A Lutheran Says What?

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

Being Offended and God’s Story of Grace John 6: 56-69 Pentecost 13B, August 23rd, 2015 August 23, 2015

If you're going to be offended all the time. maybe the internet isn't the place fot you

 

We are people who get offended pretty easily it seems. I saw a meme on FB, a random picture with a pithy statement, that was Star Trek The Next Generation’s Captain Picard with the words, “If you’re going to be offended all of the time, maybe the internet isn’t for you.” I got a chuckle out of that, as how many of us can knock out going from “ohhing and awwwing” over cute cat videos one minute  to being  absolutely incensed the next minute by someone’s opinion on politics, war, poverty, religion or Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. I mean really, are they going to name this next baby South West to go with her sister North West? But I digress. We enter into any conversation, situation and environment (virtual or actual) with a preconceived set of ideas about the world according to us. We have to admit that we all have a story that we tell ourselves and live into that shapes how our lives should be, how our interactions with one another should be, even how people around us should be. We have an awful lot of “should’s” if we’re completely honest.  

We are bombarded all day long with other people trying to tell us stories of who we are and what we should be too. Media tells us the story that we aren’t rich enough, smart enough, thin enough, successful enough, strong enough, etc. We are told stories at work or school of what we need to learn or change about ourselves in order to fit in, or make others happy. We internalize these stories and begin to believe them. We filter all of our actions and interactions through these stories that may or may not even be true. We allow others-including other people we don’t even know- to write our story. These stories that we are told from the culture all have one thing at their core and foundation: they are written on the premise of fear. These are stories that are intentional about striking fear into us, often under the guise of being motivational, or good for us or what we really need to hear. So we become people of the story of fear; fear of being alone, not enough, and fear of not  being lovable. We internalize these stories of fear and perpetuate and transfer our fear onto other people. We don’t want to be alone in this fear, so we ensure that others are just as fearful as we ourselves.

The crowds that had been gathered around Jesus throughout this long discourse in John 6 are receiving Jesus’ words and message through the filter of the story that they told themselves in order to make sense of their world. We read that Jesus was in the synagogue telling the large crowd of his disciples (the assumption here is that there were more than the 12 who had been following Jesus, this was a group who had probably been following him for a little while) about how Jesus (as God incarnate) would dwell, abide, with them always if they ate his flesh and drank his blood. This story did not even come close to jiving with what they knew of God from the Torah and the story from Exodus about manna from heaven. (Not to mention the cannibalistic undertones!)That story was one of finitude, the Israelites still died as that bread was only about their physical bodies. Jesus was telling them a sequel to that story, that God was doing a new thing in Jesus. God was writing a story of gathering all people to God through Jesus. God was expanding the story from being about only abiding with those of Israelite descent to abiding with all of creation.   

That was not the story that some of these people knew or with which they were comfortable. The story they knew was that some were in and some were out of God’s kingdom depending on if they followed the rules. In John 3, Nicodemus had also struggled with this when Jesus told him that God loved the whole world. But Jesus is pointing out that the only rule is that Jesus is for anyone and everyone. Through simple bread and wine, not complex rules, Jesus gathers everyone to God  and offers life with God forever. This would be a story that would be difficult to hear and internalize indeed. If God declares everyone part of God’s redemption, then what about their story that they had been living with all of their lives that they had to act and think a certain way for God to love them? What did that mean for them? Were they not as special as they thought? Is there enough of God’s love, mercy and grace to go around if we’re now including everyone-even people with a radically different story from themselves? This was not only difficult for those gathered with Jesus in the synagogue that day; it’s difficult for us today.

It can be offensive to us that someone that we don’t like, don’t agree with or don’t understand could receive the same love, grace and acceptance from God that we do.  But here’s what I think offends us even more: that God’s story of unconditional love, grace and mercy is OUR STORY no matter what we say or do. That God declares that the stories we tell ourselves that are egged on by the narcissistic, fearful culture are null and void. It’s offensive to us that God’s story overrides whatever story we tell ourselves and it’s God’s story that changes us, not anything we ourselves do. God’s story transforms our stories and writes anew each and every day on our hearts the truth-the whole beautiful, yet painful and often self-shattering truth that our fear does not free us, our actions are not what save us and our thoughts are not the story that God tells about us.

God’s grace through Jesus Christ is indeed offensive! It arrives right smack dab in the middle of whatever story we are living with and declares that the only story that matters is the one that God tells. Period. But it’s not the end, it’s only the beginning. God’s story is that of coming to dwell with us in the very messy, and offensive flesh of a human being.  God’s story is Jesus revealing that God dwells with us and in us and in all people. Bread, wine and word are not only about sustenance for today, but when ingested not just through our mouths but through our hearts is God’s story literally inside of us, transforming us. God transforms us from worrying about ourselves to living for and with our neighbors. We are transformed from the inside out-to reach out to those different from us, to offer our time at Habitat, Ronald McDonald House, or Denver Rescue Mission. Or to stop and take the time to know and care for those in our community whom we know that no one else will take the time for. Transformed to truly love those we find unlovable, maybe even ourselves.

These teachings that transform us are difficult to accept-they are risky because they rewrite our story. It might seem easier to keep walking in our story and not continue in God’s story-the world wants you to think so. But even when we might think we can choose to go away, Jesus stays with us. Peter had a sense of this, that even if he left, Jesus wouldn’t leave him. It wasn’t that Peter had more faith, or knew the secret handshake with Jesus that gave him the inside scoop, but Peter had watched Jesus over and over go to people whom the rest of the world found offensive and offered them life with God.

Peter was hearing the story-the words of eternal life-the story of God doing a new thing and Peter was resting in the hope that this story was true because the story that the world had sold him about his life up to this point, only brought certain death, rejection and a lifetime of fear. Peter was willing to see what the next chapter of this story might be, because Jesus was telling a story that offered hope for the journey, accompaniment for the road, abundant life and most importantly, the promises of God to never leave him and to love him forever.

Lord of the Hills, to whom shall we go? Jesus is telling us a story right here, right now of eternal life, telling us a story of generosity, a story of abundance, a story of being enough and having enough. God’s story is smack dab in the middle of our story as a congregation. Lord of the Hills, to whom shall we tell this rich and achingly beautiful, yet offensive story? We know it by heart as we hear it over and over each week. We heard the story of God’s redemption and claiming in water at Eleanor’s baptism, we hear the story of God’s actions for liberation from sin and death at Holy Communion, and we hear the story of God’s love and grace as we gather together for coffee after worship. We experience the story of God’s promises for presence and eternal life now and forever each and every day, with each breath and heartbeat, for Jesus is the Holy One of God. It’s a best story ever told and we live it with God everyday. Amen.

 

God’s Embraces Us For Wholeness, New Life and Liberation, Act 4: 5-12 April 26, 2015

Are you all familiar with Ted Talks? If not Google them! Mike forwarded me one that was going around his work this week and it really resonated with me. It was given by a fairly young man, well younger than me anyway, https://www.youtube.com/embed/YrZTho_o_is“>Phil Hansen, who talked about his journey as an artist. He was an artist in school and couldn’t wait to graduate, get some sort of a stable job and the THEN be able to afford many high quality art supplies to pursue his craft. He assumed that he needed just the right stuff to be a true artist. His main focus was the genre of pointillism, in which a series of tiny dots creates images. During art school, he developed a tremor in his hand. Being young, he ignored it until it was interfering and for all practicable purposes, stopping him from being an artist. He hoped it would go away and he could return to his art. After three years of not creating at all and being in deep depression, he finally went to a neuro-specialist who told him that the damage was permanent. Despondent, he asked the doctor what to do, he is an artist who does pointillism, after all. The doctor answered him: Embrace the Shake.

Now his income was greatly reduced so there was no money for art supplies. Plus he could not do anything that required fine motor skills. He recalls early in his entry back into art that he was at Starbucks and remembered that you can ask for an extra cup, so he wondered can you ask for 50? Turns out yes, he got 50 coffee cups and created an image using a pencil to draw on the stacked cups. He began to wonder what else could he do large scale and cheap or free? He embraced his shake. He created with his feet, karate chops with the side of his hands, painting images on his torso, even creating art out of partially chewed food. Instead of waiting for something that may or may not happen, waiting for enough money, or waiting for his shaking to stop, he discovered that his limitation was the ultimate liberation. He was no longer bound by his own focused perspective. By embracing his shake, he tapped into what made him whole, his creativity was not limited to pointillism, but could be unleashed in all sorts of ways even though his hand shook. He began his journey back into art, revealing that working through, with and in his “limitation,” his was liberated for so much more than he had ever imagined. He started living a new story of a new life while embracing his shake.

We all have limitations and often we let them define who we are and what we do. We think about all the things that we can’t do or won’t ever do again. We know some people such as Phil Hanson, who seem to live into the transformation, but that seems more rare than typical to us. But our passage from Acts 4 today is all about limitation being ultimate liberation and what this transformation proclaims about the promises of God. This text is towards the end of the story begun last week; Peter healing the man who couldn’t walk. The man who couldn’t walk was limited; he had few choices in his life. He was also cut off from community with his uncleanness of being disabled. So he went to Solomon’s Portico to beg for money and the kindness of others. He did what he could with his limitations. Peter and John walked by and heard his cry for help. Peter and John had their own limitations. They were wrestling with how to live in post-resurrection, how to not provoke the authorities anymore than they already had,  a complete lack of material and financial resources as well as their own doubts, faith, and wonderings.

So when Peter came upon this man, he had nothing to offer him but the name of the one who lives in the midst of our limitations and liberates us for something more-Jesus. To those looking on, this would have been incredulous. After all, what this man really needs is money, food and a place to live. But Peter embraced this man’s ailment and offered him a new way to live. Peter creatively offered him the wholeness of life in the life-giving name of Jesus. Both Peter and the man’s response was to immediately acknowledge that this event was all God; God’s word of liberation from limitation versus the world’s word of bondage to limitations. God’s word to the man was one of being made whole, wholly into the community and wholly who he was as a child of God. This got the attention of those that the disciples were trying to avoid. After speaking to the crowds, Peter and John were arrested and then brought up before the rulers, both the civil and religious authorities.

We catch up to this story today with Peter once again telling the story of how God’s creativity transformed what the world saw as a limitation, Jesus’ death on a cross, into ultimate liberation and wholeness of life. God embraced and still embraces all of the limitations of the world, humanity and all of creation. God embraced the shakes if you will to transform death into life, separation into radical wholeness of self and community and the messiness into beauty. And this embrace for transformation is for all people, all times and places. When Peter states in verse 12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved,” it’s not an exclusive statement but one of mind-blowing, radical inclusivity. Even those considered unclean and untouchable are made whole in God’s embrace!

In our culture, we tend to think of “being saved” as an act that requires us to also do something:  if we believe enough, if we are good enough and follow all of the rules, then Jesus will save us on some judgment day in the future. It’s the sense that being saved is not a here and now event in which we are unconditionally included, but more of a “someday, my prince will come if I follow the proper procedure” concept. And when we pray about being saved, we also tend to think of it in a being rescued sort of way. Fix this now, Jesus! We think, like the young man with the shake in his hand, when this is fixed, then I can go on. But that is not what salvation actually means. The word translated into salvation in English is not about rescue per se but being restored and made whole, not just someday, but also here and now, today and every day from the beginning of time to when Jesus returns. Each day is about God’s salvation being revealed every day in large and small ways as evidenced in the scripture text this morning and in our daily lives. God’s salvation for the man who was disabled was more than his physical healing (although we get fixated on that) but about being pulled into God’s wholeness of life and community, not necessarily being removed away from something but God pulling us towards new life with God. God proclaims that all people, no matter what, are now included fully into the resurrection life of Jesus.

We look at our everyday lives and see our shakes. We look at our ministry here at LCM and maybe only see our shaky limitations. We see not enough money, not enough people, not enough time, not enough whatever…But God sees our shakes and embraces us, shakes and all, for new life and a new story with God. God sees our limitations through God’s eyes of creativity and ultimate liberation. How does that reality change how we go about our decision making and ministry here at LCM? How does that change how we care and walk together as the people of God?

God is pulling us, and all of creation, into God’s salvation each and every day. God is pulling us into wholeness, restoration, new life and ultimate liberation-we are free! Free to be creative about proclaiming what God is up to in our lives and in the world. We are free to not let limitations make our decisions but free to follow God’s creative activity among us. We see signs of this liberation, wholeness and restoration all around us. Look at you neighbor-they are a sign of God’s creativity. We have ordinary things among us that remind us that we have a restoring and creative God-God creatively uses water to gather us in as one people, bread and wine that creatively proclaims Christ is among us and meets us here and now with promises of love, grace, mercy, new life and HOPE! God creatively raised Jesus from the tomb and liberated us from the limitation of death and separation. God embraces us for new life, wholeness and liberation-shakes and all.  Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!