A Lutheran Says What?

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

Never Afraid to Love Sermon for Frank Elwart July 21, 2021

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We celebrated the life and baptismal journey of Frank Joseph Elwart on Saturday, July 17, 2021
The texts were: Psalm 121, Romans 8: 31-35, 37-39, 1 John 4: 7-19

Frank Joseph Elwart was born on September 3, 1939 to Frank and Josephine Elwart in Chicago, IL, his kind of town. He was so proud of being from Chicago! He loved to tell stories of living in Chicago, and well if we’re honest, Frank just loved to tell stories! And he was a gifted story teller who told it like it was, he never sugar coated anything and yet always had you laughing. That is truly a talent. And you always knew where you stood with Frank. I loved that about him right away! Anyone who starts teasing me from the moment we meet, is my kind of person. Frank was a person who didn’t take himself too seriously, didn’t try to put on a façade, a person who embrace who he was and will fully embrace who you are, imperfections and all. One of Franks requests for his memorial service is that it told the truth of his life. He didn’t want anyone standing up and pontificating on how perfectly wonderful he was all the time. He had a word for that, and I won’t repeat it here, but come see me during the reception.
Frank understood that he wasn’t perfect, that you’re not perfect, and life isn’t perfect. Since he understood this, he didn’t try to push a square peg into a round hole and I think it’s what made him so joyful. He had let go of falsehoods of perfection that most of us, or me anyway, hold onto and make ourselves miserable trying to attain. He didn’t seem to harbor much fear about anything either. Even the morning before he died, he and I were sitting and chatting, he was jovial and yes, regaling me with stories. He knew his death was coming, maybe not how soon, but he wasn’t afraid. He wasn’t looking for a perfect ending, just an honest one. Frank was confident not in his own abilities, but in God’s. Frank knew that God’s perfect love was enough for him, it would be enough for Robin, Jeff, Kim and Anne, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren in their grief and it’s enough for us all.

A perfect life might be what we all dream about and strive to attain in some way. And we all have different visions and perspectives on what perfection might be like for us. But the writer of 1 John wants the people in the community to know what truly makes for a perfect life: living, abiding, in the love of God through Jesus Christ with each other. This love is the love that Frank lived his whole life, it’s love that sustains us and promises to never leave us. God understands that we do occasionally fear, and it’s ok to fear, and yet God says don’t allow fear to overcome love and hold you captive. Frank never let fear hold him captive; he always let love lead him. He might have been afraid a time or two, but he lived deeply in a love that cast his fear where it belonged, not in control. He trusted in God to watch his going out and coming in. Frank loved fully without fear, whether that was his family, his friends, his church, or his beloved sports teams.

Frank abided in this perfect love, love that now makes him perfectly whole in the life of God. Frank now claims his baptismal promise that God’s love grasps him now and forever and grasps each of us too, all the time. We abide in this love that Jesus perfected in being human, in suffering, and in death. Love that is honest about what matters, love that demands more from us, love that brings joy; love that we share with one another. Love that can’t be conquered by fear, death, division or the world. Love that always comes to us, again and again. This love never ends, and so our love for Frank and his love of us, never ends. This is the promise that each day we proclaim, not perfectly, but boldly. We love, because God first loved us. Amen.

 

Always A Part, Never Apart from God Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday May 30, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 30, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran SLC.

The texts for Holy Trinity Sunday Year B
John 3: 1-17
Romans 8: 12-17
Isaiah 6: 1-8

Letter writing is a lost art in the 21st century and I wonder if we fully grasp the deficit. Pen and paper letters offer a connection to someone in the present, the past and the future. I can recall, as can you I’m sure, stories of someone holding on to all the letters their child or beloved wrote to them while they were apart because of war, economic hardship or some other necessary reason. Or grandparents who saved letters and cards from their children and grandchildren only to be discovered after they’ve died. Actually, just last night (two full days after I wrote this sermon) the national news had such a story of a letter found in the wall of an old house from a soldier in WWII dated Dec. 31, 1943.  The current homeowners are attempting to find the family who had been living in the house then to give them with this precious piece of family connection. And recently, I was talking to someone who is remodeling a 100 year old house here in SLC and they found 60 year old invitation to meet the Dr. Jonas Salk, who invented the polio vaccine, hidden in a wall. Finding it made them feel a part of the former home owners lives. It made them feel apart of something beyond themselves even though they had never met and were separated by decades. Receiving a card or a letter can help us feel apart of someone’s life and that person feels a part of ours, even if we’re, well, apart. We all know what it is to be apart after these past few months don’t we? We’ve been apart from friends, family, routines. And yet, in some ways we’ve been made aware of the communities and relationships of which we are truly a part. We’ve discovered that we can be a part of our family’s celebrations via Zoom, or FaceTime. Texts, FB, emails, phone calls and yes, actual old-fashioned cards and letters helped us to be a part of one another’s lives even as we have been a part.

We long to be a part of a community, a group, a cause, a movement, and yet so often in our modern lives, we simply feel apart. Either we feel disconnected from community, family, satisfying vocation and even ourselves. We’re disconnected from creation as more and more we live in climate controlled environments, rely on corporations for food sources, and view creation as an object to be tamed rather than an entity to live with. We tend to be individualistic, that what we do or don’t do doesn’t affect the community or creation in which we live. Our choices and decisions are inconsequential and that we are apart from the challenges facing humanity and creation. The truth is that we aren’t ever apart from community or creation, even if we don’t recognize it.

This “apartness” has been a tension from the beginning of creation when God’s Spirit hovered over the waters. God separated the waters of the land and the air apart, but they were still connected, a part of a whole, functioning together for the completeness of the rest of creation to come. God created humanity to be a part of not only creation but God’s own very life, and yet, it wasn’t long before we were trying to be apart from that promise, thinking that we could be just fine apart from the wisdom and relationship of God. Humanity’s history is one of trying to be a part, separate and distinct from each other and yes, God, and the history of God with humanity is chasing us with the truth that we are never “apart” from the life, love and newness of God. God send humanity love letters in the form of angels who visited Abraham and Sarah with good news of a son, tough love letters from prophets like Isaiah, who tried to get the people to recall that they were apart from the will of God for human flourishing and justice, and of course the love letter in the Word made flesh in Jesus. Jesus who spoke words of inclusion, mercy and hope. Jesus who told Nicodemus that God is a part of the world, a part of Nicodemus’s own life, and he can never be apart from the love of God. Jesus on the cross was the ultimate love letter that all are gathered in Jesus’ outstretched arms, and that there is no where any of us can go to not be a part of what God is doing for life, hope, mercy and love for humanity and creation.

God proclaims that we are a part of the mission and work of God in and for the world and continues to send us love letters across time and space. Yes, we have the scriptures as God’s love story to us, we have Jesus as love made human and we have the Holy Spirit who sends us love letters today, through writings of creation and each other. Just as God can never be apart from Godself as creator/parent, child/redeemer, and presence/sustainer, we can never be apart from God. It’s simply not possible, even when we try, even when we resist, even if we don’t like it. We are a part of God and a part of each other. We can write love letters of connection to nature and delicate ecosystems through our actions and policies. We can write love letters of connection to our human siblings local and global through resisting being a part of systems that deny human rights, living wages, safe and affordable housing, clean water, and other supports. We write love letters to be a part of truth telling about harms being inflicted and on God’s desire for all people to be a part of God’s oneness and allness. We are a part of the kingdom of God. We are a part of the followers of Jesus. We are a part of the work of the Holy Spirit that sends us out to be a part of the healing of creation. We are always a part of God, and never apart from God. Thanks be to God.

 

We Already Know Sermon on Luke 16: 19-31 September 29, 2019

This sermon was preached on September 29, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

Texts: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6: 6-19
Luke 16: 19-31

Children’s sermon: gather the children up front. Start with the closing prayer! Dear Jesus, thank you for showing us God’s love and how to love others. May we notice those around us who need what we already have an abundance of your love and grace. Amen.
Then ask them, when do we normally do that prayer in children’s time? At the end! Yes, we always know that we are going to end with a prayer but today we started with the prayer because our bible stories are a little like this today. In reading the Luke story about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man already had everything he needed-food, housing, clothes, and Lazarus did not have those things. Now, I want to let you know that this story is NOT about what happens when we die, we don’t have to worry about that and Jesus promises that we will never be alone in this life or the next. There is a not a bad place that you need to worry about going to, that’s not what God wants. This story is about the last sentence we read, that we already know Jesus, we already listen to God telling us to love everyone and to make sure that everyone has what they need to be healthy, happy and safe. Just as you already know that we will always end children’s time with a prayer, we already know that God’s last word for all of us is love. And this last word of love means that we already know the whole story, that love and life never end! Just like a circle never ends, being in God’s love and life is like that too. We are all in this circle of love. So, since we don’t have to worry about that-we can stop focusing on ourselves and focus on people around us. We can see people like Lazarus who are sick, hungry and without a house. How do we help people like that here at OSLC? YES! We have Family Promise, we collect food to hand out, we will be collecting diapers, all kinds of ways! Ok, we’ve already prayed and I’m going to talk to the adults some more about this.

We all love a good story and want to know how it will end. Whether it’s movies or books, we can’t wait for the ending to see how it turns out. There is great satisfaction in knowing the whole story. We take this same tactic with our lives too it seems, we are always wondering how things will turn out-what will our whole story be? Will I get that promotion? Will we move into that bigger house? Can we go on that vacation? What will my children be when they grow up? What will we do in retirement? How will my health be as I age? We want to know everything, we want assurances, we want details and, of course, we want control.

This was what the rich man in our parable from Luke today was trying to do. He was trying to ensure that he had what he needed for the future so that he could control and predict the outcome of his life story. Jesus doesn’t say that he’s a bad person, Jesus doesn’t condemn him in anyway. Jesus merely points out that the rich man is so concerned with his own life that he doesn’t notice the lives around him, particularly the man right outside his own gate-Lazarus. While the rich man is dressed nicely, eats well and has safe housing in a gated community, Lazarus languishes nearby hoping for just a modicum of what the rich man has. And then both men die, death is the great equalizer it seems. Although Lazarus is carried away by angels and the rich man is buried. Now as I told the children, the point of this parable is certainly not to say that there is a heaven and a hell as places. Whenever Jesus in the gospels talks about Hades or in Matthew Ghenna-which is the garbage heap that gets burned outside the city, it’s all about being separated from God and community. Hell isn’t a place where bad people go when the die, hell is a place any of us can be in this life when we separate ourselves from God and God’s people. We create our own hell.

We read that there is a great chasm-that God didn’t create, the rich man did. The rich man is so oblivious, blinded by his wealth and excess, that he doesn’t know his own arrogance and entitlement. It never occurs to him that he could bridge or remove that chasm. But instead he barks orders at Father Abraham to have Lazarus do things for him. Even in death, the rich man thinks that he knows more and can control his own predicament and write his own ending. “Have Lazarus give me water, send him to warn my brothers.” The rich man seems to not know that his wealth and status are fleeting, aren’t his whole story, aren’t his to begin with and are a distractor for what is really important. Jesus doesn’t say that his wealth is the problem, it’s how he uses it, or in reality, how the wealth uses him. Money isn’t a problem, loving money, or loving anything more than God or people is a problem and is a root of evil. When we put anything before God and others, we do harm, we separate ourselves and think it’s only about us. We deny others their full story. Jesus came to show us how to reorder our loves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Just as God has loved us from the beginning, we are to love God and each other all the way to the end.

In response to the rich man’s request to send Lazarus to his brothers, Abraham admonishes him, they know this story, this truth. They have already heard it, over and over again, from Moses to Joshua, from Amos to Isaiah, God’s word of redemption, reconciliation and salvation-wholeness, have been spoken. They know this, but they won’t live it. Will hearing the story one more time from someone who has been resurrected from the dead matter? When they grasp the end, they will change how they live today.

We know the ending of the story, brothers and sisters. We have the witnesses of the resurrection to know that in the end, God’s end, is death is no more, love wins, the chasm is once and for all bridged and God’s kingdom of wholeness is here and is still to be revealed. And we know that God sent Jesus to remove any chasm, nor death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything can now separate us from God’s love and each other. This is not in dispute. This good news is freedom from worrying about ourselves, from our ends, we are free to be content with our here and now. As we read in 1 Timothy, we can take hold of eternal life and our life today-they are one in the same. There is a not a separation between today and eternal life with God. How we live today is as important as our eternal life with God. As followers of Jesus, this is our call, to live in such a way for all to see this eternal love right here and now.

We already know this unity of our lives today and eternal life opens us to see the plight of others around us, their need to be whole. Our present life entwined with the eternal life to come, bridges any chasms that we have created between others and ultimately God. We bridge chasms when we talk to people who are living on the street and holding up signs off of interstates. We bridge chasms when we elicit from our neighbor what they really need and don’t assume and speak for them. We bridge chasms when we recognize that we have enough-enough wealth, power and status-and we share the excess that we have so that all may be content. We bridge chasms when we recognize whatever wealth we have as a resource to be used in God’s kingdom and not as an entitlement or for power. We bridge chasms when we see what our neighborhood around us needs from us-how we can be together-whether it’s Scouting, diapers, food, hosting meetings, or places for children to play.

We already know the whole story, we have already heard the good news, and we have been richly blessed. We already have all that we need to bridge any chasms, to love our neighbor, and be generous, so that all may take hold of true life with God: life and love that we already know doesn’t end. Thanks be to God.

 

“Now What?” 1 Corinthians 15: 1-26, 51-57, May 4th, 2016 Narrative Lectionary May 7, 2016

We have a saying in our house that gets used in a multitude of different situations. We’ve been known to say it when we’re on vacation and are between exciting adventures. We’ve said it when we’re in the process of fixing something and it’s not going according to the YouTube video. We’ve said it when we don’t know what to do next with parenting, our vocations, or even health issues. Perhaps by now you have guessed our phrase: “Now What?” It does most often get said in a sense of irony or amusement but there are times when this question for us has been quite profound. It is always said in relationship to something not going quite according to our plan or when we know that we don’t have a good plan going forward. The astonishing thing that Mike and I have noticed every time we’ve asked this question is that the situations have (so far) worked out somehow. Not always how we envisioned it or wanted it to be, but always, always, even when the “now what” is answered with exactly what we don’t want, always answered with God preparing us for the next step, even though it might be a step into the unknown and unexpected. I highly doubt that our family has the corner market on this question either. I’m sure that if I polled this group of all ages, you have all asked yourself or someone else, “Now What?”

We like to know what’s coming next, what we should do, what choices should we make, what will the future hold, what certainty can we count on? Sometimes this question holds excitement and possibilities and sometimes it holds sorrow and fear. “Now what?” reveals for us the reality that we can’t see into the future with any real predictability or clarity and the best we’ve got is questions and some experience of the past. In some situations, that’s enough, but often we want more.

In this part of the letter to the people of Corinth, Paul addresses the “Now What?” that they are asking. We’ve heard the story Paul, now what? We know that Jesus is resurrected, now what? We know that we don’t understand it all, now what? It’s tricky, and Paul has already dealt with so many misconceptions and issues with this fledgling church. He’s told them that Jesus is found in the hard places of our lives, offered that the cross is God’s wisdom in a world that sees it as foolishness. Paul has told them that radical, counter cultural unity is at the heart of God’s community. Paul has told them that all are equal at the banquet that Jesus lays out, Paul has talked extensively about love, not love as the world gives but love that only Christ can give: love that is unconditional, unending and self-sacrificing. He’s laid out for them the story of what God has done, what God is doing and now he turns his attention to what God promises to continue to do in our lives and in creation forever.

You see, the Corinthians were confused. They had been told that Christ would return and they all assumed that it would be imminent…yet saints, apostles and other important leaders in this nascent movement were beginning to die. If these witnesses to Jesus’ ministry were dying before seeing Christ return, what did that mean for them, newbies to the community? What did it mean that they were struggling with getting along and understanding all that they had heard and seen? They didn’t have a long-term strategic plan for Jesus not returning immediately. This was not what they had envisioned. Now what?

It’s tricky for Paul, as he’s living in the “now what” too. Now what indeed? People are dying, we don’t know what’s next, what’s the plan? What’s God’s plan? When we don’t understand something we fill in the gaps ourselves. We make up a story that we can latch on to and we do grasp it with every fiber of our being, even if it’s not that helpful a story. The Corinthians were filling in the gaps of what happens when they die and this is still true today. Does our soul drift skyward like Casper the ghost? Do we become shapeless globs of spirit only? Do we become young and beautiful again? Do we stay in our graves yet able to know what’s going on around us? Are we more like zombies? If we’re cremated can we be resurrected? When does this resurrection thing happen? Immediately? What we refer to as the “last day”? There are as many ideas about the afterlife as there are people sitting in this room, I suspect. We wonder about this, if we’re honest, we worry about this. We’re scared of death. We’re scared to death about death.  We get so preoccupied with what happens when we die, that we, like the Corinthians, forget to live.

Paul is clear that we are baptized in the DEATH and RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ. Both! Yes, we will share in a death like his, but we also share in a resurrection like his! God will do a new thing with us too! Paul doesn’t give us a step by step instruction manual on how this resurrection thing works, because that’s not what’s important. What’s important and his response to the “now what” is God’s promise to transform our death into life, God’s promise that in our grave, we are not alone, in pain or in sorrow. Paul in 1 Corinthians as in Romans 8 tells us that God promises that there is nothing that separates us from the life and love of God through Jesus Christ.

This is not just the “now what” response about what happens when we die, though. It’s the response on our lives as well! If the promise is that God doesn’t let death be the final answer to our lives, then God can transform and bring new life from any circumstance no matter how impossible it seems, then isn’t this good news for today. This free us to be bold with how we live our lives in this good news that transformation of any situation in our lives and the world is all in God’s power. How will you live your life knowing that God frees you from not just physical and earthly death, but death from our sins, death from our egos, death from our selfishness, death from our personal agendas, death from disunity, death from loneliness, death from whatever is keeping you from being all who God created you to be for the sake of telling the world about Jesus Christ? How will we engage our neighbor differently? Now what?

“Now what,” is that we are truly freed to be one people, gathered in this promise of new life, not just someday by and by but right here, right now. Freed to live your life for the gospel. Freed to risk inviting those who make us uncomfortable to worship, freed to risk being generous with our time, our gifts and our material resources, and freed to risk reckless and boundary crossing love for those who our society deems unlovable. “Now what,” is that no matter what you are caught in the promises of God that were splashed on you at baptism, that you ingest at the table, and that you live out each and every day in simple or more complex ways. “Now what,” is that God says no matter what happens to you today or tomorrow, God’s got you. God will be there. God will transform sorrow into joy, pain into wholeness and death into life-real life now and forever. Amen.