A Lutheran Says What?

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

Self Interest at the Red Sea Sermon on Exodus 14 June 26, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 28, 2020. Worship can be viewed on YouTube on our channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. *Image from Google Free Images-no copyright infringement intended

The text was Exodus 14 in our series I Love to Tell the Story

You may know that on Tuesday we start our Conversations on Holy Ground book study on “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. All are welcome and invite a friend! If you haven’t read the book, even if you can’t attend the discussions, I invite you to do so. He wrote it about two years ago now and he names the root of many of our societal and personal challenges-yes racism, but also patriarchy, misogyny, classism, homophobia, and whatever other “ism” we as humans create. You see, Kendi’s thesis on why humanity struggles to get along is simple: It’s all about self-interest. And right now, you’re saying to yourself, as I did, well, of course! That’s not a revelation! Self-interest in and of itself, isn’t necessarily bad, it keeps us alive on some basic level day to day, but when self-interest, particularly unexamined self-interest, drives every decision, every action, every thought-the outcome is not hard to see. It means everyone around you has to lose in order for you to win. It means that whatever seems comforting, safe and certain must be the right thing. Kendi unpacks how that unexamined self-interest shapes our every thought, word and action and only brings sickness, death and fear. Learning to examine our self-interest, to recognize it, name it, and set it aside, allows for imagination, health, newness and a hopeful future.

Self-interest is of course rampant in our Exodus story today. The Israelites had finally been freed from Pharaoh, but only after 10 plagues brought devastation and death to the Egyptians. It was only out of self-interest that the Egyptians told Moses to take his people and leave, and they did. The Israelites were led by God (represented by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night) to camp on the shores of the Red Sea. It must have seemed fool hardy to flee in a direction that put them in the path of a major body of water on one side and the enemy on the other. But there they were. Self-interest reared it’s head again when Pharaoh and his officials realized that they had just let all of their free labor, the basis of their economy, leave. So they pursued the Israelites. The Israelites saw the army coming and out of self-interest complained to Moses that they were better off in servitude in Egypt than what was about to happen. They feared death more than they could imagine the life that God was up to in their midst.

I love the next couple of lines as we get a little humor and snark out of God. Moses tells the Israelites to stand firm, be still and watch what God will do. But then God, clearly having a “what in the world” moment with Moses, said “no! Don’t just stand there! Go forward! I know that there is a sea in front of you, I know that it looks like there isn’t a way out. I know that this looks bad, but I need you all to keep moving forward, even when it’s hard, even when it seems to be not in your own self-interest!” Then the pillar of cloud moved to the rear of the Israelites, I like to believe to prod the Israelites forward and not let them fall back into self-interest.

The Israelites moved forward towards the Red Sea and through Moses God parted the waters with God’s own breath for them. They walked toward the promise of a new life and new freedoms. The Egyptians saw this powerful act of God and out of self-justified, self-interest, kept pursuing. While it is indeed a difficult piece of this story to name that the Egyptians died so that the Israelites could live, I tend to believe that it was the Egyptians own self-interest that led to their demise. God sends the Egyptians into a panic we read, a panic of realization that without the Israelites to serve them, to be exploited to support their “civilization,” to be a scapegoat for the ills of Egyptian life, that they would have to rebuild their entire way of being. A panic that maybe they weren’t the smartest, best, most developed, and most powerful. This panic, this need to reinforce their own self-interest, is what led to their demise. If they had not pursued their own self-interest, but faced the reality, they wouldn’t have drowned.

Like the Israelites, we might feel trapped between a formidable obstacle and a coming army. We can’t see a path forward, to what the future might hold, and so it seems in our self interest to go back to what we know, except we can’t and it’s not. We’re also like the Egyptians in that we don’t want to lose what makes our lives easy and comfortable. We don’t want to lose the idea that we have all the power, the know-how and innovation. We don’t want to examine who is being exploited for our way of life.  We don’t want to admit that someone else is paying the price for our comforts. We don’t want to admit that something has to die in ourselves or in our society for all people to have life.

This is what Jesus means when he says that we need to die to live. We have to die to our own self-interest-our self-interest that brings death to our neighbor, and our neighbor’s self-interest that brings death to us. Paul names that in our baptism, the old person dies so that we arise from the waters as a new life with Christ. That paradox is a hard one, but God’s very breath will create a path where none before existed or at least, we couldn’t recognize. In these days of a pandemic, economic devastation, the sin of racism coming to a head, God calls to us, don’t stand still! MOVE! Move forward, act not from self-interest, but for the interest, care and liberation of your neighbor of what oppresses and harms them.  It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable and it may look like walls of death ready to drown you. But God as our rear guard, prods us to walk in faith, away from our own self-interest, toward the promises of God’s interest for unity, justice and deep love for humanity and creation. We let God’s interest shape our todays and our tomorrows. We walk forward to a new life. Thanks be to God!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What We Are Becoming Sermon on Genesis 1 June 5, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 7, 2020  at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.  It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please see our website oslcslc.org for a bulletin.

We are in our summer sermon series, “I Love to Tell the Story.”

The text was Genesis 1-2:4

These past few weeks (ok, months, years) have had me wondering “What are we becoming?” Chaos and disorder prevail and there’s not much that we can do about it. We are caught in a void, a nothingness where we can’t make heads or tails of what to do next or what should happen next. Each day seems like the previous day didn’t happen, as something new arises. This constant state of newness, each day, is unsettling to say the least, I mean we just get used to one thing and then along comes something else. What is coming tomorrow? What will we become in the whirlwind of constant change? What will life look like? Will we flourish?

My pondering, I know, isn’t unique or revelatory, I’m simply re-asking the question that has be considered since the beginning of humanity and a question that the Israelite people wrestled with particularly while in captivity in Assyria and Babylon. It’s not a surprise that in the atmosphere of living in a foreign country as captives, hearing the origin and identity stories of the Babylonians and other ancient Near East cultures, that they told one of their own. The creation story, or song as some scholars have noted, in Genesis 1 and 2, is the story of the earth and a people becoming. Only this story is unlike any other origin story of any other culture in the ancient Near East. All those origin stories, how the world and humans came to be, were violent, all aspects of life born from battles, embedding in the culture of the people that life was a fight, becoming a people meant conquering others and the land, and winning was everything.

But not so for the Israelites. When they tell the story of how everything comes to be, they start with God. And God began creating with what in Hebrew is called tahu and wabohu, that is chaos and disorder. Nothing that made any sense. But God’s Spirit, ruah, a wind, hovered over this chaos and disorder like a watchful mother bird. And then God spoke. God used God’s very breath and word to declare something new. Light, darkness, waters, land, plants, trees, stars, sun, moon, seasons, days, living sea creatures, cattle and creeping things, and birds. But God’s word didn’t create those things alone, no, we read that “the earth brought forth.” God’s word spurred on the earth itself to become life, good life, multiplying life, flourishing life. And then, and then…Humanity. Humans created, crafted, delightfully in God’s very image from the earth, and if you notice it’s plural there “Let us make human-kind in our image.” God expressed relationship and community from the very beginning of all things and all time. And this day, that humanity, formed by God who loves to get God’s hands dirty, and arose from the mud and muck, was very good. And then, God looked at all that had been formed with and from the earth, all the life that had been put in motion and rested. What was embedded in the Israelites was that life with God was goodness, interconnectedness and flourishing.

In Genesis, Israel names many truths about life and relationship with God: God hovers over us and reaches into the chaos and disorder and envisions life. Every day is something new. Today isn’t like yesterday and something new will be formed tomorrow. That creation and newness isn’t a once and for all activity, it’s always becoming, being brought forth. Light became day, darkness night, waters became homes for sea creatures and dry land home for land creatures. Sky became a place for birds, and weather, rain, snow, sun. People became part of creation, became part of the very life of God and life intertwined with the earth. Nothing stagnated, nothing was the same, each day, with each word, God brought forth newness and life. Life that keeps changing, growing, learning, and moving towards becoming more life. Life, it turns out, is never the same one day to the next.

This story, this truth of our origins, begs us the question, dear siblings in Christ: what are we becoming? How are we promoting flourishing? What’s embedded in us? I watched as George Floyd’s life was taken from him by force from other human beings. His breath, his life, and all the black and brown people who have been killed, can no longer bring forth more breath and life. They can’t breathe and were denied the opportunity to flourish as part of God’s creation. The systemic sin of racism and white supremacy is not what we were created to bring forth and become. In this system no one flourishes. Those of us who are white must repent of bringing this systemic sin forth and upholding it in conscious and unconscious ways every day. We must be clear that anything that denies life, breath and flourishing for any part of humanity or creation, is not of God. We must bring forth life for our siblings who’s black and brown bodies are created in God’s divine image, to flourish as God’s beloved. As well as any of our siblings who are denied life and breath for any reason, particularly as we begin pride month our siblings who are LBGTQIA. We must bring forth life with words and actions that put aside our own power, privilege, and entitlement for the flourishing of black lives that all too often haven’t mattered in world. When we say that black lives matter, that love is love is love matters, we harken to God speaking God’s word calling each part of creation into being by their specific name, seas, land, sun, moon, stars, trees, animals because they each matter specifically to God. We are to steward all of God’s creation, because our lives depend on it, to bring flourishing and vibrant life, not for our own sake but for those who lack access to it.  God’s word of life speaks goodness that God desires for all of God’s creatures.

God’s word of life as embodied and embedded in Jesus Christ, is God’s word of who we are to become as people of God. The story of life that becomes liberation, justice for those on the margins. Jesus’ life became one that scared the authorities of the Empire and of the religious institution because Jesus’ actions and words showed people that they too specifically mattered to God: Samaritan lives mattered, women’s lives mattered, children’s lives mattered, Canaanite lives mattered. And Jesus invited them into what they too could become and bring forth: God’s work and mission of the flourishing of life, not only for the rich, the powerful, for white people, for straight people, for able bodied people, but for the people who are rarely specifically named.

The people with every power and authority took Jesus’ life and breath, hoping his life could no longer become anything. But God reached into the chaos, the disorder, the void of the grave, and brought forth new life. Jesus’ new life became fully expressed in God’s power and love. And this is what is embedded in us. Our lives bring forth witnesses in the midst of tahu and wabohu, to God’s promise of new life each day. We bring forth the promise of transformation, and action to bind ourselves to each other as the body of Christ to dismantle systems of injustice that harm that deny flourishing to any in this body, for all the George Floyd’s in our society. What we are becoming, are people who bring forth God’s word and actions of flourishing life so that all may breathe. Thanks be to God.

 

Letter to OSLC On Racism May 30, 2020

Dear OSLC Family,

Words escape me for what is happening in our collective life in this country. Yet, as a public leader, as a theologian, your pastor, as a human, as a follower of Jesus, I must speak out even when it’s hard. I’m struck by the words of Jesus from the John 20 reading for this week’s gospel: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus sends the disciples into the world to be the Church, and to name sin when they see it in action.  Friends, we must name the sin that we are witnessing with horrific and murderous consequences: the sin and evil of systemic racism. We have to name the murder of George Floyd, and so many others Ahmaud Arbery, Breeona Taylor, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland to name a few, as unjust murder. I know that this topic may make some of you uncomfortable, and possibly angry with me that I am “being too political.”  I can tell you that even writing (and now speaking) these words are not comfortable for me either, yet I must say them because politics is about how we live together as humanity. Our own confession of sin, as found in our book of worship, proclaims that if we don’t name our sin, the truth is not in us. The truth is, structural and systemic racism is evil and sinful. It denies our siblings who are black and brown full and abundant life. It denies them the very breath that Jesus breathes into all of God’s people. It denies us all the fullness of our humanity. Our health, well-being and liberation from sin is inextricably bound up in health, well-being and liberation from sin of all people. If one part of humanity is harmed, we all are harmed.

As people of faith who are white, we have hard work to do for this sin and evil to be healed. We must admit our own complicity, comforts and benefits of the current system of racism. We must renounce and repent of our witting and unwitting participation each day that upholds this unjust social structure of racism and white supremacy (not to mention all unjust social structures). This work will be difficult, risky and decentering. We must listen to and center the voices of people who are suffering in the system of racism, we must lend our voices when appropriate and called upon (this alone will be great learning), and we must act to dismantle racism in our lives, congregation, community, country and world.

This risky work will cost us something; Jesus never denies that picking up our crosses and following him will be easy or safe. Jesus says that he came to divide, those who will stand for the truth of the gospel and those who will continue to be complicit in the ways of the world. The truth of the gospel demands that we lay down our lives for our siblings, that this is what love looks like, our own deaths. Love that risks family and friends distancing themselves from us as we tell hard truths and learn to walk the walk of antiracism. Love that engages in difficult and uncomfortable conversations for the sake of learning, growth and abundant life for all people regardless of color, gender, sexual orientation, class, race or creed. Love that hangs in tenaciously despite fear, exhaustion or uncertainty. Love that commits to change and to do better for the sake of our neighbor in need. We won’t do this perfectly, we will make mistakes, I will make mistakes, (I’m likely making mistakes in this very letter) but when we do make a mistake, we learn and do better.

Yes, I know that we are also in the midst of a pandemic and the uncertainty of many aspects of our lives together is palpable. We are uncertain of when our building will open and when we will have in-person worship. We are uncertain of how the church will change in the coming year (as it will have to). Yet, the pandemic has highlighted what has been certain in this country for 400 years: that not all lives have mattered, particularly lives of black and brown people. The certainty that black and brown people are dying of COVID19 at a higher rate and is out of control on the Navajo Nation in our own state. The certainty that those who are essential and have to work in public are predominately people of color. The certainty that many people of color lack health care. In the midst of our own uncertainties, some things are certain.

AND, there is the certainty of God’s presence, the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit to prod us to do hard things. God’s power, as witnessed in our Acts texts by wind and fire, is poured out to us today, connects us as one, unified humanity, and gives us the ability to speak and hear the languages of our siblings-do we hear them? Do we hear their cries of fear, lament and injustice-even if it’s a language we don’t know such as protests and riots? Can we hear the language of oppression and anger that hasn’t been previously heard and taken seriously? Can we hear the language of looting as a language learned from white culture that has looted other cultures for our own benefit for centuries? Can we hear the words “I can’t breathe” and offer our own breath in solidarity?

My friends, I don’t have any answers. I don’t know where this journey of dismantling racism in ourselves and the country will lead us.  I do know that I have a vision of unity and love with this hard work. I do know that we must take the first step of being on the path. I will be offering a book club to explore this hard conversation this summer and probably into the fall. We will start with the book “How to be and Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. Look for details of when to come in the enews. This is only a baby step, the prayer is that it will lead to leaps of faith.

Thank you for your faithful work in a world that offers no reward in return for this work. Thank you for your commitment to the gospel of Jesus, particularly when it’s difficult. Thank you for taking your baptism into the mission of God’s Kingdom, for reconciliation and freedom of all, to your heart, head and soul. Thank you for listening and contemplating this letter. It’s a privilege to be your pastor. Please know that I am always available for a phone call, a Facetime or a Zoom for conversation. I know that this is hard but we are in this together. We are not alone.  Jesus says “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 20.

In the love of Christ, Pastor Brigette

 

 

 

“Oneness and doing hard things” Sermon on John 17: 1-11 May 22, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 24, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 1: 6-14
1 Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11
John 17: 1-11

For the past few weeks in the crisis of the pandemic, we’ve been inundated with phrases such as “in this together” or “alone together,” or “better together.” I absolutely love the sentiment of how we can work together and be in solidarity with each other. This feeds my communal and idealistic soul. It’s the world how I so desperately want it to be. I so want the world to be like the CocaCola commercial from my childhood, you know the one where a diverse group of people is walking with linked arms, smiling and singing with one another-with a coke of course! “I want to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…” I’ll stop there as I don’t know what the copyright on that might be. But that image of people together in joy is one that I long for, one that I want to help create and one that all too often is illusive. I want togetherness and wholeness to be true. But it doesn’t take long for “perfect harmony” to break down into a cacophony of discord and chaos, kinda like when we all try and say the Lord’s Prayer together on Zoom!

Together is something that as Christians, followers of Jesus, we like to think that we are good at. Community is a value after all. But togetherness, it turns out, is hard. We tend to think that to be “together,” we have to be the same or homogeneous, and that it should be easy and comfortable. But I’m pretty sure that has never been my actual experience with “together.” I’m spending a lot of “together” time with my spouse of 26 years and my 21 year old son, both of whom I love and adore and yet, easy and comfortable aren’t the words that come to mind and I’m sure that they would say the same about together with me…And I don’t think that this is what Jesus means when he prays for oneness in our reading from John today. We overhear Jesus praying for himself, the disciples and for all who will come after them, although we only read the first 11 verses today. Jesus prays for his followers to be one as he and God are one. It sounds really lovely and idyllic, until you think about it for a second. Jesus, God in the flesh, sent by God to be with us, who is one with God, is about to die on the cross, killed by the powers and principalities, as a fulfillment of his mission and ministry. Jesus prays that we too are one with God and Jesus in the mission and life of God. This doesn’t sound very easy and comfortable to me. Oneness, togetherness is hard. It’s not easy and death will occur. When we are one with God and God’s mission and community, we die to ourselves so that others experience life.

Jesus doesn’t pray for us to be safe and comfortable, or for it to be easy,  but he does pray for our protection, which is different as protection doesn’t keep us from what is hard but sustains us through the inevitable suffering. Protection is like the gear the doctors and nurses are wearing on the frontlines of the COVID19 pandemic. The protective gear doesn’t keep them from having to do their hard work, it hopefully, ensures that they can do more of it. So, too, is our protection in Jesus. In our oneness with God, we are one with each other and creation, which means we will do hard things with the presence, protection and care of God. Oneness demands that we are cognizant of being gathered in the arms and life of Jesus all held together so tightly, so close, that we can’t be socially distanced. Oneness acknowledges our lives are so entangled as a giant knot of humanity that when one thread of any injustice or trauma is pulled, we all feel the effects of it. This truth is not easy and it is not comfortable. And Jesus’ prayer doesn’t rescue us from this truth. Jesus’ prayer is that we DO feel the effects of this oneness, that we do the hard work of putting the needs of our siblings and the earth ahead of our own wants, preferences and greed. Jesus knows that we can’t be one, if we intentionally look away from our siblings who are hurting, cast out, marginalized or ignored. Oneness reveals love that is sacrificial, sees and does hard things: love that washes feet, love that feeds the hungry, love that wears a mask in public, love that stays home as much as possible, love that refuses to coopt to the lies of consumerism and capitalism as reasons for existing, love that screams the truth that this virus is disproportionately infecting and killing more of our brown and black siblings, love that demands better from our leaders, love that weeps for those who are discarded as expendable, love that gazes on the earth and all creatures as gifts and not prizes to be exploited. Love that recognizes and accepts that this kind of radical unity will scare, anger and provoke some around us. Love that is tenacious to withstand the voices that call us to simply get along, not cause waves, do what is easy, say that we’re naïve or idealistic or will demand our silence.

Jesus prays that we will be one as he and God are one. One not for our own sake, but one in the mission that Jesus names, to give glory to God. That is, to show God: who God is, what God does, how God loves and who God loves, to the whole world. This is why God sent Jesus in the flesh, that God so loved the world, not to condemn it but to save it, not to divide it, but to make it whole, not to control it, but to make the world one, in healing, sacrificial, and radical love. Oneness reveals this glorious truth. When we are one, truly one, we show God to the world. Because we are one with God, and God is one with us, we can’t help but to do anything else. It’s all of who we are and all of us together, as one. Thanks be to God.

 

Separation Anxiety Easter 6A May 15, 2020

This sermon was preached on May 17, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. You can view it on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 17: 22-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14: 15-21

If you’re a parent or have worked with or even just been around small children ever in your life, then you know about separation anxiety. It’s when a young child, typically from the ages of nine months to about four or five years old, will cry, or act out in some way when a parent or significant caregiver leaves them. Separation anxiety is about the fear of being alone, of not knowing what’s going to happen when these significant people whom we love aren’t present. It’s an unmooring of identity in some way too. In young children, they know who they are in relationship to other people around them, but without those other people, there’s a loss of self. What do I do? Will I be ok? Where did that person whom I love go? Two of our three children exhibited separation anxiety. Our oldest, Kayla, from the time she was two weeks old, couldn’t have cared less if Mike or I came or went, as she was pretty sure that she didn’t have much use for us anyway. So, it took us by surprise when Andrew cried whenever we went outside of his line of sight. I couldn’t even leave the room without tears for a long time. Our third child, Benjamin, also had separation anxiety, not from Mike or I, but from our nanny! Whenever we picked Ben up from Miss Trista he cried for her. While we were glad that he loved her and she loved him, we couldn’t help but to feel a little hurt. What would often calm down both Andrew and Benjamin were reminders of not being alone and of being loved. A hug, a stuffed animal, or a picture book of the people who loved them were helpful.

In some ways, we never completely ever outgrow this separation anxiety. What we learn are coping mechanisms for our fear of loneliness, isolation and loss of identity. Some of our coping mechanisms are healthy, such as telling yourself when you’ll see that person again, or the intellectual understanding of time and space. We might have treasured objects and pictures that assist us in this as well. But sometimes that fear of loneliness can get the better of us and make us insular and behave in ways that keep us from the reality of love.

Separation anxiety was rampant among the disciples as we continue through our reading of John 14 this week, more of Jesus’ Farewell speech that ends at John 17 next week. Jesus has talked about going and preparing a room for the disciples, about his death, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the disciples are struggling with what will happen if Jesus is gone. Jesus has admonished them to not be troubled, but if you’ve ever tried to be rational with a toddler screaming for their parent or nanny, then you know how effective, or not, it is to simply say do not to worry. Again, even as adults, what we may know intellectually, doesn’t always translate into our emotions. Jesus knows this too and I love that he simply and lovingly states in verse 18 “I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus then goes to tell them how they know that is true. In God’s love, we are never alone. God loves and values community, relationship and togetherness. God’s love embodies this truth: in sending Jesus to live among humanity as love in action and then in sending the Holy Spirit, or what the gospel writer John calls the Paraclete. The meaning of paraclete is someone who is called to come alongside us in our day to day lives to teach us,  comfort us, encourage us, advocate for and with us, and to love us.

Just as separation anxiety was high with the disciples, so too, is our separation anxiety high as we are separated from so much it seems: gathering in physical community with those we love and care about, daily routines, our sense of security and safety, and perhaps even separated from our own sense of identity. We focus on these separations and even some of our most helpful coping mechanisms are not enough. Sometimes all of the self-talk and comforting treasures can’t ease our troubled hearts. But we hear Jesus say, “I will not leave you; I am coming.” Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit is coming, is here, to give us community through God and each other, even when we can’t touch. Community that recalls our identity as part of God’s life. Community that reveals the love that is from God, lives in Jesus, lives in the Holy Spirit and lives in us, so that we include others into God’s community.

Jesus says that this love is the commandment, the action that he has been revealing his whole earthly ministry and is how community is built. This love that transcends separation, differences and divisions. This love pulls us from our anxieties and shows us the presence and actions of God in our lives-through one another. This reality of always being in community, even if we’re physically separated, is a promise that we can cling to and see. We can see that we don’t have to worry about being separated because the truth is that we can never truly be without God or God’s people. Yes, much of how we are connecting right now feels very inadequate and in many ways it is. But as the ancient Desert Mothers and Fathers of the early Christian faith found, solitude doesn’t have to mean loneliness or despair. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us with tangible signs, such as water, bread, wine, phone calls, texts, pictures, FaceTime, yes even Zoom to show us that we are never separated from God and always loved.  Thanks be to God!

 

Our Way of Life Sermon on John 14 Easter 5A May 9, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 10, 2020. It can be views on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC channel.

The texts were:

1 Peter 2: 2-10
John 14: 1-14

This has been one of those weeks where I get to the end of each day and think: Why am I exhausted even though I didn’t actually get done what I needed to? I look at my task list teeming with items waiting to be checked off and yet, they just continue to sit on the page, mocking me and reproducing each day exponentially like rabbits. It can make you feel frustrated at best and worthless at worse. This week was one where honestly, I found myself doing the 14 year old angsty couch flop a couple of times because it was all the energy I could muster. Just lie on the couch and suck up oxygen. Then I start to go down the path that maybe that’s all I’m good for. After all, we are what we produce, what work we can show for our efforts. It’s the way of life that we’ve been sold: that the more we produce, the more value we have and the more we matter to people and the world. We euphemistically call this “work ethic” and don’t get me wrong, yes there are simply things that have to get done just for life to toodle along. But somehow, somewhere, we decided that more was more, that what we did was equal to who we are and that who we are needs to be important, the brightest, the best. We must have all the answers or know how to get them at least. This is our purpose; this is our way of life. The entire culture we live in is structured to support this way of life. Some professions pay more income than others, some professions are  more esteemed than others, certain groups of people matter more or less than others. It’s topsy turvy who counts in this way of life where the intrinsic value of human life is quantified. In the past few weeks/months, this way of life has been significantly challenged and questioned by the pandemic and the repercussions from it.

This way of life isn’t new and throughout history some lives have mattered more than others. The disciples in our gospel today would be caught in this same way of life under the Roman Empire and the Institutional church. What you could do, your social status, your ability status, your gender status designated your value. The disciples were not people on the upper rungs of society and yet Jesus had chosen them. But it’s clear from all of the questions and confusion the disciples had in our gospel reading, that they clung to the societal structure ingrained in them: the need to produce and prove their worth. Little did the disciples know that they were gathered on the night before the way of life that they had always known would change forever. In the midst of this Jesus says to them “you will do greater works than the ones you saw me do and because I am going to my father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father is glorified in the Son.” You see, it’s not about what you will or can do, it’s not about your social status. It’s about Jesus and the way of life with God that Jesus offers.

Jesus knows that the way of life that the world offers us is unsustainable, not life giving and doesn’t honor our dignity. God sent Jesus to help break the patterns of life as usual and to show us a different way to live: in love and relationship where your value isn’t based on what you do, say, wealth or talents, but you are loved because you are you and you belong to God. Your task list doesn’t have to be impressive or done. Your real job, your real life work is to live in the truth and promise of Jesus that there is more than the striving of this world, that the way of life that we have known, can’t sustain us like Jesus’ love can. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, but not to exclude anyone but to open up a different way to live for all people.

The way of life that we had just a few short weeks ago is no more. The way of life where we thought everything was fine, where we thought we had control, where we thought we were making some sort of progress towards financial security, or personal health or whatever, is gone. What we are discovering is that way of life wasn’t good for everyone and maybe it wasn’t good or us or anyone. What’s been revealed is how much our actions impact one another. How certain people, of whom before we never gave a second thought about, are now the most important in our food supply chains, healthcare and cleaning systems, educational systems. Whether we like it or not, the pandemic will change our way of life forever. There will be no going back to what was, in our lives, in our jobs, in our churches, as what was, no longer exists. And that causes us grief, it causes me grief. Jesus sees our grief, our suffering, our pain right now and sits with us in it because it’s real and we can’t diminish it or ignore it. We find ourselves like the disciples that night before their lives changed,  on the precipice, in that liminal space of a new way of life opening up to what’s next. We will need to walk through the pain and suffering first, but then new life awaits.

A way of new life that reveals the deep truth about who we are and who’s we are. The way of life that reminds us that all people are created in God’s love and we are to reflect this truth in our actions, words and lives. The way of life where people matter more than money and the way of life where we seek to not harm creation. The way of life where people of color can go for a run safely in their neighborhood, the way of life where mental health is taken seriously, the way of life where all are truly safe and valued. A way of life where God’s love prevails. Jesus is inviting us to open our hearts, minds, souls, imaginations to what living in this way of life might be. It won’t be doing more, it might be doing less or doing everything differently. We may not see it fully now, but maybe we’ve caught glimpses of it in how we’ve cared for each other in this pandemic. By calling people, giving what we have, serving and yes, staying home on the couch. Jesus promises that this new way, life and truth is here, and for us all. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

Don’t Miss the Obvious Sermon on John 10 Easter 4A May 1, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 3, 2020. You can view it on our YouTube Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC or go to oslcslc.org

The texts were:
Acts 2: 42-47
Psalm 23
John 10:1-10

Have you ever been to a carnival or an amusement park where that have that weird house of mirrors or other type of maze? I’ve been in one exactly once and frankly, its’ not for me. You enter that mirror room or hall and you can’t figure out what’s real, what the next step should be, if what you think you should do is correct. For me, it incites a little panic that I’ll never get out and be stuck there forever. You can get so flustered that you miss things that should be obvious. But once you start to cut through the distractions, and false information, you can recognize what you might be missing. You see the path or the door that has always been there.

Maybe right now, you feel how I do, that we are being inundated with a bazillion pieces of information all day long and somehow, we are to sift through it, figure out what’s relevant and helpful and then use it to go forward in our lives in some sort of meaningful way. What media outlet is least biased? What voice is the most logical? What’s the truth? There’s so much that we can’t understand or make sense of.  It’s decentering, exhausting and leaves us overwhelmed with all of the distractions and voices to choose from. It’s like living in that giant hall of mirrors.  I think this is true about our lives in general in the 21st century, but then you add a pandemic to the mix, the whole thing seems up for grabs. I think this is why verse six from our John 10 reading this week has been ruminating around in my brain, “but they did not understand what Jesus was saying to them.” Ah ha! THIS I actually understand! Not understanding is the ONLY thing I understand right now!

We think we understand this passage in John 10 as the Good Shepherd text but really Jesus is still addressing the situation we read back in Lent in John 9, regarding the man born blind whom he had healed and whom the religious authorities had subsequently thrown out of the community. You might recall that Jesus found the man after he had been expelled and the man professed his belief in Jesus, even though up until that point, he had only ever heard his voice. Jesus affirms this and talks about how blindness is beyond physical sight. Jesus doesn’t stop talking at the end of chapter 9, he simply switches tactics. Jesus offers many metaphors and figures of speech, confusing those who are still listening. They’re just not getting it. And I wonder if I really get it either.

This metaphor packed passage is one that has been used for centuries as fodder to make distinctive claims about being a follower of Jesus. Jesus speaks seemingly exclusionary statements about who listens to him, as well as who he is and who others are. Jesus says that his sheep will listen to his voice and not that of the stranger or those who will rob, destroy, and kill. Jesus says that he is the gate, which can also mean the door. This leads us to assume that Jesus is saying that not everyone listens, some get lost in the other distractions and not everyone can be in the fold, so to speak. We worry if we belong, if we are listening and if we will find the right path through the distractions. But just like we get distracted and lost in the information piled on us each day, we get lost in the images that Jesus is using and miss the words of promise that Jesus offers.

We miss the other things that Jesus says: such as the sheep do listen. Jesus is the gate or the door. Jesus came to give us abundant life. We miss the promise in this passage that no matter what happens, no matter who tries to rob us of our dignity, worth, or voice, Jesus is there. No matter what or who tries to divide us from each other or the love of God, Jesus is there. No matter what stranger may try and come along and tell us that they can offer us an easier, better life, Jesus won’t let us go. No matter if we come or go out to the pasture, Jesus is always there as the door that opens wide to let us in or out as we need. The door is for us, and for all. It’s not about who’s in or out, the point is that with Jesus, the door is always there and will open. We can’t get lost. We don’t have to understand why, we only have to keep listening to the promise. We will listen to our shepherd because Jesus’ voice is the only one who calls us by our name, our true name as beloved child of God. Jesus’ voice is the only one who will lead us to what really matters, the truth of our lives: it is God who gives us true abundant life: pastures of peace, protection of our spirits from harm, steadfast presence with us no matter how deep and dark the valley might be. We are in relationship with Jesus and so we are whole and holy.

Living in abundant life means that we cling to these promises from God in the midst of what we don’t understand, in what is painful, hard and uncomfortable. The promise of this abundant life  is for you, for me and for all people. The promise is that with Jesus, we don’t navigate life alone, we are gathered in loving community and we together, follow the voice of love that calls to us: love of God, love of our neighbor, and the love of creation. This voice of love is only one we hear, the only one our hearts respond to, this voice of love cuts through all of the other distractions and false promises, this voice of love leads us to Jesus, the door that is for all people, the door that opens to truth, love, grace and life.

 

Broken and Whole Sermon on Luke 24 Easter 3A April 26, 2020

This sermon was preached on April 26, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be views on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 2: 14a, 26-41
1 Peter 1: 17-23
Luke 24: 13-35

Most of our lives we strive to keep the things we own from breaking, whether it’s a cherished china set from a grandmother, or an essential appliance, or our cars. Broken things are considered useless, a nuisance and undesirable. We may try and fix those things when they break but more and more in our society, we consider many things disposable, not worth anything if they are not perfect or up to manufacturer specs. But when something is broken, we sometimes only then realize its value and importance to us. When something breaks and we can see all the pieces, we can then see what it might be again. Maybe not perfect, but with value, worth, and a purpose again. Broken doesn’t always have to equate with the end. Broken might mean a new and different existence. But it takes a new vision to see it.

In our gospel story, we read about the disciples who saw their whole world broken apart and so they headed out on the road. We have a lot in common with those disciples, Cleopas and his companion, on the road to Emmaus. We are sad, disillusioned, and feeling trapped by the realities of our lives. It seems that so much of our world has broken: social structures, our financial security, our health systems, our experience of community, our sense of safety, and on some days, it might feel like our sanity too. Brokenness abounds as we had hoped for so much more. We had hoped that this disease wouldn’t spread, we had hoped it could be contained quickly, we had hoped for an easy and accessible treatment, we had hoped that it wouldn’t physically separate us, we had hoped that as a nation we could work together, we had hoped for so much more than this. If we’re honest, we had hoped that this wouldn’t affect us as all. We had hoped that somehow, we would be immune from any of the ill side effects of a pandemic and that our lives wouldn’t be disrupted, broken open and vulnerable. Like the disciples, we had hoped for so much.

And also like the disciples on the road, we need a place to tell our story, to share our grief, to process our trauma, to try and parse out all the details that seem surreal and perhaps still too raw to make sense of. So we call one another, share in Zoom times, gather around YouTube, write good old fashioned letters, send cards, texts, and emails. We listen, we pray, we share what we know, our part of our common story-even if it’s not complete. We have time that we can’t fill, silences that are deafening and bodies that feel the grief of missing the ones we love.

But something else happens on this journey, in those spaces cracked open by fear, pain, trauma and uncertainty-we notice that we are not alone. We notice someone coming along beside us who asks us what’s going on and walks with us, not questioning where we’re going or the validity of our story, our pain, our trauma and lament. Our companion then breaks the story open even more, sits with our pain and sorrow to affirm it’s truth and fills in the cracks of our story by showing that we are connected to a larger story, we are held by promises made long before us that continue to today. This promise that stays with us in the ordinariness of our homes and shows us that in broken things, love, light, hope and life spill out. Broken bread reveals the presence of Jesus. Broken things such as our hearts, our hopes, our dreams reveals the presence and promise of Jesus more clearly.

We are physically broken apart as a congregation right now, and I clearly see Jesus in all of you. I see Jesus in how we’ve helped each other learn new technologies to stay connected, I see Jesus in how we’ve prayed for one another, I see Jesus in how you check in faithfully with each other, and particularly those who need the companionship. I see Jesus in how we’ve offered what we have to our community in need. This community might be temporarily broken apart physically, but we can’t be broken apart from being the body of Christ. This is the promise.

The brokenness in our world is where Jesus will be seen, for brokenness creates space where none before existed, and what will we fill this space with matters. When our hearts, dreams, hopes and lives are broken, will we fill it with stuff, with fear, with self-preservation, or with blame of others? Or will we allow for the love of Jesus to enter and fill us with hope, peace, and service? Jesus’ love is indeed seen in broken things, and when our self-centered patterns, our myopic vision, our systems of injustice, abuse of creation are broken wide open for all humanity to see, and we are overwhelmed by how to put it all back together, Jesus’ wholeness will be revealed.  Like Cleopas and the other disciple who saw Jesus revealed in the breaking of the bread and ran in the risky, dark night to tell others, we, too, enter the darkness and brokenness to tell others the story of Jesus who we’ve seen and walks with us in brokenness, in lament, sorrow, fear, and pain and promises to stay with us right where we are broken and all. We are broken and we see Jesus’ light comes in, we are broken and we see God’s love is poured in, we are broken and we see new life begins. Broken is not the end, it’s the beginning of something new with God. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

 

FOMO or What Thomas is Missing Sermon for Easter 2A April 18, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on April 19, 2020. It can be viewed on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC channel. Please subscribe! Check out our Children’s Worship videos too!

The texts were:

Acts 2:14a, 22-36
1 Peter 1: 3-9
John 20: 19-31

Maybe you have heard the term: FOMO-it’s a shorthand to refer to a very human state of being: Fear Of Missing Out. It starts early in our lives, such as at Christmas or birthdays and it seems that everyone else got a better present. Or when we see all the cool things our friends are doing on social media, like going to concerts or vacations and we think “hey, why am I not invited?” or “why am I not having that much fun? It’s not fair!” It’s a fear of missing something important or a fear of not being important ourselves. Well, I don’t know about you but as we have journeyed through these past few weeks, I am noticing that I have a serious case of FOMO, all the stuff I’m missing out on. Gathering with all of you for worship, Easter, going on vacations, time with friends and family, and the list goes on. And not just me, but my family, such as my son’s and niece’s college and high school graduations, respectively, which are canceled. I’m sad for them as they are missing out on an important milestone in their lives. No parties, no pomp and circumstance, no robes, no boring speeches. This all leaves a hole, a gap. It’s a fear that I’m missing out on life, that I’m not complete. Or maybe I’m just afraid that I don’t matter without all of these events, or not noticed, or not missed. Or just plain afraid.

This idea of FOMO resonated with me as I read our gospel passage from John today. I think Thomas gets a bad rap from people who aren’t comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s the evening of that first resurrection day, and the disciples are huddled in fear of the Temple authorities and probably the Roman ones too. We get the translation they are in a house, but “house” isn’t in the Greek. The doors “of where they were” were locked. We don’t know where the disciples are, and it doesn’t matter as Jesus shows up-through the locked doors. He comes to them in their fear and gives them peace and breathes into them-reminding us of God breathing into the first human. And then affirms that the Holy Spirit is with them and they are to go to tell people that they are freed from their sins because of Jesus. The disciples now have their own experience of the risen Lord, like Mary from that morning and it seems to have quelled much of their fear. But not all the disciples are now without fear, we learn, as for some reason Thomas wasn’t with them, he was missing. Why, we don’t know. Maybe he had something else to do? A family member to care for, or maybe he was the disciples’ designated person to go get food, a daily task in the ancient world.

When Thomas returned, his friends told him “We have seen the Lord!” What happens next is often misinterpreted as Thomas doubting. I don’t think he doubted them-I think he was upset with missing out on his own experience of Jesus! He had a hole, a gap in his life. Like us, Thomas didn’t like the feeling of FOMO. He wanted to be part of the group, see what they saw, know that he was important to Jesus too, and not be physically distanced. What we hear from Thomas is sadness, fear, anger and lament. But not doubt.

A week later, Jesus comes again and he acknowledges Thomas’ FOMO. He tells him to touch his wounds, we don’t know if Thomas really does, but just being in the presence of Jesus was enough for him. Jesus then says to him, “don’t unbelieve, but believe.” The word doubt isn’t actually here in the text. Its “unbelieve.” In John’s gospel, to believe is to know that you are in relationship with God, it’s to know that you are loved and that you love in return. When Jesus says, “don’t unbelieve” it’s not to shame or scold, but to remind Thomas that his relationship with Jesus is sure, he’s important to Jesus and he won’t and can’t miss out on the promises of God just because he wasn’t there the first time. Thomas is indeed part of the wholeness of life with Jesus.

It seems that right now there are lots of gaps and holes in our lives. We’re not able to participate in life with the ones we dearly love as we want and we feel inadequate, sad, scared and even angry. I know I do. We’re people who are used to being physically with other people, and we feel complete and affirmed when we are together. We, like Thomas, are afraid of what we can’t experience, what we’ve missed, and being disconnected from what matters.

But Jesus comes to us through our locked doors and our locked hearts, breathes into us the breath of God that connects us to the very life of God and each other no matter where we are. Jesus comes to us with his own wounds, his own story of suffering, fear, pain and death and says that there is more than this story of fear for us too. There is abundant life, and we won’t miss it. Jesus breathes life into us and shares with us peace through the Holy Spirit. This peace doesn’t end our fears or difficult circumstances but offers to be with us as we walk through it, to heal us and reveal that there is more than our present situation. We don’t have to worry about not being in the right place at the right time, because God is in every place and every time and will find us.  Jesus comes to us and reassures us that we won’t, we can’t, miss out on relationship with God, God’s promises and life together, for God won’t allow it. We don’t live in fear of missing out, we live in the promise of being whole in the love, hope and life of the risen Christ. Christ is risen! Alleluia!