A Lutheran Says What?

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

Renewed By Gratitude: Sermon on Luke 17: 11-19 Year C Pentecost 18 October 13, 2019

This sermon was preached on Oct. 13, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. This is part of our stewardship series Renewed For All Seasons.

The texts were:

2 Kings 5: 1-3, 7-15c
2 Timothy 2: 8-15
Luke 17: 11-19

Children’s sermon: Do you know how to say “Thank you” in different languages? Yep, all kinds of ways to say thank you! How can we say “thank you” without words? Yeah, it might be harder, but there is ASL (show sign for “thank-you”) but we can say “thank you” also with a smile, a hug if the other person is ok hugging, a high five, a note,  or like the person in our Bible story today, with both words and actions. He was so grateful to Jesus for making him well that he laid himself down on the ground in front of Jesus. When we say “thank you” we are showing gratitude, we are noticing that someone has been kind, thoughtful and helpful. Our bible story from Luke is about gratitude this morning. Jesus made all ten of the sick people well, no one was excluded from Jesus’ gift of healing, but one person noticed that it was more than physical healing, it was a return to full life with people. In Jesus’ time, if you were sick, even if you weren’t contagious, you had to stay away from people. Such as when my allergies are bad, I might look sick, but you can’t get my allergies from me, but I wouldn’t have been allowed to be with people either!  When Jesus healed these ten people, they could be with people again! The other nine were glad to be made well, and did what Jesus said, the went to the temple to show themselves healed to the religious authorities-they didn’t do anything wrong. But the one, who was a Samaritan, an outsider whom many people didn’t like, took it one step further than others-he noticed that in being healed, he was also excepted and included. This is why he turned around to show with actions and words gratitude to Jesus. We notice that God always includes us in God’s healing, love and wholeness and so that is why in worship we have many ways that we show gratitude. Did you know that communion each Sunday is one way we think about gratitude? The fancy Greek word for communion is Eucharist-which means thanksgiving or gratitude. You might notice that the heading in the bulletin is even called the Great Thanksgiving and some of those words are “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.” We say this each week! No matter what is going on in our lives, even if we are having a hard time, we know that God always includes us, keeps us in this loving community and never leaves us-so we notice, we are turned around and we help other people in our lives notice God’s inclusion too. In the rest of my sermon, we’re going to say together a couple of times “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.” And on the back window, we are all going to write or draw on a post it note to put on our cross, all the places and people where we notice God’s love, kindness and inclusion. And we pray to be show inclusion to other people too. We also have a Gratitude sheet to go home to keep track of how you are grateful for God’s work in your life or the world.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.” As I told the children, we do say these words each week and they can become rote and trite. Or if we are struggling, these words can seem too simplistic and not in touch with our emotions or the rest of our lives. Give thanks to God? For this mess? But I’m sick, I’m lonely, I’m hurting, the world is crashing down around me and I don’t know which way to go next. I’m asking “why me, God?” Why am I the unlucky one to whom these bad things are occurring? Give thanks? No thanks.

Gratitude can be hard in our lives. I know that for me, it’s not a “go-to” spiritual practice and it is a spiritual practice. Gratitude has also become a culturally “co-opted” word-as I wrote about in my Enews article, how many of you have heard the phrase “have an attitude of gratitude.” It seems so simple doesn’t it? All you have to do is think everything is great and your life will be better. And if you don’t, then there’s something wrong with you. Gratitude as a concept can also be used to shame. How many times have you been told, “you should be grateful, it could be worse…” So, that’s not helpful either is it? What does the spiritual practice of gratitude look like in a way that isn’t shaming, simplistic, or denies the realities of the world?
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”
At first blush, our Luke story this morning seems to reinforce some of those unhelpful concepts of gratitude. Jesus is walking towards Jerusalem-towards the cross-on the border of Samaria and Galilee. As a “good Jew” he should not be crossing through Samaria at all but that’s where we find Jesus in this story-where others dare not to go. And in this remote area, there are some leper’s we read. Now it’s probably not actual leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, but some condition that made them ritually unclean and ostracized from community. The ten called out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus saw them, really saw them and they probably hadn’t been seen by anyone in years, and he simply said “go show yourselves to the priests.” In order to be brought back into community, a temple priest had to declare you clean. And as they walked they noticed that all of them, all ten, were made well. Their disease was gone. Nine continued on the path to the temple, as directed, but one, a Samaritan, on realizing his return to health, turned around. Now, let’s remember that the Samaritan, even healed, would not have been considered clean by the priests and allowed in the temple anyway. He would always be unclean according to Israelite law, simply because of his ethnicity. This one recognized the radicalness of what Jesus had said to him, a Samaritan, go to the temple, for you are included in God’s mercy, love and grace. You are a witness to the source of all blessings.

With the realization of what Jesus had really offered him beyond physical healing, he laid himself out before Jesus, and said thank you. I imagine overwhelmed tears of joy streaming down his face. His healing, his inclusion, reoriented him and opened him up to truly see what God was doing in the world and he had to offer thanks and praise. Jesus responded by asking about the other nine and affirming that it was the outsider, the supposed enemy, who noticed God’s inclusion, grace and mercy through Jesus and was turned around by it. Jesus tells him to get up and that his faith-his connection to God’s vision of wholeness-has made him well. This man is saved, included in God’s work of wholeness for all creation, and is sent out by Jesus. What the other nine missed, Jesus is saying, is that their healing isn’t only about themselves and religious ritual. The one who returned, who showed gratitude, recognized that his being made well wasn’t only about himself, but what Jesus’ healing work in the world meant for all people.  “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”

So often we are like the other nine, doing what we think we should be doing, because it’s what the religious tradition says to do, and missing the bigger picture of what God is up to in the world. We miss the witness of God’s transforming and renewing work from unexpected people, the outsiders, the ones with whom we would rather not interact, let alone learn from, because we are focused on other things. Gratitude helps us to be focused on God and our neighbor and not ourselves. Gratitude propels us to ensure that others have what we have. Gratitude moves us to advocate for equality, gratitude opens us up to the outsider in our midst, such as the Samaritan, to see our own blind spots in our lives together as church. When ritual and tradition begin to calcify and exclude and space isn’t created for people who are different or new, we need to be turned around and renewed.

Gratitude reorients us to God’s true blessings, God’s work of building a beloved, inclusive community and God’s desire for us to go out into the world to be the witnesses to these truths. We are to live rooted in thanks and praise to reveal to all people God’s love and grace. Our 2 Timothy passage recalls these roots with the words “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead,” and continues a couple of verses later with “so that they (all people) may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” This echoes our Communion liturgy: When we hear the words “Do this in remembrance of me,” it’s not Jesus saying to intellectually recall him, but to “re-member,” to reconnect, return, to the truth that no matter what, we are in relationship with God and the people of God now and forever. And so we return over and over again, to the table, in this community, with saints past, present and future, we are healed, nourished, forgiven, and made whole. We are created for this relationship, we were created to live in gratitude- turned around, noticing and witnessing to God’s inclusive, abundant, transforming and renewing grace through Jesus Christ.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”




We Already Know Sermon on Luke 16: 19-31 September 29, 2019

This sermon was preached on September 29, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

Texts: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6: 6-19
Luke 16: 19-31

Children’s sermon: gather the children up front. Start with the closing prayer! Dear Jesus, thank you for showing us God’s love and how to love others. May we notice those around us who need what we already have an abundance of your love and grace. Amen.
Then ask them, when do we normally do that prayer in children’s time? At the end! Yes, we always know that we are going to end with a prayer but today we started with the prayer because our bible stories are a little like this today. In reading the Luke story about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man already had everything he needed-food, housing, clothes, and Lazarus did not have those things. Now, I want to let you know that this story is NOT about what happens when we die, we don’t have to worry about that and Jesus promises that we will never be alone in this life or the next. There is a not a bad place that you need to worry about going to, that’s not what God wants. This story is about the last sentence we read, that we already know Jesus, we already listen to God telling us to love everyone and to make sure that everyone has what they need to be healthy, happy and safe. Just as you already know that we will always end children’s time with a prayer, we already know that God’s last word for all of us is love. And this last word of love means that we already know the whole story, that love and life never end! Just like a circle never ends, being in God’s love and life is like that too. We are all in this circle of love. So, since we don’t have to worry about that-we can stop focusing on ourselves and focus on people around us. We can see people like Lazarus who are sick, hungry and without a house. How do we help people like that here at OSLC? YES! We have Family Promise, we collect food to hand out, we will be collecting diapers, all kinds of ways! Ok, we’ve already prayed and I’m going to talk to the adults some more about this.

We all love a good story and want to know how it will end. Whether it’s movies or books, we can’t wait for the ending to see how it turns out. There is great satisfaction in knowing the whole story. We take this same tactic with our lives too it seems, we are always wondering how things will turn out-what will our whole story be? Will I get that promotion? Will we move into that bigger house? Can we go on that vacation? What will my children be when they grow up? What will we do in retirement? How will my health be as I age? We want to know everything, we want assurances, we want details and, of course, we want control.

This was what the rich man in our parable from Luke today was trying to do. He was trying to ensure that he had what he needed for the future so that he could control and predict the outcome of his life story. Jesus doesn’t say that he’s a bad person, Jesus doesn’t condemn him in anyway. Jesus merely points out that the rich man is so concerned with his own life that he doesn’t notice the lives around him, particularly the man right outside his own gate-Lazarus. While the rich man is dressed nicely, eats well and has safe housing in a gated community, Lazarus languishes nearby hoping for just a modicum of what the rich man has. And then both men die, death is the great equalizer it seems. Although Lazarus is carried away by angels and the rich man is buried. Now as I told the children, the point of this parable is certainly not to say that there is a heaven and a hell as places. Whenever Jesus in the gospels talks about Hades or in Matthew Ghenna-which is the garbage heap that gets burned outside the city, it’s all about being separated from God and community. Hell isn’t a place where bad people go when the die, hell is a place any of us can be in this life when we separate ourselves from God and God’s people. We create our own hell.

We read that there is a great chasm-that God didn’t create, the rich man did. The rich man is so oblivious, blinded by his wealth and excess, that he doesn’t know his own arrogance and entitlement. It never occurs to him that he could bridge or remove that chasm. But instead he barks orders at Father Abraham to have Lazarus do things for him. Even in death, the rich man thinks that he knows more and can control his own predicament and write his own ending. “Have Lazarus give me water, send him to warn my brothers.” The rich man seems to not know that his wealth and status are fleeting, aren’t his whole story, aren’t his to begin with and are a distractor for what is really important. Jesus doesn’t say that his wealth is the problem, it’s how he uses it, or in reality, how the wealth uses him. Money isn’t a problem, loving money, or loving anything more than God or people is a problem and is a root of evil. When we put anything before God and others, we do harm, we separate ourselves and think it’s only about us. We deny others their full story. Jesus came to show us how to reorder our loves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Just as God has loved us from the beginning, we are to love God and each other all the way to the end.

In response to the rich man’s request to send Lazarus to his brothers, Abraham admonishes him, they know this story, this truth. They have already heard it, over and over again, from Moses to Joshua, from Amos to Isaiah, God’s word of redemption, reconciliation and salvation-wholeness, have been spoken. They know this, but they won’t live it. Will hearing the story one more time from someone who has been resurrected from the dead matter? When they grasp the end, they will change how they live today.

We know the ending of the story, brothers and sisters. We have the witnesses of the resurrection to know that in the end, God’s end, is death is no more, love wins, the chasm is once and for all bridged and God’s kingdom of wholeness is here and is still to be revealed. And we know that God sent Jesus to remove any chasm, nor death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything can now separate us from God’s love and each other. This is not in dispute. This good news is freedom from worrying about ourselves, from our ends, we are free to be content with our here and now. As we read in 1 Timothy, we can take hold of eternal life and our life today-they are one in the same. There is a not a separation between today and eternal life with God. How we live today is as important as our eternal life with God. As followers of Jesus, this is our call, to live in such a way for all to see this eternal love right here and now.

We already know this unity of our lives today and eternal life opens us to see the plight of others around us, their need to be whole. Our present life entwined with the eternal life to come, bridges any chasms that we have created between others and ultimately God. We bridge chasms when we talk to people who are living on the street and holding up signs off of interstates. We bridge chasms when we elicit from our neighbor what they really need and don’t assume and speak for them. We bridge chasms when we recognize that we have enough-enough wealth, power and status-and we share the excess that we have so that all may be content. We bridge chasms when we recognize whatever wealth we have as a resource to be used in God’s kingdom and not as an entitlement or for power. We bridge chasms when we see what our neighborhood around us needs from us-how we can be together-whether it’s Scouting, diapers, food, hosting meetings, or places for children to play.

We already know the whole story, we have already heard the good news, and we have been richly blessed. We already have all that we need to bridge any chasms, to love our neighbor, and be generous, so that all may take hold of true life with God: life and love that we already know doesn’t end. Thanks be to God.