RSS

Monthly Archives: November 2012

What do You Give When You’ve Got Nothing to Give? (Pastor Brigette Weier)

Sermon by Pastor Brigette Weier, Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

Mark 12:38-44; Sunday After Pentecost (B)

I have this bracelet that I like to wear.  I bought it in MN, at a little shop by Luther Seminary. It’s simple and seems flimsy but its presence on my wrist reminds me of something complex and binding. It is called an Ubuntu bracelet and this particular one was made by women in Uganda and the funds raised from the sale of these bracelets go to help women and children who live with the disease of HIV. Ubuntu is a South African concept that has become known in the West by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. Ubuntu means roughly “I am because we are and we are because I am.” Or “I am because of who we all are.” This notion of Ubuntu doesn’t negate individual enrichment or importance but really calls to mind the fact that we don’t live in complete isolation and that we can only be as secure, enriched and healthy as our neighbor. It reminds us to listen to the voice of our neighbor as well as our own.

Ubuntu is not about those who have giving to those who have not but more about those who have not impacting the reality of those who have. It’s a sense of community, and that within that community our life situation is not static and can change instantly. Today we may be the people who have food, shelter and warm clothes. Today we may be the people who worry about if we will have enough for the future; today we may be the people who think that we are in control of our existence; today we may be the ones who give to those who have less around us.  But tomorrow a mega storm , like Sandy on the East Coast, can come and take all of that all away and when that happens, all that remains are the people that surrounds us. And then the people who could lose everything the next day as well, reach out today to ensure that their neighbor is fed, clothed and sheltered. People who may have been the recipients of what we gave yesterday now offer us their last batteries, bread or gas for our own safety and health. I saw a news report that said the largest disaster response to the East Coast has been from the Gulf Coast-those who were devastated by Katrina seven years ago.

We have been constantly reminded of our interconnectedness in this country over the past few weeks.  This interconnectedness is messy and it is not always clear as far as how we are connected. In this intense interconnection whose voice should be the loudest? Who do we listen to?

This idea of interconnectedness is a concept that runs deep in our gospel lesson this morning. This text is most often used for stewardship and the most common interpretation of these two little stories that cannot be separated is that the self righteous and hypocritical behavior of the religious scribes is to be avoided and that we should strive to be like the widow and give away all that we have. I think there is a reason that interpretation is popular and it is a part of what is happening here, but I am struck by Mark putting these two stories from Jesus together right before the words of the temple being destroyed in chapter 13 and the plot of Jesus’ death unfolding in the rest of the gospel.

The widow and the scribes are part of the same community. The widow, according to Levirate law, was to be taken care of by the religious leaders as well as the community. Widows, orphans and the alien have special provisions in the Hebrew laws. They are ones without status, financial means or security of any kind. They depend solely on those around them. People needing help to have the basics in life, is not a 21st century challenge. In Jesus’ time a majority of people lived in what we would consider abject poverty; food only for the day; no planning for tomorrow or retirement; no thought to the future what-so-ever. The fact that this widow had two coins is a miracle in and of itself!

Giving to the treasury of the temple was also something required by Levirate law. People gave not just to the upkeep of the temple itself but to funds to support the priests, the orphans, the widows and others in need. So the fact that the people whom Jesus called “rich” were giving was not a surprise, but the widow’s presence perhaps was a surprise. After all, she is the intended recipient of the funds!

This widow in the temple raises many questions for me-where did she get that money? Why would she give it all away? Isn’t that foolish? Shouldn’t she keep some of it? Doesn’t Jesus want her to eat tomorrow? Why does Jesus chastise the rich people for giving money? Isn’t giving-giving no matter what? It isn’t the rich people’s fault that they have more money to give and will have some left over. These questions are important ones to wrestle with but I don’t want us to be distracted by what Jesus is pointing out to us. The widow gave out of her poverty. She gave out of her uncertainty. This widow, not knowing where her bread for tomorrow was coming from-gave to the very community that should be caring for her!

But perhaps this widow gave, so that someone else would be cared for, because she had enough for today and trusted that God and the people of God would provide for her tomorrow. She gave from her uncertainty—confident in a bigger vision than what she could see herself. She didn’t know if that temple would be there tomorrow-it had already been destroyed once! But she knew that God was faithful whether the temple stood or not-the uncertainty of the world couldn’t shake her certainty in God.

You see, Jesus was pointing out that poverty isn’t necessarily about lack of wealth, but it is about living with and in uncertainty. Do you know where you next meal will come from or if you can pay the rent tomorrow? Will you have the money to see a doctor if you or your children get sick next week? Will you have a job next month? Can you afford to send your kids to college? Will our taxes be raised? Will there be social security for my retirement? Will I be alone when my children move out or my spouse dies? Will anyone love me if I am not perfect or have the right clothes, house, degree, job, health or perfect physique? There are all kinds of poverty or uncertainty in our lives.

Our world seems very uncertain indeed and like the rich people in the gospel, we want to control our fear and have security and so we hang on to our uncertainty about tomorrow and only give away what makes sense. We may do that not only with our financial resources but we also hang on to our time for fear of people taking advantage of our time spent. Maybe we hang on to our privacy for fear of being vulnerable or having our imperfections brought to light. Maybe we hang on to our pride for fear of being wrong. We have abundance in so many ways yet we are just as uncertain as the poor widow.

Jesus understands this uncertainty. Jesus prays in Gethsemane about his uncertainty and fear to God about what was to come on the cross. Yet Jesus gave his entire life for us-for the whole world-in spite of fear so that we can live without fear and uncertainty. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are certain of God’s unending love for all of us and that we are forever interconnected with this loving God and this connects us all together, every person throughout the globe to one another in a complex, messy and binding way. The scribe and the widow, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the conservative and the liberal, the ones who hurt others and the ones who heal, the leaders and the followers, and the imprisoned and the liberated-we are all interconnected, called by the Holy Spirit, and free in Jesus Christ to walk together proclaiming with words and actions the certainty of God’s promises to a world that wants to divide us and silence our voices of hope and love.

Words of kindness, peace, comfort, solidarity along with actions such as Thanksgiving dinners to those in need in Jefferson County, Christmas gifts for children who will otherwise go without, houses built for the homeless, warms coats for the cold and blankets for babies are all ways that we use our whole lives, all of who we are, every day to give voice to our connectedness with all of God’s children and our confidence in God’s love and care for all of us. This is our everything, like the widow, all that we have to live on and our certainty. I think that as Christians Ubuntu means to us: “because God is love, we are loved and we are loved because God is love.” Amen.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 15, 2012 in Sermon

 

Jesus Meets Us in Where We’re Poor (Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Albuquerque, NM)

24th Sunday after Pentecost (B)

1 Kings 17:8-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Greetings from the Office of the Bishop, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA. I need, first of all, to express appreciation for the partnership we share, not only with the other 164 congregations of the RMS and the more than 10,000 other congregations of the ELCA, but additionally for the special witness you bring regarding service and caring in the Albuquerque area. You are a church that gives back because you understand how richly you have been blessed.

Innumerable hours of service. Malaria Project,  ELCA Good Gifts, School supplies, Christmas gifts and food for students and families, Christmas gift cards for children in need, Luther House, The Storehouse (including thousands of dollars’ worth of quilts), World Hunger, and the list goes on.

You are an example of God’s grace made real in Albuquerque. I hope you will consider teaching the rest of the church that level of service and commitment.

And thank you for the mission support you provide to our partners in the Rocky Mountain Synod and in the ELCA. By your generosity still more people are able to be fed, housed, treated, comforted, educated, and have good news proclaimed to them. You are a reminder than none of us are in this alone. We share this ministry, led by the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus.

Take a minute and finish this sentence to yourself:

“I don’t have enough ___.”

  • The widow at Zarephath would answer, “meal and oil for bread.”
  • The widow in the gospel would answer, “money to live on.”
  • Others might answer, “friends, time, energy, prayer life, compassion.”
  • Mitt Romney would answer, “votes.”
  • My 84-old-mother would answer, “memory.”
  • My friends whose son just committed suicide this week would answer, “tears.”

What would you answer for yourself? How would you answer for Holy Cross?

Where you don’t have enough, that’s where you’re poor. It’s right there, in that answer, that Jesus meets you, walks with you, and calls you. It’s in those areas, where we don’t have enough, that we are most likely to actually trust God.

Trusting God sounds good, like something we Christians do. Let’s be honest. I don’t know about you, but I’d really rather not have to trust God—at least not for important things. I’m fine trusting God for a good parking space at the grocery store or that I’ll have enough left on my Starbuck’s card for one more latte. But I’m not always comfortable when I have to trust God because of something I can’t do; when my best efforts aren’t enough; when no matter how hard I try, it just isn’t good enough.

The truth is, I’d really rather trust myself. I want to know that I have enough money and supplies and people and knowledge to take care of what I need to do. When I have enough, I’m very good about giving from my abundance. Unfortunately, that’s just like the scribes, who Jesus says, “receive the greater condemnation.” Ouch.

I want God to give me all I need. I want God to show me up front that I’ll have more than enough. Give it to me first, God, then I’ll trust you. Give me more oil and meal, then I’ll make bread for Elijah. Give me more than enough to live on, then I’ll put money into the temple treasury. Give it all to me, God, then I’ll accept your invitation into your mission, your work in the world. Give it all to me, God. Take care of me. Then we’ll worry about everyone else.

That’s what I want. Or is that just me…?

Here’s what these texts seem to be about. That God is generous, gracious, caring, merciful, compassionate. That with God, there’s always more than enough because God is serious about God’s mission of care and redemption in the world. We are invited in to participate. That’s who we are. We aren’t defined by what we have, we’re defined by God’s invitation.

Our call isn’t to make sure we have enough resources on our own so that we can be completely self-reliant and continue trusting ourselves. Our call is to be part of God’s work in the world. That’s our identity. That’s why we are baptized. That’s why we are disciples of Jesus Christ: to be part of God’s mission in the world.

When you can’t be what God calls you to be, when you don’t have the resources, God comes to you in grace and forgiveness. So of course Jesus meets you where you are poor. Of course Jesus walks with you in those places where you don’t have enough. Of course from there Jesus invites you into his mission in the world ; not because you have the resources to do it all, but because God does. Jesus calls you from  the very place where you know your best efforts aren’t enough. Because that’s where you actually are living in the middle of God’s grace and mercy. Because God always has enough.

How did you fill in the blank, “I don’t have enough _____”? Wherever you don’t have enough is right where our gracious God is meeting you right now. That’s right where Jesus is in your life. It’s where he is in the life of Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail.” Jesus says, “but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.

May God’s grace overflow in us; may we meet Jesus in our poverty.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Sermon

 

Reformation at Ascension Lutheran Church, Ogden, UT

Reformation Sunday

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Greetings from the Office of the Bishop, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA. I need, first of all, to express appreciation for the partnership we share, not only with the other 164 congregations of the RMS and the more than 10,000 other congregations of the ELCA, but additionally for the special witness you bring around what it is to be Lutheran Christians, saved by grace through faith. You articulate better than anyone in this synod those key pieces that define us as ELCA Lutherans: grace, priesthood of all believers, unconditional love and mercy, the presence of God when God seems furthest away—what we call the theology of the cross, a radical welcoming of all people. I hope you can teach the rest of the church how to do that.

And thank you for the support you provide to our partners in the Rocky Mountain Synod and in the ELCA. By your generosity others are able to be fed, housed, treated, comforted, educated, and have good news proclaimed to them. You are a reminder than none of us are in this alone. We share this ministry, led by the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus.

This congregation is special to me. I walked by the old building on 2nd and Gramercy every day on my way to Highland Jr. High School. I grew up here in Ogden. I went to Hillcrest Elementary off Harrison Blvd just north of 2nd St. I graduated from Ben Lomond High School. Ogden is my home. This church was part of my neighborhood. If I had been Lutheran in those days, this would have been my church home. I’ve always felt a connection here, because we are from the same neighborhood.

It’s really good to be here on Reformation Sunday; this day of renewing. The neighborhood in which I grew up here is no longer the neighborhood in which you minister. Things have changed since I lived here. So it’s a good thing that we are a reforming church. We are a church of imagination, creativity, and newness. Reformation Sunday is our theme day!

And yet in the midst of all this reforming, I’ve discovered that far too often the things that make for reformation—our renewing creativity and imagination—are stifled by our fear and our worry.

And I’ve discovered something else. Every person and every congregation has fears and worries. We worry about stumbling because of all the things we aren’t doing well. We’re concerned about failing because of all the aspects of our ministry that are weak. We’re frightened at the prospect of being ineffective because of all the people who are missing.

I assume that Ascension probably has some of those anxieties too. Maybe because of a debt load that’s hard to get ahead of; maybe because of some folks who’ve left; maybe because of some pain in our history. Those are real things and cause real worries. But you know what? If you weren’t anxious about those things, you’d be anxious about something else. There is always something—we’re never free from concerns or problems or weaknesses. We have more than enough of those. You deal with one and three more come in its place.

So when Jesus talks about setting us free, he’s not talking about eliminating our problems or weaknesses or brokenness. He’s talking about being free right in the middle of them.

How can that be? How can we be in debt but free from worrying about it? How can we experience pain in our history, but be free from re-living it? How can we miss some people who are no longer here, but be free to wish them God’s peace and grace? That’s the freedom he’s talking about. Freedom from fear and anxiety. That’s the freedom where we are renewed, able to try things, and where our imaginations open up. This is the freedom where we are reformed! If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.

Jesus says it’s truth that gives us freedom. Truth that is revealed when we spend time with him. When you spend time with Jesus, the Living Word, do you know what liberating truth is revealed to us? That in the midst of fear, you are loved more than you know; that while you’re worried, God is desperately in love with this congregation. That you make God happy—right here and right now. That God delights in hanging out with you. That forgiveness isn’t a chore, it’s God’s pleasure to give to you.

I know the difficulties of the ministry to which you’ve been called in this time and in this place. I know this work isn’t always easy. But I also know how valuable you are. And what a difference you are making here. I know how important you are to me, to our partners in the Utah Conference, and the entire Rocky Mountain Synod.

If you are visiting here today, let me tell you the truth—Ascension Lutheran Church is an amazing community of faith. It doesn’t try to pretend it’s perfect, but it is an important one, an authentic one. This is a congregation that has struggled and has been met by Jesus in the struggle. This is a congregation that has been set free to love one another, and to love you. Even if you don’t return here, know this truth—you have been deeply loved today. I pray that the love you experience here will set you free. Not free from problems, but freedom right in the midst of them. Not free from brokenness, but freedom right in the midst of it. Because of Christ’s love for you, which has no conditions and no strings, you have been made free. And you are free indeed.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Sermon

 

We Will Not Read Scripture Superficially (19 Pent B)

19th Pentecost (B)

Gen 2:18-24; Heb 1:1-4,2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

This text makes a lot of people squirm a bit. It’s easy to become uncomfortable with Jesus, especially if you’re one of the multitude of Christian people who are divorced. Even more so if you’re remarried. What do I say to my mother, who in twice divorced? Or to my sisters, one who is on her third marriage and the other in her second? What do I say when people with good hearts and good intentions find themselves in situations where divorce is actually the best option available?

I’ll tell you what I say—I say trust the integrity of scripture; which means don’t read it superficially! Some people us scripture to justify what they already believe. So if they’re confronted by a hard text, they either ignore it or bend it to their own point of view.

That is not our way. As Lutheran Christians, particularly as ELCA Lutheran Christians, the written Word of God is too significant a gift for us to treat it so casually. We are people of the Word, and aren’t afraid of what the Holy Spirit may reveal to us in the Bible. So we consider texts like this in faith and openness, trusting that a God of grace, mercy, and unconditional love will meet us there.

You don’t have to dig very deep to see that divorce has never been against God’s law. Jesus asks the Pharisees, and they summarize Deuteronomy 24:1, which allows for divorce, and always has.

What Jesus points out, however, is that ending relationships, including marriage, isn’t what God intends. And yet, because God knows we are hard-hearted (another way of speaking of our brokenness and  sinfulness) even the strictest interpretation of the law recognizes that there are times when divorce is the best available option. No one wants a marriage to end, but sometimes it is the most gracious option left.

Jesus doesn’t have a problem with that. Instead, he quotes another part of scripture, from Genesis 2, saying that God’s desire for us is to be in loving, nurturing relationships that give life. Because we’re broken people, that doesn’t always work out. That’s why we need grace and forgiveness, because we can’t always live as God would like us to. We are broken, and the world is broken, and the situations in which we find ourselves can be broken, including our relationships. Relationships, including marriage, are meant to be beneficial to us—we aren’t created to live a life separated from others.

Which is why Jesus answers his disciples later about all this. He’s telling them that divorcing someone just so you can marry the next person is serious. Throwing away one close, intimate relationship in order to begin a new one is destructive, it flies in the face of God’s intention for relationships, it is sinful, it is adultery.

And remember, we aren’t superficial with scripture. Adultery isn’t as simple and clear-cut in the ancient world. Marriages then were complicated, large family covenants of honor and respect, involving everyone—not just the couple. For Mark’s community, these verses around divorce, remarriage, and adultery are actually really vague.

On purpose.

You don’t learn to fly by studying how to crash. You don’t win football games by learning how to fumble. And you don’t live in life-giving relationships by knowing divorce law. Christ’s intention is to reinforce what God was doing when God gave us other people to be in relationship with. We thrive in relationships, the closer the better. The destruction of relationships is painful and harmful. But it’s the relationship that is key. It’s actually pretty simple: strong relationships give life. Destructive relationships take it away. This is God’s creation. It’s who we are.

We have life in our relationships. We support and encourage one another in our relationships—not because it’s an obligation but because it’s God’s gracious gift to us in relationships. It’s the very nature of God that we act together for the benefit of one another, in support of one another, in love for one another. That’s how God relates to us, that’s how God made us, that’s how we live the baptismal life we have in Christ.

“Make it Simple” is what we are saying these stewardship weeks. So very simply put, we, as Christian people, are Acting Together. When some of us hurt, we all hurt. That’s what it is to be in a relationship. When some of us celebrate, we all celebrate. That’s what it is to be in a relationship. Wen some of us need help, we all help. That’s what it is to be in a relationship. When some of us have more than we need to live on, we share with those who don’t. That’s what it is to be in a relationship.

It’s quite simple. We are acting together for the sake of one another. We share what we have because in Jesus we are in relationship with those who have less. Our attitude is no longer about how much we can get for ourselves, but how we can love and support others with what we have. We look at money, not as something we keep, but something we share for the sake of others. The more we act out of loving relationship with others, the more life we have; the more we are living in the very nature of a loving God.

It’s not a coincidence that Jesus follows up his teaching on marriage and divorce by blessing the most vulnerable and most helpless ones in the community—the children. Relationship means we are acting together. So we walk with the vulnerable and the hurting who are around us. We share what we have with them, we give away our money for their sakes.

Come next week to worship. Be ready to step into a newer, fuller relationship with Jesus, Be ready to act together for the sake of our brothers and sisters. Be ready to commit to giving away a portion of your income. Relationships are key. That’s the nature of God. It’s who we are in Christ. As we give what we have, we strengthen our relationships with God and with others. And that is what God intends.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Sermon

 
 
%d bloggers like this: