A Lutheran Says What?

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

So Many Questions, Baptism of Our Lord Sunday Year A January 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on January 12, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 42: 1-9
Acts 10: 34-43
Matthew 3: 3-17

Children’s sermon: Play 20 questions with the answer being Jesus.(FYI a little girl asked the very first question: “Is it Jesus?” Ha!) Asking questions helped you to realize that I was thinking about Jesus. Asking questions helps us to learn things and understand things differently. Do you think you know everything there is to know about God? What do you wonder about God still? I have a lot of questions about God too! Well, really I have a lot of questions for God if I’m honest. Our bible story today is about Jesus being baptized. Now that seems like a straightforward thing but when Jesus came to John for baptism, John had a question for Jesus! Why do you come to me for baptism, you’re Jesus! John asking Jesus a question reminds us that even people who we think know a lot about God, still have things to learn and so do we! John didn’t quite understand that Jesus’ baptism shows that we don’t have to go to God, God always comes to us-every day.  We are baptized like Jesus to know that God is with us always and that every day is a new beginning to learn more about God in our lives and in the world. God doesn’t expect us to know everything, and our baptism isn’t about having answers but loving God and sharing God’s love with other people. Baptism gives us a job to do, and that job is to love. To splash other people with God’s love-that is our most important job-no matter what you grow up to be a teacher, a doctor, an accountant, a musician, our big job is to make sure that everyone knows God’s love: what are some ways that we can do that as children and adults? Those are all great ways to share God’s love! Let’s pray:

I’m noticing an interesting trend in our culture in the past few years: everyone wants to claim that they have all the answers, even if it’s not possible. From celebrities, to athletes, to nation leaders, to religious leaders, to random people on the internet. Someone always has the answer-for weight loss, younger skin, better relationships, to more complex issues such as wage equity, taxes, foreign policy, civil rights, and the list goes on. When these answers are shouted loudly enough, with certainty, and projecting that other people’s certainties are wrong, it has a devastating side effect: it shuts down relationships. When we are dug in about what we know and won’t ask questions of one another, we aren’t willing to learn something new or be in hard conversations we are cutting ourselves off from each other.

For me, and maybe most of us, asking questions is a posture of vulnerability, of admitting that we don’t know something. Not knowing something can leave me feeling useless, or that I have nothing to contribute. And as a pastor, people expect me to have all the answers about God. And the truth is that I don’t! I have as many questions as you, maybe more! You will also hear me say, “I don’t have answers, but I have some responses” as responses invite others to respond as well.  I tend to get into a lot of conversations with people who are very certain what the Bible says or what God is thinking and that to be a “Christian” I have to understand the Bible or God in a specific way-their way. And when I question their certainty-their response is to claim that I don’t have faith. Faith for many is to have all the answers, certainty and to never question. I love the Anne Lamott quote “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.”

John in our gospel story and Peter in our story from Acts, remind us of the importance of questions, curiosity, wonder and that certainty has never been part of the faith equation. The story of Jesus’ baptism from our Matthew gospel this morning was an embarrassment in the early church because of all the questions it raised. Why would Jesus, who is supposed to be without sin, need a baptism for repentance? What would Jesus need to repent from? And how could an ordinary person such as John, be worthy of baptizing the son of God? Jesus needed John?

The other gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism offer a picture that doesn’t raise as many questions. But Matthew wants us to be uncomfortable, to wrestle and to float in the questions and uncertainty of what we think we know about Jesus and baptism. John’s question to Jesus of “how can I baptize you?”, sparks more questions of what John did or didn’t understand about Jesus, his own cousin, whom he, himself, had been paving the way for all these years. Shouldn’t John have been certain in his role by now? Shouldn’t he have faith in who Jesus is? Yet, when the reality of God coming close, when the reality of being pulled into the work of God’s kingdom was palpable, John realized perhaps in a split second everything he didn’t know and that he might be in over his head. And Jesus didn’t offer John an answer or certainty but simply relationship and connection into God’s mission.

And then in Acts we drop in on Peter, oh dear Peter, right after his certainty rug had been pulled out from underneath him. This mini sermon in Acts 10, is the culmination of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and God opening Peter up to question what he knew about who was included in God’s grace and love through Jesus Christ. Peter had been praying and during that prayer time God confronted him with a vision of animals to eat that were forbidden by Jewish purity laws. Peter was greatly puzzled by this vision as it brought into question his whole understanding of living as God’s people and his faith. Cornelius, at God’s bidding, sent people to bring Peter to him. Peter went and in the interaction with Cornelius and his household, Peter was opened up to God’s work in all people, Gentiles and Jews alike. What we read for scripture this morning is Peter working out that there were things he didn’t understand and maybe still doesn’t, but he is learning a new way through Jesus. Peter had to set aside his certainty and ego to see what new thing God was doing, that God had a role for him in this kingdom expanding work, and that faith in Jesus, ultimately is a gift from God and not in his to control. When Peter let go of his certainty, he was able to fully witness to God’s radical inclusion, care and grace for all people, even those whom Peter had previously considered outsiders. God and God’s law was no longer in Peter’s image but had taken on the image of the Gentiles in his midst. God used Peter’s confusion and uncertainty to proclaim the good news of Jesus and to bring Peter into deep relationship with people different from himself.

It’s hard for us to admit when we’re in over our head or that what we thought we knew with certainty perhaps has another response. But God coming to us in Jesus pulls us into relationship with God where questions, wonder and curiosity are the heart of our faith and the heart of baptism. Baptism isn’t about our certainty and our answers-baptism is a response from God of who we are and whose we are. This is why we baptize infants in the Lutheran tradition, baptism is all about God and not about us or what we know. The scandal of the Matthew text is that Jesus was baptized by an ordinary and questioning human to reveal God’s extraordinary love and need for relationship with us. Jesus came to John to be baptized because that is the promise of baptism-God comes to us wherever we are, nothing separates us from God, and we simply float in the waters of faith and love. Baptism frees us from needing to have pat answers, from worrying if we have enough or the correct faith or wondering about our worth. Baptism frees us for relationship with God and one another. Baptism frees us to live into our true identity: beloved. Baptism washes our eyes and our hearts so that we see all people how God sees them, in God’s very image. Through our baptisms, God takes us by the hand and brings us into the beloved community and into the work of proclaiming God’s grace, peace, mercy, hope and love to a world who is in bondage to the need to be certain and right instead of in relationship with each other. Baptism is the promise that God comes to us through Jesus Christ to be with us, to connect us and to draw us all into new life today and always.

Jesus fully immerses himself in our humanity to dwell with us in the questions of life and to open to us the reality of God’s loving response to us and creation. God’s response to Jesus’ baptism says it all “this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We have worth because we are God’s. We are important in God’s kingdom not because of what we know or what we do but because of what God does through us. Amen.

 

 

Fear and asking the wrong questions Reflection on Mark 9: 30-37 Pentecost 17B September 16, 2015

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 4:51 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

*I am not preaching this week but I was asked to give a reflection at a prayer worship service. Just a few thoughts on Mark 9.

Mark 9: 30-37
Fear is a powerful motivator: So I’ve recently taken up a new health regime as I’ve been noticing a few weird things that are just attributed to middle age. So, I decided that I wanted to not just lose a little weight but feel better and maybe try and slow down the aging process now that I’m in my 40’s. I know, I know, the optimism of youth! So, armed with what is probably a little bit of dangerous information, I went to a health store privately owned by a nutritionist. I bought vitamins with a 92% absorption rate, fish oil, probiotics and protein shake mix. And so, armed with all of this stuff and a new workout routine in addition to my running, I have pretty convincingly told myself that I don’t need to fear aging anymore. I can do this!
Hmmm….yet, none of the aging stuff has gone away. Nothing has really changed. I feel a little better, maybe less tired but my husband is pretty sure that’s just a placebo effect. He’s probably right. I’m getting older and changing whether I like it or not. Now, have I gone to my wonderful doctor with whom I have a great relationship with? Oh no, as he’ll probably just tell me, yep, getting older!
The disciples were dealing with a lot of fear throughout Mark. Fear at not just the miraculous and unexplainable feats of Jesus but here in the middle of Mark, fear at what Jesus says is coming next. Suffering, a cross, death and what’s this about rising again, Jesus? It was heady, scary stuff. Stuff that they definitely did not want to think about day to day. After all, there were important questions to ask such as “who is the greatest? Who’s the best disciple?” Inquiring minds want to know. Fear was keeping them from confronting the tough stuff with Jesus and kept them thinking about themselves, their own needs and their own comforts. Vulnerably asking what Jesus was talking about and how they might fit into such a plan would just be too risky and they probably didn’t really want to know.
What would you do or ask if you weren’t afraid? About your faith? About Bethany? About your life?
What does it mean to be vulnerable? What’s at risk when we open up about what we’re afraid of? Is it easier to be vulnerable or to accept vulnerability in other people around us?
Good news: Jesus proclaims there is power in vulnerability. When we are vulnerable, like a child, we are open to all of the ways that the kingdom of God comes to us just as we are, wherever we are. God doesn’t assess status based on who’s the greatest, the wealthiest, the smartest or most valuable to society, but declares that the only status that is important is that of beloved child of God. Do not be afraid! Amen.

 

When we have more questions than answers November 24, 2013

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 8:35 pm
Tags: , , , ,

There are many things in life that we don’t understand or that don’t make sense to us aren’t there? Things that just don’t quite jive or questions that don’t have a nice, logical and feel good answer. On Facebook this week there was a beautiful video on Huffington Post about a premature baby boy named Ward. Ward’s dad is a photographer and a videographer by vocation and so when he and his wife’s baby was born at 25 weeks at 1 lb. 5 oz. he began to record Ward’s life-however long it may be. On the one year anniversary of Ward coming home, he took all that footage and made a 6 minute video of Ward’s journey to date for his wife. There is no dialog, just some frames with a little background on the situation and a simple song by the Fray. It begins with the first time mom holds Ward at four days old in the NICU. She doesn’t speak even one word as she holds her tiny baby up to her chest but her facial expression speaks volumes. How did we get here? Why are we here? What did we do wrong? What will happen now?

The video goes on to document Ward’s fairly miraculous improvement in NICU, going home after 107 days and the transition to being at home. There are moments of pure joy, amazement and wonder along with the harsher realities of life with a preemie whose future is less certain than most babies. There are still questions and that hang over this little boy and his parents. Questions to which there are not satisfying answers. They daily live in the paradox of what they can know and what they can only hope for.

Our gospel text for this morning-Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday is the crucifixion of Jesus with two criminals. And these ten verses are also ripe with questions for which there are no easy answers. The women and other people who followed Jesus to the cross had to have been asking, “how did this happen? How did we get here? Jesus has not done anything to deserve this.” Essentially why do bad things happen to good people? We hear the soldiers questioning Jesus’ kingship-this is what a king looks like? Hanging on a cross with the common thief? And one of the criminals upon hearing who he was being killed with asked the rather snarky question of “Aren’t you the messiah? Then fix this!” And then there is the other criminal’s rebuttal question of “Don’t you fear questioning God since you have done something wrong and getting what you deserve?”

This short narrative encompasses our daily and real struggle with God in our life and what our culture thinks of God in the world. We struggle because on the one hand we think that in order to be faithful to the idea of Jesus as king, we have to lift up some sort of super hero image of Jesus for society to believe it. Jesus is the victorious king over everything and so therefore Jesus will save the day and my life will be all sunshine and roses. And if I don’t project that idea but question where this king is when I am suffering, then maybe I am denying Jesus as Peter did or I am not grateful.

Yet, as do all the people in this story-we have questions-deep, difficult, “long night of the soul” kind of questions. We read this story and can’t help but to wonder about suffering. We can proclaim to believe that Jesus did die, was raised again and rules this world but yet it can feel like that belief doesn’t put food on the table, finds a job, or heals cancer, or saves a marriage. Like the first criminal we ask: If you are the messiah then save me-fix this immediate mess. And we might even have friends trying to be helpful who say: ” You somehow messed up and deserve your suffering, don’t blame or question God! Aren’t you afraid of what God will do with your doubt?” Someone said to me once that it is ok to be mad at God because we have a big enough God who can take it.

This is the reality of our daily journey with God I think. We wonder, are amazed, question, wrestle, believe, doubt, sometimes all before breakfast! We live in the tension of our questions to God and the truth of the promise that is offered to us by the very one we question. In the midst of the chaos and tension, Jesus offers these words: Today, this day, you will be with me in paradise. Jesus doesn’t condemn the questioners or the questions or try to give pat answers but proclaims the promise of loving us so much that Jesus will be with us in our suffering, pain, even if it is self inflicted. Jesus wants to be with us no matter what and in that presence we can catch a glimpse of what paradise might be like: living in God’s eternal promise of hope and reconciliation.

There is nothing about proclaiming Christ’s reign in the world that is clear or simple. We proclaim a king that the world can’t grasp. Jesus’ kingdom has nothing to do with fanfare, parades, extraordinary buildings, wealth or earthly love of power but Jesus’ kingdom is in the ordinary: the sinners, the tax collectors, the poor, the sick and the lame. Jesus didn’t use weapons to proclaim his presence or power but used water, wine and bread-everyday stuff to show us that God is here. Like baby Wards parents, we are still caught in the brokenness of a creation not yet healed and yet we live in the hope of what we know to be true but can’t fully see, because we can catch glimpses of God’s presence and Jesus’ reign-this promise of paradise right here and right now. We see preemies who go home, food boxes distributed to hungry households, housing, meals and assistance for homeless families, food, water, medical aid, love and support to the people of the Philippines or the people of Illinois, who have lost everything including loved ones. We can wonder and ask why these things happen or why there is not a Disney happy ending for these situations and yet we can also proclaim that Christ’s reign is real in these places and times. We can point to the one who endured real suffering, real death and real resurrection and promises that reality for us all. Christ’s reign encompasses and holds all of these paradoxes in our lives together.

It’s not neat, it’s not clean, it’s not simple but it is real and God’s promises are true and come to us today-this day and everyday through the kind of king who loves us unconditionally and without a second thought is in the suffering with us, walks beside us, holds our questions and doubt and who promises that we will be with him forever. Thanks be to God.

 

20 questions with God November 20, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 5:37 am
Tags: , , , ,

As I start to think about my sermon for this Sunday, I am thinking about questions. This week is Christ the King Sunday, which I learned last week was actually instituted in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Pope as a statement against powers and principalities and a proclamation of Jesus Christ as the true ruler of the world. And apparently, it hasn’t always been the week before Advent-the beginning of the Christian liturgical calendar. It’s kinda a preaching nightmare honestly. We are headed into the season of Thanksgiving and Christmas-you know the “feel good” seasons of turkey, daily Facebook posts of gratitude, the cute little baby Jesus, Santa Claus, presents, etc.-and we get this story of Jesus on the cross. Super.
So besides my obvious question of why Christ the King Sunday at all, many people enter into this supposed joyous season feeling anything but and with that comes questions. Why does my life not look like the Macy’s commercial? Why am I depressed? Why do I not want to spend that much time with my family? Why does my family gathering not look like Martha Stewart?
I think that this might be the point of this Christ the King Sunday. The Luke 23 text has a couple of questions embedded in 10 short verses. Questions around if Jesus is really the Messiah, if so, can’t he save himself? One criminal on the cross ask the other if is not afraid of condemnation. I don’t know about you but these questions sound slightly familiar.
When we are in deep suffering, pain and disillusionment don’t we question if God is really who we think God is? Isn’t one of the questions we wonder is if Jesus can save us from our suffering? These questions and all of our other questions are valid-God doesn’t mind our questions. God welcomes our questions, will listen and be with us as we wrestle together in community with our wonderings. Questioning God, God’s existence and God’s intervention or apparent lack there of, isn’t a faithless act. In fact, I think it’s deeply faithful to be willing to dig deep, be vulnerable and express what we are really thinking. I also think God honors this part of our relationship with God. Having questions and wrestling with hard issues is also why I believe that living in an authentic and loving community is vital. A safe place and people to ask your questions is necessary as we journey together as people of God.
In the Luke passage for Sunday (or really any where in the Bible), Jesus didn’t directly answer any of the questions lifted up but did promise this to the criminal on the cross: Today, he would be with Jesus in paradise. He, and we, will be with Jesus. Or more accurately, Jesus will be with us. Maybe this is the only answer we need?
What questions do you have for God today?