A Lutheran Says What?

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

Weeds, Wheat and God’s Field July 24, 2017

This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church on July 23rd, 2017. You can watch at http://www.bethanylive.org. I personally think that the 10:00 a.m. went better! 🙂

 

Matthew 13:24-30New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of Weeds among the Wheat

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears[a]listen!

You’ve perhaps heard the saying that “a weed is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it to.”  Such as a rose bush in the middle of your cucumbers, while beautiful, can seem obtrusive and obnoxious. We like things orderly, rose bushes where rose bushes go and cucumbers where cucumbers go. Then we get this parable this morning about weeds that intrude on wheat. I think on so many levels this parable strikes at the heart of our personal fears. How do I know if I am weeds or wheat?  What about the person sitting next to me in the pew, or at work, or on the train, or my next door neighbor or the person who thinks politically differently from me, are they weeds or wheat? We want to know who’s in the correct place!

We like to think that we can discern between who is doing God’s good work and who is not, or we think that we already know, thank you very much. And it’s always the person who thinks differently from us, or what we might call “wrong” and so we don’t want to be around them. Upon first glance, this parable seems to support this kind of dualistic thinking. Those who are wheat will be gloriously gathered to God in heaven and those who are weeds will be sent to be burned where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those weeds will get what they deserve-punishment. Done. We desperately want to hang our hats on such certainty so that all can be right with the world.  The weeds and the wheat have no business together! God, fix this! Don’t let these weedy people be around me!

It would be very comforting and escapist for us to read this parable with the mindset that this is about some are right and some are wrong. But we know that life and people are not that clear cut and relationships are hard and messy. But mutual relationships with those who are different from ourselves requires us to examine and know ourselves fully. We want or need to believe that God will punish those who deserve it, and if we follow all the rules perfectly, we will be gathered as wheat. Jesus told parables to make the listener of any century do some hard work. But parables are not designed to be taken at face value. The word parable means to “throw alongside.” Jesus throws this parable alongside our daily lives to stop us in our tracks and wrestle with God for a while.

Martin Luther struggled with the dualistic thinking of his time of whom God gathers and whom God throws to the fires. Part of Luther’s genius is his epiphany that we are both wheat and weeds simultaneously and that God will continually forgives us and offers us unending grace. In our Lutheran theology, we proclaim that we are at any given time a weed, or a sinner and wheat, a saint. Sometimes an action that in one setting is saintly, can turn around and be sinful in another setting. And we don’t always even know we’ve done that!  Paul speaks of this as doing the evil he doesn’t want to and not doing the good he wants to do. No matter how we try, we can’t quite hit the mark it seems. But Paul is confident that God will use his (and our) weediness and transform it into wheat.

We desperately want to be wheat and yet, deep down we fear that we are the noxious weed. We project that fear on others-proclaiming them to be weeds, the ones not doing God’s work, the ones not following Jesus, in order to secure our own place in the field as wheat. We fear that if there are too many wheat, that there won’t be room for us. And we do this even in our church community! If I’m using my gifts, then there can’t be room for your gifts, there is only so much room in the field, you know. Our egos like to judge who are weeds and who are wheat. My actions are REALLY serving God, so your actions can’t be. What if there are different kinds of wheat and all can bear good fruit?

We also get hung up on the fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth imagery as some sort of reference to hell but in truth, I think it refers to our inward thoughts on ourselves and others. We can stir ourselves up into a frenzy comparing ourselves to others, judging other people’s decisions and actions, shaking our head at our own decisions and actions that we aren’t proud of and, if any of you have ever been awake at 3 a.m. with all these thoughts going around your head, you know what weeping and gnashing of teeth is all about. It’s that long, dark night of the soul, it’s the constant grudge holding and scorecard keeping that we do with each other. But when you let go of judging, comparing and ego, peace and grace flourish. Not only peace and grace to others, but perhaps more importantly, to ourselves.  We can’t offer others true grace and non-judgment until we can first offer it to ourselves. When we stop holding ourselves up to unrealistic standards of perfection, whether those standards are societal (wealth, health, body image, etc.) or religious (keeping all the commandments, doing whatever religious practices you believe will make you a better Christian) when we let go of that, is when we can truly live in God’s promise that God created us in God’s image and we are enough, more than enough and loved just the way we are. And so is our neighbor, co-worker, and family members even the ones who drive us crazy.

You see, this parable isn’t about who’s in or who’s out. It’s about God and God’s field. God’s field, where all are allowed to grow, no matter what. Weeds and wheat are side by side. What if when we see weeds, God sees wheat? What if we need those who seem planted out of place as we grow in God’s field? In rich diversity, we can hold each other accountable, learn from one another, forgive one another and be authentic community.  Childern’s Sermon: Invite children: cards, change cards, “does it matter who has the label weeds or wheat? Does it matter that we are all together and God loves us? Can we learn from each other, share our mistakes and our learnings to love God and each other even more?”  Explain the sermon notes.

 

The word seminary, means “seed bed.” God’s field, God’s seed bed, is about learning and going deeper into relationship with God and one another. It’s not a fancy theological degree. It’s engaging the world with all the complexity, uncertainty and gray areas through God’s vision.  It’s God’s patience and hope that floods the field, the seed bed, and everyone and everything growing in it, with love, forgiveness and grace freely poured out no matter of our actions, our status or who we think we are, weeds or wheat. We don’t have to worry about judging ourselves or others. God will come to judge, which is different from punishment by the way. Judgement is God’s proclaiming reconciliation of creation and humanity back to Godself in love. Punishment is what we do to ourselves when we try and be God, dividing ourselves out of fear, not looking with love upon our neighbor, judging actions we don’t understand, putting our own needs and wants ahead of others, allowing our ego determine our thoughts and actions.

Jesus understood that this is the human condition. We think that we know more than we do and put more trust in ourselves and our ego than in God. Jesus says, go deeper, go where it’s complex, go beyond black and white thinking, go and confront your ego, your hubris, your arrogance. Go and be confronted by the breathtaking foolishness of God’s love and grace to let weeds and wheat grow together. Audaciously live in the faith and hope of what we cannot yet see, where everyone will be gathered in God’s life-giving kingdom as adopted children of God, unconditionally loved and cared for, where none are left out, all live side by side, and God clothes all in righteousness. Go and recklessly share this reality in whatever part of the field you may live in-give your time and your resources to people not because you think they deserve it, but because God loves them (and you!) and loves the diversity  of all of us growing together in God’s field. Thanks be to God.

Advertisements
 

One in Christ February 5, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 7:06 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Preached Wednesday Feb. 1, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran

Galatians 3:27-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

What are some labels that we give each other or even ourselves? What about when you’re born, what’s the first label that you often receive besides perhaps your name? We get many labels from the first day we are born don’t we? Why do you think we do that? Lots of reasons-are they all “bad” reasons per se? No, of course not, but can labels be taken too far? Yep! Have you ever been given a label that you don’t like but it’s hard to shake it? Or perhaps, it’s not that you don’t like your label, but it’s not always helpful or other people may not appreciate your label. We tend to label people, even for good and right reasons, and the take it too far. We point out distinctions in each other, not to celebrate diversity and gifts, but often to decide who’s in and who’s out, who has power and control and who doesn’t, who’s weird and who’s “normal.” And before any of you start feeling guilty, my point is not guilt, it’s to point out the universalism of this behavior-we all do it! If someone says to you that they don’t see distinctions in people, they are lying. Of course we see distinctions! That’s not the issue! The challenge comes with what we do with those labels and distinctions.

The people of Galatia were so excited about this good news of being loved by God that they wanted to learn everything that they could about it. And they stumbled upon the laws from the OT. All of the laws of what to eat, what to wear, how to act, etc. They began to think that doing these laws was what made them faithful and matter to God. And if you followed the laws better than other people, well, then you were like a super mega Christian and you would matter even MORE to God. Maybe you would get a special cape or hat to signify how special you were in the community.  And the people of Galatia were no different than any of the rest of us and they were also using these laws to label people, how to sort out who has power, who is a real follower of Jesus and who is in or out of this new community. They were competing for status with one another. Who’s the cool kid, the smart one, the best behaved, the most loving, etc.

So Paul writes to them to say no! I can almost see Paul’s eyes rolling as he writes to them. He says, you guys! You are all important to God not because of what you do but because of who Christ is! And Christ is the one who gives us faith, who freely gives us grace, forgiveness, who showers us with love and reminds us that our labels, our distinctions, don’t matter to God and don’t matter in the body of Christ. The Galatians have forgotten that faith is not about what you do, the laws you keep, but who are as part of the body of Christ. Paul writes in v. 27 that in baptism we are clothed with Christ, and that means that we now ALL look like Christ!! You’re a female? You look like Christ. You’re a male, you look like Christ. You’re short? You look like Christ. You’re black? You look like Christ. You struggle to read or do math? You look like Christ. You struggle to speak or walk? You look like Christ. And the list can go on! Do you get it? Jesus says in Matthew 25… when you feed the hungry, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned, you do this to Christ. Christ’s love and grace makes our differences strengths and our diversity into equality. It’s not an eraser of who we are, but a bold proclamation of what unity through diversity looks like in God’s kingdom and how we are to be with one another. This is what our baptism means! Not only do we put on Christ but we put on Christ’s eyes to how we see every person how God sees them. If we all look like Christ to one another, then how do we treat our neighbor? How do we see Christ in our neighbor?

This is what being one in Christ means and why it’s important as part of our baptismal promises. God’s kingdom is full of promise for us to truly be all who God created us to be-to know that our gifts, or identity, even those things that the world might label as disability or less worthy, are exactly what is needed in God’s kingdom of peace and wholeness. In our baptismal liturgy we shout this reality from Galatians 3 to the world so that all may know that God is doing a new thing through Christ and we get to participate in this work. God is exploding all the boundaries that we erect as humans, so that the truth of worldly labels, division and distinctions no longer grant privilege to some and not to others, and those whom the world has dismissed are now on equal footing with everyone else. It’s not easy, this eradication of boundaries and it will mean for most of us in this space, to set aside our own privilege, power and mindset to look at our neighbors in our communities, schools, workplaces, grocery stores, with the eyes of Christ to see them as Christ too. This is the work of the kingdom.

There is nothing easy about this life of faith. The good news is that Jesus promises to be with us each step, each day, each moment and each breath. Jesus offers us sign posts on the way in the form of water in a font with words of love and grace, a table of abundance where bread and wine are offered for us and for all people-to know that we are gathered as one body through Jesus’ body. Yes, there’s mystery of things we can’t understand, and we don’t have to understand all of it. The mystery of faith through Christ Jesus isn’t a paper to be written or a book to be read, but a life of love, mercy and hope to be lived. Labels, laws, and systems don’t save us. Jesus does. Jesus saves us not because of what we do or don’t do, but because of who and who’s we are: God’s beloved children-one body in diversity and unity, in this love of Christ where there is room for all.

 

Jesus Doesn’t Cross the Line But Erases It, Mark 3: 20-35, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 7, 2015 June 7, 2015

Living with people is hard. How many of you remember, or still do it, as a kid going on a car trip with your family and friends and it wasn’t too far into the trip that you and your siblings divided up the car space? You drew that imaginary line down the middle of the back seat and said “Don’t cross this line!” You all wanted your own space and usually by five minutes into a trip someone was already annoying someone else. Even though you were supposed to be on a fun family trip! But it seems that siblings are always jockeying for space, differentiation and to get their fair share.  As human beings, we are constantly sorting ourselves. Whether it’s our co-workers, family members, friends, acquaintances, we make distinctions between one another around beliefs, convictions, values and morals. We like to draw imaginary lines in the sand and firmly plant ourselves on the side opposite of those with whom we disagree, don’t quite see eye to eye, or just think we need distance from. It gets even muddier when people don’t neatly fit into one category or stay on their proper side of the line.

Living with people is hard! So as humans, we tend to divide things up, we sometimes call it sharing, but in reality it’s dividing. We divide up everything and everyone into categories, we divide up our time, we divide up our resources, we divide up our love, and we divide up our compassion. We think that without dividing up, without sharing, we won’t have enough, there won’t be anything left for us or we won’t know where we or others fit in the bigger picture. We operate from a sense of scarcity. We like order, neatness and control. We assume that with divisions and categories in place, we can control the world around us, our families and our friends. We know exactly where we stand on our side of the line.

Jesus’ family was desperately trying to control this situation in Mark 3. Jesus had returned home, always a contentious thing as a young adult and much had happened to Jesus while he had been gone. He had been baptized by his cousin John, spent 40 days in the wilderness with Satan, called disciples, cast out demons on the Sabbath, and had done some healing, essentially, Jesus has spent the last couple of weeks completely bucking the system and revealing this new thing that God is up to among humanity, even among people whom society shuns and declares outside of God’s reach. So, now we catch up with Jesus in the story of Mark just trying to eat dinner.

Living with people is hard and as soon as Jesus returns to his neighborhood, trouble brews. Jesus was no longer the quirky but cute son of a carpenter but had moved beyond that category, he crossed the line and was now someone that no one recognized, not even his family! People were calling Jesus crazy, which was and still is a serious thing.

Scribes arrived on the scene and immediately drew a line in the sand that clearly put Jesus on the opposite side of all good law abiding Jewish people. If the scribes could just convince everyone that Jesus is on the side of the line with evil, with Satan, then the order of life as they knew it could continue. “Nothing to see here, the scribes and Sanhedrin are still in control, God is God as contained in the rule book and all is right with the world.”

But Jesus wouldn’t allow that line to be drawn. Jesus is clear with the crowd that has gathered, that division, drawing lines of who’s in and who’s out, claiming that only some are worthy to be called family, that only some will be gathered to God– is not what God is about, is not what Jesus came to reveal about God’s love and mercy in the world.

Jesus states that people will be forgiven no matter what they say or do but then offers us this tricky statement about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, which has had many hurtful and dividing interpretations over the past 2000 years. This extreme statement from Jesus should not be taken out of context but placed firmly in the midst of this story of family, divided houses that cannot stand, all being included in the family of God and the whole of God’s love story for creation. A blaspheme is a statement showing a lack of respect or a claim that one possesses the same divine powers as God. Jesus is pointing out the fallacy of humans to think that they control God, or control God’s kingdom, or know God’s will with certainty. We like to think that we can somehow know or interpret what “God’s will” is but if we’re honest we throw that phrase around to justify our own behavior or to try and explain the unexplainable in our lives.

But if I may be so bold, I wonder if  it’s in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s son, that we do get a glimpse of “God’s will.”  What if the will of God is the radical inclusivity and love that Jesus proclaimed, taught and lived? What if the will of God is that division of any kind is forever erased? Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reveals who God is and what God is doing: loving and including everyone in the kingdom of God. We, as God’s people, are invited in by God to reveal what God is doing by loving, including and erasing all divisions around us. It’s tempting for us to assume that we know who God does or doesn’t love, who is included in grace and mercy or not and draw a line to keep “those people” away from us. But I’ve heard it said somewhere that anytime you draw a line between you and someone else, Jesus is always on the other side.

But here’s the good news, even in this seemingly harsh statement on a so-called “eternal sin”, God’s grace is still extended. The bigger picture is that Jesus in his death and resurrection forgives all sin, all of the times we try to be God or guess the mind of God for our own comfort or control. On the cross, Jesus gathers us all to him, and declares that nothing that we do, say or think can separate us or draw a line in the sand, between us and God. Jesus’ love erases all of our lines between God and each other. In the kingdom of God, there is only unity, forgiveness, love and mercy, even when living with people is hard.

What would it look like if we here at LOTH (Lord of the Hills) declared that lines, divisions and categories are no more and that in our gift of diversity we are one people of God, unified, one family, proclaiming God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for the entirety of creation? What if we reflected only the love of Christ to one another so that no one is on the outside but the circle of welcome is widened for all? What if we went out to the neighborhood around us with this message of radical inclusivity in the kingdom of God? Look at all of the ways that we already to do that! Preschool, supporting New Beginnings, VBS, opening our building up to other congregations and organizations, just to name a few. Where is God calling us next to erase a line and include people?

Living with people is hard and messy, there is no denying that. But God promises to live in our midst and reveal that in that difficulty is renewal, unity and love for all. In the bread and in the wine that we share each time we gather for worship, Jesus proclaims that we are gathered in one community, to be God’s one holy people for the sole purpose of gathering all of God’s people to the table; where God’s kingdom of forgiveness and grace breaks into the world with a force that can’t be ignored or explained away. Jesus declares that we are one people, one house united and the lines between us and God are erased, Thanks be to God, amen.

 

Bad Boundaries: Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28 Year A, August 17, 2014 August 17, 2014

We love to give things labels to organize our world. Or at least I do. Organizing a closet, a drawer, my office, or anything gives me a sense of peace and control. Do you remember those old label makers that you could punch letters onto a plastic sticker and label your whole world? My mom had one and I loved that thing. I labeled almost everything in my room, including my baby sister. I don’t have one now but I wish I did! I love knowing exactly where something is, exactly what it should be used for, and having similar objects together for ease of finding them. This sort of organizing and labeling can be helpful and fairly benign. As humans, we like some sort of control over our surroundings, we like to put things in categories that we can understand and interact with in a logical way. Without labels and categories, our lives have the potential to be chaotic, messy and overwhelming. We like predictability.
This categorizing spills out into our interactions and relationships with people in our daily lives. It starts when we are very young and by the time we are in junior high or high school we know what all the cliques are and who is in them: jocks, nerds, band geeks, goths, hipsters, etc. And we know from an early age where we fit and where we don’t. Crossing those boundaries was unthinkable and with the rare exception, impossible. Even in adulthood that sadly doesn’t change and often intensifies. Such as, this group of people are my close friends, this group of people are acquaintances/coworkers, this group of people are strangers, this group of people are poor, rich, educated, uneducated, republican, democrat, male, female, white, black, hispanic, native, and the list goes on and on. We put people in categories and we like it when people stay in their proper containers, roles and relationships with us. It’s clean, neat and predictable. Many of us even label ourselves and even accept the labels assigned to us by others or society. Wife, husband, mother, father, fat, thin, pretty, handsome, introvert, extrovert, young, old, etc. These labels can and sometimes do place us in groups where we are accepted and comfortable but they also divide us by creating boundaries and an “us versus them” mentality with those people who are NOT in our label. We can reduce people to a charactiture. In the book The Big Sort, demographic research from the past 15 years has discovered that we are self sorting ourselves into more and more homogenous groups in this country by ethnicity, political affiliations, and socio-economics. Even as the US grows more diverse, we are clumping together with only those the most like us and who make us the most comfortable. We like to be comfortable. When the categories are violated, it’s confusing, messy, unpredictable and VERY uncomfortable.
This gospel story this morning troubles me because it points to the reality of seeing labels and not people. We have Jesus who frankly is operating out of his clique of being male with a lot of privilege in the first century Palestinian culture. He ignores the cries of the woman in our story at first. She’s not just any woman but a woman with the label of Canaanite. From our OT history, we know she’s the enemy. And women, especially unaccompanied women, didn’t speak out to a man in public. For Jesus to answer her, would be for Jesus to admit that she had some claim or right to him. That would be uncomfortable for Jesus and the male disciples at the bare minimum. Jesus is acting well within the cultural norm as an insider and it completely annoys me because this is not the label of Jesus that I like. I like to keep Jesus in his label of Son of God, the divine Jesus. The Jesus that is predictably kind, inclusive, forgiving, merciful, abundant, and counter cultural. But here we clearly have Jesus as fully human. Jesus, in the reality of his humanity, trying to keep some control and predictability in his life. Men don’t speak to strange women and Israelites DO NOT speak to Canaanites. Jesus is not acting the way I want him to at the beginning of this passage. I want him immediately to include her, love her and accept her. But instead Jesus ignores her, the disciples try to send her away and then Jesus calls her a dog when he does speak to her. Seriously Jesus? Is Jesus really removing any human dignity from her, and making it clear where she is on the social ladder? Frankly, I’m appalled and my instinct is to protect this woman from this apparently typical first century man named Jesus who appears to be trying to keep her in her proper place.
But this Canaanite woman does something remarkable in the face of all of the labels, boundaries and cultural injustices: she refuses to be bound by them. She acknowledges that yes, indeed, she is out of place, she is not in Jesus’ social group but she refuses to allow Jesus to just dismiss her. She asserts that despite her labels, she is more than those labels and is also deserving of the mercy that Jesus is offering the “lost sheep of Israel.”
Her faith is not just about belief in Jesus, we assume that she has heard of him and who he is somehow, but her faith is courage to claim her own and her daughter’s full humanity and place at God’s table. Her faith is persistent action when it seems hopeless and useless to keep pushing for justice. She forces Jesus to step out of the cultural categories that they were both caught in and affirm her true label: a child of God deserving of God’s abundance. In these few verses she starts out in her position of a lowly Canaanite but gets Jesus to see her as more than that, to see her as a woman, a full human, at the end of their exchange. Not to mention that Jesus grants her the healing of her daughter from a demon.
Jesus also ultimately refuses to be bound by the cultural labels. He does finally speak to her and he does admit that God’s mercy is wider than first offered. This mercy he offered the woman would have been seen as offensive and scandalous to the Israelites as his talking to her would have been. God incarnate is not neat, predictable and clear. The boundaries are not where we think they are. This passage highlights the messiness of relationships with each other and even with God, as well as the offensiveness of truly offering God’s love to all. We’re going to mess it up but are we going to move past our own uncomfortableness for the sake of offering God’s love and mercy to another? Just when we think that we have God all figured out, labeled and categorized, we discover that God can’t be contained by our human labels and need for control.
The reality and the danger of labels, categorizing and sorting ourselves gets expressed in many different ways in our world. From the violence in Ferguson, MO that points out our struggle with racism in this country is far from over and that labels of skin color are still dehumanizing, to mental illness as a label that people are too ashamed to speak of, to religious categories that spark war resulting in the death of school children, to gender violence, to the marginalization of those who self identify as LBGTQI. And it’s not just these larger social divisions that are a problem: in our own corner of the world, cliques, gossip, or anytime we assume an “us versus them” mentality about anything, it seems that our categorization of each other trumps our very humanity at times. Whenever we look for what is different about another person and assign a label, we fail to see each other as the very same child of God, loved by God.
There are tensions in our Matthew story that are difficult to reconcile, but what is true is that this Canaanite woman refused to let go of her own identity as a human created by God regardless of other social divisions. She forced Jesus to step out of his boundaries to recognize her inclusion in God’s plan for reconciliation of all people and creation. Jesus did exactly that-included her, not just for her sake, but for all of us. Jesus crosses boundaries and shows us that as the people of God, we are called to those places of uncomfortableness, unpredictability, and chaos for the sake of radical unity, the abolishment of “us versus them” thinking, in the face of social and cultural divisions. We are called to walk with each other despite differences. We do this when put aside our own wants and comfort for someone else’s needs, when we share from what we have, and when we offer each other benefit of the doubt and true grace. We are called to witness for the world, that through the fully human and fully divine, Jesus Christ and by his death and resurrection by God, the boundary of division from God and each other is eradicated. We are free to live as ONE people of God with no division, distinction, or category. The predictability of God’s promises of love and mercy for us all and God labels all of us as a beloved child, is all we need is to know. Thanks be to God.

 

God’s Hope for the World: Sermon on Genesis 1-2, Matthew 28:16-20, Holy Trinity Sunday, Year A, June 15th, 2014 June 16, 2014

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like the problems of the world just keep piling up and it’s overwhelming. No matter how much I am outraged and saddened about another child being shot, it will happen again. No matter what I do, children go to bed hungry. No matter how I want people to live in peace, people will still make hateful racist, anti LBGT, and other hurtful remarks. It seems we can’t just all get along. Sometimes, the world can seem like a dark and isolating place. And if we’re completely honest, we wonder if there should be some sort of reboot. Do we just need to start over somehow? We worry what kind of world we are raising our children in or leaving for the next generation. What will be our legacy and what consequences will those after us have to experience? What is it we are supposed to do or be? What is it we want for our life together?
And we look for some hope. I have noticed that the idea of hope bubbling up in the secular culture quite a bit. Some of you already know that I have been thinking about this lately. I listen to the radio a lot, as many of you can guess, I drive quite a bit. So, I wait and get the deals on the satellite radio to help me pass the time. One of the stations I listen to is a top 40 format. They do a weekly count down of the top 15 songs each week and I noticed last week as I was driving to and from Ft. Collins that 4 of the top 15 songs directly speak to the desire and longing for hope and unity as humanity. (In case you’re wondering: “Raging Fire” by Philip Philips, “Nothing More” by the Alternate Routes, “Scare Away the Dark” by Passenger, and “Love Don’t Run” by One Republic.) It’s also a theme that is integral to the plots of many tv series and movies. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, even sillier ones like This is 40. To notice the darkness and brokenness of the world is part of our human experience and yet so is the clinging to some strand of hope it seems.
So I’ve been thinking about the nature of hope and what the difference is between the secular idea of hope and the hope that we have as people who believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes a difference in and for the world. I am also wondering what God is up to in our world with these themes of hope and unity bubbling up.
Much of the secular media culture seems to link hope to another person noticing your human condition and offering you compassion. Hope seems to need a communal quality to it. Hope transcends the individual and give substance to the mystery of mutual relationship. Yet, the concept of hope that is put forth in the world still has the underlying assumption that hope is all about us. That hope doesn’t exist without something that we as human beings do. And we continue to get it wrong and so the spiral of despair and hopelessness continues because we can’t pull ourselves together and we stay with our narrow focus of the world around us and only what we can see. And so hope and unity seem unattainable.
If the world says that hope is fleeting, dependent on us and yet desperately needed, what do we know about what God says about hope? Today’s texts help tell the story of God’s love and hope for the world. In the Genesis creation story, we read that God is hovering over the formless void and darkness. “Formless void” is better translated from the Hebrew as chaos. In the very beginning, God looks right into the chaos and darkness and speaks light and life into it. God’s word and breath swept into the chaos to create life where none had existed before.
And not just one kind of life but all kinds of life. God created fish and birds and plants and trees and cows and dogs and lizards and deer and snakes and platypuses. God created not just one thing or one time but again and again. When God was done creating the plants and animals, God still wasn’t finished. God the creator had more visions of what the world could be. God created people, in God’s image-men and women. Not just in God’s physical image but in the image of God’s love and hope for what it could mean for God and all that God created to be together. God created life to be interwoven and interdependent in order that each part of creation needs other parts of creation to be healthy, whole and what God declared as good. God didn’t create out of hopelessness but out of hope and joy bursting with the possibilities of what living in the midst of and with this creation for eternity could be.
Hope is embedded into all that God has created. Flowers that bloom every spring, plants that regrow each year, sunrise after the dark, babies (is there anything more hopeful than a new baby?), new friendships, even our how we develop as humans is a sense of hope. Developmental phases where babies and children learn new things, phases of life that offer adults new opportunities, even while other parts of our lives are fading away. God’s hope is deeply intertwined in us.
We know that shortly after this glorious creation, a separation between God and humanity occurred. Yet, God’s resilient hope for connection with us abounds in the world and this was never made more plain than in the person of Jesus. God came to us to be love and hope in the flesh. Jesus proclaimed that God’s love is for all, nothing separates us from God and that just when it seems that darkness, death, and hopelessness will win-look again. God’s hope that created the world, created life once again from death. God’s hope calls to us from the empty tomb to tell us that this is a hope that is not dependent on us but encompasses us and draws us into the very life of God. God’s hope is enough for you, for me and for us all. We don’t even have to always believe in this hope all of the time. Sometimes we will worship in this hope of God and at the same time wonder if it’s true.
Jesus knew that the idea of hope the world offers will confuse us and make us question. The world tells one story of hope that is incomplete and unsatisfactory and yet, we find it easier to believe than God’s overflowing promises of hope, grace, mercy and daily renewal that meet us right where we are with no strings attached. We have to experience these promises over and over to drown out the other voices we are prone to listen to and this is why we gather together often as the people of God.
This hope and love from God I believe is what God wants for us in our life together. Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 28 to go out and give voice and experience of the good news of new life in God to all people because this new life is for all people. We all are intertwined in the life and breath of God and connected to one another and it’s why it matters that we tell the story of God’s love and hope to one another, to our children and youth, to our neighborhood, and to our world. We have to remind each other that God’s hope is not dependent on us or what we do but is simply in us to be revealed and daily recreated. We have to remind each other that we matter to God and to one another, as well as that we daily receive being this new creation and deep love from God’s Holy Spirit who simply desires to always be with us whether there is chaos, peace, challenges or joy. This is the hope we cling to and live in everyday. Thanks be to God for all of God’s people who are filled and moved by the Holy Spirit, who are the hands and feet of the risen Christ for the sake of the world that God created. Amen.

 

What’s prayer got to do with it? Sermon on John 17:1-11 Easter 7 Year A June 1, 2014

Mike and I have friend from Nebraska, Matt, with whom we went to high school, worked at camp during our college years and he and I even attended seminary at the same time. We both also worked at the UNL campus ministry just at different times. Needless to say he’s a good friend of ours. On early Friday morning we got the news that his house burned. Everyone got out ok but Matt needed some medical attention. His wife and two young elementary age children were physically fine. But they lost much of the house and their possessions. Matt’s wife posted on Facebook what had happened, that they were fine and to please not ask what they need right now as they didn’t know. So, many of us as friends and family made simple posts of support, love and prayers. He has many pastor friends obviously, and many of us wrote an actual prayer or that we were praying.
How many times when life becomes difficult or unclear or even downright tragic for someone we tell them that we are praying for them? Or when we are going through a difficult time people say they are praying for us? We do it all the time and here’s the thing for me, it sometimes kinda bugs me. It feels and sounds like a copt out. If I tell you that I am praying for you, then maybe I don’t really have to do anything else for you and get my hands dirty. Especially if I don’t have to pray out loud or in the presence of anyone else. Those words of “I’m praying for you,” can almost seem like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Or sometimes those words of “I’m praying for you” are really born out of a sense of helplessness because there is really nothing of any substance that we can do to change our friend or family member’s situation. With my friend Matt who lives in NE, what can I do to help him? I guess I could drive to NE and help them clean up or something? But realistically, they will need a professional and my help would be laughable at best. Maybe as they put their house back together they will need some financial help, which I could do, but that won’t be for awhile. So, in the mean time, I tell them that I am praying for them. Is it enough?
This whole idea of what prayer is bewilders many of us. Donald Miller in his book, “Blue Like Jazz,”talks about treating God and prayer like a cosmic slot machine: prayers go in and we think what we want should pop out. Is it about getting what we want out of God? Is prayer about telling God all of our problems so that God will fix them? Is it a way to do something for someone without ACTUALLY having to do anything? Is it about me, myself and I? Is it about keeping God happy because Jesus tells us to pray? Is it about eloquent words and proper posture?
In John we get the first part of Jesus prayer to God for his disciples in chapter 17. It’s Jesus last hurrah with the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion and the messiah who turned water into wine, fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, who raised Lazarus from the dead, decided the best use of his time left with his friends was to pray. He was leaving them; they would be alone without his daily physical guidance, so shouldn’t Jesus be trying to shove as much knowledge about God or the Torah down them or be giving them something tangible that they could hold on to in the coming days, weeks and years? I would think so. But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus stops and prays. Really? That’s the best you’ve got Jesus?
The words that the writer of John has Jesus say are well constructed and eloquent if not a little convoluted. But I am struck by what Jesus does NOT ask God for with the disciples in the entirety of chapter 17. He doesn’t ask for God to bless them with anything worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask God to have Judas not betray him or to help Thomas believe in the resurrection the first time Thomas is told about it. Jesus doesn’t ask God for advice on how best to act when arrested or what to do if the disciples abandon him. What Jesus does ask, is for God to be revealed in the disciples lives and for overall protection as they proclaim God’s love and work in the world. Jesus asks that they are one with each other and one with God, creator, redeemer and sustainer.
I can easily forget what prayer is really about and I need this reminder from Jesus. Prayer is not about me. It’s not even about you. It’s about God and connecting ourselves to the very heart of God which is about so much more than our day to day concerns and joys and yet is all about those day to day concerns and joys at the same time. Prayer is exactly what Jesus asks for in John-prayer is about being one in the life of God. One voice, one hope, one people. When we pray with and for one another, it’s a connection of relationship. It’s a time to create a holy space for God and each other in our busy lives. When I am praying for Matt and his family’s current situation, I am remembering that we are connected from our past, present and future relationship through God is truly present and promises to love us all. They occupy space in my life and in my heart.
Jesus knows that the most important action to model with his disciples before he is no longer with them day to day, is that of stopping, pondering and creating space in their lives for the mystery of God’s promise of continued and eternal relationship with them. All of the extraordinary actions Jesus had done cannot compare to knowing that you are important in the life of God and in the life of someone else. Jesus is naming in this prayer what is already true: we are one in the life and love of God and God’s Holy Spirit is with us always. Nothing changes that. But by saying or hearing the words “I’m praying for you,” it’s a reminder of the promise that this holy space has been created for you in the heart of a friend and in the heart of God. It’s knowing it’s already true that God’s Holy Spirit is connecting you to something bigger than yourself and to others and there may not always be adequate words for what comes from that space in your heart. This is why Paul writes in Romans 8 about the Holy Spirit interceding for us with sighs too deep for words.
Our very breath is prayer-it connects us to the breath of God that surrounds us. And this breath of God is in us all-our friends, our family, coworkers, those whom we don’t like, those whom we’ve never met. It’s what makes us one in the life of a relational Triune God. In deep unity, words aren’t even necessary, let alone supposedly articulate ones. When we are with someone who knows us well, we don’t even have to speak to communicate our thoughts. This is what Jesus prays for us all. That we know God so well that words aren’t necessary, to live fully in the here in now with one another in God’s love and to know we can rest in the promises of the sacred space created just for each of us in God’s heart with unconditional love, mercy, and grace. Thanks be to God.