A Lutheran Says What?

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

Renewed by Connection or Why Disruptions are Holy:Sermon for Pentecost 19 October 20, 2019

This sermon was preached on October 20, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.

The texts were:
Genesis 32: 22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3: 14-4:5
Luke 18: 1-8

Children’s sermon: Have a ball of yarn on hand. Gather the children up front in a standing circle. Say to them that we are going to create something together. Hold on to one end of the ball of yarn and then throw it to another child. Have them hold on to that length (holding it fairly taut) and then throw it to another child…etc. until you’ve created a yarn web. Then talk about what happens if someone yanks on it too hard-yep someone might become disconnected. Or what if someone intentionally disconnects and drops their end, then the web starts to fall apart. Talk about how we are all connected and it matters that we know that our actions impact other people. Also talk about how we are connected to God and God never lets go of us—we might try and let go of our end of the yarn, but God never lets us go. This is good news!

It’s easy to get in our own little world and get tunnel vision. We get up each day, go through whatever morning routine we have, go to work, or appointments, eat lunch, run errands, eat some dinner, watch some tv, read a bit and then go to bed. And then we get up the next day and basically do the same thing again with little variation. Routines aren’t bad, but we don’t like to veer from them as it can be uncomfortable or even confusing. Sometimes, our routines aren’t helpful and can even be harmful and we need other people to pull back the curtain to show us what we may be missing or perhaps what is damaging to us. I was reminded of that this week and some of you may already know this story as I shared it on FB. My morning routine is get up, have breakfast, go for a run, stretch or do some strength training, make some coffee, get ready and go to work. On Thursday, I did most of this routine, but I was kinda craving an iced coffee as it was a warm morning. Now, it had been a long week and by Thursday I was dragging a bit and running late. But I went ahead and stopped at the Beans and Brews, my favorite coffee place in Salt Lake so far, for a coconut milk iced latte. As I turned into the parking lot off 1300, I saw her. A young woman sitting on the grass alongside the road-too close-looking disheveled, confused and it seemed that she was trying to get her clothes together. She was dressed in a manner that made me wonder if she was a sex worker and her erratic behavior alerted me that something was off. I parked and looked at her weighing if I should approach her to see if she needed help. As I have some experience with this sort of situation, so I know the risks. As I was weighing those risks, a gentleman came up beside me as I stood by the front door of the coffee shop and simply said “she needs help.” I responded “yes, lets go talk to her together.” He and I approached this young woman, probably early to mid-twenties and introduced ourselves. It became clear that she was under the influence of drugs and maybe had a cognitive challenge. She spoke nonsensically when asked her name and when I asked her if I could buy her a cup of coffee and some breakfast, she said no but did I have a cigarette? I said no, but that I was worried about her and let’s get some coffee and some food. Allen, the gentleman with me, said to her, “I’m really worried about you as you were in traffic when I saw you.” She stood up and dropped her few possessions that she was trying to carry without a bag of any sort. We helped her tie a dirty sweater around her waist and asked if we could call anyone for her. She said her boyfriend was coming to get her, which seemed unlikely. She said that she had a room at the Extended Stay America half a block down but there was some issue. I said let’s walk there together and see what’s going on with your room. Allen called the police at this point as we realized that she needed more help than we could offer. As we walked, she would vacillate between talking to us and being grateful that we were there and telling us to leave her alone. When she told me to leave her alone, I simply said, “no I won’t do that. You need help and I’m worried about you.” She staggered along and walking that half a block took us 10 minutes. As we approached the motel, two women came running toward us screaming at the young woman that she wasn’t welcome and she better not come close. I stood between them and tried to figure out what was happening. Allen stayed on the phone with 911 relaying what was going on. Apparently, the young woman had wondered into one of these women’s rooms and they were unhappy. The assistant manager came out at this point and calmly said, that the young woman didn’t have a room there, she too had called the police and she needed to leave the property. I told the young woman that we needed to keep moving. At that point she yelled at us and started running toward a construction site.  I followed her and then finally the police arrived. Allen and I hung back to let them do their job. This young woman ended up arrested. It’s heartbreaking to watch and I pray that she gets the help she needs, but I also know how broken our system is. But perhaps if it gets her sober and away from those who are not helping her live to her potential-then that could be a start.

Allen and I both agree that this young woman is an equal character in this story and the three of us somehow needed this encounter.  It turns out his wife is the parish admin at St. James Episcopal and she and I have emailed a few times. Allen and I both agree that it was the Holy Spirit who directed the three of us there together to connect this morning. He was also running late for work when he decided to go ahead and stop. After he left, I went to buy my coffee, and I discovered he had covered it. There was change from the cash he had left, so I added what I would have paid to his cash to buy coffees for those who came after us. Who knows who felt connected and loved by Allen starting that pay it forward chain? A simple cup of coffee, a morning routine, sometimes isn’t simple and it’s everything.

Routines were shattered Thursday morning and connections were made. It was risky and messy what we did, together the three of us connecting. What may have been the normal routine for this young woman: drugs, risky behavior and hurtful relationships, Allen and I could see was damaging. I’m sure that others have tried to help her before but disrupting the routine of drugs is difficult and takes persistance. Allen and I both have children her age and maybe Allen and I were surrogate parents for her that morning-with the energy to do what hers just can’t right now. I don’t want to judge her family in anyway. I want to be clear, it’s not always appropriate to get involved. Listen to your gut. If your gut is saying no-It’s the Holy Spirit saying, “I’ve got this.” If your gut says maybe you should help, it’s the Holy Spirit saying, “I’ve got this and I’m sending you.” Allen and I went together, as a team knowing that we might be uncomfortable with her, but not in danger, and there is a difference. We were out of our routines and discomforted by the reality that this young woman needed community, care and someone to disrupt her dangerous routine. We wrestled with her that morning and wrestled with our own discomfort. We wrestled with the complexity of life together and we knew that we couldn’t let go until we had done all that we could do to try and get her to a new life and justice.

This is the complexity of life together and life with God. Our stories from Genesis and Luke today reveal how when we are in community, deep relationship, and connected to one another and God, it’s never what we think. It’s uncomfortable, it’s challenging, and disrupts our routines. God is like the persistent widow challenging the myopic routine of the unjust judge, continually calling us to look beyond ourselves and our routines to see God and our neighbor in need. The truth of following Jesus is that we are to demand justice not for only ourselves, but for even those who might make us uncomfortable. It’s messy and hard indeed to hear the persistent voices of those on the margins who call to those of us with power, privilege and agency to disrupt unjust routines. We can call for the disruption of war in Syria that is taking innocent lives. We can call for the disruption of unjust laws that deny equal rights to LBGTQIA folx. We can disrupt our own unjust fear of connecting with different faith traditions for the vision of vibrancy and health of our community-here in Salt Lake and beyond. We can wrestle with those who think differently than us on issues and stay in the relationship and connection, even when it’s really uncomfortable, to reveal the blessing of diversity and learning from one another. We can go towards those whom we fear or don’t like or don’t like or fear us, understanding that fear and dislike are not the kingdom of God, but grace, openness, and radical self-less love is why God sent Jesus to us, to reveal this on all the earth. This is the faith that Jesus is looking for-the vision of God’s grace and love as deep and renewing connections despite discomfort to reveal the damage that we are doing to ourselves and each other when we disconnect and stay in our own little worlds. And I’m convicted that Jesus will find this faith-for God is present and like Jacob, we can refuse to let go of God or one another, refuse to let go of the truth of this love doctrine, because God won’t let go of us. As Jacob was renewed and renamed Israel, we, too, are made new and renamed child of God. Allen, that young woman, me, you and all people are blessed by God’s tenacious and persistent love. This blessing is not for ease and comfort, but for God’s justice to disrupt the unjust routines of our lives and of the world.  This disruption reveals the truth of our renewing connection to God’s word of love, mercy and grace, proclaimed for all people, in all times and in all places. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Listen to Me (or I’m Sorry) August 27, 2017

*This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO, on August 27. To watch it please go to http://www.bethanylive.org

Isaiah 51 

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
    you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
    and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
    and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
    but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
    he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
    her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

Listen to me, my people,
    and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
    and my justice for a light to the peoples.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
    my salvation has gone out
    and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
    and for my arm they hope.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and those who live on it will die like gnats;[a]
but my salvation will be forever,
    and my deliverance will never be ended.

Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
    you people who have my teaching in your hearts;
do not fear the reproach of others,
    and do not be dismayed when they revile you.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
    and the worm will eat them like wool;
but my deliverance will be forever,
    and my salvation to all generations.

 

Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter,[b] and on this rock[c] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was[d] the Messiah.[e]

 

About a year ago I joined a group called Together Colorado. It’s an organization of interfaith, interrace clergy in CO. Each month we meet to discuss how we together as people of faith work to promote and further human dignity and human worth in our communities. It’s rich in diversity, not only religious and ethnic diversity but diverse thoughts on how to accompany one another. It’s completely non-partisan and so all voices are heard equally. Each time we gather we begin by reading together our credentials, that is our reason for being together despite our many differences. Together Colorado meets at a different location each time and looks at community needs to address: health care, education, housing, civil rights and anything else that calls to us needing attention. In this first year for me, I have mostly listened. As I arrive at someone else’s place of worship and community, I am aware that I am a guest on sacred ground. I am aware of my perspective that I bring, that I have much to learn and I bring my biases. So, I listen.

We met most recently this past Tuesday at a Seventh Day Adventist church in north Denver, a predominately black congregation in a predominately black neighborhood. Once again, I took a listening stance. I sat across the table at lunch from Rabbi Brian, from Temple Emmanuel, as he, with a shell shocked look on his face, talked about how he couldn’t even process what had been going on in our country the past couple of weeks, as he’s too busy facing the real fears of the people in his congregation. They are terrified of the rise of violence against Jewish people and some have been on the receiving end of hate mail. They wait in fear for what might happen next to them, a friend or a family member.

I listened as the pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church shared with us how he and his congregation discuss ways to meet racism with love and share the love of Jesus Christ even with those who look to hate them for no other reason than the color of their skin. I listened to the pain and fear of not knowing if their children are safe when they are away from home because of someone who believes that their lives don’t matter as much as their own.

I listened to a fellow ELCA clergy who is dying of a rare form of cancer and she can’t get the treatment that she needs with the gaps in healthcare. We laid hands on her and prayed for healing, but I received notification that she is now in intensive care.

Listen to me, God says three times in our Isaiah reading today. Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, listen to me my people, listen to me you who know righteousness. Listen to me. The word for “listen” in Hebrew is “Shema.” To hear, to take heed, to harken. The Jewish people refer to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 as the great Shema, the great “harken” from God. Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one. Tell one another and the children of God’s great love, justice and redemption of God’s people when you are at home, when you are away, when you rise, and when you sleep. Put these words on your hand, on your forehead, and in your heart. Love the Lord with all of you heart, soul, mind and strength. Listen to God, listen to one another to hear what God might be saying to you through someone different than you.

It’s hard to listen. It’s hard to listen in world that sends us so many messages all day long. What do we listen to? Who do we listen to? What has authority? Who has authority? When we listen, truly listen to one another, my brothers and sisters, we can’t help but to be moved, to be changed, to wonder, and to even fear a little. I listened to all these stories on Tuesday and I will confess, I didn’t know what to think or say. I listened to a reality very different from my own and yet, I know that these stories that they tell are also true. These stories from other people are as authoritative as my own, but I feel myself getting caught in the need to speak my authority over and above someone else’s. This is where our gospel story today struck me. Jesus asks the disciples: Who do the people who have been listening to me say I am? Are they really listening? The disciples answer with the good Jewish answers of Jeremiah, the prophets, Elijah whom they believed would return. Then Jesus asks them, but who do you say that I am? Peter immediately answers “the son of the Living God!” Peter had been listening! And then Jesus goes on to talk about how Peter will be the rock upon whom Jesus will build his church and then the authority of binding and loosing. We listen to this and we assume that this passage is about WHO has authority. Indeed, much ink has been spilled over this question of the who of authority in the past 2000 years of church history. But listen again, Jesus isn’t actually worried about the who of authority, Jesus is concerned with the what of authority. The “you’s” in this passage are plural, not singular. All are given authority, the keys of the kingdom. Authority to bind and loose. In our Lutheran tradition, we call this the “office of the keys” or confession and forgiveness.

In our Milestone ministry here at Bethany, I teach the office of the keys to our preschoolers. I teach them about two sorrys. We say sorry to God and we also say sorry to the person whom we need to seek forgiveness. I tell them that we will mess up with each other and need to say I’m sorry. That’s life with people, but God always forgives us and so we forgive each other out of this great love. I have them make a fist and tell them that this is their heart when they are tight with feeling sorry or guilt. But when they say “I’m sorry”, and they hear God and the other person say, “I forgive you,” it’s like a key that unlocks their heart to be opened up to receive more love and joy.
Jesus says, you, all of you (that means us!) indeed have authority to open our hearts and the hearts of others. You matter, but not for your own gain, comfort or status. You have authority to give your authority away. Jesus is the prime example of this giving away of power. Just as the Israelites bound the word of God on their hands and forehead, we bind ourselves to God and the people of God. Bind yourselves together and listen, listen to one another seeking righteousness, right relationship with one another. This kind of relationship can only come when we quit worrying about who has the authority or if we have enough authority or power and worry more if we can use our authority for justice for our neighbor. Is. 51:4 “my justice for a light to the peoples.” God sent Jesus, the Son, to be this light of justice, to show us how to do justice, how to live justly so that the lowly are lifted up, the sick receive care, the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the Canaanite woman is seen, a Samaritan is called good, demon possessed people are brought back into community, lepers are healed and restored, the powerful of the Roman Empire and the Temple are challenged and all people are given dignity in the body of Christ.

The Son of the living God to all peoples, binds us together in God’s love as one body needing each other and looses us from whatever keeps us from God and one another, which is sin and death. Jesus looses us from the stories that the world tells us to listen to, so that we hear the story of who we truly are, all created in God’s loving and diverse image. Whenever we, or our neighbor, hear a story that tells us that we are anything less than this image of God’s love, we have the authority and the obligation to say no. Now, this kind of authority won’t make us popular, but Isaiah 51:7 tells us to not be dismayed when we are reviled for speaking this truth. This proclaiming the truth of God’s way of justice for all people, not the Roman Empire or the Temple’s way, is what got Jesus killed. The truth of this justice calls us to this same binding and loosing in Jesus’ name. We bind together in order to loose our brothers and sisters from the sin of racism, from the sin of intolerance of different faith traditions, from the sin of violence, from the sin of homophobia, from the sin of sexism, from the sin of economic disparity, from the sin of disease, from the sin of fear, and from the sin of hate.

Listen to me, God says. Listen to me my people. My beloved people. You, all of you, are too precious to listen and to be bound to any other story than the one of forgiveness, love, reconciliation, shalom, justice, freedom and joy. Listen to the story of the empty tomb and know that anything is and will be possible with me, says God. Listen to the stories of each other and hear my voice from the lips of your neighbor. Speak words of mercy to each other.
And so Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the ways that I don’t loose those around me from my own bias and judgements. I’m sorry for the ways I don’t use my authority for the sake of loosing my neighbor from the sin that keeps them from having justice and from being seen fully as a child of God. I’m sorry for being afraid and looking the other way instead of engaging in God’s righteousness. This is why I’m grateful that each time we gather here, at Bethany as God’s people, we confess our sins, our omissions, we say we’re sorry to God and to one another. And I’m desperate for the words from God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that tell me I am forgiven. I am loosed from sin, I am loosed from my story, I am loosed from death but I am bound to God and to you, the beloved community.
Brothers and sisters, let’s bind ourselves to God and one another and loose ourselves and our neighbor from sin and death, to listen for God’s words of tender forgiveness and to open our hands and hearts to more fully receive the joy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.