A Lutheran Says What?

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

Worth Fixing: A sermon on Restoration John 21 and Genesis 33 November 13, 2020

This sermon was preached on Novemer 15, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Be sure to subscribe!

The texts were:
Genesis 33: 1-17
John 21: 1-19

This summer I noticed that my Surface laptop, that was about five years old, started not holding a charge, was running slower and slower despite attempts by my IT husband to keep it going. I asked Mike how to fix it and his response was “well, it’s probably better to get yourself a new one. It’s lived out it’s life span.” So, I did, I still have the old one, but I don’t know what to do with it now, as with my old cell phone that quit working.  The old tech just doesn’t have any worth. In our disposable society, if something breaks, or isn’t working well, just get rid of it and get a new one. Sadly, in the tech industry, products are not even designed to be fixed anymore, they are designed to be replaced every few years. This is a huge shift in mentality from the past 60 years or so. My grandfather used to have a tv repair side business when my dad was growing up. When’s the last time you took your tv in to be fixed?
When I stop to take a hard look at all the disposables I use in my day, it’s embarrassing. Things I get rid of without a second thought.  Make-up remover, food packaging, paper towels, and the list goes on. Some of that is simply necessary, but I truly wonder how much of it isn’t? This disposable mentality around material goods is having an impact on how we view other parts of our lives, particularly our relationships. The past few months have been rough on relationships for so many reasons, with politics and COVID19 just being two of the big ones. I know I’ve unfriended people on social media and ceased communication with certain people because that relationship was becoming very broken. And I know that certain people have done the same to me for similar reasons. Brokenness upon brokenness has prevailed. Some of those relationships were fine to let go but there were a couple that really hurt. People I have known for decades, friends and family, with whom now there was a serious rift. Serious hurt was being inflicted on one another. And speaking for myself, I found myself in despair and wondering what to do. No longer communicating with them seemed like the easiest, safest and best choice. Again, maybe for some people it was, but for others? I’m not so sure, and I wonder what I could have done differently, or what I should do now to restore what once was? What will I have to give up?

Broken relationships are nothing new, as we read in both our Genesis and John passages today. It took humanity about 2.5 seconds to start harming one another and put our own needs ahead of family and friends. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright for his own gain and security and Peter, after denying Jesus three times for his own safety and well-being, is given a chance to restore his relationship with Jesus. Both men had some work to do to fix what they had broken. They had relationships to restore. In Genesis, Jacob offered Esau tangible gifts that at first Esau refused as he said that he had plenty, but relented after Jacob insisted as he too, had enough. Jacob knew that a simple “I’m sorry” wasn’t adequate. He had to put his money where his mouth was, which in the ancient world was with livestock. The passage ends tenuously as Jacob tells his brother that he will meet him at Seir and then doesn’t go. We don’t know Esau’s reaction to this, but I’m going to guess that more hurt was inflicted by Jacob. Just because Jacob gave up some wealth doesn’t mean that the relationship was restored. Jacob didn’t seem to want to do the hard work of being together in community of putting the pieces back together. Jacob didn’t want to do his piece of restoration, he seemed ok walking away from Esau and moving on to something new. What’s interesting is that God isn’t mentioned at all in this passage. I wonder if either brother had wondered about God’s presence in their relationship what might have been different?

By contrast, Peter didn’t have to wonder about God’s presence, as the resurrected Jesus was before him and six of the other disciples. Peter, the one whom Jesus said he would build his church, had denied Jesus three times at the crucifixion. Peter chose safety and security over the truth of his relationship with Jesus. Jesus offers Peter restoration in the three-fold questioning of “Do you love me?” By the third time Peter felt hurt by Jesus, but this time, stayed in the dialogue, didn’t walk away from the tension. By engaging Peter, Jesus was revealing that God won’t simply give up on us, dispose of us when we hurt each other or God. God will stay in the thick of the relationship, working to restore even if  WE are the ones who broke it. Jesus’ ministry is one of recognizing that whom and what the world names as disposable and unworthy, God names as essential and worth fixing. Jesus is telling Peter, you are worth restoring into relationship with me and more importantly, you will be a part of restoring the world to wholeness and love in my name, follow me.

God says that no matter what we have done or not done, we are worth restoring, we are worth keeping, helping us to see and claim our original purpose, to be a part of God’s restoring love in the world and for the world. Nothing is disposable to God, everything and everyone has purpose and worth and we all have a piece in God’s restoration, God’s vision of wholeness for humanity and creation. This truth has not changed in the past 60 over the time of ministry here at OSLC. As we each contributed a piece to our whole Mandala, we each contribute to the wholeness of the kingdom of God. We contribute to God’s restoration when we give up our need to be right. We contribute to God’s restoration when we stand with and amplify the voices of people who are marginalized for the color of their skin or for whom they love. We contribute to God’s restoration when we place other people’s needs ahead of our own, even if it means limiting our own autonomy. We contribute to God’s restoration of humanity when we care more about people than profit. We contribute to God’s restoration when we give up our own safety, ego, status, and yes, wealth in order to show people that we don’t give up on them.

This is what following Jesus means, and it may not be where we want to go, and it might be more than what we want to give up. Peter would give his very life for the gospel, to be a part of God’s restoration that began in his own life and flowed out to the world. For God, nothing is broken beyond repair, and as the people of God, we give all that we have, all who we are to follow Jesus into the brokenness to be agents of love, hope, grace and restoration. Amen.

 

Living Connections Sermon on John 15:1-8 April 30, 2018

*This sermon was preached on April 19, 2018 and can be watched on http://www.bethanylive.org. The texts were John 15:1-8 and 1 John 4: 7-21.

Children’s sermon: Have you ever been alone? Maybe in your room, at night, or another time? What is it like to be alone? Yes, it can be fine for a while, and sometimes being alone for a little bit is good and ok. But what would happen if you were alone ALL THE TIME? As in everyday all day, no one to talk to, no one to help with meals, no one to wash your clothes, no one to play with, no one at all. What would THAT be like? Yes, I think that would be sad, hard, lonely and ultimately, we can’t live by ourselves can we? Can you grow all your own food, raise cows for hamburgers, never go to a grocery store, because if you are alone, there is no one to put food in the grocery store! God created us to not be alone, but to be together.

Today in SS you will hear the bible story Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches. We are always connected to Jesus and Jesus wants us to always be connected to him. This is because God loves us! Let’s go look at the tree in the corner. Do you see the branches coming off the main trunk? Yep, Jesus says that he is like the trunk. The trunk of the tree sends food, water, and other things the branches need to grow and to have leaves and some trees give us fruit, like apples, peaches, pears, bananas. Jesus wants us to know that Jesus will give us what we need to grow and bear fruit. Now will you grow apples from your arms?? NO! don’t be silly, but the kind of fruit Jesus wants us to grow is love. We know that God is love and love is the most important thing to God. God knows that when we are connected to Jesus, like branches on a tree, then we are connected to love! Just like branches grow off of other healthy branches, if we are connected to love we will grow more love! And when we are connected to Jesus, we are also connected to each other and show love to each other and grow love in each other! How can we show love and help each other grow love? How about when we are kind to a friend, even if they are not being kind to us? How about helping someone in class with math, reading or science? Or how about sitting with a classmate at lunch who no one else sits with? All kinds of ways to show love! God shows us love, connects us to love in Jesus and we are this same love of God. I want you to write your name on this ribbon, and we are going to tie the ends of our ribbons to one anothers ribbons to make a chain and put it on the tree to show that we are connected to Jesus and each other. The adults will do this in a minute too. You can go back to your seat when your done, I’m going to talk to the adults a bit more about this.

 

Connections. We often say in our lives that it’s not what you know but who you know. Who you are connected to. We love connections, mostly. The rise of social media is a testament to this. We can be reconnected to high school and college friends, connected to colleagues all over the world, family, even complete strangers whom we find interesting in a two-dimensional sort of way. The downside of digital connections is that they tend to replace face to face interactions and we are wired for personal connection. As neurological research continues to reveal, being in community is vital for health. There is a Ted Talk by Susan Pinker where she reveals that the secret to longevity is a social life. This is the most important factor for longevity beyond diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, positive thinking, gratitude or genetics. Close relationships, connections, belonging, community are a vital life source. Even casual interactions such as talking to your barista, or the cashier at Target are more important than any of those biological factors. Being connected is life itself.

This is a truth that is not an accident. God created us in community, saying “let us make humankind in our own image”and then: “go forth and multiply.” God’s very self is relationship and community as we proclaim in the Creeds: God father, creator, Jesus redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who gathers us as one. God became flesh in Jesus to dwell with us, to abide with us, or a more accurate translation, to make a home with us. To move in so to speak. Jesus is moving in! Better finish the basement! Jesus moved in with us to show us that this belonging in God’s community, this deep and powerful connection is all about love. 1 John 4: 8 sums up the whole of God’s being and the bible: God is love. And this love is not just fluffy, sentimental, Valentines day love, no, it’s agape love. Agape love is self-sacrificing love, resilient love, love as actions. God, through Jesus, shows us actions of healing, actions of casting out demons and fear, actions of servanthood, actions of risk, actions of dying on a cross, actions of being raised from the dead. Love that will go to great lengths, literally to death and back, to be connected to us so that we may know this love and live connected to this source of love.

The stakes are high in this love. Jesus is clear that without being connected to this source of life and love, we will wither and die. When we cut ourselves off from Jesus, we are indeed like a branch that is disconnected, dies and is only good for firewood. We cut ourselves off when we listen to the society around us that tells us that we should be able to go through life alone and not need other people to journey with us. Pull ourselves up from our own bootstraps, be smarter, quicker, and better than everyone else. Be self-made people. Worry only about ourselves. We don’t want to be dependent, reliant or co-dependent. There are times that I believe this lie from culture and think that it’s all about what I alone can produce, and what I alone can produce is a statement about my worth. When I fall into this trap of self-reliance, I project it on other people around me and that’s when real disconnection can happen. I forget that I have gifts that people need me to share and that those people have gifts that I desperately need to be all whom God created me to be. This is what it means to be connected to Jesus the true vine, the source of all life and love. Connected to this life source, we live in a state of mutual and intertwined relationship with God and each other.

I need to be reminded constantly that I am part of a bigger whole, as I bear more fruit of God’s love when I am in mutual, giving, and loving relationship with Jesus and the people of God. John 15: 5 was my confirmation verse I chose when I was 14 years old. I was an Air Force brat and when I was confirmed in May, at the end of my ninth grade year and chose this verse, I had just learned that my dad had orders for us to move again soon. I would get to finish my first year of high school but then leave shortly after school let out. I would be losing all the connections from the previous four years. We had read this verse in church after Easter and I latched onto it with a vice grip. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said. “Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” I heard “You are connected to me Jesus says, whether you like it or not and vines rarely their drop branches and as the vine grows, branches intertwine with other branches, and become so intertwined, you can’t tell which branch is which and where the vine begins and the branches end. This verse told me that I was connected to the true vine no matter where I was.

So Jesus says it is with our relationship with him and each other. The gift of being in this community of faith, based on the reality of love, agape love that flows from first from God to Jesus the vine and then to us the branches, is not only about us but about the fruits of love we bear. Love in action, not just in words. Love in action is fearless, for when we are filled with love, there simply isn’t room for anything else; no room for hate, apathy, greed or fear. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. Fear can cause us to see the world through tunnel vision and lose sight of the expansive and fearless love that we are connected to and are called to be.

Fearless love in action is when we risk our reputation to speak out for the dignity of all people. Fearless love in action is when we sacrifice our own wants so that our neighbors have what they need, whether that is safety, food, shelter, clothing. Fearless love in action is praying for those whom you don’t like and who don’t like you. Fearless love in action is working for justice and standing with people who lack power or voice in our culture due to gender, race, faith tradition, or sexual orientation. Fearless love in action is looking beyond first impressions or our own biases and seeing each other as God sees us, all branches on the vine, all useful, all with worth, all created in God’s image of love. And God’s perfect love casts out all fear.

You are already connected to this source of life and love. You are already connected to all the other branches on the vine, some that are like you and some that are very different. Some are right next to you and you can see and touch, and some branches that are so far down that vine that you don’t even know that they exist but Jesus says they matter. You already have everything you need to bear fruits of love. You have been splashed with the waters of baptism as we will do for Miles this morning, and proclaimed a branch on the vine of life, you are nourished body and soul with bread, wine and words of promise and forgiveness to grow in love and bear fruits of God’s love.

Beloved, love one another, for God’s love through Jesus Christ has moved in and this perfect love is here to stay, to cast out fear, to connect us to Jesus the true vine, and each other, now and forever. Amen

*During the hymn of the day/or communion, you are invited to come to the prayer station in the corner. Take a green ribbon and write your name on it in the center. You will tie one end of your ribbon to the end of someone else’s to create one chain of ribbons on the tree as a visual that we are connected to each other and Jesus sustains us all. When you tie your ribbon onto someone else’s, notice the name on the ribbon. Pray for that person this week to bear the fruit of God’s love.

When you leave the station, there are baskets of key tags, please take one. They have the verse of John 15:5 on one side and “We are connected to Jesus” on the other as a reminder of being the beloved community no matter where your life takes you.

 

 

Connecting November 8, 2013

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When I joined Facebook in 2008 many of my friends nearly dropped dead. My best friend commented that I was “the last person” she would have guessed to see on Facebook. You see, I am not always the most technologically gifted individual on the planet. Also, I am not always quick to adapt to new technology. I didn’t get a cell phone until 2002 and had a flip phone probably waaaaay longer than what was acceptable. BUT being part of an on-line format for seminary and had the requirement of starting a blog for a class (this one), I quickly caught up and found that I can figure more out than I thought.
Now as an extrovert, I LOVE Facebook. I have reconnected with high school friends, cousins, and college friends. I can talk to friends and family almost anytime and anywhere. What I also love about it (as well as Twitter and my other blog www.faithformationjourneys.org) is that I am “friends” and connect with people not just all over the country but all over the world. How amazing is it that just tonight I shared ministry ideas around the Bible with people from around the country all while sitting on my couch and watching the Big Bang Theory?
I do think that it has changed the face of pastoral ministry and I think mostly for the better. Yes, you can argue that now parishioners can “get to me” in multiple formats and 24 hours a day but just as pastors have boundaries around the phone or face to face visits, you can have healthy boundaries around social media as well. What amazes me is the number of “casual” Facebook or even text conversations that end up delving into some important theological questions and deeper relationship. I often think that there is a level of safety in being able to ask these kind of questions of your pastor via your computer, tablet or phone. Many of these people would not for various reasons “stop by the church to chat” or request a “pastoral visit.” But they will shoot me a text saying “hey, I have been wondering something….” This is a new reality in the community of God’s people. It’s a reminder that God uses all that we do, every piece of culture and technology to reveal love, grace and community in the world. It’s also a reminder for me to continue to keep learning new technologies and ways of communication because I never know how God will be revealed to me in a new way.