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.

 

New Perspectives Sermon on John 20: 19-31 Easter 2 May 14, 2019

This sermon was preached on my first Sunday at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

Children’s sermon: Gather the children and introduce myself! Talk a bit about how I’m new to Our Saviour’s, to Utah, to so much right now! I’m seeing all kinds of new things! And I’m so glad to see you! What special day was last Sunday? Easter! Yes! What do we celebrate on Easter? Yes, that God raised Jesus from the dead, the tomb was empty and because Jesus has new life, so do we! We have different ways of thinking about that, different symbols, and one we often use is a butterfly. Do butterflies start out as butterflies? No, what is the butterfly life cycle? Yes, first a caterpillar, then it spins a chrysalis or a cocoon and what happens in the chrysalis? The caterpillar becomes the butterfly! It changes! Then the butterfly emerges and is very different than before. Not just in looks but in what it can see. Where are caterpillars mostly found? On the ground or maybe in a tree but not too high up, so they can only see a little bit around them. Where do butterflies go? Everywhere and up high! Do you think they see the world differently than a caterpillar? Probably! Do you think that is weird for the butterfly until it gets used to the new perspective? Yes! It takes time to sort new things out and to realize that life is different as a butterfly. Our bible story talks about this today. The disciples are locked in a room after Jesus has died and been raised because they were afraid and confused about what would happen next. They don’t know what to do with this new information that Jesus is alive! They know that it’s important but what should they do now? Then Jesus comes to them and says “peace be with you” which reminds them that God is always with them. Jesus knows that they are confused and so helps them sort out their new perspective. Jesus says now that the new life is right here, right now, for them and Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. The very breath of God will be with them and will send them out to tell the whole world about this good news that God says that nothing-not the things you do or don’t do, not your words, not even death-keeps you from God’s love and care! Seeing Jesus gave the disciples a new perspective on Jesus’ death and resurrection! Now Thomas wasn’t with them and didn’t get to see Jesus, and really wanted this same new perspective! Thomas sometimes gets called doubting Thomas but that’s not really fair-Thomas doesn’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus, Thomas wants to be a part of this new mission of Jesus ! And Jesus does come, Thomas sees him and knows that Jesus is Lord, and God forever! Thomas now has the new perspective of Jesus’ mission for himself and for us all! Thomas’ new perspective led him to share Jesus’ love all over the world!

Like these butterflies, as people who love and follow Jesus, we now have a different way of seeing the world. We see the world as a place to spread God’s love and joy everywhere we go, like the butterfly spreads joy wherever it goes. How can you spread God’s love and joy? Yes! So many ways and you have so many gifts to share! You can each choose a butterfly to remind you that as God’s people we see the world as a place to share love and joy-like the disciples did! Let’s pray:

New perspectives! Mike and I can identify with that over the past two weeks! It seems that one night we went to sleep in CO and then woke up the next day in Utah! While it’s only about 500 miles from Denver, it’s a whole new way of living. We have a new perspective on the Rocky Mountains seeing them on the east rather than the west-that’s going to be directionally problematic for a while…lower elevation means different plants and trees, a different home in a new community, new neighbors, and even mundane things such as a new garbage pick-up day. New perspectives are exciting and as human beings we often seek them out, and at the same time we are overwhelmed by newness. Newness always comes with some risks. It’s a push/pull relationship for most of us with new ways of seeing our lives in a new context.

Our text today struck me as highlighting new perspectives. Yet, this gospel lesson today is often called the Doubting Thomas text and that has never really sat well with me. Whenever a text has a scapegoat, I start looking for why. Why are the couple of verses where all Thomas wants is what the other disciples and Mary Magdalene already have, singled out as a problem? As I mentioned, Thomas isn’t doubting the resurrection-he’s asking to have the same altered perspective as the others. He wants to experience the risen Christ, to be infused with the Holy Spirit which affirms his relationship with Jesus, and to be sent out with this good news of Jesus’ resurrection that most definitely changes everything. After the trauma of the cross, hiding from the authorities, the fear of what would happen next, then the message from Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple of the empty tomb, Thomas is fervently praying/hoping for something new to happen! Anything else has got to be better than the past few days! Even if the newness is risky!

And Jesus comes to Thomas. Jesus once again slips into the locked room and doesn’t chastise Thomas but offers him what he needs, a new perspective-touch my wounds, believe that this new life is also for you, Thomas. Jesus offers him reassurance of their unending relationship. We don’t really know if Thomas touches Jesus, the text never says that he does, but what we get from Thomas’ lips is a new proclamation of truth, of hope, of grace and of mercy for all the world and a new perspective on Jesus: My Lord and My God. The gospel summed up in four words. Our Lord- the one who was risked being truly human and in solidarity with us in our pain, suffering, sorrows, joys and celebrations. And our God, the divine, the one who redeems, gathers us in God’s mercy, love and care. God the one who gives us the Holy Spirit to reorient our perspective again and again to our baptismal identity as God’s beloved and as co-creators in God’s kingdom to reconcile the world into God’s promises. This proclamation is the statement of new life with Jesus not only for Thomas, but for us all.

And so on this second Sunday of Easter, we at Our Saviour’s have a new perspective. It is the end of the transition process for OSLC and today we begin ministry together for the sake of the community around us. It will bring new perspectives for us all as we will see the world differently going forward. We will fully live into the newness of the Easter truth: perhaps like the disciples, not fully understanding what that means or what God has in store, but also trusting in the promises of Jesus to fill us with the very breath of God that sends us to unexpected people and places with forgiveness, grace, mercy and unconditional love which are to what the mission, vision and core values of this community call us.

This new perspective is everything-it’s about how we will live together, witnessing, to the experience of Christ in our lives not for our own sake but so that as the writer of John states in verse 31: So that others will come to believe and have life in Jesus. Resurrection life that is right here, right now, not just someday when we physically die, resurrection life that will shift perspectives, resurrection life that calls God’s beloved to feed the hungry, house the unhoused, visit the imprisoned, care for the suffering, clothe the naked and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and God. Resurrection life that spreads the love and joy of God wherever we go. Resurrection life where Jesus reminds the disciples and us that we have the power to offer forgiveness and to receive it. Resurrection life has power to restore relationships and communities.

Resurrection life and new perspectives will also come with risk, it’s not safe or tranquil. As the disciples experienced over and over as heralded in the book of Acts, this message of unconditional love demands radical justice that pushes human systems and shatters cycles of status quo, violence, religious intolerance, exclusion and discrimination of any type.

Living as resurrection people call us to stand with those harmed by these systems and to give witness to the damage done. We pray for our Jewish siblings today at Congregation Chabad in CA as they lament the evil that entered their sanctuary and we join our voices and spirits to all who mourn this day. With the people of God throughout the millennia, we live into this resurrection life with all its messiness, confusion, challenge, beauty, inspiration, wholeness, and value. This is why God creates community in resurrection life, where we encourage one another, guide one another, forgive one another and love one another. We call one another back to this new perspective, remind one another to look for resurrection, as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed, to seek out where God is cultivating new life through Christ all around us, to witness to it and proclaim with our entire lives “My Lord and my God.” It’s a new beginning. Jesus promises to come to us with peace, forgiveness and mercy and to be with us in this abundant life-giving mission. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Why Am I Here? Acts 10 April 20th, 2016 April 24, 2016

“Why am I here?” Have you ever asked yourself that question? I know that I have in many different situations. Maybe you’ve asked it at the funeral of a loved one. Or asked yourself that question in meetings where it doesn’t seem to matter what you do or say. I’ve asked myself that question more times than I can count about parenting teenagers. I’ve asked myself that question when following Jesus seems to have put me in tricky or risky situation with people whom I’ve been acculturated to be wary of, or when I’m sleeping on the floor in a run-down apartment with 10 other youth as we serve in Chicago.

This question can also be asked existentially can’t it? What is my purpose? What difference do I make on a planet with 8 billion people? Who will notice if I’m not around? Why am I here? For those of you who are younger and in your teens, you might ask yourself this often. If you think when you graduate from college, or turn 21 or 30 that you will have the answer to this, allow me to burst your bubble. I’m 43 and I still wonder about my purpose, my role, what I bring to others and if I matter. This is the crux of our human experience I think. It’s part of our journey and while it can be painful and hard work, these questions are actually necessary, healthy and what keep us open to growth, learning and transformation. If we quit asking questions and wondering, we stagnate and run the risk of becoming closed to others around us and what God might be up to in our lives and in the lives of other people.

Peter was wrestling with this question of “why am I here” in our Acts 10 story. Previous in his stay in Joppa, he had brought Tabitha back to life and had proclaimed the good news of new life in Jesus to all who had witnessed the event. We read that Peter then stayed with Simon the tanner, in Acts 9: 43. The tanning of hides was not something that orthodox Jews would do, so it’s safe to assume that this Simon was probably a Gentile. For Peter to have even entered the house of a Gentile would have been considered taboo, and Peter, himself, would be considered unclean. Yet, this is where Peter found himself.

Why was Peter in an unclean house? Why was he there? He went to the roof to pray while he awaited his lunch. My guess is that he had some anxiety about what would be served in this unclean house. He might have been plotting how to refuse the unclean food despite his hunger. I can sympathize with this having food allergies. You want to be a gracious guest, yet you know odds are you will have to inspect and ask for a direct accounting of where the food came from. Those kinds of barriers are exhausting. Peter might have also assumed that this was his opportunity to explain to Simon the tanner and his household all of the dietary laws necessary to be a devout Jewish follower of Jesus. Remember, they were not Christians in the way that we consider Christianity. This was a Jewish movement at this point. They were still wrestling with purity laws, food laws, temple laws and the list goes on. Despite Jesus over and over again breaking boundaries and including the ritually unclean, the forgotten and the outcast, the apostles couldn’t quite overcome their Jewish worldview since birth of who’s in and who’s out. The culture and the viewpoints ingrained in us from the moment we draw breath are often difficult to reshape, reform and reimagine.

But here Peter was, on the roof with all of his questions, when God shows up and says the unimaginable to Peter: don’t worry about all of those laws-they aren’t what matter to me. There is no such thing as in or out Peter. All are in. In a very brave, daring and typical Peter response, Peter tells God no! No, I will not cross that boundary. Peter decides that God has gone a little crazy and so refuses to believe what God is saying to him. I mean, we’ve never told God no right? Oh Peter…

Peter has little time to stay in his confusion however, as Cornelius’ men arrive and share with Peter all that Cornelius had experienced. I’m always curious why Peter went so willingly to a Centurions house as it could have easily have been a trap. But something niggled in Peter and even while he asked himself, “Why am I going there?” he put one foot in front of the other in faith-not faith in himself and his own abilities but in what God was doing in an unexpected place, in an unexpected person. God was pulling Peter out of his worldview, his culture and into God’s view of creation and humanity. God was revealing to Peter that human culture is also part of God’s plan and there is not one cultural view point that is right or wrong, in or out. But God works in every culture, just not always in congruence with Peter’s own experiences.

Verses 34-35 are telling. Peter suddenly gets a glimpse of why he might be there in the presence of Gentiles, in the presence of a representative of the Roman Army. Perhaps he’s there because God already was there! God was already present with Cornelius, we read from the beginning of our story that he was a devout believer. God was already at work outside of the Jewish purity laws. God was already transforming hearts and minds in the name of unconditional and unending love and grace. Perhaps Peter was there for his own transformation, his own conversion to what God was doing outside of what Peter knew. Peter suddenly had an inside peek behind the curtain at God’s expansive vision for all of creation-every nation, every person, every time and every place. God was tearing down barriers and crossing boundaries.

Why am I here? Or why are we here? Are we here to show others the error of their ways and teach them the proper way to follow Christ? Are we here to lead others to Jesus in such a way that we understand and make sense to us? Can we see God already at work in places that make us uncomfortable or we don’t agree with? Like Peter, we are called to proclaim that God shows no partiality and it’s up to God to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not, not us. Perhaps this is the hardest part of following Jesus. It means asking the hard question of “why am I here?” and being willing like Peter to be open to the possibility that we are in a risky, transformative place in order for God to show us something new and to work something new in us.

Maybe we’re called to new patterns of worship, maybe we’re called to new patterns of language, maybe we’re called to new ways of thinking about being Church, maybe we’re called to be Church with those whom make us uncomfortable. Maybe we’re called to cross boundaries and be curious about what God is doing and why we are here. God reveals that God is present in our lives and in the lives of other people around us. God promises to stay with us as we wrestle with why we are here and why we matter. God promises that we DO matter and that we are here not only to offer God’s unconditional love but to receive God’s unconditional love, to be guests of this love-even when we are puzzled. God promises to keep transforming us, calling us and gathering us so that we aren’t a homogeneous, generic, boring group of people, but people created in the image of God to revel in our diversity, celebrate our varied gifts and to live joyfully in our rich cultural differences. We are here, all together because God’s love, mercy, grace and hope through Jesus Christ matters and needs to be heard and experienced by all people, even us. Thanks be to God.