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.

 

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!

 

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!