“Life’s Worries”–Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Creation, September 30, 2018

Francesco-7p

Isaiah 55:1-5

Revelation 5:11-14

Matthew 6:25-29

How do you know it’s going to be a rotten day? You look out your window and see the ‘60 minutes’ crew unloading in front of your house. You wake up to find your braces are locked together. When you leave the house, your wife says, “Have a good day, Bill.” Your name is George. You turn on the TV to discover that the news is showing emergency routes out of the city. And my favorite: Your car horn goes off accidentally and remains stuck as you follow a group of Hell’s Angels on the freeway.

The likelihood of these happening is pretty remote—but there’s still a lot to worry about in life. Will this month’s income last me the whole month? There’s a rattling noise in my car and I can’t afford to get it checked out. I have a lump in my breast but no health insurance. I’m 15 and just discovered I’m pregnant. I’m 15 and just discovered my girlfriend is pregnant. I’m gay and afraid to tell my family. I was sexually assaulted and am ashamed that it might have been partly my fault, and no one will take me seriously. I’ve left my country and family behind in a sea of violence and have no safe place to go. My parent beats me but I have to stay to keep my younger siblings safe. I’m afraid to go outside because I never know when someone might come at me with a weapon.

There is still a lot to worry about in life. There is still a lot of injustice in this world that should make us uncomfortable, if not angry. There is reason for many to live in a state of paranoia. There are legitimate cases of PTSD in which, though the immediate danger is gone, the emotional scars are still raw.

So, I want to be very clear about this from the start: Jesus isn’t telling us that concern for safety and justice aren’t important, and that if we just take a deep breath and trust in God, everything will turn out okay.

In fact, our passage today starts with the word, “Therefore.” ‘Therefore’ means that something came before the passage, and he is referring to that something as he continues to make his case. In this case, the “Therefore” refers to the verse just before this one.

Jesus says, “No one can be a slave to two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

He’s talking about our hearts—where are our hearts? Are they devoted to the stuff of this world—to the things we acquire, the clothes we wear, the foods we eat, the fancy wines? Are we a slave to how others see us? Or are we devoted only to what God sees in us? A great example of this transition in life is St. Francis of Assisi.

Giovanni di Bernadone was born in 1181 in Assisi, Italy to a wealthy silk merchant. Giovanni, or Francesco as his Father nicknamed him, lived into his wealth. He spent money lavishly, wearing rich robes and drinking expensive wine. In 1202, he joined the military and was soon taken prisoner, spending a year as a captive. After an illness and a vision, he lost his taste for the lavish lifestyle. But he didn’t turn his life around right then and there. He struggled with what it meant to follow Jesus. He struggled with how to live this wealthy life at the same time. He struggled with his family’s expectations. He lived in exile, praying and asking God what the purpose of his life was.

His father turned Giovanni away and disinherited him, completely. He became a beggar, begging mostly for stones with which to rebuild chapels in the area. Passages such as the one we heard today influenced him in his direction in life. And as people saw his simple lifestyle, they were drawn to him. He started a new religious order—the Franciscan Order, also known as the ‘lesser brothers.’ He started an order for women, and later an order for laity who just wanted to live a simple lifestyle but didn’t want to withdraw from the world.

Francis strove to make peace with the Muslims in the Holy Land during the Crusades. He is known for his poverty and desire to give to the land rather than take from it. He is often seen depicted with animals because of his deep compassion for God’s creation. He saw all created things as his brothers and sisters, and he believed that all creatures praise God—a major theme in the Psalms.

One of the legends of St. Francis was that of the wolf who terrified the city of Gubbio. The wolf ate humans and animals, and the people feared the animal. So Francis went into the woods to confront the wolf. When he reached the animal, he made the sign of the cross and called to the wolf to come to him. The wolf came and lay down at his feet. Francis chastised the wolf for his terrorizing, but he recognized that the wolf was merely hungry. So, he brought the wolf into the town and made a pact between the people and the wolf. The people were to feed the wolf, and the wolf was not to harm the people or animals anymore.

In 1990, on the World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II said of St. Francis, “The poor man of Assisi gives us striking witness that when we are at peace with God we are better able to devote ourselves to building up that peace with all creation which is inseparable from peace among all people.”

“Do not worry,” Jesus says. Do not worry because your life has been claimed in service to God. You need not be a slave to the demands of this world—to working 80 hrs/week so that you don’t lose your job; to getting your kids into the best school; to making the team at all costs; to getting the house you always dreamed of; to looking the part of the role you play; to being intimidating in order to limit abuse; to acting out so no one knows how scared you really are. You need not be a slave to the things in this world that do not bring you life and love.

Do not worry about your life. Do not worry about who is currently popular, about which teams are winning or losing, about how much you weigh or what others think of you. Do no worry about who is gay, who is trans, who is straight. Do not worry about having girls in boy scouts or those who don’t believe in Jesus. Do not worry about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Do not worry about the mistakes you made yesterday.

Set your mind and heart on Christ. For it is in Christ that we are made children of God. It is in Christ which we find our value and the value of each and every person around us. It is in Christ that we live, and it is in Christ that we die. So, may our worries or concerns be those of Christ—concern for the poor, concern for the abused, concern for the sick, concern for the outsiders, concern for the oppressed, concern for the bullied and shamed.

And may God give us that which we need—our daily bread, as we pray. Like Isaiah says, we can come to God and receive our daily bread, without cost, without effort, without debt. We can come and receive what God so willingly has offered—courage to speak truth against power, confidence in our gifts and abilities, forgiveness for the things we’ve done and left undone, and hope for the future.

We can come to God with those requests because we know that God loves us—as much and more than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. And just think, if we actually loved ourselves and each other as much as God loves us, we would take care of one another rather than hurt each other. We would care for the earth like St. Francis. We would work together to provide food for the hungry in ways that are sustainable. We would strive for justice and peace for the sake of those who live tenuous lives at the whims of others. We would be the co-creators God made us to be…and even the most legitimate of worries would no longer weigh on God’s beautiful creation.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

Advertisements

“Climbing Mountains”—Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Creation, September 23, 2018

C6DF9C96-CD79-4CFC-A5AA-C7F13D8D4CD3

Isaiah 65:17-25
Romans 8:28-39
Matthew 5:1-12

Mountains are a symbol of God in Scripture. There are over 500 verses that mention or connect with mountains in the Bible. The things that happen on mountains are meant to bring people closer to God. Moses saw God and received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Mount Zion is where the Temple in Jerusalem was built. In Mark and Luke, Jesus appoints his disciples on a mountain. Then there’s the Transfiguration in which Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah in glory before the disciples. There’s the Mount of Olives from which Jesus descends into Jerusalem to meet his death, and the hill of Golgotha where he is killed. And, of course, we have his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, which we just read.

Those are the physical sites of events. In addition to that, there are even more metaphorical references. Our Isaiah passage talks about what the re-creation will look like on God’s holy mountain. The Psalms refer to mountains quaking in terror, as well as singing in joy. Jesus tells the disciples that if they had faith such as a mustard seed, they could move mountains.

Mountains in Scripture mean ‘pay attention.’ God is doing something here.

Mount Everest is probably the most famous mountain of our time simply because it is the tallest in the world. Many people have attempted to climb it—to conquer it. Climbs began in the early 1900’s, but the first people to reach the top were Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953. The climb is particularly dangerous because of the elevation and the weather. People risk altitude sickness, blizzards, wind, avalanches, and icefall. It has been climbed over 7,000 times, resulting in over 300 deaths. Many of the bodies still remain on the mountain.

There is, I believe, a desire innate in humanity to conquer challenges. Whether it’s climbing that tree in the back yard, scaling the cliff, swimming the lake, climbing a mountain, whitewater rafting down the river, there’s something within us that loves the thrill and the challenge. It’s part of what makes us human. It’s what drives us to do what hasn’t been done. It moves us forward in technological advances, gives us opportunity to discover new worlds, allows us to dream beyond what we can see. It is the image of God in us, the co-creator about us, discovering and making and learning and growing. It can be beautiful.

But, it can also be so very destructive. Just like the first humans who believed the temptation that they, too, could be gods, we are never satisfied with the gifts God has given us. We desire more. It’s not enough to be created in the image of God. We want to BE god. And so, we take it upon ourselves not only to scale the mountain but to make it convenient for our purposes. We take down the mountains to make roads. We dig into the mountains for precious metals. We demolish mountains to build structures for our own glory.

No longer do we approach the mountain in humility, as Moses did when he encountered the burning bush. No longer do we remove our shoes as a sign of worship to the God we expect to meet. No, we demand that the mountains and hills bow before us. We have become conquerors—tempted to live in glory and power upon our own holy mountain. And by doing so, we heap injustice upon creation and upon our brothers and sisters.

As Jesus climbed the hill along the Sea of Galilee, he gathered his disciples around him and began to teach them what true disciples look like. “Exalted are those who are poor in spirit; exalted are those who mourn; exalted are the meek; exalted are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; exalted are the merciful; exalted are the pure in heart; exalted are the peacemakers; exalted are those who are persecuted; exalted are you when people bring you down for following me.”

Exalted are the people who have been dragged through the mud simply for being human. Exalted are the ones who can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Exalted are those who have no home or country because what they did have meant death—or worse. Exalted are the ones who are sick and have no money to seek medical help. Exalted are those who are too busy scraping together a life to worry about conquering the world. Exalted are those who have nothing left but hope in God.

Matthew depicts Jesus as the new Moses. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reframes the Law that Moses received on Mount Sinai. Exalted are those who strive to love the Law without looking for loopholes to glorify themselves, to enrich themselves, to become gods themselves. The Law Moses received was meant to help the Israelites create harmony and become a beacon of light for all the nations. When they lost sight of that purpose, the Messiah came on the seen, as promised, to shine brighter—the light of God, God’s Self, to bring blessing to the world.

In t Messiah, the God of the mountain has come down to us. The God of the mountain has humbled God’s Self in order to guide us, love us, share all of creation with us. And yet we still look up at the mountains and see something to be conquered. We still look at one another and see something to be conquered. We still look at the resources of our world, nations struggling under the weight of tyranny, oil in untouchable places—and we see people and places to be conquered for our own glory.

But Paul says, “We are more than conquerors.” We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword separate us from the love of Christ? Will being conquerors give us the life we seek? No. In all these things, we are more than conquerors through the one who loves us. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Neither the mountains nor the valleys will keep God from us. Neither the law nor our sin will keep God from us. Neither the nations nor their leaders will keep God from us. Neither the walls we build nor the walls we encounter will keep God from us. Neither the mines and woods we have sold our souls for nor the roads we build will keep God from us. But…neither will they draw us closer.

In the movie, “Schindler’s List,” Oskar Schindler has a conversation with Nazi SS officer, Amon Goeth. Goeth takes great joy in torturing and killing the Jews and their sympathizers under his rule. Schindler, on the other hand, finds ways to save Jews by giving them ‘essential work’ in his manufacturing facility. In their conversation, Goeth regales Schindler with the power he has over those he kills. But Schindler challenges him. “Power,” he says, “is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t. Power is in showing mercy.” Goeth tries it for a while, but just can’t do it.

Power is when we have the justification and the ability to destroy, but we choose to offer mercy and compassion, instead. Power is when we can be conquerors, but we choose to be more than conquerors through the love that God has given us. Power is climbing down into the valleys for the sake of the gospel when we could have climbed the mountains for the sake of glory.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus describes what true discipleship looks like. It doesn’t look like someone who relishes in being right or righteous, being great or having glory. True discipleship looks like those who trust God even when they mourn, when they are meek, when they seek righteousness, when they are persecuted. True discipleship looks like power found in mercy. True discipleship looks like the one who disciples follow—a God who chooses humility in order to show us abounding and steadfast love—to show us in person what God’s holy mountain can be like.

Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE

“Looking to the Stars”–Sermon for Third Sunday in Creation (Sky Sunday), Sept. 16, 2018

milky way

Jeremiah 4:23-28

Philippians 2:9-13

Mark 15:33-39

 Children’s Message:

Who has seen the stars in the sky? It’s kind of like this lantern, right? Sparkly, neat. I bet that if you stood outside your house tonight, you might even be able to count the stars that you see—especially if you live in town.

Who has been out in the middle of nowhere, someplace very, very dark, and looked up at the stars. Is there a difference? There are so many stars, you can’t even count them!

Why do you think there’s a difference? Because the light around us keeps us from seeing the lights far away. Did you know that there are billions of stars right above us even during the daytime? The reason you can’t see them is because the sun is so bright. So, the darker things get, the brighter the stars become. (Black felt over the lamp.)

Let’s pray. God, help us look for your stars when things are really dark. Amen.

(pass out stars as a reminder)

Message:

It never fails—when I clean the house, no one notices; when something is a mess, it’s the first thing their eyes take in. Have you ever noticed that? When things are as they should be, we just don’t pay any attention. It’s only when things start to get wonky that we notice what isn’t—rather than what is.

It’s a bit unfortunate, really. Imagine the marvelous and wondrous things we miss simply because we expect them to be there. Clean windows, milk in the fridge, gas in the tank, maintained roads, football on Saturday, worship on Sunday, the air we breathe—even the stars at night. We so easily take for granted the things that seem to be a given in our lives—until they’re not there.

Sometimes, the lack of these things are obvious and immediate—lightning storms that cancel a game, smears on the windows, no toilet paper within reach. And sometimes, we are more like the boiling frogs. Those things we take for granted slip by us so slowly that we don’t realize they’re gone until it’s too late.

The readings today are not exactly uplifting. And you may wonder, “What does that have to do with the sky?” I wondered that, too—I didn’t choose the readings. The first reading is from the prophet, Jeremiah. He had been warning Judah of the coming exile. He had been begging the people to return from their evil ways and once again worship the God of their ancestors—the God of life and promise and hope. But they refused.

The people of Judah, like their northern brethren in Israel, had turned to idols—gods who could not provide and who did not care. They pledged their allegiance to glory rather than life. They turned away from hope. And they had not noticed how far from God they had become—they had taken it for granted. Jeremiah tried to warn them what would happen if they didn’t change their ways. But by the fourth chapter, the part we read today, he’s given up on trying to change their minds. His words are simply stating what is in store for them.

“I looked on the earth, and it had become a wasteland; and to the skies, and they had become dark. The mountains were quaking. The animals had fled. Land that once provided fruit was a desert, and the cities had been destroyed—the people were gone. Because of your sinfulness, the whole creation is effected and mourns its loss. Skies are black and land is grey. And God will not repent.”

They should have seen it coming—the prophet told them what would happen. And yet, they didn’t change their ways. Eventually, it was too late. And the empire of Babylon came—they took the people into exile, laid waste the land, and demolished the Temple. All that the people took for granted was no more.

You’ve probably seen pictures of Hurricane Florence—especially the satellite images. It’s incredible—the mass of swirling clouds that seem to cover such a large area of ocean, slowly moving toward land. And then, it hits.

You’ve likely seen amazing and awe-inspiring pictures of tornadoes. Incredible and destructive. Perhaps, here in Nebraska, you’ve been in their path. Perhaps you’ve experienced the horror, the fear, the chaos. The devastation that follows.

Have you seen the sky? Have you seen the Milky Way—the way it looks like someone threw a handful of sparkling dust across the sky? Have you seen the brilliance of the stars—the billions of pinpoints of light scattered above us? Have you seen it really? Many haven’t. Many would be astounded by what we can’t see from within the city. And those living in larger cities—have they just become accustomed to the smog, thinking it’s just normal?

Maybe you’ve felt it or maybe you’ve noticed—the storms, the floods, the destruction has been increasing. The increase in asthma and breathing illnesses in children. It’s not an illusion. It’s not just because we have more news and access to social media. The whole creation is groaning under the weight of human sin. The sky grows dark in mourning—mourning for the loss of Judah, mourning for the death of God, mourning over the hard hearts of humanity.

Jesus’ disciples had taken him for granted. They took for granted what the Messiah would do. They took for granted what God would do. They weren’t paying attention. Jesus warns the disciples three times what would happen to the Messiah—what MUST happen to the Messiah—what was destined to happen simply because of the sin of humanity. And they didn’t listen. They didn’t get it. They continued to steep themselves in human folly.

The first time Jesus warned them, Peter tried to take over and lead Jesus to glory. The second time, the disciples spent their time arguing over who would take his place in greatness after he died. And the third time, James and John vied for places of honor beside him while the other disciples wished they had thought of it first.

Glory, honor, greatness, pride—the sins of humanity—the sins that preferred to substitute Jesus’ humble revelation of a loving and gracious God with their own gods. Gods of consumption, gods of segregation, gods of national pride, gods of wealth, gods of power, gods of triumph. And the gods did not deliver but rather killed the God of love.

As Jesus hung on the cross of humanity’s sin, darkness covered the whole land. Darkness took hold until the moment Jesus died. And at that moment, it says that the curtain in the Temple was ripped apart, from top to bottom. Torn in two. The Temple is where God was ‘housed’—where God could be met. But only in the Holy of Holies once a year, and only by the priest. The Holy of Holies was protected by a curtain. And the moment Jesus died, God tore apart the division—tore apart the dark separation between humanity and divinity. God had come among us in Emmanuel—in the Christ. And after Jesus’ death, God was let loose in a way that couldn’t be contained by a curtain or a body or even a church.

I imagine that at the same time the curtain tore apart, the dark and mourning skies also tore apart. They tore apart in complete grief, like a mother who cries out at the death of a child. But they also tore apart in celebration. Jesus had done what he intended to do—he taught, healed, he showed the world how far sin will take us…and finally, he died. When the rest of the world sees a devastating end to a good life and a possible triumph, creation sees the beginning of God’s rule breaking into the world—new life coming from death. And in that is our hope.

As I reminded the kids, it’s when things are really dark that we can see the lights of the stars best. In the death of Christ, the light of God’s love shone the brightest. And in the moments when we realize how loudly creation groans under the weight of our sin and consumption, the light of life and hope shines within us—the light of the Spirit kindles flames of change—the light of God reveals to us the life-giving way of humility.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“Ubuntu”–Sermon for Second Sunday in Creation, September 9, 2018

horton2

Genesis 1:26-28; 2:5-15

Philippians 2:5-8

Luke 16:19-31

Children’s Message:

“Horton Hears A Who”—A person’s a person, no matter how small!

 Message:

Rene Descartes once penned, “I think, therefore I am.” It is a philosophical puzzle in response to those who would suggest that perhaps we didn’t exist—that our experiences and senses simply couldn’t be believed—kind of like the Matrix. Descartes suggested that even doubting our existence proves our existence. But the thing is, with that way of thinking, one can only be sure about one’s self. I exist. But what about you? And more to the point—why does it matter?

As long as I get what I need, your existence isn’t really all that important to me. Your existence, then, is only to serve me. When you are no longer of service, then I lose interest in what happens to you.

On the other hand, Desmond Tutu used the Zulu term, ‘Ubuntu,’ to refer to something bigger. Ubuntu, in Tutu’s use of the phrase, means “I am because you are.” He used Ubuntu as a key piece of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s effort to bring Democracy to South Africa following Apartheid. The commission was a court-like system that not only allowed victims of systemic abuse a chance to make their stories heard but also allowed the perpetrators to confess and even seek amnesty. It’s called restorative justice, and it’s a huge leap from what humans understand as ‘normal’.

In fact, it’s another example of the ‘inverted logic’ I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Jesus is all about this inverted logic. Today, we hear his parable about the rich man and Lazarus, and it’s filled with inverted logic. Now, let’s clarify a couple of things before we get started. First, this wasn’t an effort to describe the details of heaven and hell. In fact, the use of the term, Hades, reflects more of a Greek mythology than a Jewish belief. Second, his parable directly follows Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees.

Luke says, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this [meaning, Jesus’ teachings about the lost sheep, coin, and son, and the parable of the dishonest manager], and they ridiculed Jesus. So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.”

And then Jesus tells this parable about a rich man and a poor man. Now, as I said, this isn’t about what Jesus thinks heaven and hell are like. And he is responding to how the Pharisees were approaching the Law and the people. Third, Jesus isn’t saying that rich people are bad and poor people are good. His focus is on how we treat each other—no matter what.

The rich man had many resources. And the poor man was cast to his gate. The poor man was not only destitute but covered in sores. And while the rich man couldn’t be bothered with sharing his crumbs with Lazarus, the dogs at least came to lick his sores. It’s believed that dog saliva has healing properties, so this is evidence of the dogs showing mercy to the man, even when another human did not.

Did you notice that the rich man is never named? That’s one of Jesus’ ways of being subversive. In society—then and now—we know the names of the wealthy and famous, but we generally don’t bother to even ask the names of those we see begging on the street. And so Lazarus, when he dies, is carried to Abraham’s bosom while the rich man, when he dies, is simply buried and finds himself tormented in Hades. And true to form, he makes a demand. Abraham, send Lazarus to serve me in my torment.

And the answer is, ‘nope. Can’t.’ So, send Lazarus to my brothers to warn them. Lazarus, always a servant and peasant in the eyes of the rich man. And Abraham lays the truth on him. “They didn’t pay attention to the Law and the Prophets. They won’t bother with someone who is raised from the dead.”

And that last part is what hits the Pharisees square between the eyes. I love parables because they suck you in and then whack you from behind. Jesus was telling them that they had misused and misunderstood the law and the prophets, and they won’t get the resurrection right, either. And how is it that they misused the Scriptures? The same way we misuse the Scriptures—to create an unbridgeable chasm between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Here’s the question we must ask ourselves. When we create that chasm, are we so certain that we are in the arms of Abraham, or might we have created hell for ourselves and others?

Ubuntu—I am because you are. We cannot experience God’s kingdom—God’s reign, God’s glorious, heavenly ideal—until we acknowledge the existence and the blessing and the uniqueness of each person around us. Until we acknowledge our dependence upon the rest of humanity—our dependence upon those who are immigrants to this country, upon those who challenge the nation’s practices of injustice, upon those who work for less than minimum wage, upon the people who work in horrible conditions to create cheap clothing for us, upon those who work to preserve the land, and yes, even upon those who destroy the land, those who demoralize and demonize others, and those who hoard their wealth.

That’s the system in which we live. It doesn’t need to remain so, but we can’t move forward until we face the truth of who we are. I am because you are—Ubuntu. And that’s not always a beautiful thing. But it can be, again. We all have a part to play in shifting the system to better resemble heaven. Whether we are antagonizers, peace-keepers, warriors, or bridge-builders, we are called to live for and speak to the well-being of all people. All people. Let that sink in. All people.

The American author and playwright Tennessee Williams said it best: “The world is violent and mercurial. It will have its way with you. We are saved only by love—love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent, being a writer, being a painter, being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

One of the things that made it so easy for the Nazi’s to gain support in torturing and killing over six million people was that they first dehumanized them. They called the Jews ‘rats,’ for instance. As soon as we see people as less than people—human scum, white trash, gang-bangers, wealthy pigs, you can think of others—as soon as we see people as less than people, we lose our own humanity. I am because you are. We cannot exist without the existence of others. I am only as rich as the poorest person. I am only as healthy as the sickest person. I am only as peace-filled as the most tormented person. I am only as free as the most oppressed person.

I cannot be well until all are well. And while salvation is ultimately God’s business, God has made us co-creators. We get to participate in the process of opening in the world the kingdom of God. Rather than worrying about saving souls, our goal in this process is to simply create heavenly experiences for those around us. And in doing so, we get to experience heaven, ourselves.

You see, we are a resurrected people. When we follow Jesus, we are born anew—to new life, new hope, and a new way of being. Jesus’ parable says that even if someone who rises from the dead comes to warn the unfaithful, they will not listen. However, actions speak louder than words. Let us live as examples of the resurrected life in how we experience one another and how we experience ourselves. Ubuntu. I am because you are.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“In the Beginning, God”—Sermon for First Sunday of Creation, September 2, 2018

5A6BFD8E-9AC9-4603-9215-672717797DE9

Genesis 1:1-25
Romans 1:18-23
John 1:1-14

Children’s Message:

Did you hear how our first reading started? It’s the very first line in the Bible—maybe one of the most important phrases in the whole book. Does anyone know how it starts? “In the beginning, God.” In the beginning, God. Yes. So let’s think of some beginnings that we experience.

We just had the beginning of school. What did you do to prepare for that? Maybe new clothes and school supplies, a backpack, going to bed early the night before. And lots of kids get their pictures taken that first day of school.

What about the beginning of a new life—when a mom and dad are preparing for a new baby? What do you think they need to do to get ready? Clothes, furniture, classes, diapers, sleep, diapers, blankets, diapers. Some make arrangements for their baby to be baptized. Some start early to get their babies a daycare for when they have to go back to work.

Can you think of other beginnings? Lots of things happen when a new thing begins. There’s excitement. There’s fear. There’s an awful lot of hope—that everything will go well. Can you imagine what God did to prepare for creation? God didn’t go to get new clothes and new furniture. God made it all out of nothing. God just began, making light and sky and water and land, making plants and sun and moon and stars and animals.

And then God said something else that was really important. Do you know what that was? God called everything good. Beautiful. Tov is the Hebrew word. I wonder what God felt before God got started? Do you think God was excited? A little afraid or anxious? Do you think God had hopes that everything would go well? I do.

Let’s pray. Creator God, thank you for making this world and all of the amazing and beautiful things in it. Help us to care for what you’ve made. Amen.

Message:
It is generally accepted that Genesis was written while the people of Judah were in exile in Babylon. That was such a turning point for many reasons. The Temple that Solomon had built had finally been destroyed—for good, it seemed. There was no holy place for the people to go for sacrifice and community. This led to more local gatherings—what would become synagogues—and local leaders— called Pharisees.

It also led to a fear of losing sense of who they were as a people—losing their history, God’s promise, losing their identity completely. Part of the challenge was that they were surrounded by the worship of Babylonian gods, Babylonian stories of history and beginnings.

The Babylonian creation myth is called “Enuma Elish.” It’s recorded in about a thousands lines on seven clay tablets, and describes the beginnings of creation. It records gods battling for control and power, killing one another and using the bodies to create water and land and animals and so on. The Babylonian creation myth is a story of violence and power, of gods who must kill to be in charge.

This is not how the Israelites had experienced their God. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob was a God of promise and life, a God of goodness and hope. So, they recorded their own creation myth—possibly a myth told through the generations. But their story is purposely opposite of the Babylonian myth in many ways.

Rather than many gods battling for superiority, there is only one God from before time. Instead of violence, God uses only the Word—God speaks. Instead of lording their godship over all creatures, God allows creation to be co-creators of all that is. The land brought forth vegetation, and later it brought forth creatures of every kind. The waters brought forth swarms of living creatures.

And most importantly, God called all of this ‘good.’ Beautiful. Tov. Rather than creation being a by-product of godly violence and greed, it is intentional. It is hoped for. It has purpose. It is loved. God created order out of primordial disorder—out of tohu-va-vohu.

That is important, because the God we worship influences how we are in creation, as well. Do we see creation as a by-product of our violence and need? Do we use creation for our own purposes? Is it only good when it serves us? That’s how the Babylonian myth would have us approach our resources—something to be fought over, tamed, and used until it’s gone.

Or do we see all around us as good—even when it doesn’t serve us? Do we see the beauty of creation in the bat that insists on hanging out inside the church building; in the mosquitos that are annoying at best and at worst are deadly carrying malaria and other maladies; in the waters that swell in tsunamis and disperse in the drought; in the wild wind of tornadoes and dust storms and hurricanes; in volcanoes that erupt and wild fires that consume?

Is oil something worth having at the risk of destroying land and animals? Are our transportation and convenience worth raping the land? Is our wasteful living worth polluting rivers and ground water? Is our comfort worth the lives of ocean animals getting caught in the trash we so conveniently turn our backs on?

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to believe in climate change to see the destruction we are heaping on our fragile world. You don’t have to choose between evolution or creation to believe that the sin of humanity is deeply grieving the God who designed this precious cosmos. Reading Genesis 1 isn’t a matter of political positioning or pitting science against theology. It is a matter of deciding whether we trust in life or violence—goodness or sinfulness—beauty or hate—order or chaos—tov or tohu-va-vohu.

The God we believe in and trust defines how we see the world, see each other, and see ourselves. If we believe in a God who vies for power, lives according to greed, and needs to assert God’s self over others, then that’s how we will behave. That’s how we will live. And we will then be subject to such a god—one that sees us as a commodity to be used, spent, and eventually abandoned when our usefulness is dried up. That god will not redeem us because according to that god, we aren’t worth the energy. Everything is for sale—life, love, grace, all of creation.

But to believe in a God who deeply loves every thing created is to be caught up in a love which will never abandon us. This is the love shown when God entered this world in as vulnerable a way as possible. The Christ never claimed anything as his own, and yet all things have come into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. Jesus, the Christ, walked lightly on the earth, spoke hope and truth, and brought to the world grace upon grace.

As one commentary put it, “The Spirit of God forms the formless. He [sic] breathes spirit into matter. He [sic] creates purpose, order and meaning out of the chaos. He [sic] fills the empty void with beauty and goodness. He [sic] turns darkness into light, night into day, the evening into a new morning. God calls those things that don’t exist into existence. That’s what the Spirit did in creation, and that’s what he [sic] does in my redemption.” (Dan Clendenin—“Journey with Jesus”)

In the beginning was the Word, and through the Word, God created Light. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not and will not overcome it. That contains so much hope for us—hope in the darkest places—hope when we, ourselves, don’t know where to begin. Until we read Genesis. And it reminds us to begin as all good things begin—with God.

The God of creation—the one that calls all things tov is the only one willing to redeem us, love us, die for us, and live for us. That is the God we worship. Any other God will only lead to death.

Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE