A Lutheran Says What?

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

“Oneness and doing hard things” Sermon on John 17: 1-11 May 22, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 24, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 1: 6-14
1 Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11
John 17: 1-11

For the past few weeks in the crisis of the pandemic, we’ve been inundated with phrases such as “in this together” or “alone together,” or “better together.” I absolutely love the sentiment of how we can work together and be in solidarity with each other. This feeds my communal and idealistic soul. It’s the world how I so desperately want it to be. I so want the world to be like the CocaCola commercial from my childhood, you know the one where a diverse group of people is walking with linked arms, smiling and singing with one another-with a coke of course! “I want to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…” I’ll stop there as I don’t know what the copyright on that might be. But that image of people together in joy is one that I long for, one that I want to help create and one that all too often is illusive. I want togetherness and wholeness to be true. But it doesn’t take long for “perfect harmony” to break down into a cacophony of discord and chaos, kinda like when we all try and say the Lord’s Prayer together on Zoom!

Together is something that as Christians, followers of Jesus, we like to think that we are good at. Community is a value after all. But togetherness, it turns out, is hard. We tend to think that to be “together,” we have to be the same or homogeneous, and that it should be easy and comfortable. But I’m pretty sure that has never been my actual experience with “together.” I’m spending a lot of “together” time with my spouse of 26 years and my 21 year old son, both of whom I love and adore and yet, easy and comfortable aren’t the words that come to mind and I’m sure that they would say the same about together with me…And I don’t think that this is what Jesus means when he prays for oneness in our reading from John today. We overhear Jesus praying for himself, the disciples and for all who will come after them, although we only read the first 11 verses today. Jesus prays for his followers to be one as he and God are one. It sounds really lovely and idyllic, until you think about it for a second. Jesus, God in the flesh, sent by God to be with us, who is one with God, is about to die on the cross, killed by the powers and principalities, as a fulfillment of his mission and ministry. Jesus prays that we too are one with God and Jesus in the mission and life of God. This doesn’t sound very easy and comfortable to me. Oneness, togetherness is hard. It’s not easy and death will occur. When we are one with God and God’s mission and community, we die to ourselves so that others experience life.

Jesus doesn’t pray for us to be safe and comfortable, or for it to be easy,  but he does pray for our protection, which is different as protection doesn’t keep us from what is hard but sustains us through the inevitable suffering. Protection is like the gear the doctors and nurses are wearing on the frontlines of the COVID19 pandemic. The protective gear doesn’t keep them from having to do their hard work, it hopefully, ensures that they can do more of it. So, too, is our protection in Jesus. In our oneness with God, we are one with each other and creation, which means we will do hard things with the presence, protection and care of God. Oneness demands that we are cognizant of being gathered in the arms and life of Jesus all held together so tightly, so close, that we can’t be socially distanced. Oneness acknowledges our lives are so entangled as a giant knot of humanity that when one thread of any injustice or trauma is pulled, we all feel the effects of it. This truth is not easy and it is not comfortable. And Jesus’ prayer doesn’t rescue us from this truth. Jesus’ prayer is that we DO feel the effects of this oneness, that we do the hard work of putting the needs of our siblings and the earth ahead of our own wants, preferences and greed. Jesus knows that we can’t be one, if we intentionally look away from our siblings who are hurting, cast out, marginalized or ignored. Oneness reveals love that is sacrificial, sees and does hard things: love that washes feet, love that feeds the hungry, love that wears a mask in public, love that stays home as much as possible, love that refuses to coopt to the lies of consumerism and capitalism as reasons for existing, love that screams the truth that this virus is disproportionately infecting and killing more of our brown and black siblings, love that demands better from our leaders, love that weeps for those who are discarded as expendable, love that gazes on the earth and all creatures as gifts and not prizes to be exploited. Love that recognizes and accepts that this kind of radical unity will scare, anger and provoke some around us. Love that is tenacious to withstand the voices that call us to simply get along, not cause waves, do what is easy, say that we’re naïve or idealistic or will demand our silence.

Jesus prays that we will be one as he and God are one. One not for our own sake, but one in the mission that Jesus names, to give glory to God. That is, to show God: who God is, what God does, how God loves and who God loves, to the whole world. This is why God sent Jesus in the flesh, that God so loved the world, not to condemn it but to save it, not to divide it, but to make it whole, not to control it, but to make the world one, in healing, sacrificial, and radical love. Oneness reveals this glorious truth. When we are one, truly one, we show God to the world. Because we are one with God, and God is one with us, we can’t help but to do anything else. It’s all of who we are and all of us together, as one. Thanks be to God.

 

Separation Anxiety Easter 6A May 15, 2020

This sermon was preached on May 17, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. You can view it on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 17: 22-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14: 15-21

If you’re a parent or have worked with or even just been around small children ever in your life, then you know about separation anxiety. It’s when a young child, typically from the ages of nine months to about four or five years old, will cry, or act out in some way when a parent or significant caregiver leaves them. Separation anxiety is about the fear of being alone, of not knowing what’s going to happen when these significant people whom we love aren’t present. It’s an unmooring of identity in some way too. In young children, they know who they are in relationship to other people around them, but without those other people, there’s a loss of self. What do I do? Will I be ok? Where did that person whom I love go? Two of our three children exhibited separation anxiety. Our oldest, Kayla, from the time she was two weeks old, couldn’t have cared less if Mike or I came or went, as she was pretty sure that she didn’t have much use for us anyway. So, it took us by surprise when Andrew cried whenever we went outside of his line of sight. I couldn’t even leave the room without tears for a long time. Our third child, Benjamin, also had separation anxiety, not from Mike or I, but from our nanny! Whenever we picked Ben up from Miss Trista he cried for her. While we were glad that he loved her and she loved him, we couldn’t help but to feel a little hurt. What would often calm down both Andrew and Benjamin were reminders of not being alone and of being loved. A hug, a stuffed animal, or a picture book of the people who loved them were helpful.

In some ways, we never completely ever outgrow this separation anxiety. What we learn are coping mechanisms for our fear of loneliness, isolation and loss of identity. Some of our coping mechanisms are healthy, such as telling yourself when you’ll see that person again, or the intellectual understanding of time and space. We might have treasured objects and pictures that assist us in this as well. But sometimes that fear of loneliness can get the better of us and make us insular and behave in ways that keep us from the reality of love.

Separation anxiety was rampant among the disciples as we continue through our reading of John 14 this week, more of Jesus’ Farewell speech that ends at John 17 next week. Jesus has talked about going and preparing a room for the disciples, about his death, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the disciples are struggling with what will happen if Jesus is gone. Jesus has admonished them to not be troubled, but if you’ve ever tried to be rational with a toddler screaming for their parent or nanny, then you know how effective, or not, it is to simply say do not to worry. Again, even as adults, what we may know intellectually, doesn’t always translate into our emotions. Jesus knows this too and I love that he simply and lovingly states in verse 18 “I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus then goes to tell them how they know that is true. In God’s love, we are never alone. God loves and values community, relationship and togetherness. God’s love embodies this truth: in sending Jesus to live among humanity as love in action and then in sending the Holy Spirit, or what the gospel writer John calls the Paraclete. The meaning of paraclete is someone who is called to come alongside us in our day to day lives to teach us,  comfort us, encourage us, advocate for and with us, and to love us.

Just as separation anxiety was high with the disciples, so too, is our separation anxiety high as we are separated from so much it seems: gathering in physical community with those we love and care about, daily routines, our sense of security and safety, and perhaps even separated from our own sense of identity. We focus on these separations and even some of our most helpful coping mechanisms are not enough. Sometimes all of the self-talk and comforting treasures can’t ease our troubled hearts. But we hear Jesus say, “I will not leave you; I am coming.” Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit is coming, is here, to give us community through God and each other, even when we can’t touch. Community that recalls our identity as part of God’s life. Community that reveals the love that is from God, lives in Jesus, lives in the Holy Spirit and lives in us, so that we include others into God’s community.

Jesus says that this love is the commandment, the action that he has been revealing his whole earthly ministry and is how community is built. This love that transcends separation, differences and divisions. This love pulls us from our anxieties and shows us the presence and actions of God in our lives-through one another. This reality of always being in community, even if we’re physically separated, is a promise that we can cling to and see. We can see that we don’t have to worry about being separated because the truth is that we can never truly be without God or God’s people. Yes, much of how we are connecting right now feels very inadequate and in many ways it is. But as the ancient Desert Mothers and Fathers of the early Christian faith found, solitude doesn’t have to mean loneliness or despair. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us with tangible signs, such as water, bread, wine, phone calls, texts, pictures, FaceTime, yes even Zoom to show us that we are never separated from God and always loved.  Thanks be to God!