A Lutheran Says What?

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

Beyond Our Imagination Sermon on Ephesians 3 and John 6 July 25, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on July 25, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

2 Kings 4: 42-44
Ephesians 3: 14-21
John 6: 1-21

Young Friends message: I’ve got a fun thing to show you to help us talk about how being together with people, impacts us. I have this plain jar of water and some water colors. If I put in the blue, what happens to the plain water? Yep, it combines with the blue and becomes a new color, one color together, they don’t separate. How about if I put in some yellow with the blue? Yep, it changes to green, do you know exactly what shade of green? Dark or light do you think? It’s hard to imagine the exact color isn’t it? Let’s see….yep its green! Not clear, blue and yellow, but a new color. Well, God created us, people, to be like this water. Every time we come together, we make a new thing. New experiences, new ideas, happen. Every time! We’re always new! We don’t stay the same, we don’t separate and stay our own self, but the parts of us combine. Sometimes we fight that and don’t like it as we don’t always know exactly what we will look like, or what we will do. But God wants to us to imagine, to dream about how we can combine our beautiful colors together and be even more beautiful. God wants us to use our imaginations about how to live together, how to do new things together that help each other, how to remember that God is making us more beautiful than we could ever imagine! We’re going to talk more about that.

“I just can’t imagine…” It’s a common phrase we use, isn’t it? Typically, we use it or hear it around events that seem completely beyond our experiences, positive or negative. It’s an expression that admits that our imaginations are limited, or perhaps that we intentionally limit our imaginations. After all, if we imagine too much, too wildly, too boldly, we could be labeled as unrealistic, a dreamer, or a problem. When we were young, many of us we had vivid imaginations didn’t we? We didn’t try and fit the world into neat categories. We imagined games, imagined that we were superheroes, imagined stories and songs, imagined what life was like on Mars or in the time of dinosaurs. We imagined that life was expansive and without limits. We imagined quite a bit. But then we stopped. We got older and became more practical and pragmatic. We felt foolish letting our imaginations run wild, so we imagined less for ourselves, for the world and yes God. And it seems when we imagine less, less is what we get.

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand people is in all four gospels and in three of the gospels, it’s followed by the story of Jesus walking on water. Two stories side by side that are fantastical, mysterious, and beyond our imagination, which I think is the point and why each gospel writer decided that these stories mattered in the life of their communities. Perhaps they too were constantly underestimating, under imagining what God can do.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of realism and insist that everything must be grounded in human reality and in what is humanly possible, instead of what God can do. Jesus sees the great crowd and tests Philip. Now, I get itchy with the word test, as tests always seem punitive to me, but that is not how Jesus means the question here. It’s not a trick, it’s a reflection. How will we feed all these people? Philip answers from his limited imagination that it’s not possible. Andrew does a little reconnaissance work and brings up the balance sheet of a young boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish and says there’s not enough. No imagination there either. I picture in my imagination Jesus sighing with compassion. In response to “how can we feed them?” Jesus basically says, “watch me.” And does. All by himself. In John’s gospel, the disciples don’t help. Jesus alone has the power, the imagination, the will to do what needs to be done, with or without human help. That’s not to say that the disciples aren’t important or not needed, but they won’t stand in the way of God’s power either. God is going to do what God is going to do. It’s better if we have the imagination to wonder and participate with God, but it’s not necessary.

Over the past 20 plus years of ministry, with a decade in pastoral ministry, I find myself wondering what God is up to and if my imagination is too limited. I need to take the prayer in our Ephesians passage to heart. This prayer is for the people to be grounded in the love and power of Jesus, not in human reality, or humanly possibility, but Jesus’ unrealistic, radical love. The prayer also proclaims that we will see God’s power to do more than we can ever ask or imagine. There is no talk of limitations, cost benefits, return on investments, risk management or the other ways that we limit ourselves and God.

How can we spark our own imaginations about the future, what God is doing in our own lives and as a faith community? Our council is embarking on some strategic planning in August, to prayerfully discern who God is calling us to become as OSLC. Part of the difficulty of imagining, I believe, is that we must imagine beyond ourselves and even our lifetimes. Over 60 years ago, a fledging congregation did just that and here we are today. It’s not about us and yet it is about us. God’s imagination for our futures and creation’s future, always encompasses us and is beyond us simultaneously. What do we imagine OSLC to be in five years? Ten? Twenty years? Who are we imagining will be here serving and loving God? Who will be in this room? How do we imagine them here in our midst today?

The disciples found it difficult to understand that Jesus’ imagination was always beyond their own, that Jesus comes to them and to us all, gathers and offer himself to people whom they would rather scatter and not deal with. Jesus sparked the disciples, and our, imaginations of what God is up to whenever two or three are gathered. We will do things differently, respond to different needs, create different ministries and let other ministries cease. We’ll have to reimagine relationships, what it means to dwell, with our neighbors and with Jesus. Jesus coming to us, moving into to our hearts, minds, lives, WILL change us, much like roommates change us, children change us, spouses change us. Dwelling together forces us to consider and to imagine different life patterns. God’s power is at work gathering community right here, right now, and we can’t stop it. That is good news my friends; our limited imagination can’t stop God. And how will we respond? We can double down on how things used to be or be imaginative and excited about what could be. Maybe its worshiping on Sunday evenings with dinner church, instead of Sunday mornings, maybe it’s using our land for unhoused youth or families, maybe it’s considering using our building for immigration assistance, childcare, or elder care. What if God’s call is beyond our imagination?

Jesus will come to us, will walk through any obstacle to meet us where we are in our fear, in our limited imaginations, in our uncertainty. Jesus’ powerful love that is for all people, imagines us as connected as one body, through his body. Jesus will work through us, in us and with us, and around us if necessary, to transform us and the entire world. We are a witness to God’s imaginative, abundant and powerful love for the people of God today, and tomorrow. We pray to imagine and be grounded in this truth. Amen.

 

Let It Be With Me Sermon on the Annunciation Luke 1 December 18, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Dec. 20, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
Luke 1: 46-55
Luke 1: 26-38

“How can this be?” is a question I’ve asked nearly everyday in 2020. Sometimes I’ve whispered it in fear or sorrow, sometimes I’ve expressed it in relief or acknowledgment of my relative safety and security, sometimes I’ve said it between clenched teeth of anger and incredulity. My emotions have run the gamut, as I’m sure yours have, as well. “How can this be?” pretty much sums up most of the world right now. How can it be we be losing over 3,000 people a day to COVID19 in this country? How can it be that racism and white supremacy are rampant, how can it be that we still be fighting over the basic human rights of people of color, women and LBGTQIA, how can we be this divided as a people trying to live together? How can it be that working people can’t afford housing and food, the basics of life, in the richest country in the world? How can it be that I haven’t seen any family for over a year? How can it be that while so many are struggling, I’m actually doing ok? How can it be that I’ve avoided this virus so far? How can it be that I’m so tired and perplexed?

This question on the lips of Mary in our Luke 1 text is a beloved passage known as the Annunciation. The announcement from the angel Gabriel is that God finds favor with this young, unwed, lowly woman from nowhere Nazareth. An announcement that she is so favored with God that the most dangerous thing that can happen to a first century Palestinian woman is about to take place: pregnancy. And not just any pregnancy, but out of wedlock pregnancy of God’s son. “How can this be?” is the kindest way for Mary to question the wisdom of this. Mary knows that she could be stoned to death for pregnancy out of wedlock. She knows that the maternal and infant mortality rate is at least 50% as more than likely she has witnessed women and babies dying. She knows how physically and socially vulnerable she is about to be.

The fact that we have this story at all should lead us to ask, “How can this be?” Luke is the only gospel writer to let Mary tell her own story in God’s story of redemption and salvation. John barely mentions Mary the mother of Jesus, and Matthew and Mark, talk about Mary, but never let her speak for herself. It is very typical in a highly patriarchal society for the stories of women to be ignored and forgotten. Mary’s only status is attached to her father, her husband, or her son. So, the fact that the writer of Luke gives such extensive space to not only Mary, but Elizabeth, is remarkable. Luke’s very gospel gives insight as to what God is up to in and through Jesus Christ. God is upending the structures and societal norms of the world and uncovers the truth behind our questions of “How can this be?” The truth of how it should be and how it will be in God’s kin-dom, if we let it.

Gabriel responds to Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God,” and Mary’s perspective shifted. In that moment, Mary could see beyond her own questions, her own legitimate worries and fears, and enter into the mystery of life with God. She realized that whatever God was up to needed to start with her. I like to think that it wasn’t that she was no longer afraid but was afraid and said yes anyway. Mary isn’t braver than we are, or more intuitive. I really don’t think she’s that different from us. What makes Mary the exemplar of discipleship, is that she shows us what simply taking the next faithful step looks like, even when you don’t have all the information or you are afraid. Mary takes her “How can this be?” and turns it into “Let it be with me.” In her response of “let it be with me,” Mary is opening herself up to the possibilities of God’s past actions of liberation and redemption breaking into the world again. Mary’s “Let it be with me” is an acknowledgment of all that she doesn’t know and understand about God’s vision for the world but her willingness to be moved forward. Her “let it be with me” is followed by her song of praise, the Magnificat, where she names what God has done before and will do again to right the world for justice, peace, equity and wholeness. Mary’s “let it be with me,” is rooted in her faith in God’s promises from the past and for the future.

“Let it be with me,” is not often a phrase that falls from my mouth. I get stuck in the “how can this be?” and find it hard to move forward. I want to simply rail against the structures and systems that cause me to ask the “how can it be?” and forget that I’m part of those structures and systems. I don’t stop and look for what God is up to, to trust that “nothing will be impossible with God.” What would happen if I shifted and prayed, “Let it be with me”? How does that change my perspective to see that I am enough to make a difference in the world? How does that move me forward to participate in God’s kin-dom?

So God, let it be with me that I speak out for those being harmed by economic disparities. Let it be with me to stand against greed and consumerism. Let it me with me to give generously what I have. Let it be with me to offer grace when I’m feeling uncharitable. Let it be with me to trust you even when I don’t. Let it be with me to take the next faithful step when I’m feeling vulnerable. Let it be with me to step aside for other voices to be heard. Let it be with me to not be sucked into pettiness and fear. Let it be with me for your mercy and grace flood the world. Let it be with me for hate, bigotry and anger to be no more. Let it be with me to love people how you do, completely and fully, just as they are. Let it be with me to be moved by your love. So God, let it be with me. Amen.

 

“Oneness and doing hard things” Sermon on John 17: 1-11 May 22, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 24, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 1: 6-14
1 Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11
John 17: 1-11

For the past few weeks in the crisis of the pandemic, we’ve been inundated with phrases such as “in this together” or “alone together,” or “better together.” I absolutely love the sentiment of how we can work together and be in solidarity with each other. This feeds my communal and idealistic soul. It’s the world how I so desperately want it to be. I so want the world to be like the CocaCola commercial from my childhood, you know the one where a diverse group of people is walking with linked arms, smiling and singing with one another-with a coke of course! “I want to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…” I’ll stop there as I don’t know what the copyright on that might be. But that image of people together in joy is one that I long for, one that I want to help create and one that all too often is illusive. I want togetherness and wholeness to be true. But it doesn’t take long for “perfect harmony” to break down into a cacophony of discord and chaos, kinda like when we all try and say the Lord’s Prayer together on Zoom!

Together is something that as Christians, followers of Jesus, we like to think that we are good at. Community is a value after all. But togetherness, it turns out, is hard. We tend to think that to be “together,” we have to be the same or homogeneous, and that it should be easy and comfortable. But I’m pretty sure that has never been my actual experience with “together.” I’m spending a lot of “together” time with my spouse of 26 years and my 21 year old son, both of whom I love and adore and yet, easy and comfortable aren’t the words that come to mind and I’m sure that they would say the same about together with me…And I don’t think that this is what Jesus means when he prays for oneness in our reading from John today. We overhear Jesus praying for himself, the disciples and for all who will come after them, although we only read the first 11 verses today. Jesus prays for his followers to be one as he and God are one. It sounds really lovely and idyllic, until you think about it for a second. Jesus, God in the flesh, sent by God to be with us, who is one with God, is about to die on the cross, killed by the powers and principalities, as a fulfillment of his mission and ministry. Jesus prays that we too are one with God and Jesus in the mission and life of God. This doesn’t sound very easy and comfortable to me. Oneness, togetherness is hard. It’s not easy and death will occur. When we are one with God and God’s mission and community, we die to ourselves so that others experience life.

Jesus doesn’t pray for us to be safe and comfortable, or for it to be easy,  but he does pray for our protection, which is different as protection doesn’t keep us from what is hard but sustains us through the inevitable suffering. Protection is like the gear the doctors and nurses are wearing on the frontlines of the COVID19 pandemic. The protective gear doesn’t keep them from having to do their hard work, it hopefully, ensures that they can do more of it. So, too, is our protection in Jesus. In our oneness with God, we are one with each other and creation, which means we will do hard things with the presence, protection and care of God. Oneness demands that we are cognizant of being gathered in the arms and life of Jesus all held together so tightly, so close, that we can’t be socially distanced. Oneness acknowledges our lives are so entangled as a giant knot of humanity that when one thread of any injustice or trauma is pulled, we all feel the effects of it. This truth is not easy and it is not comfortable. And Jesus’ prayer doesn’t rescue us from this truth. Jesus’ prayer is that we DO feel the effects of this oneness, that we do the hard work of putting the needs of our siblings and the earth ahead of our own wants, preferences and greed. Jesus knows that we can’t be one, if we intentionally look away from our siblings who are hurting, cast out, marginalized or ignored. Oneness reveals love that is sacrificial, sees and does hard things: love that washes feet, love that feeds the hungry, love that wears a mask in public, love that stays home as much as possible, love that refuses to coopt to the lies of consumerism and capitalism as reasons for existing, love that screams the truth that this virus is disproportionately infecting and killing more of our brown and black siblings, love that demands better from our leaders, love that weeps for those who are discarded as expendable, love that gazes on the earth and all creatures as gifts and not prizes to be exploited. Love that recognizes and accepts that this kind of radical unity will scare, anger and provoke some around us. Love that is tenacious to withstand the voices that call us to simply get along, not cause waves, do what is easy, say that we’re naïve or idealistic or will demand our silence.

Jesus prays that we will be one as he and God are one. One not for our own sake, but one in the mission that Jesus names, to give glory to God. That is, to show God: who God is, what God does, how God loves and who God loves, to the whole world. This is why God sent Jesus in the flesh, that God so loved the world, not to condemn it but to save it, not to divide it, but to make it whole, not to control it, but to make the world one, in healing, sacrificial, and radical love. Oneness reveals this glorious truth. When we are one, truly one, we show God to the world. Because we are one with God, and God is one with us, we can’t help but to do anything else. It’s all of who we are and all of us together, as one. Thanks be to God.

 

Enough Sermon on Matthew 14: 13-21 August 7, 2017

I had the privilege of leading worship at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Denver, CO today August 6, 2017. The picture attached is everyone’s placecard with their name on it on the altar. We all have a place at the table and a role in God’s Kingdom!

I need to confess something to you: I hate to cook! Love to eat, love to eat, love to eat. But the actual process of making a meal? Ugh. So it’s ironic that as someone who is constantly trying to figure out how not to cook, my vocation as a pastor working primarily with families, requires that I figure out feeding large groups of people on a regular basis. Youth dinners, confirmation evening of honor dinner, Advent Festival, Epiphany worship and Party, we’re hosting the ELCA mission developer conference in august and they asked me to figure out catering for 300 people for four days! Food is not my gift and every time I think about having to figure out food for large groups, I want to curl up in the fetal position. It completely stresses me out! And yet, it always comes together. I don’t think that anyone I was supposed to have fed, ever went away hungry-even when you throw in all the now common food allergies. And although I have a pretty strong track record of getting people fed, each time an event arises that requires food, I have the exact same feeling of worry if I can pull it off, if it will be ok, do I have what it takes to do this?

I can so relate to the disciples in our gospel text today! The people had followed Jesus out to the desert, a place with no food, no water, no food trucks or grocery stores. The people were so hungry for what Jesus had to offer, healing, comfort, compassion despite his own weariness, that they followed him with no thought of needing food or of how long they might be away from home. After all day of being with Jesus in the desert, it was beginning to get dark, and in addition to no food, the desert would be dangerous, animals, people of ill-repute, no shelter. This situation was less than ideal and probably overwhelmed the disciples. So they very practically said hey Jesus, enough with the teaching and healing for the day, send the people home to eat, and then we can go get something to eat too! But Jesus looked at them and said, “You feed them.” But Jesus, we don’t do that! We don’t have anything that is of any real use! There are too many people, and we’re overwhelmed, Jesus!

Feeling overwhelmed and powerless is more common than not I think, especially when we recognize some of the seemingly momentous challenges in our nation and in our world. I can become either so engaged that I obsess about what I can do or so paralyzed by the weight of it all that I check out altogether. There is so much: famine in South Sudan, North Korea, healthcare, civil and human rights, homelessness in Denver and elsewhere, human trafficking. And then there are my own day to day worries of the rising cost of college now that I have two children in college, retirement, work/life balance with allowing time to volunteer with agencies that address some of the bigger issues I listed a moment ago. There seems to be not enough time, energy, resources, knowledge, to tackle these challenges with the hope of making a dent into the solution. Jesus, all I have is a little, and I am confident that it is not enough!

But Jesus looks at us all and says, what do you have? Give it to me. Trust in me. You may see the world as either all or nothing, but God doesn’t. God sees creation and us as good, as enough, possessing enough and all that we need to make a difference, to be the difference in someone’s life and in creation. Do we believe that through Jesus, God has given us enough to make a difference or are we afraid that God will let us down?

So what do you have? What does God say you have? Not what the world says you have. God declares that we do have enough, because it’s not about us as individuals. It’s about all of us together. One disciple couldn’t feed the crowds, 5,000 plus women and children. All of them together in the power and care of Jesus fed the crowds. I don’t feed large groups on my own, never, it’s a team of people who do have that gift that offer their time and talents to provide the meals and this is how it happens every time, even though I worry about scarcity. Everyone is needed and we’re called to use all that we have for the sake of people’s daily, physical needs as well as spiritual needs. The kingdom of God is not about when we die, or satisfaction of our spiritual hunger, no Jesus says, “you feed your hungry neighbor, you care for your sick neighbor, you visit the lonely.” The kingdom of God is about caring for those who are suffering right here, right now and that takes all of us. Not only the pastors, the church wide staff, the synod staff, the church council-it takes everyone.

Jesus’ banquet in the desert where all, regardless of status, gender or importance were fed equally and fully, draws us to the table of Holy Communion, where we are all gathered, filled until satisfied and nourished with the true presence of Christ. Christ’s presence in the bread and in the wine enters into us, fills us with God’s love and abundance and reveals that we don’t need to be overwhelmed, we aren’t hopeless or helpless, we aren’t alone, we have enough, we are enough and we are loved wholly and unconditionally. Even the pieces of ourselves that we think are broken and useless, like the left over broken of pieces of bread and fish, Jesus will gather up, and use to reveal the promises and glory of God to all people. God’s power is revealed in the abundance and gathering  of broken pieces. Jesus says his broken body is power to connect us together in love. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy, God sees our true value and our gifts and calls us to live into them with freedom and joy and calls us to the table over and over again to be reminded of this abundance, that we are enough and we have a place at the table. Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

 

Children’s time:

How many of you help out at home? Do you have chores? Do you do every chore that has to be done in the house? NO! You share the work! One person can’t do everything! What about here at church? Do you help out sometimes, either by singing, or reading or giving smiles or hugs? Yes! In our bible story today over 5000 people, it said 5000 men plus women and children so maybe closer to 15000 people, were listening to Jesus and Jesus was healing them, teaching them and telling them about God’s love. Then it got to be dinner time and there was only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Is that enough food for 15,000 people? No probably not! But Jesus knew that God would provide and that if everyone worked together, there would be enough. So he told the disciples to get to work, he prayed to God, said thank you for what they DID have and handed it out. Do you know what? Everyone had enough food! No one was left out. Now it could be that when some food was shared, other people who also had food shared too, that still makes it a miracle of people sharing and loving each other. But it also reminds us that God says we are to know that we have everything we already need to help people, even if it doesn’t seem like it, even if we’re little and young. How can you help people?
A reminder of having enough and Jesus being with us is holy communion. God calls everyone to the table to remind us that we are one people in God. Have you ever seen a name plate on a table at a party so that people know where they are to sit? Well, we’re all going to fill out name plates and put them on the altar to show us that God says this is where all of us, all people sit, at the table with Jesus forever! Write your name and put it on the altar before you sit down. Let’s pray.

 

Only For God Jeremiah 1: 4-10 Epiphany 4, Year C, January 31st February 11, 2016

 

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

 

Some of you know that before I went to seminary I was a director of a Lutheran early childhood center. When I started the school in 2003, one of the visions for the school was to proclaim God’s work in the community around St. Matthew Lutheran located in a first ring suburb of Portland, OR, one of the least churched areas of the world. Surveys have shown that if every pew was full on a Sunday morning in Portland it would be only 4% of the population. It is a mission field indeed. We knew God was at work in Portland and we knew that proclaiming God’s word of love and grace was an important way we could participate with God. And so, in the DNA of the school were faith practices. Early on in the program we decided to teach the preschoolers the Lord’s Prayer and have the children lead the prayer in worship on Palm Sunday, followed by a potluck brunch, of course! We started teaching the Lord’s Prayer as part of our snack time prayer right away in September. We would sing our “Thank You” song and then pray the Lord’s Prayer. We used actions to help them learn it and our first Family Faith Night of the year was centered on the faith practice of prayer and specifically the Lord’s Prayer.

In this diverse and mostly secular Pacific NW culture, curiously we would have about 80% of our families attend to play games, make remembrances of the scripture (otherwise known as crafts-but anything that is made with their hands and goes home is important) and of course, enjoy treats. We had diversity in the abilities of the children as well as diversity in the faith backgrounds: from the nones (completely unchurched), Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, other Christian denominations to lifelong Lutherans.

One year, a family registered for the school in which the mom was a lifelong Lutheran and dad was a none. Their oldest child was an adorable three year old little girl named Ella. Mom wanted the children brought up in the Christian faith and dad frankly didn’t see the point. He was not thrilled to have Ella at an overtly Christian school and told me so. We began teaching the children the Lord’s Prayer and held our first family faith night. Dad did not attend with mom and Ella. Ella began to know the prayer pretty well and started insisting that they say it before dinner at home. Dad confessed he didn’t know it and Ella told him that they could learn it together. Even though Ella herself didn’t know it perfectly, Ella taught her dad what she knew of the Lord’s Prayer. She wasn’t concerned about details or exact words, she simply wanted her dad to pray with her because he didn’t know about God. Being only three didn’t stop her.

Palm Sunday arrived. The children were all excited and some parents were nervous as for many it was their first time in worship. We came to the point of the worship service where we had the children move up front for the communion liturgy. As we were organizing 60 three through five year olds, Ella began to call to her dad from the front. “Daddy, come up with me! You learned it too!” Dad gestured and shook his head no, of course, not wanting to take anything away from the hard work of the children. But Ella persisted, “Daddy you have to come up! You learned it just like me!” It was obvious that worship would not continue until dad came up. So, this six foot plus dad came and knelt beside his petite three-year-old daughter and together they all prayed the Lord’s Prayer, from memory, to God who was, who is and who will be forever. The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable and everyone had tears in their eyes, including Ella’s dad. Pastor Eric choked his way through the rest of the liturgy.

We had all been witnesses to what our faith is really about: being together on the journey and learning from each other along the way. Life in God is this: God working through a child to open up an adult to the love and presence of Christ. An adult being offered hope through the ancient words prayed by children embodies the mystery of our faith. God did this, even though Ella didn’t have a theological degree; even though she couldn’t read; even though she was only three.

“Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” I am only a parent; I am only a grandparent; I am only a new believer; I am only a teacher; I am only an IT person; I am only a pastor; I am only a real estate broker; I am only a child; I am only…” We get easily caught into thinking that we don’t have what God needs to really do wondrous things and proclaim God’s word of salvation and wholeness for the world. We come up with a list of “only’s.” If I only knew the Bible better; if I only prayed more; if I only went to worship more often; if I only could get the courage to invite my neighbor to bible study; if I only had eloquent and encouraging words; if I were only more giving; if I only served selflessly. We make faith practices into a to-do list, or a prerequisite for being able to participate in God’s redeeming work.

Jeremiah also fell into that trap of the “only’s.” He knew that he was inadequate, without the proper training or lineage, of a priest. He knew that left on his own, he had nothing. He was only a boy; if he only had the right words. But God didn’t call Jeremiah because of his education, his lineage, his age, his skill set, or his piety. God called Jeremiah because Jeremiah belonged to God. God called Jeremiah because God calls all kinds of people, a motley crew, if you will, to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. God knows that in order to reach all people, not just the Israelites, not just the ones who show up to church on a Sunday morning, not just the ones who know the Bible, not just the ones who pray, but to reach all people, God calls all people from all kinds of backgrounds, ages, stages, and abilities. God calls you.  God proclaimed to Jeremiah and to us that God removes our “only’s.” God proclaims that the only “only” that matters is that we belong and are beloved by God. Jeremiah was known by God before he ever drew breath. Jeremiah would have heard while in the womb the prayers from the temple, the words from the scroll of the Torah, the songs of worship and the promises of God. These faith practices didn’t qualify him for the work to which God called him, but rooted him in his only identity, a child of God who always loves us and removes our fear.

Faith practices remind us that with God, a boy can tell a whole nation that they must repent or fall to the coming army. With God, a boy can proclaim that God will not forsake God’s people. With God, a three-year-old can open up her dad to God’s love. With God, a baby giggling down the aisle to communion can point us to the joy in the Lord. With God, a retired person can help a youth uncover their God given gifts. With God, a congregation of faithful followers of Christ can reveal to a cynical and hardened culture that hope, faith and love are real, are here, and those promises from our ever present God will not fail. With God, death on a cross can be new life and with God, an empty tomb can be the end of all separation from God.

Faith practices aren’t so that we can know enough, but remind us that with God, we are enough. Faith practices connect us to what God is doing to transform the world through the love of Jesus Christ. Faith practices bind us, young and old, in community to share the journey that is not always easy. We are moved by the wonder of the child and the wisdom of the adult and marvel that God literally wired us for one another in all stages of life. Faith practices root us, nurture us and send us out bursting with love, hope and grace into a world that is desperate to hear that they too are known and loved by God, even if our words are imperfect. Like Ella, do not be afraid that you are “only you,” but go with the confidence that you are called and loved by the one and only God of all creation, who will remove all of your fear. Amen.

 

What’s prayer got to do with it? Sermon on John 17:1-11 Easter 7 Year A June 1, 2014

Mike and I have friend from Nebraska, Matt, with whom we went to high school, worked at camp during our college years and he and I even attended seminary at the same time. We both also worked at the UNL campus ministry just at different times. Needless to say he’s a good friend of ours. On early Friday morning we got the news that his house burned. Everyone got out ok but Matt needed some medical attention. His wife and two young elementary age children were physically fine. But they lost much of the house and their possessions. Matt’s wife posted on Facebook what had happened, that they were fine and to please not ask what they need right now as they didn’t know. So, many of us as friends and family made simple posts of support, love and prayers. He has many pastor friends obviously, and many of us wrote an actual prayer or that we were praying.
How many times when life becomes difficult or unclear or even downright tragic for someone we tell them that we are praying for them? Or when we are going through a difficult time people say they are praying for us? We do it all the time and here’s the thing for me, it sometimes kinda bugs me. It feels and sounds like a copt out. If I tell you that I am praying for you, then maybe I don’t really have to do anything else for you and get my hands dirty. Especially if I don’t have to pray out loud or in the presence of anyone else. Those words of “I’m praying for you,” can almost seem like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Or sometimes those words of “I’m praying for you” are really born out of a sense of helplessness because there is really nothing of any substance that we can do to change our friend or family member’s situation. With my friend Matt who lives in NE, what can I do to help him? I guess I could drive to NE and help them clean up or something? But realistically, they will need a professional and my help would be laughable at best. Maybe as they put their house back together they will need some financial help, which I could do, but that won’t be for awhile. So, in the mean time, I tell them that I am praying for them. Is it enough?
This whole idea of what prayer is bewilders many of us. Donald Miller in his book, “Blue Like Jazz,”talks about treating God and prayer like a cosmic slot machine: prayers go in and we think what we want should pop out. Is it about getting what we want out of God? Is prayer about telling God all of our problems so that God will fix them? Is it a way to do something for someone without ACTUALLY having to do anything? Is it about me, myself and I? Is it about keeping God happy because Jesus tells us to pray? Is it about eloquent words and proper posture?
In John we get the first part of Jesus prayer to God for his disciples in chapter 17. It’s Jesus last hurrah with the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion and the messiah who turned water into wine, fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, who raised Lazarus from the dead, decided the best use of his time left with his friends was to pray. He was leaving them; they would be alone without his daily physical guidance, so shouldn’t Jesus be trying to shove as much knowledge about God or the Torah down them or be giving them something tangible that they could hold on to in the coming days, weeks and years? I would think so. But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus stops and prays. Really? That’s the best you’ve got Jesus?
The words that the writer of John has Jesus say are well constructed and eloquent if not a little convoluted. But I am struck by what Jesus does NOT ask God for with the disciples in the entirety of chapter 17. He doesn’t ask for God to bless them with anything worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask God to have Judas not betray him or to help Thomas believe in the resurrection the first time Thomas is told about it. Jesus doesn’t ask God for advice on how best to act when arrested or what to do if the disciples abandon him. What Jesus does ask, is for God to be revealed in the disciples lives and for overall protection as they proclaim God’s love and work in the world. Jesus asks that they are one with each other and one with God, creator, redeemer and sustainer.
I can easily forget what prayer is really about and I need this reminder from Jesus. Prayer is not about me. It’s not even about you. It’s about God and connecting ourselves to the very heart of God which is about so much more than our day to day concerns and joys and yet is all about those day to day concerns and joys at the same time. Prayer is exactly what Jesus asks for in John-prayer is about being one in the life of God. One voice, one hope, one people. When we pray with and for one another, it’s a connection of relationship. It’s a time to create a holy space for God and each other in our busy lives. When I am praying for Matt and his family’s current situation, I am remembering that we are connected from our past, present and future relationship through God is truly present and promises to love us all. They occupy space in my life and in my heart.
Jesus knows that the most important action to model with his disciples before he is no longer with them day to day, is that of stopping, pondering and creating space in their lives for the mystery of God’s promise of continued and eternal relationship with them. All of the extraordinary actions Jesus had done cannot compare to knowing that you are important in the life of God and in the life of someone else. Jesus is naming in this prayer what is already true: we are one in the life and love of God and God’s Holy Spirit is with us always. Nothing changes that. But by saying or hearing the words “I’m praying for you,” it’s a reminder of the promise that this holy space has been created for you in the heart of a friend and in the heart of God. It’s knowing it’s already true that God’s Holy Spirit is connecting you to something bigger than yourself and to others and there may not always be adequate words for what comes from that space in your heart. This is why Paul writes in Romans 8 about the Holy Spirit interceding for us with sighs too deep for words.
Our very breath is prayer-it connects us to the breath of God that surrounds us. And this breath of God is in us all-our friends, our family, coworkers, those whom we don’t like, those whom we’ve never met. It’s what makes us one in the life of a relational Triune God. In deep unity, words aren’t even necessary, let alone supposedly articulate ones. When we are with someone who knows us well, we don’t even have to speak to communicate our thoughts. This is what Jesus prays for us all. That we know God so well that words aren’t necessary, to live fully in the here in now with one another in God’s love and to know we can rest in the promises of the sacred space created just for each of us in God’s heart with unconditional love, mercy, and grace. Thanks be to God.