A Lutheran Says What?

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

Renewed by Love-Saints Build for the Future Sermon for All Saints Day Year C November 3, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on Nov. 3, 2019.

The texts were:

Psalm 49
Ephesians 1: 11-23
Luke 6: 20-31

Children’s sermon: I have some rocks here, what can we do with them? We can build, decorate, all kinds of things. Have you been hiking and saw rocks stacked up along the trail? Those are called cairns and they are made by people who have walked that way before, realized how difficult it could be and marked the path for people who came after them. These people took time to point others in the right direction so that they could be safe, enjoy the hike and know that they are on the right path. I think that God puts people in our lives that do that same thing, maybe not with rocks, but with their love, power and their whole lives. We call these people saints. They are not perfect people, but they are people who love others so much that they use their time and power to show God’s love to others. Sometimes we think about these saints and they are people who have died, they now live with Jesus, but some are with us each day. Who might be a saint in your life? Today we remember all the saints, particularly those who have died. That can make us sad, and it’s ok to be sad and cry! Tears are holy and are signs of how much we love people. In our story today, Jesus is giving examples of how we need to focus on loving each other and not worrying about what we may have for stuff, or if people like us or not, or if we use our power to only care for ourselves. Jesus says, when we love, we use our power to care for other people. We call this the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you want done to you.” Jesus wants us to know that God loves us and uses God uses power to love us-to keep us safe, to give us family and friends who love us and to hold us when we are sad, hurt and need help. In the bible, rocks are important ways to show God’s love and power to people who come later. Just like on hiking trails people stack rocks, Jacob stacked rocks at the Jordan river so that people in the future would remember God’s care of the Israelites, and the rock that was removed from Jesus’ tomb tells all people of all time of God’s love and power in Jesus resurrection. I have rocks here for us to write the name or initials of some saint in your life who shows you God’s love and power today and for the future. Let’s pray:

I come from a long line of strong women. I have been blessed by grandmothers and great grandmothers who were a force to be reckoned with in their own way. They each have given me a gift that is still with me today. My maternal grandma, Grandma Fouts, was a woman of deep faith. Going to church, Sunday school, youth group, bible studies were not optional, even when we were only visiting for only a week. Her denomination was not Lutheran, it was Church of God, but her commitment to passing on the faith, to ensuring that her grandchildren knew God’s love and power in their lives was always present.  She wanted faith in God built in my life. My grandma Emmons-paternal grandmother-was not deeply religious, but only wanted her grandchildren to know that she was a safe person for all kinds of conversations and challenges. She never judged or offered pedantic advice, but she asked good thought provoking and reflective questions-to build our critical thinking skills. My great grandmas were also both women who had vision beyond themselves. My sweet great grandma Tone from Norway, (we called her Gung) who was about four foot ten inches, would feed you, sing Lutheran hymns to you, care for you and make you feel special and at the same time, we knew who was in charge. Her. To say she was feisty is an understatement, but we all knew that for her, building family was important. My great grandmother Emmons, again paternal, was the original feminist. She wrote several books and plays and was one of the first authors to write about an important moment in history strictly from a feminist perspective: The Lewis and Clark expedition. Her book was that expedition from Sacajawea’s point of view.  When I was a little girl, and we would go visit her, she would whisper in my ear, remember, “you’re smarter and better than the boys, don’t forget it!” She was building a better future for all women but particularly her daughter, granddaughters and great granddaughters. What I learned most from these four women was not to get stuck in what was happening today, my actions were not about me only and pointing people in the right direction and building someone up for their future matters. They exemplified using their own power-no matter how limited that might have been with age, gender roles, etc.-to show God’s love to their family. They innately understood that power was to be given away, that love isn’t a sentimental emotion but actions of tenacity, courage, justice and building to make the world better for those who came after them. They weren’t perfect, but they are saints, set apart for God’s work of love. I am connected to them as their descendant and I build on their lives to offer actions of love to others in my life for today and for tomorrow.

We tend to think of saints as people who are somehow infallible. But in our scripture passages today, we get a different glimpse of the kind of saints that God calls us to be. If we take a deeper look at saints, we discover that they are not always comfortable people to be around. They are those who aren’t important by the world’s standards, they are on the edges of “respectability,” and status, we might even call them trouble makers because their actions reveal the power and control in our society run amok. Saints often point to life in the here and now while building something beyond that for the future.

Jesus says, blessed are those who are poor, hungry, mourning, excluded, reviled and defamed, not to say those are the only saints, but Jesus is pointing out that in God’s kingdom and economy, they are equal to those who seem to have everything by worldly standards. In Jesus day, the poor, hungry, grieving, outcasts, were to be avoided. Whenever we avoid someone, look down on them, we are using our power for ourselves and our comforts. No wonder Jesus then says “woe” which means “yikes” or “look out!” Look out if you are rich, satiated, laughing, and beloved by everyone (is that even a thing?) because you’ve built a world all about you in the here and now. You’ve placed your trust in yourself and things that are fleeting and what we don’t have control over in this life. If you have power, privilege and material wealth, fine, but look out for what you are actually building.

Saints point to the truth that whether we are poor or rich, hungry or full, laughing or grieving, part of the “in-crowd” or not, that God, through Jesus Christ, shares power and love with us. This is the promise. Our response is to treat everyone with this same power and love from God and build them up. When someone tries to exert their power over us, curses us, mocks us, takes our things without permission, disrespects us, we don’t respond to power with power, we respond with powerful love-not the emotion but the actions. To be clear, being abused is not ok, and is not to be glorified in anyway. Loving actions also look like clear and firm boundaries. Boundaries in many ways are like turning the other cheek. It’s calling out abusive words and actions. As saints, we reveal God’s reversal of powers in the world, that Jesus’ ministry and mission points to building up people and building up the kingdom of God for today and for tomorrow. It’s love that shows what God is building. This love can’t be lost, swept under the rug or denied. God’s love and power through Jesus is about transforming the world from the bottom up, the inside out, from today to tomorrow and from death to life. God’s love renews us when we think that we can’t keep going, when we’ve messed up, it’s hard and we are uncertain. God’s love pulls us to see beyond ourselves and the systems in which we are caught, to the vision that God’s inclusive love changes us and changes the world.

We are building, oh saints of God. We are building here at OSLC not only for us today, but for those who will come after us. We will use our power and love we have from God to build in unlikely places with unlikely people-we will build a community of radical inclusion where all are safe, we will build a community that bridges partisanship,  we will build a community that values civil dialogue and collaboration with all our neighbors regardless of differences, we will build a community where we get at the roots of hunger, poverty and homelessness for all people to thrive. This will not make us popular, but God will be present. We will not do this perfectly, but we will build with God as saints for those who come after us. We will point to the importance of Jesus Christ, and the empty tomb-God’s loving actions for creation and we will point to the power of God to transform, renew and love us all today and tomorrow. Thanks be to God.

 

Do you have the guts to be a disciple? Sermon on Luke 14: 25-33 September 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on September 8, 2019.

Texts: Psalm 1, Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Luke 14: 25-33

Children’s sermon: It’s Rally Sunday! Today is a day that we celebrate the beginning of SS for the year and being together. Being together is fun and important. Do we have to be together here at Our Saviour’s? Can we choose something else? Yep we can! What two things do I have here: yep, a marshmallow and an apple. How are they similar? Both food, both kinda sweet. What happens if we eat a lot of marshmallows? We don’t feel good, we get sick! They are not nutrition and are not really good for us. If we eat them every day, it’s not good for our bodies long term is it? How about the apple? We can eat an apple everyday (along with other good foods) and it’s ok for our bodies. Apples have nutrients that we need to be healthy. So in order to have a healthy body, which one should we choose most often? Yes, the apple. That give our bodies a good foundation to run around, play, have fun and help others! We know that our bodies work better when we make good choices, even though it’s hard. In our bible lessons today, Jesus has some hard things for us to hear. Jesus knows that we have lots of choices in our lives: things that are good for us and things that aren’t. But Jesus says that God offers us only good things for a good life. Now, a good life doesn’t mean an easy one, things might be hard sometimes. What’s hard for you? Yep, those things are hard. And Jesus says that hard things are even harder when we don’t have God as the most important thing in our lives. Coming to church isn’t the only way to put God first. Jesus says that putting God first means that we don’t worry more about our stuff, our houses, even our friends and family than following Jesus. That seems really weird, because God wants us to love and care for people too, but sometimes we get confused-like we might think that eating marshmallows is ok instead of apples because they taste better to us.  Just as putting healthy foods first into our bodies makes us feel good, so does putting God first in our lives. God has put us first in God’s life and has promised to be with us in our lives no matter what and we can trust that, even when we don’t make good choices, God is with us and loves us. At OSLC we are going to focus on that this year and that is worth celebrating today! Let’s pray:

Have you seen the show on HGTV “Fixer Upper” or at least know the premise of it? A couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines, help people in Waco, TX take the worst house in the best neighborhoods and fix them up. The families tell the Gaines’ their budget, their hopes and dreams for the house, how that will improve their lives and how long they want the renovation to take. The Gaines show them several properties, list out the work that needs to be done to get the house remodeled to what the family wants, details the budget and the timeframe. The renovation always starts with demolition day. This is when everything is deconstructed so that the house can be transformed. Walls come down, flooring comes up, cabinets are removed from the walls. Now of course, it’s not good tv unless something goes wrong, and if you’ve ever done any home improvement yourself, you know that something always does go wrong. As demolition happens things are revealed: a wall that was to be removed turns out to be load bearing, pipes are too old, the electricity was done incorrectly 50 years ago, subflooring that has water damage, the list goes on. The families are stressed and worried that their budget isn’t enough or they can’t get done what they really want done. But in the end, Chip and Joanna always come through and the house comes together and is reconstructed in ways that the family never imagined. They are always moved to cries of joy and excitement for their lives ahead in their home, the deconstruction and hard work was all worth it. I love the ending line of their opening credits: DO you have the guts to take on a fixer upper? After all, it’s not easy and not for everyone.

We could say the same of Jesus from today’s gospel lesson. Here we get an all too real, honest and perhaps cranky Jesus. After all, he’s been traveling now towards Jerusalem for a while, going to dinner parties, teaching in synagogues, healing, telling parables, and maybe he needs a nap or maybe Jesus just doesn’t like crowds. The opening lines of our text are sharp and piercing as he says to the large crowd, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” The disciples had to be thinking two things 1) do I hate everyone and myself? And 2) this is not going to look good on a billboard or t-shirt. Jesus, there is a huge crowd following: say something inspirational and tweetable! Something pithy that we can make a meme out of! But instead Jesus appears to be saying, “Do you have the guts to be my disciple?” How is this helpful?

This is one of those texts that makes us uncomfortable and that is exactly the point. Jesus is deconstructing everything we know about life. Can we walk away from our only means of survival-which in Jesus’ time was your family? Can you get rid of everything you own-again even if it’s a means of survival? What happens when all that’s left are the gapping holes where you can see the pipes, the wires and we’re left completely vulnerable? Do we have what it takes to do this?  Jesus knows that choosing what really matters each day means confronting our own impulses for what’s easy, cheap and fast. We need to do a little demolition work to reveal what’s important, or load bearing if you will. To say that we put survival, our comforts as primary in our lives sounds perfectly acceptable and maybe even holy until we realize that those things aren’t a strong foundation. Those are human foundations that will fall.

What we focus on matters and Jesus is clear that true disciples have one focus, one foundation: God. Our Deuteronomy text highlights the Israelites struggle with this as they wandered around for 40 years waiting to go into the promised land. They made idols, they got cranky about food, they tried assimilating to other cultures. Moses laid it out plainly for them: what will you focus on-life or death? And then he admonished them to choose life. Why? Not because choosing life with God is easy, it’s not. But choosing life means that you acknowledge that it is God who is our foundation and rebuilds us when everything falls apart. Choosing life is about being connected to something that is more than about mere survival but is about what Jesus tells us in John 10: that God comes to us to give us life and to give it abundantly. Death is separation from God and God’s promises of a transformative life.

As Jesus tells us in the parables, God has already done the budget, God already knows how much the cost of redemption, resurrection, restoration, and relationship is and comes to us with the word of peace amid the battles in our lives. We tend to think it’s up to us to count the costs but we need to focus on God as the builder and the king. The creator who decided at the beginning of time that relationship with creation and humanity was worth any price, even the price of God’s own son. That’s not a guilt trip by any means! It’s a reassurance that God will never leave us. When we truly follow Jesus, we do the hard work of demolition, distancing ourselves from the idols of possessions, status quo, and mere survival. We live with God as our foundation. God will be with us, over and over coming to us with a word of peace, hope and the promises of new life, no matter where we are.
We begin a new program year today at Our Saviour’s and it’s a year where we will proclaim this foundation in God.  We will live our mission statement: “A Spirit filled community that reaches out and cares for all.” We boldly step out in faith and keep our focus on following Jesus. We don’t get caught in clinging to the worry of survival but each day pick up the cross of Christ-the cross that transforms our old lives into new ones. The promises of new life that God is building right here, right now. It might be hard some days, and we might think that we don’t have the guts to be a disciple, but Jesus calls us through the waters of baptism and says that we have everything we need for this mission. We won’t be perfect disciples, but each day we are renewed to try again, together, as community, to choose life on this day and every day. The old life will be demolished and the new life of God’s wholeness, love, mercy and grace wil transforms us and the world. Thanks be to God.

 

New Perspectives Sermon on John 20: 19-31 Easter 2 May 14, 2019

This sermon was preached on my first Sunday at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

Children’s sermon: Gather the children and introduce myself! Talk a bit about how I’m new to Our Saviour’s, to Utah, to so much right now! I’m seeing all kinds of new things! And I’m so glad to see you! What special day was last Sunday? Easter! Yes! What do we celebrate on Easter? Yes, that God raised Jesus from the dead, the tomb was empty and because Jesus has new life, so do we! We have different ways of thinking about that, different symbols, and one we often use is a butterfly. Do butterflies start out as butterflies? No, what is the butterfly life cycle? Yes, first a caterpillar, then it spins a chrysalis or a cocoon and what happens in the chrysalis? The caterpillar becomes the butterfly! It changes! Then the butterfly emerges and is very different than before. Not just in looks but in what it can see. Where are caterpillars mostly found? On the ground or maybe in a tree but not too high up, so they can only see a little bit around them. Where do butterflies go? Everywhere and up high! Do you think they see the world differently than a caterpillar? Probably! Do you think that is weird for the butterfly until it gets used to the new perspective? Yes! It takes time to sort new things out and to realize that life is different as a butterfly. Our bible story talks about this today. The disciples are locked in a room after Jesus has died and been raised because they were afraid and confused about what would happen next. They don’t know what to do with this new information that Jesus is alive! They know that it’s important but what should they do now? Then Jesus comes to them and says “peace be with you” which reminds them that God is always with them. Jesus knows that they are confused and so helps them sort out their new perspective. Jesus says now that the new life is right here, right now, for them and Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. The very breath of God will be with them and will send them out to tell the whole world about this good news that God says that nothing-not the things you do or don’t do, not your words, not even death-keeps you from God’s love and care! Seeing Jesus gave the disciples a new perspective on Jesus’ death and resurrection! Now Thomas wasn’t with them and didn’t get to see Jesus, and really wanted this same new perspective! Thomas sometimes gets called doubting Thomas but that’s not really fair-Thomas doesn’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus, Thomas wants to be a part of this new mission of Jesus ! And Jesus does come, Thomas sees him and knows that Jesus is Lord, and God forever! Thomas now has the new perspective of Jesus’ mission for himself and for us all! Thomas’ new perspective led him to share Jesus’ love all over the world!

Like these butterflies, as people who love and follow Jesus, we now have a different way of seeing the world. We see the world as a place to spread God’s love and joy everywhere we go, like the butterfly spreads joy wherever it goes. How can you spread God’s love and joy? Yes! So many ways and you have so many gifts to share! You can each choose a butterfly to remind you that as God’s people we see the world as a place to share love and joy-like the disciples did! Let’s pray:

New perspectives! Mike and I can identify with that over the past two weeks! It seems that one night we went to sleep in CO and then woke up the next day in Utah! While it’s only about 500 miles from Denver, it’s a whole new way of living. We have a new perspective on the Rocky Mountains seeing them on the east rather than the west-that’s going to be directionally problematic for a while…lower elevation means different plants and trees, a different home in a new community, new neighbors, and even mundane things such as a new garbage pick-up day. New perspectives are exciting and as human beings we often seek them out, and at the same time we are overwhelmed by newness. Newness always comes with some risks. It’s a push/pull relationship for most of us with new ways of seeing our lives in a new context.

Our text today struck me as highlighting new perspectives. Yet, this gospel lesson today is often called the Doubting Thomas text and that has never really sat well with me. Whenever a text has a scapegoat, I start looking for why. Why are the couple of verses where all Thomas wants is what the other disciples and Mary Magdalene already have, singled out as a problem? As I mentioned, Thomas isn’t doubting the resurrection-he’s asking to have the same altered perspective as the others. He wants to experience the risen Christ, to be infused with the Holy Spirit which affirms his relationship with Jesus, and to be sent out with this good news of Jesus’ resurrection that most definitely changes everything. After the trauma of the cross, hiding from the authorities, the fear of what would happen next, then the message from Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple of the empty tomb, Thomas is fervently praying/hoping for something new to happen! Anything else has got to be better than the past few days! Even if the newness is risky!

And Jesus comes to Thomas. Jesus once again slips into the locked room and doesn’t chastise Thomas but offers him what he needs, a new perspective-touch my wounds, believe that this new life is also for you, Thomas. Jesus offers him reassurance of their unending relationship. We don’t really know if Thomas touches Jesus, the text never says that he does, but what we get from Thomas’ lips is a new proclamation of truth, of hope, of grace and of mercy for all the world and a new perspective on Jesus: My Lord and My God. The gospel summed up in four words. Our Lord- the one who was risked being truly human and in solidarity with us in our pain, suffering, sorrows, joys and celebrations. And our God, the divine, the one who redeems, gathers us in God’s mercy, love and care. God the one who gives us the Holy Spirit to reorient our perspective again and again to our baptismal identity as God’s beloved and as co-creators in God’s kingdom to reconcile the world into God’s promises. This proclamation is the statement of new life with Jesus not only for Thomas, but for us all.

And so on this second Sunday of Easter, we at Our Saviour’s have a new perspective. It is the end of the transition process for OSLC and today we begin ministry together for the sake of the community around us. It will bring new perspectives for us all as we will see the world differently going forward. We will fully live into the newness of the Easter truth: perhaps like the disciples, not fully understanding what that means or what God has in store, but also trusting in the promises of Jesus to fill us with the very breath of God that sends us to unexpected people and places with forgiveness, grace, mercy and unconditional love which are to what the mission, vision and core values of this community call us.

This new perspective is everything-it’s about how we will live together, witnessing, to the experience of Christ in our lives not for our own sake but so that as the writer of John states in verse 31: So that others will come to believe and have life in Jesus. Resurrection life that is right here, right now, not just someday when we physically die, resurrection life that will shift perspectives, resurrection life that calls God’s beloved to feed the hungry, house the unhoused, visit the imprisoned, care for the suffering, clothe the naked and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and God. Resurrection life that spreads the love and joy of God wherever we go. Resurrection life where Jesus reminds the disciples and us that we have the power to offer forgiveness and to receive it. Resurrection life has power to restore relationships and communities.

Resurrection life and new perspectives will also come with risk, it’s not safe or tranquil. As the disciples experienced over and over as heralded in the book of Acts, this message of unconditional love demands radical justice that pushes human systems and shatters cycles of status quo, violence, religious intolerance, exclusion and discrimination of any type.

Living as resurrection people call us to stand with those harmed by these systems and to give witness to the damage done. We pray for our Jewish siblings today at Congregation Chabad in CA as they lament the evil that entered their sanctuary and we join our voices and spirits to all who mourn this day. With the people of God throughout the millennia, we live into this resurrection life with all its messiness, confusion, challenge, beauty, inspiration, wholeness, and value. This is why God creates community in resurrection life, where we encourage one another, guide one another, forgive one another and love one another. We call one another back to this new perspective, remind one another to look for resurrection, as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed, to seek out where God is cultivating new life through Christ all around us, to witness to it and proclaim with our entire lives “My Lord and my God.” It’s a new beginning. Jesus promises to come to us with peace, forgiveness and mercy and to be with us in this abundant life-giving mission. Thanks be to God.