A Lutheran Says What?

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

Statements of Faith Sermon on Mark 12: 38-44 October 23, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 25, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

We are in our Generosity Focus with our theme: Rooted in our past, embracing our Future. This first week is Reimagine.

The texts were:
Leviticus 19:9-10, 25: 8-12
Mark 12: 38-44

Luther only wanted to make a statement, not start a revolution. Martin Luther, 503 years ago, posted some statements on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, as he had done before, hoping to open up a conversation regarding the church system. The system that he had participated in his whole life, the system he actually loved, the system that had been in place for centuries, although with some evolution and nuance, the system that Luther believed was failing thousands of people. Luther considered his statements logical and obvious harms being perpetrated on innocent people who were reliant on the system and the structure to daily life it provided. But in truth, Luther’s statements were a vision, a reimagination of how the system, the world, the community of faith could operate. Luther saw through and beyond the system to something else, to something new. They were his statements of a reimagined life, of faith, daily living and community. That kind of reimagining, Luther soon found out, is always a threat to those in power in the system. Keeping the system stable and keeping those whom the system privileged comfortable was paramount at any costs. If some people were exploited, well, that’s just the way life works isn’t it? Nope, said Luther. When challenged by the powerful of the system, Luther was offered two choices, stay quiet and stay in the system, or be cast out from the system. Luther recognized that there was a third choice, and that was to follow his faith in God and God’s mission, risk everything to challenge and transform the system. Luther’s reimaging captured the imagination of many around him and the system was forced to alter. Many were upset, scared, bewildered, and angry that the status quo was shredded, for after Luther’s statements of faith, life was never the same again.

 Statements that change the world can be made with words, spoken or written, but sometimes statements are made with what seems to be simple actions. Jesus called attention to this fact in our Mark lesson today. Jesus highlights the statements that the scribes, the supposed leaders of the Temple, who were tasked with caring for the people spiritually and physically, really were. Their long robes and overly ornate prayers were statements of status quo, power, elitism, and privilege. He also pointed to the statements of the rich people giving to the Temple treasury, and how they made a show of the amount they gave, a revealing of their bank statements so to speak, and how the scribes often privileged and fawned over those who gave copious amounts, even if it was really only a sliver of their actual wealth.

Jesus carefully watched the widow approach the treasury deposit site. Widows, who were often poor, as a woman’s only status and power were in relationship to a male family member, were exempt from giving to the Temple as the Temple leaders were supposed to be caring from them. The Torah teachings are clear that widows, the poor, orphans and resident aliens, immigrants and refugees are to be provided for from the Temple treasury and the community. The widow put in her two coins, all that she had, even though it’s a pittance. Jesus honors her but maybe not for the reason we think. Yes, it’s an act of faith, yes, it’s a statement of giving all that she had, but here’s what I think Jesus is really saying: it’s a statement of reimagining. It’s a statement of defiance and calling out the system. No, she didn’t get in anyone’s face, no she doesn’t write an angry note to state her disappointment with the leaders. Those two coins might have come from the treasury to begin with, and weren’t enough to help her at all, and so she gives it back. She knows that the scribes are supposed to be caring for her, and not just her, but all in need, and they are giving some, but not enough. It was a token. It was enough to soothe the conscious of those with all the power and wealth. See we gave them something! It’s not our fault that they can’t actually live on that! It’s Rome’s fault! But the widow knows better. The widow is reimagining what true community looks like. What equal and just distribution of wealth could be. She is reimagining beyond the Roman Empire and beyond the institution of the Temple- to the kingdom of God. She’s recalling our Leviticus text of Jubilee and offering a vision of trusting God AND trusting each other to provide for all needs, including the earth.

Jesus pointed out this widow to the disciples and to us so that perhaps we too can reimagine. What statement of God’s vision do we want to offer in this time and place? We have to reimagine beyond our broken and human political system, beyond our broken and human institutional church and offer a vision to the world of God’s kingdom. Luther, while by no means perfect and he had his flaws, was attempting in his own way to do this. It’s the foundation of our faith tradition-to reimagine the world that centers the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of the world, of human greed, selfishness, and egocentricity. When we center the kingdom of God, we center a vision of wholeness, justice, mercy and community, not for some but for all.

I have been ruminating more and more on how my life can be such a statement of reimaging life ushering in the kingdom of God in our current world. I truly believe that as a world and a Church we are in a time of reimaging and our statements of faith with words and actions matter. Nothing will be the same after this pandemic, and do we have the imagination, like the widow, Luther and Jesus, to join what God is already up to? We must reimagine our statements of faith that our communal lives together are more important than our individual rights, so we wear masks, curb our activities to necessities only, don’t hoard, and offer patience and compassion with leaders and each other. Reimagine our statements of faith that in our lives together white supremacy, racism, homophobia, misogyny is a sin, that our consumer culture is killing and harming us and the earth, that there is enough for all, and that yes, we will have to set aside our own power, privilege and entitlement. Reimagine our statements of faith that enable our bank statements to match our vision of abundance. Our statements of faith matter, for our statements can reimagine the world, bring down unjust systems and reveal the mercy and grace of God for us all.

God’s statement is clear, God’s living statement is Jesus who states in words and actions what God reimagines the world to be. Jesus’ statement is to reimagine a world where death isn’t the final word, where God’s will is done, all humanity and creation exists in health, interdependence, mercy and hope and the tenacious love of Christ binds us together. You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen .

 

Renewed by Grace-We can’t unsee it! Sermon for Reformation Sunday Year C October 27, 2019

This sermon was preached on Oct. 27, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were:
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Psalm 46
Romans 3: 19-28
John 8:31-36

 

Children’s sermon: masks-I have these masks here: It’s fun to wear masks and pretend to be someone or something else isn’t it? It’s not really who we are but we like to try out being different. We do this in other ways besides at Halloween-don’t we? We pretend to like something we don’t or don’t like something we do like to make friends. Sometimes that’s hard as we want to be something different-maybe act differently because we think that people will like us more, or wish that we had different abilities like in sports, or school or music. But God says that who we are is just right we are and that we always belong to God. And the truth is that you are loved by God just as you are-the good things and the not so good things. Today is called Reformation Sunday and it’s a day when we celebrate the truth of who we are as God’s people and we don’t have to pretend to be someone else. A man named Martin Luther, struggled with the fact that many people didn’t know the truth about how much God loved them no matter what and people can’t earn God’s love, it’s for everyone! That’s called grace. But this truth of grace was also hard…it meant that everything had to change with this truth. The Church had to change with this truth that God loves everyone. The church did change, but many people didn’t like it and were mad at Luther. Everything changes, God created the world to change: the seasons, plants growing and us growing and learning, the only thing that doesn’t change is God’s love for us and creation. Martin Luther knew that the truth of our lives is that things need to change so that more people can know God’s unchanging grace and love! Because of this grace and love we are free to share this with everyone we know to make sure that everyone knows this truth-that no matter what they do, say, who they pretend to be, or what other people think of them, they are God’s forever. That is the truth. Let’s pray:

I love mind benders: such as a friend pointing out that if you hear the words “big pharma” in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger it sounds like Arnold talking to a large farmer. You can’t unhear that can you? Or someone posted a picture of the famous painting by Edvard Munch “The Scream” and said maybe he was trying to draw a cocker spaniel…the hands are floppy dog ears…you can’t unsee that either! Or a pastor friend setting the “Lamb of God” to “Baby Shark.” (You’re welcome!) We’ve all had the experience that once someone points out an absurd perspective about something you can’t see or hear anything else! Whether it’s a painting or learning the correct lyrics to a song, these new perspectives shift us as you can’t go back to what you didn’t see, hear, know before. It can be all in fun such as the examples I just gave, or its life altering. It could be the moment you look at someone and realize you love them, or you see your loved one dying and you can’t deny that truth any longer, or the revelation that someone has lied to you, or hiding something from you, or you realize that a relationship is no longer viable or you admit you need help. Moments when you know some deeper truth than you did before and everything changes.

There are monumental periods in history built around these perspective shifts. Martin Ludder was a man who was a product of his time, he believed everything the Church taught him, even though it made him miserable and austere. But he lived within those rules thinking that was the truth of life-one had to earn love, especially the love of God, everything depended on one’s actions, thoughts and one was never going to get ahead. Right relationships meant doing all the right things. Until one day he was reading scripture and saw something that he hadn’t before-no not a puppy in a famous painting-but the truth of God’s grace that had nothing to do with his own works, only God’s unconditional love. It so altered his entire worldview and relationship with God that he couldn’t unsee it or unhear it. And like all good revelations-he had to share it on the social media platform of his time, the cathedral door. Now this wasn’t the first time Ludder had done this, but this time it went viral. Other people couldn’t unsee it or unhear it either. Powers and principalities tried to get Ludder to go back to before, or admit that he altered it, photoshopped this revelation in some way, but he couldn’t and wouldn’t and others stood with him in this truth. He was so convicted that he changed his name to the Greek word for truth Eleuthera-or Luther.

The truth of God’s love and grace for all people that set Luther free from his enslavement to his ego and works, he unleashed on the world.  Luther wanted this truth of God’s word of grace accessible for all people and translated into the language of the people. The truth that set Luther free wasn’t freedom to do whatever he wanted but freedom to live as God created him, freedom from the lies he told himself about his worthlessness, freedom from the lies of the Church that his relationship with God was dependent in his obedience to the rules, freedom from the lies of the world that told him his value was in his status. Luther experienced the truth that Jesus speaks of in John: the truth that Jesus dwells with us in the world revealing God’s gifts and glory through Jesus, because God loves us, cares for us and wants to be with us above all else. Once we see this, we can’t unsee it and it changes how we see everything.

The truth of God’s grace also means that we can’t unsee or unhear that we are not in control, we can’t save ourselves, we can’t hide behind the lies that we tell ourselves that give us the illusion of power in our lives. We can’t unsee ourselves as slaves to the individual and corporate sins of culture, our own egos, our greed, our addictions to self-righteousness, status quo and comfort. We can’t unsee that we are caught in the lies of systemic racism, economic injustice, homophobia, and poverty. We can’t unsee the damage that we do to one another trying to live in the lies of the world and not the truth of freedom in Jesus. The truth that Jesus says sets us free, is a hard truth. One that we aren’t always sure that we can handle seeing or hearing. It’s a truth that freedom isn’t only about us and our ability to do whatever we want. It’s the truth that God’s grace demands we act for our neighbor in this freedom. The truth is that God’s grace is for us all, renews us all and connects us all. It’s a truth that calls us at OSLC to vision, wonder and risk how we will be what the community needs. It’s a truth that means we might do what the world might consider foolish, to serve our neighbor. Yep, it doesn’t always make sense, but God in God’s kingdom, it’s always worth it. This is the heart of Luther’s revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not freedom if it’s only about ourselves. God’s unending and unconditional grace in our lives transforms us from slaves to the lies of the world, to people free in grace to serve others with all that we have to the glory of God.

Reformation isn’t only a day-Luther wouldn’t want us to even celebrate today because reformation happens daily-it’s living our lives refusing to unsee or unhear the truth of God’s renewing grace at work in the world for all people. It’s boldly proclaiming and translating the truth for 21st century hearts, ears and eyes that in God through Jesus Christ, everything has changed and will keep changing for the sake of freeing God’s people and creation so that God’s promises will be made known in the world. This grace renews us all and the world, and we can’t unsee it or unhear it. Thanks be to God.