A Lutheran Says What?

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

Burned Out An Ash Wednesday Sermon March 6, 2019 March 7, 2019

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO on March 6, 2019. It can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org

The texts for the day were Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 6: 1-21

 

We live in what many psychologists call a “burn out” culture. We have 24 hour news cycles, constant connectivity, the ability to work from anywhere, anytime, the mentality of “work hard, play harder,” the idol of busyness, the pressure to have the perfect home, family, physique, diet, the list goes on and on. We have never ending “to-do” lists and feel the pressure of not being worthy or enough. So we put on masks to cover up our unworthiness, the pressure, the tension and even figure out how to glorify the masks. “Oh I’m so busy!” we say! Translated, that means, “aren’t we so important to people and without us it all falls apart.” Another translation could be “I need to be needed and without being busy, needed and noticed by everyone, I’m a nobody.” So, with that tape running through our minds, we think we have to hustle for our worth, we keep on our masks of self-importance and perfection-until we can’t. We burn out. Sometimes it’s subtle and we simply become exhausted and take a break and try to reorder our priorities. But sometimes, it’s more insidious, isn’t it? It’s a health diagnosis, it’s depression, it’s destructive relationships, it’s doubling down on power and control in our own lives or tightening that mask of the image that we show the world, while internally we are literally dying, becoming ashes, dust.

We’ve all experienced some form of “burn-out,” I know that I have. I reach a point where I’m not really me, not the best version of myself to anyone, anywhere. I slip on the mask of strength, perfection, having it all together, the perfect wife, mother, pastor. But here’s the thing about masks: they aren’t built to stay on. Eventually, it will slip, and then I’m grateful for family, friends, trusted colleagues who see beneath my mask and say, “hey this mask isn’t really you. This isn’t who I know you to be. How can I help you recover your true self, your true identity and come into new life?”

On Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, we start with the reality of our masks. We admit that we are burned out of the masks we wear, of trying too hard, and we are afraid of being a pile of ashes. We are weary of being in the dark of our masks. We long for light, life, freedom, truth, grace. We long to be reassured that we are loved but we cling to the fear that we need to earn love. So we end up sliding those masks right back on, even though we know that they aren’t really us.

These masks are not new to modern times. Jesus names these masks in our Matthew reading as hypocrisy. Jesus points out the masks of religious piety, of putting on a mask of self-importance, worth, and pride are as much an issue as the other masks that we might try on. Religious rituals themselves are not the issue, doing religious rituals to prove your worth is wearing the mask of false identity. You are not created to serve you, you created for relationship with God and neighbor. You were created to bring your true and whole self into the light, to be the light of Christ.

Giving alms publicly means nothing if you withhold basic needs from your neighbor in private. Praying out loud with eloquent words and complex sentence structures means nothing if your everyday words to your neighbor are cruel, unloving, oppressive, homophobic, racist, sexist, classist, and hurtful. Showing that you are fasting means nothing if in the rest of your life you serve your own interests, as Isaiah writes, you hoard and take more than you need with no thought of others. It’s a lot of energy and work to act one way in public and be someone else in private. It can burn you out.

Jesus invites us to take off the masks of hypocrisy, to expose our true identity, to be God’s own people of light. The return to our authentic selves, unmasked, vulnerable and beloved. This is a rich gift that never fades, never breaks, and can never be taken from you. It’s from where true life flows. This new life is what God promises to do with the ashes of our masks, the pieces of us that burn away when we turn again to trust God for all of who we are and all that we need. This is why Jesus teaches what we now call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, Mark and Luke. This prayer has simple and unpretentious words that names us as God’s own, names us as worthy, grounds us in accountable and beloved community and reorients us to the reality that we can’t control our lives, we can’t hide behind our masks of independence, autonomy, busyness, perfection or ego. They are words with which we can cry out from the dark to the Lord, our parent, and God responds: Here I am. They are words that each time we say them together as the people of God, breathe new life into our ashes, the dust of who we are and remind us that the promise is indeed there is abundant life in being who God created us to be, instead of trying to be someone else. The Lord’s Prayer names our treasure that we are God’s here on earth and for all of eternity.

We all come to a place where we burn-out, we are a nothing more than dust and ash. As our masks slide off, we call out to God and God responds with the light of Christ and the truth of being sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. This cross that is placed on our foreheads is dirty, messy, and imperfect, but it reveals the truth of what is behind our masks: that we are worthy just as we are, deeply and unconditionally loved and set free to be who God truly created us to be. We are reflections of Christ’s light and love to a world that is hiding in the darkness of their masks and to hear the words: Remember you are God’s and to God you shall return. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Consider the Lilies? Yeah, THEY don’t have a mortgage… November 29, 2018

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This sermon was preached on Wednesday November 21 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO and can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

 

The text is Matthew 6: 25-33

 

 

“Do not worry,” Jesus says. Yeah, right. I’m a worrier. I worry about everything: my kids and Mike, my job, how to keep everyone happy, should I buy only organic, do I use too much plastic, do I use too much water, retirement, how to stay healthy. Then there’s climate change, the melting polar ice caps, what will the penguins do. And the existential worries: am I a good person, what is my purpose and the classic, do I worry too much because worrying isn’t good for you and Jesus says to not do it…I might drive Mike crazy. But I don’t think I’m alone! The levels of anxiety in our culture and in the US have sky rocketed. Worry does have its uses: worry helps us to make good decisions, to not act impulsively or to plan for the future and not leave everything to chance.

Anxiety is big business in the US: Media and marketers know that we try and tackle these worries with the idea of certainty and trying to control as much of our world as we can. So, they hire celebrities to market products to us that will solve all of our problems and we can stop worrying about things. We can buy our way out of worry and uncertainty. Sounds pretty good to us all doesn’t it? And we’ve ALL fallen for it at one point or another. When we lived in OR, we were convinced by media that we needed a home alarm system, so we had one installed. In reality, it made me MORE nervous having it, using it, setting it, worrying if it would go off, so much so that we deactivated it just a few months later and we’ve never had one since. Owning a home alarm made me more worried about someone breaking in! I had never thought about it much until we put in the alarm and after we deactivated it, my worry went back to nothing. For one thing, we don’t own anything worth stealing so a burglar would quickly figure out that they were in the wrong house….

Worry and anxiety can be paralyzing as it often focuses on ourselves. Worry about our lives, our stuff and ourselves gives us blinders to what is really going on in the world. Worry can skew our perspectives as well as triggering our egocentric tendencies. Fear is the root of worry. How do we live without fear? Jesus is addressing this in our passage tonight. These words are towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus has laid out a litany of faith practices and faith challenges. The verse right before our scripture reading is the oft misrepresented “you cannot serve God and wealth.” Jesus is on a roll about what matters in your life and how we are to live. If you’re constantly in fear and worried about yourself and your stuff, what are you missing? Who are you missing?

We can wax poetic about how the birds and the lilies don’t worry and all is well, but let’s remember that birds don’t always have enough to eat and do die as do the lilies after a few days of no rain. Reality is that we may not always have enough: lay-offs, medical bills, health crisis, recessions, famines, fires, floods. Jesus isn’t saying that there aren’t real reasons to worry, Jesus is saying, will you live in fear or freedom? Who will you focus on in good times and in challenges? Yourself? Or God?

Jesus reminds us that God is at all times and in all places, focusing on you. God is the God of relationship. God is in relationship with the birds, the flowers and yes— you. Jesus knows that fear and worry are real and the fact that God is there in our worry, is also real. Jesus also knows that false gods are shouting at us that they can appease our worry with the latest technology, trend, fad, or object. Hearing God’s voice above the false gods voices of the culture has been humanity’s challenge for thousands of years. False gods tell us to afraid and to worry, to worry about me, myself and I. False gods feed us the lies that it’s all about us. False gods create a culture of fear that there won’t be enough, and so don’t share time, spaces or materials with people different from us.

But our God, the one true God that the writer of 1 Timothy proclaims, creates a culture of unity, wholeness and abundance. God cares for us, knows our needs and calls us to trust in Jesus over the background noise of fear, culture, celebrities, those who fancy themselves in worldly authority and power. Jesus calls us to lift our heads and hearts above our own worries and fears to see the needs of our neighbor and creation, Jesus calls us to see God’s abundance and not live out of a fear of scarcity, calls us to live in trust and to give thanks for the promise of God’s eternal presence with us. Not because then our lives will have certainty, no, we listen to this call to live with joy and freedom in the uncertainty.

Living in fear and worrying doesn’t add anything to our lives or the lives of our neighbors. We lose sight of the beauty of what is right in front of us: like this lily. This lily will die, but there will be more lilies, more life. There will be death, there will be hardship, but that is not the last word in God’s kingdom, there will be life. Life and life abundant is the promise over and over again. There is a lot that the world wants us to worry about. Jesus says, trust in God’s presence, love and care for you and all people in this life and forever. Consider the lilies and Thanksgiving to God, indeed.

 

 

 

It’s Hard and It Matters February 5, 2017

Preached on Feb. 5, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

 

Isaiah 58:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

False and True Worship

58 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice? Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,  and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator[a] shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places,  and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Matthew 5:13-20New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The Law and the Prophets

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks[b] one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

 

Sometimes things are HARD. You know, just plain ugh. School, work, relationships, raising kids, caring for aging parents, eating kale, exercising, not eating the whole pan of delicious gluten free brownies, writing a sermon instead of watching Netflix, the list goes on and on. I don’t like it when things are hard and I’ve done some hard things in my life and my guess is that you have too. We don’t like it when things are hard, we want things to be simple, easy, enjoyable, you know focused on whatever makes us happy right here right now. Whenever possible we try and make things easy on ourselves usually with some justification of we deserve it, we couldn’t possibly do all those hard things anyway and so why try? No one will know or care if we make our lives a teeny bit easier by avoiding some hard stuff every now and again. It won’t affect anyone else.

Somethings are simply HARD. As I was preparing for the sermon today, one of the commentaries I read stated on verses 17-20: that this is the most difficult passage to be found anywhere in this Gospel. Well….Super. These verses are indeed challenging for many reasons and I considered not focusing on them for that reason, but they kept calling to me. Sometimes we have to wrestle with what is hard. It seems in verses 13-20 that the poet Jesus that Dr. Skinner introduced us to last week with the beatitudes is gone and has been replace by Jesus who has a couple of things to tell us. Jesus starts this long sermon on the mount that we will be exploring for the next couple of weeks, with words that would comfort those people for whom life was hard. Jesus eloquently pulls us in to their hard lives and then moves to make us partners with them in what is hard.

Today’s passage begins with the declaration and promise that we are salt and light, ok, that seems fine, and we hear the words that we use in our baptismal liturgy: “Let you light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Very nice indeed. And then Jesus drops the other shoe. He spells out that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and that one who breaks commandments will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven and one who does the law and teaches it will be called great and that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees or you’re not going to get in the kingdom. Anyone else feel like curling up in the fetal position and throwing in the towel at this point? What??!!! Jesus, you’re supposed to tell us again how we’re tasty salt and gentle and glorious light! Tell us how you’re with us even until the end of the age and how much you love us. Laws, righteousness and commandments? This is too hard Jesus, make it easier!

But Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook about the law. Why? Because it’s not about us at all. That might be the hardest point to hear about the gospel. All the pronouns in the beatitudes and in today’s passage are plural, not singular. It’s “you all” and not “you” individually. Jesus is reminding the disciples and us that the law is all about how we live together as the people of God-all of us. It’s all about relationship, which is Jesus’ parting words in verse 20 to us today. Be more righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees. The scribes and the Pharisees knew every little nuance of ritual and had impeccable theology. But they didn’t want anything to do with people not in their privileged clique.  Jesus isn’t concerned with right rituals and right theology: Jesus is harkening to the Hebrew understanding of righteousness. Righteousness is right relationship with God-how we live in the life of God and so by extension, with our neighbor. And this is HARD because this kind of life, being in right relationship, being oriented to God and not the world, is not about us and whatever makes us happy and gives us an easy life. Jesus doesn’t care if rituals are done correctly, the correct songs are sung, and the correct prayers are said. No, Jesus is wanting us to know that our relationship with God and one another is primary.

The Israelites in Isaiah 58 were also wrestling with this hard reality. They were returning from exile and beginning a new life in Jerusalem. Many were resuming the old rituals as prescribed in the Torah. They were fasting and were annoyed that God didn’t seem to notice them and how well they were performing the ritual. But God saw through the outward act and knew that the fast was all about them. God calls them out and reminds them of the real reason for ritual-to reorient them into right relationship with God. Why? Because their actions as God’s people mattered. Fasting only to follow the rules for the sake of the rules isn’t the point. You fast so that you can share the bread that you were going to eat with the hungry. You fast from isolationism and share your home with the homeless. You fast from materialism and share clothing with the naked. Your actions matter, but your actions are not about you or your salvation, they are about your neighbor in need. When your actions come from a place of serving God, no matter how hard it is, this is when your light shines the brightest and overcomes the darkness that is in the world.

Jesus calls us to do hard things: the life of following Jesus isn’t promised to be easy, without obstacles, without pain, without sacrifice. Jesus calls us to set ourselves, our own wants, our own perspectives, our own comforts aside for the sake of our neighbor. It’s hard, as when we follow the call of Christ out into the world we do so with the needs, dignity, and humanity of our neighbor first and foremost in our minds, hearts and spirits. This is the way of love.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t leave us alone in these hard things and simply says, “good luck!” No, the promise is that Jesus walks with us. The promise is found in our Bible Verse of the Month from Is. 58: 9a “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” Here I am with you, because your actions matter-not for your salvation-for we know the promise is that nothing will separate us from the love of God. God desires nothing more than relationship with us-all of us, even if it’s hard. Your actions matter so that this promise of God’s love and care is experienced by all people through the people of God. Jesus declares that we are beloved children of God and are already salt-we add God’s zest for abundant life to the world and we are already light-we reflect the light from Christ into the world. It means that we go to lifeless and dark places where we might not want to go but are sent, because it’s not about us but the need for our neighbor to taste, see, hear, and experience the love of Christ in a concrete way-from us. When we truly live in this promise of deep relationship with God and neighbor it will indeed exceed the scribes and the Pharisees who were more concerned about their own rituals and their own wants, than their neighbor. Our light shines because in baptism we die to our old selves and rise through the water, as Emerson will this morning, as a new creation clothed in the promises of Christ.

Jesus proclaims to us over and over again to remember that the heart of the law is love: love that flows from God and moves us in thought, word and deed to do hard things. As a disciple of Christ, I want to learn to love so deeply that these things that we are called to do don’t seem hard but are a joy. I want to learn to love so deeply that when I see people who are different, I only see Christ in my brothers and sisters no matter where they are from. I want to love so deeply that I quit worrying about how my actions may look to others or what other people may think about me. I want to learn to love so deeply that my actions are from a place of love from Christ and focus solely on my neighbor. I want to love like it matters.

Paul reminds us in Philippians 2 that we can do these hard things because God is at work in us, through us and with us. And in Phil. 4:13 he declares “I can do all things through him, Christ, who strengthens me.”

We know that it will sometimes be hard. It is a life long journey to learn to love in this way-to love how Jesus loves. Love that matters, love that feeds the hungry, love that clothes the naked, love that houses homeless, love that welcomes the stranger, love that changes lives, hearts and the world. Love that shines not so that people see us, but see God. I want to love this way, even if it’s hard. Amen!