A Lutheran Says What?

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

Wrapping Us in Bands of Love Sermon on Hosea 11: 1-9, Narrative Lectionary November 19, 2015

*Preached at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO Wednesday, Nov. 18th worship

As you all can imagine I’ve been meeting a lot of new people lately. I love meeting new people and you all are fun to get to know! And as you can all guess, it’s all a bit overwhelming. Not just the sheer number of people, but that in the beginning of any relationship: colleague, friends, spouse, even a new child, there is a dance that happens. It’s the dance of how much to share, how much to say, what body language is appropriate, how am I being perceived and received? Or a question I tend to ask myself, “how crazy do I sound?” Don’t answer that! But even in long term and long standing relationships there is a constant back and forth of negotiating the terms, or a wrestling that happens usually out of the worry of rejection and being hurt. We all know that even in mutual, healthy, life-giving relationships, wounding occurs when we are brave enough to open up to the other person. Vulnerability is not a comfortable or common word in our 21st century, American vocabulary. Being wise, guarded, smarter, savvier, over thinking and planning out every conversation, action and reaction is, and if we’re honest, how many of us function even in intimate relationships. In our fear of being hurt by another person, we ensure that we have safeguards in place and don’t show the true depth and breadth of ourselves. Wrestling with how open to be with someone, how to truly connect alongside the reality of possibly being hurt and the promise of authentic, mutual relationship is a constant human tension.

Our fear keeps us from truly connecting with people and whether we know it or not, actually harms ourselves and others. The events of the past week highlight this fact. We live in the reality that there are people who seek to harm others through what they claim is in “the name of God”. There are these people in every religion, and I want to emphasize this, this is not a Muslim issue, or Christian issue or a Jewish issue, or a Hindu issue or a Buddhist issue, this is a human issue. And while 99.9% of people do not go to the extreme of physically harming or killing people who are different in some way from themselves we all have to admit that in our everyday actions and thinking, we use our belief system to keep those people we don’t know and consider “other” disconnected from us out of fear. We’re afraid of too close a connection. A Syrian may have perpetrated the attack in Paris? Then we should not help any Syrians despite the fact that thousands (mostly children) will die without a safe place to live. A person on a street corner who scammed us out of 20 bucks? Then don’t help another person living on the streets. Someone told you a lie? Then don’t believe anyone but yourself. When we encounter people and situations that make us uncomfortable and may even threaten our well-being, we wrestle with our inability to reconcile the reality of harm versus the potential of life-giving relationships that nurture love, peace and joy. So we put up walls that may seem like safety, prudence and wisdom, yet they only diminish our connectivity as humans, the connectivity in which God intentionally created us. We become addicted to our need for security and safety.

In the time of the prophet Hosea, Israel was wrestling with the reality of being overrun, displaced, disenfranchised and harmed in many ways. Just like us, they were looking for security, safety and assurance. They decided to worship the local gods of their captors, going along with the cultural status quo for the sake of ease and comfort. Israel was looking to keep God at arm’s length thinking it wiser to go it alone, not to be connected to God and do what is easiest. They were addicted to their own way of thinking about how the world worked. Hosea proclaimed that God saw what they were doing-putting up walls and barriers between themselves and God, offering sacrifices and worship to other gods. God was hurt, angry and lamented their actions. The sacrifices to these other gods were hurtful not because God was harmed in any way, but because these were probably human sacrifices-they were not loving their neighbor as themselves when they allowed another child of God to be hurt in the name of religion. Worshiping other gods grieved God because it meant they were not teaching each other, their children or anyone about the promises of God. These other gods were not gods of life, connectivity and relationship, they were gods who simply demanded a certain action based on fear of repercussion of disobedience. These gods wanted only to be satisfied for their own sake. God lamented and was wrestling with the fact that the Israelites were stuck in thinking that this was life-giving. Religious action was not what God was concerned about but relationship with the Israelites whom God deeply loved was God’s concern.

God’s lament and anger is an uncomfortable reality that both we and the Israelites wrestle with. We don’t like to think about God’s wrath, or anger or grief.  If God can be angry, like we can be angry, what will God do? We know as humans, where our anger comes from, fear and spite and we are also all too keenly aware of what we do with our anger-we lash out at others. Hosea uses words of parent/child to reveal for Israel and us that God’s anger springs from the deep, unconditional love of all of God’s people, never from fear or spite.  God desires the fullness of life for God’s children and when we diminish the life of our neighbor, we break open God’s heart.  God’s very being is one of deep, mutual, honest and vulnerable relationship and God desires to be with us in our mess and yes it requires a great deal of wrestling. But God is willing to wrestle with us and all of our baggage. God stays in the relationship with us even when we try and back away. God fully enters into the reality of our humanness, the reality of tragedy, fear, sorrow, grief, love and joy. God stays in the mess to wrestle wholeness from division, hope from fear and love from anger not for God’s sake but for ours.

God enters into the dance of relationship not holding anything back despite the risk of grief, hurt or sorrow. God’s love is bigger than those possibilities. For God, wrestling with us in our humanness out of love is always worth the risk. Love is always worth the pain and grief.  God wraps us in bands of love despite anything we do or don’t do. God wraps us in bands of love knowing of our limited capabilities for response. God wraps us in bands of love knowing that we will wrestle with believing this unconditional relationship where grace, forgiveness, and hope always prevail over despair, sin and death. God wraps all of creation in bands of  love knowing that God’s connective love has the power to overcome our fear, overcome our anger, overcome our barriers, and overcome our religions,  to bring us all into eternal loving, vulnerable relationship with God and with one another for the sake of healing the whole world. Amen.

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There Is Not One Good Story, Pentecost Year B Acts 2: 1-21, May 24th, 2015 May 25, 2015

Sometimes we just don’t know what is going on or what’s happening. For me, that’s most of my life honestly. When I began to pray, think and write this sermon, I spent some time wondering… “when was a time where I didn’t understand what was happening and it felt like a rush of violent wind or being burned by a refining fire? When was a time when I was shaped and informed by the people around me who are different? When was a time when I was astonished and amazed? When was a time I questioned or offered the cynical comment of someone being a off their rocker?” I  was searching for one good story of one of those times to go with this story of God’s Holy Spirit blowing into those gathered for the festival, unifying them, pushing them outside of what they could concretely know, understand and searching for what scripture had to say about all of this. I thought I needed one story to try and make sense of this scripture passage.

But I couldn’t come up with one good story. Not one.  I realized there is not just one story of this in my life and I suspect in yours. If we’re completely honest—everyday is like Pentecost for us. Each morning we wake up and we think we can predict what our day will be like (and sometimes we’re pretty close!) but it’s never exactly what we predicted. Each day we face the unknown, the amazing, the astonishing, the heartbreaking, the cynicism, the confusion, the clarity, and the questioning. Sometimes, all at once. Our days are messier, more outside our boxes and less controllable than we like to think about over our morning coffee. Anne Lamott wrote these words yesterday on her facebook page about reflecting on turning 61: “ Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

Our Acts 2 story begins with the disciples gathered together in that upper room and they thought that they had a pretty good idea about what their day was about to be like. Maybe more hiding, wondering, fear, waiting, or maybe a cautious trip to the temple for the festival. Pretty predictable. Pentecost came and went every year; nothing new to see. But how their day started and how their day ended they never could have predicted and I don’t think that they would have wanted to. Suddenly, they were caught in what must have felt like a tornado, can you imagine? How many have been in a tornado or a wind storm? It’s frightening when you watch debris thrown at you and you can’t control your own body due to the force. Then fire. Fire is very serious today but in the ancient world, it meant certain death and destruction. Fire couldn’t be controlled at all. At best, you prayed for rain.

Finally, they all heard strange and unknown languages. How many of you have been to foreign countries where you didn’t speak the language or at least not well? It’s disconcerting isn’t it? When you learn a few words or hear English, it’s as if that person speaking is now a close and personal friend. You’ve made a connection; it’s relieving and astonishing. So, welcome to the disciples unpredictable day. Not just one of those things happened, but they all did. In one day, in one moment, in one place. What a story!

Those who witnessed it couldn’t believe it and didn’t have a framework to place this experience into, so I kinda get it when some said: “well, these people have got to be drunk!” Or if they were in CO, these people have to be high! What was going on they wondered? This is not what I expected when I woke up today! Peter (always ready to jump in Peter) thought he’d better try and take a stab at this. He thought that he should give it some sort of grounding from the prophets, because the prophets completely make sense…right…..But what Peter did was connect God’s mysterious presence from the past, to the present and into the future. Peter named the uncertainty, pointed it out, gave it language, and reminded us that God is more than we can predict, more than we can intellectually explain, more than a cosmic slot machine where we put in our questions or prayers and get answers. God is on the move, God is doing a new thing, God is gathering us and making us rub off on each other, learn and literally shape one another. It’s messy and unpredictable and there’s just not one good story that encompasses all of this.

There’s not one good story. No, there are 7 billion great stories of God’s Holy Spirit loose in the world. There’s your story, my story, our story together, the story of LCM in this neighborhood, the story of Lakewood, of Jefferson County, Colorado…you get it. There are all of these stories of what God is doing in our lives and in the world and sometimes, we get to connect our stories together for a time. Sometimes we connect our story to someone whom we marry and we share this unpredictability together for 50 or 60 years. Sometimes we connect our stories with friends in high school for a time, or college or here in this congregation, or in our workplaces and we are perplexed by the wind that is shaping us, we wonder about the fire that might destroy to build something new. We navigate the unpredictability by sharing our stories of past experiences with God, pray together about the present and dream dreams about the future. And we share our stories with the world.

Today we celebrate and send off our graduates with those dreams and we are grateful for the time that they shared their story of God’s Holy Spirit in their lives with us. Quinn, Callista, TJ, Harrison, Heather, and Julie, your stories of God in your lives have shaped, perplexed (at times!), astonished and amazed us all. Thank you for your fire and your wind that is the Holy Spirit blowing in you. God’s story of love and good news that is part of your story is one that the world desperately needs, so go share it and translate it so that all may hear it. Life is unpredictable, you never know what your days may bring, but two things we want you to know:  1) God is with you always 2) You are all very loved by this community always. May that always sustain you and may everyday be a new day in God’s promises-may everyday be Pentecost, new wind and fire of God’s Holy Spirit, in and through you.

There is not one good story. My story of what the Holy Spirit is doing in my life is sending me in a new direction from the story that we have all shared together here at LCM. I am blessed and grateful for the Holy Spirit blowing me here for 2 and ¾ years and for all of the ways that this community has wrestled with me in questions of,  “what does this mean?”, amazement at what God is doing and will continue to do, astonishment at the powerful deeds of God in this place and in the world and, because I’m me, sharing a little cynicism. Your story of God’s Holy Spirit has blown me away, the passion of your fire for God’s work in the world has singed me and allowed for new growth in me, and your words have interpreted to me the depth of your faith in the living Christ. I will take your stories of the Holy Spirit’s wind and fire here at LCM with me always. Our stories will always be intertwined for the sake of revealing God’s love in the world. Thank you for your stories.

So, there is not just a good story. There is only the best story. It is the continuing and eternal story of God at work in all of us. There is the story of Jesus love, forgiveness and hope that is poured out not to only some but to all flesh. There is the story of the Holy Spirit’s wind and fire shaping us, destroying us and giving us new life not just for our own sake but for the sake of the world who is begging to hear and be a part of this great story. There is the story of God’s people being gathered and sent. Yes, it’s unpredictable, yes, we don’t always understand it, yes, it’s a mystery and yes, and sometimes all we have is a little cynicism and our calling on the name of the Lord.  But it’s God’s story of love for all of creation. Thanks be to God.