A Lutheran Says What?

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

Hosanna! God Save Us Now! March For Our Lives #enough March 26, 2018

*I was unable to go to the March For Our Lives, and I didn’t preach on Palm Sunday. But this has been rattling around in my brain all weekend and what I would have preached. Mark 11: 1-11
“Hosanna! God save us now!” Can you hear it? Can you hear the crowds chanting this mantra over and over to anyone who will listen? When Jesus and his followers entered Jerusalem the crowds were chanting these words, “Hosanna,” which translates to “God save us now”. To our modern ears these words seem pious, docile and quaint, but listen carefully, these words are anything but. These words are charged with emotion, charged with hope and charged with political drama. This was a not an impromptu holiday parade that the people had created, no, it was a political demonstration. It was the rallying of people who were tired of not being heard, tired of not having a voice, tired of being dismissed, and mostly just tired. This rally was an effort to bring real change. The messiah is coming!
The messiah coming means nothing will be the same. Now, the people who were in this rally 2,000 years ago were just as confused as we are today about what the coming of the Messiah means for us and the world. In Jesus’ time, the coming of the Messiah meant a military overthrow of the empire and the government who had been oppressing not just the Jewish people, but anyone who didn’t fit into the cultural norms. The Messiah would basically “kick ass and take names,” and the people who were rallying around Jesus on this day shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” were not looking for a prayer meeting but a coup d’état. They wanted life to be different, safer, more equable, and more just and by any means necessary.
Today we think of the coming of the Messiah in the culturally popular end times concepts such as from the Left Behind series or a literal reading of the book of Revelation (FYI Revelation is not meant to be read literally). We think that Jesus will return in clouds and thunder and earthquakes and catastrophes and tornadoes and cows tipping over and pigs flying. Oh the drama and the number of people who will wish that they “had been right with Jesus”!
Turns out, the people 2,000 years ago were disappointed and we will be as well. Jesus is indeed the Messiah who arrived in Jerusalem but not with military might, but with peace. The protesters who shouted “Hosanna!” were correct to do so, for God was indeed saving them, but not how they anticipated. God was saving them through Jesus who would indeed overturn the powerful and the entitled and the rich but not with violence or swords, but a death on a cross. Turning violence into peace, hate into love and intolerance into inclusion. “Hosanna!” Can you hear it? Will we listen?
Can we hear it? Will we listen to the shouts of “Hosanna” in our world today? On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people, led by youth, marched, shouting “Save us now!” They are tired, they are tired of being afraid, tired of being ignored, tired of money speaking louder than people, tired of death. If we’re honest we all are and we shout to God “Hosanna in the highest heaven! God save us now!” The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL was a catalyst, one step too far over the line of acceptable, the veritable straw that broke the camel’s back. These young people are begging us to show them the Messiah, to reveal Jesus at work in our world. Not just to end school shootings, but to end innocent people who happen to be of color from being shot 20 times in their own backyard as Stephon Clark was brutally killed. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” from systemic racism that fuels such incidents as well as our school to prison pipeline, poverty, profiling, white supremacy, unjust incarceration of our black and brown brothers and sisters. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” from patriarchal systems of gender and sexuality oppression where women and LBGTQIA people are not heard, are harassed, targeted, viewed as less than and objectified. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” to the systemic myths of ableism and see all people with all abilities as valuable and gifted. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” from whatever keeps us from truly listening to one another-conversation face to face for the sake of seeing each other as beloved children of God-each one of us created in God’s own image.
Jesus comes into our lives, our world, hears our shouts of “Hosanna! Save us now!” and offers us himself. All of himself freely, unconditionally, lovingly and mercifully. Jesus hears us, and through the cross, draws all us close so that we can hear each other too. When we hear one another all shouting “Hosanna! Save us now!” we realize that Jesus calls us to be this same selfless love to each other. The promises of God to be with us always is not for us individually, but for all of us collectively. Jesus is here, in the protests of our youth, in the protests of our black and brown brothers and sisters, in the protests of women and LBGTQIA people, in the protests of people created with unique gifts to share-Jesus is here. Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and in our hearts is indeed triumphant, not because of bringing military and worldly power, authority and privilege, but is triumphant because Jesus’ arrival in our hearts and in our lives brings mercy, tenderness, openness, forgiveness, selflessness and true love of neighbor more than ourselves. When Jesus’ arrives all is overthrown, our own ego, pride, resistance, prejudice, bias and hate. Are we listening? Can we hear it? “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven! Hosanna! God save us now!”

 

Only For God Jeremiah 1: 4-10 Epiphany 4, Year C, January 31st February 11, 2016

 

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

 

Some of you know that before I went to seminary I was a director of a Lutheran early childhood center. When I started the school in 2003, one of the visions for the school was to proclaim God’s work in the community around St. Matthew Lutheran located in a first ring suburb of Portland, OR, one of the least churched areas of the world. Surveys have shown that if every pew was full on a Sunday morning in Portland it would be only 4% of the population. It is a mission field indeed. We knew God was at work in Portland and we knew that proclaiming God’s word of love and grace was an important way we could participate with God. And so, in the DNA of the school were faith practices. Early on in the program we decided to teach the preschoolers the Lord’s Prayer and have the children lead the prayer in worship on Palm Sunday, followed by a potluck brunch, of course! We started teaching the Lord’s Prayer as part of our snack time prayer right away in September. We would sing our “Thank You” song and then pray the Lord’s Prayer. We used actions to help them learn it and our first Family Faith Night of the year was centered on the faith practice of prayer and specifically the Lord’s Prayer.

In this diverse and mostly secular Pacific NW culture, curiously we would have about 80% of our families attend to play games, make remembrances of the scripture (otherwise known as crafts-but anything that is made with their hands and goes home is important) and of course, enjoy treats. We had diversity in the abilities of the children as well as diversity in the faith backgrounds: from the nones (completely unchurched), Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, other Christian denominations to lifelong Lutherans.

One year, a family registered for the school in which the mom was a lifelong Lutheran and dad was a none. Their oldest child was an adorable three year old little girl named Ella. Mom wanted the children brought up in the Christian faith and dad frankly didn’t see the point. He was not thrilled to have Ella at an overtly Christian school and told me so. We began teaching the children the Lord’s Prayer and held our first family faith night. Dad did not attend with mom and Ella. Ella began to know the prayer pretty well and started insisting that they say it before dinner at home. Dad confessed he didn’t know it and Ella told him that they could learn it together. Even though Ella herself didn’t know it perfectly, Ella taught her dad what she knew of the Lord’s Prayer. She wasn’t concerned about details or exact words, she simply wanted her dad to pray with her because he didn’t know about God. Being only three didn’t stop her.

Palm Sunday arrived. The children were all excited and some parents were nervous as for many it was their first time in worship. We came to the point of the worship service where we had the children move up front for the communion liturgy. As we were organizing 60 three through five year olds, Ella began to call to her dad from the front. “Daddy, come up with me! You learned it too!” Dad gestured and shook his head no, of course, not wanting to take anything away from the hard work of the children. But Ella persisted, “Daddy you have to come up! You learned it just like me!” It was obvious that worship would not continue until dad came up. So, this six foot plus dad came and knelt beside his petite three-year-old daughter and together they all prayed the Lord’s Prayer, from memory, to God who was, who is and who will be forever. The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable and everyone had tears in their eyes, including Ella’s dad. Pastor Eric choked his way through the rest of the liturgy.

We had all been witnesses to what our faith is really about: being together on the journey and learning from each other along the way. Life in God is this: God working through a child to open up an adult to the love and presence of Christ. An adult being offered hope through the ancient words prayed by children embodies the mystery of our faith. God did this, even though Ella didn’t have a theological degree; even though she couldn’t read; even though she was only three.

“Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” I am only a parent; I am only a grandparent; I am only a new believer; I am only a teacher; I am only an IT person; I am only a pastor; I am only a real estate broker; I am only a child; I am only…” We get easily caught into thinking that we don’t have what God needs to really do wondrous things and proclaim God’s word of salvation and wholeness for the world. We come up with a list of “only’s.” If I only knew the Bible better; if I only prayed more; if I only went to worship more often; if I only could get the courage to invite my neighbor to bible study; if I only had eloquent and encouraging words; if I were only more giving; if I only served selflessly. We make faith practices into a to-do list, or a prerequisite for being able to participate in God’s redeeming work.

Jeremiah also fell into that trap of the “only’s.” He knew that he was inadequate, without the proper training or lineage, of a priest. He knew that left on his own, he had nothing. He was only a boy; if he only had the right words. But God didn’t call Jeremiah because of his education, his lineage, his age, his skill set, or his piety. God called Jeremiah because Jeremiah belonged to God. God called Jeremiah because God calls all kinds of people, a motley crew, if you will, to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. God knows that in order to reach all people, not just the Israelites, not just the ones who show up to church on a Sunday morning, not just the ones who know the Bible, not just the ones who pray, but to reach all people, God calls all people from all kinds of backgrounds, ages, stages, and abilities. God calls you.  God proclaimed to Jeremiah and to us that God removes our “only’s.” God proclaims that the only “only” that matters is that we belong and are beloved by God. Jeremiah was known by God before he ever drew breath. Jeremiah would have heard while in the womb the prayers from the temple, the words from the scroll of the Torah, the songs of worship and the promises of God. These faith practices didn’t qualify him for the work to which God called him, but rooted him in his only identity, a child of God who always loves us and removes our fear.

Faith practices remind us that with God, a boy can tell a whole nation that they must repent or fall to the coming army. With God, a boy can proclaim that God will not forsake God’s people. With God, a three-year-old can open up her dad to God’s love. With God, a baby giggling down the aisle to communion can point us to the joy in the Lord. With God, a retired person can help a youth uncover their God given gifts. With God, a congregation of faithful followers of Christ can reveal to a cynical and hardened culture that hope, faith and love are real, are here, and those promises from our ever present God will not fail. With God, death on a cross can be new life and with God, an empty tomb can be the end of all separation from God.

Faith practices aren’t so that we can know enough, but remind us that with God, we are enough. Faith practices connect us to what God is doing to transform the world through the love of Jesus Christ. Faith practices bind us, young and old, in community to share the journey that is not always easy. We are moved by the wonder of the child and the wisdom of the adult and marvel that God literally wired us for one another in all stages of life. Faith practices root us, nurture us and send us out bursting with love, hope and grace into a world that is desperate to hear that they too are known and loved by God, even if our words are imperfect. Like Ella, do not be afraid that you are “only you,” but go with the confidence that you are called and loved by the one and only God of all creation, who will remove all of your fear. Amen.

 

God’s Story of Everything Mark 11:1-11 Palm Sunday Year B March 30, 2015

If we’re honest, we all long to be fully and really seen, our story heard, accepted, and loved. And if we’re truly honest, that also scares us to death.  In this age of social media, self-help, constant communication and reality tv, one would assume that we know each other and ourselves fairly well, it would appear that we are all an open book. Yet, we all like to project a certain image and it seems, ironically, that is easier than ever to do. But it’s difficult to keep that façade up for very long isn’t it? Eventually, what isn’t true, authentic and real about yourself will be exposed and then it gets messy. The clash of who the world wants you to be or sees you as, comes crashing head long into who you really are, warts and all. We all know people who are so cautious about what they allow the world to see or over the top transparent (almost uncomfortably so) about who they are in their lives.

Sometimes the story of who we are that we present to the world is who we actually hope and are striving to be and that is not bad, but again, we will eventually fall short. We live in a culture that simultaneously values perfection and authenticity, collaboration and individualism, and polished image and transparency.

We see it all around us. The clash of what we’ve hoped our story to be in our lives versus what is reality. We have all fallen short according to the world’s measuring stick but we try to sweep that under the rug. What’s more, when we encounter someone who can’t hide the ways that their story clashes with what the world expects out of people, we tend to turn away and ignore them. Perhaps out of fear of the knowledge that it could just as easily be us, or because it one time it was us.  When we begin to live in this tension and tell our own stories of truly who we are and allow all pieces of ourselves to be seen, it’s risky. And it begs the questions:  What will we allow to be seen of ourselves? What happens when every part of us, the good, bad and the ugly are transparent? What about the stories of people around us that we don’t like, agree with or scare us? What happens when our search for transparency, authenticity and acceptance clash with the reality of a world that only seeks perfection, control and categorization?

It’s obvious that the crowds that surrounded Jesus in his processional parade into Jerusalem, knew through stories or personal experience, that this Jesus was someone to be followed and lauded. These were people from the small, nothing towns, where Jesus spent most of his ministry, people whom most of society, particularly the elite of Jerusalem would have ignored at best and treated as less than human at worst. They were most likely peasants, fishermen, farmers, essentially nobodies. They didn’t have a story as far as most were concerned or at least one not worth hearing. But Jesus had seen them, more than that, he had acknowledged them, talked to them, taught them and healed them. He told them that God’s story was their story.

Jesus had entered into their lives and saw the broken parts of them that they could not hide, the broken pieces of real lives where marriages did not always work out, one can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, disease was unpreventable, death was always near and helplessness and hopelessness seemed to win the day. They didn’t have nice clothes to hide scars, or facebook to project a false happiness, or disposable income to temporarily feel better through more stuff, food or influence. Jesus had fully seen them, met them where they were and in this moment of a parade into the center of political, religious and economic power, Jerusalem, they thought that they saw who Jesus really was as well and what his story should be-someone who would give them money, status, and power everything that would allow them to be seen by the world.

But soon these cries of Hosanna, “Save us now,” would turn to disbelief, discouragement and perhaps even disgust as the Jesus who entered into their lives, saw everything, and didn’t give them exactly what they wanted.  “Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” Jesus saw everything: the coming clash of the world’s story with God’s story, the brokenness of the economics of the culture and the temple where some were left out, the marginalized denied of God’s community, those who were trying to live as God’s people, but were struggling, those who cried Hosanna, “save us now,” but won’t let go of their own need for comfort or control. Jesus saw it all. Jesus saw everything and sees everything about us today. Jesus sees our “everything” and in response, offers us God’s everything. While we struggle with keeping parts of our lives unseen and to see those who are different from us, God through Jesus, enters into and sees everything-sees all of us and each one of us.

This week, Holy Week, is our journey of God offering us everything. God’s abundant generosity offers us all of God’s unconditional love and God’s constant forgiveness. In seeing our “everything”, Jesus sees all of who we are; the parts of ourselves that we show the world and the parts of ourselves that we hide out of shame and fear.  Jesus’ only judgment on what he sees about the world and us, is to offer us all of who God is, so that God’s everything of love, forgiveness and generosity can spill out into the world.

When Jesus sees everything about us, Jesus also sees people made in God’s image, and despite all of the pieces that we are ashamed of, we too have the capacity for abundant generosity, unconditional love and constant forgiveness.  God’s everything of love, forgiveness and abundance reveals that the world’s everything of fear, hate and scarcity cannot and will not be the last word. God’s everything reveals in us that all are accepted, loved and forgiven and so we already have everything we need to participate with God’s revelation to the world. We enter into our neighborhoods, our schools and workplaces where God is already at work, with everything we need to be fully loving, forgiving and generous.

We enter into the story of Holy Week knowing that it is really the story of God’s entering into and seeing the reality of our lives and the world’s reality to tell us the true story about who we are and everything God promises for all of creation. God calls us through our stories to reveal God’s story hope, love, forgiveness and abundance to a world waiting to be truly seen. Thanks be to God.