Math Doesn’t Cut It 9-17-17

math

In this sermon, based on Matthew 18:21-35, I explore the parable of the wicked slave. The lord forgives an astronomical debt, but the recipient is unable to show the same mercy.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/math-doesnt-cut-it-9-17-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I think at one time or another, every single young person tells themselves that they won’t turn out like their parents.  That when the roll is reversed and they are the parent, they won’t act the same way, they won’t think the same way…and they sure won’t talk the same way…When I have kids…I’ll be different.

Parents…how’s that working for you? (pause) I think its inevitable that certain patterns are going to emerge, because we have been shaped by those who came before us…and I recently realized this in conversation with my kids over the subject of homework…and specifically math…because I have heard from both of them “I hate math…I wish I didn’t have to do it.”

And just like every other parent that has come before…not to mention every math teacher who has taught…we say the same thing “You need to learn it, because you’ll use math everyday.” (pause) Now the old adage is true…math is everywhere…but…up until this point, I never really needed to worry about using math here in the context of preaching, (long pause) until….now.

Jesus is teaching his followers about forgiveness…reminding them of how important it is…how vital it is…especially among believers within the church. There is sin and brokenness…and there is repentance…and there is forgiveness…all of it aimed at the ongoing reconciliation that can and must occur among individuals.

Now as this conversation is going…Peter raises his hand…and I can’t help but picture Peter as the kid who squawks in math class saying “I’m never gonna need this.” (pause) Well actually Peter raises a more direct question…because Jesus has just told them that fellow believers…that other people are going to sin against them…and since Jesus has also given instructions on how to go about seeking reconciliation…I think Peter wants to clarify just how far we need to take this whole forgiveness thing.  “Lord…if a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive?” He goes on a bit too, and actually Peter has probably given this a bit of thought because he doesn’t just pull a random number out of the air when he proposes a cap on the forgiveness scale…he says 7 times…and 7 happens to be the number of completion as far as the Jewish culture goes…after all, God created the world in 6 days, and on the 7th established the Sabbath…and Peter knows this…and so…to offer forgiveness to the same person 7 times…that should bring the matter to completion right?

But that’s not quite what Jesus has in mind is it…and here it is…math in the gospel. “Peter…dude! Not 7…but seventy times seven.” (pause) With this Jesus gives us a tiny little glimpse of the ongoing nature of forgiveness and reconciliation…when we think we’ve completed it…we’re just getting started. (pause) But as we see today, Jesus is just getting started…and following this little mathematical tidbit…he jumps into a parable to illustrate his point. And wouldn’t you know it…we have the opportunity for some more math in the midst of it.

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who’s ready to settle debts…so he starts calling in his markers…and low and behold…in walks one of the high rollers…a guy with a debt that goes beyond our imagination…10,000 talents. Now 10,000 of anything seems like a lot…but if we do a quick bit of math we begin to see just how astronomical his debt really is. A talent is equal to 15 years’ worth of daily wages for a laborer…15 years per talent…so this guy has got a bill worth 150,000 years of salary.

Now the second guy, he’s got a debt too…and here’s the last bit of math…100 denarii…which figures out to about 3-4 months of daily wages. Still a decent amount…but nothing compared to the first guy. This second slave…he can probably do something about it, but the first guy…not a chance…and yet…they both answer the same exact way. “Be patient with me and I will pay you everything.”

They are both buying a myth…regardless of the cost…we like to think that we can solve it don’t we? We like to think that given enough work…given enough time…given enough effort…we can earn our way back to even…like we’re playing Jeopardy and we’re in the hole because of answering too many questions wrong…but if we start answering them correctly we can get ourselves out of that hole.

And here’s the thing…at first…it seems that the king is buying into this system as well. Because he knows that there is no way that the slave is going to be able to repay that debt…and maybe just maybe, the king realized that he was kind of stupid to allow a debt that large in the first place…and so in order to soften the blow, the king follows the system and orders that the man and his wife and his kids all be sold…so in the very least he gets a tiny bit of value back. That may seem a little barbaric to us…but that’s the way things worked back in Jesus’ day.

Now when faced with the reality the slave begs for patience…and not only does he receive it…the king cancels the debt completely. Its done…its gone…the man is free from it…because the king chose to step away from the old system. Now by rights, this should just trickle down past the slave himself…this gift…this forgiveness of what he owes should benefit everyone else that’s a part of the system as well.

Consider this…for the slave to have this much of a financial burden to the king…he’s gotta be pretty high up in the whole system…with a lot of layers underneath him…a lot of different moving parts and people that all add up to an enormous financial responsibility…and so, if the king is still going to demand payment, then this slave needs to turn the cranks on everything and everyone below him in order to bring in what he’s response for.

But, on the flips side…if the king forgives the debt…if he erases it…which we know is exactly what he’s done…then this freedom…this blessing…it should trickle down through all those different layers as well…isn’t that amazing…that the act of mercy for one person, would affect the lives of so many others? (pause)
But what actually happens? Does the first slave make good on this wide spread blessing? Is he changed by it? Or does he keep playing by the same set of rules…by the same system that got him here in the first place?  (pause) We hear that he goes out and finds one of the slaves that owes him money…a tiny portion of the astronomical sum that was just removed from his responsibility…and rather than letting the blessing flow downward and outward…the first man keeps playing the game.

Give me what you owe…the second man responds in the very same way…word for word…be patient with me and I will repay everything…but he refused…and as we see, when news of his wickedness reaches the ears of the king, he’s punished…and the judgment which the first slave passed on, is the judgement that he in turn receives.  (pause)

Now here’s the thing…I’ve been talking about math and money…and debt and repayment…a lot of things that we’re familiar with…things that can be quantified…things that we can assign a specific value to…even if some of those values are so amazing huge that they go beyond our ability to really comprehend.

But what if there is no value…what if there is no scoreboard…and all we can really say about this whole parable is that the mercy of the king…who’s God just in case you were wondering…is beyond measure. No slave is ever going to earn 150,000 years of wages…you might as well call it a million years…or infinite…there is no amount that we can assign, nor should we…because when we fall in the trap of assigning a specific value or amount, then we’re still stuck in the same old system.

The system that says you’ve got to do this…or you have to avoid that…that you have to earn it…or even, that the mercy of God…the grace of God…the forgiveness of God is something that you can lose. (pause) The first man was forgiven and it should have affected every single relationship that he has. His family is safe from condemnation…and every other person that’s beholden to him in the system should be freed from it.

This is what the grace of God does when it truly lands within the heart and mind of the individual…because we realize in that moment that living in the reality of the kingdom of heaven right here, right now…it frees us from the burden of the system. And in turn we are freed to pass that same mercy…that same grace…that same freedom on to every other person that we are relationship with…whatever that relationship looks like.

But the guy in the parable couldn’t do it. Because the gift of the king never reached his heart…and his own brokenness…whether greed, or fear, or whatever it was that he was clinging to kept him trapped…and that’s why he was unable to show the same mercy to the second slave…and the result…torment…he found himself outside of the grace-filled gift of his Lord. (pause)
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven has come near…and I believe that we are given the opportunity to live our lives each and every day in a way that reflects the kingdom that will be. Yes we are still broken and flawed…and yes we do still harm one another…but we also live in the freedom from the old system that requires us to earn it.  That’s the freedom that the man in the parable misses out on…he finds himself imprisoned…because he was never really free in the first place.

Truly…the grace of God…the forgiveness of our sins is beyond measure…and its foolish for us to even begin an attempt to quantify it. Because math just doesn’t cut it when we’re talking about the gospel…it is so utterly other to our limited minds…but the amazing thing about it…is that the freedom that we find within it…it already offered to you…the king has already canceled any and all debts…so let us live our lives in that freedom…and let us mirror that to all those around us…so that they too might encounter and embrace the same freedom that is so freely given through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Caution Contents Are Hot 9-10-17

Contents HotIn this sermon, based on Matthew 18:15-20, I explore Jesus’ odd little teaching about how to deal with sin among believers. In the end, we need to remember that its not about punishment, its about reconciliation.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/caution-contents-are-hot-9-10-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
(note that I post the manuscript, though sometimes I go off script, so there might be some differences with the audio)

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I often joke that we should have three sacraments. Two of them are obvious as they actually are the sacraments, baptism and communion…but the third one…the one that I jokingly propose…is coffee.  Its wonderful…its one of those things that I cite as evidence that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

But that being said, I also believe that there are crimes that are, all too often, committed against coffee. I learned the first one at a young age…as I learned from my father…if you want a cup of cream and sugar, don’t ask for coffee.  We drink that stuff straight up. (pause)

Now the second crime has only come on the scene in the past few years…a travesty that you can find in any local coffee shop…(pained) Iced Coffee. I mean, what’s the point? Coffee is supposed to be hot…its supposed to be steamy and wonderful…you are supposed to pick up a hot mug of coffee and cup it in your hands on a cold morning just to warm them up…that is the nature of coffee…bitter and black and hot…as God intended it. (pause) And so that being said…you can about imagine my response every time a get a to-go cup and read “Caution, contents are hot.”  DUH!!!!!

It always strikes me as stupid…a waste of ink in the printing…a waste in production value just to print on the cup to watch out because the Coffee you ordered is hot…But that being said, most of you sitting out there probably know why its on there…because all we have to do is think back in the news about a dozen years to the story of the woman who went through the McDonalds drive thru, got a coffee…spilled it all over herself and then…successfully…sued McDonalds for not warning her that the coffee was hot. (Facepalm)

How many warning signs…or instructions are in place because of something like this? How many common sense things need to be spelled out because someone wasn’t paying attention? And perhaps the big question…what does this have to do with Jesus words out of Matthew for today? (pause)
I bring this up…because it seems that Jesus is actually offering a bit of instruction here…a how-to guide when they are faced with a situation within the assembly.  Now we could argue that this is a bit on the strange side, as the church that Jesus seems to be referencing didn’t really exist yet…but make no mistake…its referring to something that common sense should tell us is a no brainer…sin among the people. (pause)

Now I wonder…is this a familiar instruction to us? I mean, its laid out pretty nicely…step by step…Step 1…if your brother or sister sins against you, go speak to them in private…if they listen to you…if they repent, rejoice…for you have regained that one…and the instruction is complete.  If they do not…continue to step two. (pause)

Step two…take one or two others along with you, so that they may confirm the words that you say to your brother or sister. If they listen to you and your witnesses…if they repent, rejoice, for you have regained that one…and the instruction is complete. If they do not…continue to step three. (pause)
Step three…tell the church…make it public…if they repent, rejoice…for you have regained that one…and the instruction is complete. If they do not…continue to step 4…Step 4….treat them like a Gentile and tax collector. (pause) Hmmm…there is no step 5 is there? (pause)

I’m guessing you’ve heard this. In fact…this passage has the distinction of being included in just about every church constitution that has come and gone…and it deals with a very real thing…sinfulness…brokenness. In short…the reality of our flawed humanity…even within the church.

Now admittedly, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in our congregation’s constitution, and sure enough…Chapter 15, Discipline of Members and Adjudication…section 15.01…and I quote…Prior to disciplinary action, reconciliation will be attempted following Matthew 18:15-17. (pause)

It may have been odd that Jesus had to lay out step by step instructions for the event of sin occurring between his followers…but yet 2000 years later…we still follow those guidelines. (pause) And so I pose the question…how can this be?

This is the church…this is the body of Christ on earth, called…united…and empowered by the Holy Spirit…so why would we need to hear this…why would Jesus need call attention to it? (pause) Anyone remember why “Caution, contents are hot” is printed on a coffee cup? Its there to remind us of the reality of the world. Coffee is hot…and people sin against one another…even in the church…shocking though that might be.

But here’s the thing…often times when this passage gets thrown around…I fear its being used as a weapon…here’s what you do…talk to them first…but then get people on your side…and if you can’t shame them into repentance then kick them out. (pause) But if that’s how we hear this portion of scripture then I think we need to back up and reconsider.

Whoever was responsible to producing our current constitution that was ratified and adopted by our congregation in 2005 stated it pretty well…listen to these words again. Prior to disciplinary action, reconciliation will be attempted…Reconciliation is the key…and it is the goal.

We do not hear these words of Jesus and utilize them as a checklist that we have to go through in order to take revenge on someone who has wronged us…the whole point here is to be reconciled…and Jesus even says that…if your brother or sister listens to you…YOU HAVE REGAINED THAT ONE…and that, is worth celebrating.

In fact, Jesus has been talk about this very thing…chapter 18 is full of it…right before this brief portion…he tells a story about a shepherd with 100 sheep…and one goes missing…so he leaves the 99, defying logic…and he searches high and low till he finds the one that’s lost, and he brings it back…and why would he do this?  (pause) Because the flock isn’t full…its not complete…its not as it is intended to be without every single one of them accounted for and included. And when the one that is lost is returned…they celebrate. (pause)

The theme continues too…because right after this Peter asks how many times we need to forgive one who sins against us…even as many 7…and Jesus says no…but seven times seven…He might as well be telling Peter that you forgive him as many times as he repents…and there is no limit.

But if we think about his instructions…that if our brother or sister refuses to listen even to the entire church, then it almost seems like we’re supposed to kick them out right? Treat them like a Gentile and a tax collector? (pause)

But now consider who Jesus was often spending time with…consider the company that often drew criticism from the elite…people like Gentiles…people like Tax collectors? (pause) Maybe what Jesus is telling us here is that if an individual can’t even hear the truth from the church…then we need to start over with them…they need to be treated as one who has yet to hear the gospel…because the opportunity for repentance is not a nice tidy 4 step process that either works or is discarded. Its ongoing…because the brokenness that resides within each of us is ongoing as well…even as we live in peace with God through the gift of his grace, we know that each of us is simultaneously saint and sinner. Fully forgiven and yet fully broken…and because of this fully capable of harming one another…while also fully capable of offering the mercy which has been shown to us. (pause)

Here’s the thing…Jesus has told us that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us…even that it is among us…but when we see or feel or experience that brokenness that is also still present…we realize that there are things in our reality that are standing in the way of the kingdom of heaven coming into fruition now.

Because whatever it is that the kingdom of heaven is…or will be…I believe this about it…everything that is “in the kingdom” will exist in line with God’s will…whatever that looks like…and that which is outside of God’s will…which includes the brokenness and pain that exists within us and between us…that will somehow cease to be.  Now that’s not the case yet is it?

But we are given the opportunity to live in a way that reflects the reality of the kingdom in how we treat one another…how we act towards one another…how we act towards God…how we act towards this world that we have been given…We have been given the ability to mirror the love and grace and mercy of God right here right now….and even though brokenness still exists, we are invited to participate in the coming of the kingdom of heaven…every…single…moment.

Now to live in this reality is to seek out reconciliation. Because brokenness is still here…and pain is still a reality and we harm one another, even in the church…I think Jesus was well aware of that.

And so, as we hear, wherever two or three are gathered, Jesus is there among them…because wherever two or three are gathered…brokenness will follow…but with the presence of Christ…with the power of the Holy Spirit…the opportunity for reconciliation is also there.

That’s what Jesus came to do in the first place…In Jesus, God is reconciling all the world…all of the brokenness…all of the pain…all of the hurt…all of it. Now it might not be finished yet…but through Christ…God is inviting all of us to come along for the ride. And we are reminded, to be reconciled.  Today we are reminded that if another sins against us, we should seek to be reconciled…and earlier Jesus tells us the opposite…that if we have harmed another that we should seek to be reconciled.

So if he’s covering both sides of the reconciliation coin…I guess it doesn’t really matter who sinned against who…just be reconciled…for it is only when we are included…it is only when we are all present and accounted for…that the flock is how it is intended to be…and all the world will rejoice when that is finally a reality. Amen.

What Stops a Hero 9-3-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 16:21-28, I explore the continued back and forth between Peter and Jesus following Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as Messiah. Its an odd situation that reveals the human expectations of Peter.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-stops-a-hero-9-3-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Earlier this week I saw a headline that grabbed my attention…that after months and months of rehab, Tiger Woods has been cleared by his doctors to start swinging a golf club again…and as I thought about this I realized just how far he has fallen.

Now putting aside all the regrettable personal decisions that Tiger has made in his life…there was a time when watching him play golf was the most exciting thing in the world. From the time he came onto the PGA tour in the mid 90’s he had one goal in mind…total domination…to be the greatest golfer of all time. And it didn’t take long for the rest of the golfing world to take notice.

He won his first major in 1997, crushing the competition to take home the Green Jacket of the Masters…and from there on out, there was no stopping him. Now it was right about that time that I really developed my love for the game…and you can bet that when Tiger started knocking off major after major with his eyes set on the prize of passing Jack Nicolaus and his record setting 18 majors…that Tiger quickly earned the distinction of hero in my book…and not just mine either.

I think pretty much everyone agreed that it was only a matter of time before he took the record…getting his major victories up to 13 by the end of 2007…and then he managed to knock off number 14 by winning the US Open in 2008, all while nursing a major fracture in his leg.

Admittedly that was the first time I saw a crack in the armor…and he had to sit out the rest of the 2008 season following surgery on his leg…but midway through 2009 he was back on form and going into the final major of the year, Tiger held the lead going into the final round. I was elated, because he had a record…Tiger had never been beaten in a major when he held the lead going into the final day. And I was confident my hero was going to walk away with major number 15.  But then a little known South Korean golfer with only 1 other win on the PGA tour caught Tiger…and beat him on the final day of a major…and Tiger hasn’t won another one since.

Looking back, that was the beginning of an important lesson for me. Inevitably, without question nor exception…our heroes will fall. Sometimes it’s the result of time taking its toll…sometimes its something more extreme like a severe illness or even death. History has shown us this time after time…whether it’s a sports hero…or the leader of some political movement…or a religious situation…every single one has fallen. (Pause)

Now maybe this is a bit of a downer today…but we are seeing evidence of this within this story of the back and forth between Peter and Jesus.  If you were here last week, you caught the gist of what’s going on here. Jesus has asked the disciples who they say he is and Peter makes the divinely-inspired public proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah…and as we discussed last week…there’s a pretty big misconception on Peter’s part of just what that means. He’s got history working against him here…so maybe it’s understandable.

But regardless…Jesus begins to reveal the truth of what it means that he is the messiah…and that this movement that he’s begun…this ministry that he’s been leading…its going to lead them all to Jerusalem where he’ll be betrayed and tortured and killed by the powers that be…Just like every other hero in history…Jesus’ time is going to come to a pretty dramatic close. (pause)
Now for us…as we consider this through the lens of hindsight, its not that shocking…but imagine what it would have been like for Peter…Jesus is the hero…but not only that…he’s their friend…their mentor…the one who has healed diseases…he’s the one who has performed miracles…he’s the one who has stood up against the hypocrisy of the religious elite and even challenged the political power of the Roman occupation…and at this point…all of that is still going really well.

Now if you’d have told me back in about 2005 that Tiger was going to stop winning majors…that he was going to destroy his back to the point of not being able to swing a club…and only that but that he was going to turn out to be a a-1 sleazeball within his personal life…I wouldn’t have believed it either…because in the midst he was my hero…and he untouchable. (Pause) Maybe my response would have sounded a lot like Peter…God forbid it…this must not be. And yet, in both cases…Tiger Woods and Jesus of Nazareth…that’s exactly what happened.

Now Tiger aside…I can’t help but feel bad for Peter in this instance…he’s just been called the Rock on which Jesus will build his church…something so strong and powerful that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. But now, when he expresses his utter shock at the prediction that Jesus has made his status is immediately knocked down to a stumbling block…and even worse…Get behind me Satan…and Jesus points out that Peter’s focused on human thoughts.

But you know what…I can’t help but think that Peter’s human thoughts…are just a reflection of the way that the rest of the world works isn’t it? Peter’s shocked at the news…because if Jesus dies, its over…we all know that…if someone dies there’s no coming back…and whatever mojo they were bringing into their particular sphere of influence, its over…and so if Jesus dies, this movement…this new way of thinking and acting and being in the world its over too.

Now while Peter sees this with shock and fear…the powers that be look at it as a more satisfying conclusion. Think about it…Jesus has been subverting the status quo…he’s been undermining the influence and power of the religious elite as well as the Roman Oppressors…and if you’ve got power…and you don’t want to lose it…you’ll go to any extreme to silence the source of the opposition won’t you…maybe even to the point of killing him? And as we know…that’s exactly what ends up happening in the long run isn’t it?

Eventually Peter’s fears…Jesus’ prediction…and the scheming of the worldly powers comes true and Jesus dies…and everything we have ever heard points to one truth…that this should be the end. (pause)

But…its…not. (pause) Because, through Jesus…through the event of God entering into our reality through Jesus…God’s doing something more.  Because God’s not just pushing back against the human made powers of the world…but God’s pushing back against another power that exists in this world…the power of death.

We’ve already been talking about it today…how death is so permanent…that it is so final…and because of that it can be…and often is quite scary…both for those who face it…and for those who find themselves left behind because of it…and I saw both this week.  I sat down with an individual this week who shared the words “brain tumor” and together we talked about the scary nature of what that could entail. And then, later on the very same day I got the news that one of my seminary classmates suddenly lost her husband…a young guy only a year older than me. Bloodclots formed and just that quick he’s gone, leaving behind his wife and son, who incidentally turned 4 two days later.  Death doesn’t care…and it doesn’t discriminate…and we can’t beat it can we?

But here’s the thing about death…as much as we hate it…as much as we fear it…we also know that God is well aware of it…and through Jesus…amazingly enough through the brutal death of Jesus on the cross…God is doing something about it.

I discovered something new this week as I worked with this text…particularly the crazy back and forth that Peter experiences…because I can’t hear one part without thinking of the other part…but in the midst of this I realized something. When Peter makes his confession, Jesus calls him the rock on which he will build the church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Now, I always thought of that phrase as Hades…which by the way is the realm of the dead…the place where dead people are…I thought that meant that Hades was attacking the church…but Jesus said the gate…and what’s a gate do?

Well, it either keeps something in…or it keeps something out…it’s the barrier…so what if we are being reminded that the church of Jesus…which includes not only his followers…but him…and the Holy Spirit…and the Gospel…and not only that but the divine power of God which goes WAY beyond our ability to comprehend…all of this…is invading Hades. Death’s not coming after us…through Jesus God’s going after death…and he’s bringing us along for the ride.

Now death’s funny…it’s the result of sin in the world…whatever the heck that means…but we’re reminded that the wages of sin is death…and we’re also confident enough to be able to recognize and call out the sinful brokenness that resides within each of us…and God sees it too…but amazingly, because of the perfectly love for each of us made manifest IN Jesus Christ…God’s grace for the world is revealed.

And God’s grace is invading enemy territory. God’s grace is invading the realm of death…and the gates of Hades will not prevail.

Now I say all that and yet I know that death is still a reality for us. We see it in those around us and we will experience it…but we have God that makes new life out of death. I don’t know how…but its true…and it is the promise that is made to us by Jesus that we have joined with him as heirs to eternal life, whatever that’s gonna look like. (pause)

Heroes fall…because our heroes are human…and given enough time even the strongest will falter…which if you think about it…should help us cut ourselves some slack every once in a while…I mean, even Jesus died…and he was God.

But the amazing thing about these powers that flair up in the world…whether human or otherwise…is that ultimately they too will fail.  In the life of Jesus, God tried to show the world that his love was bigger than anything we could throw at it…and the world got so offended that they killed him…the cross is the world’s way of saying no to God…but remember that we have the gift of hindsight…and we know that three days later that tomb was empty…the cross might be a no…but it wasn’t the end of the story…because God looked at the world and said “Oh you think I was finished?” And God looked at an angel and said “Here, hold my beer.” Because in the resurrection of Jesus, God takes the world’s “no” and God says “yes” anyway. How’s that for a hero? Amen

Imagine What You’ll Know Tomorrow 8-27-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 16:13-23, I explore Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, followed up by his misconception of what that means.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/imagine-what-youll-know-tomorrow-8-27-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There are a handful of actors who have made a solid career out of playing the same type of character over and over again. Tommy Lee Jones is one of these actors. Over the course of the past couple of decades, he’s pretty much played the role of the older, wiser guy who’s seen it all…and he’s perpetually annoyed as he teaches the new young guy the ropes.

And there is one example that perfectly captures this sense…Men in Black…the very first one…came out back in the late 90’s and tells the story about a secret organization of agents, dressed in black of course…that help police the presence of aliens on our planet.  Fairly early in the movie, his character sits on a bench next to the new guy talking about this strange reality.

Inevitably the question comes up “Why don’t you tell everyone…people are smart, they can handle it.”  Tommy replies with the fact that people in groups are foolish and dangerous…and that there are certain things that they simply cannot accept in their current experience…and I love what he has to say. (pause)

1500 years ago, everyone KNEW…the earth was the center of the universe.  500 years ago everyone KNEW…the earth was flat…15 minutes you KNEW…that humans were alone on this planet…imagine what you’ll KNOW…tomorrow. (pause)

Throughout the course of our history…human beings have learned a lot…but with every new discovery…we tend to find an old way of thinking has to give way…the old thought…the old “fact,” whatever it is that we used to KNOW.

And this theme is all over today’s gospel reading.  (pause) Now this is a fun passage…we find ourselves in the midst of a temporary breather during Jesus’ ministry. He’s been out teaching, healing, interacting with individuals and crowds…he’s bumped heads with the religious elite…he’s performed miracle after miracle…all the while proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

All this different stuff that Jesus has been doing is causing word to spread all over the place…and so it would seem that Jesus is ready to test the waters…he’s curious as to what the word on the street is as far as he’s concerned…and so he turns to the disciples to ask the big question…who do people say that the son of man is?

The disciples stand there…scratching their heads as they think for a moment…Well Jesus…some say that you’re John the Baptism…we’ve heard some call you Elijah…or Jeremiah or one of the prophets…and you know what…maybe that makes sense…with his history of pushback against the religious elite, Jesus certainly fits the mold of those well known prophets that came before him in Israel’s history…but to simply call Jesus a prophet…to simply place him among that batch of individals…clearly that’s only picking up a portion of the work that he’s up to…and so…with that…Jesus dives a little deeper.

Okay…so that’s what everyone else says…but I’m going to put you disciples on the spot…you’ve been around me long enough now…who do YOU…say that I am? (pause) Now honestly, that’s not a bad question to ask…and its one that we should probably consider.

After all, if Christianity relies on anything, it’s the proclamation of the Good News….that personal testimony of what we as individuals have witnessed God do in our own lives…and in the sharing of these thoughts…these testimonies…that’s how our story really begins to connect into God’s greater story in our reality.

This is something that we continue to see throughout the course of the Biblical Narrative, as God somehow crosses paths with a group or an individual and invites them forward into something new…over and over again…humanity continuous to be invited to join with God as things move forward.

And as the event of Jesus walking around Israel 2000 years ago is the physical embodiment of God’s divine action of invitation for humanity in the world…then its important to consider the question “Who do you say that I am?” (pause)
Now I think it goes without saying that Peter serves as a pretty solid connection point for us within the gospel narrative…he’s just SO DARN human isn’t he?  Impulsive, quick to speak…quick to jump to conclusions…but often unsure of himself.  I think Peter is one we can relate to isn’t he?

But today…in response to this important question of Jesus…this question of who we say Jesus is…Peter lays out the ultimate answer. You are the messiah…the son of the living God. (pause)

Jesus…is…pleased. I can almost picture the heavens opening up, music beginning to play, and bright light shining down upon Peter as Jesus smiles at him…YES!!! Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah…for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you…but my father in heaven.

This gives us an important reminder…the ability to understand the truth of just who Jesus is…comprehension of his identity is not something self-generated. Peter didn’t just make up his mind that Jesus is the Messiah…it was revealed to him…and in this we are reminded that faith is not of us…but it is a gift from our father in heaven. (pause)

Now at this point in the story, we have a wonderful exchange as Jesus seems to issue a name change…and Simon son of Jonah becomes Peter…the rock on which the church will be built…and then…just like that…the lectionary stops us short today…and it would seem, at first glance anyway that Peter has learned all he needs to know…and Jesus might as well just hand over control of the church right then and there. (pause)

But the story doesn’t stop there does it? This is why I included the extra couple of verses at the end today…even though we’re going to hear them again next week…it’s a mistake to leave them out today.  Think about what happens. Peter has just made this divinely inspire proclamation, calling Jesus the messiah…the Christ…and then Jesus begins to teach them just what that means.  (pause)
Yah, so, we’re gonna go to Jerusalem, and I’m going to be betrayed and handed over…and I’m gonna get beaten and tortured…and I’m even gonna die…but then after a few days I’ll come back again. (pause) And Peter, the one who just won the gold star…loses his mind over it. He begins to rebuke Jesus who in turn calls him a stumbling block…calls him Satan and tells him that he’s too focused on human things instead of divine things. (pause)

All of this is a little wonky…admittedly, I sorta think that Jesus is getting a little on the weird side here…especially if we throw in that side comment about his command to the disciples not to tell anyone that he’s the Messiah…and so maybe the big question here is just what is going on in this back and forth exchange.

But the truth that we need to remember is that Peter hasn’t learned everything yet has he? He knows about the messiah…but clearly he doesn’t get just what the messiah is now…Peter’s operating on old information, not realizing that Jesus is doing something different…something new.

He’s the MESSIAH RIGHT? He confirmed it…so everyone, what’s that mean…and to answer that question we’ve got to back up about 1000 years and remember who else is a messiah…now that word…messiah or christ,  same deal…it means God’s anointed one…and the anointed ones were the kings…the ones that God had chosen to lead the people…Saul…David…Solomon…they’re all anointed…they’re all messiahs.

And so for Peter…and not just him but for the whole Jewish culture…the long awaited Messiah is a political figure…the one who’s going to rise up…retakes the throne of David…bring Israel back to glory and kick out their oppressors…who in this particular instant happens to be the Romans. (pause) Anyone remember what the Romans tend to do when someone rises up against them?  Its not pretty…and since Jesus’ time hasn’t come yet…no wonder he doesn’t want anyone calling him the messiah…because if the people try to make him king that’s gonna end poorly for him, although of course it ultimately will anyway…but it’ll also end badly for the people he has come to save.

And so where do we go from here? What do we learn from Peter today? Well, we see that Peter still has a lot to learn…he’s made a faithful confession…and in the name change we see a new identity bestowed upon him by God…something that sounds pretty baptismal if you ask me…but we also see that he’s not finished yet.

His understanding of the messiah is incomplete…and will continue to be until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. For no one can truly comprehend just what it is to THE MESSIAH until after Jesus comes back from the dead…Peter included.

And so we are reminded today that our lives of faith are ongoing…and its not about a single expression of identity or faith or belief at one time that’s going to be the end all be all for us…because even once we are claimed by God…once we are giving that identity, God’s not done with us yet…and we still have more to learn…more to experience…more to be revealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Often when we are young, we are foolish enough to think that we’ve got it all figured out…but I continue to learn the truth that the older I get the more I realize the less I know…and that’s okay.  But God continues to reveal new things all the time…and that can, and should…and does change the way we think about things…the way we understand things.

None of us are the same person as we were 10 years ago…and we are not the same person that we will be 10 years from now…for we have a God who continues to invite us forward into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of acting…a new way of interacting with those around us…and isn’t it wonderful to know that the basis for all of this…the motivation for God’s continued work, both in the world and in our lives…is because God takes delight in us.

Who do the people say that Jesus is? (pause) Who do you say that Jesus is? (pause) This is a question that we should answer differently today than we did in the past…and a question that we should answer differently in the future…all depending on what God reveals to us in the midst of our lives.

Think of that song that we all learn as children…Jesus loves me this I know. (pause) When you’re a child that’s enough…that’s what you believe…that’s what you understand…that’s what you’ll know, and its different from what you understand…what you know, now… and now   imagine…what you’ll know…tomorrow. Amen.

Are We Uncomfortable 8-20-17

In this sermon. based on Matthew 15:21-28, I explore a troubling passage in light of troubling events that have occurred in our country.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/are-we-uncomfortable-8-20-17

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I spent a pretty big chunk of last weekend in a car…as my family and I were on our way home from our annual trek to family camp in the mountains of southern Colorado. I’ve shared before how isolating that week of camp is, because there is very little cell signal…and its about the only time all year when I’m able to put my phone down and be utterly out of contact.

We left mid-morning and Saturday, and as I spent the vast majority of that day behind the wheel as we moved across Colorado and then much of Nebraska, I was still pretty oblivious to the news…but after stopping for the night, I found myself awake early Sunday morning…round about 4 am in a hotel room in Kearney…and so I picked up my phone to scroll through the news…and it was in that instance that I realized that in August of 2017…there was a white supremacy rally including the glorification of Nazi’s in America.

I wish I was making this up…but you all know that I’m not. The truth of the matter is that this evil still exists in our country…and people died as a result of it. (pause) Are we uncomfortable yet? (pause)

If you are expecting some humorous antidote today, I’m going to disappoint you…because I don’t have one. And honestly I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to even attempt it today…because in the past week, we have been violently reminded of a pretty big issue that too many of us have hoped to sweep under the rug in our nation.

We have been reminded that there are those in our country who can and do look at other people…and they see someone who is less than human…and I don’t know about you, but that makes me pretty ashamed to be a part of this society…and even worse…to know that many of those who claim white supremacy call themselves Christians.

All too often when something like this happens…individuals are quick to distance themselves from the hate-mongers…and part of me thinks that’s a smart move…but unfortunately…there’s a distinction that they share with all of us…we’re all fellow members of the human race. (pause)
Hate for one another exists within our species…whether we like it or not…whether we want to acknowledge it or not…and even though it pains me to think it, much less to say it out loud…we all need to acknowledge it…because in some way shape or form…we’re all a part of it…and it’s a part of us. (pause)

When I first sat down to begin my initial sermon prep this week…knowing full well that I’d be bringing all this stuff up…I wondered just what the gospel might have to say about this situation…and then I opened my Bible to Matthew 15…and low and behold…I come across the story that many will argue…me included…is the single most troublesome passage in the New Testament…Jesus interacting with the foreign woman seeking healing for her daughter.  Here she’s called a Canaanite…Mark calls her a Syrophoenician Greek…and we know that Jesus is essentially in enemy territory, as the narration tells us he’s gone to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

There’s a bunch of stuff going on in the background here that all points in the same direction…that Jesus has left the realm of the Jews…and he’s in the land of the Gentiles…and on top of all that…we’ve got the distinction within the Jewish culture that they are God’s chosen people…Jesus aside…the cultural history and tension between the chosen Jews and the unclean gentiles is working against things here…we need to keep all this in mind as we consider this short story.

Jesus is hanging around…word has spread. His message has spread, stories of his miracles has spread…and not just through Israel but throughout the entire region…everyone has heard about this Jesus guy…including this gentile woman who’s daughter is possessed…this woman who’s sole purpose is to free her daughter from that which hinders her…and if that means she’s got to approach this uppity Jewish rabbi that everyone’s talking about…well that’s what she’ll do. (pause)
Have mercy on me…Lord, son of David…my daughter has a demon. (pause) His reply? Nothing…he ignores her…eye opening to say the least but perhaps not the first time something like this has happened…so she keep crying out.

Attracted by the commotion the disciples come waltzing over…and hearing her continued cries for mercy…her continued appeals to the Lord, they make a request as well…Now our translation says “send her away” but they were likely saying “release her” as in release her from her troubles…honestly I think the disciples, even if they are acting out of annoyance, are at least trying to get the woman some help…and Jesus spouts of about only coming for the lost sheep of Israel…and then…finally to top it all off, when she asks again…Jesus, the pillar of love and acceptance…the one who we’ve come to bank on doing what is right and good even when we can’t see just how or why…Jesus, seems to call this woman a dog. (pause)

Are we uncomfortable yet? (pause) Did that actually happen? Did the savior of the entire world really just address a person and pretty much tell them to their face that they are less than human? If you know what the acronym WTF means, I think we can insert that here…because I don’t know about you but I can’t make heads or tails of this. I’ve preached on it a couple times before, once here out of Matthew and once out of Mark’s account…and every time I’ve wrestled with it I’ve come to the same conclusion. Jesus is acting like a jerk.

I’ve had a lot of conversation…I’ve read a lot of different commentaries…all of them aimed at trying to make head’s or tails of what’s going on here. Some will say that Jesus was testing the woman, and that through her persistence she passes the test. Others have said that Jesus was still in the process of learning and that this chance encounter opens his eyes to the reality that his mission goes beyond the Jewish culture to all the world…still others have suggested that because we hear that the disciples came on the scene and its only then that Jesus actually starts talking, that he’s actually at work to point out their cultural bias to them…these are just a few of the possible explanations…and there are others as well…but none of them really help to shed any light what so ever…and in the end the only thing that I can think is that somehow, someway, Jesus is managing to hold up a mirror for us today.

Because I don’t know about you but when I see Jesus, whether intentionally or on the sly-teaching side, act like an utter dirt bag to this woman, I’m reminded of every single time that I’ve done the same. Every time that I’ve failed to show mercy…every time that someone comes to the church with a story that doesn’t quite add up and I’ve turned them away. Every time I’ve driven past a homeless person holding a sign and I’ve kept looking straight ahead to avoid making eye contact. Every time I’ve heard about violence on the news and I’ve shrugged my shoulders because it didn’t affect me.

Whatever it is that Jesus is up to in this passage, regardless of how uncharacteristic it is…Jesus reminds me of the reality that there are many in this world who are treated as if they are less than human…as if they have less worth, or no worth…that there are individuals who are treated as God’s creation of humankind bearing the divine image doesn’t apply to them….and that since this is true and there are those who are treated this way…there are those on the other side who are doing the treating. (pause) Are we uncomfortable? (pause)

I remember watching the movie A Time To Kill back in the mid-90’s…a story that revolves around racial tension and murder and features the presence of the KKK…and I remember thinking to myself that this kind of blatant hatred just seemed so wrong…so utterly wrong…and I also remember thinking that I was glad it was only a movie…and that its an important lesson for us to think about.

Never did I think that 20 years later, we’d actually be seeing this type of hatred…this unwarranted, pointless…blatant hate on display in our reality…and yet here it is. And though many of us are likely asking the question of why is this, or how can this actually be real…I fear that we’ve all been complacent for too long.

Because for too long we’ve sat in our homes and in our communities…and yes even here in our church…thinking that it doesn’t affect us…or even ignoring it all together…but we can’t ignore it anymore…because its not just a situation that’s happening over there…and its not just something that is a mild concern for a few people here and there.

We have to call this what it is. White supremacy is a sin…period. Because to say that one person is better…or is in any way more of a person that another is to deny what God has said and done in the creation of every member of the human race. Everyone bears the divine image…end of story.

To be faced with the reality of this evil within our reality…within our culture…it must force us to act…we must feel the outrage that this behavior warrants…because this atrocity is happening to our fellow brothers and sisters…and we are reminded in scripture that we share one another burdens…we share one another’s sorrows…and if we are completely honest with ourselves…I think we will agree that we’ve failed to do that…and realizing that…acknowledging that fact darn sure better make us uncomfortable. (pause)

Now perhaps when we are forced to think about all of this stuff, the thought crosses our minds “what can I do” or “how can I change it” or “what am I supposed to do about the attitudes of someone else?” I think the first thing we do is recognize it…and be honest with it. But then we need to take a deep breath and actually feel the outrage that is warranted when this kind of sinful hate and bigotry rears its head.

Ironically our bulletin tells us that we are about to sing the hymn It is Well With My Soul…and while it is important that we seek the hope of Christ in the midst of turmoil, I think its also vital that we realize that in many ways it is not well…and especially for my brothers and sisters who are black, or brown, or yellow, or red, or Jewish or Muslim or whatever other label gets thrown on them in our society…you think you’re uncomfortable today, trying walking a mile in their shoes and see how well it is with their soul. (pause)

Today Jesus holds up a mirror…and I don’t like what I see…both within me as an individual and within us as a culture…but then I am reminded that the woman did get her miracle…her daughter was healed…and despite the fact that I don’t like this story, the end result is not up to me. Healing happens whether we want it to or not. And somedays, that’s got to be enough for us…that God will act, whether we approve of it or not…and that in the end God’s grace is enough for all of us…and its given to all the world whether we think any of us deserve it or not…which newsflash we don’t…because if we did it wouldn’t be grace would it? (pause)

Today let us live in the beauty of this perfect grace of God…and let each of us repent of whatever part we have played in our society coming to the point where we find it today…even if the part that we as individuals have contributed is apathy…and then as forgiven people of God lets go be the church in the world…and instead of trying to be different in the world…how about we go out and make the world different. Amen

 

What Are We To Say 7-30-17

Mustard_plant

In this sermon, based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, I explore a batch of “mini-parables” from Jesus, wrapping up a 3 week stretch of sermons on the parables from chapter 13. Its an odd mix of teachings which reflects the craziness of the lives that we lead.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-we-to-say-7-30-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

We find ourselves today at the end of a three week long dive into the parables of Jesus…and we’ve heard a lot of different things.  We’ve heard how the kingdom of heaven is like seed sown on different types of soil…some of which seems wasted and some of which seems to flourish.

We’ve heard about a wheat field planted carefully, only to have an enemy come in on the sly and plant weeds that grow up right in with the good crop resulting in the good and the bad all mixed up together.

We know of plenty of other parables of Jesus as well…stories about prodigal sons, lost coins, and wayward sheep…stories about rich men and poor men and their experience in the afterlife…or an injured man who finds help from a Samaritan, the least likely of interaction.

And now today, we have 5 more…much shorter in length…but still offered up by Jesus as a glimpse into the kingdom…today we hear about mustard seeds growing into trees, a tiny amount of yeast mixed into a huge amount of flour…a guy stumbling across treasure in a field, and a guy going all out to collect a pearl, before finally wrapping it all up with a fisherman dragging a net through the water and pulling up all kinds of different fish. (pause)

And as we consider all of these different parables…and as we try to discern in our minds what it is that we as individuals learn from Jesus in the hearing of the different parables…maybe all we can really do is repeat the question that we heard from the Apostle Paul out of the Romans passage today…What then are we to say about these things? (pause)

Now for many of you out there…perhaps hearing me say that particular phrase strikes you as familiar…it should…it is a question that I pose within the opening of nearly every sermon that I preach in a funeral…In that context, I’m being honest about the confusing, painful, and emotional reactions that we tend to have in and around the event of a funeral, particularly when the individual was one that we were close to. (pause)
But today, I find myself asking that same question when faced with a whole lot of little bitty glimpses into what our Savior says that Kingdom of Heaven is like…because when I hear these particular passages, admittedly, I hear some pretty strange stuff. (pause)

Some guy goes out to plant mustard in his field…WHY? Mustard is a weed…and it’s a pretty nasty one…it spreads like crazy…the body of the plant is prickly and thorny, making it a pain to pull…if its left in a field it will utterly take over…and no farmer in their right mind would ever intentionally plant it…but even more strange…this comment from Jesus that it will grow up into a tree big enough for the birds to nest in. (pause) No it won’t. Mustard plants don’t do that…they don’t become trees…what Jesus is suggesting is not just unexpected…its impossible. (pause)

The kingdom is like a woman who outs a bit of yeast, or leaven in 3 measures of flour…this one requires a bit of translation…because the woman actually HIDES the leaven in the flour…and 3 measures is actually like 60 pounds. Now keep in mind that within Jesus time, talking about leaven was actually a reference to things of insidious nature…and so we start to question just why the woman chose to stick the leaven in the flour to begin with…but all that aside, putting yeast in with flour isn’t really going to do anything is it? You need water and heat and sugar for anything to actually happen…and so for a tiny bit of yeast, hidden in the midst of an incredible amount of flour shouldn’t do anything…and yet we hear that somehow, the unexpected happens once again. (pause)

Well now what about calling the kingdom like a random guy who stumbles across some random treasure in someone else’s field? Apparently whatever it is that he found seems so worthwhile that he runs off, sells everything he has, and pretty much defrauds the original landowner to buy the property, just so he can lay claim to this treasure that he apparently found while trespassing. (pause)

The pearl? Sort of the same deal…this guy is actually looking for pearls…he’s a collector…he’s got a business to run…but he finds one that is apparently…so wonderful that he, too runs off and sells all that he has…ALL THAT HE HAS…which would include his home…the clothes of his kid’s back…even his pearl business…all so he can buy this pearl and sit under a bridge somewhere staring at it. (Pause)

And finally the fisherman…he goes out in his boat and let’s his net down…and when he hauls it back up, he’s got all kinds of stuff in it….and so he sits down to separate the good from the bad…the desired fish from the undesired…he pulls out salmon…he pulls out tilapia…and walleye…probably some high grade ahi tuna to make sushi…maybe some tasty sea bass…and he throws all of them into a basket, where they will inevitably be eaten…and then he pulls out carp…and dogfish…maybe a gar, and I bet he had some nasty smelly bullheads and sheepheads too…all of which get thrown out to some unknown fate. (pause)

We hear all of this today…and so once more I ask the question…what are we to say about these things?  That the kingdom of heaven is prickly and invasive…or that it will result in what we consider to be impossible?  Or that its worth defrauding our neighbors for, or leaving our families and even ourselves destitute in order to achieve?

I can’t help but think that this little batch of parables is supposed to be a little on the confusing side…and I find myself wondering if Jesus was joking around a little bit…and that when he poses the final question “have you understood all this?” He maybe even had a bit of mischievous grin on his face? Like maybe he was messing around with the disciples just a bit…but if, and take note I’m saying IF, that’s the case…well then it seems that the disciples are in on the joke because when Jesus asks if they understand, they reply yes.

And if that’s the case…if they do in fact get it…well then I’m a little jealous…because often times with parables…and especially with today’s batch of mini-parables…I hear Jesus ask the question “have you understood all this?” and my response is “Well, I think so…but at the same time…no.” (pause)
Now maybe I say that and you find it odd…maybe you find it shocking, or disappointing to hear a pastor admit to not knowing something about the interpretation of scripture. I know the very first time I answered a question downstairs in the confirmation/adult forum with “I don’t know” I saw several jaws drop open…but the truth of the matter is that sometimes whatever truth it is that Jesus, or the Bible, or in this case a combination of the two, whatever it is that God so desperately wants us to understand is just too out there for us to make heads or tails of.

But funny enough…maybe this whole situation is just a parable…or a metaphor for this life that we live. Today we’re posing the question about the individual parables of What are we to say about these things…and we can pose that same question to the multitude of different issues and situations that are dominating our collective consciousness these days.

We can’t turn on the news, or open up the computer, or log onto social media on our phones without being utterly slammed by one uproar after another…and lately it seems like the controversies are coming at us faster than ever…and in this life that we live together, we’ve got all kinds of stuff that we are just trying to make heads or tails of.

What’s the big stuff this week? Whether or not transgendered people are fit for the military?  Whether or not an aging Senator is a hero or a heel for voting against party lines? If healthcare is a right or a burden. Whether our president is a breath of fresh air who says it like it is and is cleaning house or a unpredictable sociopath who’s ruining our country. Whether black or blue lives matter more than the other…or whether guns are the problem or the solution…if a refugee is a terrorist or a victim….and who knows what controversies we’ll be talking about around the water cooler tomorrow or next week or next month.

What are we to say about these things…because these are all parts of the life that we are living these days…and there are times when I think about all this and I just wish Jesus would hurry up and come back already.

But the truth of the matter is…this is life in July of 2017…and its messy and it’s stressful and at times it makes no sense what so ever…and we ask the same question “What can we say about this?” And maybe, just maybe the only thing that we can say is that life is messy…its prickly and thorny and the problems might just grow up to take over everything…or maybe…just maybe…we remember that the kingdom of heaven is like this too…because the kingdom is present right here in the midst of all this craziness that threatens to take over our lives…whether we are looking for it or not. (pause)

Now if this was a funeral sermon, I’d start talking about baptism and the promise that God makes…that we are claimed by God and nothing overcomes that distinction…and I would wrap it up with the tail end of Romans 8…a passage that gives me hope in the midst of a lot crazy stuff….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.

Nothing…not the craziness of this life that we lead…not the pain that we feel…not the shortcomings that we experience…God’s love is made manifest for all the world…for every member of the human race…because God loves those made in the divine image, and that is EVERY single member of the human race by the way…and nothing in this crazy, warped, messed up reality that we live in can change that.

The only thing that does change…is how we react to it. How will we respond to this crazy invasive, sometimes wonderful and sometimes prickly love of God for each one of us?  Someone asked Jesus a question along those lines once. And his response…Love God and Love your neighbor…period. There is no fine print…there are no conditions. That’s it.

But you know what…that’s radical isn’t it? To love unconditionally…to love regardless of what it might cost us…regardless of what the world and the rules tell us is okay or not…Jesus did it…and it cost him his life…who knows…maybe he’s the guy in the parable willing to sell everything…to give up everything just to acquire a treasure…and if that’s the case, well maybe the treasure is you…maybe its me…maybe its all of us…including the ones that I don’t want to risk getting to know…or the ones that look different that I do…or the ones that talk different than I do….or the ones who voted differently than me.

Jesus says love God and love our neighbor…which seems to be pretty all encompassing…because everyone is your neighbor…everyone, whether we chose to believe it or not.   (pause)
What are we to say about these things? Maybe nothing, because maybe there’s nothing to say…maybe all we can do is live together in the midst of this prickly thing called life. Amen.

What Did You Do 7-23-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, I explore the parable of the wheat and the weeds. We find that there is good and bad all mixed up together in this life, as well as within us as individuals. It is not our job to remove it, but simply to live our lives. We trust, even in the midst of questions, that God will act.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-did-you-do-7-23-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There comes a time in the life of every young person, somewhere within the transitional years between childhood and adulthood, when they come face to face with an often times painful reality. If you cause a problem, then you’re responsible to help rectify it.

I myself learned this lesson at about age 12, and it had to do with apples and broken windows in an abandoned farm house, but I’m not going to go into that today…rather I’d like to share the story that my dad told me of when he was just a couple years older…and he learned this same lesson first hand.

Now what you need to know about my dad, is that he’s the second of six kids, and his older brother Jim is about 3 years older. And shortly before this story takes place, my grandfather, their dad, had some pretty major reconstructive surgery on a bad hip…and so grandpa was pretty well laid up for most of this particular year…and so the bulk of the farming fell on Jim at about 17, and dad at 14.

No it goes without saying that in those days, probably far more so than now adays, the kids started in on the farm work pretty young, and so my uncle Jim had a pretty decent handle on how things needed to happen, even though he was still a high school student…and one morning, he’d mentioned to dad that the young corn shoots out in the field were due to be cultivated.

I’m pretty sure Jim was just mentioning that in passing, because at that point, Dad hadn’t tried cultivating yet…but as with any young whippersnapper…he was pretty sure he could pull it off…so dad got home from school, while Jim was still at football practice…and my 14 year old father hopped up on the tractor and started cultivating…and he’d made several passes back and forth across the field before Jim got home.

Now here’s the thing…dad was ever so slightly off in his placement over the rows…and while he didn’t uproot the corn…he was somehow managing to cover it up with soil…and you can imagine just how happy big brother was when he saw what dad was up to.

Dad saw his brother storming out towards the tractor…all red in the face…and while my uncle’s exact words are not very appropriate for me to repeat today…it can be best summed up “WHAT DID YOU DO?” (pause) Now dad learned that hard lesson of responsibility to clean up your mistakes by spending the next couple of hours uncovering each corn plant by hand, while Jim finished up the cultivating. (pause)
Now the idea of farming shouldn’t come as a great shock today as we consider yet another parable of Jesus…this time, the parable of the weeds in the wheat.

We hear of the master of the house going on to sow his field…and while the idea of sowing a wheat field might seem a little foreign to those of us who are used to seeing row upon row of corn or soybeans out in the field…its not that difficult to figure out…wheat is a grain, actually its in the grass family…and a wheat field is seeded just like a lawn…you just scatter the seeds out over the surface…and it all grows up like a carpet.

But as we hear…once the master has done the work of sowing the wheat seed…an enemy comes along in the night and plants weeds…actually something called tares in the original language…a plant that starts off its life looking an awful lot like the wheat that its in the midst of…and its only when both plants produce their seed later before harvest that you can actually tell the difference between the two.

The tares grow right up with the wheat…and since the individual plants…the individual stalks are grouped so closely together, the root system is all tangled up together…doesn’t matter if it’s a good plant or a bad plant…its all mixed up. (pause)

So that being said, in our parable today, once the plants have all sprouted…the wheat and the tares…some of the master’s sharp eyed servants do spot the problem…and they find themselves utterly confused…there’s tares in the wheat…how’d that happen…how’d that lousy seed get mixed in with the wheat…and then they think back to who sowed the field in the first place…the master…and they come to the obvious conclusion…He did this.

And so they march themselves into the house….Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? (pause) They might as well have been asking “What were you thinking?” or “What did you do?” or maybe “Why did you do this?” (pause)

Now I’m gonna stop right there…because I think that this is a pretty common theme…a pretty common question that comes up in the midst of our lives isn’t it? Stop and think about it for a moment. And place yourself in the position of the servants. Somethings going wrong, I think its instinct to blame the highest authority that we can isn’t it? (pause) We do that don’t we? And I’m pretty sure that its isn’t limited to some screw up out in the field is it? (pause)

Earlier this week, I found myself in that position…and it might seem a little odd, but its true. Thursday news broke of the death of a musician about my age…the lead singer of a band that I’ve listened to since my early college days…and it really threw me for a loop…and then a little later on the information came out that it was death by suicide.

And with that in mind I started asking a lot of the same old questions…questions of why and how…and yes I’ll admit it, even the question of Big Guns Upstairs of “why’d you do this? Why didn’t you step in? Why didn’t you stop this somehow?” (pause)

Those are the types of questions that tend to come out in conversation in and around tragic events…and here in our little community we’ve had more than enough events in the past few years that fall in this category…and I’ve heard those same questions from many of you…and while it is important that we recognize the truth that God did not cause these different tragedies to occur, I think it is perfectly acceptable, good even, to cast those questions and emotions and anger and sadness towards God, because God can take it…and if different parst of the Bible like Lamentations and quite a few of the Psalms teach us anything, its that blasting God with these raw emotions of grief is nothing new. (pause)
But at the same time…we also need to recognize that the parable doesn’t stop at that point does it? The servants of the master come at him with questions about the work that he had done, and the master points out the truth…an enemy has done this. (pause) An enemy.

Whether we recognize it or not…there are forces at work in our world that go far beyond our ability to comprehend or see or recognize…and those forces are at work in opposition of the work that God is up to in our reality. God has sown good seed in the field…so these enemies come along stirring up trouble.

Now we can call these enemies a lot of different things…Jesus calls it the devil at one point…but it seems that the powers of darkness and sin and death also fall under that category…they are present in our reality whether we chose to recognize them or not…these powers are here with us…entwined within us…rooted among us.

And perhaps upon recognizing this our reaction is the same as the servants…should we go pull them out? Should we remove that which is evil…that which is bad? (pause) But the master says no…the master tell us to leave it alone…and I think for a couple of different reasons.

Keep in mind…wheat and tares…hard to tell apart…so maybe when Jesus tells us no, he’s posing the question “are you able to judge what good and what’s bad? That’s not your place.”

But secondly…its all mixed up together…and so if you try to remove that which is bad…that which is evil…that which is toxic…you’re going to pull up a bunch of the good shoots as well. (pause) Now admittedly, when I’m in my garden pulling weeds, I don’t bat an eyelash if one of the good plants gets uprooted in the process.  But God?  God won’t risk so much as a single solitary life of that which he has called good…not one.

Why did you do this? (Pause) A common question that we throw God’s direction when this stuff happens…and yet today, perhaps we are receiving a very gentle rebuke as we are reminded that it is not the master who has done this…but at the same time, we are also assured that in the end, the separation of that which God has called good and that which is bad will occur…but its not our job to make it happen…we’re not called to clean the field…we’re called to live in it…or maybe, just maybe, to recognize that we ourselves…ARE…the field.

We profess ourselves to be simultaneously saints and sinners…both at the same time…not 50/50, but 100/100. Fully forgiven and justified saint, and fully twisted and broken and sinful and rebellious…we are both the wheat and the weed…and so maybe just maybe, when Jesus tells us that in the end, that which is considered bad…that which is broken within us will be bound and burned away with fire, leaving behind that which is good and valued and loved by God…and I don’t know exactly how that’s gonna work…but I do remember John the Baptist saying something about Jesus baptizing us with fire…maybe this was what he was talking about.

Now if that’s the case…that’s good news, but its sure not safe news is it? It sounds invasive…harsh…painful even…in short…it sounds a lot like life…and life’s not safe is it? But that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

And so, if you find yourself in a period of life that doesn’t make any sense…when you are asking those big question of Why God, don’t beat yourself up…because sometimes life deals us some pretty lousy cards, and it’s a choice between lousy and lousier…and its in our nature to question it…to react to it…maybe even get mad about it…so we own that…and then we find some grace in it…because the good news tells us that we are not alone it…and throughout all of it…God calls us good.

Amen.