A Lutheran Says What?

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

Breaking the Cycle Sermon on Isaiah 40 February 6, 2021

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Feb. 7, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 147: 1-11, 20c
Isaiah 40: 21-31
Mark 1: 29-39

If you are feeling weary, you’re not alone. Everyday brings a news article or story on how people throughout the world are living with a heightened sense of fear, anxiety and worry right now. Our brains and parasympathetic systems are constantly under the stress of keeping us safe without the usual breaks. Many mental health professionals are warning of the rise of people experiencing “burnout.” Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” in 1975[1] and offered three components: 1) emotional exhaustion-fatigue from caring about too much for too long or what we call compassion fatigue 2) depersonalization-the depletion of empathy, caring or compassion, 3) decreased sense of accomplishment or feeling that nothing you do matters. Burnout was a staple of our modern environment before the pandemic and now it’s rampant- 78% percent of Americans say that the pandemic has increased their stress levels, and 67% say that the stress has gotten worse as the pandemic wears on.[2] And many health and human professionals are suffering: nearly 30% of teachers are considering leaving the profession[3], 51% of doctors are reporting burnout and are considering leaving medicine[4] and in my own profession, clergy burnout is at the highest levels ever experienced. Before the pandemic over 50% of clergy quit after five years of ministry. The statistic now pushes that to 70% and trends are showing a mass exodus of clergy in the coming year after the stress of the pandemic[5]. Burnout is more than just needing a tropical vacation, although I vote we try that, or a nap, there’s no quick fix for it. Burnout is being stuck in a long-term stress cycle that you can’t complete. It’s a pattern of emotional and psychological abuse in many ways. Burnout can lead us to forget many things: our worth, our dignity, and our need for authentic connection. We not only lack energy, compassion and care for others, we lack those vital necessities for ourselves. We may blame ourselves and decide that we just need to exercise, eat, Netflix, nap, or vacation our way out of burnout. But in honesty, that usually leads to more burnout as it doesn’t heal the underlining trauma of continuing to operate under a framework that our worth is in what we produce and do for others. Burnout (and ironically recovering from burnout) has become a badge of honor in our society, as being a consumer and the flipside, being consumed is prized. But burnout isn’t God’s desire for us or creation. Rest shouldn’t be revolutionary, as God embedded rest, sabbath into the very framework of creation. God took time to just be God. The problem is that we twist the idea of sabbath and make it a “to-do” instead of a “to-be.”

While the word burnout is new, the experience is not. In 587 BCE when the Babylonian Empire ravaged Israel, destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, and hauled the prominent Israelites away to exile, the people of Israel were already tired. They had been dealing with the Assyrian assault for nearly 150 years at this point. They had been living in the chronic stress cycle of paying tributes they couldn’t afford, oppression of their identity, separation from family and community support, loss of autonomy, connection to the land, themselves and to God. They felt useless and that they had nothing left to give. So, by the time we get to around 520 BCE, approximately when our Isaiah text we read today was written, the people are beyond tired, they are burned out. Isaiah repeats in verse 29 what the Israelites have been lamenting: Why are you hiding God? Why do you ignore us? Don’t we matter? They have lost hope that anything other than suffering, tragedy, and separation was possible for them. They were stuck in a burnout cycle.
Isaiah seems to chide them with the questions of verses 21, 25, and 28: Have you forgotten everything? Have you forgotten who God is and was and will be? Do you really think that God has forgotten you? No. God is not human, and God doesn’t forget, God will never burnout on caring, loving and having compassion for you. God heard your cries from Egypt, God hears your cries now and remembers you. The trouble is, do you hear and remember God? God remembered your need for food, water and security in the desert and provided. God heard your pleas for king like other nations. God cried out to you through the prophets telling you that giving into the world’s worries for wealth, power and status will only lead to the cycle of worry about wealth, power and status. God warned you that putting your trust in these things and in yourself will lead to the cycle of death and destruction. God calls you to remember that cycle of work and rest is holy, and leads to the cycle of hope in the promises of God to provide, that you will have and will be enough.
We need to hear this again today, and if we’re honest, again and again, each day because we forget. We forget that the more we try to control our lives, to get back to normal, back to the cycle of doing, buying, and competing, the more we forget that it is God who offers us a cycle of life. God’s cycle of holy work and holy rest is a statement of holy resistance from what the world wants, it’s a statement of our identity as God’s own, and it’s a statement of trust. We trust that we don’t have to have to have all of the answers on our own, we trust that we don’t have to hoard resources, we trust in God’s creation there is always enough. We trust that when we are at our lowest, most weary, helpless and hopeless, God sees us, and Jesus offers his hand to raise us up from our fever-pitched cycles of overdoing and fitting in and says, “be raised up for true life where you are loved for who you are and who’s you are.” We are raised up with Jesus’ love to remember that it all rests on the cycles of God’s love and wholeness, and we rest and wait and hope in God’s promises that we are more than what we do, we are enough as we are. Our power is God’s power, our strength is God’s strength, not our own. I know that this is easier said than done, I know that I have a long way to go to break the cycles of self-doubt, of proving my worth and fitting in to the world’s definition of success and value. I know that to be refreshed and renewed, I need to trust in holy rest that God will be all of who God is, who is to love all of who I am. I know that I need to free you and all my neighbors from these worldly cycles so that together we wait, rest, hope and are renewed in God’s promises to break the cycle weariness for life where we are more than enough, just as we are where we are. Amen.


[1] Page xi Introducion, Burnout:The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Nagasoki, E. Nagagsoki, A. 2020 Ballatine Books

[2] Stress in America 2020 www.apa.org Emma Adam, PhD, Northwestern University; Earl Turner, PhD, Pepperdine University

[3] Singer, Natasha “Teaching in the Pandemic: “This Is Not Sustainable,” New York Times 12-3-2020

[4] Frellick, Marcia, www.medscape.com, 1-25-21

[5] Barna Group 2-3-2020

 

Seeing Changes Everything Sermon on Luke 13: 10-17 August 25, 2019

This sermon was preached on August 25, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

The texts were: Psalm 103: 1-8, Hebrews 12: 18-29 and Luke 13: 10-17

Children’s sermon: When I was in sixth grade, we had an assignment of writing the vocabulary words off the blackboard onto our paper and then looking them up. So, I did. The teacher then had us take turns reading the words and the definitions from our papers. When it was my turn, I dutifully read the word “crestfallen” and the definition. The teacher stopped me, looked confused for a minute and said, where did you get that word? It’s on the board I said. The teacher said, “is that what it looks like to you?” Turned out, the word I had written, was NOT the word on the board. I couldn’t really see the word on the board, so I had filled in with what I thought was correct. It was most decidedly not…I needed glasses! So, my parents got me glasses and then I could see! My glasses changed how I saw my world around me! I could see the correct words on the board! I discovered that there were trees far off in the distance that I didn’t know existed! So exciting! I was missing so much!  And once I could see life around me, I saw my entire world differently! I saw details people, more trees, dogs, etc. In our story today, Jesus is in the synagogue and sees a woman whom no one else sees, or if they see her, they pretend that she is not there. You see, her back has been bent for 18 years from age, or maybe a disease, we really don’t know, but in Jesus’ time, and even today sometimes, when someone looks different or acts different, people can be afraid of them. Kinda like they are afraid that they might catch having a bent back from her. Sounds a little silly, but we all do sometimes worry about things like that don’t we? If you were bent over what could you see? Yes, not everything around you!  But Jesus saw her, called her over to be in the middle of all the people! That would have made the people nervous! And he said to her, “you are set free from your ailment.” He touched her, which we call laying hands on her, and she stood up! She could see what was in front of her! She had only been able to look down for all those years! Can you imagine! And then with her new way of seeing the world around her, she praised God! The way she saw her life and her life with God and people was changed forever as was how people saw her! Jesus came to change the way we see the world, our lives, each other and God. Jesus shows us that we need to see the world how God sees the world and all people: as loved, important and so very special!  When we see the world how God sees the world, it changes us and other people. Let’s pray:

 

The woman had only been able to see her feet and perhaps just a bit in front of her feet for 18 years. In that time her children had grown, had children of their own, there were celebrations, sorrows, all kinds of firsts and lasts-many of which she missed from her stooped over vantage point that separated her from the life around her. She could twist her head and with great strain and pain see a little side to side, but it could never last very long and most often she saw only a glimpse of life around her that she had to decipher the snippets of view and what people told her. That is, when they talked to her or if they even saw her at all. Afraid of catching whatever evil had stooped her over and bound her to this life, the people in her community avoided this woman and she was essentially, invisible. Yet, she faithfully attended synagogue each week. Eagerly hearing the texts of the ancient scrolls, the stories of freedom, justice and grace. From the edges of the synagogue she would listen, sing the psalms, smell the candles, and dream about what God’s coming messiah might mean for her and change her life.

This Shabbat morning was no different, she carefully shuffled in, only seeing the dirt floor of the synagogue, and her own feet and she took her place on the edge where she wasn’t noticed and wouldn’t be in the way. Nothing new. But at this shabbat there was a teacher, a visiting rabbi, who seemed to have quite a following and seemed to cause quite a stir. His teaching was familiar and somehow very different. He read the same scrolls, but his interpretations were unique. She was pondering all of this while staring at her feet when she suddenly realized that he was addressing her. He saw her in the corner and called her to him in the middle of the synagogue. This can’t be. For so many reasons, this really can’t be happening in the middle of the very formal and predictable worship. Yet, she cautiously made her way to this rabbi, surrounded by all the attendees to the synagogue and his followers. Then he told her that she was freed from this spirit! What? He placed his hands gently on her back and told her to stand. How can this be? Again, without any rational reasoning, she did as he said, and stood! Suddenly she could see everything and everyone around her! Those dear ones who’s faces she had not gazed upon in 18 years, new face to meet, and the face of the one who now saw her face to face and told her that she was loosed from had kept her down. In the wake of this new perspective-she rejoiced! She sang, “O bless the Lord my soul! O praise God’s holy name!” Her response was unfiltered joy that would not be contained! Everything for her had changed!

The leader of the synagogue nervously looked out at the congregation and realized that the iterant street preacher and his followers where in attendance for Shabbat. He, himself, didn’t have a problem with this man, but he knew several who did. He had heard some of what this rabbi had been saying about God’s kingdom, and he didn’t disagree with all of it. But there was something that did make him a bit leery…Worship began without incident and the visitor began to teach. But then the street preacher called the woman who had a spirit into the middle of the synagogue. The leader felt his heart race as he looked around to see that all eyes were on this visiting rabbi. Then this man had the audacity to lay hands on the woman and heal her! On the Sabbath! In clear violation of the fourth commandment! As the leader of the community, he knew he had to offer the correct teaching as he saw fit. The people he was charged to teach and set an example for couldn’t view him as complicit in this man’s disregard for the laws. How could he see himself as a conduit for the word of God if he allowed this to go unchecked? It would change everything.

Jesus walked into the synagogue that morning and saw the people gathered there. He saw the tired parents wrangling toddlers, the awkward teens who didn’t want to be there, the widow, the young couple, the weary traveler, the single man, the hungry worker, the leader of the synagogue and the woman on the edge who was bent over. He saw them all and with the words from the Torah, began to tell them about God’s love for them. Jesus saw the people as made in God’s own image of goodness and promise. Jesus saw that they struggled with seeing each other as connected and seeing God’s abundance. They saw one another as competition for limited resources, including God’s love and grace. Jesus also saw that they were having a hard time believing that God’s unconditional, love, mercy and grace are indeed true and really for them. Jesus saw that the people needed to see that this was true. He saw the look of incredulity on the woman’s face who was bent over and knew that more than her just physical ailment was binding her up. Jesus called her over to him, brought her to the center so that all could see her, she was no longer invisible. He then laid hands on her and God’s healing power surged and then all who were gathered saw her stand up straight. Jesus saw the look of joy on the woman’s face. He saw the leader of the synagogue blinded by the law. He saw the people unsure of what to think amid the tension of what they had witnessed. They somehow understood that everything had just changed in that moment.

Jesus called them to see something new on this day of Sabbath. He called on them to see beyond how they have always done things, to see people who had been invisible because of disease, social status, abilities, gender, where they lived and whom they lived with. Jesus called on them to change their perspectives and to see the world how God sees the world: with love and compassion. Jesus saw the people in the synagogue and deeply loved them, all of them. Love that was strong enough to say what needed to be said, love that saw past rules that harmed some people while keeping others in power and privilege. Love not as a sentiment but as action and justice, love that changes everything.

The crowds saw, even if just briefly, a  glimpse God’s kingdom: people loosed from what keeps them apart from healing community, people offered not laws but relationships, people freed by God’s love and grace to be who God created them to be and to see each other face to face as God’s beloved creatures, people part of the new life in God, people who were changed. The crowds saw it and rejoiced at what Jesus was doing to heal, love and offer God’s vision of the world where all belong and are loved. Once you see the kingdom of God, it changes how you see everything and everyone. Thanks be to God.