A Lutheran Says What?

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

Being Surrounded: A sermon for Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, NM December 13, 2020

I had the honor to preach for Peace Lutherand in Las Cruces NM for their midweek Advent 3 worship on Dec. 18, 2020. The text was Psalm 125.

Grace and peace to you beloveds at Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces! I am privileged and honored to share a word of God with you this third week of Advent. I serve Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Salt Lake City, Utah and my congregation sends their love and greetings to you. You might know, if you’re a geology buff, that Salt Lake City sits in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges on both sides. To the west, we have the Oquirrh’s and to the east, the Wasatch. No matter where you look, you can see mountains. It protects SLC and the valley from extreme weather for the most part but also makes it difficult for polluted air to be moved out. Being surrounded by mountains is sometimes helpful and sometimes a challenge. What we are surrounded by matters.

Being surrounded resonates with me in this time. Right now, we are surrounded by circumstances beyond our control: political divisions and conflicts in our society, the sin and injustice of racism and white supremacy, and of course from the reality of the COVID19 virus. A few months ago, I didn’t really know anyone who was affected by it, and now, I’m surrounded by people who have dealt with the disease in one aspect or another. I feel surrounded by the economic, health and death realities of a pandemic. I feel surrounded, as everywhere I look, I see the trials and challenges of our world. I crave to surround myself in what I think is safety and security.

So, I attempt to surround myself with what I think will bring protection and peace: people, environments and material objects. I surround myself with people who affirm my thinking and beliefs, I surround myself in a neighborhood where I’m comfortable, I surround myself with plenty of food, with Amazon deliveries, and with Netflix shows. I surround myself so that the realities of the world can be pushed aside, ignored, put on a shelf, and not be in my line of sight to bother me. But when I surround myself with distractions and false security, I can look past who and what I am actually surrounded by.

The psalmist who prayed Psalm 125, knew what it was to be surrounded. Ancient Jerusalem was nearly always under siege somehow and while yes, it was surrounded by mountains, the inhabitants couldn’t let their guard down and those mountains weren’t a guarantee or foolproof protection. They had to be vigilant as to who might be surrounding them at any given time. This led to living with heightened anxiety and the knowledge that their land was always at risk of being occupied by an invader. The Israelites lived most of their day to day lives surrounded by people who didn’t share their faith and belief in the one God, Yahweh, and they would have been tempted to act and take on the behaviors of the people who surrounded them.

But the psalmist offers another way to think of being surrounded. Yes, they are surrounded by circumstances beyond their control that might seem hopeless, but they are also surrounded by the love and mercy of God. The Lord surrounds them with the truth of being God’s people, that even when life looks bleak, God is at work. God has acted for them in the past and they must trust that God will act again. Being surrounded by loss, suffering and death won’t be the last word.
In Advent, we center ourselves on this truth-that we are indeed surrounded, by God’s promise of surrounding us with the love, mercy and grace as made real in the birth of Jesus. Jesus who entered the world surrounded by smelly animals and shepherds, surrounded by powers and principalities who wanted him dead from the time he was born, surrounded by the songs of angels, and surrounded by the love and care of Mary and Joseph. Jesus came into the world to surround us with the truth of God’s unending and unconditional love for humanity and all creation.
So we surround ourselves in this reality, we trust that when we feel surrounded by events and circumstances that threaten our very lives, we are surrounded by the love and care of each other, from Utah to New Mexico, and we are surrounded by God’s presence, promises and mercy through Jesus Christ. We are indeed surrounded, and we give thanks to God. You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

“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.