A Lutheran Says What?

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

Meeting Jesus Sermon on Romans 7 March 26, 2018

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This is part of our Lenten sermon series at Bethany on “Meeting Jesus.” On this last Wednesday of Lent, we explore what happens when we meet Jesus as ourselves?
Reading from Romans 7: 15-19: 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
So, confession time, who has ever done something and thought, ugh why did I do that? I do! All the time! Things we do…
This is human nature! What do we typically do though when we do things that we know are not good things to do…do we tell people? Do we announce it to everyone we know? NO! We bury it, we hope no one notices, we hope that people forget. There are many politicians and celebrities that operate this way, what always happens? Yep! It gets revealed! And when we try and spin it, it often gets worse! Cover up is never good. And the root of cover up is mostly fear and shame. Fear that we will be unlovable and shame that we ARE unlovable. We can’t even admit it when we do something wrong to ourselves most of the time, or we convince ourselves that we are correct to act that way, someone deserves it, or it really isn’t THAT bad….
But shame is real, vulnerability with our imperfections is hard. Brene Brown is a well known researcher and author on shame and vulnerability and hear is a nugget of her learning in studying shame and vulnerability for about a decade. Guilt is an emotion that tells us we have done something bad, shame is an emotion that tells us we are bad. When we can’t be authentic and vulnerable with ALL of who we are, then we can get stuck in shame. Mostly shaming ourselves. This is a powerful emotion that only causes us to go into a complete tailspin and keeps us from being all of who God created us to be.
The apostle Paul knew this. Paul had been who previously? Saul! Yes and what did he do as Saul? Persecuted believers and followers of Jesus! He was a Pharisee who knew the Torah and all of the purity laws inside and out. And he did really bad things! He killed people. But then he met Jesus. Jesus struck him blind, made him reflect on himself, made him look introspectively at his actions, sent him to Ananias who laid hands on him and told him that he would see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul saw himself through Christ differently. Jesus law of love revealed to Saul what the law he espoused could not: his need for grace, mercy and forgiveness through Jesus. He saw his deeds as heinous and yet, those deeds didn’t define who he is to God. God says that we are more than our deeds, right or wrong, we are simply God’s children, created in God’s divine image. When God created the world God declared it GOOD but do you remember what God declared when he created humanity? That we were VERY GOOD! VERY GOOD! Not just ok, not sub par, but in God’s own image and worthy of relationship and love.
We can’t get stuck in shame because the bad things we do are not who we are. Our spiritual journey with Jesus is about this growing awareness and need to be our authentic and vulnerable selves, bad things and all. Sin is real and we must deal with it head on and know that Jesus collided with the sin of humanity head on in the cross and yet, didn’t let that real sin and violence control his love for us. We will live in that tension our whole lives, doing the evil things that we know we shouldn’t and not letting sin take over. Knowing that who we truly are to God is a beloved people, knowing that God’s Holy Spirit dwells within us and brings to the light our actions and thoughts that are not who we truly are. And not only as individuals, this is not a individualistic journey, we will need to be Ananias to one another to remove scales from each other’s eyes to reveal who we are, where we are going, to reveal Jesus to each other and to know that Jesus will meet us on the road over and over again to walk with us and to love us. The real us.

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Exposed John 13: 1-17, 31-35 Maundy Thursday Year C March 24, 2016 March 25, 2016

005-jesus-washes-feet

A video of the entire worship service can be accessed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

When I began my seminary journey several years ago, I started out at Iliff School of Theology here in Denver. I joined a group called the Beatitudes Society whose focus was service. One of the service opportunities included an event that DU hosted to help people who are homeless receive assistance such as a haircut, dental work, resume/job assistance, interview clothing and a medical check-up. The Beatitudes Society was there to offer foot washing to the people as they waited for medical care. Now before you think that I’m so altruistic, humble and pious, let me lay down some truth. I signed up in a moment of “This will be good for me to get out of my comfort zone.” I woke up that day thinking, “What am I doing??!!! I’m a germ-a-phobe who will be touching feet that haven’t seen soap and water in a long time and who knows what diseases they have!” I’m not super proud of that thought or that moment when I considered calling in sick. I was so uncomfortable even thinking about this, how was I ever going to make it through my two hour shift? My own preference for comfort and keeping supposedly safe boundaries rather than connecting with people who were different than myself was exposed and it didn’t feel that great. Here I was in seminary, training be a church leader to proclaim the gospel and I found myself saying, “Ummm only within certain boundaries, Jesus. Only in my comfort zone.” My own hypocrisy was exposed that day.

But I showed up, and I was handed a basin, towels and some soap. I was told to walk around and offer to wash the feet of the people who had been bused from various shelters or from the street for this event. So, taking a deep breath, I set out into the crowd. What happened in those next two hours, I never could have anticipated or even guessed. I washed the feet of a gentleman whose feet where so mangled from years on the street that I was actually afraid I would hurt him if I wasn’t careful. Most often I was turned down. I had one woman take one look at me (an obviously white, middle class woman with the resources for graduate school) and laugh that I would even dare ask her-did it make me feel good to offer her charity she asked me? That stung a bit as I realized the complexity of my own discomfort, of other people’s discomfort and the vulnerability of humanity. I was once again feeling exposed.

After that experience I was a bit hesitant to even ask again, but I did. I asked a woman about my age, if I could wash her feet. She protested and said no, but I persisted. Finally, she allowed me to proceed. We talked for a bit as I washed her feet and she began to cry. I asked her why she was crying, and she replied that this was the first time in a long time that anyone had actually treated her like a real person. I began to tear up too, as I looked up at her from my position of being at her feet, I was even more ashamed of my selfish thoughts on this task, and how I had been too afraid to get this close to someone on the margins of our society. This woman in front of me, the woman who had rightly called me out as a hypocrite and those who had turned me down, had all exposed the tension of following Jesus. They revealed the messiness of humanity, the fear of vulnerability, our inability to really be connected to one another, our preference for comfort and stability, and our human need for knowing our role and our place, and the risk of boundary breaking love for one another. They also revealed Jesus to me. In the uncomfortable exposure of all of the ways I am broken, they pointed to our mutual need for Jesus. I am forever changed and humbled by those two hours. I will admit that it turned my world of privilege and comfort upside down.

Our John story draws us all deep into the brokenness of humanity, the vulnerability of our relationships with each other and even Jesus. Jesus stoops to wash his disciples, encountering them in a most uncomfortable and intimate way; unafraid to break worldly boundaries and get too close to their messiness. This closeness was too much for the disciples and this exposed all of the ways that they were afraid of getting too close to Jesus. This fear led them to say no to Jesus, to deny Jesus and yes, even to betray him. This great love was just too much for them to bear and understand.

But Jesus washed them all, equally and together. In spite of how the world might see them or later judge them, Jesus shows them abundant love that can only come from God. This uncomfortable and all too intimate act is one that Jesus does for the disciples and for us all. It’s difficult because it exposes all of the ways that we are not Jesus and yet are still called to follow him, even though we fear, even though we are uncomfortable, even though we are imperfect.

Jesus’ act of love, exposes that no matter how stinky, broken or unlovable we might seem to one another, we also cannot detach from one another. No matter how much we want to run, call in sick or not deal with those who might scare us, deny us or even betray us, Jesus bathes us all with love to expose that we are all interconnected whether we like it or not and whether we understand it or not. In our exposed brokenness, Jesus’ purpose of unconditional love and mercy is also exposed. Revealed for all of the world to see is how Jesus’ love matters deeply; Jesus’ love heals us; Jesus’ love nourishes us; Jesus’ love binds us together so that more love can be exposed for the sake of the reconciliation of all creation.

This love is also exposed at the table through the promises in bread and wine. In these common everyday objects, extraordinary love transcends earthly boundaries and is made real. Extraordinary love that exposes grace for all, reconciliation for all and Jesus’ promise to show up in our lives each and every day in the ordinary and in the mysterious. The children celebrating first communion tonight will sit at this table, close to Jesus who welcomes them and all to the table of abundance and boundary shattering love. When Jesus’ love shows up at our feet, it moves us past our own needs, wants and comfort zones in order to connect with people whom we wouldn’t on our own connect and risk relationship. When God’s love exposes the reality of our lives, we see other people, people with disabilities, people with differing political views, people who suffer from mental illness, people who we consider unworthy, or people who we simply don’t like, we see them through the love of God, who comes close to us, even when we resist. Jesus’ love removes the boundaries that we set for ourselves and for others.

God isn’t afraid to infringe on our boundaries and come too close to us or to be exposed. Jesus’ presence among us does expose us, turn us upside down and transforms us for the sake of love made perfect in servant hood, love made perfect in suffering, love made perfect in discomfort, and love made perfect in vulnerability. God proclaimed that we are worth the risk, worth the exposure, worth breaking boundaries and worth unconditional love. The experience of Jesus’ love doesn’t leave us alone, but gets too close, breaks our human boundaries, transforms us and makes us new so that everyone whom we encounter is exposed and has an experience of this same love in Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.

 

Wrapping Us in Bands of Love Sermon on Hosea 11: 1-9, Narrative Lectionary November 19, 2015

*Preached at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO Wednesday, Nov. 18th worship

As you all can imagine I’ve been meeting a lot of new people lately. I love meeting new people and you all are fun to get to know! And as you can all guess, it’s all a bit overwhelming. Not just the sheer number of people, but that in the beginning of any relationship: colleague, friends, spouse, even a new child, there is a dance that happens. It’s the dance of how much to share, how much to say, what body language is appropriate, how am I being perceived and received? Or a question I tend to ask myself, “how crazy do I sound?” Don’t answer that! But even in long term and long standing relationships there is a constant back and forth of negotiating the terms, or a wrestling that happens usually out of the worry of rejection and being hurt. We all know that even in mutual, healthy, life-giving relationships, wounding occurs when we are brave enough to open up to the other person. Vulnerability is not a comfortable or common word in our 21st century, American vocabulary. Being wise, guarded, smarter, savvier, over thinking and planning out every conversation, action and reaction is, and if we’re honest, how many of us function even in intimate relationships. In our fear of being hurt by another person, we ensure that we have safeguards in place and don’t show the true depth and breadth of ourselves. Wrestling with how open to be with someone, how to truly connect alongside the reality of possibly being hurt and the promise of authentic, mutual relationship is a constant human tension.

Our fear keeps us from truly connecting with people and whether we know it or not, actually harms ourselves and others. The events of the past week highlight this fact. We live in the reality that there are people who seek to harm others through what they claim is in “the name of God”. There are these people in every religion, and I want to emphasize this, this is not a Muslim issue, or Christian issue or a Jewish issue, or a Hindu issue or a Buddhist issue, this is a human issue. And while 99.9% of people do not go to the extreme of physically harming or killing people who are different in some way from themselves we all have to admit that in our everyday actions and thinking, we use our belief system to keep those people we don’t know and consider “other” disconnected from us out of fear. We’re afraid of too close a connection. A Syrian may have perpetrated the attack in Paris? Then we should not help any Syrians despite the fact that thousands (mostly children) will die without a safe place to live. A person on a street corner who scammed us out of 20 bucks? Then don’t help another person living on the streets. Someone told you a lie? Then don’t believe anyone but yourself. When we encounter people and situations that make us uncomfortable and may even threaten our well-being, we wrestle with our inability to reconcile the reality of harm versus the potential of life-giving relationships that nurture love, peace and joy. So we put up walls that may seem like safety, prudence and wisdom, yet they only diminish our connectivity as humans, the connectivity in which God intentionally created us. We become addicted to our need for security and safety.

In the time of the prophet Hosea, Israel was wrestling with the reality of being overrun, displaced, disenfranchised and harmed in many ways. Just like us, they were looking for security, safety and assurance. They decided to worship the local gods of their captors, going along with the cultural status quo for the sake of ease and comfort. Israel was looking to keep God at arm’s length thinking it wiser to go it alone, not to be connected to God and do what is easiest. They were addicted to their own way of thinking about how the world worked. Hosea proclaimed that God saw what they were doing-putting up walls and barriers between themselves and God, offering sacrifices and worship to other gods. God was hurt, angry and lamented their actions. The sacrifices to these other gods were hurtful not because God was harmed in any way, but because these were probably human sacrifices-they were not loving their neighbor as themselves when they allowed another child of God to be hurt in the name of religion. Worshiping other gods grieved God because it meant they were not teaching each other, their children or anyone about the promises of God. These other gods were not gods of life, connectivity and relationship, they were gods who simply demanded a certain action based on fear of repercussion of disobedience. These gods wanted only to be satisfied for their own sake. God lamented and was wrestling with the fact that the Israelites were stuck in thinking that this was life-giving. Religious action was not what God was concerned about but relationship with the Israelites whom God deeply loved was God’s concern.

God’s lament and anger is an uncomfortable reality that both we and the Israelites wrestle with. We don’t like to think about God’s wrath, or anger or grief.  If God can be angry, like we can be angry, what will God do? We know as humans, where our anger comes from, fear and spite and we are also all too keenly aware of what we do with our anger-we lash out at others. Hosea uses words of parent/child to reveal for Israel and us that God’s anger springs from the deep, unconditional love of all of God’s people, never from fear or spite.  God desires the fullness of life for God’s children and when we diminish the life of our neighbor, we break open God’s heart.  God’s very being is one of deep, mutual, honest and vulnerable relationship and God desires to be with us in our mess and yes it requires a great deal of wrestling. But God is willing to wrestle with us and all of our baggage. God stays in the relationship with us even when we try and back away. God fully enters into the reality of our humanness, the reality of tragedy, fear, sorrow, grief, love and joy. God stays in the mess to wrestle wholeness from division, hope from fear and love from anger not for God’s sake but for ours.

God enters into the dance of relationship not holding anything back despite the risk of grief, hurt or sorrow. God’s love is bigger than those possibilities. For God, wrestling with us in our humanness out of love is always worth the risk. Love is always worth the pain and grief.  God wraps us in bands of love despite anything we do or don’t do. God wraps us in bands of love knowing of our limited capabilities for response. God wraps us in bands of love knowing that we will wrestle with believing this unconditional relationship where grace, forgiveness, and hope always prevail over despair, sin and death. God wraps all of creation in bands of  love knowing that God’s connective love has the power to overcome our fear, overcome our anger, overcome our barriers, and overcome our religions,  to bring us all into eternal loving, vulnerable relationship with God and with one another for the sake of healing the whole world. Amen.

 

Fear and asking the wrong questions Reflection on Mark 9: 30-37 Pentecost 17B September 16, 2015

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*I am not preaching this week but I was asked to give a reflection at a prayer worship service. Just a few thoughts on Mark 9.

Mark 9: 30-37
Fear is a powerful motivator: So I’ve recently taken up a new health regime as I’ve been noticing a few weird things that are just attributed to middle age. So, I decided that I wanted to not just lose a little weight but feel better and maybe try and slow down the aging process now that I’m in my 40’s. I know, I know, the optimism of youth! So, armed with what is probably a little bit of dangerous information, I went to a health store privately owned by a nutritionist. I bought vitamins with a 92% absorption rate, fish oil, probiotics and protein shake mix. And so, armed with all of this stuff and a new workout routine in addition to my running, I have pretty convincingly told myself that I don’t need to fear aging anymore. I can do this!
Hmmm….yet, none of the aging stuff has gone away. Nothing has really changed. I feel a little better, maybe less tired but my husband is pretty sure that’s just a placebo effect. He’s probably right. I’m getting older and changing whether I like it or not. Now, have I gone to my wonderful doctor with whom I have a great relationship with? Oh no, as he’ll probably just tell me, yep, getting older!
The disciples were dealing with a lot of fear throughout Mark. Fear at not just the miraculous and unexplainable feats of Jesus but here in the middle of Mark, fear at what Jesus says is coming next. Suffering, a cross, death and what’s this about rising again, Jesus? It was heady, scary stuff. Stuff that they definitely did not want to think about day to day. After all, there were important questions to ask such as “who is the greatest? Who’s the best disciple?” Inquiring minds want to know. Fear was keeping them from confronting the tough stuff with Jesus and kept them thinking about themselves, their own needs and their own comforts. Vulnerably asking what Jesus was talking about and how they might fit into such a plan would just be too risky and they probably didn’t really want to know.
What would you do or ask if you weren’t afraid? About your faith? About Bethany? About your life?
What does it mean to be vulnerable? What’s at risk when we open up about what we’re afraid of? Is it easier to be vulnerable or to accept vulnerability in other people around us?
Good news: Jesus proclaims there is power in vulnerability. When we are vulnerable, like a child, we are open to all of the ways that the kingdom of God comes to us just as we are, wherever we are. God doesn’t assess status based on who’s the greatest, the wealthiest, the smartest or most valuable to society, but declares that the only status that is important is that of beloved child of God. Do not be afraid! Amen.

 

Be A Free-Loader! (Or Accepting What is Given) Mark 6: 1-13 Pentecost 6B, July 5th, 2015 July 5, 2015

True confession time: I love the reality show The Amazing Race. I know, I know, it’s not necessarily deep, intellectually stimulating and a bit voyeuristic of other people’s relationships but it intrigues me on a lot of levels. One, is that I love to travel and they go to some pretty cool places that are on my bucket list. Another is that they travel in pairs, competing against other paired teams of people for prizes.  In the early seasons, they were given no money and they had to figure out how to get money to travel, eat, etc. They travel light with just a backpack of essentials. What’s more, because of all the exotic places they go, they never speak the language of the country that they are in. They have to rely on strangers who might have limited knowledge of English to help translate, to help get them going in the correct direction and keep them safe. I was astounded at the number of people who would help with transportation or money for the teams. It kind of bothered me, actually, that these teams just expected people to help them-felt like free loading a bit. But time and again, complete strangers with the barriers of language and culture are willing to help them. And the people helped them joyfully, happy to be hospitable in their country. Many of the people loved being invited to share in the journey with the team.

The teams also have to rely on each other-every so often the teams are given tasks that they have to complete in order to get their next clue of where to go and what to do. The team members sometimes work together but sometimes have to pick which one of them will complete the task before even knowing what it is. For example, the task could be to climb something and the person who is terribly afraid of heights will have to complete the climb.

It’s interesting to watch the teams navigate the tasks and the challenges together at each step determining who has what skills, knowledge and which of their gifts is needed in that moment. And yes, some arguing ensues.  The teams always get to a point in the race where the façade drops and the vulnerability is revealed. People have to admit that they don’t think they can make the climb, walk the tightrope, eat weird food, run the distance or whatever uncomfortable situation they encounter. The teams that do the best learn to give up on control and focus on encouraging each other, comforting the other and finding a way together when it seems impossible. Even when it doesn’t work out and they are eliminated from the race, I have never seen a team leave the show fighting with each other or ending the relationship. They walk away with a deeper understanding of themselves, others, the world and the gift of community from having to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is at the heart of our Mark reading today on so many levels. Jesus comes to his home town and preaches, shares with those who know him what he’s been up to and it doesn’t go that well. One would think that Jesus’ return home would garner a good old fashioned potluck picnic celebration; a little Galilean hospitality– some pita, olives, hummus and the like. But hospitality is not exactly what happens here. Jesus unabashedly is vulnerable with the people he grew up with, he doesn’t hide any part of his identity or what he knows about God and the crowd questions his abilities, as well as his legitimacy. Naming Jesus as Mary’s son and not Joseph’s son calls his birth into question. This carpenter’s kid teaching like a rabbi offended the people and they reject him. The writer of Mark is showing us Jesus in his full human vulnerability; Jesus is astounded at their rejection and doesn’t have much he can do about it. He had to admit that he couldn’t even do all of the healing that he had done other places. One could call this trip a failure for Jesus.

So what does Jesus do? Well, he calls and sends his disciples to go and do what he just failed at. Huh.  Much like the Amazing Race, Jesus pairs the disciples off and tells them to go and take nothing with them. The disciples had to wonder about the wisdom of this, particularly in light of what had just happened to Jesus with people who actually KNEW him. How is this going to go with strangers? Jesus had removed any speck of self reliance from the disciples. When one enters a house as a guest, one steps completely into the world of someone else. You eat their weird food, you accept their customs, you sleep in a strange place, you smell weird smells, and you delve into their worldview.  It’s uncomfortable at best; disconcerting and stressful at most. It reveals the things that you’re good at, not so good at and even afraid of. As a recipient of hospitality at this level, you give up all of your control and you are left utterly vulnerable and it may not go well.

We, too, are sent, we are vulnerable and we just don’t like to talk about it. We, as the 21st century church, like to think that programs, buildings, pastors, staff, chairs, flowers, robes, candles and the like will guarantee proclamation the word of God and will share the love of God with the world. We believe that those things will help us to control and legitimate our ministry, that we are the self sufficient resource- the host in the community of the community and we will give the community whatever they need. It’s much easier to be the host than the guest. There’s less at risk.

Jesus knows that left to our own devices, we will hide behind extra tunics and bags of money to cover our vulnerability, mitigate the risk of rejection and use them as barriers to protect ourselves from needing other people, so that we can go on believing that we can control our lives and the lives of those around us.  We don’t need their hospitality but they need ours. And our culture of self reliance and autonomy backs us up. It’s not socially acceptable to be a “free loader” even if we come bearing this life giving message of life forever and being created in the image of the One who is pure love, grace, mercy and hope. We forget that God was first vulnerable with us, emptying Godself  to be fully human, to risk and to know what it is to be rejected, scared, and alone. Jesus vulnerably called friends who were less than perfect and would eventually scatter when times got hard and fully loved them anyway. Jesus wasn’t afraid of his vulnerability but embraced it as part of being with God’s people.

Jesus calls us to remove those barriers and brings us back to the reality that who we are as messy, imperfect, and broken humans is exactly who we need to be to proclaim God’ love. When we are able to be authentic, drop our façade and admit our brokenness is when we are most able to connect to one another and share what God has given us so freely. God has already equipped us with what we need for the journey: Jesus and each other, including the stranger, and this grace is sufficient. Our imperfection and vulnerability means that we have to invite others to journey with us because we need them as well. We need those who make us uncomfortable, push our boundaries, will walk with us in pain, wrestle with us in justice for all people and remind us that Jesus gathers us all to God. This isn’t a gospel of “go it alone” self sufficiency but one of radical inclusion where all people with their differing points of view and gifts are not just tolerated but needed for the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God.

God declares that we are never alone and we are already uniquely equipped by God to do whatever God calls us to do-we are enough just the way that we are, even when we are weary, afraid and rejected. Proclaiming the gospel only requires the willingness to vulnerably speak the truth about how the good news of Jesus Christ turned your world upside down with the promise of being made new each and every day, with the promise of unconditional love and forgiveness no matter what, that promise of God’s community, that the promise of eternal life, the reality of abundant life through Jesus, that is available not just someday but today. It’s proclaiming the good news that death is never the final word in God’s kingdom, that the meal of bread and wine we share is a not a pious ritual but the love of Jesus actually going in your ears, your mouth and your heart, and not just yours but your neighbor’s too. And this promise is for all people, in all places even if it’s risky. Amen.