A Lutheran Says What?

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

Insurance, Mayhem and What God Sees Sermon for Affirmation of Baptism Sunday June 2, 2019 June 9, 2019

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts were chosen by the two youth affirming their baptism.

Genesis 6:11: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”

Matthew 6: 25-34:

Children’s time: What God sees.

I have worn these glasses since I was 11. They help me to see things far away and up close. Without them, I can’t see important things, like you! What are other objects that help us to see things more clearly? Yes, binoculars, telescopes, all help us to see God’s universe, near and far! We might miss seeing something unique and interesting! Well, these Bible passages read by Aidan and Katie today remind me of what God sees and wants us to see. The Genesis text seems a little hard to hear but when you put it with the Matthew text where Jesus says not to worry, we remember that it’s a good thing that God sees the hard stuff in our lives too. Good sees it all as God created it! In Genesis 1, the very beginning of the Bible, we read the creation story and every time God created something God said what? Do you remember? Is there an adult who remembers? Yes! God saw that it was Good! And when God created humans, God said that we were “very good!” God loves what God has created. God sees us as good and doesn’t want us to be hurt or unkind to one another. In the Genesis verse, people were being unkind and hurting one another and hurting the earth. God saw this and didn’t look away but knew that something had to change. This is the beginning of the Noah’s Ark story or the great flood. Now we know that the people saved were Noah and his family as well as all those animals. And when the flood was over, God sent a rainbow to let the people and animals know that they didn’t have to worry about another flood-this was a promise from God that this wouldn’t happen again. But we still worry don’t we? What do you worry about? That’s what Jesus is talking about in the Matthew story. When we worry about flooding, we worry about what to eat, drink or wear, we are worrying and seeing only ourselves. But Jesus reminds us that by not worrying, we can know that God sees us, God loves us and thinks we are very good. When we stop worrying-we can see God’s love and care all around us! the flowers bloom each year, how the birds are fed, people who care for us. We don’t have to worry about is being alone, or being afraid as God promises to be with us no matter what-even if there are scary things happening or we don’t know where food or clothing might come from. God promises good for us because we are precious to God. And Jesus tells us that if we look, we can see God’s love and care all around us, even if we don’t have a telescope! I have a blessing for you today: +You are God’s precious joy+

 

What are things that you worry about? I’m a worrier: mostly about silly things I can’t control-especially at 2 a.m. It seems everywhere we look there are reasons to worry in our community and throughout the world. Now it might seem prudent to worry about somethings such as our health, retirement, our children, as this worry can lead us to make sound choices today that we think will ensure a certain type of outcome for tomorrow, and some of these choices are a good thing! But we think that our worrying, will create some sort of guarantee of controlling outcomes-like an insurance policy that covers us. This is the heart of the insurance industry-isn’t it? I love that one commercial with the man who personifies “mayhem.” In one commercial a car owner is at a football game and gets a facetime call from Mayhem who informs the man that he is about to steal his car. All the car owner can do is watch helplessly as this happens. The company is wanting you to worry about mayhem and then claim that you can protect yourself from it with their policy. Maybe you can a bit, but truth is that mayhem is simply part of life and no insurance policy can totally protect you from it.

We don’t like to think about that reality too often as it leads to anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. But what do we do when that reality smacks us right where we live? When it’s more than just our car being stolen or our she-shed burning down. What about when it’s something a bit more substantive such as a loved one dying, a scary diagnosis, a long term relationship ending, or more systematic challenges such as lack of healthcare, climate change, wars, immigration crisis, racism or as was lifted up at the Utah Pride Interfaith Worship service, the reality of violence against those who are LBGTQI or on the margins of any kind. It’s mayhem, it’s violent and God sees it all.

But we have this God that doesn’t just watch from a distance, the Bette Midler song is incorrect. God is watching us but not from a distance, God is watching us up close and personal. All up in our grill as the kids say. We are all precious to God, so much so that God doesn’t leave us alone in the mayhem-even when it’s of our own doing. God doesn’t judge the mess-God comes down into it. That’s the scandal of Jesus. Jesus comes to us in our mess-acknowledges it and doesn’t try and explain it away. You see, the words in Matthew 6 can seem a bit Polly Anna-don’t worry! And we say, that’s easy for you to say Jesus, your well, Jesus! God’s son! And yet, we need to remember that the very human Jesus was an itinerant preacher, he relied on other people to support him-he lived in what we would consider a bit of a commune. Jesus knew that he couldn’t control the outcome of day to day life. And Jesus knew his mission-to reveal the truth of the radical, life-transforming grace and love of God is the promised outcome for the world. That world that would soon kill him for this message that breaks systems of mayhem and violence. The powers and authorities knew that worry of mayhem and violence keep the masses in line-after all, if you’re so busy making sure that no one takes your stuff, encroaches on your turf, or gets more than you then you don’t notice the powers and authorities taking advantage of your fear and worry. They want you live in the falsehood that the outcome of not worrying and protecting yourself was death. But freeing people from worry of mayhem, violence and death, would mean that people wouldn’t be afraid-they would live differently. They would live not only looking out for what’s best for them, but would be free to care about their neighbor and the world. To be clear, not worrying isn’t about not planning for the future, but it IS about not being afraid to live fully as who you are as a beloved child of God TODAY and delighting when other people do the same!

God sees the entire world: the good and the bad and loves it and us too much to leave us alone in it. Through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, normally today we would be celebrating Ascension Sunday, God acts to destroy violence and death in the. God acts to bear joyous life and calls us to see and also bear this life, abundant life, even in the midst of harm, fear and violence. Goodness and life is about what God sees and does.

Aidan and Alex, this is what your claiming your baptismal faith for yourselves today means: God sees you, just as you are as God’s precious and beloved young men. God sees you because God is with you right here, right now and always. No amount of mayhem, violence or fear separates you from God’s love and care. And so with this truth, you don’t have to worry-you are free to be who God is calling you to be through the waters of baptism and the promises made by your parents all those years ago that you now claim today: You are free to join in the mission of God in God’s kingdom with all of your gifts, passions and talents. You, just as you are, have this day and we pray so many more, to live boldly and to show God’s colorful promises in a world where all too often people only see the darkness of mayhem and violence. Be and act on Christ’s vision-God’s life, love and mercy.

This is our insurance and assurance: God sees us, doesn’t leave us hopeless or helpless but comes along side us in love and grace to move hearts and to reorient lives. God’s hands hold our todays and tomorrows. Don’t worry, live boldly, be who you are fearlessly, bloom brightly and fly freely. +You are God’s precious joy!+ Thanks be to God!

 

Consider the Lilies? Yeah, THEY don’t have a mortgage… November 29, 2018

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This sermon was preached on Wednesday November 21 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO and can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org.

 

The text is Matthew 6: 25-33

 

 

“Do not worry,” Jesus says. Yeah, right. I’m a worrier. I worry about everything: my kids and Mike, my job, how to keep everyone happy, should I buy only organic, do I use too much plastic, do I use too much water, retirement, how to stay healthy. Then there’s climate change, the melting polar ice caps, what will the penguins do. And the existential worries: am I a good person, what is my purpose and the classic, do I worry too much because worrying isn’t good for you and Jesus says to not do it…I might drive Mike crazy. But I don’t think I’m alone! The levels of anxiety in our culture and in the US have sky rocketed. Worry does have its uses: worry helps us to make good decisions, to not act impulsively or to plan for the future and not leave everything to chance.

Anxiety is big business in the US: Media and marketers know that we try and tackle these worries with the idea of certainty and trying to control as much of our world as we can. So, they hire celebrities to market products to us that will solve all of our problems and we can stop worrying about things. We can buy our way out of worry and uncertainty. Sounds pretty good to us all doesn’t it? And we’ve ALL fallen for it at one point or another. When we lived in OR, we were convinced by media that we needed a home alarm system, so we had one installed. In reality, it made me MORE nervous having it, using it, setting it, worrying if it would go off, so much so that we deactivated it just a few months later and we’ve never had one since. Owning a home alarm made me more worried about someone breaking in! I had never thought about it much until we put in the alarm and after we deactivated it, my worry went back to nothing. For one thing, we don’t own anything worth stealing so a burglar would quickly figure out that they were in the wrong house….

Worry and anxiety can be paralyzing as it often focuses on ourselves. Worry about our lives, our stuff and ourselves gives us blinders to what is really going on in the world. Worry can skew our perspectives as well as triggering our egocentric tendencies. Fear is the root of worry. How do we live without fear? Jesus is addressing this in our passage tonight. These words are towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus has laid out a litany of faith practices and faith challenges. The verse right before our scripture reading is the oft misrepresented “you cannot serve God and wealth.” Jesus is on a roll about what matters in your life and how we are to live. If you’re constantly in fear and worried about yourself and your stuff, what are you missing? Who are you missing?

We can wax poetic about how the birds and the lilies don’t worry and all is well, but let’s remember that birds don’t always have enough to eat and do die as do the lilies after a few days of no rain. Reality is that we may not always have enough: lay-offs, medical bills, health crisis, recessions, famines, fires, floods. Jesus isn’t saying that there aren’t real reasons to worry, Jesus is saying, will you live in fear or freedom? Who will you focus on in good times and in challenges? Yourself? Or God?

Jesus reminds us that God is at all times and in all places, focusing on you. God is the God of relationship. God is in relationship with the birds, the flowers and yes— you. Jesus knows that fear and worry are real and the fact that God is there in our worry, is also real. Jesus also knows that false gods are shouting at us that they can appease our worry with the latest technology, trend, fad, or object. Hearing God’s voice above the false gods voices of the culture has been humanity’s challenge for thousands of years. False gods tell us to afraid and to worry, to worry about me, myself and I. False gods feed us the lies that it’s all about us. False gods create a culture of fear that there won’t be enough, and so don’t share time, spaces or materials with people different from us.

But our God, the one true God that the writer of 1 Timothy proclaims, creates a culture of unity, wholeness and abundance. God cares for us, knows our needs and calls us to trust in Jesus over the background noise of fear, culture, celebrities, those who fancy themselves in worldly authority and power. Jesus calls us to lift our heads and hearts above our own worries and fears to see the needs of our neighbor and creation, Jesus calls us to see God’s abundance and not live out of a fear of scarcity, calls us to live in trust and to give thanks for the promise of God’s eternal presence with us. Not because then our lives will have certainty, no, we listen to this call to live with joy and freedom in the uncertainty.

Living in fear and worrying doesn’t add anything to our lives or the lives of our neighbors. We lose sight of the beauty of what is right in front of us: like this lily. This lily will die, but there will be more lilies, more life. There will be death, there will be hardship, but that is not the last word in God’s kingdom, there will be life. Life and life abundant is the promise over and over again. There is a lot that the world wants us to worry about. Jesus says, trust in God’s presence, love and care for you and all people in this life and forever. Consider the lilies and Thanksgiving to God, indeed.

 

 

 

Off the Beaten Path, Mark 13: 1-8 Pentecost 25B, November 15th, 2015 November 17, 2015

*This sermon was preached on Nov. 15th at Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village, CO

Each summer since 2010, my husband, Mike, and our son, Andrew, take a father/son road trip. They have been to the Black Hills, Roswell, Moab, Yellowstone and everywhere in between. While they have specific destinations in mind, it’s really the journey itself that they focus on. Early on in their yearly trips, they discovered a website called Roadside America. This site offers a plethora of “off the beaten path” sites that you won’t find on AAA, or necessarily on a billboard alongside the highway. I’m talking about alligator farms where you can hold a real alligator. Or a man who has a 150 sculptures made of mufflers in his front yard. Or statues of headless chickens. Or alien watch towers.  Often, they have to travel many miles out of their way to encounter these wonders of the modern world and they are not always easy to find. These places would be easily missed by most people if you don’t know what to look for or aren’t willing to veer from your original path. Some of the sites are not as exciting as Mike and Andrew had hoped, but even when it’s a dud, they still have a great story of a quirky experience. If they had stuck to the obvious signs along the highway they wouldn’t have seen what many other people have missed. I’m always amazed that they have the openness to notice and experience these fun places that are not the usual tourist options.

It’s interesting what we notice and what we don’t notice in our lives isn’t it? What we chose to focus on in our lives often becomes our filter for everything we notice. Our media feeds us a constant stream of what they think is important or what we need to be content and happy: Lose weight, buy a car, get that new phone, get a security system, make more money, get a bigger house, and the list goes on and on. And I don’t know about you, but it’s so easy to get sucked into that focus-the focus that is all about us, how we can be better, smarter, thinner, younger, better looking, or richer. We sell ourselves the idea that if we only focus on ourselves, fix, right here right now, what we don’t like about our lives that we can control not only today but tomorrow. We get sold the falsehood that we are the ones in control of our wholeness and can fix ourselves.

The basis of all of this, if we’re honest is fear. We’re afraid of what we can’t control, namely the future. We want some sort of certainty about what tomorrow will bring and some sort of sign of what is to come so that we can prepare. So we focus on what is obvious or what the world puts in front of us: our institutions, economic systems, family systems, even our churches. So when we experience major shake ups in these supposedly unshakable monoliths, it can seem like the end of the world as we know it and then our fear and need for control takes over and can focus us on the wrong thing.

The disciples were no different than we are today. In our gospel story, Jesus and the disciples are leaving the temple, where they had just witnessed the widow putting in all that she had into the treasury and what did the disciples immediately notice? The great, glorious and permanent the stones of the temple! “Jesus, isn’t this temple amazing?? I’m sure it will be here forever!” I can almost see Jesus either rolling his eyes or shaking his head. After all of the revelations of God’s kingdom the disciples had seen and witnessed by being with Jesus, this temple was what they chose to notice and focus on.

When the author of Mark wrote this gospel, it’s likely that this very temple that the disciples were staring at in wonderment had been very recently destroyed. The temple was the center of all religious life for the Jewish people: it’s where they believed that the actual connection and intersection of God and God’s people through the priests in the Holy of Holies took place. It’s where sacrifices for the atonement of sins were offered. The temple had become the main focus of the religion in many ways. Jesus is reminding the disciples past, present and future that no matter what system breaks down, even the central religious system such as the temple, God is still present, God is the center of their lives and God is still at work in the world.

Jesus cautions us to stay focused on God as when we are focused on God, our worries, our concerns, our fears of the future will be kept in perspective. Jesus came to proclaim through flesh that God is with us always and to not look at what’s wrong or needs to be fixed but what new thing God is doing in our midst. Jesus’ presence invites us to get off the highway of fear and status quo. There are many events that can make us focus on our fear that the end of the world is indeed happening and we worry about what we should do. There are wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, terrorist attacks in Paris and on Kenyan universities, airplanes destroyed while in flight, bankruptcy, diseases, loss of jobs, and all of the other daily challenges that seem to demand our full attention. But Jesus tells us, “Do not be alarmed.” Don’t focus on these things. Don’t forget that God is with you. Don’t forget that it is God that is bringing salvation to you and to all of creation. No matter what the world wants you to believe, it is God who brings you into life with God and with one another for transformation and wholeness-which is true salvation.

God is doing a new thing, bringing in peace and love for all people in all times and in all places, even when all we can focus on is disaster, destruction and death. Jesus proclaims to the disciples and to us, the new life that God is birthing, right here, right now! Can we see it? Can we notice the selfless acts of generosity and love in our midst? Feeding the hungry through Metro CarRing, loving our neighbor in need through the Angel Tree, celebrating the miracle of the new life of a baby with the Rulla family, the promises of God poured out on Michael Donovan in the waters of baptism, the giving of God’s love story found in the Bible to our second graders this morning.  Jesus walks with us and dares us to boldly live differently than the world: “Look for newness, not destruction! Look for life, not death! Look for abundance, not scarcity!” Jesus reminds us of this so that not only can we see it but we can live our lives to witness to what God is doing so that God’s promise of life, hope, forgiveness and mercy is revealed to the whole world. Living this way is not the usual road traveled but each and every day God invites us and embraces us in the new life and transforming work God is already doing.

God promises to not leave us alone in our fear, in our worry and in our uncertainty and will always speak words life and hope where we only see death and despair. God’s presence with us in our daily lives is certain and unshakable. God’s love offers us a way to get off the road of fear, loneliness, scarcity and death. God’s road offers us hope, life and community through ordinary signs of water, bread, and wine, to refocus us time and time again on what is the true center of our lives, the forever and unconditional love of God that is bringing wholeness to all of creation. Thanks be to God.

 

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

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