A Lutheran Says What?

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

Renewed for Life: Dangerous Hope Sermon on Luke 20: 27-38 November 14, 2019

This sermon was preached on November 10, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Job 19: 23-27a
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17
Luke 20: 27-38

Children’s sermon: Do you ever worry about something? What do you worry about? Yeah, we worry about lots of things don’t we. Worry can be ok, as worry can sometimes help us to make decisions, but often worrying can keep us from focusing on what is actually important. Have you ever worried about the wrong thing? Such as worried about what a friend thinks of you to the point that you ignore other friends who then might get upset with you? Yeah, we can worry about the wrong stuff as people of any age. Our bible stories for today are kinda odd, but they are essentially about worrying about the wrong thing. We heard some questions from people worried about what happens when we die, or when Jesus comes again-but Jesus says, don’t worry about that! We don’t have to worry because no matter what, God loves us, is with us and never leaves us. So if we don’t have to worry what should we do? Jesus says we should do what God does, offer life! God offers life to us in so many ways-how do you see God in your life? Yep! All great things! God wants us to spend our lives offering this same life to other people. Today we are talking about offering life as the church to the community around us. We can offer life to people by spending time with them, by working with people with a special gift we have or with our money. The adults will be turning in what we call a pledge card and it’s about how we will offer life with all of who we are as well  our money. You have something to offer too. I have these cards that say “I offer to God” and you can write or draw with this dry erase marker how you will share God’s gift of life with people. When the adults come forward with their cards, you can drop yours in the basket too! Every gift matters! Let’s pray:

This might seem like a counter intuitive statement, but we live in a culture preoccupied with death. Now, the real challenge is that we don’t talk about it or acknowledge in healthy or forthright ways, we dance around the deeper questions to worrying about our physical bodies. Watch tv for five minutes and you’ll see products to make you look younger, take away gray hair, exercise programs to keep you thin, products that make your joints less creaky (ok that one is speaking to me some days), whiten your teeth and even more invasive medical procedures to give you back the body you had when you were young. Sucking out fat, removing wrinkles, lifting things, and the list goes on and on. We worry about our aging bodies, we worry about the future and we worry about dying. We are really trying to control the future. We want to control what happens next in our lives, we want some certainty about how our lives play out and ultimately what happens when we die. We’re afraid of the unknown, and when we’re left to our own speculation, we try and shape what happens next. We’re preoccupied with death-but so much so that I’m not sure how many of us are really living.

This is also true in religious institutions. In the ELCA, we’ve heard the alarm bell clanging of “we are a dying institution.” And not just ELCA but all mainline protestant churches (UMC, UCC, Presbyterian, Episcopal). As mainline, we’ve watched rapid decline of attendance and participation in the past 20 years and in response a whole slew of books, speakers, conferences, blog posts, and FB conversation threads have popped up all with the idea that if we could just find the right answer, find the key, the silver bullet, then we could return to the good old days and we could be comfortable knowing that we’ve got this church thing under control. If the church could just look like it used to, it would be great! We wouldn’t be living in fear of the “what happens if all this goes away,” what if it looks different and wondering if there is life for Church after the death of the institution.

It turns out that this has been our tendency for thousands of years, being preoccupied with death but for all the wrong reasons! We speculate ourselves into a corner so to speak where we then concretize these vague ideas as truth. Both the letter to the Thessalonians and our gospel from Luke today capture this challenge of wanting certainty about the unknown. The Thessalonians were stressed out about the second coming of Jesus and wondering if they would know when it  happened and make the cut. Paul attempted to calm them down reminding them to not get caught up in people who run around saying the sky is falling, you’d better be doing or not doing certain things and everything is terrible. Don’t focus on what is going wrong, stay focused on the truth that God chooses us, all of us, loves us and promises that we will be with God always, in this life and in the next, no one is left behind. What God is doing in your midst today, may not look like the past, but our God, through Jesus Christ, is always renewing, transforming and nurturing life in unexpected places and in unexpected people.

The Sadducees were looking to discount Jesus’ teachings on resurrection and life with God, when they approached Jesus with what they thought would be a way to ensnare him in a conundrum. Most Sadducees denied that there was anything after death-no resurrection-and they only acknowledged the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah or writings of Moses. The Pharisees did have a theology of the resurrection long before Jesus, as they acknowledged the history books, the prophets and the writings that make up our OT. This is why Paul, a Pharisee, could so easily articulate how God, through Jesus Christ, promises resurrection and saw the support for the resurrection in the Hebrew Bible. The Sadducees ask Jesus this ridiculous question about seven brothers and this one poor woman. Since they don’t even believe that there is an afterlife, they don’t really care, they just want Jesus to contradict Mosaic law and tradition so that they could label him a heretic. They are looking to kill this Jesus movement that was bringing people so much hope because people with hope are dangerous. They live differently. They think differently and see more than others. But Jesus elegantly leaps over the tripwire to move them and us beyond worries and preoccupations with being right-to God’s truth.  The truth that women are not property to be batted about among men-we have our own worth and God will affirm that worth in this life and in the next. The truth that God is a God of love and relationships and wants us to be in healthy, safe and affirming relationships, and not alone. The truth that we must move beyond worrying about death into order to see there is life all around-Moses even said so! When Moses at the burning bush calls God the God of Abraham, God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, Moses affirms that in God, all life is connected, God is not a God who worries about death but creates life when the rest of the world proclaims finitude and hopelessness. God is a God of the living and the hopeful!

Resurrection life is not only about the transformation of our lives when we die, it’s a process that starts right here right now. In God, resurrection isn’t status quo and more of the same of this life, it’s so much more! It’s transformation, God’s grace that won’t leave us devoid of hope or in the same ruts on either side of the kingdom. It might not feel good, as resurrection does first mean death, death to the preoccupations of the world: death to our fears of not being in control and being comfortable. Death to the traditions that stifle our imagination and hope about God’s work in our midst. Like the Sadducees, we must die to thinking that we have the all answers and can manipulate God into affirming them. When we die to our fears, worries, and preoccupation with getting it right, then we focus on being alive in Christ, we try something that we’ve never done before, we stop doing things that aren’t bringing life to ourselves and our neighbors, and we know that being alive in Christ, is moving forward even when we’re unsure of the path because of our confidence of who is on the path with us. God who calls us beloved, renews us, transforms us, resurrects us and declares us alive.
While we’re preoccupied with the details of death, God is preoccupied with life-our life with God today and forever. Being children of the resurrection means that we focus on life, abundant life, right here, right now. We quit worrying about dying and start living! Being alive in God means that we embrace that with God, our lives will look different in the coming years, personally, in the larger church and here at Our Saviour’s. We don’t have to know the details but we can wonder with hope, promise and confidence that God is present with us in this life and the next. Alive with God’s presence, we can offer this resurrection life, transformational life through how we live our lives, to people in our midst today and every day. Thanks be to God.

 

Renewed by Love-Saints Build for the Future Sermon for All Saints Day Year C November 3, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on Nov. 3, 2019.

The texts were:

Psalm 49
Ephesians 1: 11-23
Luke 6: 20-31

Children’s sermon: I have some rocks here, what can we do with them? We can build, decorate, all kinds of things. Have you been hiking and saw rocks stacked up along the trail? Those are called cairns and they are made by people who have walked that way before, realized how difficult it could be and marked the path for people who came after them. These people took time to point others in the right direction so that they could be safe, enjoy the hike and know that they are on the right path. I think that God puts people in our lives that do that same thing, maybe not with rocks, but with their love, power and their whole lives. We call these people saints. They are not perfect people, but they are people who love others so much that they use their time and power to show God’s love to others. Sometimes we think about these saints and they are people who have died, they now live with Jesus, but some are with us each day. Who might be a saint in your life? Today we remember all the saints, particularly those who have died. That can make us sad, and it’s ok to be sad and cry! Tears are holy and are signs of how much we love people. In our story today, Jesus is giving examples of how we need to focus on loving each other and not worrying about what we may have for stuff, or if people like us or not, or if we use our power to only care for ourselves. Jesus says, when we love, we use our power to care for other people. We call this the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you want done to you.” Jesus wants us to know that God loves us and uses God uses power to love us-to keep us safe, to give us family and friends who love us and to hold us when we are sad, hurt and need help. In the bible, rocks are important ways to show God’s love and power to people who come later. Just like on hiking trails people stack rocks, Jacob stacked rocks at the Jordan river so that people in the future would remember God’s care of the Israelites, and the rock that was removed from Jesus’ tomb tells all people of all time of God’s love and power in Jesus resurrection. I have rocks here for us to write the name or initials of some saint in your life who shows you God’s love and power today and for the future. Let’s pray:

I come from a long line of strong women. I have been blessed by grandmothers and great grandmothers who were a force to be reckoned with in their own way. They each have given me a gift that is still with me today. My maternal grandma, Grandma Fouts, was a woman of deep faith. Going to church, Sunday school, youth group, bible studies were not optional, even when we were only visiting for only a week. Her denomination was not Lutheran, it was Church of God, but her commitment to passing on the faith, to ensuring that her grandchildren knew God’s love and power in their lives was always present.  She wanted faith in God built in my life. My grandma Emmons-paternal grandmother-was not deeply religious, but only wanted her grandchildren to know that she was a safe person for all kinds of conversations and challenges. She never judged or offered pedantic advice, but she asked good thought provoking and reflective questions-to build our critical thinking skills. My great grandmas were also both women who had vision beyond themselves. My sweet great grandma Tone from Norway, (we called her Gung) who was about four foot ten inches, would feed you, sing Lutheran hymns to you, care for you and make you feel special and at the same time, we knew who was in charge. Her. To say she was feisty is an understatement, but we all knew that for her, building family was important. My great grandmother Emmons, again paternal, was the original feminist. She wrote several books and plays and was one of the first authors to write about an important moment in history strictly from a feminist perspective: The Lewis and Clark expedition. Her book was that expedition from Sacajawea’s point of view.  When I was a little girl, and we would go visit her, she would whisper in my ear, remember, “you’re smarter and better than the boys, don’t forget it!” She was building a better future for all women but particularly her daughter, granddaughters and great granddaughters. What I learned most from these four women was not to get stuck in what was happening today, my actions were not about me only and pointing people in the right direction and building someone up for their future matters. They exemplified using their own power-no matter how limited that might have been with age, gender roles, etc.-to show God’s love to their family. They innately understood that power was to be given away, that love isn’t a sentimental emotion but actions of tenacity, courage, justice and building to make the world better for those who came after them. They weren’t perfect, but they are saints, set apart for God’s work of love. I am connected to them as their descendant and I build on their lives to offer actions of love to others in my life for today and for tomorrow.

We tend to think of saints as people who are somehow infallible. But in our scripture passages today, we get a different glimpse of the kind of saints that God calls us to be. If we take a deeper look at saints, we discover that they are not always comfortable people to be around. They are those who aren’t important by the world’s standards, they are on the edges of “respectability,” and status, we might even call them trouble makers because their actions reveal the power and control in our society run amok. Saints often point to life in the here and now while building something beyond that for the future.

Jesus says, blessed are those who are poor, hungry, mourning, excluded, reviled and defamed, not to say those are the only saints, but Jesus is pointing out that in God’s kingdom and economy, they are equal to those who seem to have everything by worldly standards. In Jesus day, the poor, hungry, grieving, outcasts, were to be avoided. Whenever we avoid someone, look down on them, we are using our power for ourselves and our comforts. No wonder Jesus then says “woe” which means “yikes” or “look out!” Look out if you are rich, satiated, laughing, and beloved by everyone (is that even a thing?) because you’ve built a world all about you in the here and now. You’ve placed your trust in yourself and things that are fleeting and what we don’t have control over in this life. If you have power, privilege and material wealth, fine, but look out for what you are actually building.

Saints point to the truth that whether we are poor or rich, hungry or full, laughing or grieving, part of the “in-crowd” or not, that God, through Jesus Christ, shares power and love with us. This is the promise. Our response is to treat everyone with this same power and love from God and build them up. When someone tries to exert their power over us, curses us, mocks us, takes our things without permission, disrespects us, we don’t respond to power with power, we respond with powerful love-not the emotion but the actions. To be clear, being abused is not ok, and is not to be glorified in anyway. Loving actions also look like clear and firm boundaries. Boundaries in many ways are like turning the other cheek. It’s calling out abusive words and actions. As saints, we reveal God’s reversal of powers in the world, that Jesus’ ministry and mission points to building up people and building up the kingdom of God for today and for tomorrow. It’s love that shows what God is building. This love can’t be lost, swept under the rug or denied. God’s love and power through Jesus is about transforming the world from the bottom up, the inside out, from today to tomorrow and from death to life. God’s love renews us when we think that we can’t keep going, when we’ve messed up, it’s hard and we are uncertain. God’s love pulls us to see beyond ourselves and the systems in which we are caught, to the vision that God’s inclusive love changes us and changes the world.

We are building, oh saints of God. We are building here at OSLC not only for us today, but for those who will come after us. We will use our power and love we have from God to build in unlikely places with unlikely people-we will build a community of radical inclusion where all are safe, we will build a community that bridges partisanship,  we will build a community that values civil dialogue and collaboration with all our neighbors regardless of differences, we will build a community where we get at the roots of hunger, poverty and homelessness for all people to thrive. This will not make us popular, but God will be present. We will not do this perfectly, but we will build with God as saints for those who come after us. We will point to the importance of Jesus Christ, and the empty tomb-God’s loving actions for creation and we will point to the power of God to transform, renew and love us all today and tomorrow. Thanks be to God.

 

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.

 

Renewed by Connection or Why Disruptions are Holy:Sermon for Pentecost 19 October 20, 2019

This sermon was preached on October 20, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

The texts were:
Genesis 32: 22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3: 14-4:5
Luke 18: 1-8

Children’s sermon: Have a ball of yarn on hand. Gather the children up front in a standing circle. Say to them that we are going to create something together. Hold on to one end of the ball of yarn and then throw it to another child. Have them hold on to that length (holding it fairly taut) and then throw it to another child…etc. until you’ve created a yarn web. Then talk about what happens if someone yanks on it too hard-yep someone might become disconnected. Or what if someone intentionally disconnects and drops their end, then the web starts to fall apart. Talk about how we are all connected and it matters that we know that our actions impact other people. Also talk about how we are connected to God and God never lets go of us—we might try and let go of our end of the yarn, but God never lets us go. This is good news!

It’s easy to get in our own little world and get tunnel vision. We get up each day, go through whatever morning routine we have, go to work, or appointments, eat lunch, run errands, eat some dinner, watch some tv, read a bit and then go to bed. And then we get up the next day and basically do the same thing again with little variation. Routines aren’t bad, but we don’t like to veer from them as it can be uncomfortable or even confusing. Sometimes, our routines aren’t helpful and can even be harmful and we need other people to pull back the curtain to show us what we may be missing or perhaps what is damaging to us. I was reminded of that this week and some of you may already know this story as I shared it on FB. My morning routine is get up, have breakfast, go for a run, stretch or do some strength training, make some coffee, get ready and go to work. On Thursday, I did most of this routine, but I was kinda craving an iced coffee as it was a warm morning. Now, it had been a long week and by Thursday I was dragging a bit and running late. But I went ahead and stopped at the Beans and Brews, my favorite coffee place in Salt Lake so far, for a coconut milk iced latte. As I turned into the parking lot off 1300, I saw her. A young woman sitting on the grass alongside the road-too close-looking disheveled, confused and it seemed that she was trying to get her clothes together. She was dressed in a manner that made me wonder if she was a sex worker and her erratic behavior alerted me that something was off. I parked and looked at her weighing if I should approach her to see if she needed help. As I have some experience with this sort of situation, so I know the risks. As I was weighing those risks, a gentleman came up beside me as I stood by the front door of the coffee shop and simply said “she needs help.” I responded “yes, lets go talk to her together.” He and I approached this young woman, probably early to mid-twenties and introduced ourselves. It became clear that she was under the influence of drugs and maybe had a cognitive challenge. She spoke nonsensically when asked her name and when I asked her if I could buy her a cup of coffee and some breakfast, she said no but did I have a cigarette? I said no, but that I was worried about her and let’s get some coffee and some food. Allen, the gentleman with me, said to her, “I’m really worried about you as you were in traffic when I saw you.” She stood up and dropped her few possessions that she was trying to carry without a bag of any sort. We helped her tie a dirty sweater around her waist and asked if we could call anyone for her. She said her boyfriend was coming to get her, which seemed unlikely. She said that she had a room at the Extended Stay America half a block down but there was some issue. I said let’s walk there together and see what’s going on with your room. Allen called the police at this point as we realized that she needed more help than we could offer. As we walked, she would vacillate between talking to us and being grateful that we were there and telling us to leave her alone. When she told me to leave her alone, I simply said, “no I won’t do that. You need help and I’m worried about you.” She staggered along and walking that half a block took us 10 minutes. As we approached the motel, two women came running toward us screaming at the young woman that she wasn’t welcome and she better not come close. I stood between them and tried to figure out what was happening. Allen stayed on the phone with 911 relaying what was going on. Apparently, the young woman had wondered into one of these women’s rooms and they were unhappy. The assistant manager came out at this point and calmly said, that the young woman didn’t have a room there, she too had called the police and she needed to leave the property. I told the young woman that we needed to keep moving. At that point she yelled at us and started running toward a construction site.  I followed her and then finally the police arrived. Allen and I hung back to let them do their job. This young woman ended up arrested. It’s heartbreaking to watch and I pray that she gets the help she needs, but I also know how broken our system is. But perhaps if it gets her sober and away from those who are not helping her live to her potential-then that could be a start.

Allen and I both agree that this young woman is an equal character in this story and the three of us somehow needed this encounter.  It turns out his wife is the parish admin at St. James Episcopal and she and I have emailed a few times. Allen and I both agree that it was the Holy Spirit who directed the three of us there together to connect this morning. He was also running late for work when he decided to go ahead and stop. After he left, I went to buy my coffee, and I discovered he had covered it. There was change from the cash he had left, so I added what I would have paid to his cash to buy coffees for those who came after us. Who knows who felt connected and loved by Allen starting that pay it forward chain? A simple cup of coffee, a morning routine, sometimes isn’t simple and it’s everything.

Routines were shattered Thursday morning and connections were made. It was risky and messy what we did, together the three of us connecting. What may have been the normal routine for this young woman: drugs, risky behavior and hurtful relationships, Allen and I could see was damaging. I’m sure that others have tried to help her before but disrupting the routine of drugs is difficult and takes persistance. Allen and I both have children her age and maybe Allen and I were surrogate parents for her that morning-with the energy to do what hers just can’t right now. I don’t want to judge her family in anyway. I want to be clear, it’s not always appropriate to get involved. Listen to your gut. If your gut is saying no-It’s the Holy Spirit saying, “I’ve got this.” If your gut says maybe you should help, it’s the Holy Spirit saying, “I’ve got this and I’m sending you.” Allen and I went together, as a team knowing that we might be uncomfortable with her, but not in danger, and there is a difference. We were out of our routines and discomforted by the reality that this young woman needed community, care and someone to disrupt her dangerous routine. We wrestled with her that morning and wrestled with our own discomfort. We wrestled with the complexity of life together and we knew that we couldn’t let go until we had done all that we could do to try and get her to a new life and justice.

This is the complexity of life together and life with God. Our stories from Genesis and Luke today reveal how when we are in community, deep relationship, and connected to one another and God, it’s never what we think. It’s uncomfortable, it’s challenging, and disrupts our routines. God is like the persistent widow challenging the myopic routine of the unjust judge, continually calling us to look beyond ourselves and our routines to see God and our neighbor in need. The truth of following Jesus is that we are to demand justice not for only ourselves, but for even those who might make us uncomfortable. It’s messy and hard indeed to hear the persistent voices of those on the margins who call to those of us with power, privilege and agency to disrupt unjust routines. We can call for the disruption of war in Syria that is taking innocent lives. We can call for the disruption of unjust laws that deny equal rights to LBGTQIA folx. We can disrupt our own unjust fear of connecting with different faith traditions for the vision of vibrancy and health of our community-here in Salt Lake and beyond. We can wrestle with those who think differently than us on issues and stay in the relationship and connection, even when it’s really uncomfortable, to reveal the blessing of diversity and learning from one another. We can go towards those whom we fear or don’t like or don’t like or fear us, understanding that fear and dislike are not the kingdom of God, but grace, openness, and radical self-less love is why God sent Jesus to us, to reveal this on all the earth. This is the faith that Jesus is looking for-the vision of God’s grace and love as deep and renewing connections despite discomfort to reveal the damage that we are doing to ourselves and each other when we disconnect and stay in our own little worlds. And I’m convicted that Jesus will find this faith-for God is present and like Jacob, we can refuse to let go of God or one another, refuse to let go of the truth of this love doctrine, because God won’t let go of us. As Jacob was renewed and renamed Israel, we, too, are made new and renamed child of God. Allen, that young woman, me, you and all people are blessed by God’s tenacious and persistent love. This blessing is not for ease and comfort, but for God’s justice to disrupt the unjust routines of our lives and of the world.  This disruption reveals the truth of our renewing connection to God’s word of love, mercy and grace, proclaimed for all people, in all times and in all places. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Renewed By Gratitude: Sermon on Luke 17: 11-19 Year C Pentecost 18 October 13, 2019

This sermon was preached on Oct. 13, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. This is part of our stewardship series Renewed For All Seasons.

The texts were:

2 Kings 5: 1-3, 7-15c
2 Timothy 2: 8-15
Luke 17: 11-19

Children’s sermon: Do you know how to say “Thank you” in different languages? Yep, all kinds of ways to say thank you! How can we say “thank you” without words? Yeah, it might be harder, but there is ASL (show sign for “thank-you”) but we can say “thank you” also with a smile, a hug if the other person is ok hugging, a high five, a note,  or like the person in our Bible story today, with both words and actions. He was so grateful to Jesus for making him well that he laid himself down on the ground in front of Jesus. When we say “thank you” we are showing gratitude, we are noticing that someone has been kind, thoughtful and helpful. Our bible story from Luke is about gratitude this morning. Jesus made all ten of the sick people well, no one was excluded from Jesus’ gift of healing, but one person noticed that it was more than physical healing, it was a return to full life with people. In Jesus’ time, if you were sick, even if you weren’t contagious, you had to stay away from people. Such as when my allergies are bad, I might look sick, but you can’t get my allergies from me, but I wouldn’t have been allowed to be with people either!  When Jesus healed these ten people, they could be with people again! The other nine were glad to be made well, and did what Jesus said, the went to the temple to show themselves healed to the religious authorities-they didn’t do anything wrong. But the one, who was a Samaritan, an outsider whom many people didn’t like, took it one step further than others-he noticed that in being healed, he was also excepted and included. This is why he turned around to show with actions and words gratitude to Jesus. We notice that God always includes us in God’s healing, love and wholeness and so that is why in worship we have many ways that we show gratitude. Did you know that communion each Sunday is one way we think about gratitude? The fancy Greek word for communion is Eucharist-which means thanksgiving or gratitude. You might notice that the heading in the bulletin is even called the Great Thanksgiving and some of those words are “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.” We say this each week! No matter what is going on in our lives, even if we are having a hard time, we know that God always includes us, keeps us in this loving community and never leaves us-so we notice, we are turned around and we help other people in our lives notice God’s inclusion too. In the rest of my sermon, we’re going to say together a couple of times “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.” And on the back window, we are all going to write or draw on a post it note to put on our cross, all the places and people where we notice God’s love, kindness and inclusion. And we pray to be show inclusion to other people too. We also have a Gratitude sheet to go home to keep track of how you are grateful for God’s work in your life or the world.

“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.” As I told the children, we do say these words each week and they can become rote and trite. Or if we are struggling, these words can seem too simplistic and not in touch with our emotions or the rest of our lives. Give thanks to God? For this mess? But I’m sick, I’m lonely, I’m hurting, the world is crashing down around me and I don’t know which way to go next. I’m asking “why me, God?” Why am I the unlucky one to whom these bad things are occurring? Give thanks? No thanks.

Gratitude can be hard in our lives. I know that for me, it’s not a “go-to” spiritual practice and it is a spiritual practice. Gratitude has also become a culturally “co-opted” word-as I wrote about in my Enews article, how many of you have heard the phrase “have an attitude of gratitude.” It seems so simple doesn’t it? All you have to do is think everything is great and your life will be better. And if you don’t, then there’s something wrong with you. Gratitude as a concept can also be used to shame. How many times have you been told, “you should be grateful, it could be worse…” So, that’s not helpful either is it? What does the spiritual practice of gratitude look like in a way that isn’t shaming, simplistic, or denies the realities of the world?
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”
At first blush, our Luke story this morning seems to reinforce some of those unhelpful concepts of gratitude. Jesus is walking towards Jerusalem-towards the cross-on the border of Samaria and Galilee. As a “good Jew” he should not be crossing through Samaria at all but that’s where we find Jesus in this story-where others dare not to go. And in this remote area, there are some leper’s we read. Now it’s probably not actual leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, but some condition that made them ritually unclean and ostracized from community. The ten called out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus saw them, really saw them and they probably hadn’t been seen by anyone in years, and he simply said “go show yourselves to the priests.” In order to be brought back into community, a temple priest had to declare you clean. And as they walked they noticed that all of them, all ten, were made well. Their disease was gone. Nine continued on the path to the temple, as directed, but one, a Samaritan, on realizing his return to health, turned around. Now, let’s remember that the Samaritan, even healed, would not have been considered clean by the priests and allowed in the temple anyway. He would always be unclean according to Israelite law, simply because of his ethnicity. This one recognized the radicalness of what Jesus had said to him, a Samaritan, go to the temple, for you are included in God’s mercy, love and grace. You are a witness to the source of all blessings.

With the realization of what Jesus had really offered him beyond physical healing, he laid himself out before Jesus, and said thank you. I imagine overwhelmed tears of joy streaming down his face. His healing, his inclusion, reoriented him and opened him up to truly see what God was doing in the world and he had to offer thanks and praise. Jesus responded by asking about the other nine and affirming that it was the outsider, the supposed enemy, who noticed God’s inclusion, grace and mercy through Jesus and was turned around by it. Jesus tells him to get up and that his faith-his connection to God’s vision of wholeness-has made him well. This man is saved, included in God’s work of wholeness for all creation, and is sent out by Jesus. What the other nine missed, Jesus is saying, is that their healing isn’t only about themselves and religious ritual. The one who returned, who showed gratitude, recognized that his being made well wasn’t only about himself, but what Jesus’ healing work in the world meant for all people.  “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”

So often we are like the other nine, doing what we think we should be doing, because it’s what the religious tradition says to do, and missing the bigger picture of what God is up to in the world. We miss the witness of God’s transforming and renewing work from unexpected people, the outsiders, the ones with whom we would rather not interact, let alone learn from, because we are focused on other things. Gratitude helps us to be focused on God and our neighbor and not ourselves. Gratitude propels us to ensure that others have what we have. Gratitude moves us to advocate for equality, gratitude opens us up to the outsider in our midst, such as the Samaritan, to see our own blind spots in our lives together as church. When ritual and tradition begin to calcify and exclude and space isn’t created for people who are different or new, we need to be turned around and renewed.

Gratitude reorients us to God’s true blessings, God’s work of building a beloved, inclusive community and God’s desire for us to go out into the world to be the witnesses to these truths. We are to live rooted in thanks and praise to reveal to all people God’s love and grace. Our 2 Timothy passage recalls these roots with the words “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead,” and continues a couple of verses later with “so that they (all people) may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” This echoes our Communion liturgy: When we hear the words “Do this in remembrance of me,” it’s not Jesus saying to intellectually recall him, but to “re-member,” to reconnect, return, to the truth that no matter what, we are in relationship with God and the people of God now and forever. And so we return over and over again, to the table, in this community, with saints past, present and future, we are healed, nourished, forgiven, and made whole. We are created for this relationship, we were created to live in gratitude- turned around, noticing and witnessing to God’s inclusive, abundant, transforming and renewing grace through Jesus Christ.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.”

 

 

 

Renewed by Faith Sermon on Luke 17: 5-10 Pentecost 17 Year C October 6, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Oct. 6, 2019 in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were:
Psalm 37:1-9
2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Luke 17: 5-10

 

Children’s sermon: Invite the children forward. Then invite an adult for each child to come forward as well. Ask the children: “Do you wonder what you will be like when you grow up? Yes, of course! Even as adults we wonder about our future! These adults here have a lot of experience in life. I’m going to ask them to take turns and share with you one thing that they want you to know about God in your life as you grow up and what they see in you that is special and will serve God when you’re older.” Ask the children “is that what you see for yourself? Yes? No? It’s so good to hear what other people see about us that is special! It can give us a bigger vision of ourselves and what we can do!  You do your normal every day stuff: eating food, going to school, soccer, ballet, piano, cleaning your room, coming to SS and church-kinda all ordinary not exciting things but those things are part of who you are and yet they are special too, because it’s how you serve and love Jesus.
The disciples were struggling with the feeling that they felt too ordinary for the work Jesus was asking them to do. The asked Jesus to give them more faith so that they can be amazing-but Jesus said, you don’t need more of anything- you have all that you need to do big things! Faith isn’t about size, or what we know, Jesus says faith is about God’s presence in your life, how God sees you, and God’s power. Jesus tells the disciples that with God’s power, maybe you can move a tree to be planted into the ocean! That might seem silly, but Jesus says, don’t limit yourself because you think that you’re a kid, or ordinary and plain-because God’s vision of what you can do with God is limitless and it renews us each day.  Dream big about what God can do in your life! Jesus understands that we can’t always dream big-sometimes our imaginations are tired. And so that is why we gather together-we pass on the faith-God’s vision of what God can do in our lives and in the world-to each other! And that doesn’t have to be fancy, just reading the bible, talking, praying, helping other people, those ordinary things, help us to keep dreaming big together-to see what God is doing in the world and how we can do those things with God. I want you on this paper to write/draw what you want to do with God this week to share God’s love. Put it on our cross at the back.  Let’s pray:

It’s easy to feel that we aren’t enough. It can seem in life that we are always waiting for when we have enough of something: whether it’s enough money to retire, or enough courage to make a career or life change, or enough time to go on that vacation, as human beings we seem wired to notice what we don’t have rather than taking stock of what we do have. For humans, everything can be a commodity, measured and weighed, right? And then when we see exactly how much we have of something, we can assess whether we need more or not. And the funny thing is, how many of us have over looked at our bank accounts, our calendars, our courage and said-“oh this much is perfect! It will do nicely.” I know that I never have. We tend to live in the perspective of scarcity. And when we measure ourselves against others or some unattainable standard, it exhausts us, discourages us, and we can feel worthless regardless of what we do really have.

Faith has become of victim of this kind of thinking in our 21st century lives. When I think about my faith, I immediately do an inventory of all the people whom I think have more faith than I do. And the list is long. But when I talk to those people, I discover that they don’t think they have any more faith than anyone else, and often they feel that they have less. And so, we all set about trying to figure out how to get more faith. We think that to increase faith, we have to do extraordinary things and be extraordinary people-you know be like Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, or St. Francis of Assisi. To have more faith, we must never doubt, never question, and lead an exemplary life. And in our American culture, we connect faith with receiving blessings, and we buy the lie that if we have enough faith, live faithful and faith-filled lives, that God will give us things-material things-as a sign of our faithfulness. This is called the prosperity gospel-that if you live faithfully, God will bless you with wealth. This is dangerous and false. Jesus never says this, in fact, Jesus says that we will suffer for the gospel-and Paul reiterates this in our 2 Timothy reading today. So what is faith? And how does it function in our lives?

The disciples were struggling with this too, it seems. In the verses before our gospel text started, Jesus had been teaching them to not be an obstacle for others, and forgiving someone over and over. All of this must have stressed them out because our passage opens with the disciples pleading to Jesus “increase our faith!” We can’t possibly do all those things! We’re too human, we lack so much! Give us more faith so that we have enough! Jesus’ response indicates that the disciples have not understood. Faith, Jesus says, is not a worldly good that you can have more or less of, you can’t get more, manufacture more, nor can you lose it. Faith isn’t up to you, it’s up to God. Faith is a gift from God freely given to you and to all. Faith is God’s vision of you, for you, your life and for the world. Faith is being connected to God’s presence and power in your everyday life, even if you can’t see, feel, or hear God. Faith also isn’t an inoculation against hardships. We will all encounter hard things of one kind or another, and faith reminds us of God’s presence in the midst of things we can’t understand, and vision beyond what we can see in the here and now. God’s gift of faith expands our imagination of what we, our ordinary selves, in our ordinary days can do with God. God’s gift of faith pulls us into community with God and others.

Jesus adds on to this explanation of faith that expands our vision, with the story of the master and the slaves. This story makes us uncomfortable, as slavery is a hard part of our country’s history and we know still goes on today with people who are caught in human trafficking. Jesus doesn’t shy away from this hard reality but names it and turns it on its head. The human master uses power over people for his/her own benefit, exerting their power for themselves and this is always harmful. Jesus moves us from seeing ourselves as the master to the slave as a reminder that Jesus came to serve, to be the master that uses power for other people, for healing and for us and we are to do the same. Faith from God is God sharing power, vision, and love with us. Faith is living your day to day life naming reality, even hard things, in the presence of God who proclaims you beloved and enough, and who has the power and love to transform all that we do into more than enough, expanding God’s kingdom in the world in ways that we can’t always imagine. Faith is sharing that transformation.

God gives us faith to see what others struggle to see: how the world in God’s vision can be and how we are enough to be a part of it. Each day God’s presence renews us and our faith to reveal God’s kingdom in everything we do. Things that we might think are ordinary or not worth much in worldly standards. But faith tells us we do have everything we need for ministry and mission each day here at Our Saviour’s. Can we see God’s vision for OSLC in the next ten years? What does it look like? We’re looking with God’s vision into the future and we see greater connections with our neighborhood through Scouting, a playground for all who come to our property for any reason, ensuring our building is usable for whatever ministry God invites us into in the future, engaging and meaningful worship that proclaims all people have worth, will feel safe with healthy boundaries,  will be affirmed in their gifts and faith will be passed from one to another. We can look with God’s vision where God is calling us to be people of reconciliation and healing for those who are on the margins of our society. We can look with faith for what new thing God is doing in our midst and step toward it.

Renewal is all around us-for God is already at work.  We are gifted by God with faith to be connected to God and God’s people. We live in the promise of all being beloved and having worth. We do only what we know we ought to do: use our ordinary actions as part of God’s extraordinary work in the world. We are indeed renewed by faith.  Thanks be to God.

Prayer Station: You can take a post it note and share how you can participate in God’s vision for OSLC in the coming year and place it on our cross on the back window.