A Lutheran Says What?

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

Drawn In Sermon on Mark 9: 30-37 September 19, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 19, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Jeremiah 11: 18-20
Psalm 54
Mark 9: 30-37

Young Friends Message: I am sharing the book today: “Maybe God Is Like That Too” by Jennifer Grant, illustrated by Benjamin Schipper and published by Sparkhouse Family 2017.

When was a time when you felt truly welcomed to a new place or event? One such time for me was when I was still in seminary and I was taking a class in Chicago through the Seminary Consortium for Urban Parish Education (SCUPE), on Faith Based Community Organizing. It was in January 2012 and over MLK Jr. Weekend. Two of my roommates and I learned that Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King, MLK’s youngest daughter, would be preaching at mostly Black St. Sabina Catholic Church on the south side of Chicago that Sunday. St. Sabina was one of the parishes we were studying on community engagement. We took the El and a bus that cold Sunday morning and ended up entering the sanctuary through a side door. But a wonderful, warm woman saw the three middle aged white women enter the wrong door into an all Black church and she swooped over, put her arm around me and drew me in close to her and said, “child, I’m so glad you are here, I’ve been waiting for you. Let me show you three to the best pew for worship today.” And she did. She drew us into the center of the sanctuary literally smack dab in the middle and sat us in the best vantage point to see Rev. Dr. King preach. She brought us a bulletin, made sure that we knew that we knew where the restrooms were, and this church had a Sunday morning snack bar in the basement. She drew us into the community. She didn’t seem surprised to see us, it was as if she had been looking for us to arrive. This woman made sure that we knew that we belonged there that morning.

Belonging is a basic need for us humans. We are wired for connection; without that connection, we wither. Yet the feeling of belonging often feels like a surprise or a shock to us. When we belong, we share many aspects of our lives with a certain group of people such as dress, speech, rituals, days of worship, music, doctrines, traditions, and commonly held beliefs. Some of these aspects are what drew us in and connected us, but the irony is that these aspects can leave people out. We rarely seek out new or different. Like the woman at St. Sabina’s we don’t make a beeline toward a new and different face. Part of our wiring is also to be suspicious of new and different. It’s a loop that is hard to short circuit.

The idea of who belonged and who was accepted is as old as Genesis 3 when the first people first realized that they were separate from God. The Bible is a story of God drawing God’s people back into full belonging and oneness with God and each other. No separation. Jesus is God as human, the one who holds divinity and humanity together, who draws us all into oneness with God and one another.
The disciples had a front row seat to this project, and it caused them fear. Their whole lives had been one of figuring out where and to whom they belonged and to whom they belonged. Their religion? The Romans? Their vocations? Jesus over and over says, no, you belong to someone and something grander: God. But it’s not what you think. Jesus tells them that Jesus belongs to God and will suffer, be killed by the other communities, but will rise again. The disciples aren’t exactly drawn into dig deeper into this news. It’s not the kind of belonging that they want. They want to belong to something and someone who is powerful, great, has authority, and status. They want belonging that brings worldly security.
Jesus patiently, again, tells them that what and who they belong to is one who serves, one who supports, one who draws people into abundant life. This is what belonging to God is like: it’s knowing that when we are drawn in by God’s love together, there is so much more than the world can offer. To shock the disciples into fully grasping this, Jesus draws a child into their center. A child, in the ancient world, had zero value. Children were the most vulnerable and least worthy in Jesus’ time. For Jesus to draw this child into his arms, is scandalous. Jesus declares that accepting, centering, connecting, belonging to this child is the point, that welcoming Jesus, is welcoming God. Belonging to God is belonging to the weakest, least valuable person in the community. It’s drawing yourself to people with whom you would rather not be connected. They might need something from you.
This is still scandalous today, and I know that I, like the disciples, struggle with this radical belonging. It means that I am drawn to the person I walk past sleeping on a bench. I am drawn to the person with differing political persuasions. I am drawn to the person who is fleeing their country to escape poverty, war and oppression, like the 14,000 Haitians on our border needing refuge. I am drawn to the person whose gender or sexual identity expression is new to me. I am drawn to the person with a differing faith tradition. I am drawn to the person working tirelessly in hospitals who need me to do my part to alleviate their strain. I am drawn to the person who is grieving, celebrating, or unsure what is next for them. I am drawn to the person who has differing health needs, such as our unvaccinated children who need protection from the community around them. When Jesus puts his arms around me and draws me close, he is also drawing close all the people from whom I desire a great distance. Jesus draws me in, and draws you in, just as we are, Jesus doesn’t care if we are great by the world’s standards. We are great because God is greater, because we belong to and are loved by God, not what for what we do, not for what we don’t do. God says that what and whom God creates and draws close to is great too: you, me, people whom we haven’t met yet, and may never meet.  
This is God’s hope, vision and call to us all: be drawn to each other, welcome one another, to see God in all people. Jesus draws us in to God’s kingdom where we belong to one another with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.

 

Don’t Get Distracted (And Don’t Cut Off Any Body Parts Either!) Mark 9: 38-50 Pentecost 18B Sept. 27th, 2015 September 28, 2015

In seminary I took a class in Chicago for two weeks where we studied different urban ministry settings-mostly in impoverished and struggling communities. We went to St. Sabina where Fr. Pfleger had focused on the church building up the community to provide social services and combat racism. We went to Trinity UCC with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III (formerly the congregation Jeremiah Wright served) where the focus was on building up people to be faithful followers of Jesus no matter what their struggles might be. We visited a small Lutheran congregation that ran an assisted living facility for elderly who were low income. We visited soup kitchens, programs to move people off the streets to self sufficiency and several other kinds of ministries. But the one that hit this (at the time) fledging soon to be pastor was a UCC congregation in the Latino part of Chicago.
This congregation ran a soup kitchen that fed lunch to 150 people from the streets every single day. They partnered with a nearby Catholic school for the youth to help serve; they coordinated massive food donations each week; they offered counseling for those in need, not to mention prayer and love. They were not a large congregation, maybe an average worship attendance of 100 or so and certainly not a wealthy congregation by any means. But they were focused on living out the gospel by whatever means necessary. What was more striking to all of us in the class was that this congregation had not had a pastor for two years. None, not even an interim. They had some supply pastors float in and out but no consistent pastoral presence. They deeply desired that presence, they wanted a pastor but it’s difficult to get one to come for what they were paying in that part of Chicago.
A parishioner named Rosaria had decided that the soup kitchen would be her ministry and while she had another full time job, she managed to put together a team of people both within and without of the congregation to work with her. She greeted us at the door and proudly told us all about that ministry and congregation. We sat and listened to how each member of this congregation played a role, how they had put aside the anxiety and fear of no pastor in place and just got on with the ministry that God had called them too, and they did it well. They were the busiest people I have ever seen and yet the calmest people I have ever seen. When something didn’t go exactly how they had planned, they readjusted and just kept moving around, over or through the obstacle not worrying about who is getting credit, or who is in charge. I marveled at the calm, as my personal M.O. is to worry about all of the things that could go wrong. I actually found myself concerned for them! But they ignored all of the possible distractions and were simply focused on God’s children who needed food for the day and a word of God’s love, mercy and grace.
“Be at peace with one another.” We tend to think that peace looks like serenity, rest, status quo, an easy life, or no hardships in our path to whatever we think we need to do to be at peace, happy or content. But peace is not any of these things. Peace in this text comes from the Hebrew word “Shalom” which means wholeness. Wholeness. Peace in God’s kingdom is about all people being whole: being wholly loved, wholly included, and wholly equal. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes when the disciples come to tattle tale that someone else is doing what they perceived to be solely their work. “Jesus this person is casting out demons! That’s what we do! We should stop him!” I mean heaven forbid that all of the demons get cast out and then everyone is healthy! Then we won’t be special! The disciples, and us, like to over think situations and make them more complex and more fearful than they really are.
Jesus then goes on to talk about whoever is not against us is for us, don’t put up obstacles, and then some gruesome words about cutting off body parts that keep you from fully participating in God’s work of peace in the world. Now we know that we can’t take such language literally, Jesus does not want us to cut off body parts or put a millstone around our necks but does want to get our attention and to think deeply about what distracts us from God’s peace, God’s wholeness and being part of God’ work that reveals God’s love in the world. What obstacles do we put up to keep out some of God’s children who make us uncomfortable? We love distractions from our real work at hand and we spend much more time creating them than actually just getting to the task of God’s work given to us. We worry about what other people are thinking or doing, we worry about what other people say about us, we worry that some people may not believe the same way, or will get mad, or not like us, or something may not work as well as we want. We worry, and in our anxiety and fear we create obstacles, we look for pitfalls and failings. What we don’t do is look to Christ who works in our midst, in our mess and promises to be forever present.
Hell is separation from God (it is not a place and no one is being sent there!) and we create our own hell. We create ways to exclude hope, joy and love so that we can say “I told you so” when things don’t quite work out how we envisioned. God desires for everyone to be close to God and wrapped in God’s love with no separation-hell is not God’s judgment or punishment; it’s how we punish ourselves. * But God never leaves us and never wants us separated from God or God’s loving community, yet we look for ways to resist God’s desire, thinking it’s safer to go it alone than to participate in the reckless abundance, generosity and love of Christ. Christ opened the way for all –removed every single obstacle that the world could provide-even death-in order for all creation to be in God’s peace, God’s Shalom and God’s love now and forever.
What distractions need to be navigated in your life, here at LOTH or in the community? How are we caught up in our own worry and anxiety and miss what God is doing right here, right now in our midst? We have the Prayer and Care ministry that offers mercy, hope and community right when people need it the most. We have all of our education opportunities that dive us all at any age deep into God’s word of love for us all. We have Habitat for Humanity and Prayer Shawl ministries. We have our buildings that offer safe places for our brothers and sisters in Christ to meet. God is at work here-no matter what obstacles we perceive!
Jesus removes all obstacles and simply calls us to do the same. The UCC Church in Chicago learned that Christian community isn’t about a pastor, a church building, a budget or anyone of the things with which they could have distracted themselves. Christian community is recognizing that Jesus has already removed all distractions, has already given us all that we need for the journey and has gathered us all into one body for the sake of loving God and our neighbor. “Be at peace with one another, for God is with you.”
*My own personal view point on Hell is that it is not a place where those who are “bad, evil or don’t make the cut get in.” God’s salvation is for all and all are in! All means all! That person right now you’re saying to yourself ‘not them’…yes them too! This is good news as nothing separates us from the love of Christ, not even our own attempts at self-sufficiency! If your head is hurting-good! God’s love and mercy are that mysterious and that overwhelming!