friend had seen it and pointed it out to you. We don’t always notice everything around us all the time-it’s hard to pay attention to details or sometimes we don’t pay attention to the things we should-and family and friends and our church help us to do that! Our bible story today is all about paying attention. John tells his disciples to pay attention to Jesus, and points to Jesus a couple of times in our story-in case his own disciples missed Jesus the first time. And Jesus pays attention to the disciples and tell them to come and see what he is doing. They may not get it the first time, the second, third or fourth, but Jesus knows that they need to keep looking and that in a group of friends, each person will help the other see Jesus and not miss something-like we helped each other to see all the objects on the tray. Seeing Jesus can be hard for us as it’s not like in the bible story with Jesus right in front of them. So where do we see Jesus today? I want you to go and ask someone in the congregation-right now-where they see Jesus in the world and then you tell them where you see Jesus. We need each other to see Jesus and to pay attention to what God is up to! Jesus calls us to be together to point to God’s work in the world. Let’s pray:

It’s amazing what we can miss when we’re not paying attention. Paying attention is being aware of our environment, what’s around us, or who’s around us. How many of you have ever been driving somewhere familiar, from home to work, or work to home, grocery store, etc. and arrive at your destination with no real recollection of how you got there? Maybe you were lost in your own thoughts, or a good song on the radio. For me this week it was U2’s “I still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” I think it should have been our hymn of the day! Or perhaps you notice something new on your daily route and wonder to a friend “has that always been there?” and the answer is yes! I noticed that after I had lived in Denver for awhile and had my routines, how little I paid attention to anything outside my routine. Someone newer to town would ask me “do you know where such and such is?” and I would have to stop and think or look it up as I had never paid attention before.

We get comfortable in our routines, what we see, hear, think, and do and we don’t notice what’s really going on around us, until someone points it out or something happens that awakens us to perhaps to what has always been there but we’ve never seen. Often, seeing something new in our environment can be good and helpful-such as discovering that someone on your street has similar interests, or there is a convenience nearby that you need, such as when Mike and I just discovered a movie theater four minutes from our house. Sometimes, seeing something new or for the first time can be difficult as it might reveal something that needs work and our full attention-such as the first time I experienced the inversion here in Salt Lake in December. My reaction was that this needs to get fixed immediately! This needs our full attention!

To pay attention is to notice the complexity and intersections of life together. What and who we pay attention to matters. We can seemingly sleepwalk through our days and not notice what God is doing in our midst. Our default is to pay attention to ourselves, what matters for us today or this minute and not notice that there is more to see. John the baptizer wanted his disciples and others to pay attention to the light that had come into the world, not to himself or his own ministry. Repeatedly in our text he points to Jesus and says “look! See! Behold!” to anyone who will listen. John pointed Jesus out every chance he got. John isn’t worried about being in competition with Jesus for followers, John is concerned that people pay attention to Jesus and see him for who he is. John knows that this is the one for whom the whole world has waited. This is the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the one who will take away the sin of the world! Jesus is the one who will shake us awake from complacency and self-interest and show us what really matters. But it might be challenging and uncomfortable when we see it.

Jesus asks two of John’s disciples a pointed question “What are you looking for?” and the disciples deflect it with a question in return “where are you staying?” Jesus simply responds “come and see” and they follow Jesus. The disciples of John knew that they were looking for something, someone who would change everything. They knew that they wanted to see a revolution, they wanted to see the nation of Israel given it’s due, they wanted to see freedom. They thought that they would know it certainly when they saw it. Jesus’ invites them to come and experience first-hand, to see what God is doing in the world and that God, in Jesus, sees them as well. God has come looking for us.

God sends Jesus to look for us, see us and invite us to see the world with the eyes of God. To pay attention to what is happening in the world that brings harm, injustice and death to our neighbor. To be witnesses and pay attention to God’s vision of wholeness and freedom for all people and nations. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow and King was a man who saw the world through the eyes of Jesus and paid attention to what was broken and where God’s healing was taking place. In his “I have a dream” sermon, King invited us to come and see Jesus through a nation and a people who can stand hand in hand, break bread together, who know that our futures are bound up in one another and so we must see each other as created in God’s very own image. King invited us to pay attention to Jesus who liberates us from the tyranny of fear, hate, scarcity, selfishness and ego. King pointed us to Jesus and called us as a nation to pay attention that when any of us are harmed, we are all harmed. But seeing the truth is hard and requires us to be willing to keep paying attention, even when it breaks our hearts. Paying attention means staying in the difficult conversation and the hard work when others shut their eyes and walk away. We have a perception that seeing Jesus will make us feel good, warm, and comfortable but when we see Jesus, and realize that Jesus sees us, with all our brokenness, imperfections and doubt we are made uncomfortable. Being seen by Jesus reveals our need for grace, mercy and presence of God in our lives and reveals the work that we are to be a part of for the sake of bringing this same transformation throughout the world.

When we see Jesus and know that Jesus sees us, we then see those whom the rest of the world doesn’t. We see the destructiveness of ignoring white supremacy for our siblings who are black, we see the pain of erasure in our siblings who are LBGTQIA, we see the unraveling of truth in our institutions as a means to personal gains, we see those who are in systemic poverty and lack stable housing, and we don’t just see it to see it, we see it to name it, and then at the invitation of Jesus, to join in the work for all people to be truly seen as beloved, valuable and wanted.

Jesus looks for us, wants to see us fully for who we are and calls us to be renewed and transformed by his gaze. Simon was not only given a new name, Cephas, Peter, but Jesus also gave Peter a new life. Peter will try and shut his eyes and walk away, but Jesus will continue to gaze on him from the cross and then from the empty tomb and call him to see God’s people and care for them. We, too, might try and shut our eyes and walk away when what we see is too much, too painful and too hard, but Jesus looks at us, with love, compassion and mercy. Jesus looks for us to give us new life and new hope and calls us to “come and see,” pay attention, for God’s love sees you today and always. Amen.

 

Renewed for Life: Dangerous Hope Sermon on Luke 20: 27-38 November 14, 2019

This sermon was preached on November 10, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Job 19: 23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17
Luke 20: 27-38

Children’s sermon: Do you ever worry about something? What do you worry about? Yeah, we worry about lots of things don’t we. Worry can be ok, as worry can sometimes help us to make decisions, but often worrying can keep us from focusing on what is actually important. Have you ever worried about the wrong thing? Such as worried about what a friend thinks of you to the point that you ignore other friends who then might get upset with you? Yeah, we can worry about the wrong stuff as people of any age. Our bible stories for today are kinda odd, but they are essentially about worrying about the wrong thing. We heard some questions from people worried about what happens when we die, or when Jesus comes again-but Jesus says, don’t worry about that! We don’t have to worry because no matter what, God loves us, is with us and never leaves us. So if we don’t have to worry what should we do? Jesus says we should do what God does, offer life! God offers life to us in so many ways-how do you see God in your life? Yep! All great things! God wants us to spend our lives offering this same life to other people. Today we are talking about offering life as the church to the community around us. We can offer life to people by spending time with them, by working with people with a special gift we have or with our money. The adults will be turning in what we call a pledge card and it’s about how we will offer life with all of who we are as well  our money. You have something to offer too. I have these cards that say “I offer to God” and you can write or draw with this dry erase marker how you will share God’s gift of life with people. When the adults come forward with their cards, you can drop yours in the basket too! Every gift matters! Let’s pray:

This might seem like a counter intuitive statement, but we live in a culture preoccupied with death. Now, the real challenge is that we don’t talk about it or acknowledge in healthy or forthright ways, we dance around the deeper questions to worrying about our physical bodies. Watch tv for five minutes and you’ll see products to make you look younger, take away gray hair, exercise programs to keep you thin, products that make your joints less creaky (ok that one is speaking to me some days), whiten your teeth and even more invasive medical procedures to give you back the body you had when you were young. Sucking out fat, removing wrinkles, lifting things, and the list goes on and on. We worry about our aging bodies, we worry about the future and we worry about dying. We are really trying to control the future. We want to control what happens next in our lives, we want some certainty about how our lives play out and ultimately what happens when we die. We’re afraid of the unknown, and when we’re left to our own speculation, we try and shape what happens next. We’re preoccupied with death-but so much so that I’m not sure how many of us are really living.

This is also true in religious institutions. In the ELCA, we’ve heard the alarm bell clanging of “we are a dying institution.” And not just ELCA but all mainline protestant churches (UMC, UCC, Presbyterian, Episcopal). As mainline, we’ve watched rapid decline of attendance and participation in the past 20 years and in response a whole slew of books, speakers, conferences, blog posts, and FB conversation threads have popped up all with the idea that if we could just find the right answer, find the key, the silver bullet, then we could return to the good old days and we could be comfortable knowing that we’ve got this church thing under control. If the church could just look like it used to, it would be great! We wouldn’t be living in fear of the “what happens if all this goes away,” what if it looks different and wondering if there is life for Church after the death of the institution.

It turns out that this has been our tendency for thousands of years, being preoccupied with death but for all the wrong reasons! We speculate ourselves into a corner so to speak where we then concretize these vague ideas as truth. Both the letter to the Thessalonians and our gospel from Luke today capture this challenge of wanting certainty about the unknown. The Thessalonians were stressed out about the second coming of Jesus and wondering if they would know when it  happened and make the cut. Paul attempted to calm them down reminding them to not get caught up in people who run around saying the sky is falling, you’d better be doing or not doing certain things and everything is terrible. Don’t focus on what is going wrong, stay focused on the truth that God chooses us, all of us, loves us and promises that we will be with God always, in this life and in the next, no one is left behind. What God is doing in your midst today, may not look like the past, but our God, through Jesus Christ, is always renewing, transforming and nurturing life in unexpected places and in unexpected people.

The Sadducees were looking to discount Jesus’ teachings on resurrection and life with God, when they approached Jesus with what they thought would be a way to ensnare him in a conundrum. Most Sadducees denied that there was anything after death-no resurrection-and they only acknowledged the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah or writings of Moses. The Pharisees did have a theology of the resurrection long before Jesus, as they acknowledged the history books, the prophets and the writings that make up our OT. This is why Paul, a Pharisee, could so easily articulate how God, through Jesus Christ, promises resurrection and saw the support for the resurrection in the Hebrew Bible. The Sadducees ask Jesus this ridiculous question about seven brothers and this one poor woman. Since they don’t even believe that there is an afterlife, they don’t really care, they just want Jesus to contradict Mosaic law and tradition so that they could label him a heretic. They are looking to kill this Jesus movement that was bringing people so much hope because people with hope are dangerous. They live differently. They think differently and see more than others. But Jesus elegantly leaps over the tripwire to move them and us beyond worries and preoccupations with being right-to God’s truth.  The truth that women are not property to be batted about among men-we have our own worth and God will affirm that worth in this life and in the next. The truth that God is a God of love and relationships and wants us to be in healthy, safe and affirming relationships, and not alone. The truth that we must move beyond worrying about death into order to see there is life all around-Moses even said so! When Moses at the burning bush calls God the God of Abraham, God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, Moses affirms that in God, all life is connected, God is not a God who worries about death but creates life when the rest of the world proclaims finitude and hopelessness. God is a God of the living and the hopeful!

Resurrection life is not only about the transformation of our lives when we die, it’s a process that starts right here right now. In God, resurrection isn’t status quo and more of the same of this life, it’s so much more! It’s transformation, God’s grace that won’t leave us devoid of hope or in the same ruts on either side of the kingdom. It might not feel good, as resurrection does first mean death, death to the preoccupations of the world: death to our fears of not being in control and being comfortable. Death to the traditions that stifle our imagination and hope about God’s work in our midst. Like the Sadducees, we must die to thinking that we have the all answers and can manipulate God into affirming them. When we die to our fears, worries, and preoccupation with getting it right, then we focus on being alive in Christ, we try something that we’ve never done before, we stop doing things that aren’t bringing life to ourselves and our neighbors, and we know that being alive in Christ, is moving forward even when we’re unsure of the path because of our confidence of who is on the path with us. God who calls us beloved, renews us, transforms us, resurrects us and declares us alive.
While we’re preoccupied with the details of death, God is preoccupied with life-our life with God today and forever. Being children of the resurrection means that we focus on life, abundant life, right here, right now. We quit worrying about dying and start living! Being alive in God means that we embrace that with God, our lives will look different in the coming years, personally, in the larger church and here at Our Saviour’s. We don’t have to know the details but we can wonder with hope, promise and confidence that God is present with us in this life and the next. Alive with God’s presence, we can offer this resurrection life, transformational life through how we live our lives, to people in our midst today and every day. Thanks be to God.

 

Renewed by Faith Sermon on Luke 17: 5-10 Pentecost 17 Year C October 6, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Oct. 6, 2019 in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were:
Psalm 37:1-9
2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Luke 17: 5-10

 

Children’s sermon: Invite the children forward. Then invite an adult for each child to come forward as well. Ask the children: “Do you wonder what you will be like when you grow up? Yes, of course! Even as adults we wonder about our future! These adults here have a lot of experience in life. I’m going to ask them to take turns and share with you one thing that they want you to know about God in your life as you grow up and what they see in you that is special and will serve God when you’re older.” Ask the children “is that what you see for yourself? Yes? No? It’s so good to hear what other people see about us that is special! It can give us a bigger vision of ourselves and what we can do!  You do your normal every day stuff: eating food, going to school, soccer, ballet, piano, cleaning your room, coming to SS and church-kinda all ordinary not exciting things but those things are part of who you are and yet they are special too, because it’s how you serve and love Jesus.
The disciples were struggling with the feeling that they felt too ordinary for the work Jesus was asking them to do. The asked Jesus to give them more faith so that they can be amazing-but Jesus said, you don’t need more of anything- you have all that you need to do big things! Faith isn’t about size, or what we know, Jesus says faith is about God’s presence in your life, how God sees you, and God’s power. Jesus tells the disciples that with God’s power, maybe you can move a tree to be planted into the ocean! That might seem silly, but Jesus says, don’t limit yourself because you think that you’re a kid, or ordinary and plain-because God’s vision of what you can do with God is limitless and it renews us each day.  Dream big about what God can do in your life! Jesus understands that we can’t always dream big-sometimes our imaginations are tired. And so that is why we gather together-we pass on the faith-God’s vision of what God can do in our lives and in the world-to each other! And that doesn’t have to be fancy, just reading the bible, talking, praying, helping other people, those ordinary things, help us to keep dreaming big together-to see what God is doing in the world and how we can do those things with God. I want you on this paper to write/draw what you want to do with God this week to share God’s love. Put it on our cross at the back.  Let’s pray:

It’s easy to feel that we aren’t enough. It can seem in life that we are always waiting for when we have enough of something: whether it’s enough money to retire, or enough courage to make a career or life change, or enough time to go on that vacation, as human beings we seem wired to notice what we don’t have rather than taking stock of what we do have. For humans, everything can be a commodity, measured and weighed, right? And then when we see exactly how much we have of something, we can assess whether we need more or not. And the funny thing is, how many of us have over looked at our bank accounts, our calendars, our courage and said-“oh this much is perfect! It will do nicely.” I know that I never have. We tend to live in the perspective of scarcity. And when we measure ourselves against others or some unattainable standard, it exhausts us, discourages us, and we can feel worthless regardless of what we do really have.

Faith has become of victim of this kind of thinking in our 21st century lives. When I think about my faith, I immediately do an inventory of all the people whom I think have more faith than I do. And the list is long. But when I talk to those people, I discover that they don’t think they have any more faith than anyone else, and often they feel that they have less. And so, we all set about trying to figure out how to get more faith. We think that to increase faith, we have to do extraordinary things and be extraordinary people-you know be like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, or St. Francis of Assisi. To have more faith, we must never doubt, never question, and lead an exemplary life. And in our American culture, we connect faith with receiving blessings, and we buy the lie that if we have enough faith, live faithful and faith-filled lives, that God will give us things-material things-as a sign of our faithfulness. This is called the prosperity gospel-that if you live faithfully, God will bless you with wealth. This is dangerous and false. Jesus never says this, in fact, Jesus says that we will suffer for the gospel-and Paul reiterates this in our 2 Timothy reading today. So what is faith? And how does it function in our lives?

The disciples were struggling with this too, it seems. In the verses before our gospel text started, Jesus had been teaching them to not be an obstacle for others, and forgiving someone over and over. All of this must have stressed them out because our passage opens with the disciples pleading to Jesus “increase our faith!” We can’t possibly do all those things! We’re too human, we lack so much! Give us more faith so that we have enough! Jesus’ response indicates that the disciples have not understood. Faith, Jesus says, is not a worldly good that you can have more or less of, you can’t get more, manufacture more, nor can you lose it. Faith isn’t up to you, it’s up to God. Faith is a gift from God freely given to you and to all. Faith is God’s vision of you, for you, your life and for the world. Faith is being connected to God’s presence and power in your everyday life, even if you can’t see, feel, or hear God. Faith also isn’t an inoculation against hardships. We will all encounter hard things of one kind or another, and faith reminds us of God’s presence in the midst of things we can’t understand, and vision beyond what we can see in the here and now. God’s gift of faith expands our imagination of what we, our ordinary selves, in our ordinary days can do with God. God’s gift of faith pulls us into community with God and others.

Jesus adds on to this explanation of faith that expands our vision, with the story of the master and the slaves. This story makes us uncomfortable, as slavery is a hard part of our country’s history and we know still goes on today with people who are caught in human trafficking. Jesus doesn’t shy away from this hard reality but names it and turns it on its head. The human master uses power over people for his/her own benefit, exerting their power for themselves and this is always harmful. Jesus moves us from seeing ourselves as the master to the slave as a reminder that Jesus came to serve, to be the master that uses power for other people, for healing and for us and we are to do the same. Faith from God is God sharing power, vision, and love with us. Faith is living your day to day life naming reality, even hard things, in the presence of God who proclaims you beloved and enough, and who has the power and love to transform all that we do into more than enough, expanding God’s kingdom in the world in ways that we can’t always imagine. Faith is sharing that transformation.

God gives us faith to see what others struggle to see: how the world in God’s vision can be and how we are enough to be a part of it. Each day God’s presence renews us and our faith to reveal God’s kingdom in everything we do. Things that we might think are ordinary or not worth much in worldly standards. But faith tells us we do have everything we need for ministry and mission each day here at Our Saviour’s. Can we see God’s vision for OSLC in the next ten years? What does it look like? We’re looking with God’s vision into the future and we see greater connections with our neighborhood through Scouting, a playground for all who come to our property for any reason, ensuring our building is usable for whatever ministry God invites us into in the future, engaging and meaningful worship that proclaims all people have worth, will feel safe with healthy boundaries,  will be affirmed in their gifts and faith will be passed from one to another. We can look with God’s vision where God is calling us to be people of reconciliation and healing for those who are on the margins of our society. We can look with faith for what new thing God is doing in our midst and step toward it.

Renewal is all around us-for God is already at work.  We are gifted by God with faith to be connected to God and God’s people. We live in the promise of all being beloved and having worth. We do only what we know we ought to do: use our ordinary actions as part of God’s extraordinary work in the world. We are indeed renewed by faith.  Thanks be to God.

Prayer Station: You can take a post it note and share how you can participate in God’s vision for OSLC in the coming year and place it on our cross on the back window.

 

God’s Power of Love Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14 September 1, 2019

This sermon was preached on Sept. 1, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.
The texts were Psalm 112, Hebrews 1-8, 15-16 Luke 14: 1,7-14

Children’s sermon: What are your favorite super heros? Or movie/tv characters? Why do they do that no one else can? Do you wish you could do that? Yes, we can often want to be someone else, or want to be around certain people because they make us feel good about ourselves or safe and secure. Did you know that you, each one of you, have a superpower? Yep! We all do! Jesus talks about this superpower in our bible story today. Now it doesn’t seem like Jesus is talking about superpowers-but he is! Jesus gets invited to a dinner by some people who want to know more about him-they want to see if Jesus is really who he says he is-they have heard he has powers. Jesus Heals people, touches people who are sick and doesn’t worry about getting sick himself, he talks to people whom no one else will, hangs out with people who no one else likes, loves all people no matter who they are. Jesus did have power-the power of God’s love! Jesus knew that he was being watched at this dinner and do you know what he did? Showed God’s love! At this dinner party Jesus watched the other people too. In Jesus day where you sat for dinner mattered. The really important people all sat at the head of the table together and less important people sat further away. He watched as some pretended to be more important than they were, more popular than they were and made other people feel less important by not having a place at the table for them. But Jesus told them a story to help them and us realize that we have a superpower that makes sure everyone is important: God’s Love! Jesus said that when we invite people who no one else wants to be around-make all people feel included, make room for them, we show God’s love. When people know that they are loved, then they can use their superpower of love too! This is a power that we all have through God no matter what we can do or not do, even if we are little and young. Here’s a way for you to use your superpower right here, right now. Here are cards and markers, draw, write notes of love or friendship (which is a form of love) to your family, friends, someone here today that you think needs to be told that they are loved and have this same superpower of love. Let’s pray:

They come into the fellowship hall a few at a time. Many walking independently, some in wheelchairs, some guided by care givers. They are people whom most assume are powerless over much of their lives and so are treated as powerless and unimportant most of the time. But on this afternoon, they feel valued and important. Everyone eats together around tables sharing food and tidbits from their week. After eating, they offer their gifts, creating cards of care for Habitat for Humanity families or those in assisted living facilities, gifts to share with friends, blessings bags to hand to those who are hungry, creating prayer reminders, and materials to help share information about this unique gathering with others. Then the community gathers in the sacred space of the chapel, a worship space where many have never been invited into or are have never been truly welcomed into just as they are. And if they are in those spaces, there are not accommodations for their visual or hearing differences, their verbal outbursts, unpredictable movements, noise and visual sensitivities, and other physical realities. But in this space, on this afternoon, everyone is invited, accepted and accommodated. Noise canceling headphones are available, there is a corner with dimmed lights and a tent for visual sensory deprivation, prayers, songs, scripture readings are communally and imperfectly led, the gospel is proclaimed through conversation, games, activities. Offerings are collected: words and pictures are put on laminated cards with dry erase markers that proclaim what of themselves will be offered to God this day and then the cards are read out loud as the prayers of the people. Bread and grape juice are distributed by those whom are usually excluded from the table, by people whom most assume don’t have the capacity to understand the gifts of God’s grace or distributed by children whom the adults assume are too young to understand. The words aren’t exact, “Jesus bread is for you,” or “juice of Christ to drink” but the intent and the love are clear and the power of those words and actions moves many to tears. All have a place at the table.

Songs are led by anyone who desires to lead and an occasional solo is spontaneously offered. Throughout the worship there is random talking, walking around, times when everything stops to answer a question, times when what was planned to happen doesn’t, something else does and it’s better. In this sacred space and time, all who are gathered matter, have a voice, and are part of the power of authentic community. The guests are given power to unabashedly share their gifts of love, joy and presence, the care givers who bring the guests feel the power in their holy work for caring for those whom society ignores and pushes to the side, the caring support people, people like me, are shown what true power, true love and true worth look like in God’s kingdom. We are changed by the presence of those who are usually not in our daily lives or in our supposedly sacred spaces of worship. We see clearly that God’s kingdom comes when those who seemingly have all the power, share it, give it away to those whom society hides, ignores, and deems unworthy and unimportant. When all are invited, included and given their own power as God’s beloved people, the power of love through Jesus is unleashed to reveal true community in God’s love. This community we call Rejoicing Spirits is all about the power of love, God’s love that flows through us all, and the strength of this love that has power to change the world. Rejoicing Spirits does the hard work of love in action, revealing the truth that all are important and have a place in God’s kingdom.

Jesus knows this power, Jesus sees that when not everyone is included, when some claim more power for themselves, pushing others to the outside, that our collective power is diminished and some people are harmed. When we assume that we are more important than other people, when we place value on human lives-whether that is through economic status, gender, age, ability, citizenship, or when we think that being close to people who have worldly status and power gives us status and power and that being with people whom society deems without value reflects on our own worth, we misuse our power of love. It becomes love of self and not love of neighbor. The shadow side of power is revealed.

God is the source and originator of this power of love and pours it out into us all and the world through Jesus. God is not afraid to share God’s power with us through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry is one of showing how God’s power works in the world. God’s power is always used for wholeness, joy, dignity and worth for all creation. Jesus shows that God’s power that grows stronger when it is shared and is mutual. It’s power to live as our authentic selves not worrying about what someone might do to us-as God’s power removes fear. This power opens us up to awareness-awareness of who is sitting in a lower place at the tables in our community, and power to unabashedly point to the value and worth of all people.  On Friday, some of the Salt Lake City community, clergy, lay people and a couple of state legislators, gathered in loving power to support Cecelia, a woman who advocates for women of color in her community to receive healthcare and educational opportunities, a woman who lifts others up and is vital to her family and her neighborhood. The group pointed to the love she shows and that she should not be deported to Mexico where she faces certain violence, trauma and possible death. She has worth and importance right here despite paperwork. Worth is not a piece of paper or a label, worth is being loved by God. Jesus proclaims that labels are not statuses of worth, and the power of God’s love flows to those who feel powerless in our society: not only Cecelia but all immigrants, refugees, the sick, the differently abled, the under employed, the unhoused. Our scriptures over and over recall that God welcomes all and we are to imitate that welcome. Love is the power to do the hard work to change the circumstances that denies anyone their worth. And we can’t just talk about this hard work of love, we have to do it.

We have this power. With the power of God’s love, we include and invite those who are missing from our sacred worship spaces. With the power of God’s love, we offer radical hospitality and welcome to people whom others ignore. With the power of God’s love, we value all people ahead of our own wants, needs and fears. With the power of Gods’ love from Jesus, we act to love to all around us, even when we are uncomfortable, even if we are mocked, dismissed, uninvited and marginalized ourselves. We trust in this power of love from Jesus that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Jesus who invites us to claim this power of love that changes us, transforms our actions, our hearts and turns the whole world upside down. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Planning on the Promise Sermon on Luke 12 August 11, 2019

This sermon was preached on August 11, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Psalm 33: 12-22, Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12: 32-40.

 

 

 

Children’s sermon: School is starting soon and so are all of the activities at church…here is my planner where I try and keep it all straight, so that I have everything under control. I like to think that if I plan, then I won’t have to worry. But even planning makes me worried about everything going on! How do you get ready for things such as the first day of school? You set an alarm to remember to get up. Get dressed: Do you wear shorts in the winter or a heavy coat in August? No, you check the weather. You might take a shower, brush your teeth, pack a lunch maybe a snack, make sure you have your homework in you backpack…Why do you do all of those things? I mean you pack a lunch at 7 a.m. and lunch isn’t until much later…but you do these things because on some level you’re afraid of not having what you need for your day. If you didn’t you would get to lunch time and be hungry, or get to math class and not have your homework. This thing about my calendar and how we plan our day, is that it’s all about ourselves. We spent a lot of time last week getting ready for VBS, not because we were afraid of all you kids coming but because we were excited and wanted you and all the children to feel welcomed and loved! Our bible stories remind me today that being ready is important but I don’t have to be afraid or panic. Jesus tells us to not be afraid for God gives us God’s kingdom! What do you think is in God’s Kingdom? Well, God’s kingdom probably includes lots of things that I don’t understand about but here’s one thing that I do know is included in God’s kingdom: God’s promise to love us, to keep us together as a community, and that we are with God always-right here, right now and when we someday die. And God GIVES it to us-to all of us together! Do you know what a promise is? Yes, it’s a gift to do something. We can’t earn it or lose it! God gives the kingdom to us simply because we are loved. And so we live our lives being ready, not out of fear, not out of worry of what will happen next, but ready to receive all that God will give us and to share it! Let’s pray:

There seems that there is a lot to fear in our lives right now! Perhaps there always has been, but it seems in hyperdrive. Especially in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton last weekend. We can be fearful about even going to the grocery store or other retailers to do back to school shopping knowing that spaces we once held as public, safe and communal now cause us to be on constant guard and vigilance. I was reading where some parents are buying their children bullet proof backpacks out of fear…that never would have occurred to me or been on my radar as a parent of young children or a teacher. And that’s not the only fear that seems prevalent: fear of the stock markets, trade wars and economy, which might lead of never being able to retire or maintain retirement (I’m personally not planning on being able to fully ever retire), fear of actual wars and rumors of wars, fear of the mass deportations that are occurring, fear of global warming and the effects on the environment and on our health as a people. And then you layer that with what I call fears that persist at an underlying hum in our lives: health, family, day to day finances, relationships, work, childcare and we spend much of our day to day lives mitigating or coping (in productive or unproductive ways)  those fears by financial planning or plain old calendar planning, following the stock markets daily, checking the weather, knowing the news, mapping out our children’s future, working out, dieting, organizing, and we fool ourselves into the illusion that that we can on our own know everything and be ready for any eventuality in our lives. But really all that happens is what psychologists call being in a state of hypervigilance, which is a leading cause of anxiety and depression, both conditions of which are skyrocketing in our society, particularly among our children. And this doesn’t only effect mental status but anxiety and depression have real physical symptoms as well. And it feels the more we try to plan and control, the more anxiety we can have.

And then we get a passage like this one in Luke. And in our current state of affairs, what do we hone in on in these nine verses? The being ready part! We bypass the first couple of verses and our hearts go straight to where our own treasured anxieties lead us: We must be ready! If we’re not something bad will happen! We must do all that WE can to be ready, it depends on us! If we don’t prepare-we have no one to blame but ourselves.

But that’s where we have to back that train up. Jesus says in this passage and so many times throughout the gospels “Do not be afraid.” Yeah, right, Jesus, easy to say in bucolic ancient Palestine when times were simpler…well, Jesus was on the way to the cross, the Empire and the religious authorities were after him. The people he was talking to were poor, oppressed, marginalized and lacked power over their own lives. They had much to fear. They never knew when a Roman solider would enter their home demanding money, food or to take them away to be conscripted. They never knew when disease would strike. They never knew if the food would hold out or where they could get what they needed to survive. Don’t be afraid? Fear was in the very air that they breathed.

What follows from Jesus is the heart of the gospel: “For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” As I told the children, this is the promise. God loves us as a parent adores a child and gives us, no matter what, God’s kingdom. With this promise in mind we read the next verses on being ready. God’s promise permeates all that we think, say and do. Any planning that we do isn’t wrong or bad, and it’s also not a command that is up to us to follow. We plan out of faith, what we hope for in God’s kingdom, that the promises of God cling to us more tightly than fear clings to us. When we focus on God’s promises, this is where our heart will be and so our treasure.

When we plan and live out of this promise and faith that is part of God’s kingdom, we live differently than those around us. Living out of fear will always seek to divide, hoard, worry, terrorize and polarize us. Living out of faith and promise witnesses to sharing, including, welcoming, contentment and loving. God’s promise isn’t just to us as individuals, but to us as a whole people. How we are prepared to receive God’s kingdom is about how we live together. We live together from faith when we support Urban Crossroads, when we offer VBS to children as a place of hope and love. When we support Linus Project to offer hope to children with something as simple and meaningful as a blanket. When we for God’s Work, Our Hands, work at Family Promise. We live from faith of God’s promises, anytime we walk with people on the margins to make visible this assurance of hope. This week at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in WI-a memorial was passed that the ELCA would be a sanctuary denomination-which means essentially that we will walk in meaningful and purposeful ways with people in this country who are marginalized due to their immigration status. While some would worry this a partisan stance-it’s not. It’s a political stance-one the highlights God’s politic-God’s heart-that we all love and care for one another despite paperwork or human made borders. We forget that politics are not bad, as Jesus was highly political. The word politics comes from the Greek word “polis” which means “city” or “living together in a city.” God cares very much how we live together. When we follow God’s politics, God’s heart, we also care how we live together, our heart will be with whom we treasure, when we serve one another as Christ. This will make us, as the writer of Hebrews states, “strangers and foreigners on the earth.”

We will be very strange and foreign indeed, to live fully into the gospel of promise of being ready to receive God’s kingdom, not from fear but from hopeful anticipation. God calls us to live together and to be ready for God’s transforming presence in our lives-not by our own deed but by the work of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews also states, “God has prepared a city for them/for us.” God has already prepared what we need to live together in peace and we are ready to participate in God’s work of  God’s heart for the world, clinging to faith and not fear, hope and not despair, promise and not worry.

We cannot know the future, and fear will continue to swirl around us. But so do the promises of God, so do the words of Jesus, “do not be afraid little flock,” and so does the gift of faith from God who prepares our hearts, minds and souls with what we need to live together, to live into the promises and to receive the kingdom that is already here and is still being revealed. Amen.