What's Yours?

Whats YoursA sermon preached for the 4th Sunday of Epiphany on Luke 5:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 on February 10, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

We all have one, don’t we? I know I did. Isaiah does in our first reading. Paul does in 1 Corinthians. And Simon Peter certainly does, in our Gospel reading.

What’s yours? What’s your excuse why you cannot follow Jesus? What’s your reason why you cannot possibly do what God calls you to do?

We all have one—and we are in good company because most people in the Bible have some sort of argument with God about why they cannot do what God calls them to do.

We all know Sarah’s excuse why she couldn’t possibly become the mother of nations with Abraham. She was too old to become pregnant and start a new family line. Moses also had an excuse ready. He said to God, “I can’t speak well—I am slow of speech and of tongue—how am I supposed to go tell the Pharaoh in Egypt to free the Israelites from slavery?" When God called Jeremiah to be prophet, he said he was too young. 

We know almost nothing about Isaiah in our first reading, other than his father’s name was Amoz, and that Isaiah had some kind of a potty mouth. Maybe he loved saying all the bad words, or he was a bar-room brawler—we do not know. But about 700 years before Jesus was born, God called him to be a prophet. Like other Biblical characters, Isaiah had his excuse ready—"I am a man of unclean lips.”

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them that he too, was unworthy of participating in God’s work of sharing Jesus’ love throughout the Mediterranean world, because he had been a Pharisee and persecuted the church. His excuse was that his past made him unfit to be an apostle at all.

And then there’s Simon Peter in our Gospel reading. He and Andrews, James and John, have had a long night of unsuccessful fishing, and were ready to go home and sleep, when this new rabbi commandeered their boat for a teaching stage. Perhaps as a gesture to thank them, to feed the crowd, or to persuade them to join him in his traveling ministry, Jesus instructed the fishermen to cast their net in the deep water. When Peter saw how much fish they pulled in—enough sink two boats, and how holy and powerful Jesus was—the first thing out of his mouth, was an excuse—an excuse why Peter could not even be near Jesus much less follow him: "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!"

We all have one. Maybe your excuse is different today than it was last week or last year or the last century, but we usually have one ready for God. When I first experienced a call to ministry, I had never seen a woman pastor until I arrived at seminary. Even bigger than that, my excuse was, “I don’t have the right personality”—I liked big earrings, I loved to dance, wear bright colors, I’m too extroverted and ‘out there.’” Most “religious” people I knew, especially women, were more like nuns—not like me AT ALL—they were quiet, demure, unassertive. Oh yes, I definitely had the wrong personality.

I bet if I picked up this microphone and walked around the congregation like a talk show, we would hear a lot of reasons why we think God cannot really use us to catch people, to witness to God’s love, to show compassion, to participate in God’s work in the world out there, not just in here. Maybe like Sarah or Jeremiah or Paul or Peter, you think you are too old or too young, or have too much of a past, or have been too much of a sinner. Or maybe you think you are not smart enough, do not know the bible well enough, do not know how to talk about faith, do not have time, struggle with mental health issues, feel you do not matter or are not important enough. We all have an excuse why God cannot possibly use us. We all have days where we wonder if God can use us at all. 

In the late 80’s my internship supervisor actually agreed that I was too “out there” and while I officially passed internship, he cut me to the quick and said some hurtful things to me at the end of my internship. But God reassured me through other people, that there would be some in the church who needed someone like me, and to persevere. I learned we cannot let others’ rejection of us or our own rejection of ourselves, nullify God’s claim on our lives.

God’s story shows us over and over again, that our limitations and excuses are only a barrier for us, but not for God. God looks at you and you and you, and says, “oh yes, I can work with that!”

• I can touch people through you,
• I can bring new possibilities through you,
• I can show love through you,
• I can offer forgiveness through you,
• I can bring justice through you;
• I can feed the hungry and do so much good through this human being, through this limited, beautiful vessel that I made.

God sees so much value, dignity, and kingdom-possibilities in you! God has an answer for every excuse you can think up.

Sarah thought she was too old? Well she laughed all the way to the delivery tent, because her descendants have become more numerous than the stars.  Moses couldn’t speak? Well, God gave him Aaron—he was his spokesperson, and God promised to be with them both—they did not have to fulfill their calling alone. Jeremiah thought he was too young? Think again! God said, “I will be with you and tell you where to go and what to say.” Isaiah was such a potty-mouth! But God said, “Your guilt has departed and your sin blotted out.” A vision of burning coal cleaned his mouth right up (which makes me grateful I just had to have my mouth washed out with soap when I was young!) The Bible doesn’t tell us, but do you not wonder how many other potty-mouthed people opened themselves up to God, because if God could work through Isaiah, why not them, too?

The Apostle Paul did have a terrible past—one where he had Christians murdered, but Paul’s past was not a hindrance for God either. God completely transformed his heart and his story. Without Paul’s missionary journey’s and all his letters to the churches, we would hardly have the Christian New Testament today. That’s pretty amazing work through a sinner with a past. And Peter? He was too afraid to follow Jesus and catch people because he was a sinner. But he became the rock on which the church was built. Not because he was perfect. Not because he got it all right. But because God in Jesus Christ used him, even when he fumbled and got it wrong, to be a vehicle of God’s love, healing and hope in the world.

In Ephesians, Paul says, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Our excuses are no hindrance to God. God gives us what we need, so they are no hindrance to us either. God looks at each one of us and says, “Yes! You are very good. You matter. You are loved. I can work with you no matter who you are or what you think your limitations are. I am a limitless God and I call you to join me in doing justice, loving kindness, and bringing healing and grace to this world. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"

And with no excuses, we say, "Here am I; send me!"


Write comment (0 Comments)

Special Treatment

Special TreatmentA sermon preached for the 4th Sunday of Epiphany on Luke 4:21-30 on Sunday, February 3, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer eleven years ago, a few friends gathered with me in the sanctuary of the church I served, and they laid hands on me and we prayed for healing. I did not receive a miraculous healing and went through surgery, chemo and radiation. When the full effects of chemo hit, I had to stop working, I was bed-ridden, and felt worse than I could have ever imagined, and I became pretty angry at God. In the tradition of the psalmists, I wrote a lament just so I could let it out and let God know how angry I was and how much pain I was in. Here are a few words I wrote:

Don’t you care, God? Does it mean nothing to you that I have served you, given blood, sweat and tears for your church, for your children? Can you ease the pain, the discomfort, the difficulty just a little bit for me? Can you not see the blood-thinning, weak, aching, lost misery of your servant? The psalmist cries with me ‘in Sheol who can give you praise?’ (Psalm 6:5b) Indeed, in chemo hell, who can give you praise?

I was miserable, but it is still a little embarrassing now to admit that I thought I deserved “special treatment” from God—or a relief from some suffering because I was pastor.

I think its human nature to hope, wish for or believe we deserve special treatment. Jesus runs into this problem when he preaches in his own home town of Nazareth in Galilee. At first, they were amazed that this hometown boy became such a learned rabbi and prophet, speaking so eloquently at the synagogue, and hearing healing stories about him from the surrounding area. You can just hear their pride—

Isn’t that Joseph’s boy? So nice to see one of ours do so well! He’s going to put Nazareth on the map! I heard he has the gift of the healing! Just imagine! One of Israel’s newest prophets from up here in Galilee! I have already sent word to my sister Phoebe and her family to get on over here. We are going to feed Jesus a good meal and have him fix us up—Rueben’s back, my knees, and maybe he can straighten out that boy Jethro. I hope Jesus stays in town a good long while because there’s a lot of good that can be done right here at home.

Special treatment. Don’t the people from this prophet’s home town get special treatment, extra healing, more relief from suffering since Jesus is one of their own? Didn’t they all help his family when Joseph couldn’t work for a spell? Doesn’t Jesus owe this town? Aren’t they going to get their due, what they deserve, their fair share of the new religious goodies God has chosen to dispense from Nazareth?

Jesus immediately disabused his family’s closest community friends of the idea that they were going to get special treatment from him. He reminded them that in Israel’s history, Elijah and Elisha carried out their ministry and healings among foreigners--Syrians—people who were traditional enemies of Israel. In other words, Jesus’ mission in the kingdom of God cannot be limited by time, location, geography, political conflict, family lineage or where he grew up. The mission of God’s kingdom reaches out to everyone across boundaries and borders, beyond expectations and projections, outpacing imagined limits and logic. Jesus quite frankly and clearly said, “I am not who you think I am, and not who you want me to be.”

That is the trouble when we do not get the special treatment we want from God—or anyone else. We discover what his hometown community found—a Jesus we do not want. A Jesus who does not fit into our box. A Jesus who does not behave the way the we wanted. When I was in chemo, I had to face the Jesus I did not want, the Jesus who did not miraculously heal me nor relieve my suffering regardless of how many sermons I preached or prayers I offered.

The people of Nazareth got so angry they were ready to throw Jesus off a cliff! Writing God an angry note doesn’t seem so bad next to that! But the real question is, what did the crowd do after Jesus left? Did they just stay angry? Luke does not tell us, so we can formulate our own response when we discover a Jesus we do not want. This moment gives us an opportunity to deal with ourselves and our own expectations, where those expectations come from, and why they have become important to us. That is our soul-work.

If God swooped in and gave us every kind of special treatment we wanted, we would not do our soul-work; we would not turn to God and say, “I am really stuck here, because I wanted something and I am not getting it, and I need help to get over my wrong-headed expectations, and I need help to deal with this really awful situation you are not magically changing for me.”

And that’s what happened to me. I got my anger and frustration and disappointment out, which opened me up to receiving God’s help. Over time, I stopped asking, “Why me and when will God relieve my suffering?” and started thinking, “Why not, me? The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike and so it is, living in a fallen world. I will suffer just as everyone does. What does God want to do with me in this suffering?”

I began to pray for others, to notice all the ways people were helping my family, and I started to pay attention to what I was learning, and what I needed to learn from that experience. I do not think I would have the spirituality I have today or that I would have become a spiritual director if I had not had cancer. I spent hundreds of hours in alone in bed while Dan was at work and the kids were at school because I had no choice, and it taught me how to be still. That was huge learning for a compulsive, perfectionistic, over-functioning “do-er” like me. Now, I don not believe God gave me cancer to help get me there, but God used my situation to mold and shape me. I never would have become the person I am today if God had given me the miraculous healing or the “special treatment” I wanted at first.

I am grateful for the special treatment I did receive—a much deeper and abiding relationship with God which is and continues to be so much better than a one-time zap that would not have taught me anything. That is the real irony of this passage and the spiritual journey for all of us. Jesus tells the people of Nazareth that God’s mission and plan is much bigger than they are, but they miss the message that it includes them! That’s why he went back to Nazareth in the first place! Jesus was saying to them,

You’re in! God’s fulfilling the kingdom and mission right hear among you! You do receive God’s love, you are set free, you are released, God does want a deep and abiding relationship with you—you are just not the only ones. You may not get it in exactly the way want it—but what you receive from God will be even better than your narrowly-imagined box of God’s kingdom anyway!

The point is not that Nazareth gets no special treatment, but rather, that everyone gets special treatment—a deep and abiding personal relationship with a God who wants to be our everything! Your relationship with God can go as deep as you desire, as powerful you ask, as life-giving as you make time for, as meaningful as you pursue! God wants to make sure we understand that what really matters is that we have a loving relationship with him—that’s why God came as a human person in Jesus—so we can have a relationship that gives us the ability to become someone we cannot be on our own, and receive grace we cannot create on our own—we all receive grace upon grace (John 1:16).

Talk about special treatment! Jesus himself is our special treatment—everyone’s special treatment—offering us forgiveness, a special place at the table, and a community where we are valued and loved. We all receive the special treatment of being part of this great work to bring about God’s kingdom—to help others feel God’s special treatment in their suffering—not that they are the only ones that get it—but that they are included in God’s saving love for the world.

So many people believe they are outside of God’s love, that they have to live exactly right, or that the building will fall down if they came in the door of the church. What I love about being Lutheran is that we are called to say, “you’re in! God loves you and forgives you and wants a relationship with you—it’s not just special treatment for us, God has special treatment for you, too, and his name is Jesus.”



Write comment (0 Comments)

Dwelling in the Word

Dwelling in the WordA participatory sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany, January 27, 2018 on Luke 4:14-21 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas with thanks to Pr. Cindy Carroll at Emanuel Lutheran in Dallas, Texas for sharing how she did this in her congregation!

As you listen to the Gospel reading, pay attention to what word or phrase catches your attention and why. I will leave a few minutes of silence after the reading for you to reflect and circle a word or phrase that stands out.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

We are trying something different today called, Dwelling in the Word, an ancient way of reading the Scriptures that involves everyone, rather than one person sharing an interpretation. It’s an important way to hear Scripture because God speaks through the Bible to everyone differently based on our own lives, experiences, and personalities. We need to hear the wisdom God shares through each one of us in order to move into the future. It is also a very Lutheran way to read Scripture because Luther taught that the living Spirit of Christ is present every time we read the Bible, helping us understand God’s message for us today. The Spirit’s presence is not limited to pastors, Bible teachers, and seminary professors, but the Holy Spirit is a gift given to all of us, the priesthood of all believers.

Dwelling in the Word is a practice we’re encouraged to do with the Leadership for Faithful Innovation process we’re in with the Synod and Luther seminary. You’ll be glad to know that Council has done this twice, and they found it pretty fun! I am going to read the passage one more time. As you hear the story, notice how God is speaking to you. This time, I would like you to listen for what God is saying to you or to us as a community in this passage. We will pause again for a moment of silence. After the silence, you will be invited to share with another person.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

We will have a moment of silence. You are invited to listen to what God is saying to you and us as a community in this passage.

You are now invited to share with one other person. Please look behind you and make sure everyone has a partner—make a three-some if necessary. Each person takes one minute to share the word or phrase that caught your attention and why, and then what you hear God saying in this passage. Listening is an important spiritual practice—so try listening really well—well enough that you could repeat what partner shared.

Raise your hand if
• you and your partner circle the same word?
• you and your partner circled different words?
• you and your partner had the same insight about what God is saying to us?
• you and your partner had a different insight about what God is saying to us?
• you learned something new from your partner you had not previously thought?
• you were surprised by something in this process?

This passage is the basis for our new tag-line at St. Luke’s: “where spirits come alive!” We are named for this Gospel, St. Luke’s. This passage from chapter four is Jesus’ inaugural sermon for his ministry, which he begins, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me.” As followers of Jesus in the tradition of St. Luke, we also do ministry only because “the spirit of the Lord is upon us” as a congregation and in our individual lives throughout the week.

So, God calls us to be a community where “spirits come alive”—the spirit of Christ among us, and the gifts of Christ within each of us. Part of “spirits coming alive” is listening to the spiritual insights each of us brings, and part of “spirits coming alive” is activating the different gifts God has given each of us.

After worship today, we will hold our Annual Meeting, and this is what’s important as we come together—not that we’re an official member of an organization—but, rather, that we are baptized members of the priesthood of all believers, and followers of Jesus Christ who has given all of you the gift of the Holy Spirit and asks you to allow that gift to come alive! Jesus asks you to listen for and share your insights the Spirit is giving you as you read the Bible. Jesus asks you to share the gifts of the Spirit given to you to share the Gospel, bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free. Our way forward as a community becomes possible when everyone’s Spirit-gifts are activated for the good of all, and that work together begins as we listen to God in Scripture, and to each other in the Spirit. Then in expanding circles, we listen to our neighbors, our community, and its leaders as we discern specifically how God wants us to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

None of us are outside of God’s ability to use us. Every single one of you is important and a vehicle through whom the Holy Spirit works. Your presence matters to God and to me and to St. Luke’s. You are wanted, you are loved for who you are, you are good enough for Jesus and for us. So, share yourself and your gifts in this new year, as we all make St. Luke’s a place where “spirits come alive!”

Write comment (0 Comments)

MLK Day Through the Lens of the Wedding at Cana

MLK Day Through the Lens of the Wedding at CanaA sermon preached for Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday and the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany on January 20, 2019 on John 2:1-11 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

I wouldn’t choose the Wedding at Cana for a Martin Luther King Jr. service, but it is the text appointed for the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, so here we are. All Scripture reveals some aspect of how God works, so as we dig deeply into story, it will help us view the life and witness of Dr. King with a new perspective.

First, we find an underlying issue of justice. Running out of wine was a real crisis for a gathering in the ancient world. The land is dry, the climate, arid, and there was not enough clean water, so people relied on wine and grape juice to remain hydrated. Running out of liquid for people to drink was health risk especially for those who traveled to Cana. They were counting on the hosts of the party to provide not only for their joy at the celebration, but also for their well-being and even their survival in an arid climate.

Wedding celebrations also lasted several days, and most families did not have the kind of resources to pay for food and drink for a large group of people over many days. Therefore, it was customary for the invited guests to bring gifts of food and wine to share the burden of providing for such a large group. Running out of wine was not only embarrassing for the bride and groom, it was shameful for the all of Cana. As a community, they did not provide for the well-being and for the survival of the whole gathering.

Dr. King laid bare the shame of our country, a land of plenty and abundance, allowing its own citizens to go hungry. He believed ending hunger and poverty was essential to achieving freedom and equality for all people. “Let us march on poverty until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat,” he declared. Like the lack of wine at the Wedding at Cana, King placed the responsibility of ending hunger and poverty on the whole American community. We are responsible to ensure that everyone has their basic needs for survival met.

The second theme in the Wedding at Cana is that God often works through the lowly rather than the powerful. Have you ever heard a wedding story that doesn’t mention the bride? The groom is mentioned in passing, but he doesn’t speak. This wedding story does not even mention the bridal couple’s parents, the hosts of the party, nor any of their town officials or religious leaders. The steward receives a mention—he’s the manager of the party. The steward made sure the food and drink—however much there was—were served in a proper and timely manner, but even he did not know from where this good wine came.

So, who was it who really knew what was going on? Jesus’s mother, and the servants—the working poor. Sounds a bit like the birth story of Jesus in the other Gospels—a story where Mary and the shepherds—the working poor, are privy to angel revelations. Those at the bottom really know what’s going on for they bear the consequences of communal injustice. When there is enough, they get to eat, and when there is scarcity, they are the ones that starve. An abundance of wine at this party, meant the servants were able to partake at the end.

The event that kicked off the Civil Rights movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was powered by people who lived at the bottom. African Americans were 75% of the riders on the bus but living under segregation and Jim Crow laws, they were not allowed to be the drivers. After paying their fare, they had to get off the bus and enter at the back door; often, the driver took off before they had a chance to get back on. It was the seamstresses, domestic workers, nanny’s, factory workers, and other laborers walking everywhere for an entire year that led to the 1956 US Supreme Court Decision, Browder v. Gayle, that declared such segregation unconstitutional.

As we listen to the shepherds and servants in our midst—the working poor, day laborers, nanny’s, home health care workers, minimum wage employees—they will teach us about what God is up to, and how the church can participate. This is the work of the organization, Faith in Texas—believers coming together to listen to those most affected by injustice. Right now we are working on the issue of the lack of affordable housing, which I know affects some members of our congregation.

The third theme the Wedding at Cana reveals is God provides goodness and abundance for all. Jesus wants all the guests to enjoy the goodness and the abundance of wine whether they are aware of how it got there or not. Few people knew the source of the wine, but everyone enjoyed its abundance—that’s how God’s grace and love and generosity work. Jesus shows us that God’s abundance is not earned—it is given; God’s grace is not paid for—it is freely offered; God’s love is not won—it is simply received. Do you know how much wine there is in six stone jars holding twenty to thirty gallons each? I did the math—it’s about 3,200 glasses! That’s the party of lifetime!

Dr. King’s dream for justice and equality did not include inflicting on others the suffering he and people of color endured for centuries in this country. In his Christmas Sermon for Peace in 1967, he said,

I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow, we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say…We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we will still love you…But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.

The work of God’s justice that we continue today, embodies this abundance to win the heart and conscience of all, a victory for everyone—the party of a lifetime!

Finally, the Wedding at Cana reveals that with Jesus, the best is yet to come. When the steward tasted the good wine Jesus provided, he declared, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus brought goodness and abundance, but he did not do the work alone. In bringing the best, Jesus asked for the participation of others.

• The good wine came because someone noticed and spoke up that there’s a crisis.
• The good wine came because Mary knew that in Jesus, there was another way and she spoke up.
• The good wine came when people got to work and gathered the resources they did have—even if it was only six empty stone jars
• The good wine came when servants did what Jesus said—they filled the jars with water, they brought it to the steward to taste, they served the wine to all the guests.

With Jesus, the best is yet to come. Dr. King also believed that the justice, equality and freedom of the kingdom was yet to come when he said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” He did not mean it was inevitable, but rather, that God’s kingdom would become real when God’s people participated with Jesus and did their part. For the justice of God comes when God’s people notice and speak up when there is a crisis. The equality of God comes when God’s people who know Jesus speak up that there’s another way. The freedom of God comes when God’s people get to work and gather their resources. The abundance of God comes when God’s people do what Jesus says—love your neighbor as yourself, bind up the broken-hearted, free the captive, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and set at liberty those who are oppressed.

With Jesus the best is yet to come—it was true at the Wedding at Cana, it was true during the Civil Rights movement, and it’s true today as we participate in bringing about God’s reign of peace and love. God calls us to pay attention to the underlying issues of justice in our community and the world, to listen to the lowly rather than powerful, and to trust in God’s abundance for all, knowing that with Jesus the best is yet to come.


Write comment (0 Comments)


Follow My Blog!

Enter your email address:

Welcome to my website!

linda anderson little
Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.