A Lutheran Says What?

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

What I Know About 2021: Sermon on John 1 January 3, 2021

This sermon was preached on Jan. 3, 2021 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT over Zoom. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Jeremiah 31: 7-14
John 1: 1-18

There’s a cute song from about five years ago called “Say Hey” by Michael Franti that was popular for a while as it was good dance song. The refrain of that song contained the lyrics, “It seems like everywhere I go, the more I see the less I know. But I know one thing that I love you.” Boom, right in the middle of this seemingly innocuous and frivolous ditty, some deep human truth is laid down. It turns out the more we know, the less we know. Just living life can call into question what you are certain of and the realization that you don’t know as much as you thought. For this singer, he’s only certain of the love he has for this other person.

2020 has certainly been a year where everything we thought we knew was called into question and trying to learn, discern or just keep up, felt like a being in a pool of quicksand. The more we struggled and tried to stay on top, the more we sank. So here we are on the cusp of a new year, 2021, and it’s tempting to look forward and project what we think we know will happen and how this year will be. I know that I so desperately want this new year to be one where I can say that I know that we will be together in person again soon, where I know that people will stop getting sick, dying, losing jobs, losing relationships, or being marginalized. I want to know that everything is going to be ok. I don’t want to face the unknown, I want some certainty. But I’m aware that the more I search for certainty, the more truth I miss.  It’s like when you’re looking for your phone only to realize you’re holding it.

On this second Sunday of Christmas and the first Sunday of our new year, we are regaled by the Prologue to John’s gospel, a beautiful piece of poetry that was perhaps a hymn in the early Church, that uses imaginative language to offer the Truth of what we know, what we don’t know and what God knows. The gospel writer brings us all the way back to Genesis 1, to the beginning of creation when the truth is that there was only God. We are brought once again to the power and wisdom of God for creativity, expansive imagination, and endless possibilities. If we listen to this prologue as poetry, we notice the repetition of naming God. God is at the heart of this passage and at the heart of all the cosmos.

But we often miss or ignore that truth. We might not recognize God at the heart of everything. Or we don’t want to know, this as if God is at the heart of everything, then we are not. This is the truth that John the baptizer names as he proclaims that God is in our midst-the light of the world has come. But the world didn’t see Jesus or didn’t want to. As a matter of fact, the world spent much energy trying to hide or deny God as the center of creation and the universe. Jesus, as God with us, showed us what the world, our lives could be like with God at the center. People with diseases are healed, people are fed, people on the outside of society are brought into community, people in poverty are given their share, people imprisoned are set free, people told to be silent are given voice, people who are dead are brought to life. Not a life of emptiness, ego, greed or self-centeredness, but a life that is shared, a life in the fullness of God’s abundant love that knows no bounds or end. But the world tried to bury this truth, literally. The powers and principalities were terrified of a world that they didn’t know, one where they were not in the center and in control. But the more they tried to bury the truth of God as the center of it all, the more God loved, the more God’s life abounded, the more God promised to not let us sink into our own mess but to hold us.

I know enough to know that there’s so much I don’t know. I’m guilty of not wanting to know more because when I do, it decenters me. When I know that black lives matter, it means that my life isn’t worth more for my skin color. When I know that people are sliding into poverty and homelessness because of unjust systems that privilege me, it means that I have to speak out. When I know that people are hungry and I can order take out anytime I want, I have to change my habits. I know that I try to hide, build a cocoon of comfort around myself so that I don’t have to see, but when I do that, I miss Jesus. When I don’t see my neighbor but only see myself, I miss seeing Jesus, God with us in the world. I miss the truth of my life that God is at the center of it all, and I am not.

I don’t know what this year will bring, and that’s a good thing. It’s all unknown to us as it should be. But what isn’t unknown to us is God’s love for us and all creation. What is true is that God will be in our midst, at the center of everything as God always has been. God will continue to make Godself known to the world, for the sake of love, life, grace and mercy in all the universe. May we know this truth, live this truth and be this truth. Happy New Year. Amen.

 

Don’t Look Away Sermon on Reign of Christ Sunday November 20, 2020

This sermon was proclaimed on Nov. 22, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts for Christ the King Sunday were:

Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Matthew 25: 31-46

Have you heard of the “red car” phenomena? It goes something like this: You decided that you want to buy a red car, and suddenly, it’s all that you see. You notice how many red cars are in your neighborhood, at work, for sale, etc. This psychology works in all kinds of ways. Once, as a child, I wanted a certain doll and that commercial for the doll was on all the time so I thought that meant I should have it. That is not what that meant, by the way.But something gets your attention and then it’s all that you can see. And once you notice, you can’t unsee it. Often it is positive such as an object that might truly be useful to us and other times, it’s something we wish we had never seen, such as a tragedy. We might think that it’s not good to see those negative situations and try to sweep it under a rug. But often, once we know, it doesn’t just go away. And we all know that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
This year has given us much that we can’t unsee. Things that we didn’t or refused to see before now. We can’t unsee disparity of responses to a deadly disease, where often money was prioritized over health and well-being of people. We can’t unsee communities of color, Native American and immigrant communities ravaged at an alarming rate from COVID19 versus white communities. We can’t unsee low wage workers suddenly become essential or unsee the growing numbers of infected and or the dead stacked up in morgue trailers or put in unmarked graves. We can’t unsee the final straw in institutional racism and white supremacy break as people can’t unsee George Floyd calling out to his mother as he was murdered. We can’t unsee the long lines at food banks, or the people facing losing housing or the effects of climate change destroying communities. And maybe that’s the point.

In our gospel text today, there is a lot going on, and to add more freight to the passage, it’s Christ the King Sunday. As a fairly new liturgical holiday, (and if I’m honest, not my favorite as the “king” language seems a bit patriarchal, colonial and hierarchal and gives me hives) it originated less than 100 years ago by a Pope Pius XI in an attempt to build a coalition of resistance to the rise of fascism he was witnessing in the world. He declared a Sunday (originally in the spring) to be Christ the King or the Reign of Christ Sunday. He was very concerned about what he was seeing with people professing their faith in and allegiance to authoritarian charismatic leaders rather than to God. Or worse, conflating that leader with God’s will. The intent was a Sunday to reflect and confess that God is sovereign and people are not. A day to recalibrate political views and hearts to what God sees and desires for God’s creation. The Pope’s hope, perhaps naïve hope, is that people would see and understand the harm happening and remember that they follow a God of love. It was his attempt to halt what would take place in the 30’s and 40’s with xenophobia, genocide, racism, homophobia, war, and hate, all supported and even sanctioned by many institutional churches. Not all churches, it’s true, but too many stayed silent or spoke out too late against these atrocities. In the end it was clear that the Church was complicit in the suffering and oppression that the church is supposed to alleviate. The Church looked away while 6 million people: Jews, LBGTQIA, refugees and supposed traitors went to death camps. They looked away while whole countries and communities were decimated. They looked away while people went hungry, unclothed, and languished from disease and torture. They look away from the rising black smoke from burning bodies in the crematorium. They looked toward their own comfort, safety, and security. They looked toward proximity to power and authority. They looked to ensure their own future and prosperity. They looked to be their own king in their lives. This is what Pope Pius didn’t want to see.

They forgot, as we do, that they serve a different kind of king, or really the anti-king. A king who renounces his own power and authority, a king who is put to death for boldly hanging out with the powerless and seeking to protect them from suffering, a king who sees the world not for what it can offer him but what he can offer the world. A king who sees the world as it should be, not as it is. Most of the world, particularly those with power and status, clearly didn’t truly see Jesus. To see Jesus is to see the world differently. It’s to look beyond oneself and not look away when harm is being done.

Interestingly, in Matthew 25 neither the sheep nor the goats, knew when they had seen Jesus. They both asked, “When did we see you and when did we not see you?” Jesus simply states that we see Jesus when we see people whom we don’t want or refuse to see. You see, when we see Jesus, we have to see everyone who comes along with Jesus. Jesus was always with the wrong crowd, the authorities said, the people who weren’t considered upstanding members of society, according to arbitrary rules. But it’s those people who Jesus saw, and knew by name. People who have been incarcerated, who live without housing, people on borders shoved together in overcrowded cells, people who suffer from addiction, people with disabilities. We can’t see Jesus and not see the whole community of Jesus. And not just see them, but be in relationship and learn their names, their lives, their wisdom and work together to relieve the suffering of all.

What we forget is that Jesus sees us, too, our wholes selves, each intricate piece of us, the part of us that is a sheep and the part of us that is a goat. Jesus doesn’t want us to be separated into categories or separated within ourselves. Jesus wants us to be whole, to be one, as that is how Jesus sees us-all people and creation-together. Not as sheep or goats, or rich or poor, or hungry or too well fed, healthy or sick. Jesus understands that we all suffer when we separate and categorize one another and ourselves. We languish in our own incompleteness in not recognizing gifts in people whom we assume don’t have anything to offer us. Jesus is an “anti-king” who can give us the vision of how we should see and understand the value not only in ourselves but in all people and the world. Jesus sees and calls us to this God vision.

Yes, it’s hard, yes we will be uncomfortable. It is risky to see the world this way, as it will compel us to act and others may try and separate from us. But that’s what it is to see, be a part of Christ’s reign of fulfilling love and belong to Jesus’ anti-kingdom, it’s to see and belong to the one body of Christ, a living, breathing, acting and loving force that refuses to not look away from who and what matters to Jesus and in Christ’s kingdom and kin-dom. May we only see Jesus.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.

 

Seeing is Believing Sermon on Matthew 28 August 21, 2020

This sermon was preached on August 23, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel “Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3: 1-4
Matthew 28: 1-10

I always get sucked into those Facebook posts or that have the abstract pictures that ask you if you see or don’t see certain objects like animals or numbers or whatever. Sometimes I can see what I’m supposed to and that’s fun but sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I can’t see what others do. Then I wonder if there is something wrong with me, why don’t I see it? Maybe it doesn’t really exist and I’m being punked? The phrase “seeing is believing” has been resonating with me this week as I ponder our gospel text of Jesus’ resurrection. Just as we did Christmas in July, with no snow, or presents or egg nog, we have Easter in August, with it’s dry, hot, waning days of summer as the growing season wraps up. Easter in August forces a different perspective versus tulips, lilies and cool spring mornings when everything seems new. It’s easier to see the new life in Jesus’ resurrection with so many visual reminders around us than in late August when things are drying up and dying. How can I see new life and hope when all around me is death, endings, and empty places where life once was? I think of the angel’s statement to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (probably Jesus’ mother), “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” In Matthew’s gospel, we don’t know why the women came to the tomb in the early hours of Sunday before sunrise. In Mark and Luke, the women went to apply spices to Jesus’ body, but in Matthew, it doesn’t say why the two Marys’ went. Did they expect to see a dead body? A resurrected Jesus? Something else entirely?

What would I have expected to see that morning after witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion? I know that my vision can be sorrowfully myopic. I might only see Jesus in what you might call the obvious: in specific church places, activities or events, or in certain people. I might see Jesus only in my scripture reading or in prayers. I might see Jesus only where I expect to see Jesus.  

If I’m honest, I don’t see Jesus as much as I should. Time and time again, in all the gospels, in the entirety of the Bible, God shows up in unexpected ways, in unexpected places and in the least likely people. Over and over. God shows up as wind, as a stranger, a wrestler who wounds, as a burning bush, as still silence, in the voices of men and women prophets, and as a baby born in the middle of nowhere to refugees whom no one cared about. The Marys’ went to the tomb to see what would happen, and they experienced an earthquake, a large stone moving, an empty tomb and an angelic message. None of these actions typically herald new life. But the women knew that they were God’s actions and where God is acting, they needed to look again. And when they did, they saw Jesus. Without those unexpected and frightening experiences would they have seen Jesus as readily?  

As I said, it’s easy for me to see Jesus in sunrises, in hummingbirds, smiles, and stained glass. But I admit that it’s harder for me to see Jesus in the midst of this pandemic, in the midst of the racial turmoil, in the midst of the divisions and in people whom I disagree with. And yet, that’s the whole point of the resurrection. It’s the point of Jesus’ life and ministry. It’s the point of the Bible. That God acts in all times and in all places, even when we can’t or won’t see God. God acts in tombs of death, God is acting in the pandemic, God is acting in our nation’s racial reckoning, God is acting in our divisive conversations. God is acting whether we can see it or not. God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope and new life exist even when we can’t see it and we can’t believe it. This is good news, because it’s not all up to us and what we can see or do. It’s what God sees and does. It’s what God promises.

God is bringing new life to us, and maybe we’re being forced right now to see it. Maybe we had to experience frightening events to see differently, like the Marys at the tomb. Maybe we had to stop seeing our faith and church life, and our daily lives, in the same old way to see God’s actions of new life. Maybe we had to see our sanctuary as empty as the tomb to see that Jesus has gone out ahead of us to meet us on the road. Maybe some of us had to see how privileged our white upper middle class lives are to see that is not true for all people in our community. Maybe we had to see that relationships can’t be taken for granted, that our health, our status, our abilities are all fleeting in order to see that when we let go of seeing our lives as our own, we see Jesus. Like the women, we can see Jesus right in front of us with words of hope. We see Jesus in our neighbor, we see Jesus in diversity, we see Jesus in hard conversations, we see Jesus in what is changing, we see Jesus in what is hard for us to comprehend, and we see Jesus in our own fear and great joy. And in the midst of this, we worship right where we are. The promise is that we will see Jesus, who is God’s action in our midst through the power of the Holy Spirit. We see Jesus in water, bread and wine. We see Jesus and we then go to tell others to see Jesus too. We walk beside all people so that they can see Jesus in their own lives, and in the world, even when it’s hard, even when it’s unlikely, even when they don’t want to.

This is what it is to see the resurrected Jesus, is to see life where others see death, to see new beginnings where others see endings, to see abundance where others see emptiness, to see love where others see fear. We see Jesus and believe that God is acting. Amen.

 

We Wish to See Jesus sermon on John 12: 20-33 March 26, 2018

Sermon on John 12: Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Jesus Speaks about His Death
27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people[a] to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Children’s sermon: Ok, I’m going to teach you about skipping today. Skipping uses both of your legs, most people can skip at about 3 miles per hour and it much like hopping. Ok based on that show me how to skip. What that doesn’t work? Ok how about if I show you. Now do it with me. Oh it’s easier to SEE it isn’t it? We can learn facts in a book but watching someone else do something is better! Practicing it ourselves with that person who knows how to skip well, is the best! And then we can practice over and over and it just becomes part of how our body can move and we don’t have to think about it. Riding a bike is like that, or ice skating, skiing, all kinds of activities. We might know facts about biking, skating or skiing, but that doesn’t give us an experience of it or how it feels to do those things. We are reminded today in our bible passages that our relationship with God is like that too! Learning facts about God is ok and we do that, but the most important is our relationship with God and seeing how Jesus acts. How Jesus loves people, cares for those who no one else cares about, how Jesus gives his own life, a scary thing, in order to give us life with God forever. Jesus says some hard things today about losing your life, and we don’t like to think about that do we. But what Jesus wants us to know, is that Jesus understands that loving people whom the world doesn’t love, caring about other people more than yourself is HARD! And Jesus is with us when life is hard, scary and we have to make decisions that make life better for our friends, or people who aren’t our friends, or people who may not like us. We practice these things together to get better so that it just becomes who we are. we show God’s love to the whole world and just like Jesus, show that love is better than hate, kindness is better than hurting and speaking up against wrong is better than silence. Jesus shows us that by dying on the cross and trusting in God to bring new life. And so we trust in God too that we can do hard things. Let’s pray:
The passages from Jeremiah and John are hard ones for us in the 21st century. We like to think that we can rely on knowledge, skills, memorization, and training to further our own agendas and to build certainty that we can have life all figured out and we are in control. Our institutional education and religious systems are also constructed on this foundation of concrete knowledge. I don’t know about you, but I like to create neat little bunkers of information around myself that holds chaos and uncertainty at bay. Oh occasionally I might peek over the top of the fox hole to see what the dangerous landscape of emotions and close personal relationships might look like, but generally that is too frightening and messy for me. Someone might need more of my time or might ask me to do something. Nope it’s far safer with books, computers, and facts.
I can construct a nice neat version of God in this scenario that is all theology and philosophy. Like the Greeks, I can say I wish to see God or Jesus but what is it I really wish to see? If I’m honest, I want to see God who becomes an abstract concept who makes me feel better about myself, validates my beliefs on the world and the people in it, agrees with my viewpoints, and is completely domesticated. Jesus is a nice man who died so that I can do whatever I want and am forgiven. If I do good things, then Jesus will give me blessings and if I don’t then I get what I deserve. A nice predictable quid pro quo, self validating God about whom I can learn the facts, follows the law and be safe from any shenanigans.
But inevitably, God refuses to be held by my constructs and invades my bunker of safety. God shows up in real and messy ways that force me to realize that it’s never been about the facts I’ve been taught, or the facts I teach or what I want to see in Jesus, but about who God is and who God is, not just with me but with everyone. God doesn’t believe in personal space bubbles. God gets too close and throws my whole life upside down. Dead and gone is my safety in facts and teaching and alive and thriving is the new life that comes from God pulling me into scary and risky relationship with a neighbor I’ve never even seen or wanted to see! Jesus comes too close when I go New Beginnings and worship with women who are serving prison sentences. Jesus comes too close when I’m confronted by my own bias about people who are unhoused and on the street. Jesus comes too close when I hear the pain of my Muslim brothers and sisters at being targeted. Jesus comes too close, gets into my heart, pulls me away from my comfort zone and reorients me to what matters, and as it turns out, through my baptism and relationship with Christ. Jesus comes too close and shines light on my life and the world and drives out the rulers of the world from my heart. The rulers of status quo, comfort, self interest, greed, ego and safety. Relationship with Jesus is anything but that.
From the beginning of creation, God deeply desired a relationship with us, humanity in God’s own image. God has chased humanity throughout millennia to be with us and to come uncomfortably close. When Jesus as God incarnate comes uncomfortably close, we do indeed really see. We see Jesus die because of empire, rulers and violence. We see Jesus meet these horrors of the world with love, peace and courage. We see Jesus heal the sick, bring the outcast into community, touch the unclean, speak truth to power, speak love to the unlovable and forgiveness to all. But that’s not all we see. We see Jesus drawing us all uncomfortably close to him, all of us together, the Jew, the Greek, men, women, the healthy, the sick, the rich, the poor, the liberal, the conservative, the educated, the uneducated, the housed, the unhoused, white, black, brown, straight, LBGTQ, Jesus draws us all uncomfortably close to him and so to each other. So close that we can’t ignore each other, we can’t build up barriers of safety, so close that we can smell and touch each other and recognize ourselves in one other and recognize Christ in each other too.
We then die to the notion that any person doesn’t belong. We then die to the world’s and our own agendas of hate, violence, apathy, and polarization. We die to our own ego, our greed, our arrogance. God kills these things in us when Jesus draws us close to him, so close that all that the sin separates us from God and each other is squeezed out like toxic sludge from us. What is left is Christ in us. What is left is life, abundant life that is so vibrant that words can’t describe it, it can only be lived. Lived as actions of peaceful protest against violence to anyone, lived as actions of love such as building a habitat home, writing a card of encouragement for the students of Parkland, FL, lived as actions of mercy for our brothers and sisters who are unhoused because of mental illness, lack of education or addiction. We see Jesus’ living faith and so we live our faith.
We see Jesus, we see his death on a cross for what it really is: love that reveals God’s peace from the world’s violence, love that reveals divine power from what the world calls weakness, love that gets too close and personal when the world demands segregation. We see Jesus constantly turning the world upside down, refusing to meet violence with violence but going straight to the heart of the matter, head on to witness to his trust in God and in God’s glory to bring newness. We see Jesus’ actions glorifying God in heaven and so we pray for our actions to glorify God, as we will proclaim to Peyton Rose in her baptism this morning. We are called to let our actions glorify our Father in heaven, not for our own sake but for the sake of being in messy, uncertain and risky loving relationship with each other, the world and Christ. We are people of life and light, we bring this light of Christ to the world.
We wish to see Jesus. We wish to see the world how God sees the world. We wish to die to ourselves and live in Christ. We wish to see each other how God sees us-as beloved. We wish God to be our God and for us to be God’s people. We wish to see Jesus.