A Lutheran Says What?

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

The Ordinary Reveals the Extraordinary Work of God Luke 2:22-40 Christmas 1, 2014 December 29, 2014

Many of you know that I was a teacher before seminary. When I lived in Lincoln, NE, I did some substitute teaching after graduation and a Roman Catholic school, Blessed Sacrament, liked me so well that I taught there nearly everyday for a year, doing both long term (several weeks in a row) and short term substitute positions. Before this I had limited experiences with the Catholic Church. I had attended one wedding when I was 10 and my college roommate is a devout Catholic but I had never attended mass with her.
Blessed Sacrament students and staff attended mass each day at 3 p.m. Now, I had been a part of a fairly pious Lutheran congregation in ND, but nothing prepared me for the level of ritual and piety that is the Roman Catholic Church. I was completely fascinated with the Rosary, the differences in the Lord’s Prayer, communion practices and liturgy (which I was not able to be a part of) and the candle lighting with the saints particularly was interesting to me. It seems that the Catholic Church has a ritual for everything and for everything a ritual. I watched as many of the older children and adults participated in these rituals, praying, singing, standing and kneeling as seamlessly as breathing. Young mothers with babies crawling all over them could recite the Rosary and keep track of their toddlers without missing a beat. It was all very ordinary and common to them, as well as giving them a laser-like focus on what was important in their lives. Honestly, I was a little jealous of all of this. Going to mass each day was like stepping through a spiritual portal where, while I was an outsider, I was being swept in and enfolded by their singing and speaking words of praise and confession that proclaimed Jesus presence as the central pivot in their lives. Mass allowed me to experience the ordinary rituals of my Lutheran tradition in new and extraordinary ways that revealed Jesus as central in my life.
Now, I am a (good?)Lutheran girl and I know why Martin Luther critiqued some of these rituals and why they can be actually in the way of a meaningful and authentic relationship with God. But in attending mass at Blessed Sacrament and witnessing what was for this congregation, ordinary and common practices that oriented them to God, I glimpsed something that made me think differently about God in my life, differently about my own spiritual practices and differently about what God was doing in the world. I was also made aware of all of the things that I did day to day that were “rituals” but not necessarily ones that connected me to God and the love of Jesus Christ. What part of my day made me stop and look for the love of Christ around me? Where did my ordinary life intersect with the mystery of God? What practices did I have that revealed God to other people?
Mary and Joseph didn’t think that they were doing anything extraordinary by going to the temple with two pigeons for Mary’s purification after childbirth. This would have been as natural and rote for them as the Rosary is for Catholics and saying “The Lord be with you. And also with you” is for Lutherans. Nothing to see here but two sleep deprived parents of a five week old baby. But they went to the temple for the purification ritual, just as they had taken their baby boy for circumcision when he was eight days old. They were following all of the rituals of their tradition as they had themselves witnessed since birth, brought up in homes where God was the focus of their lives. Mary and Joseph assumed that this trip to the temple would be quick and then they could go home and maybe catch a nap before baby Jesus got cranky.
But in the ordinariness of this ritual, something extraordinary happened. An old man Simeon, arrived at the temple as he did each day but knew that this day was different, this baby was unlike any other baby presented to the priest. This baby revealed God’s salvation, light and glory to all people. Mary and Joseph had to have been shaken from their complacency of the ritual by his words and his blessing. It’s not every day a complete stranger sings God’s praises while holding your child, blessing him and proclaiming your son’s role in God’s activity in the world. And for Simeon it was not every day that his life intersected the revelation of God’s promise for creation.
And if Mary and Joseph were not already struck by the difference of this day, Anna, a prophet whose whole life was focused on praising God, echoed Simeon’s words of who this child was, is and will be. This ordinary ritual act of coming to the temple that had been done by thousands of families, on this day revealed God’s extraordinary work, love and mercy for the world. Mary and Joseph must have had the sense of being swept up into something beyond themselves. This simple ritual refocused them to what God was doing through them and Jesus.
We view so much in our lives as ordinary. We go to our ordinary jobs, ordinary schools, run our ordinary errands, take our children to ordinary activities, go to our ordinary homes, see ourselves as ordinary and assume that nothing much is significant in all of that ordinariness. But in Luke today we hear that there is extraordinary in the ordinary and it is in these seemingly innocuous intersections where we are reminded that God is the focus of our lives and swept up into the mystery of God. Rituals have the power and the ability to orient our minds, souls and bodies to the one who created them. It’s not just about rituals in a church building, but it’s about the church as the people of God pointing to God in the world wherever and whatever they are doing.
This morning we celebrate the ritual of baptism with Owen and Cooper. Through ordinary water and words spoken by ordinary people, God’s love, mercy and promises for eternal life are revealed and proclaimed. God declares that in the ordinary water washing over their heads, Owen and Cooper belong to God, belong to the community of God’s people, are swept up into the mystery of life with God and are extraordinarily beloved. Their lives and our lives, reflect and proclaim the promises of God for everyone-no place, person or circumstance is too ordinary for God to be present. Today we are all promising to help teach and include Owen and Cooper in rituals such as The Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, Apostles Creed, Holy Communion, daily prayers, scripture reading, faith conversations and blessing. We are promising to each day reorient our lives to center on Jesus as we walk with them in their faith journey. But even our day to day “ordinary” rituals also have the capacity to remind us, to reveal to us and others around us, that we are surrounded by the love of God in our lives.
The Holy Spirit reveals for us that in the life of God, all is extraordinary, as God has created us, all of us, to participate in God’s work of redemption in the world. With each breath, we are a part of the mystery of God’s presence and love. We may not always understand this or even recognize it as so, which is precisely why we gather to share in rituals of the ordinary earthly elements that point to so much more than we can see today, here and now. Through songs, words, water, bread and wine we focus ourselves on the reality of Jesus’ presence and love. Like Simeon and Anna, we offer with one another praises to God and speak, share and reveal to one another Jesus in our lives, the one who dwelt among us, sweeps us up into eternal life with God, with one another and who came to redeem us all. Amen.

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Google, the apostles and who we are January 13, 2014

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 1:48 am
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It’s probably not going to shock anyone if I tell you that our world and culture has undergone radical change in the past 50 years or so. We have experienced massive shifts in nearly every aspect of our lives and it has molded, shaped and reoriented how we think, relate to one another, our vocations and how we communicate . In these shifts, we have learned to take in information at a rate that was unthinkable 50 years ago. Today’s teenagers absorb more data in a day than those of us that are over 30 did in a month at their age. We have these powerful computers that we carry in our pockets. Don’t know something? Google it! Want people to think you know something? Google it! We can know almost anything for our selves and the idea of “experts” is a thing of the past. We can find out how almost anything works in a matter of seconds and we love it! We are now our own expert and because of this we now think that we can control more of our lives and able keep up with the all the changes around us.
Some of the side effects, if you will, of the ability to see and know how everything works, is that we get overwhelmed by the amount of information, by the amount of change, the amount of what we can’t control and we begin to doubt what it is that we actually DO know. So, we put on blinders and think that if we can just figure out how to control our little corner of the world, our daily lives, then we might be able to navigate all of this. But question that I think remains is, if everything around us is changing rapidly then who are we in all of this? What is our role and identity?
All of these massive culture shifts have impacted the institutional church in profound ways and the clash of culture and institutional church has caused many to completely rethink or walk away entirely from a relationship with God. Many people now claim that any sort of God or deity, holy scriptures or faith community doesn’t make a dimes worth of difference in their daily lives and any identity as a child of God is irrelevant. They can just be good people, living a good life, and they don’t need the hypocrisy of Christianity or so called Christian people. Here’s the rub-in some ways that’s all true. It is possible to just toodle along in life without reading ancient words, praying, eating, sharing joys and sorrows with a community of people who proclaim that above all the technology, science, medical advancements is a God who simply wants to love all people and draw all people into relationship. It’s possible to think that this life is all that there is and nothing more. It’s possible to rationalize anything that can’t be explained readily by science and to ignore the mystery of our full humanness-physical and spiritual. It’s possible to just think as people, we are who we are and nothing can change that. I think if we were all honest, we have to admit to at one point or another wondering what difference Jesus makes in our lives and in our identity.
I don’t think our time is so different than that of the early church that we read about in Acts this morning. The first apostles were now dealing with the fact that they were proclaiming a messiah that was now no longer visible-God’s son that had come to dwell among them in the flesh had been crucified, buried, raised and had returned to God. The tangible evidence was gone and so now it rested on them to tell people were about their experiences with Jesus, the difference he had made in their lives, the importance of the community together, how Jesus had changed their whole outlook on themselves, and the world around them. And in doing this, their very identity had shifted from disciple of Jesus to apostle-sent into the world.
The early apostles were struggling with how and to whom to tell this story of God’s amazing love and grace to a world that didn’t really want to hear it, couldn’t understand it but was desperate for it at the same time. Initially, they shared it only with other Jewish people. Kinda an easier sell because the Jewish people already believed in God and knew the prophets and the story of God. But here in chapter 10, Peter and the others have a new problem: they discover that God is working outside of their expectations and their comfort zone. They discovered God started working in the secular, Gentile, unbelieving world. Now what? Can God work through these people who have never even read the Torah or the prophets? But what if they don’t believe and act the same way as us? They will eat different food and use different language and just are…different.
An existential crisis for sure. The apostles probably intrinsically knew that these Gentile’s differences were bound to rub off on them and cause them change somehow too. How much change is ok while still being faithful to the core message? What were they to do?
In a rare moment of clarity for Peter, he catches a glimpse that this message of love, grace and mercy cannot be contained and kept neat. That the love of God in Jesus Christ has been let loose in the world and DOES make a difference in the world-more than he could even realize! So much so that even Gentiles-gasp-wanted to know more, wanted to care for those who are on the outside of society, wanted to hear the story and know that they were loved. In Jesus, they realized there is a hope that can’t be found anywhere else. Not just hope for life after death, but hope for the world not to always be what it is, hope for peace to be the rule, hope for the sick to be whole, hope for the hungry to be fed and the lonely to be in community. What difference Jesus made for the Gentiles was that God offered them, these supposed outsiders, the opportunity each and everyday to participate fully in this hope. They were a part of something beyond themselves.
The apostles themselves were awakened to how much Jesus does make a difference– because in Jesus Christ, God says that all people are loved and have worth, not just those with whom the apostles were comfortable. In Jesus Christ, God showed us how we live together as God’s people. The Gentiles grasped that in midst of everything else in their lives– what was foundational was this love and belonging and opened up the apostles to the depth and breadth of Gods love.
In Acts 10, we hear Peter’s moment of suddenly realizing that God was truly for all, no matter what. Just when we think that we know how God will work in the world, God will do a new thing. Peter and the apostles and later Paul, recognized this shift, that God was working in questioning, in wondering, in the secular, in the stranger, in the outsider and in the unknown. God’s love was transforming the world in ways that looked like shifting sand to the apostles but was more certain than ever to those experiencing it for the first time.
Our culture and society has changed and is still changing and it is important that we acknowledge that and, like the apostles, learn how to proclaim the good news of Gods love in this particular place and time. But our basic identity of beloved children of God is the unchangeable promise that we all share. We know from the Bible that God’s love and grace transcends culture and that God promises to be with us always. We are reminded of this in the waters of baptism, in the bread and in the wine, in the hearing together of the story of God’s unconditional love. This is what we know will never change even when everything else around us does. Thanks be to God.