A Lutheran Says What?

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

Being Surrounded: A sermon for Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, NM December 13, 2020

I had the honor to preach for Peace Lutherand in Las Cruces NM for their midweek Advent 3 worship on Dec. 18, 2020. The text was Psalm 125.

Grace and peace to you beloveds at Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces! I am privileged and honored to share a word of God with you this third week of Advent. I serve Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Salt Lake City, Utah and my congregation sends their love and greetings to you. You might know, if you’re a geology buff, that Salt Lake City sits in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges on both sides. To the west, we have the Oquirrh’s and to the east, the Wasatch. No matter where you look, you can see mountains. It protects SLC and the valley from extreme weather for the most part but also makes it difficult for polluted air to be moved out. Being surrounded by mountains is sometimes helpful and sometimes a challenge. What we are surrounded by matters.

Being surrounded resonates with me in this time. Right now, we are surrounded by circumstances beyond our control: political divisions and conflicts in our society, the sin and injustice of racism and white supremacy, and of course from the reality of the COVID19 virus. A few months ago, I didn’t really know anyone who was affected by it, and now, I’m surrounded by people who have dealt with the disease in one aspect or another. I feel surrounded by the economic, health and death realities of a pandemic. I feel surrounded, as everywhere I look, I see the trials and challenges of our world. I crave to surround myself in what I think is safety and security.

So, I attempt to surround myself with what I think will bring protection and peace: people, environments and material objects. I surround myself with people who affirm my thinking and beliefs, I surround myself in a neighborhood where I’m comfortable, I surround myself with plenty of food, with Amazon deliveries, and with Netflix shows. I surround myself so that the realities of the world can be pushed aside, ignored, put on a shelf, and not be in my line of sight to bother me. But when I surround myself with distractions and false security, I can look past who and what I am actually surrounded by.

The psalmist who prayed Psalm 125, knew what it was to be surrounded. Ancient Jerusalem was nearly always under siege somehow and while yes, it was surrounded by mountains, the inhabitants couldn’t let their guard down and those mountains weren’t a guarantee or foolproof protection. They had to be vigilant as to who might be surrounding them at any given time. This led to living with heightened anxiety and the knowledge that their land was always at risk of being occupied by an invader. The Israelites lived most of their day to day lives surrounded by people who didn’t share their faith and belief in the one God, Yahweh, and they would have been tempted to act and take on the behaviors of the people who surrounded them.

But the psalmist offers another way to think of being surrounded. Yes, they are surrounded by circumstances beyond their control that might seem hopeless, but they are also surrounded by the love and mercy of God. The Lord surrounds them with the truth of being God’s people, that even when life looks bleak, God is at work. God has acted for them in the past and they must trust that God will act again. Being surrounded by loss, suffering and death won’t be the last word.
In Advent, we center ourselves on this truth-that we are indeed surrounded, by God’s promise of surrounding us with the love, mercy and grace as made real in the birth of Jesus. Jesus who entered the world surrounded by smelly animals and shepherds, surrounded by powers and principalities who wanted him dead from the time he was born, surrounded by the songs of angels, and surrounded by the love and care of Mary and Joseph. Jesus came into the world to surround us with the truth of God’s unending and unconditional love for humanity and all creation.
So we surround ourselves in this reality, we trust that when we feel surrounded by events and circumstances that threaten our very lives, we are surrounded by the love and care of each other, from Utah to New Mexico, and we are surrounded by God’s presence, promises and mercy through Jesus Christ. We are indeed surrounded, and we give thanks to God. You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

God’s Power of Love Sermon on Luke 14: 1, 7-14 September 1, 2019

This sermon was preached on Sept. 1, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.
The texts were Psalm 112, Hebrews 1-8, 15-16 Luke 14: 1,7-14

Children’s sermon: What are your favorite super heros? Or movie/tv characters? Why do they do that no one else can? Do you wish you could do that? Yes, we can often want to be someone else, or want to be around certain people because they make us feel good about ourselves or safe and secure. Did you know that you, each one of you, have a superpower? Yep! We all do! Jesus talks about this superpower in our bible story today. Now it doesn’t seem like Jesus is talking about superpowers-but he is! Jesus gets invited to a dinner by some people who want to know more about him-they want to see if Jesus is really who he says he is-they have heard he has powers. Jesus Heals people, touches people who are sick and doesn’t worry about getting sick himself, he talks to people whom no one else will, hangs out with people who no one else likes, loves all people no matter who they are. Jesus did have power-the power of God’s love! Jesus knew that he was being watched at this dinner and do you know what he did? Showed God’s love! At this dinner party Jesus watched the other people too. In Jesus day where you sat for dinner mattered. The really important people all sat at the head of the table together and less important people sat further away. He watched as some pretended to be more important than they were, more popular than they were and made other people feel less important by not having a place at the table for them. But Jesus told them a story to help them and us realize that we have a superpower that makes sure everyone is important: God’s Love! Jesus said that when we invite people who no one else wants to be around-make all people feel included, make room for them, we show God’s love. When people know that they are loved, then they can use their superpower of love too! This is a power that we all have through God no matter what we can do or not do, even if we are little and young. Here’s a way for you to use your superpower right here, right now. Here are cards and markers, draw, write notes of love or friendship (which is a form of love) to your family, friends, someone here today that you think needs to be told that they are loved and have this same superpower of love. Let’s pray:

They come into the fellowship hall a few at a time. Many walking independently, some in wheelchairs, some guided by care givers. They are people whom most assume are powerless over much of their lives and so are treated as powerless and unimportant most of the time. But on this afternoon, they feel valued and important. Everyone eats together around tables sharing food and tidbits from their week. After eating, they offer their gifts, creating cards of care for Habitat for Humanity families or those in assisted living facilities, gifts to share with friends, blessings bags to hand to those who are hungry, creating prayer reminders, and materials to help share information about this unique gathering with others. Then the community gathers in the sacred space of the chapel, a worship space where many have never been invited into or are have never been truly welcomed into just as they are. And if they are in those spaces, there are not accommodations for their visual or hearing differences, their verbal outbursts, unpredictable movements, noise and visual sensitivities, and other physical realities. But in this space, on this afternoon, everyone is invited, accepted and accommodated. Noise canceling headphones are available, there is a corner with dimmed lights and a tent for visual sensory deprivation, prayers, songs, scripture readings are communally and imperfectly led, the gospel is proclaimed through conversation, games, activities. Offerings are collected: words and pictures are put on laminated cards with dry erase markers that proclaim what of themselves will be offered to God this day and then the cards are read out loud as the prayers of the people. Bread and grape juice are distributed by those whom are usually excluded from the table, by people whom most assume don’t have the capacity to understand the gifts of God’s grace or distributed by children whom the adults assume are too young to understand. The words aren’t exact, “Jesus bread is for you,” or “juice of Christ to drink” but the intent and the love are clear and the power of those words and actions moves many to tears. All have a place at the table.

Songs are led by anyone who desires to lead and an occasional solo is spontaneously offered. Throughout the worship there is random talking, walking around, times when everything stops to answer a question, times when what was planned to happen doesn’t, something else does and it’s better. In this sacred space and time, all who are gathered matter, have a voice, and are part of the power of authentic community. The guests are given power to unabashedly share their gifts of love, joy and presence, the care givers who bring the guests feel the power in their holy work for caring for those whom society ignores and pushes to the side, the caring support people, people like me, are shown what true power, true love and true worth look like in God’s kingdom. We are changed by the presence of those who are usually not in our daily lives or in our supposedly sacred spaces of worship. We see clearly that God’s kingdom comes when those who seemingly have all the power, share it, give it away to those whom society hides, ignores, and deems unworthy and unimportant. When all are invited, included and given their own power as God’s beloved people, the power of love through Jesus is unleashed to reveal true community in God’s love. This community we call Rejoicing Spirits is all about the power of love, God’s love that flows through us all, and the strength of this love that has power to change the world. Rejoicing Spirits does the hard work of love in action, revealing the truth that all are important and have a place in God’s kingdom.

Jesus knows this power, Jesus sees that when not everyone is included, when some claim more power for themselves, pushing others to the outside, that our collective power is diminished and some people are harmed. When we assume that we are more important than other people, when we place value on human lives-whether that is through economic status, gender, age, ability, citizenship, or when we think that being close to people who have worldly status and power gives us status and power and that being with people whom society deems without value reflects on our own worth, we misuse our power of love. It becomes love of self and not love of neighbor. The shadow side of power is revealed.

God is the source and originator of this power of love and pours it out into us all and the world through Jesus. God is not afraid to share God’s power with us through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry is one of showing how God’s power works in the world. God’s power is always used for wholeness, joy, dignity and worth for all creation. Jesus shows that God’s power that grows stronger when it is shared and is mutual. It’s power to live as our authentic selves not worrying about what someone might do to us-as God’s power removes fear. This power opens us up to awareness-awareness of who is sitting in a lower place at the tables in our community, and power to unabashedly point to the value and worth of all people.  On Friday, some of the Salt Lake City community, clergy, lay people and a couple of state legislators, gathered in loving power to support Cecelia, a woman who advocates for women of color in her community to receive healthcare and educational opportunities, a woman who lifts others up and is vital to her family and her neighborhood. The group pointed to the love she shows and that she should not be deported to Mexico where she faces certain violence, trauma and possible death. She has worth and importance right here despite paperwork. Worth is not a piece of paper or a label, worth is being loved by God. Jesus proclaims that labels are not statuses of worth, and the power of God’s love flows to those who feel powerless in our society: not only Cecelia but all immigrants, refugees, the sick, the differently abled, the under employed, the unhoused. Our scriptures over and over recall that God welcomes all and we are to imitate that welcome. Love is the power to do the hard work to change the circumstances that denies anyone their worth. And we can’t just talk about this hard work of love, we have to do it.

We have this power. With the power of God’s love, we include and invite those who are missing from our sacred worship spaces. With the power of God’s love, we offer radical hospitality and welcome to people whom others ignore. With the power of God’s love, we value all people ahead of our own wants, needs and fears. With the power of Gods’ love from Jesus, we act to love to all around us, even when we are uncomfortable, even if we are mocked, dismissed, uninvited and marginalized ourselves. We trust in this power of love from Jesus that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Jesus who invites us to claim this power of love that changes us, transforms our actions, our hearts and turns the whole world upside down. Thanks be to God.