A Lutheran Says What?

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

Where is the Love? Sermon on John 10:22-30 Easter 4 May 14, 2019

This sermon was preached on May 12, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

Children’s time: Gather the children and ask: what does love look like? What does love sound like? What does love feel like? Love is many different things and is all around us! Can it be hard to see/hear/feel love sometimes? Yes. Sometimes we just aren’t aware of it until later or we’re so busy at school, sports or friends that we don’t notice. Sometimes it’s little things or things we don’t think about as love. One time when I was about your age, I was fighting with my sister and I wasn’t being very nice. My mom made me go to my room and I wasn’t allowed to play with my friends after school for a couple of days. Oh that really annoyed me! But now that I’m older, I realize that my mom was showing me love by not letting me be mean to my sister. My mom knew that loving me meant making sure that I also showed love to other people, including my sister. So, love is a bit tricky and annoying! But Jesus wants us to know that love is all around us even when we’re not sure. In our bible story today, Jesus says that he shows us God’s loving actions all the time, but we don’t always see or hear it. But God is always holding us in God’s loving and protective hands and God gives us people around us, like moms and other women, to show us this forever love. Today is Mother’s Day, a day when we celebrate women who show us love with words and actions. But again, we don’t always see it. I have these paper hands and you and all of us are going to write the names of women who show us God’s love and that we are held in God’s loving hands each day. It can be any woman. And then when you come up for communion, you can place the hand with the name on it on the cloth by the altar and we will have so many hands of love to remind us of God’s love for us! Let’s pray:

A favorite musical group of mine the Black Eyed Peas put out a great song in 2003 entitled “Where is the love?” that went to the top ten, with the chorus that begged “Father, Father, father help us, send  some guidance from above ‘cause people got me questioning where is the love?” It’s not always easy to see love in our lives is it? I have to admit that this week has been a tough one with another school shooting in CO that affected some youth from my former congregation. I found out that a bullet narrowly missed a young man in my confirmation ministry whom I used to tease about being our professional acolyte as he loved to be a part of worship and was an acolyte nearly every Sunday. Sadly, this has happened in CO and in our world too often. And there seems to be a lot that can cloud our ability to see love: deadly floods, geopolitical conflicts, the report that a million species are on the brink of extinction due to climate change, harmful words on social media, or on this Mother’s Day, the complexity of familial relationships, the sorrow of broken relationships, separation by death, the grief of not being a mother, the absence of a mother figure.

Wondering about the presence of love is not a new question or existential crisis for the 21st century. In the passage from John 10 this morning the Jewish leaders are annoyed with Jesus’ and the love that he has been spreading throughout the region. (I’m going to take an aside for a moment-when John references “the Jews” he doesn’t mean the Jewish people as a whole, he is always calling out the religious leadership who were oppressing the everyday people, protective of their own status and authority and were fearful of Jesus’ message of equality, inclusion and unconditional love for all.) Their question of “How long will you keep us in suspense if you are the messiah?” can also be interpreted “How long will you annoy us?” I love that and I think it fits a bit better! The religious leaders were indeed annoyed with Jesus! Jesus had spent the last three years (by the time we get to chapter 10 in John) turning their world upside down with God’s love! It didn’t feel very loving to them as all of the rules, guidelines, boundaries, and hierarchies that they had built their lives around were being erased by this Jesus who spoke to outcast Samaritan women, healed the unclean, gave sight to the blind, fed 5000 people with a little bread and a few fish, who turned water in wine, who over turned tables with a whip and chased out the money changers from the temple. This isn’t love, they thought-it’s annoying! How is this what God really wants? In the view of the religious authorities and many of the people-God’s love could only be attained, achieved, and earned by these very rules and practices that Jesus critiqued and ignored. The love the religious leaders had been looking and hoping for looked like a conquering warlike messiah that would establish an earthly kingship where some are in and some are out, or a messiah that would make them comfortable, in power and in control. How can we truly have God’s love if we’re going to allow all people, the sick, the hungry, the poor, the worthless, the non-rule followers, to flagrantly be included where they don’t belong?  We’re supposed to love people we don’t like or don’t like us? If God truly loves us, then we’ll have things the way we want them. But Jesus? How very annoying!

Jesus was a different kind of king and a different kind of love and it was hard for them to see it. Jesus’ answer to them is really an invitation. An invitation to see beyond the rules, boundaries and practices that they know. Look, listen, reach out and touch this love that is all around them. It’s there! Jesus’s followers, the sheep who hear his voice, experience it and these sheep can point others to it as well! But hold on-it’s not what you think.

Psalm 23 gives us glimpses into this radical love: This is love that gives us what we really need, sustains us when we are at our most fearful and vulnerable. This is love that restores our brokenness into abundant life, this is love that never leaves, this is love that gives us a place at God’s table even when there are people in your life who tell you that you don’t belong. This table that gathers us into God’s family-even when we are estranged from our human family and friends. God’s love pursues us, chases us relentlessly, is inclusive, unconditional and forever. Human love and relationships might be finite and broken, but God’s love never fails and holds us. And as Jesus tells us, we can never be snatched away from God’s loving grip.

And how do we know this? How can we tell? Because of Jesus. Jesus is God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and grace in the flesh, meeting us where we are. God and Jesus are one-not in the sense that they are the same person, but they express the same actions: loving actions. Jesus shows us God’s love and calls us, his followers, to be one with Jesus and God in loving actions. Jesus knows that the more followers there are, the more ways that God’s love is revealed in the world. God’s love is everywhere because God’s people and God’s creation are everywhere, we only must have eyes and ears open to it. Last weekend at synod assembly the keynote speaker was Richard Rohr, who reminded us of how God’s love is infused in all of creation. He spoke of how if we are open to this idea then “meditation on even a blade of grass can save us.” God’s love is revealed infinitely.

Knowing that we are held and loved is our foundation so that we can experience and share more of God’s love. Love creates love, creates love, creates love. And love unifies, love heals, love holds us, love makes us whole, love makes us holy, and love never leaves us. Love moves us to see our neighbor’s needs and to love in a way that makes a difference to them. Love means standing in solidarity with people whom society says are unlovable, love calls us to say “no” to that which steals life from others, love looks like demanding loving actions out of others-especially those in leadership. Love stirs us to move beyond worrying about who’s in or out, what’s wrong or right but pushes us to live in the mystery that life with each other and God is always one of learning, exploring and wonder. And it might annoy us, as God’s love is not always what we think it should be. Love is surrendering to the mystery that somehow all people and things belong; all people and things are held together in God’s loving hands and that eternal life begins now. Here is where love is: It’s all around us, it’s you, it’s me, it’s creation. It’s the promise of Jesus to be with us and that God’s love pursues us now and always. Thanks be to God.

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Sabbath: It’s Not a Nap, Sermon on Psalm 23 and Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 Pentecost 8B July 19, 2015 July 19, 2015

I don’t know about you, but after this week and the past several weeks, I’m overwhelmed and weary. Not because of church work, not because of my spouse or children (although….), not because I’m now training for two running races back to back. I’m not physically or mentally weary, I’m spiritually and emotionally weary after the past few weeks. It seems that we “can’t get a break” from all of the ways that our world is broken and it keeps seeping into our daily lives. The Charleston massacre, the debates that have turned ugly over the SCOTUS ruling of marriage, this week’s shootings of Marines in TN, more overt racism leading to questionable deaths of minority, particularly black, Americans, and then the verdict of the Aurora Movie Shooting trial. He is guilty on 165 counts of brokenness and violence with the possibility of the death penalty in the balance. I don’t know what should happen to that young man who perpetrated unspeakable violence on innocent people, but I do know that even being found guilty, and no matter if he gets the death penalty or life in jail, it doesn’t answer the question of why he would do such a thing, why people died, why do these things happen? Why are people looking to hurt other people with weapons, words, thoughts, laws, or whatever is at their disposal? I’m weary of the “why,” and maybe you are too. I look for a way to disconnect, to get away, to not have it be my problem or not feel guilty that perhaps I’m not using my voice of privilege enough in the world to make a difference for someone who does not have the same power that I do. I don’t think that I’m alone in this.
I also wonder where God is in the mix of all of this. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not having a complete crisis of faith, but I’m not immune to thinking “God why don’t you just DO something about all of this? Maybe free will isn’t such a great idea for most of us. Why do we not readily see each other as children of God made in your image? Can’t we just have a break from all of this violence, neediness and hurt? I need a day to myself.”
I was pondering all of the happenings of this week, as well as the past few weeks nationally, globally and personally, against the backdrop of our passages from Psalms and Mark assigned for this morning. These passages could not have come at a better time for me and maybe for you. I’ve also been reading a book with some clergy colleagues by Walter Brueggemann called “Sabbath as Resistance,” which essentially is about the importance of rest, disconnecting, Shalom, and taking a break from the tyranny of the consumer, commodity systems of our American culture. That all sounds great but Brueggemann pulls a punch, Sabbath is not about you, getting the rest that you need, getting the break you deserve from work, Sabbath is about honoring your neighbor and his or her needs. You see Brueggemann connects Sabbath rest with radical justice, with pulling ourselves out of the culture of me, myself and I, fulfilling our needs and wants, making sure we have enough. We want to support ourselves and it’s our #1 excuse for working so many hours, having our children over scheduled with sports and other activities and all of the other ways that we fill our lives so that we feel important and secure our own future. But when we can pull ourselves out from that, only then can we recognize all of the ways that we exploit our local or global neighbor, put ourselves first over their well being, for our own desires and wants.
In Mark , Jesus’ disciples have returned after the hard work of healing, teaching and casting out of demons. They have seen a lot of need, a lot of disease, a lot of brokenness and a lot of violence. They are weary and hungry. Jesus acknowledges this and tells them to find a place to be alone and rest. So they attempt to do so, but are thwarted, the disciples couldn’t get a break from the neediness of the people. Jesus came and surveyed the situation and saw it for what it was: the reality of the human experience; the reality of people whom were not worth anything to society because of their disease, neediness, or brokenness. Jesus saw people whom the rest of the world had given up on, had forsaken and he had compassion for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Now here is what I have learned this week about the word compassion and about sheep. Compassion means “with suffering” and in the Greek the word is related to having a gut feeling. I learned that sheep actually don’t like to be all together and stay with their shepherd but prefer to scatter and do whatever they want and so the shepherd has the task of constantly walking around in their midst to pull them together and redirecting them. Constantly.
Jesus feels in his gut for these wandering, forsaken, and broken people. He and the disciples are pulled out of the human system of worrying about themselves into God’s system of using their Sabbath for the sake of their neighbor. They don’t get a break– in the sense that they go where no one else in that society would, toward the violence, suffering, disease and messiness and not away from it.
This is the tension of being the people of God. We get tired; we want to hide in our homes, our rooms or even in our churches and worry only about ourselves. We get overwhelmed by the need and look for a deserved secluded place to hide out, just for a while and then Jesus, we’ll be right back with you. But Jesus, our shepherd, the one who walks in our midst, who feels for us in his guts, God’s own guts, gathers us to God, no matter how much we wander, and show’s up in places where the world proclaims as “God forsaken.” Jesus reorients us to care for one another, reminds us that our voices DO matter, that when we think or question where God is, proclaims that Jesus is with us, walking through the crowds covering us with his garment and love for healing, wholeness and hope. Jesus reminds us that we lack nothing, we don’t want for anything, we have enough. We have enough volunteers for our ministries here at LOTH. We have enough money for whatever God calls us to be in our community. We have enough strength to stand against social, economic and physical injustice. We have enough courage to not fear danger. Our cup runs over with the goodness and faithful love of Jesus Christ that follows us and gathers us all of the days of our lives and into eternal life. The table that Jesus sets with abundant bread and wine, Jesus sets for all people, even those who might be hostile to us, our enemies, to the gospel message of radical equality and love for all creation.
God is in the places and situations that we might call “God forsaken.” But God forsakes no one, God comes to us all, walks with us, gathers us, sustains us when we’re weary, reorients us toward our neighbor, reveals the abundance that we already possess, banishes our thoughts of scarcity and says that we have enough and we are enough. We can trust and take Sabbath rest in those promises. God’s love, goodness, mercy are with us all of our days and we dwell with God forever. Amen