A Lutheran Says What?

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

Do you have the guts to be a disciple? Sermon on Luke 14: 25-33 September 8, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on September 8, 2019.

Texts: Psalm 1, Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Luke 14: 25-33

Children’s sermon: It’s Rally Sunday! Today is a day that we celebrate the beginning of SS for the year and being together. Being together is fun and important. Do we have to be together here at Our Saviour’s? Can we choose something else? Yep we can! What two things do I have here: yep, a marshmallow and an apple. How are they similar? Both food, both kinda sweet. What happens if we eat a lot of marshmallows? We don’t feel good, we get sick! They are not nutrition and are not really good for us. If we eat them every day, it’s not good for our bodies long term is it? How about the apple? We can eat an apple everyday (along with other good foods) and it’s ok for our bodies. Apples have nutrients that we need to be healthy. So in order to have a healthy body, which one should we choose most often? Yes, the apple. That give our bodies a good foundation to run around, play, have fun and help others! We know that our bodies work better when we make good choices, even though it’s hard. In our bible lessons today, Jesus has some hard things for us to hear. Jesus knows that we have lots of choices in our lives: things that are good for us and things that aren’t. But Jesus says that God offers us only good things for a good life. Now, a good life doesn’t mean an easy one, things might be hard sometimes. What’s hard for you? Yep, those things are hard. And Jesus says that hard things are even harder when we don’t have God as the most important thing in our lives. Coming to church isn’t the only way to put God first. Jesus says that putting God first means that we don’t worry more about our stuff, our houses, even our friends and family than following Jesus. That seems really weird, because God wants us to love and care for people too, but sometimes we get confused-like we might think that eating marshmallows is ok instead of apples because they taste better to us.  Just as putting healthy foods first into our bodies makes us feel good, so does putting God first in our lives. God has put us first in God’s life and has promised to be with us in our lives no matter what and we can trust that, even when we don’t make good choices, God is with us and loves us. At OSLC we are going to focus on that this year and that is worth celebrating today! Let’s pray:

Have you seen the show on HGTV “Fixer Upper” or at least know the premise of it? A couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines, help people in Waco, TX take the worst house in the best neighborhoods and fix them up. The families tell the Gaines’ their budget, their hopes and dreams for the house, how that will improve their lives and how long they want the renovation to take. The Gaines show them several properties, list out the work that needs to be done to get the house remodeled to what the family wants, details the budget and the timeframe. The renovation always starts with demolition day. This is when everything is deconstructed so that the house can be transformed. Walls come down, flooring comes up, cabinets are removed from the walls. Now of course, it’s not good tv unless something goes wrong, and if you’ve ever done any home improvement yourself, you know that something always does go wrong. As demolition happens things are revealed: a wall that was to be removed turns out to be load bearing, pipes are too old, the electricity was done incorrectly 50 years ago, subflooring that has water damage, the list goes on. The families are stressed and worried that their budget isn’t enough or they can’t get done what they really want done. But in the end, Chip and Joanna always come through and the house comes together and is reconstructed in ways that the family never imagined. They are always moved to cries of joy and excitement for their lives ahead in their home, the deconstruction and hard work was all worth it. I love the ending line of their opening credits: DO you have the guts to take on a fixer upper? After all, it’s not easy and not for everyone.

We could say the same of Jesus from today’s gospel lesson. Here we get an all too real, honest and perhaps cranky Jesus. After all, he’s been traveling now towards Jerusalem for a while, going to dinner parties, teaching in synagogues, healing, telling parables, and maybe he needs a nap or maybe Jesus just doesn’t like crowds. The opening lines of our text are sharp and piercing as he says to the large crowd, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” The disciples had to be thinking two things 1) do I hate everyone and myself? And 2) this is not going to look good on a billboard or t-shirt. Jesus, there is a huge crowd following: say something inspirational and tweetable! Something pithy that we can make a meme out of! But instead Jesus appears to be saying, “Do you have the guts to be my disciple?” How is this helpful?

This is one of those texts that makes us uncomfortable and that is exactly the point. Jesus is deconstructing everything we know about life. Can we walk away from our only means of survival-which in Jesus’ time was your family? Can you get rid of everything you own-again even if it’s a means of survival? What happens when all that’s left are the gapping holes where you can see the pipes, the wires and we’re left completely vulnerable? Do we have what it takes to do this?  Jesus knows that choosing what really matters each day means confronting our own impulses for what’s easy, cheap and fast. We need to do a little demolition work to reveal what’s important, or load bearing if you will. To say that we put survival, our comforts as primary in our lives sounds perfectly acceptable and maybe even holy until we realize that those things aren’t a strong foundation. Those are human foundations that will fall.

What we focus on matters and Jesus is clear that true disciples have one focus, one foundation: God. Our Deuteronomy text highlights the Israelites struggle with this as they wandered around for 40 years waiting to go into the promised land. They made idols, they got cranky about food, they tried assimilating to other cultures. Moses laid it out plainly for them: what will you focus on-life or death? And then he admonished them to choose life. Why? Not because choosing life with God is easy, it’s not. But choosing life means that you acknowledge that it is God who is our foundation and rebuilds us when everything falls apart. Choosing life is about being connected to something that is more than about mere survival but is about what Jesus tells us in John 10: that God comes to us to give us life and to give it abundantly. Death is separation from God and God’s promises of a transformative life.

As Jesus tells us in the parables, God has already done the budget, God already knows how much the cost of redemption, resurrection, restoration, and relationship is and comes to us with the word of peace amid the battles in our lives. We tend to think it’s up to us to count the costs but we need to focus on God as the builder and the king. The creator who decided at the beginning of time that relationship with creation and humanity was worth any price, even the price of God’s own son. That’s not a guilt trip by any means! It’s a reassurance that God will never leave us. When we truly follow Jesus, we do the hard work of demolition, distancing ourselves from the idols of possessions, status quo, and mere survival. We live with God as our foundation. God will be with us, over and over coming to us with a word of peace, hope and the promises of new life, no matter where we are.
We begin a new program year today at Our Saviour’s and it’s a year where we will proclaim this foundation in God.  We will live our mission statement: “A Spirit filled community that reaches out and cares for all.” We boldly step out in faith and keep our focus on following Jesus. We don’t get caught in clinging to the worry of survival but each day pick up the cross of Christ-the cross that transforms our old lives into new ones. The promises of new life that God is building right here, right now. It might be hard some days, and we might think that we don’t have the guts to be a disciple, but Jesus calls us through the waters of baptism and says that we have everything we need for this mission. We won’t be perfect disciples, but each day we are renewed to try again, together, as community, to choose life on this day and every day. The old life will be demolished and the new life of God’s wholeness, love, mercy and grace wil transforms us and the world. Thanks be to God.

 

Don’t Be Distracted: Sermon on Mark 7: 24-37 September 10, 2018

This sermon was proclaimed at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO on September 9, 2018. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

Distractions…Children’s sermon: Gather children and say that you have something really important to tell them. Then get a text, say “oh wait, let me look at this…ooo very cool. Do you all want to see this picture of the bouncy house outside? It’s so awesome! Oh look here’s more pictures of my daughter’s cat…oh wait a minute…are we supposed to be looking at pictures on my phone or doing something else? Oh that’s right! I wanted to tell you about Jesus but I got distracted by my phone! Does that ever happen to you? You go to do something or your mom, dad or teacher asks you to do something important and you then you walk by the tv, a game, or a toy and get distracted and don’t do that thing? Yep! It happens to everyone, even adults! What do you think is more important– these pictures on my phone or telling or showing you about the love of Jesus? Love of Jesus! In today’s bible stories, we are reminded not to get distracted by stuff going on in our lives from showing people that Jesus loves them. Sometimes we get distracted. Do you ever get distracted in school? Or by how people look, or act, or what they say, but Jesus wants us to remember that THE most important thing in our lives is to show everyone love by putting people first, not toys, games, or something that we want to do, but what our friends and families NEED us to do so that they feel loved. What are ways to show your friends and family Jesus’ love? Yep! I’m going to talk to the adults some more about that, but let’s pray first.

I am so easily distracted! How many of you here have picked up your phone to maybe text a family member and then get sucked in to social media or another message from someone else, put down your phone 30 minutes later only to realize you never actually sent the text/email you picked your phone up to do! I have found myself doing that.  It can make me worry I’m losing my mind! That’s rhetorical btw, you don’t get a vote on that. But I get distracted by the email or text that is right in front of me and so seems so urgent that I forget the first thing I wanted to do. I get tunnel vision and can miss what is truly important and has value.

We live in a time and culture where someone or something is always trying to pull our attention and distract us: media, technology, politics, hobbies, “to-do” lists,  sports, school activities, jobs and our social lives! And distractions aren’t bad, they can be good and wonderful things. But distractions can keep us from being present in the moment and can keep us from remembering what really matters.

Our scripture texts for today reorient us to what is important, although on the surface, we can get distracted by some other stuff going on. In Mark, it’s easy to get distracted by the uncomfortable exchange between the Syrophoenician woman and Jesus. Jesus makes a very harsh comment to this desperate mother who only wants to save her daughter. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” I spent a great deal of time distracted this week trying to explain this away and make Jesus sound less harsh, as let’s be clear, this is an insult. We can’t pretty up that Jesus called her a dog. And I don’t think we should let Jesus off the hook either. Jesus is fully human and a product of his culture and time. And Jesus is in a foreign land, he is the outsider in Tyre and the woman is the insider, however, she knows that she shouldn’t speak to a strange man by herself, she knows that there are deep tensions between the Hellenized Gentiles in this region and the Jews that they regularly oppress. But she boldly asks for what she needs from Jesus, and it seems, this is exactly the response she expected because she had a quick comeback “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She didn’t deny or argue with what Jesus said, she didn’t get distracted by the slur. She stood her ground, spoke her truth to the person in power and stayed focused on why she was there: She knew that Jesus could cast the demon out of her daughter. Fine, I’m a dog, whatever, save my child, this is what matters. You can do it Jesus. You’re the messiah!

Jesus was awakened from his own distractions by this woman and her bold, faithful actions. Yes, Jesus came to proclaim God’s redemption and God’s kingdom here on earth to the Israelites first, first being the important word here, but yes to Gentiles too. Please don’t forget that, the woman asks. Jesus had been distracted by the urgent need of the Israelites but now Jesus reorients to the vastness and inclusivity of God’s kingdom-and he doesn’t just say this, he acts on it by healing from afar. Jesus doesn’t even have to be near to heal and offer new life to the little girl.

And again, in the healing of the man who was deaf and couldn’t speak, Jesus doesn’t get distracted by the fact that this man too is a Gentile and therefore unclean, and not only touches him, but uses his own spit and touches the man’s tongue, (who here would do that?), to not only free him from his condition but also free him to be included back into the community. Despite Jesus saying not to speak of this healing, the man and his friends can’t help but to proclaim the power of Jesus. Their words affirm Jesus’ actions of risk, boundary crossing and faith. They can’t be distracted from what they have experienced in Jesus, their faith is focused on sharing the new life that Jesus offered this man.

I know that I often get distracted in my everyday life and in my faith life. I get caught, like Jesus, in the tunnel vision of the things I think are more important, or as the passage from James states, focusing on the people and things that are comfortable, easy and don’t challenge me. I can see suffering, hunger, loneliness, pain, and say, well, I’ll offer a word of hope and prayer, but I’ve got to get ready for Bible study, Rally Day, or this sermon or Confirmation. I’m distracted by what seems important at the time, but perhaps is not really what I should be focused on. James’ community is struggling with this too, the people are distracted by what is comfortable, easy and they don’t want to get their hands dirty. Certain people are given more importance, value and attention than others. Those who appear to have no worldly resources or status are pushed aside while the people are distracted by those who seem to have money and social status. I love that the writer of James names these worldly and cultural distractions for us so plainly and reminds us in these well-known and well discussed words “Faith without works is dead.”

This makes us itchy as Lutherans as we know that we are saved by God’s grace and not our own works, but we need the reminder, that just like we can’t let Jesus off the hook for his words, nor are we off the hook for ours. James brings us to task that what we actually DO matters. We can’t simply offer kind and trite words of “I’ll pray that you find food.” Or “I’ll pray that you get housing.” Or “I’ll pray that you aren’t judged by your gender, race or sexuality.” No, we are called, dear siblings in Christ, to bold, risky and loving actions for the sake of those whom society throws away and doesn’t value. Don’t be distracted by political rhetoric, don’t be distracted by wealth, don’t be distracted by those who seem to have power or authority, don’t be distracted by social status, don’t be distracted by your own comfort and wants, don’t be distracted by flattering words and don’t be distracted by harsh, critical words either. Stay focused on what matters: the kingdom of God, where God works through us, yes us, in bold and unexpected ways, to ensure that all people have voice, dignity, value, are included, are cared for and all people are deeply and unconditionally loved.  Faith is a loving gift from God and our works bring this faith alive in Christ for the sake of the world without distraction.

As we kick off a new program year today, may we as the people of Bethany stay focused on what matters, on what has true value. May we offer bold words that speak this truth to the powers that need to hear them and may our faithful actions  reveal the kingdom of God in our very midst. But most of all, may we live undistracted, undeterred and uninhibited in the grace of God’s love that is for us all people. Thanks be to God.