A Lutheran Says What?

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

Connections: Sermon on Facebook, Signs, Truth and God June 17, 2019

This sermon was preached on June 16, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah.

The texts were Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31, Romans 5: 1-5 and John 16: 12-15 Holy Trinity Sunday

Children’s sermon:

Have a game, a phone, a letter, hands, cards, yarn. Gather the children and ask “Do you ever feel alone and you don’t want to be? Yes we all do! And we look for ways to be connected to our family and friends because we love them and love being with them. I have some things here that might help us think about being connected. Go through each one leaving the paper hands for last. In our bible stories today, they all talk about how God gives us signs of how we are aware of God’s connection to us. Just like the phone, or a letter bring us awareness that we can be with our family and friends in lots of ways, the same is true of God. What are ways that God might show us that we are connected to God? God connects to us such as through nature, through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, which is a little harder but is about feeling God’s presence through the air we breath and people around us. God wants to be with us and wants us to be with God! One way that we know God is with us is through other people telling us about God. Today we celebrate all of the men in our lives who tell us that God is with us always and show us God’s love. I have these hands here, just like Mother’s Day, and today we will write the names of dads, grandpas, uncles, brothers, cousins, friends who are special to us. Today we will tape them together and make a chain of hands and put them on this altar rail.

About ten maybe almost eleven years ago, I joined Facebook. Now, even in my mid-thirties, I was not known as being terribly technologically savvy or even liking tech or the internet all that much. My best friend, Leta, when I joined, commented “you are the LAST person I thought would ever be on FB!” And I honestly thought it would be a novel thing I would do for a while, I would get bored and quit. But I didn’t. FB has its ups and downs, good points and terrible points, but overall I love it! Why? Because I love that I can stay connected to people all over the world! FB allows me to at anytime, anywhere, be connected. I can connect with colleagues for advice, solidarity and empathy. I can connect with family and friends for laughs, crying and prayers. I can connect with people I have never met and will probably never meet in remote parts of the world and gain insight into what is happening globally. And yes, my dear parishioners, I get insight into you, the people whom God has called me to care for and walk beside. There’s a lot more pastoral care that happens on FB than you might realize. Believe or not, FB CAN be used for good and to broaden our worldview and doesn’t have to be an echo chamber. I didn’t expect to like FB or to utilize it for more than a few fun months, but a decade or more later, I am still there, and added Twitter and Instagram as well! Although, here’s where I am still a luddite-keeping up with all of that overwhelms me, so I mostly stick to FB. FB has become a sign in my life of how I am connected in positive and not so positive ways to so many people.  For instance, because of FB, once for a colleague out of state, I helped a family who was in Denver because their baby was life flighted from NE for cardiac treatment. I connected them to other resources, prayed with them and offered support. Because of FB, I mentor colleagues entering pastoral and faith formation ministry and I also get mentoring from colleagues who have “been there and done that.” Because of FB, I “talk” to people who are very different from me and I learn something new. Often, I am challenged and confronted about a piece of myself that I don’t want to admit to, or an action that I have done that needs reflection and repentance, such as changing my language around race, ableism or LBGTQ persons, or expanding my views on a topic beyond a right or wrong perspective. But because of this connectivity, I am pulled into the awareness and wrestling with the messy multiplicity of thought and relationships. I move from either/or thinking into both/and. Connections often bring awareness. One can see signs of the Holy Spirit at work in our world, and you might not believe me but even on social media where we don’t expect it.

Signs of God’s work are everywhere-and this week we are starting a seven-week sermon series “Give Me a Sign” and we will explore signs of God’s activity in our lives-particularly unexpected signs. Signs of God’s presence and activity are not always what we expect them to look like. Sometimes, as with our sign for today “Caution High Winds,” we are caught off guard and the sign may not seem to be good news for us at first. Signs might tell us that we are not where we think we are, or we are further or closer than we thought, or that there is potential for an event that we didn’t anticipate, or that preparations are needed. Signs don’t usually give us all the information but point us in a direction to keep going further down the road where we will encounter new experiences and new connections.

God has always provided signs of God’s activity, presence and connection in the world and in our lives from the moment that God spoke words of creation into the chaos of the void. God understands that we, as diverse humanity, need many signs, many experiences of God to expand our awareness of God. God’s deepest desire is to connect and be in constant relationship with us, as God’s very self is relationship and connection. Holy Trinity Sunday, is not a day to try and explain the three distinct expressions of God for intellectual understanding, but to point to the gift, joy and awareness of God’s diversity and connectivity in the world. The Trinity isn’t to be explained as much as it is to be lived and experienced. The core of God’s heart is abiding relationship. God as creator, Son and Holy Spirit-in unity and yet in distinction is a sign for us how God loves and craves relationships.

God’s signs of connection permeate the natural world with ecosystems both macro and micro. The relationships of plants and bees, animals and humans, rain, sun, wind and snow, reveal how God designed life to be dynamic and always transforming. Nothing stays the same and yet, the transformations are done in partnership in these systems. The more we become aware of our earth, the more we find that everything is in relationship from atoms and quarks to ice shelfs and penguin colonies.

God’s sign of connection is perhaps most personal in the coming of Jesus as a human infant, vulnerable and unprotected. God’s desire for relationship with us meant enduring risk. Through Jesus, God offered more signs of God’s connectivity to us. Water that connects us to the earth, and to the ministry and mission of Jesus, bread and wine that connect us to the seasons of planting and harvest, and also to inclusion for all into the body of Christ. And the sign of the cross, that connects us to the promises of God for presence in our suffering, connects us to the truth of the empty tomb, and life eternal with God and the people of God. These signs herald for us the truth that relationship and connection with God doesn’t remove suffering from our lives, as Paul writes in Romans, but has the power to transform it into hope- that is trust in God’s promise of abundant life.

God’s sign of connection in the Holy Spirit points us to new adventures and roads. Jesus tells the disciples in our John passage that we are connected to the Holy Spirit and so connected to the truth of God that guides our lives. Jesus doesn’t promise that this will be easy, clear or safe. The truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives witnesses to God’s power to call to us from unexpected people and places-such as in Proverbs chapter 8, Lady Wisdom calls to the people from the city entrances and crossroads-a sign of God’s connections in our daily lives. Throughout the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles God’s work among those who were different from them and challenged their embedded way of thinking about life with God. The Holy Spirit guides us to open roads and open hearts where we encounter God’s people in rich diversity, distinction and uniqueness. The Holy Spirit guides us to the truth of God’s love for us and all creation, that God is beyond either/or  thinking but reveals multiple perspectives and avenues of connection. The truth that God sends us out filled with these signs, to be living signs, with our words, actions and to be the very presence of God’s love, grace and hope to everyone that we encounter. Signs of acceptance, signs of advocacy, signs of inclusion, signs of welcome, signs of God’s gracious love that is poured out in unexpected places, to unlikely people in a multiplicity of ways. These signs open our awareness of living in grace-filled, abiding and eternal relationship with God and one another. Thanks be to God.

 

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Off the Beaten Path, Mark 13: 1-8 Pentecost 25B, November 15th, 2015 November 17, 2015

*This sermon was preached on Nov. 15th at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

Each summer since 2010, my husband, Mike, and our son, Andrew, take a father/son road trip. They have been to the Black Hills, Roswell, Moab, Yellowstone and everywhere in between. While they have specific destinations in mind, it’s really the journey itself that they focus on. Early on in their yearly trips, they discovered a website called Roadside America. This site offers a plethora of “off the beaten path” sites that you won’t find on AAA, or necessarily on a billboard alongside the highway. I’m talking about alligator farms where you can hold a real alligator. Or a man who has a 150 sculptures made of mufflers in his front yard. Or statues of headless chickens. Or alien watch towers.  Often, they have to travel many miles out of their way to encounter these wonders of the modern world and they are not always easy to find. These places would be easily missed by most people if you don’t know what to look for or aren’t willing to veer from your original path. Some of the sites are not as exciting as Mike and Andrew had hoped, but even when it’s a dud, they still have a great story of a quirky experience. If they had stuck to the obvious signs along the highway they wouldn’t have seen what many other people have missed. I’m always amazed that they have the openness to notice and experience these fun places that are not the usual tourist options.

It’s interesting what we notice and what we don’t notice in our lives isn’t it? What we chose to focus on in our lives often becomes our filter for everything we notice. Our media feeds us a constant stream of what they think is important or what we need to be content and happy: Lose weight, buy a car, get that new phone, get a security system, make more money, get a bigger house, and the list goes on and on. And I don’t know about you, but it’s so easy to get sucked into that focus-the focus that is all about us, how we can be better, smarter, thinner, younger, better looking, or richer. We sell ourselves the idea that if we only focus on ourselves, fix, right here right now, what we don’t like about our lives that we can control not only today but tomorrow. We get sold the falsehood that we are the ones in control of our wholeness and can fix ourselves.

The basis of all of this, if we’re honest is fear. We’re afraid of what we can’t control, namely the future. We want some sort of certainty about what tomorrow will bring and some sort of sign of what is to come so that we can prepare. So we focus on what is obvious or what the world puts in front of us: our institutions, economic systems, family systems, even our churches. So when we experience major shake ups in these supposedly unshakable monoliths, it can seem like the end of the world as we know it and then our fear and need for control takes over and can focus us on the wrong thing.

The disciples were no different than we are today. In our gospel story, Jesus and the disciples are leaving the temple, where they had just witnessed the widow putting in all that she had into the treasury and what did the disciples immediately notice? The great, glorious and permanent the stones of the temple! “Jesus, isn’t this temple amazing?? I’m sure it will be here forever!” I can almost see Jesus either rolling his eyes or shaking his head. After all of the revelations of God’s kingdom the disciples had seen and witnessed by being with Jesus, this temple was what they chose to notice and focus on.

When the author of Mark wrote this gospel, it’s likely that this very temple that the disciples were staring at in wonderment had been very recently destroyed. The temple was the center of all religious life for the Jewish people: it’s where they believed that the actual connection and intersection of God and God’s people through the priests in the Holy of Holies took place. It’s where sacrifices for the atonement of sins were offered. The temple had become the main focus of the religion in many ways. Jesus is reminding the disciples past, present and future that no matter what system breaks down, even the central religious system such as the temple, God is still present, God is the center of their lives and God is still at work in the world.

Jesus cautions us to stay focused on God as when we are focused on God, our worries, our concerns, our fears of the future will be kept in perspective. Jesus came to proclaim through flesh that God is with us always and to not look at what’s wrong or needs to be fixed but what new thing God is doing in our midst. Jesus’ presence invites us to get off the highway of fear and status quo. There are many events that can make us focus on our fear that the end of the world is indeed happening and we worry about what we should do. There are wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, terrorist attacks in Paris and on Kenyan universities, airplanes destroyed while in flight, bankruptcy, diseases, loss of jobs, and all of the other daily challenges that seem to demand our full attention. But Jesus tells us, “Do not be alarmed.” Don’t focus on these things. Don’t forget that God is with you. Don’t forget that it is God that is bringing salvation to you and to all of creation. No matter what the world wants you to believe, it is God who brings you into life with God and with one another for transformation and wholeness-which is true salvation.

God is doing a new thing, bringing in peace and love for all people in all times and in all places, even when all we can focus on is disaster, destruction and death. Jesus proclaims to the disciples and to us, the new life that God is birthing, right here, right now! Can we see it? Can we notice the selfless acts of generosity and love in our midst? Feeding the hungry through Metro CarRing, loving our neighbor in need through the Angel Tree, celebrating the miracle of the new life of a baby with the Rulla family, the promises of God poured out on Michael Donovan in the waters of baptism, the giving of God’s love story found in the Bible to our second graders this morning.  Jesus walks with us and dares us to boldly live differently than the world: “Look for newness, not destruction! Look for life, not death! Look for abundance, not scarcity!” Jesus reminds us of this so that not only can we see it but we can live our lives to witness to what God is doing so that God’s promise of life, hope, forgiveness and mercy is revealed to the whole world. Living this way is not the usual road traveled but each and every day God invites us and embraces us in the new life and transforming work God is already doing.

God promises to not leave us alone in our fear, in our worry and in our uncertainty and will always speak words life and hope where we only see death and despair. God’s presence with us in our daily lives is certain and unshakable. God’s love offers us a way to get off the road of fear, loneliness, scarcity and death. God’s road offers us hope, life and community through ordinary signs of water, bread, and wine, to refocus us time and time again on what is the true center of our lives, the forever and unconditional love of God that is bringing wholeness to all of creation. Thanks be to God.