A Lutheran Says What?

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

Always Worth It, Sermon on Luke 14: 25-33 July 1, 2016

*This sermon can be viewed on the archives of http://www.bethanylive.org June 29, 2016
This text is hard. I read numerous commentaries, some said God is the king, or the tower builder, or some wrote that Jesus is talking about transforming families, Jesus is saying that you have to give up all your possessions, you have to suffer to be a disciple, on and on. I read and reread those and none of that resonated and didn’t even make that much sense to me. I tried looking at this parable from a Lutheran lens, where’s God active? Where’s God’s grace named? Mmmm not obvious… I tried looking at it from what we know about the gospel of Luke: community matters, social justice matters, caring for the poor and marginalized matters. I got bumpkis. Parables are often hyperbolic and metaphorical. Ok….nope, doesn’t really work with this either. Here’s the deal: This parable is hard because sometimes, life and following Jesus is hard. This parable doesn’t really make much sense because sometimes, life and following Jesus doesn’t make much sense. This parable makes us very uncomfortable because sometimes, life and following Jesus is uncomfortable.
This is not a touchy, feely let me give you some free bread and fish Jesus. This is a Jesus who is more akin to what we might recognize from the Old Testament, Jesus seems to be saying that it means something to be God’s people and there are hard things that you may have to do. In our Bible in 90 Days bible study class we just survived reading Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We read through all of the laws and what God expects out of God’s people-not to make God happy or to appease God’s anger but to make living together as a people a bit more just, fair, and life-giving. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, don’t withhold from the foreigner or the widow, don’t harm each other, don’t take up after other gods or idols because they are shiny and easier to deal with. You are a set apart people, so you should probably act like it. If something or someone is in your way, keeping you from not acting like part of the people of God, remove it. Harsh isn’t it? We don’t like that at all. We love our version of God that loves us just the way we are. We love to rest in the idea that we are ok and nothing more is required of us. That is great pop psychology, but not really what being a disciple is all about. We want God to affirm all that we like, all whom we like and for God to operate in the way that makes sense to us. We like to predict what God will do, who God will bless, and who God will correct. We make God into our own image.
You see, those laws, those seemingly harsh, impossible, limiting, offensive, guilt-ridden laws, were not about punishment, exclusion or God’s love and grace having conditions. The law was about God loving us too much to leave us alone and to our own devices. The law was about breaking us open in order for God’s grace to pour into us and through us to the world. God breaks us open to make us whole, whole as a person and as a community. God breaks us open with the law to make room for God and each other in our lives. God’s heart is to be in relationship with us, whom God created. God desires only good for us, not perfection, and that could mean separating from anything or anyone who diminishes our fullness as a child of God. God created us in God’s image and God will continue to work in us, through us and around us to reveal the true us, which is indeed in God’s image.
That sometimes looks like separating from even your family, Jesus says. Family was everything in first century Palestine and it’s even the crux of Levitical law-but Jesus recognizes that those closest to us can also lead us away from God. It might cost you relationships to follow Jesus. Like James and John, the sons of Zebedee, you might have to drop your nets and walk away, leaving your own father standing alone on his boat. It might cost you the understanding of your friends and family as you go a different way.
Sometimes that looks like separating from the life you once knew, Jesus says. It might cost you when you walk away from the life you’ve always known, your own privilege, financial security, and comfortableness. When we drop our nets to follow Jesus, we are picking up the risk and the cost of building the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, we build messy, risky relationships with those whom society pushes to the edges but God commands us to love, our neighbors, all of our neighbors: our Muslim neighbors, our LBGTQI neighbors, our black neighbors, our native neighbors, our Asian neighbors, our Jewish neighbors, our Hindu neighbors, our immigrant neighbors. We will lose our privilege, we will lose our comfort, we will lose our status, but we will also lose our prejudice, and we will lose our ego. You will lose everything that you know today. It will be hard and there is a cost.
There is a cost. Can you afford it? Will you afford it? Can you afford not to? Can we as a people of God afford to stay in our bubble of what we know, of the world telling us that we are only as important as our status, who we hang out with, what we own and where we live? Can we afford to continue to wage war on those who differ from us, who scare us and whom we want to exclude from God’s kingdom? What is it costing us? Jesus says it’s costing us our very lives.
We were not created to own stuff, to wage war, for unhealthy relationships, or for death. God created us for life. God created us to reveal God’s Shalom, which is wholeness, grace, and love. The way of Shalom is not the way of the world. The world levies taxes on us that we will never be able to repay. There will never be enough to satisfy the bill of ego, material possessions, and status. But in God’s kingdom, there is not only enough, but we are enough, not because of what we say or do, but because of who God is, and what God promises: the promise to be with us always, the promise to fill us with the Holy Spirit that is always making us new and transforming our lives, our relationships and all of creation. We are enough for God to work with and we are worth the cost for God. God so wants us to know abundant life, love and grace that God risked great cost in Jesus. Jesus came to proclaim that love poured into us is always worth the cost-even his own life. This love transcends any separation from God and Jesus promises that this love is everything that we need and is free to us.
We are called to reflect and be this love from Jesus. But Jesus knows and affirms that for us, love that is not about self, is hard. Love that pulls you out of your own needs and wants is risky. Love that moves us to change our behaviors so that our neighbor knows this same love is costly. But when we connect with that love of God for the sake of following Jesus out into the world for the sake of our neighbor, it’s always, always worth it, not matter what the cost. Amen.

 

We Can Learn a New Trick! June 1, 2016 Wednesday Worship: Pondering the Parables Luke 5:33-39 June 23, 2016

A friend of mine has embarked on a new vocational adventure after years as a CIO of large corporation. He took his observations and learning from his many years of leadership in the technology world and created a company with his wife called People Before Things. After all his years in corporate America, Chris observed that when you put people and their needs first in an organization, change was smoother. That didn’t mean catering to individual agenda’s or preferences, but acknowledging that collaboration, community, and relationships deeply mattered. It also doesn’t mean that you back down from change or trying something new, but understood that some would get it and some would not. You can’t make everyone happy and it’s very difficult to combine new technology into old technology. The two systems often couldn’t speak to one another. A new system meant, just that, a new system. You could maybe patch it together for a while, but that would never be a sustainable long term solution. New required full by-in. So the tension of leadership is inviting people into a vision of the new, affirming that change is hard and yet, uncompromisingly moving forward in a direction that is life-giving for all.

I’m often struck as a church leader how sometimes the supposed “secular” world has better paradigms and strategies for change than the Church, whose whole reason for being is to declare that God is doing a new thing and we’re an important part of it. We are people of resurrection, newness, life from death and yet we cling to “the way we’ve always done it” like it’s an oxygen mask on a decompressing plane. What are somethings we think we have to do? We have to do: Sunday morning worship, confirmation, Sunday school, youth group, kneel for confession, etc.

What if I told you that really none of those things might matter to the new generation? What if welcoming those who are not born and raised Swedish/Norwegian/German Lutheran meant that we don’t worry about some of the practices that are really ethnic or geographical in tradition and not actually theological or necessary? What if I told you that ten years from now Sunday morning expression of worship may not be the most central part of being Church? Crazy right?

Here in Luke 5, Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry but already he is catching flak from the institutional leaders. Jesus, pure Jewish people don’t eat with the poor, the diseased, the outsiders, the tax collectors, the unclean. We’ve never done that. Jesus, we always fast and are very pious with our prayers. This is what we do. Your disciples aren’t doing it right. Even John’s disciples are better versed in the traditions than yours. You had better take care of this!

The religious establishment and my guess even some of the everyday lay folk, were deeply confused and genuinely worried about this itinerate, street preacher and healer who didn’t seem to understand the way it has always been done. Someone had better set him straight before too many people began to think that not fasting, and hanging out with unclean people were ok activities!

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is one that pierces at our hearts today. God is doing a new thing. You can’t take a patch of the new kingdom and simply graft it onto the old one. The integrity of the new kingdom is lost. And you can’t take new wine and put it in old wineskins. The old wineskins simply can’t handle the growth of the new wine-they will burst and then all is lost. New wine needs new wineskins. God’s new kingdom needs new structures and new rules. Rules that don’t exclude certain people and require certain behavior to fit in, but rules that allows for all to be included and invited into because the only rule is love. Complete and whole love of God and neighbor.

But Jesus knows that it’s not as simple as telling the Pharisees or us, that preserving traditions that aren’t rooted in God’s love for all people in all times and in all places is not what God is all about. Jesus knew that we would have to witness first hand that this kingdom of God is not about being comfortable, status quo, resting on laurels and security. Jesus very presence was a new garment and new wineskins. Jesus came to show us that God’s primary concern is for the wholeness of all people and creation over the things of worldly structures that kept some people on the margins and not in full community. Jesus very presence heralded God’s proclamation that nothing can stay the way it is. It’s not that traditions are bad, but rituals and traditions unexamined and done just for the sake of doing them and not for the sake of love of God and neighbor, always need to be rethought. When we put our neighbor first, ahead of our own comforts and preferences, we proclaim the good news of the God’s structure of new life, unconditional love and unleashed hope for all people.

Jesus knows that as humans we will always revert to what is easiest, comfortable and what we know. But Jesus loves us too much to leave us in our comfortableness. Jesus calls us and invites us into this new kingdom where transformation brings wholeness, freedom from what binds us to sin and death and ushers in life, true life where all are valued and loved. Jesus calls and invites us to be the new garment for all the world to see and the new wine for all the world to taste. Jesus calls us to move beyond our culture, our preferences, our own hang-ups to be truly alive in the truth that the gospel, the good news of God’s active Holy Spirit in the world can’t and won’t be hindered by our human brokenness. God’s kingdom transcends those human structures and bursts them like old wineskins for a new thing to grow. It might at first taste bitter, like new wine, or not be as comfy as an old, worn garment, but God created us with the capacity for new, to grow, to participate in what God is up to around us. God promises to never leave us alone as we step out into this newness and is always on the road with us, even when we can’t recognize God’s presence.

Even while we have ancient traditions that announce the in-breaking of the kingdom of God-water, bread and wine, God is always doing a new thing through them to guide us and call us into this new economy where there is only abundance and room for all. Water, bread and wine are not exclusionary markers of God’s kingdom but radical inclusionary markers that no one is left out of the newness that God is pouring into the world. God is pouring that newness into each of us every single day. We are sent into the world as workers with God in this newness. God continues to work in us, through us, and with us for the sake of love. God’s promise is that you, all people and all creation will always come before the things of this world. No structure, tradition or rule will keep you or anyone else from the love of God. Thanks be to God for that!

 

Ordinariness, Best Friends, Dandelions and the Kingdom of God Mark 4: 26-34 June 14, 2015 June 14, 2015

I’ve known my best friend for 14 years now and looking back on our relationship, I can’t quite pinpoint the moment where are relationship deepened from acquaintances at work, to friends to best friend-my go-to person for joys and sorrows. It just sort of happened; we didn’t one day say, “we should try and be best friends,” no, it was more that we just had a daily life rhythm that connected and fostered that growth. We had children similar ages and we did work together at the same congregation in a connected role and so we began to know each other’s business, if you will, as well as sharing our life experiences-the ordinary and the extraordinary. We began to intertwine, even to sharing childcare. Our children consider themselves one of five siblings to this day.  We realized that we were always there for one another. Sometimes that connectedness is hard, we are aware of each other’s business and it can be uncomfortable and maybe too real. This kind of connectivity reveals the reality being changed and shaped by another person. We are not the same people we were 14 years ago because of one another’s presence. Now, we did not become the same person, and we most definitely have other friends and our spouses come first (well, most of the time!).

We are also each other’s truth tellers. We can speak the truth to each other about the consequences of our words and behaviors. Again, it’s uncomfortable, but it offers each other a mirror in which we can see a bit more clearly who we are as children of God and how we can grow, learn and be all that God created us to be in the world and for the world. Frankly, it’s comforting to know that there is someone who is authentic with me and will tell me to stop it, suck it up or challenge my thinking. It’s also comforting to know that when we agree with what the other is doing or feeling that it’s genuine, not just pandering or telling each other what we want to hear in order to feel good about ourselves or the situation. Love and support does not always look like agreement, sometimes it’s a swift kick in the fanny!
I hope and pray, that we all have at least one of these kinds of people in our lives (I’m blessed to have two-my husband Mike also fits in this category.) We may not understand why these people love and support us and are simply there for us no matter what. These sorts of companions on our life’s journey are constant, persistent and all up in our business whether we like it or not. Our ordinary lives intertwine and that frankly is extraordinary.

Our two parables in Mark this morning highlight the mystery of our lives intertwining with God, with each other and with creation. It’s important to remember that parables are not supposed to have nice, neat endings and are not to expound on some moral or ethical teaching but are designed to invite us into mystery, wondering and exploration. Jesus offers us two such ideas, both with agricultural frames. In the first, a farmer scatters seeds and they grow without the farmer understanding or doing anything extraordinary other than living his ordinary life and in the second, an invasive weed that is mostly unnoticed except when it’s invading your space. What if a relationship with God, the kingdom of God intertwining in your daily life, is about ordinary routines such as sleeping and rising and an invasive weed that you can’t get rid of no matter how hard you try?

Jesus is inviting us into the simultaneous hiddeness and revelation of God’s presence in our daily lives and in creation. God’s kingdom is everywhere around us and is part of everything we do in our day and yet we don’t always notice it. As we go to our jobs, school, the grocery store, as we sleep, eat, and interact with one another in our ordinary daily life, we are living in the kingdom of God. The seeds of God’s love and grace are ones that we carry with us and spread whether we know it or not and whether we do anything or not. We connect with other people and we just never know what God is going to do with those relationships or what will grow. All we can do is be who God created us to be and bring all of ourselves into our everyday lives in the world.

In our daily rhythm with each other and with God, we are also growing and being shaped by the kingdom of God. We grow together, intertwine with each other or are shaped by our daily faith practices in community of care, worship, prayer, Bible study, and holy conversations. It’s not so much a nice neat garden as it is a field of wild flowers.  The kingdom of God is everywhere, includes everyone and we can’t control it, like dandelions in our yard. This connectivity is ordinary, extraordinary, comforting, disconcerting and messy.

Jesus is inviting us to imagine what we can’t imagine: God is working in the world in our ordinary daily routines, where we least expect it, in spite of what we do or don’t do and God’s kingdom is all around us and invading our space all the time. Like our close friends, God is in our business, in our daily life, in our sleeping and rising, invasively growing around us all the time. Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it.”

This awareness the holiness of the kingdom of God around us all the time is difficult for us to remember. We easily look for God in the extraordinary such as a CO sunset or a magnificent painting but miss God in the routines of three meals a day with hungry and active toddlers, in rush hour traffic, paperwork, nonsensical phone calls with friends, doctor appointments, tense conversations with teenagers, being bored, yard work, etc. God’s kingdom is as ordinary as all of those activities and yet, isn’t it extraordinary that we have this God who walks with us in our daily boredom, muck, dirt, and routine? God’s kingdom comes to us in whatever way necessary so that God’s presence with us in all times and in all places can be revealed.  The presence of God is seeds, shrubs, birds, grain, water, bread and wine. We proclaimed this morning to Luke, that in ordinary water amongst ordinary people, with our ordinary words; that he is part of the kingdom of God and God is with Luke today and every day.  In the ordinary water there is holy, a set a part mystery with his life with God.

In Jesus, God proclaims that relationship with us, all of humanity and creation, is what God desires most. Our imaginations can’t grasp this so we have each other to point to this in breaking of the kingdom wherever we see it. We ask and wonder, “what is the kingdom of God like?” It is like calling a friend and saying “I’m sorry,” it’s sitting with our children and reading a favorite book over and over, it’s tears of laughter and words of truth with a friend, it’s offering a kind word of grace to the cable repair person who is three hours late, it’s checking on that cranky neighbor you haven’t seen in a while, it’s a farmer planting seeds not knowing how they will grow but trusting that they will, or it’s  a mustard seed that grows to be the greatest of shrubs. Jesus assures us that God’s kingdom is coming, it’s already here and it’s for us all. Thanks be to God.