A Lutheran Says What?

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

Pay Attention! Sermon on John 1: 29-42 Year A January 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on Jan. 19, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9
John 1: 29-42

 

Children’s sermon: Have a tray (or a cookie sheet) of objects (have them be varied and as many as you can fit on the tray). Have the tray of objects covered by a sheet. Gather the children forward and say: “I have some fun objects covered up on this tray. I’m going to remove the cover for 30 seconds and I want you to see how many you can remember when I put the cover back on. Ok Go!” remove the sheet count to 30 in your head and then recover the tray. “Ok what was on the tray!” You can write them on a large sheet of paper if that helps or simply have a list of what is on the tray beside you that only you can see and check off as they name the objects. More than likely, they will not name all the objects and more than likely if they do, it will be a team effort. “Ok, I’m going to remove the cover again for 15 seconds and see how many more you can see.” Repeat the exercise. Now they might have all the objects. (Even if they got them all the first time, ask if they are sure and repeat the exercise.) You got them all! Great job seeing all of the things on this tray! You really paid attention and what you didn’t see the first time, you might have seen the second time, particularly if a friend had seen it and pointed it out to you. We don’t always notice everything around us all the time-it’s hard to pay attention to details or sometimes we don’t pay attention to the things we should-and family and friends and our church help us to do that! Our bible story today is all about paying attention. John tells his disciples to pay attention to Jesus, and points to Jesus a couple of times in our story-in case his own disciples missed Jesus the first time. And Jesus pays attention to the disciples and tell them to come and see what he is doing. They may not get it the first time, the second, third or fourth, but Jesus knows that they need to keep looking and that in a group of friends, each person will help the other see Jesus and not miss something-like we helped each other to see all the objects on the tray. Seeing Jesus can be hard for us as it’s not like in the bible story with Jesus right in front of them. So where do we see Jesus today? I want you to go and ask someone in the congregation-right now-where they see Jesus in the world and then you tell them where you see Jesus. We need each other to see Jesus and to pay attention to what God is up to! Jesus calls us to be together to point to God’s work in the world. Let’s pray:

It’s amazing what we can miss when we’re not paying attention. Paying attention is being aware of our environment, what’s around us, or who’s around us. How many of you have ever been driving somewhere familiar, from home to work, or work to home, grocery store, etc. and arrive at your destination with no real recollection of how you got there? Maybe you were lost in your own thoughts, or a good song on the radio. For me this week it was U2’s “I still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” I think it should have been our hymn of the day! Or perhaps you notice something new on your daily route and wonder to a friend “has that always been there?” and the answer is yes! I noticed that after I had lived in Denver for awhile and had my routines, how little I paid attention to anything outside my routine. Someone newer to town would ask me “do you know where such and such is?” and I would have to stop and think or look it up as I had never paid attention before.

We get comfortable in our routines, what we see, hear, think, and do and we don’t notice what’s really going on around us, until someone points it out or something happens that awakens us to perhaps to what has always been there but we’ve never seen. Often, seeing something new in our environment can be good and helpful-such as discovering that someone on your street has similar interests, or there is a convenience nearby that you need, such as when Mike and I just discovered a movie theater four minutes from our house. Sometimes, seeing something new or for the first time can be difficult as it might reveal something that needs work and our full attention-such as the first time I experienced the inversion here in Salt Lake in December. My reaction was that this needs to get fixed immediately! This needs our full attention!

To pay attention is to notice the complexity and intersections of life together. What and who we pay attention to matters. We can seemingly sleepwalk through our days and not notice what God is doing in our midst. Our default is to pay attention to ourselves, what matters for us today or this minute and not notice that there is more to see. John the baptizer wanted his disciples and others to pay attention to the light that had come into the world, not to himself or his own ministry. Repeatedly in our text he points to Jesus and says “look! See! Behold!” to anyone who will listen. John pointed Jesus out every chance he got. John isn’t worried about being in competition with Jesus for followers, John is concerned that people pay attention to Jesus and see him for who he is. John knows that this is the one for whom the whole world has waited. This is the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the one who will take away the sin of the world! Jesus is the one who will shake us awake from complacency and self-interest and show us what really matters. But it might be challenging and uncomfortable when we see it.

Jesus asks two of John’s disciples a pointed question “What are you looking for?” and the disciples deflect it with a question in return “where are you staying?” Jesus simply responds “come and see” and they follow Jesus. The disciples of John knew that they were looking for something, someone who would change everything. They knew that they wanted to see a revolution, they wanted to see the nation of Israel given it’s due, they wanted to see freedom. They thought that they would know it certainly when they saw it. Jesus’ invites them to come and experience first-hand, to see what God is doing in the world and that God, in Jesus, sees them as well. God has come looking for us.

God sends Jesus to look for us, see us and invite us to see the world with the eyes of God. To pay attention to what is happening in the world that brings harm, injustice and death to our neighbor. To be witnesses and pay attention to God’s vision of wholeness and freedom for all people and nations. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow and King was a man who saw the world through the eyes of Jesus and paid attention to what was broken and where God’s healing was taking place. In his “I have a dream” sermon, King invited us to come and see Jesus through a nation and a people who can stand hand in hand, break bread together, who know that our futures are bound up in one another and so we must see each other as created in God’s very own image. King invited us to pay attention to Jesus who liberates us from the tyranny of fear, hate, scarcity, selfishness and ego. King pointed us to Jesus and called us as a nation to pay attention that when any of us are harmed, we are all harmed. But seeing the truth is hard and requires us to be willing to keep paying attention, even when it breaks our hearts. Paying attention means staying in the difficult conversation and the hard work when others shut their eyes and walk away. We have a perception that seeing Jesus will make us feel good, warm, and comfortable but when we see Jesus, and realize that Jesus sees us, with all our brokenness, imperfections and doubt we are made uncomfortable. Being seen by Jesus reveals our need for grace, mercy and presence of God in our lives and reveals the work that we are to be a part of for the sake of bringing this same transformation throughout the world.

When we see Jesus and know that Jesus sees us, we then see those whom the rest of the world doesn’t. We see the destructiveness of ignoring white supremacy for our siblings who are black, we see the pain of erasure in our siblings who are LBGTQIA, we see the unraveling of truth in our institutions as a means to personal gains, we see those who are in systemic poverty and lack stable housing, and we don’t just see it to see it, we see it to name it, and then at the invitation of Jesus, to join in the work for all people to be truly seen as beloved, valuable and wanted.

Jesus looks for us, wants to see us fully for who we are and calls us to be renewed and transformed by his gaze. Simon was not only given a new name, Cephas, Peter, but Jesus also gave Peter a new life. Peter will try and shut his eyes and walk away, but Jesus will continue to gaze on him from the cross and then from the empty tomb and call him to see God’s people and care for them. We, too, might try and shut our eyes and walk away when what we see is too much, too painful and too hard, but Jesus looks at us, with love, compassion and mercy. Jesus looks for us to give us new life and new hope and calls us to “come and see,” pay attention, for God’s love sees you today and always. Amen.

 

Ordinary Gifts, God’s Extraordinary Love or How I got in trouble at PrideFest June 22, 2018

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO. You can view the sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts for the day were Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Mark 4: 26-34.

Yesterday, I volunteered a shift at the Episcopal and Lutheran Reconciling Ministries booth at Pridefest. We handed out “Love your neighbor” stickers, rainbow bracelets, rainbow heart temporary tattoos, and those little “Dum-dum” suckers with a note attached saying “God knows that UR fabulous.” Nothing overly exciting but it sparked conversations with people. I had on my clergy shirt and stole, so I was asked lots of questions and being fairly extroverted, I also talked to a lot of people. Ask me later how I got in trouble with the Pridefest security for being too extroverted. I wasn’t supposed to wander from our booth and I was blocking the foot traffic by the people stopping to talk to me. “Hmmm Reverend, we really need you to stay by your booth, we can’t have you in the middle…” Mostly, people wanted to say thank you for being out there and being Church who loved no matter what. Most said it with tears in their eyes. All we did was show up with some cheap swag, talk to people and offer lists of congregations who are officially Reconciling in Christ, to refer them for safe and welcoming places to worship. Yet, time after time, we were told thank you, we were told sacred stories of harm, powerlessness and dismissal, from both Church and society, and how simply our presence in the love of Jesus was healing.

Small actions that matter and make a difference. But I have to admit, I tend to equate my actions to my worth. I believe society’s message of: “What we do, is the same as who we are.” By extrapolation, the more grandiose, the more public, the more popular, greater our status, our actions or our jobs, then the more important, significant, and powerful we are. This is what we tell ourselves, this is what we see in the media. We all think that we need to be somebody, somebody important. And not just somebody, we have to be THE body, the person who is the most significant, the most important, the most powerful-or we don’t matter at all. All or nothing.

The kingdom of God, Jesus says is as if some farmer without a name scatters the seeds and then simply does nothing but goes to sleep and get up the next morning like the other 7 billion people on the planet. Or the kingdom of God is like a tiny seed that grows into a bushy weed that spreads everywhere and isn’t good for much, other than some birds might use it for shelter. Interestingly, there is no one or nothing of any power, significance or importance in these parables. No kings, no Harvard educated economist, no super farmer who can grow any kind of seed overnight into a crop that will feed every hungry person on the planet. No pine beetle resistant tree, no giant redwood, or sequoia tree that could give shelter to hundreds of birds. Nope. Just ordinary, everyday people and plants, small shrubs, and no named farmers. Yet, Jesus says the kingdom of God is found here. In the ordinary, in the mundane, insignificant, those without power by worldly standards.

Jesus doesn’t want us to miss that power isn’t the goal. Being noticed, being the best, the tallest, the richest, the biggest isn’t necessarily where God is at work, Jesus says. Look for the small, the everyday, the ordinary. Look where the world won’t look. Look on Colfax Ave. Look at the volunteer hospital receptionist. Look at the sanitation workers. Look at the public school teachers. Look at the people helping those seeking asylum from unsafe countries. Look at who or what almost seems invisible, insignificant, powerless.

We have an epidemic for the need of power and significance in our culture and it’s literally killing us. We are told, and we believe that we must exude power, importance, and control, to be loved, have worth and significance. And when we don’t believe that we measure up, it’s devastating for us. What if we were to realize our significance in being ordinary and yet deeply loved? How would that change how we see ourselves and others? Martin Luther King Jr once said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” We won’t all do great things, but we can do small things with great love. The love of God that permeates our ordinariness with God’s greatness. We simply live our lives, doing what we do, not worrying about being the best, God doesn’t necessarily need what the world considers greatness or the best of the best. God needs our courage to be faithful in whatever it is that we do. God worked in a small shepherd boy to take down a giant and become king; God worked in man with a speech impediment to free the Israelites from Egypt; and God worked through a teenage girl to bear the Messiah to gather all of humanity back to God. Ordinary people, God’s extraordinary work.

Simple acts of caring, such as giving respect to all people, giving a smile, a word of encouragement or kindness, advocating for the voiceless in our world, is God’s love at work through us. Living with honesty and integrity so that people know our hearts and not just our ambitions is God’s love at work through us. God works through even our smallest, most ordinary gift to show God’s great love.

This week at VBS we talked about God Sightings with the children and youth. We asked them each day where they saw God at work. We wrote them on these sand dollars, small little sea creatures that have great beauty to remind us that small things are very important. Here are some of their answers: Kids saw God when someone refilled their water bottle for them, when they helped to pick up trash, when they were playing football with their papa, at bible story, at snack, at crafts, singing, playing together at games, when they were hugged by their mom, in prayer, in the trees, and yes, in silence.

Not THE best snack, or the most fun game, nope just everyday activities infused with the activity of God.

I’ve asked two of our youth Abby Mortinsen and Jeremiah Brayton to share with you where they saw God this week:

 

I’m going to ask the children to come forward and share where you saw God this week? How can you share God’s love? Who has shared God’s love with you? Today we celebrate the men in our lives who do ordinary things for us everyday that show us God’s love. They might teach SS, VBS, read to you, make you food when your hungry, give you hugs, play games with you, all kinds of things! We have a cross pin to give them today to remind them that they do all of these ordinary things with the great love of Jesus in their hearts.

But first lets pray: