What if Jesus Was Serious About That Whole Love Your Neighbor Thing?

As a pastor, I do quite a bit of writing; weekly sermons, notes for classes, monthly newsletter articles.  In working on my article for November, it struck me that this might be something to share with all of you out there in the world.

I write this article shortly before Reformation Sunday, the last weekend of October. In celebration of the Reformation, our scripture lessons supersede the texts regularly assigned for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. Had we gone with that set of scripture passages, the Gospel for October 26th would have been Matthew 22:34-46. I had to chuckle when I realized that, as it is a passage that I’ve run into more than once recently.

Recently the combined Confirmation/Adult Forum class discussed the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert in the 40 years between the Exodus and entering the Promised Land. Within that discussion, we looked at Deuteronomy 6:4-5, commonly known to the Jewish faith as the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” As the class talked about this passage and its importance, we also recognized that Jesus himself passed this vital Jewish command onto us, and this happens in the passage from Matthew 22.

When challenged by the religious elite to pick out the most important law, Jesus responded back with this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the command of our Lord, to first love Him, and then to love everyone else as well. But perhaps this is easier said than done.

We live in a trying time, and perhaps in those moments when we pick up a newspaper or visit a news website or turn on the nightly news report, we see too much negativity in the world to even begin to think about love. We are dealing with fear and paranoia over Ebola, videos and reports of ISIS beheading Christians and threating to attack the United States, and the ever present tension/conflict between Israel and Palestine. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the constant barrage of attack ads on TV and the radio as we creep up on Election Day on the 4th.

With all of this staring us in the face day after day, perhaps we find ourselves feeling a little cynical about that whole “loving our neighbor” thing, and rather than loving God, we throw exasperated questions in the heavenly direction, “Where are you on all this stuff?”

But it is precisely these times that we must cling to those two commandments…love the Lord with all you’ve got, recognizing that maybe today “all you’ve got” isn’t as strong as it was last week, nor is it as strong as it will be a year from now. And at the same time loving our neighbors…all of them, and I don’t just mean the people that live around the corner from you.

In times like this, I find it helpful to return to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” And funny enough…that means all of it. The world includes all of the people in constant conflict with one another. It includes the politicians cutting each other down to try and grab one more vote. And the world includes you and me, even in those times when the negativity present in life gets the better of us.

Interestingly enough, when we think about all that conflict going on “out there,” the fighting and the battling, and the terrorism and the atrocities happening all over the world, we begin to realize that despite our differences, we’re fighting a simple family squabble. Jesus’ commands remind us of our connection with the Jewish faith which traces all the way back to Abraham. And if we look back at the story, we realize that he was also the father of Ishmael, considered to be the patriarch of the Arab nation, what we would call Islam today.

And so, if all the conflict and tension in the world really can be sifted down into a family squabble, then maybe it’s time we all start taking Jesus’ command to love our neighbors seriously…because everyone out there is our brother or sister. What might happen if everyone started believing that, and seeing one another as God see each and every one of us; as beloved children of God.

In Christ
Pastor Scott

Who’s Are You? 10-19-14

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 22:15-22, I explore the conflict between Jesus and the joint effort of the Pharisees and Herodians. They intend to trap Jesus over a question of taxes, but as per usual, he simply points out a new way to think about the truth of the situation.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/whos-are-you-10-19-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

It never ceases to amaze me when I think about different groups that have come together in and around an issue…Groups of people that ordinarily wouldn’t be in the same room with one another find common cause against something, and because of this, they wind up working as a team. (pause)

Perhaps the most prominent example of this in recent memory occurred in 1985, when a committee was formed in Washington aimed at controlling and possibly even censoring lyrics of songs released in the public media.

As concern grew, particularly among the music artist community, about the actions of this committee infringing on 1st Amendment rights, an unlikely trio banded together in opposition. Frank Zappa, an unorthodox musician producer…Dee Snyder, the loud and gaudy front man of the popular heavy metal band Twisted Sister…and in a shock…mild mannered John Denver, a folk icon…these three men who had nothing in common except a connection to the music industry…banded together in opposition.

And in today’s story, we see a similar situation…individuals that normally have nothing to do with one another binding together in opposition of someone that they seem to hold equal distaste for…the Pharisees and the Herodians…working together with common cause…to discredit Jesus. (pause)
Now this is an interesting pairing to be sure. One group that we’re pretty familiar with…another…not quite so well known. (pause) Now the Pharisees, we know all about them don’t we? The religious elite…the upper end of the social spectrum in Jewish culture…the ones who knew…and followed the law to the letter…and all too often…the recipients of a certain stigma in today’s reckoning…slammed with the nickname the Biblical Badguys.

They are forever hounding Jesus, opposing his teachings…questioning his motives…and hounding anyone that aligns themselves with him…and on the other hand, we’ve got the Herodians…a group that, admittedly, we aren’t all that familiar with…We only hear about these guys a couple times through the entirety of the four gospels…this story and one other brief mention early in Mark…but what we do know about them is who they represent…Herodians…sounds like Herod doesn’t it?

While we might not know the specifics of just who these guys are, we can assume that the represent Herod Antipas…a “ruler” in Israel at the time…but more accurately, a Roman stooge…someone set up to help maintain the peace between the Roman control and the Jewish people that suffered under it.

Ironically, in most situations, these two groups would want nothing to do with one another…The Herodians, being loyal to Rome, not only represent the oppressive government, but they also represent the alternate view points of the Romans, up to and including what gods they paid attention to…To them, the Pharisees are old fashioned…stuck in their old ways of thinking.

And on the flip side, for the Pharisees…arguably the most pious of the Jewish people…possessing the most “cultural pride,” they would see the Herodians as traitors at best…loyal to the rulers of the day, but far to willing to compromise in order to get along. (pause)
But despite these differences…it seems in this case…that both groups…the Pharisees and the Herodians start listening to that old question “is the enemy of my enemy my friend or my enemy.” And in the very least…within today’s story…they decide that the answer is…friendly.

And so they take common cause in opposition…to Jesus….and they’ve devised a trap for him…a trap that, ironically, highlights the very differences between them that they are choosing to ignore…and after some initial…and likely quite snarky…flattery…they pose Jesus with a question…Tell us what you think…is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?

At face value…this seems like a pretty logical question…but in their minds…they’ve got Jesus in a corner, because either way he answers, he’s going to land in hot water. On one hand…just as the Pharisees despise Roman rule…the latest in a long line of conquering empires…the rest of the Jewish culture is equally hateful…and the mere fact that they are required to pay taxes to the very people that are oppressing them…supporting that very oppression…is a slap in the face to the Jewish people…and so, if Jesus comes out and says “well yes…of course it is lawful to do so,”…he’ll lose credence with the people…and the Pharisees will gain the upper hand over him.

But on the other hand…the Herodians…well their interests were certainly more…politically minded…they represent the “king,” even if he is a Roman lackey…and so if Jesus makes the statement opposing paying taxes…well, in their eyes, that’ll land Jesus in some political…perhaps even legal…hot water. (pause)

Two different groups…who normally fall on opposite sides of the fense…joining together in opposition…to Christ. (pause) But of course…not wanting to seem too bloodthirsty…they begin their scheme with flattery…and reading this almost makes me laugh…just thinking about how thick they’re laying it on. (pause)

“Teacher…we know….that you are sincere…and teach the way of God in accordance with truth…and show difference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” (pause) It had to be dripping with sarcasm…and yet…do they say anything that isn’t true? (pause)

Jesus is always sincere…people might not like what he has to say all the time, but he’s nothing if not sincere in his interactions…and of course his teachings are true…and yes he teaches the way of God…HE IS God for pete’s sake…and truly, he shows no partiality but deals with each and every individual as God sees them…as a beloved child of God…worthy of respect…and time…and relationship.

And thinking about this…about how Jesus’ opponents are trying to be funny and yet they still speak truth…and not only that but also about how their well devised plan, where they are working together…really does nothing except point out their respective differences in loyalty…I realize that when we deal with Jesus…the truth is going to be revealed…whether we want to…whether we intend to…or not. (pause)

Not only does Jesus make a point with the coin about the importance of giving what is due to any individual, whether Caesar or God or anyone…but he also reveals the truth of just where our loyalties really lie.

As Jesus talks about the coin…he’s talking about ownership. “This coin has the face and inscription of Caesar…so its his…so give him his due.” And in the same sentence he also tells us that we are to give God his due.”

But then this raises the important question of just what is God’s due? So let’s think about that for a bit…we know that it is right that we offer God our worship and praise…that’s a no brainer. And perhaps we can use this to talk about stewardship and offering our gifts back to God…or maybe we expand it a little bit and think about the notion that everything in the world belongs to God and we shouldn’t hold anything back. (pause)

While these are all valid thoughts, I think today that Jesus takes us beyond that…and just as he proposes that the coin belongs to the emperor because it has his name on it…I think we need to ask the question of who do we belong to…who’s got their name…on us? (pause)

And perhaps that’s hard to think about…after all, we are constantly drawn in so many different directions at any given time…but in the end…its important to remember the words and the promise that was made for each of us in the waters of our baptism…when God claims us as His own…when we are marked with the cross of his son Jesus Christ and we hear the promise that we are sealed in his love forever. Pause)

We celebrated a baptism just last week in worship…and while that is a wonderful reminder…we must each remember our own baptism day by day…when we put to death the sinful self…and we received the mark of Christ upon us…and in doing that…we remember not just who we are…but more importantly, we remember who’s we are…and today, here in this sanctuary, we remember in who’s name we gather…the one that names and claims us…even in those moments when we overlook it…or forget it…or even turn our backs on it…the name of God…the cross of Christ…and the seal of the Holy Spirit remains upon you…to carry with you as you go through this life…and what joy we find in knowing that God shows no partiality…and because of that…we too…are included in his number…and that is a truth, which will not…be denied, no matter how hard the world tries. Amen.

 

Don’t Forget Your Robe 10-12-14

Today’s sermon is based on Matthew 22:1-14. This is the parable of the wedding banquet. Its a difficult and strange story, but yet there is hope to be found. I also explore this passage through the lens of a baptism which occurred in worship.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-forget-your-robe-10-12-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to your from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Social decorum seems to set a certain benchmark in different situations regarding the proper mode of dress doesn’t it? In a given situation there is usually an expected way to present ourselves…and yet at times, when we are entering into an unknown situation, sometimes we have to ask.

I’ve found that to be the case when helping out in different congregations in recent years…most recently just a few weeks ago when I helped out a neighboring congregation on a Saturday night…and typically when I am faced with one of these unfamiliar situations I’ll ask the question “What’s the mode of dress?” That way I have some idea and I don’t show up wearing something inappropriate for the given situation. (pause)

But I had to learn this the hard way…on both sides of the coin. For instance…a number of years back…probably been about 9 or 10 by this point…I was a young wiseguy serving as Council Secretary for the congregation of 1st Lutheran Church in Milford, IA. Our congregation was coming towards the end of a building project…as we had outgrown the current building, and so we were constructing a much larger facility.

Now we were blessed enough to have identified a small fledgling congregation, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, who were interested in purchasing our old building. Considering that the building would continue to be utilized as a place of worship, we were ecstatic…and so the day arrived when the leaders of both congregations would gather and sign the paperwork, making the sale official. The meeting would involve the pastors of both congregations as well as the council presidents and secretaries…and so, it would fall to me to be there.

Now you should know, at the time I was working in a local factory, and my attire on a daily basis included heavy steel-toed work boots…old greasy blue jeans…and a company t-shirt that picked up gobs of grease and dirt throughout the course of the day. (pause) It never occurred to me that I should allow myself enough time to run home after work and grab a shower…much less to bring a change of clothes…and so I walked into that meeting, where everyone was in suits and sports coats…and I could only think to myself. Wow…I am underdressed…and of course there was a picture in the paper from the meeting as well…Figures.

Now on the flip side, I’ve also overdressed…I once showed up to a job interview…thinking that it was going to be a slightly more high scale job…and so I was decked in a full suit…only to discover that this job was a phone sales position…and my soon to be boss, was wearing jeans and a polo. Awkward to say the least.

Based on the extremes of both of these instances, I have learned to think carefully about what to wear in given situations…though sometimes…a unique situation still arises…and that’s the case that we find in today’s story.

Another parable…Jesus is fond of them isn’t he? And today, he shares a doosy…a wedding banquet…that seems to be full of odd situations…Call me crazy…but doesn’t pretty much every detail of this wedding banquet seem strange…ludacris…almost laughable in the way that Jesus presents it? (pause)

Let’s think about this…a king throws a wedding banquet…the invitations have all gone out…the preparations are completed…the food is ready…everything is good to go…and so he sends out his servants to fetch the guests…and the guests…blow it off. (pause)

There’s craziness #1 right there…this is the king…social decorum would state that you would NEVER say no to the king…he invites…you go period…but yet these folks have something better to do…and they ignore the servants…at least the first few do…some of the other guests seem to be irritated…downright enraged at the interruption of the invitation…and they mistreat the servants…and some of them flat out kill them…WHAT? Kill the servants of the king? I don’t know about you but that sorta sounds like treason to me? No wonder the king gets mad and sends out his army…and that’s the next crazy point. Perhaps its understandable that he orders his army to kill the killers…but in an even stranger situation he also orders them to burn the city to the ground…hold on a sec King…this is your territory…that’s your city you’re burning down there…crazy…none of this makes any sense does it?

But after all of this, the king takes a look in the banquet hall…see’s the bbq all prepped and ready and thinks to himself…well…someone needs to eat this…and he sends his servants out to collect anyone they can find…good, bad, or otherwise…gather them in…bring ‘em on in…and that’s exactly what happens.

And now…despite all the craziness that has gone on to this point…its time to party…and the king…despite the earlier snubbing of the invited guests…goes into the party to welcome his new guests…and out of the entire banquet hall…his eyes fall on this one…random…guy.

This guy…without…a wedding robe….and the king…is…shocked. “Friend…how did you get in here…dressed like that?” (pause) And the man…has no answer…and he is thrown out. (pause)

Truly…this is a strange wedding that we’ve got going on here. What was this man’s crime? Was it that big of a deal that he wasn’t wearing a robe? Were the clothes you wore really that important in those days? Or is there something else going on here? (pause) Maybe, just maybe, what truly offends the king is the lack of preparation on the part of the man…everyone else seems to have taken the time to dress up…even if there were simply gathered in from the cross roads…but not this guy…it seems that he failed to take the invitation seriously…and he is punished for it. (pause)

Now…let’s remember for a moment that we are talking about a parable…and typically when faced with a parable we must ask ourselves just who are we in the story…because Jesus has this uncanny way of telling a story that points out our failings…and let’s us know that the kingdom of heaven is not gonna operate in a way that makes any sense to us…and considering the various oddities in Jesus’ story about this banquet…we can see that point is true today…

And so, we bring our minds back to the question of just who are we? (pause) Are we the king? Probably not…I’m pretty sure the king is God…so we can cross that one off the list…but what about the guests…those originally…invited? Do we fall in that category? Perhaps…I’m guessing at one time or another we have all ignored the invitation to come into God’s banquet…its in our flawed human nature to do so. (pause)

Well what about the servants…the ones sent out to gather the guest, the old and the new…are we the servants? (pause) Maybe? Probably, at least at one time or another…we are sent out to gather in more for God’s banquet table. (pause)

How about the new guests…those gathered…those brought in…good and bad alike…I think we all fall in that category as well…invited…brought in…just as each and every one of us was, at one time…invited to come and see this Jesus guy…and to hear the good news. (pause)

But what about that last guy…the one without a robe…the one…deemed unacceptable…the one cast out…excluded…the one, who wasn’t good enough? (pause) What about that guy? Can you relate to him? (pause) As this week went by…I had various conversations in and around this passage…and around general matters of faith as well…and throughout the course of those conversations, I kept coming back to this one guy…and the questions that surround him.

How did he get in? Did he sneak in? Was he there dishonorably? And really…in the long run, what’s the deal with this robe? (pause) And as I thought about all that…I felt a little bit of fear creep in…a little bit of doubt…and then the question…AM I…THAT GUY? (long pause)

Don’t we all fear that…being that one individual…the one deemed unacceptable? The one that catches God’s eye for all the wrong reasons…who hears the words of accusation…and worse yet, knowing full well that those accusations are true. (pause)

Ever been there? Ever stood in front of someone, knowing full well you’re guilty…and knowing that whatever they say, you can’t say a word…and you have to stand there…speechless…and take it? (pause)

That’s what I kept coming back to this week…the what if’s…the doubts…the fears…and I kept asking the question, “What…is…this…robe?” (pause) What is it that we are supposed to be wearing when we enter into the heavenly banquet in the age to come? What is it that will ensure that we are welcomed and not cast away…welcomed…and not thrown into the darkness? (pause)

And the answer…the only thing that I could come with is Christ himself…the son…the one that God throws the party for…we must be clothed with Christ…and then I found myself asking just how we do that…and low and behold the apostle Paul told me how…in the book of Galatians Paul writes As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself…with Christ. (pause)

And it hit me…the meaning of a sacrament…when God uses regular day to day things like water or bread or wine…together with a promise…and comes to us…and today…at this font…we celebrate this very thing for small boy named Elliot Johnson. (pause)
In just a few moments…Elliot will be washed with the water in this font…and likewise, he will receive the promise that God claims him as his own…that God names him his beloved child…and that God marks him with the cross of Christ and seals him in His divine love forever.

And each and every one of us shares in this same promise…that in the waters of our baptism we are clothed with Christ…and one day…one glorious day we too will be gathered into the heavenly banquet, where the robe of Christ will ensure that we are welcomed in the love of God…expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord…and as the Apostle Paul goes on to tell us, if you belong to Christ, then you are heirs according to the promise. (pause) Heirs of what? Well…heirs of a place in God’s banquet hall…a place at God’s table…but most importantly, heirs to the name…beloved child of God…and that…is something to celebrate.

So when God calls…and the banquet is prepared…don’t forget your robe…your robe…of Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Authority-Its Tricky 9-28-14

In this sermon, based on Matthew 21:23-32, I explore the notion of authority. Jesus’ authority is challenged and he responds with a parable about obedience. This leads us to think about how we recognize authority and how we respond to it.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/authority-its-tricky-9-28-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

If you have ever watched me in the final moments right before worship starts, you know that I am a pacer…when nervous energy starts in I have the tendency to just keep moving…and particularly, I pace…a lot.

I also have the tendency to get up and walk around when I’m thinking about something…sermons for instance…and this week was a perfect example. As I was trying to get my brain into sermon mode Friday afternoon, I was walking around…and as I walked I realized that I was also doing something with my hands…(hold up whistle, step out and start twirling it).

Yes I have a whistle…yes, I twirl it. (pause) But as I was doing, just that, I got to thinking about other people that have whistles…the refs at my son’s football games…teachers when they are out with the children at recess…lifeguards overseeing the safety of swimmers…and as a self-professed fine arts guy, one that I greatly appreciate…drum majors.

And thinking about drum majors reminded me of being at the football game here in Underwood just last week for the Homecoming game…as well as quite a few other home games over the past year…and something unique that I’ve only ever seen from the marching band right here in town.

At the beginning of halftime, the band marches across the field from the backside…each coming to their assigned starting position…and the drum major turns away from the band…facing up towards the crowd and the announcers box. The announcer asks if the band is ready…which the drum major acknowledges with a salute…and we hear the announcement “The field is yours.” With that brief exchange, control…or perhaps it would be better to say…authority over the field and what happens on it…transfers over to the drum major. (pause)

It’s the notion of authority that brings us into the gospel lesson for today. We find ourselves in Jerusalem…Jesus has finally made it…and upon arriving, he has gone into the temple…and Jesus does not like what he finds…and just before today’s lesson…just before our story picks up for today…Jesus has had a divine temper tantrum…losing his cool and going off on the merchants and money changers…clearing things out in the event known as the cleansing of the temple. (pause)

And as our story picks up today…the chief priests and the elders of the people confront Jesus…wanting to know just what he’s up to…why he’s justified in his actions…for what reason or purpose he feels the need to upset the status quo…or perhaps more specifically, why he’s challenging the way things work here…on their turf…where they are supposed to be in charge…in short…they question…his authority. (pause)

Now, in Jesus day, teachers…or rabbis as they are called…receive their authority from their own teacher…who in turn had received it from their teacher…and so…proper authority to teach or issue commands as Jesus has done should be backed up with two-fold…or perhaps two-name…credentials…but as we all know…Jesus tends to buck the status quo doesn’t he? And the “regular way” of doing things just doesn’t tend to apply in matters that catch his interest.

And instead of quickly snapping to the “right answer” to appease human standards…Jesus answers the challenge in his normal way…by posing a question right back at them…You question my authority? Well how about this…who gave John his authority? God…or humanity…whad’a ya think boys?

And rather than cause any sort of commotion, we see the priests decide among themselves to try and maintain the peace by walking the middle ground…by giving the easy answer…they don’t want to recognize John as having had divine authority, because he made them look bad…and yet they don’t want to deny him, because the crowds backed him and the priests don’t want to lose the favor of the people…and so they shrug their shoulders and say “we don’t know.” (pause) And Jesus responds by refusing to name the source of his authority…which of course we recognize to be the same as John…divine…but that’s getting ahead of ourselves just a touch.

And within the story, Jesus decides to explain things in yet another normal “Jesus fashion”…with a story…But admittedly, at first glance…this parable seems oddly disconnected from the present situation…Jesus is asked about authority…and he responds with a story about obedience.

A man had 2 sons…he told them both to go get to work…one said no, but then changed his mind and did it…and the other said okay…and then totally blew it off…which one was obedient to the father? (pause). Perhaps Jesus is actually asking us “which is more important? Being honest but eventually listening…or paying lip service and not following through?” (pause) But if we limit this parable in this nature…if we try to sum it up that easily…I think we miss the point…and if we stop here then perhaps we all walk out of worship today with nothing more than moral guidance and the notion that we just need to shape up and follow orders…or worse yet the idea that we can chose to walk the “right path” and earn our way into salvation…and if we do that we truly miss the connection to just what Jesus is really talking about.

Because remember, Jesus is addressing the notion of authority…where it comes from. (pause) Now perhaps it goes without saying that the religious leaders recognize that Jesus does, in fact…have authority…but what they can’t figure out is where it comes from…he doesn’t have the right 2-fold rabbi deferred credentials…and by their established human standards…they find themselves confused.

But think about authority for a bit…think about how you recognize it…who carries it…and how we respond to it. If I asked the question of which direction authority flows, what would you say…at least of the top of your head? That authority flows downhill…that it stems from the top? I don’t think you’re wrong to think that…for certainly there is evidence that this is true…all we have to do is take a look at the structure of the military to see that…but when we stop and think about it…perhaps we also begin to realize that authority is granted from the bottom up as well…because if the proposed authority fails to inspire or persuade those it is trying to influence…then is the authority really there? (pause)

In short…we grant authority to those that seek to exert it…whether we realize it or not…true authority is followed…it is respected, perhaps even earned…but most importantly…authority…is bestowed…it is given…and much like faith…it is never self-generated.

And so we see that the flow of authority…or perhaps the power within it…flows back and forth between individuals…those with the proposed authority…and those following it. (pause)
But you know what? As I stand here talking about this today…I’m struck by how much it seems to resemble a motivational speech…or perhaps a keynote address at a business leadership conference…and that is not what we need to be talking about…and so how do we begin to switch our minds over to matters of faith…I mean, just what does the question of authority have to do with us here in worship today? (pause)

And the answer is this…if authority really is a two way street…and we grant authority to those who are attempting to influence us…then the question really becomes who are we gonna listen to? (pause)

Because there are a lot of different thing flying around these days…notions and ideas that try to persuade us one way or another…things that try to make us think one way or another…things that make us try to feel one way or another…and all too often, that message…that feeling that blares in our day to day lives is the flat out lie that you…just…aren’t…good enough.

Whether its subtle advertisements that let you know that you’re life will only be complete if you lose 15 pounds…or if you have this new flashy phone…we are constantly bombarded…and it seems like we always have that little whisper in the back of our mind that calls us “worthless.” (pause)
But…we also have a God that loves us so much…that cares for us so much…that desires to be in relationship with us so much…because we are of worth…and he tells us so…he tells us that we are loved…that we are accepted…that we are…of worth…regardless of our inadequacies. (pause)

And so today, I pose you this question…which voice are you going to grant the authority to? The sly one in the back of your mind that whispers the lie that no one cares about you…that you are worthless? (Pause) Or are you going to grant the authority to the voice that says my beloved child…I love you…and there is nothing that I will not do to show you that? (pause)

We hear in the story today, that the tax collectors and the prositutes…those who were socially outside the fence…those who were considered “unacceptable” in the eyes of the religious elite…they were the ones who recognized the need to listen to that second voice…that voice that told them despite their flaws…despite their failings…that they are loved…that they are accepted…and that their minds are changed. (pause) A better way to say this…at least according to the original language…is that they turned away…that’s what it means to repent…to turn away from the sin…but its also important to note that its passive here…they are turned away by something else…by the loving voice of God, who loves them enough to forgive their sin…just as he loves you enough.

And rest assured…he loves you enough…and so today, I’ll leave you with the question one more time…there are two different voices trying to take authority over you…one that says you are without worth…and one that loves you so much that you are priceless and worth any cost…so which voice are you going to listen to? Amen.

There Is No Order In Grace 9-21-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 19:30-20:16. It is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. I explore the sense of fairness being broken by the master’s actions, but then discuss how there is no measure to God’s grace other than that we receive the fullness of it.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/there-is-no-order-in-grace-9-21-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Since becoming the pastor here at Underwood Lutheran, I’ve presided over two weddings, and in both of them…the placement of the individuals who made up the wedding party was the same…everyone has their place…and as I think back to the multitude of weddings that I’ve been to, regardless of my level of involvement with them, I can say that there is certainly a normal placement of people that is pretty universal…a sort of inverted V…spreading out from the front…pastor here…bride and groom here…best man and groomsmen going out that way…maid of honor and bridesmaids going out that way…ring bearer and flower girl alongside…father of bride standing out here at one point…ushers in the back… …and in my time…I’ve stood in just about all of them at least once.

I’ve stood here in the pastor’s spot…being married I’ve obviously stood in the grooms spot…I’ve been best man…I’ve been a groomsman…I’ve been a ring bearer…I’ve been an usher…I haven’t managed father of the bride yet…but my daughter is only 8, we’ll give that one some time…and believe it or not…I’ve even stood over here in the bridesmaid line…long story…I’m not going into it…but yes I have even stood there. (pause)

Being part of the wedding party is a lot of fun…but for me, the best aspect…the biggest benefit…is that you get to go through the food line first at the reception. 9 times out of 10, the wedding party is the last to get there…and yet they are the first to eat…and I pay attention to these things…because inevitably…whenever I am at a reception and have not been part of the wedding party…my table is one of the last one’s to go through line…never fails…even if I’ve been one of the first to arrive…I’m always one of the last to eat. (pause) The first will be last…and the last will be first…Sound familiar?

This phrase bookends the gospel lesson for today…and perhaps you’ve heard me say it before…but in the writing style of the New Testament…when they repeat something…it means that it’s important…and of course today our speaker is Jesus himself…The first will be last and the last will be first.

Jesus, currently in an ongoing discussion with the disciples, uses this phrase to make a point…and then he transitions into the parable that makes up the bulk of today’s lesson…and then at the end…he says the phrase again…wrapping everything up…and so I have found myself coming back to that phrase over and over again this week…not because I want to…but because that appears to be the theme of yet another one of Jesus’ parables. (pause)

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early to hire laborers for the vineyard…they agreed on the wage…and he sent them out to get to work…Three hours later…he goes out again…Oh hey…there’s more people hanging around…Hey guys…go get to work…and I’ll pay you…and again a couple hours later…More people? Okay…go get to work…and then in a few more hours…Wow…more people…off to the vineyard…until finally, he makes one last trip right before the end of the day…and yet again…there are people standing around who have yet to be invited to work…people who lack the call into a crew…and yet again…the master says come on, I’ll hire you. (pause)

Hmmm…so the kingdom of heaven apparently has a WHOLE lot of work to do…and apparently there are a lot of people standing around lacking direction…interesting…but that’s just the start of things.

At the end of the day…once the work is over…the master decides that its time to settle accounts and brings in those late arrivals first…and low and behold…he pays them for a full day…and word trickles down the line. (pause) WOW!!! This guy is generous…they only worked for an hour…and he paid them for a full day? We’ve been here longer…some of us WAY longer…I WONDER HOW MUCH WE’RE GONNA GET? (pause)

And when the first workers finally get their paycheck…and greedily open up the envelop…expecting to see countless riches from this generous master…they are shocked…and amazed to find…exactly what they earned…exactly what the master had promised them at the beginning of the day. (pause)

And this…does not…sit well…and we hear that they begin to grumble and complain against the master…but in typical fashion, they don’t actually take it to him…the greek word here indicates a sense of quiet mumbling…similar in scope to what we might do in the midst of an argument when the other person leaves the room and we grumble about them…not really wanting them to hear what we have to say…because in all likelihood, it isn’t’ that nice…but yet we want the last word because darn it…we’re right and they’re wrong.

MASTER!!!! This isn’t fair…We have worked our tail off for you…we’ve been here all day…the whole time…we have done 10 times as much…and yet you give them the same amount as us. (pause)THAT’S NOT FAIR!

Gone is their viewpoint of the master as a generous man…now he’s just acting ridiculous…because common sense dictates that WE’VE done…far outweighs what they’ve done…we’ve earned it…they haven’t…we deserve it…they don’t. (pause)

Sound familiar? (pause) I’m sure it does…anyone with kids has heard countless arguments about fairness…I’m pretty sure that the phrase “That’s not fair” is uttered in my house at least once a day…probably more…and when we’re honest with ourselves, our views of what’s fair…what’s right…what’s justifiable…goes far beyond childhood doesn’t it?

This is something that we see all the time…smack dab in the middle of our day to day life…and perhaps in our capitalistic society…driven all too often by the almighty dollar…we run into this attitude constantly…and this parable really speaks to us…and we feel like those guys who started off the day in the vineyard are completely justified in their concern over the paycheck situation. (pause)

The notion of earning…or seniority is certainly prevalent for us isn’t it? So much so, that its second nature…this thought that those who have been at longer deserve more…that they should be justly rewarded for their work…for their service…for their time.

But Jesus tells us in this parable today that this is not the case in the kingdom of heaven…and so perhaps we try to shift our thinking now…remembering that, Oh yah, this isn’t supposed to be about money…its about the kingdom…and so we start thinking about the church…the congregation…and all the work that we’ve done over the years…has that thought ever crossed your mind? That I’ve done my part…I’ve put in the time…and maybe, just maybe I deserve the benefits more than that person…or that one…ever thought that? Even for a moment? (pause) I know I have from time to time…that notion of superiority kicks in, whether I want it to or not…guilty. (pause)
But you know what…Jesus has this amazing ability to shut me up pretty quick when he reveals the truth about things. And in typical fashion, he does the same thing here…when the master reminds us that he is allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to him…and then Jesus reminds me again that this is about the kingdom of heaven…not money…not seniority…its about the gift of God.

God is like the master who continues to go out into the world…looking for those who have not been brought in yet…he doesn’t stop after the first trip…or the second…or the third…he keeps on going until the very last moment, continuing to bring people in…and regardless of when he finds that person…the result is the same…the full measure of God’s grace.

Because the grace of God cannot be measured out…it cannot be divided based on how long you’ve been in the body…grace doesn’t work like that…but he makes us a promise that if we call his name…if we come back into relationship with him through faith in Christ that we will receive the full measure of his grace…in its entirety.

And just as the master says to the first workers…God does us no harm by offering the same measure of grace to those that come after us…and no matter of longevity changes that grace…whether we are believer for a century or an instant…we receive the full measure of forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord…and we need only look to the scripture in order to believe it…

Because as Jesus hung on the cross…dying for the sins of all humankind, one of the men hanging next to him looked up and said Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom…and Jesus looked back at him and assured him that Today…you will be with me paradise. (pause)

Friends in Christ…we know, full well, that there are times when jealousy rears its ugly head…and we all fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve earned it more than the next person…no matter what the subject is…but despite all that…despite our failings…and our sinful nature…we have a Master who is generous…who offers us the free gift of his grace…not because we earn it…but simply…because he chooses to…it doesn’t matter when you show up…only that he has called you in. Thanks be to God. Amen

 

Quality Not Quantity 9-14-14

Today’s sermon is based on Matthew 18:21-35. Within the text Peter asks Jesus to clarify how many time we are called to forgive someone who sins against us. Jesus responds far beyond Peter’s expectations, and shares the parable of the unforgiving slave. Within the sermon I explore Jesus’ response and just how we are to respond within our own lives.

https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/quality-not-quantity-9-14-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Last Tuesday afternoon I ended up in Neola at the community center, cranking out a pint of blood for the Red Cross. As I sat there with my feet up chatting with the nurse, I was transported through a montage of my childhood…because playing in the background was an extended playlist of 80’s music. I heard Madonna and Tears for Fears and Prince just to name a few.

The nurse and I were joking around about it, both being children of the 80’s and the next I knew we were talking movies…and perhaps I’m biased…but I tend to think that the 80’s produced the best batch of “classic movies” out of any decade…and one in particular comes to mind. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…arguably the pinnacle of John Hughes’ career.

If you’re unfamiliar, Ferris Bueller, a high school senior from Chicago decides that he needs one last day off from school before he graduates…and not only does he pull it off with his parents, but crazy hijinks ensue while the whole day, his principal tries to bust him…starting off with a phone call to Ferris’ mother.

Mrs. Bueller, are you aware that your son is not in school today? Do you know how many days he’s missed this year? Oh I don’t know 3 or 4? 9 times…9 times? NIIINNNNEEE TIIIMES? (pause). Within this conversation, the principal is very intentional about quantifying the number of absences of our hero…Mr Bueller.

And its this notion of quantity…of assigning a number that draws me into todays gospel lesson…Directly following last week’s passage, when Jesus gives guidelines for being reconciled with a brother or sister that has sinned against, Peter…ever the impulsive one, asks a question of clarification of Jesus…and I can about imagine just how that conversation really went. (pause)

“So, Jesus, just how many times should I forgive? Like, seven?” (thumbs up, gesturing up) “More than that, my friend.” (pause) “Ok, like seventeen?” “Not even close.” (pause)“Wait, like twenty-seven?” “Keep going.” (pause) “You’re kidding, right? Thirty-seven?” “Try seventy-seven times.” (pause) “But that’s ridiculous! Impossible![1] Seventy-Seven times?” “SEVVVEEEENTYYYY SEEEEVVVVINNNN TIIIIMES.” (pause)

Now clearly this is a shocking number for Peter, regardless of if we read it as 77 or 70 times 7…either of which are valid translations of Jesus’ response…but as we think about it, perhaps we begin by questioning Peter’s motive for his question in the first place. Jesus is talking about forgiveness…and he has told us to offer it…to be reconciled…seems pretty open and shut so just why does Peter ask in the first place?

Well, perhaps its his Jewish heritage…obviously Peter as well as the other disciples would be familiar with the law…they had the 10 commandments not to mention the rest of the over 400 laws handed down in the Old Testament…so perhaps Peter is just trying to get the specifics…making sure he’s got his bases covered…and so he offers a legitimate question of quantity…how many times must I forgive Lord? Even as many as 7 times? (pause) And interestingly enough, I think Peter is actually considering this to be a pretty generous amount…Seriously Jesus…if my brother wrongs me 7 times and I forgive him, that outa be enough right? (pause)

But Jesus, in his divine wisdom, reacts in much the same way he usually reacts to a question of this nature…but tossing it right back at the individual in a way that tends to blow their understanding right out of the water. No Peter…77 times…or 70 x’s 7…either way its an enormous amount…and think about it…are we really going to forgive someone that much? Do we have that capability…or is Jesus just throwing out some astronomical number to get us to think WAY bigger. (pause)

Now before you come up with an answer in your mind on that question…or before I try to offer you one…let’s switch gears…just like Jesus does…because for Jesus…the question of forgiveness doesn’t get a quantity. (pause)

And so Jesus switches into a parable…which he’s known to do, because he knows that we have a REALLY hard time getting past our own limitations…and in his normal style…he tells a story…a story about a king…and two servants…each who owes a debt.

And let me offer you a little perspective here…about just how different these two debts are that we hear in the story. The first servant…owning a debt to the king…that Jesus says is ten thousand talents…and the second guy, well he owes the first guy 100 denarii…and now perhaps you’re thinking “that’s all well and good pastor, but we don’t know what those values add up to.” And so…perspective…

The federal minimum wage is current $7.25/hour. Now a talent…that’s the equivalent of 15 years worth of wages…and this guy owes the king ten-thousand of them…and at $7.25/hour, 1 talent equals about $226,000 dollars…and if you multiply that by 10,000, we find the first guys debt at a little over…2…BILLION…dollars…let that sink in for just a minute. (pause) OK, and now the second guy, well he owes 100 denarii, which is the equivalent to a day’s wage…1 day…so his total debt is roughly…$6,000. No laughing matter of course…but something that’s doable…something that he could…given enough work…pay off. (pause)

That’s what we’re looking at…and interesting enough…when faced with judgment day…when faced with their debt being called in…these two men…respond the exact…same…way.

BE PATIENT WITH ME…AND I WILL PAY YOU EVERYTHING… (pause) Now the guy who 6 grand…maybe that’s not surprising…he probably could…but the other guy…roughly 6 billion in debt…yah right? Unless he’s on good terms with Warren Buffet, I kind doubt it…but yet these guys both seem to think that somehow…some way…they can pay it off themselves…that they can somehow free themselves of this cost…of this burden…

And isn’t that our normal tendancy….it must be part of the human condition…to think that somehow…someway…if we just work hard enough…or if we just say the right thing…or sway our reality with enough force that somehow, we can manage to overcome…we think it in moments when it might actually be possible…and we think it when the reality is so far beyond impossible that its not even funny…And that is the response of both of these guys today.

But what’s really interesting to note in Jesus’ story…is the response of the king…He recognizes the impossibility of the first servant ever managing to even put a dent in it…and he…forgives it…completely…its like the debt never existed in the first place…and yet despite that…this man…newly freed…cannot do the same with even a tiny amount…he can’t show the same mercy….and because of that…because of this inability to mirror the mercy first shown to him…he is punished…and Jesus tells us…that we face the same choice. (pause)

This story is all about forgiveness…but for Jesus…for God…forgiveness is not about quantity no matter how much our limited human understanding wants to make it that way. Jesus tells us, that there is no limit to the forgiveness and mercy that we are to offer our brothers and sisters…no limit…but rather that we are simply to mirror the grace offered by God when HE forgave our unpayable debt. (pause)

The apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the wages of sin is death…this is the cost…the debt…the burden that we bear because of the presence of sin within our own existence…and just like that first servant…there is no way that we can do it…we are completely unable do anything about it…and not just because it is some astronomical amount of money…but because the ability to atone for sin is beyond our human ability…and so in His unfathomable mercy…God showed us grace and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our immeasurable debt is paid…and we are called to mirror that same mercy…that same grace for others. (pause)

But as I say all that…I’m struck by the truth of the situation…by the truth of forgiveness…and I fully realize that there are situations in our warped reality where forgiveness…is REALLY hard…and it may even seem impossible.

Sometimes it might be easy to offer…and that’s great…but what about those other times? (Pause) A few days ago was September 11th…when we as a nation remember the horror of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers…when a force of unknown individuals broke the tranquility of our lives…and when thousands of lives were needlessly lost…and imagine if you were a family member of one of those people…and you were trying to forgive the horror of their death…that’s just one example. What about a murder of a loved one…or a betrayal of trust…or the destruction of a marriage…there are countless ways that we as individuals can do what might seem to be utterly un-forgivable to one another.

So what do we do with that? (pause) Valid question…because I think…at one time or another…we all face this reality on one side of the table…or the other…and in all likelihood, we face it from both side of the table at one time or another…I know I have.

For me…it was the inexcusable loss of a winter job…when my old boss knew full well of my intentions of working for him through the season before returning to my summer job…I had made no secret of that…and yet, out of the blue, he fired me…and I fumed over that situation for years…I always said I was over it…but anytime it came up in conversation…the person I was talking to could tell I wasn’t over it…and I hadn’t forgiven him…and even now today, as I stand before you and think about it…it still gives me pause…and I still get a bitter taste in my mouth over it. (pause) And likewise, I know that I done equally hurtful things to other people…and I know that they have struggled to let go…and to forgive…and in recognizing my own faults…my own failings…I too struggle to offer myself forgiveness…and perhaps you can understand…perhaps you face similar situations in your own lives…and so together we wonder just how to go about this whole forgiveness thing that Jesus is talking about.

And I don’t want to stand here before you today…looking down on you…and telling you that if you just believe enough it should be easy…because it’s not easy…and there is no surefire way…no amount of faith that is big enough to overcome our inability to heal and let go of the past…because even though the phrase is forgive and forget…we have a really hard time with that whole “forget” thing don’t we? (pause)

But maybe…just maybe…in order to begin the process…we must first acknowledge the pain and hurt caused between us…I read this week that forgiveness can be defined when we acknowledge that the past…hurtful as it may be…cannot be changed…when we acknowledge the reality of what has happened and that it will be forever a part of our history…and only then can we even begin to move forward.

And perhaps…the reason that Jesus tells us that we are to forgive 77 times is because we need to forgive the same thing over and over again…and maybe…just maybe…today if you have something eating at you…a past hurt…you need to simply say “Today I acknowledge it…and right now I’m gonna let it go.” And maybe it will come back in 5 minutes…or in a day…or in a month…or a year or a decade…and in that instant…when you recognize it again…and realize that we can’t change it…we let it go again…and maybe Jesus is telling us that we have to forgive the same thing over and over again…

And perhaps on the flip side, when we were the ones in the wrong…and we struggle to offer ourselves forgiveness, we need to do the very same thing…admit that we can’t change it, but repent of it and let it go…and remember that we must do the same the next time it comes up again.

Maybe forgiveness really is an ongoing process simply because we are flawed and we lack the ability to ever really let something go…but find hope in the fact that God can…and not only can he…He already…HAS…and you better believe it…because Jesus himself said. IT IS FINISHED…and you know what? There’s hope in that…but even in those times when we fail to see that hope…well…Jesus forgives that too…because that’s the quality of God’s forgiveness…for you. Amen

[1] Credit for this little exchange belongs to Karoline Lewis in her commentary on the Working Preacher website

http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3322

Be Reconciled 9-7-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus offers instructions on being reconciled when there is sin between believers.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-reconciled-9-7-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I have always enjoyed history…there is just something exciting about visiting the past either through exploring historical facts, or hearing stories, or seeing different artifacts that connect us to the past. Because of this, I’ve often visited different museums and historical sites…something that my parents encouraged as I was growing up…and I can remember several different times when we would visit places of historical significance.

One instance that for whatever reason has always stuck with me was a visit to an old one room school house. Perhaps I feel a connection to this old style of school because my grandfather actually started in a local one-roomer…or perhaps I just like it because the notion is so foreign to me.

Regardless of that, something I saw in that little one roomer has stuck with me over the years…a poem written by a student, of what could only be described as a very…VERY small school.

When I am at school, there’s much I can say
However I think, it goes either way

I am the shortest, and I am the tallest
I am the biggest, and I am the smallest

No one is younger, and no one is older
No one is warmer, and no one is colder

I come in last place, and I come in first
I am the best student, and I am the worst

I like to follow and I like to lead
I am always the first and the last to read

However you look, I’m all you can be
For here in my school, its only just me[1]

I find it hard to imagine just what it would be like to be the only student in a school…not just in a class, because I’ve been there done that…but to be the only student in an entire school. As odd as it would be, one benefit would be the total lack of conflict…because it is very easy to get along with everyone…when you are alone.

But today’s gospel lesson presents a different sort of situation. Jesus describes a situation not only in which the hearer is with other people…but where conflict has arisen…and where individuals have sinned against one another. (pause)

Now, as hard as it may be for us to realize…it is certainly possible that individuals will fail…to get along with one another…I know…shocking right? But it is true. Put more than one person in a room…and it won’t be long before you have some sort of conflict…some sort of grievance…and things can quickly go sour.

That is precisely what Jesus expects will happen within the church…I’m guessing that Jesus had a pretty solid handle on the human condition…even among fellow believers…because he predicts coming issues…conflicts…sins against one another…what do you think? Was he accurate? (pause)

And so, in what may sound sorta familiar…possibly reminiscent of a procedure outlined in the church constitution…which is actually 100% accurate, because its in there…Jesus gives us a procedure to follow when dissension enters the community. (pause)

If your brother or sister sins against you…go and find them…point out their fault quietly between the two of you…and if they listen…REJOICE…for the two of you have been restored. Okay…well, what if they don’t listen to you?

In that case…take a couple extra people along with you…for with witnesses…surely your brother or sister will listen to reason…but…what if they don’t? Well, in that case, bring the matter before the entire assembly…get the whole congregation together and discuss it…and if they still won’t listen to you, then treat them as a Gentile or a tax collector. (pause)

Hmm. Is anyone else slightly weirded out by this passage? I’ll be honest, it strikes me as a little odd coming from Jesus…because we typically don’t hear this sort of thing from him…instructions for the assembly…for the church…its just not really his normal speed…and yet…here it is…and as I thought about this passage…I tried to be intentional about the intended meaning…about the truth behind what Jesus is talking about…and in the end…it really boils down to something pretty simple. (pause)

Has your brother or sister sinned against you? Okay…go find them and be reconciled. Go and make your peace with them…don’t let the bitterness or the bickering take over…go be reconciled. (pause)
And as I thought about that…I realized that it sounded familiar…sorta like something I’ve heard Jesus say before…and so I backtracked…Matthew chapter 5…we spent a lot of time here a few months back…looking in depth at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount…and in the midst of those teachings…Jesus says something very similar.

“When you offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (pause)
Sounds pretty similar right…and it should…because these two passages offer bookends to the very same theme of reconciliation within the community of faith…BUT…it is important to note that they come at it from opposite directions.

We hear today…if someone has sinned AGAINST YOU….go find them and be reconciled…and we hear in chapter 5 that if you realize that you have sinned AGAINST someone else…go find them and be reconciled…Does that seem odd? That Jesus would sorta contradict himself between these two different teachings on the same subject?

Maybe it seems like it should be up to one or the other…If you are the one who sinned, it should be up to you to make amends right? But that’s not what Jesus says…if we look at these two passages together, Jesus tells us, quite simply…if there is an issue between you and another…I don’t care who started it…YOU…go and be reconciled to your brother or sister…YOU…take the first step.

And by doing so…by offering reconciliation, we offer a word of grace between one another…and by doing so we mirror the love of God in Christ Jesus who offered us reconciliation with God. That’s the long and short of this passage today…if there is a grievance, be reconciled.

And we know that there will be grievances…even WITHIN…the body of Christ…and why? Well…take a look at the body of Christ…it involves…US…and we screw…up. Our selfish desires and thoughts eventually win out…and we harm one another. Jesus not only expected it…he helped us plan for it. (pause)

All that being said…there is a BUT…in this message…Even though Jesus himself models and instructs a way for us to be reconciled to one another…our flawed human tendency takes this wonderful olive branch and turns it into a weapon… (pause)

I have seen…first hand…more times than I care to think about…this very passage…intended for good…twisted and used to exclude…to condemn…to divide…and to harm one another. I have seen it between individuals…I have seen it between groups of people…I have seen it within congregations…I’ve witnessed communities of faith tear themselves apart with this passage…with good intentions…with intentions of pointing out someone’s error…but in the end…accomplishing nothing except judgmental damage.

Way to go humanity…take something that God intends for good…and use it for our own selfish judgments…but it happens doesn’t it? Perhaps you’ve seen it…perhaps you experienced it…and perhaps you’ve even unknowingly participated in it…because we’re flawed…and try as we might we harm one another. (pause)

But remember what Jesus said…both today and in the sermon on the mount…Be reconciled. (pause). And today…I plan to follow Jesus’ instructions. If you are individual who has ever felt excluded…or judged harshly…if someone has ever hurt you by using this passage as a weapon…on behalf of that individual or group…I’m sorry…please forgive this hurt. (pause)

And if you have ever felt isolated…pulled aside…excluded by a pastor…even if its me…I’m sorry…please forgive this hurt. (pause)

And if the church as a whole has ever made you feel unwelcome…like you aren’t good enough…if its made you feel judged…I’m sorry…please forgive this hurt. (pause)

And if perhaps, you find yourself today feeling convicted of having caused hurt in the past…allow me offer a word of grace…a word of forgiveness…for we have a God that willingly took the cross to overcome our hurts…to overcome our shortcomings…to atone for the sins that we don’t even realize that we are doing…and through it…God offers us reconciliation…he offers us grace for the times when our humanity stands up and does or says something stupid.

And it happens…it happens to all us…and it happens from all of us…but throughout this…receive God’s grace and offer it to one another…and remember that wherever two or three are gather in the name of Jesus…he is there also…(pause)

And while you think about that…remember this…that we are gathered…not under our own power or desire…but we are gathered by another and it is by Christ, in whose name we are gathered…and we call this the body of Christ…imperfect, full of flawed people…but bathed in the grace of God…and that is why we gather together as a church…to hear a word of grace…to receive God’s forgiveness…and to blessed through the forgiving presence of one another. (pause)

And in just a moment, before we join our voices together in song…and before we share in means of God’s grace through holy communion…I’m going to invite you to get up out of your seats…and I invite you to share the peace with one another…not just to shake hands and say good morning…for we’ve already done that today…but to offer a sign of God’s peace to one another…so that as Jesus instructs us…within the body…we may be reconciled…Amen

May the peace of the Lord be with you all (And also with you)
Let us share a sign of God’s peace with one another.

 

[1] I could not actually find the text of the poem that I read in my childhood, and so I wrote this short poem in order to catch the essence of the original.

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