A Lutheran Says What?

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

Never Torn Apart August 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on August 1, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Exodus: 16: 2-4, 9-16
Ephesians 4: 1-16
John 6: 24-35

Young Friends message: I have here a Lego car from my son’s Lego collection. In order for this to look and work like a car, it took many pieces to be joined together. What happens when I take the wheel off? Is the wheel by itself a car? Can the car work without all four wheels? Nope! What happens in your family if someone doesn’t do their chores, then the rest of the family has to either do them or maybe dinner doesn’t get made, or laundry done. Church is like that too! Without people serving here in worship, or this Friday at Millcreek when we all helped to put up bulletin boards, it takes us all doing a little bit for great things to happen. God loves this, when we work together and this is what we’re reading more about in the letter to the Ephesian people today. God wants us to work together, to be like one object like this Lego car, for God’s love to shine. And so we put away our worries about ourselves. Which is hard, and sometimes we have to work with people we don’t like, or think differently than us, or have different needs. But God tells us that we are to look out for people who need something different and make sure that everyone is included. When we are missing someone or missing you, it’s like missing a piece of this Lego car, and then we don’t work as well. We need everyone, all ages, all stages, all sizes, all talents. And we need you! You matter in our community and I hope that you know that. It’s a hard concept called unity and we’re going to talk a little more about that as it’s hard for adults too!

I have a confession to make: I’m not sure what true unity is supposed to look like. I don’t. I want to know what unity looks like, and I find myself pondering and searching for how the words in Ephesians chapter 4 could be true. I desperately want them to be true. I shake my head every day at the lack of empathy in our society and wonder how in the world are we ever going to live into the oneness that Jesus prays for in John 17 and is laid out for us in the letter to the Ephesians. I looked up the Websters definition for unity and here’s what I found: “the quality or state of not being multiple, a condition of harmony, continuity without deviation or change as in for purpose or action, and finally, a totality of related parts, an entity that is a complex or systematic whole, being joined as a whole.” Never was it mentioned that unity meant all being the same, but the focus was on how pieces worked together as one. Perhaps what we need as a people is to review this definition from time to time. I know that I get caught in the false belief that unity is about sameness. Yet, oneness and sameness, are not the same thing and not even to be desired, Jesus says.

Unity is a hard reality for us to live into, as we tend to fear what or who is different. Fear makes unity, joining together for a common purpose, harder. Fear fragments us internally and propels us to cause external division and fragmentation. This week someone attempted to fragment us by cutting our RIC banner in half. Who it was is unknown and honestly, maybe it doesn’t matter all that much. Whomever it was is a child of God, who may feel that this sign of division instead of radical inclusion, they may confuse unity with sameness, and they felt a need to visually represent this fear by cutting the banner in half. They reacted to the idea of radical togetherness, after all being joined to people is scary stuff. Being joined to people who you know and don’t know is vulnerable. Being joined in purpose, action and life to people is indeed complex and may not always work how we think it should. When we’re joined together, our purpose or role might shift. This banner being cut in half could lead us to wonder if we’re cutting people off who believe that differences in sexual orientation, gender, or race either don’t exist and shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith. After all, isn’t one faith everyone believing the exact same thing? There are some who have a list of what or who shouldn’t be joined to our lives of faith as “good Christians.”  Should “good Christians” be politically active? Support secular peace and justice movements such as BLM? Talk about sexuality, big business, climate change? Should “good Christians” hang out with people who listen to death metal, swear, drink or are into slasher movies?

 First off, I’m not sure what a “good Christian” even means as we are all saints and sinners and Jesus never really addresses this. Second, I believe we’re more comfortable figuring out how to be disjointed from certain people and activities than joined as one people with God as Jesus prays in John 17. When Jesus feeds the 5,000, he is joining them as one people, he is taking their fragmented lives and knitting them together. We rarely think about who was in that crowd being fed together, but statistically speaking, there were probably thieves, outcasts, sex workers, beggars, manipulators, shepherds, carpenters, moms, dads, surly teenagers, cute babies, grandmas, grandpas, addicts, essentially people of all kinds. I wonder if the miracle, the work of God, that Jesus is pointing in our gospel today, is less about the bread and fish, and more about everyone sitting down together. Sitting and standing next to people is very different. When you stand next to someone, you have a quick escape if you will. But we all know the angst of deciding who you’re going to sit with in the school cafeteria or in the south wing at fellowship time or here in worship. Maybe it’s why no one will sit up front with me? Once you sit down with someone, you’re stuck. You’re in this meal/fellowship/worship time together whether you like it or not. You’re joined together.

The irony is that our deepest fear as humans is being alone, cut off from what and who matters most. We want to be joined in relationships, just on our own terms. Jesus shows us that we are joined as one, but on God’s terms, and for God, everyone and everything is joined together. Nothing is excluded from God’s life and so, too, in our lives, including our lives of faith. As Lutherans, our heritage is built on the truth that every aspect of our lives is holy and belongs to God, even the parts we might be ashamed of. This is the work of God, Jesus says, that faith, belief in Jesus leads us to be joined together, even if it’s uncomfortable. God’s work is drawing us together as one body, to be one in faith, in the Spirit, in baptism, in love. That is the bread of life that sustains, as when we are joined to each other and God, our fragments are made whole, and we join one another ensuring food, shelter, health, and community to promote growth, flourishing, and thriving for all.  This is the action of unity, of love. This is the joining all aspects of our lives: the secular, the mundane, into our lives of faith. If harm is happening to any part of the body, we must speak that truth in love for our neighbor. Even if it’s unpopular and people try and cut us off. We are called to build each other up, not tear each other down.
Perhaps this is the unity that I am searching for. Perhaps this is the unity that whoever damaged our banner was searching for. The unity we aspire to in our welcome statement. True unity where we can’t cut each other off, even if we want to. True unity sitting together in tension and discomfort for the sake of the purpose of including everyone into God’s kingdom. True unity of together looking into the wilderness, into the uncertainty, as the Israelites did, and seeing the unwavering presence of God, who promises to always be joined to us, building us up in love each moment of each day. Love that joins us and refuses to let us be torn apart. It is unifying love that is above all, through all, is in all, joins all and builds us all up. Amen.

 

In Sync with God July 24, 2020

This sermon was preached on July 26, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.”

The texts were:
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Matthew 1: 18-25

Merry Christmas! That feels out of sync doesn’t it? Actually, even reading this scripture in July feels a bit discombobulated. We are used to certain patterns of life happening in certain ways and times and when that doesn’t occur…well mayhem can ensue. We are wired as human beings to seek synchronicity, to find homeostasis-sometimes at any cost. Being out of sync or swimming up stream is not desirable and can lead to challenges for us in our  daily lives, families and communities. We rarely like to be “the only one” in any situation. We all know that experience of being in a group and voicing an opinion that turns out to the minority voice. Or acting in a way that is an anomaly to what everyone else is doing. Most often, we try to fit in. Losing social status and connections in our community becomes the paramount concern. Staying within social norms is the safe and comfortable space to be in. Until we realize that space isn’t actually all that comfortable especially when it is out of sync our core beliefs and values.

When we read Matthew 1, we tend of focus on the passage as the birth of Jesus, but upon closer reflection, it’s a passage that highlights what it is to live in sync with God’s values versus the world’s values. This is the story of Joseph, who’s very name should hearken us back to Genesis, to Joseph who was the favorite of his father Jacob, who had dreams and visions of the future, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, whose gifts gave him prominence in Egypt and who ultimately was able to save people from starvation and hardship. Joseph in our Matthew 1 passage, thought his life was in sync, even with engagement and marriage to Mary. The usual pattern was that you would be betrothed, which was a formal contract between families that was not easily broken, and after some time, a few months but no more than a year, the contract would be solidified by the marriage. Usually, nothing dramatic happens in that in between time. So Mary becoming pregnant before they solidify their marriage is out of sync with the plan. Joseph has every right to adhere to cultural and religious norms, divorce her, and allow her to be stoned for this betrayal. No one would have thought twice about his actions as it sadly happened all the time that women and other people who weren’t in sync with cultural norms were severely punished with torture or death. Joseph would have been supported by friends and family if he had made that decision.

But it turns out, Joseph’s value system didn’t sync up with that. We read that he was a righteous man, in right relationship with God. When an angel comes to him in a dream, he knows to his core what the right thing is to do, and it’s not what the culture of the Roman Empire or his faith tradition tells him. It’s what God tells him. He gives up his rights, his power and privilege to protect Mary, to protect the child and God’s mission. He chooses to not be in sync with the world but to be in sync with God. Joseph knew that people would ridicule him, would shake their heads that he would still take Mary, an obviously unfaithful and immoral woman, to be his wife. Friends and family would label him a sucker, weak, wonder what moral failings he also possessed to act in this way and ostracize them both. We tend to romanticize Joseph’s actions, but let’s be clear, Joseph was choosing Mary and God over comfort, stability, safety and being in sync with his community. Joseph’s actions spoke volumes about what and whom he valued.

Living from our values as people who choose God is never easy, never comfortable and rarely safe. When we choose a life in sync with God’s vision and mission, we are choosing to be out of sync with the world. We are choosing radical love, mercy, grace and justice that proclaims with words and actions that those who are despised by the values of the world, God loves. Those who matter less, matter to God. Those who have no value by worldly standards, God lifts up as deeply valued. We are choosing the risk of being labeled, the risk of being ridiculed, or the risk of losing family and friends. It might feel overwhelming to think about how as people of God can be out of sync and make a difference, but I want to remind you that we have already made the first step as a faith community. Our Welcome Statement is also our value statement: I invite you to look at the bulletin and read it with me:

Welcome to Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

 We embrace the teaching of Jesus to love one another as we are first loved by God: wholly and abundantly. We want all people to know that they are worthy of God’s unconditional love and grace. 

Whoever you are- we want you here.
Whatever your gender identity- we want you here.
Whatever your status- we want you here.
Whatever your sexual orientation- we want you here.
Whomever you love- we want you here.
Whatever you look like- we want you here.
Whatever your abilities- we want you here.
Whatever you bring to Christ’s table- we want you here.

 You are wanted here.

As we all move forward with the work of being God’s love for all people, we commit ourselves to making God’s justice, healing, grace and inclusivity a reality in this congregation and throughout the world.

These aren’t just nice words, these are our values as people of God. This is how we live our values proclaiming God’s good news that through Jesus Christ, separation from God is no more, that all are beloved, that the love in the kingdom of God is more powerful than the hate, fear, and division of the kingdom of the world. Living this out fully in our daily lives, wherever we go, as the people of OSLC, is how we will live in sync with God, how we will make a difference, how we are making a difference.

Joseph understood that God’s values becoming a reality in the world, started with him. He could choose to live differently and in doing so, Joseph became a vital piece of God’s plan for the wholeness, redemption and hope for all creation. God empowered Joseph with God’s presence to live out his values despite the values proclaimed by Caesar, the chief priests, the cultural laws. God empowers us too, through the waters of baptism, in the bread and in the wine, and in our community. We are fortified with God’s grace and courage to live as Jesus showed us. Jesus shows us that when we live in sync with God’s unending and steadfast love, when we lay down our lives for others, when we amplify unheard voices, when we say “no” to the death dealing ways of the world, we are proclaiming that God’s kingdom, God’s values, in the coming of Jesus Christ in our midst, is changing the world, bringing us all in sync with God’s promises, today and forever. Thanks be to God.