A Lutheran Says What?

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

Keeping Secrets Ash Wednesday February 18, 2021

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 4:01 pm
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This sermon was preached for the people at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 17, 2021, Ash Wednesday.
It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 51: 1017
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

The concept of the word “secret” has always made me squirm. That is, rarely in my life have secrets, even the presumably “good” secrets, been a positive experience. For one, I’m terrible at keeping secrets or lying; I don’t have a poker face at all. Growing up, I would occasionally try and mislead my parents and other adults in my life, either pretending that I had indeed practiced my piano for 30 minutes already or that I couldn’t possibly have made that mess in the kitchen. But one cursory glance at my face and the jig was up. I would be terrible at a Vegas casino. Or as a spy. After nearly a whole year of seeing myself on Zoom, I have come to understand how my face nearly always betrays what I’m really thinking. I humbly apologize, as yes, you’re right, it’s not always charitable. It’s my best/worst trait. It sometimes serves me well, and just as often gets me into trouble. I don’t always mind the trouble, which could be an issue all unto itself, but there are occasions that I wish I was a bit harder to read, harder to predict, was more of a mystery, and had a few more secrets. I’m sure several people around me wish the same thing!

But Jesus isn’t the least bit squeamish talking about secrets, as the word “secret” is used six times in our reading this evening. That’s a lot of secretiveness! For a gospel that tells us to be a light on the hill, to go and tell all nations about Jesus and baptize everyone into the mission of bringing God’s kingdom, why tell us to keep our piety in secret?
I don’t think that Jesus is trying to purposefully confuse us or to suggest that we should never share our faith. I DO think that Jesus is concerned that we are often more concerned with what other’s think of us, or that we make our faith practices a competition. He’s challenging our notions of what a religious person, a true believer might look like. Jesus is revealing that we are revealed. No matter how hard we try and hold that poker face, or that face of piety, God sees what’s really going on: God sees us only giving money from our comfortable excesses, God sees our social media posts that make us seem like Mother Teresa, God sees us praying loudly at restaurants so that everyone hears how close we are to God, God sees our t-shirts, jewelry with Christian symbols and sayings.  None of those things are wrong or bad, but God sees what we do and think when no one is looking, what we think we do and think in secret and the actions don’t always match the motivation.
Jesus is aware that we have secrets, and he’s aware that the secrets we hold, are we probably aren’t very proud of. Jesus sees that we try to be generous but knows our secret that we don’t want to be TOO generous. Jesus sees our attempts to show others how we love Jesus but knows the secret that we compare other people to ourselves and put others down to elevate ourselves. Jesus sees what we think is important, what’s our precious treasure and knows our secret, that it is often us.
It’s no secret that Jesus’ presence in the world and in our lives reveals us, and it’s no secret that we don’t know what to do with Jesus who sees our secrets, who we really are, and loves us anyway. It’s no secret that in Lent, we hope that by giving up a favorite food, or drink or questionable habit or by adding daily prayer and scripture reading that we will distract God and deflect God from knowing our real secrets of competition, greed, worry and lack of self-worth. The good news is that it won’t work. God knows all of our secrets; God knows that we try and fail to live in the footsteps of Jesus. Here on Ash Wednesday, we mark ourselves with the cross that reveals this secret: we try, we fail, we try again, and we are loved the whole time. The cross of ash, tells the world that God’s redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of all creation, is not a secret and is out in the open for all to see and participate. Maybe God has a poor poker face as well, for in Jesus, we see God’s love and care for all people clearly. God sees the secrets we keep but doesn’t keep the secret that we are all, each one of us, beloved people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

The Heart of It Sermon On 1 Samuel 16 July 17, 2020

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 11:19 pm
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This sermon was preached on July 19, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Psalm 51: 10-14
1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Ok, I have to admit something to you, I’ve never quite known what to do with all of the “heart” language that seems to permeate the Christian vernacular. I mean, think about it. We’ve got “what a kind heart,” “what a tender heart,” “they wear their heart on their sleeve,” “lift up your heart,” “check your heart” (whatever that means), and the often passive aggressive “bless your heart.” We talk an awful lot about our hearts. In modern times, our hearts are associated with emotions but in the ancient world hearts held knowledge and wisdom and in the Hebrew tradition faith and loyalty. One’s heart was what mattered more than intellect or bodies. Hearts gave insight to the world around us. So when reading our psalm and the 1 Samuel text this week, all of the heart language had me pondering this anew about our hearts and God’s heart.

In 1 Samuel, we read that God looks on our hearts and not on our outward appearance. When I hear that my initial thought is “yay! That’s great news! I don’t have to worry about my gray hairs, my lack of height or my middle aged body because God sees my heart.” And then I think “uh oh, God sees my heart.” David had the same reaction in psalm 51 when he implores God to create in him a clean heart. God sees what I barely want to see myself-everything that goes on in my heart. The truth is, I’m not even sure I completely understand what is in my heart most of the time. I know what I WANT to be in my heart, what I WANT God to see: that I truly love everyone, that I love God, that I only see the best of everyone, that I’m totally trusting of God, that I’m the most faithful follower of Jesus ever….but I have to admit that’s sometimes not what’s there. These days what’s often in my heart is skepticism, judgment, frustration, and imperfection. I might try to cover up and deny that truth by doing really saccharin sweet Jesusy things such as only posting uplifting scriptural memes on Facebook or what other people expect me to do as a Christian, such as never have an emotion outside of serenity. Oh I want to be this, I really do, but I simply can’t sustain that right now or ever. My heart is messy and complex, and my heart really wants peace and hope. God sees this. All of this.

God sees that the prophet Samuel’s heart has been through the ringer by the time we get to chapter 16. Samuel was dedicated to God when he was just a child, and has been a prophet to the Israelite people a long time. He was leader of sorts, so when the Israelites demanded a king, God told him to anoint Saul, who’s main qualification for king was that he was big. He did so and became Saul’s friend and confidante. But Saul’s leadership didn’t work out. It was perplexing to Samuel exactly why God wasn’t happy, and if you read Saul’s story, it isn’t evident to even the most learned of scholars. Maybe God saw something that rest of us don’t? All we know is that when Saul’s leadership didn’t live up to what God wanted and it seems that no grace was afforded him. It’s not exactly the picture of God that we all want but it’s what we have here. When God rejects Saul as king, for Samuel, it’s as if Saul is dead and he is angry with God. He will have no further contact with Saul until the day he dies. Samuel’s heart must have also been concerned about how the Israelite people will see him in light of this debacle. What will people think?

Samuel’s heart is further troubled when God tells him to go to Jesse’s family in Bethlehem to anoint a new king. Remember, Saul is still on the throne, and this would be a coup. So, Samuel is looking for anything to soothe his heart, to give him insight on what God is up to. When Samuel sees Eliab, Jesse’s first son, and he is big and strong, that is reassuring, except, he’s not the one God says. Son after son is presented, and God says no. Finally, Samuel asks if there is anyone else, and Jesse offers his youngest, the shepherd. David is small, the last in line and pretty, maybe too pretty for a warrior king. Samuel’s heart couldn’t see the new direction, the new thing that God was doing through David, as it didn’t make any sense in worldly terms. But God confirms that David is the one and Samuel anoints him. Even as Samuel’s heart is conflicted, he does God’s bidding, secures Israel’s future, and God worked through him for the future of Israel. It wasn’t about Samuel’s heart, but God’s heart for the Israelites and for the world. God was doing the unexpected through the least expected.

Samuel, and we, forget that it’s not about our hearts, it’s about God’s heart. God’s heart vision that does see our hearts, and loves our hearts, and works through our hearts, messiness and all. We know that David was often called a man after God’s own heart and we know that David was complicated, imperfect and fallible. And yet, God’s heart, God’s loyalty, faithfulness and wisdom was offered to David time and time again, and David responds. God extends this same heart vision to us, when God sent Jesus to show us how expansive, faithful and merciful God’s heart is for us and creation. Through Jesus, we see that God’s heart will do a new thing with our hearts. Through Jesus, our hearts are opened, like the tomb, to respond to God’s heart and see our neighbor and world with this same heart vision. Just as God’s heart extended to Samuel and David to do a new thing in Israel, so too, God’s heart is showing us right now a future of God’s promise of newness, where all hearts rest in hope and are unified, cared for and loved.  God sees this in our hearts, in our future, and gives God’s whole heart to us. Amen.