A Lutheran Says What?

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

Pay Attention! Sermon on John 1: 29-42 Year A January 19, 2020

This sermon was preached on Jan. 19, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. The texts were:

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9
John 1: 29-42

 

Children’s sermon: Have a tray (or a cookie sheet) of objects (have them be varied and as many as you can fit on the tray). Have the tray of objects covered by a sheet. Gather the children forward and say: “I have some fun objects covered up on this tray. I’m going to remove the cover for 30 seconds and I want you to see how many you can remember when I put the cover back on. Ok Go!” remove the sheet count to 30 in your head and then recover the tray. “Ok what was on the tray!” You can write them on a large sheet of paper if that helps or simply have a list of what is on the tray beside you that only you can see and check off as they name the objects. More than likely, they will not name all the objects and more than likely if they do, it will be a team effort. “Ok, I’m going to remove the cover again for 15 seconds and see how many more you can see.” Repeat the exercise. Now they might have all the objects. (Even if they got them all the first time, ask if they are sure and repeat the exercise.) You got them all! Great job seeing all of the things on this tray! You really paid attention and what you didn’t see the first time, you might have seen the second time, particularly if a friend had seen it and pointed it out to you. We don’t always notice everything around us all the time-it’s hard to pay attention to details or sometimes we don’t pay attention to the things we should-and family and friends and our church help us to do that! Our bible story today is all about paying attention. John tells his disciples to pay attention to Jesus, and points to Jesus a couple of times in our story-in case his own disciples missed Jesus the first time. And Jesus pays attention to the disciples and tell them to come and see what he is doing. They may not get it the first time, the second, third or fourth, but Jesus knows that they need to keep looking and that in a group of friends, each person will help the other see Jesus and not miss something-like we helped each other to see all the objects on the tray. Seeing Jesus can be hard for us as it’s not like in the bible story with Jesus right in front of them. So where do we see Jesus today? I want you to go and ask someone in the congregation-right now-where they see Jesus in the world and then you tell them where you see Jesus. We need each other to see Jesus and to pay attention to what God is up to! Jesus calls us to be together to point to God’s work in the world. Let’s pray:

It’s amazing what we can miss when we’re not paying attention. Paying attention is being aware of our environment, what’s around us, or who’s around us. How many of you have ever been driving somewhere familiar, from home to work, or work to home, grocery store, etc. and arrive at your destination with no real recollection of how you got there? Maybe you were lost in your own thoughts, or a good song on the radio. For me this week it was U2’s “I still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” I think it should have been our hymn of the day! Or perhaps you notice something new on your daily route and wonder to a friend “has that always been there?” and the answer is yes! I noticed that after I had lived in Denver for awhile and had my routines, how little I paid attention to anything outside my routine. Someone newer to town would ask me “do you know where such and such is?” and I would have to stop and think or look it up as I had never paid attention before.

We get comfortable in our routines, what we see, hear, think, and do and we don’t notice what’s really going on around us, until someone points it out or something happens that awakens us to perhaps to what has always been there but we’ve never seen. Often, seeing something new in our environment can be good and helpful-such as discovering that someone on your street has similar interests, or there is a convenience nearby that you need, such as when Mike and I just discovered a movie theater four minutes from our house. Sometimes, seeing something new or for the first time can be difficult as it might reveal something that needs work and our full attention-such as the first time I experienced the inversion here in Salt Lake in December. My reaction was that this needs to get fixed immediately! This needs our full attention!

To pay attention is to notice the complexity and intersections of life together. What and who we pay attention to matters. We can seemingly sleepwalk through our days and not notice what God is doing in our midst. Our default is to pay attention to ourselves, what matters for us today or this minute and not notice that there is more to see. John the baptizer wanted his disciples and others to pay attention to the light that had come into the world, not to himself or his own ministry. Repeatedly in our text he points to Jesus and says “look! See! Behold!” to anyone who will listen. John pointed Jesus out every chance he got. John isn’t worried about being in competition with Jesus for followers, John is concerned that people pay attention to Jesus and see him for who he is. John knows that this is the one for whom the whole world has waited. This is the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the one who will take away the sin of the world! Jesus is the one who will shake us awake from complacency and self-interest and show us what really matters. But it might be challenging and uncomfortable when we see it.

Jesus asks two of John’s disciples a pointed question “What are you looking for?” and the disciples deflect it with a question in return “where are you staying?” Jesus simply responds “come and see” and they follow Jesus. The disciples of John knew that they were looking for something, someone who would change everything. They knew that they wanted to see a revolution, they wanted to see the nation of Israel given it’s due, they wanted to see freedom. They thought that they would know it certainly when they saw it. Jesus’ invites them to come and experience first-hand, to see what God is doing in the world and that God, in Jesus, sees them as well. God has come looking for us.

God sends Jesus to look for us, see us and invite us to see the world with the eyes of God. To pay attention to what is happening in the world that brings harm, injustice and death to our neighbor. To be witnesses and pay attention to God’s vision of wholeness and freedom for all people and nations. We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow and King was a man who saw the world through the eyes of Jesus and paid attention to what was broken and where God’s healing was taking place. In his “I have a dream” sermon, King invited us to come and see Jesus through a nation and a people who can stand hand in hand, break bread together, who know that our futures are bound up in one another and so we must see each other as created in God’s very own image. King invited us to pay attention to Jesus who liberates us from the tyranny of fear, hate, scarcity, selfishness and ego. King pointed us to Jesus and called us as a nation to pay attention that when any of us are harmed, we are all harmed. But seeing the truth is hard and requires us to be willing to keep paying attention, even when it breaks our hearts. Paying attention means staying in the difficult conversation and the hard work when others shut their eyes and walk away. We have a perception that seeing Jesus will make us feel good, warm, and comfortable but when we see Jesus, and realize that Jesus sees us, with all our brokenness, imperfections and doubt we are made uncomfortable. Being seen by Jesus reveals our need for grace, mercy and presence of God in our lives and reveals the work that we are to be a part of for the sake of bringing this same transformation throughout the world.

When we see Jesus and know that Jesus sees us, we then see those whom the rest of the world doesn’t. We see the destructiveness of ignoring white supremacy for our siblings who are black, we see the pain of erasure in our siblings who are LBGTQIA, we see the unraveling of truth in our institutions as a means to personal gains, we see those who are in systemic poverty and lack stable housing, and we don’t just see it to see it, we see it to name it, and then at the invitation of Jesus, to join in the work for all people to be truly seen as beloved, valuable and wanted.

Jesus looks for us, wants to see us fully for who we are and calls us to be renewed and transformed by his gaze. Simon was not only given a new name, Cephas, Peter, but Jesus also gave Peter a new life. Peter will try and shut his eyes and walk away, but Jesus will continue to gaze on him from the cross and then from the empty tomb and call him to see God’s people and care for them. We, too, might try and shut our eyes and walk away when what we see is too much, too painful and too hard, but Jesus looks at us, with love, compassion and mercy. Jesus looks for us to give us new life and new hope and calls us to “come and see,” pay attention, for God’s love sees you today and always. Amen.

 

What We Envision Sermon on John 13: 31-35 Fifth Sunday of Easter May 27, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are John 13: 31-35 and Revelation 21:1-6.

Children’s time: Gather the children and show them the playdough. Have enough of the mini-containers for each child if possible. Say, “I have some brand-new playdough that I bought. I love playdough. When you first take it out of the container all you see is a blob. But then you look at closely and realize it can be a fun shape.  Look, I’ve made a heart! When I made a new shape, did what the playdough is made out of change? No, that’s not what’s new, what’s new is the shape-still the same playdough. I was able to see something really wonderful about it and make it happen. What would you make with your playdough? Yep, you all had an idea of what your playdough could be! Still playdough, but it’s been transformed into something else. And it can be something new all the time!

Well our bible stories today are a bit like that. In Revelation, we hear that God is making all things new! Now we tend to think that it means that all the “old” everything we know will go away, never to be seen again. But that’s not what God means. God means that God will take what is already here, you, me, all people, the earth, trees, land, plants, animals and transform us into how God sees us! God sees all people and all the earth as joy, togetherness, where no one is alone, people and the earth are loved and cared for and no one is harmed. Jesus talks to his disciples about a new commandment-that as Jesus has loved us, we love one another. Now Jesus telling us to love one another isn’t new, what’s new is to love one another how Jesus loves us-to see every person with God’s vision of how we should all be. To see the love in everyone. What’s new about this loving one another is that Jesus wants us to love even when it’s hard. Judas had just left to betray Jesus and Peter was about to tell people that he didn’t know Jesus, and Jesus still loved them. Jesus knows that loving even when it’s hard and people don’t love us, is what shows people God’s love. It’s what reshapes people. God’s love doesn’t leave us alone-just like you all can’t leave your playdough alone, you’re constantly making a new shape out of it, God’s love constantly makes us into new people, not different looking  people, but people who’s hearts, and lives are molded, like this playdough by what God sees. God each day reshapes us to be the love that God sees in the world. Let’s pray:

 

 

 

So do you remember being a little kid or youth and being asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? How did you see yourself in the future? Or how did you see yourself then? I saw myself as a famous singer as I love to sing. When I got older and picked up the violin, I envisioned being a professional violinist playing in the NY Philharmonic or some other elite orchestra. And then, for me and for us all, reality sets in and we see ourselves differently. Turns out I’m an ok violinist and singer, but not that caliber. That was a bit painful to discover. How we see ourselves and others changes sometimes as well,  such as when you realize that this wonderful person that you have married is…..umm flawed. Or when you realize that your best friend has not kept confidences or when you realize that you won’t be the CEO of your company, or whatever dream/vision you might have had for yourself isn’t coming to fruition. We have this idea or vision of what life should be like and when that vision has to change, it’s unsettling and can be painful.

There are some commonalities of our visions of ourselves in our 21st century culture, I think, if you’ll allow me. We see ourselves with financial security, good health, strong relationships with our families/friends, meaningful and fulfilling careers, not just a J-O-B. We see life as something that should be easy and comfortable. Oh doesn’t that sound glorious! We’ll be the envy of everyone. I’m reminded of the tagline from Garrison Keillor from his News From Lake Wobegone-and yes that is a play on words Woe-be-gone. “Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all of the children are above average.” You know, an idyllic place where everything is as it should be…

But then we wake up to a roof leaking, a teenager yelling at us, a failed marriage, iffy health, a sudden tax bill, and nothing is what we envisioned for ourselves. And beyond our own day to day lives, are the larger systems in which we participate and place our trust but end up letting us down. Health care, education, government and yes even Church. All of this can swirl around us and all we can see is chaos and uncertainty, like choppy, stormy seas. The jarring tension between what we envisioned and what is reality, can break our hearts. Life, it turns out, isn’t easy, smooth or what we expect. And it certainly doesn’t always look loving. We can lose vision for anything beyond just getting through today, we can become jaded or cynical that there is nothing beyond this reality.

Relying on our own vision nearly always comes with suffering. God understands this and over and over again offers us what God sees. These passages from John and Revelation give us some insights into God’s vision for creation and humanity. At face value, these passages may not seem helpful as at first blush they are unrealistic at best. This is where we need to take a step back and reinsert these texts into their greater context. In John 13, these five verses on glory and love are sandwiched between Judas leaving into the night to go and betray Jesus and Jesus foretelling Peter’s denial of knowing him. Those are some pretty tough realities. And in Revelation, our passage comes towards the end of the book after some chapters of fairly scary imagery of sea monsters, destruction and chaos. We need to remember that the entire book of Revelation is not to be read literally but as allegory. It’s theological imagination for the suffering and reality of life apart from God and what life with God could be.

Jesus’ commandment about love is all about what God sees, as well. God saying to love one another isn’t new, it’s part of the OT. What’s new is that Jesus has shown us in the flesh, God’s vision of loving us and for us to truly love each other. A love that lives in the midst of chaos, betrayal, denial, suffering and death. A love that doesn’t back down, doesn’t cower in fear, doesn’t respond quid pro quo. It’s a love that is open to being changed by one another. It’s a love that flows from God and is about God’s vision of who we are and how we live. It’s not that God has a specific plan for your life such as what you do on any given day-it’s not predestination. But it is a holistic vision of love that redefines what we do in our lives. This love changes everything. It’s a vision of us that is robust, lived into fully despite risk, and demands action from us–despite the reality of a broken heart, and a broken body. It’s a love that takes the world’s definition of glory-personal honor and status-and transforms it. God’s glory is taking seriously the reality of suffering, chaos and uncertainty in our lives and says that God’s vision for the world is more than these things, God’s vision for us is love that sticks around when life gets hard, love that removes separation from God or one another. God will dwell with us, be right beside us, and be at home with us. In God’s vision of making all things new, God sees us and creation for who we really are and can be.

This vision of God of making all things new, means that God doesn’t leave us alone but is constantly transforming us for a new future, rooted in our true identity of love. And as God’s people, we are to embody and live out that vision to a suffering world looking for wholeness. It’s not easy.

God calls us to see beyond our own vision which tends to focus on ourselves and broadens our vision to see and participate in something greater. It requires us to do some hard work. Living into God’s vision certainly isn’t passive. It’s not being done to us but through us and with us. It’s the hard work of self-examination as individuals and as a church community in order to be the love our neighbor needs, not what we think they need, or what we need. Jesus’ commandment means going out into the world around us with concrete actions. We envision and create a world based on this active love. What we see, we can be. We create a world where families aren’t separated by gun point by Immigration authorities or anyone, we create a world where black and brown lives matter, we create a world where women and girls are valued, we create a world where children aren’t afraid to go to school, we create a world where people are housed, feed and can see a doctor, we create a world where love wins. We go out, as Jesus’ love, to those who have never seen it. It’s the reality that God is indeed in the transformation and creation business and we will not and cannot stay the same.

God casts a vision in Revelation 21, that is all encompassing: all people living in a city together in a diverse, caring authentic community, creation and people enmeshed in sacred harmony, death and sorrow abolished because of God’s glory revealed for us, living waters that renew, refresh and offer life in the love of God that encompasses all things and people. God’s vision beckons us to put love into action here and now. God’s vision calls us to see with new eyes how God’s future reshapes us each day in love. God sees us as just as we are and who we will be. Thank be to God.