A Significant Pause 5-17-15

This morning’s sermon came from Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. This is the single bit of scripture that sheds light on the pause between Jesus’ Ascension and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The disciples appoint a replacement for Judas who had betrayed Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-significant-pause-5-17-15

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.
Before I dive in today…we need to do just a touch of housekeeping…I’m actually going to be gone on vacation over the course of the next week…and therefore I won’t be here next Sunday to lead worship and preach. (pause) Now I worked really hard trying to find a guest to come in and pick up the reigns for the week…leading and preaching…but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find anyone.
Admittedly I was feeling horrible about all this…until first thing this morning as I was looking over the text out of Acts…and I realized that God was providing the perfect answer to this mystery…the perfect example of how to proceed…by chance and casting lots. And so I grabbed a random bulletin…and drew a big star on the inside…right next to where it says Underwood Lutheran Church…so everyone grab your bulletin and open it up and take a look…
Who’s got the one with the star? (pause and wait for them to id themselves) Okay great…God has appoint you…you will be our worship leader and preacher next Sunday…so get prepared…clearly God thinks you’re capable. (pause)
Okay…clearly I’m kidding here…we would never leave something like that up to chance would we? (pause) What a crazy way to fill a position of leadership…and yet…isn’t that exactly what happens in the midst of today’s lesson? (pause) Now admittedly, I went out of the ordinary today…as it is certainly normal for me to base the sermon off of the gospel lesson assigned each week…but as today marks a transition in several different respects…I thought I’d switch things up just a bit.
Today is of course our final Sunday of regular programming and education…and in addition, today is also the final Sunday of the season of Easter. Next week marks Pentecost and the beginning of the longest stretch of a single church season for the year…and since we are looking towards the season where we will focus on the continued growth of the church…it seemed fitting today to focus on this transitional text out of Acts.
Now Acts itself is part of a two volume book, the first being the Gospel of Luke…both of which are written to the same individual as a way of telling the truth of Christ…first off his life and ministry, then his death and resurrection within the Gospel…and now here in Acts the transition of leadership over to the Apostles and then the steady growth of the early church.
And that being said, this first chapter of Acts really sets up the transition…as it opens with Jesus still present, but taking the remaining 11 disciples out a stones throw from Jerusalem where he flat out tells them that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And literally as he’s saying this, he is taken up into Heaven…commonly known as the Ascension…and we know from the scriptures that this occurred 40 days after the resurrection…actually just this past week…just a couple days ago, we celebrated this day…and then we hear that the 11 disciples headed back into the city where Jesus had told them to stay until the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Now we know that happens at Pentecost…which we’ll celebrate next Sunday…but right now…in this moment…we find ourselves in the lull…in the break between the Ascension and Pentecost…between the presence of Jesus in the world…and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world…something that can best be described as a Significant Pause in the work of God here within our reality…a brief moment…a tiny blip on the cosmic radar…10 days when the disciples are on their own…just waiting…and not really knowing what to do.
And today’s passage offers us the single bit of scripture that sheds any sort of light what so ever on the activity of the disciples during this time…during this significant pause in God’s work…and as we see…the main thing on their minds is the Judas situation…but if we think about it…can’t we boil that down to the issue of an open ministry position? (pause)
Isn’t it funny that even back then…administrative type issues were the first thing on the minds of church leadership…some things never change do they? (pause) And so…baring any other direction from the Lord in the mean time…they take matters in their own hands in order to keep moving forward…and they pretty much hold the single strangest election for a leadership role that I have ever seen….Let us cast lots to see who God has chosen.
And this essentially means that they stick two rocks in a jar…one with the name of Matthias…and one with the name of Justus…and they shake the jar until one of the rocks falls out…MATTHIAS!!!! We see that God has chosen you to take the place of Judas…and Justus…well sorry…we’ll give you the title of honorary patron saint for the silver medalist. (pause)
All jokes aside…isn’t that sort of telling of the human condition…even here in the church…that in the moments when God takes a break…in the moments of a significant pause, we feel the need to keep moving…to jump right away…to do what seems important to us at the time…rather than simply waiting for what God will reveal.
Admittedly, I often find myself chuckling at things like this…particularly here in the early chapters of the book of Acts…as this small ragtag batch of followers…people who have been traipsing along after Jesus for a few years take the reigns…and try their best…but some of these early stories are almost laughable…they throw dice to appoint a new apostle…then in a week the Holy Spirit shows up and they are accused of public intox…and people on both sides of the coin…followers of Jesus as well as his most ardent opponents…including this random guy named Saul who starts off by rounding up believers…it seems like every single thing that they do…crazy as it might seem…ends up getting used by God to move the kingdom forward. (pause)
But it doesn’t always happen in ways that we would expect does it? Take this whole appointment of Matthias thing…they put a whole bunch of stock in the need to fill the hole in the ministry left by Judas…a ministry that he had participated in…that he had shared…this ministry that Jesus told us included serving one another and serving the world…but now Judas is gone, so a game of rock paper scissors raises up a new guy…a different guy…someone with completely different skills and gifts and experiences…
And then…quite literally…we never hear about him again. Never once…Matthias is never named in the scriptures after this moment…sure he did important work for the kingdom…serving as a fellow witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ…but just what this work was? Well, we don’t know…because he has joined in the countless number of individuals to share the name Christian…as one of the fellow workers as members of the body of Christ.
Matthias was appointed…he stepped into a vacant role…and did his best…but then he died…and eventually someone else stepped into that role…a new individual with different talents and gifts and experiences…and so on…and so forth.
And when we think about it…isn’t that the exact same thing we have continued to do, down through more than 2000 years of Church history and right up to today…we have continued this same tradition of asking God to help us appoint someone new to fill the vacancies…and despite all of our failings…and all of our mistakes…God has continued to grow the church…to spread the good news of Jesus Christ…and half the time, if scripture is to be believed…the spread occurs in the midst of our best efforts to hinder it…intended or not.
And not even the odd examples of our limited human attempts to keep things moving in the midst of God’s significant pauses…the church has continued. (pause) And as we consider this truth…isn’t it a joy to realize that we have a God who not only cares enough about our reality…and about this crazy batch of lifeforms known as the human race to continue to work in and through us…but we have a God who cares enough to stop…to pause…and notice us as individuals…even though our lifetimes are simply a blip on that cosmic radar screen. (pause)
Others have come before us…and others will come along behind…and we have our moments here…in this life. For example…there have been 15 pastors of Underwood Lutheran church starting back in the 1920’s and leading up to me as number 16…and other than a couple of brief interactions with my immediate predecessor…I have no idea about those who have come before…whether they are alive or dead…what their interests are or were…I don’t know anything about them…and I’m guessing that at least for the first few…none of you know anything about them either…
It could almost be like they never existed…yet they did…and the church…not just Underwood Lutheran…but the church as a whole is different…is changed because of the work that God did through them…and likewise it is the same with each and every one us…We have a God who stops…who pauses and notices us…and not only that…but we have a God who delights in us…and choses to work through us each and every day…whether we realize it or not…
And as the years…and the decades…and even the centuries go by until that glorious day when Jesus returns from Heaven…the church will march on…and as one individual falls out of a role for whatever reason…another individual will step into it with new ideas and gifts and talents…and God will bless that…just as God has blessed all of those who have come before.
And while one day our names may be forgotten to those who come after us…we can rest assured that through the saving work of Jesus Christ…we will not be forgotten by our God…for to God…we are significant…each and every one of us. Amen.

So Simple and Yet Not 5-10-15

In this sermon based on John 15:9-17 I explore Jesus commandment to love one another and that this is how we abide in the love of God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/so-simply-and-yet-not-5-10-15

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
We all have things in life that we are good at…things that take little to no effort to achieve…things where we excel…and for me, all the way through school…math was one of those things for me. I had a knack for it…I could pick up a lesson easily…and complete the daily assignment while others in the class were still listening to the teacher explaining the process for solving whatever type of problem it was that we were working on.
And one thing that I always enjoyed was how the process of learning math was cumulative…one thing pretty much always relied on the previous lessons that we had learned…going all the way back to the simple equation that pretty much any kindergarten student can solve…that 1 + 1 = 2. This notion that if you have 1 thing…and you put it together with another thing…then you have 2 things…Simple right?
And yet as the years went by and the lessons continued…things got more complicated…additional and subtraction of single digits leads to multiplication…and then long division…and then onto to things like fractions…and least common denominators…and conversions of measurements…and we keep going into algebraic expressions…solving for the unknown…and then onto geometry…and writing out complex proofs using concepts like the prothagorian theorm…and while that was about the extent of where my mathematical education ended…I know that it goes far beyond my understanding to things like quantum mechanics…used to calculate the behavior of things as big as the universe and as tiny as sub-atomic particles.
And I’ve been thinking about this type of thing lately…this notion that in mathematics, everything continues to build on the lessons that have come before…because there are many days when I sit at the table with my son, helping him work through his math homework…and its been a good reminder for me to see how one lesson builds on the previous lesson…to remember why its so important to learn these various ideas and notions and processes…because understanding the next one is going to depend on you first understanding this one…and all of it…every single bit of it all the way up to that super complex stuff that we catch glimpses within the conversations on Big Bang Theory…trickles all the way back to that simple expression that I mentioned earlier…that if you have one thing…and you put it together with another thing…you have two things… 1+1=2.
Simple right…absolutely…until I drop the bomb that even between these two incredible simple numbers…1 and 2, there is an infinite amount of values…and infinite amount of numbers that lie between 1 and 2. (pause) So simple…and yet…not (pause) Mind blown? Yah…mine too. (pause)
Now I bring all this up for two reasons…First off…this idea that in math, one thing builds on the thing before…and even though they might seem very similar, you have to go through one before you can get to the other…and this is where I’m going to connect into the gospel lesson for today…John 15:9-17…which if you were here last week…probably sounds extremely familiar…and it should…because last week’s gospel was John 15:1-8…and pretty much everything about these two different lessons is pretty similar….same setting…same person talking…same audience…(pause) same subject matter.
Jesus talking to the disciples at the last supper…just before his arrest and death…talking about the notion of abiding. (pause) And so if you were sitting there a moment ago as I read the gospel thinking man this sounds familiar…it should…because there was no break in the action…Jesus was sitting there at supper with the disciples talking…and he probably didn’t even pause for a breathe between verse 8 and verse 9, even though for us today, a week has gone by between hearing “my father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” and “as the father has loved me, so I loved you.”
But here’s the big connection…last week we heard about abiding…about being in relationship…about remaining with God…being connected to God just as the branches of a grape are connected to the vine and to the roots…last week we talked a lot about that…about just what it means to be connected…to remain…why its important…and how we do it. (pause)
And now this week, Jesus moves forward…building on what we heard before and adding to it just a little bit more…for Jesus tells us to abide…in his love…the love that originated from the Father…that moves through the relationship between the father and the son…and likewise from the son to each one of us…abide in his love. (pause)
At first glance…it sounds pretty simple right? So simple that someone much smarter than me wrote a song that pretty much every preschool student in Sunday School can likely sing for you. (sing) Jesus loves me this I know…for the Bible tells me so…
And so we rest in the love of Jesus…the love of God that offered freely to each and one of us…easy right? Its so simple…except…not. (pause)
And here’s the second reason that I started off today by talking about math…because abiding in the love of God is both super easy…and super complicated all at the same time…just like math. (pause)
Because just what it mean? This statement…this order…this commandment of Jesus to abide in the love of God? What does it really mean? To be loved by the creator of the universe…to be the object of love and affection…to be the object of delight in the eyes of the one that made us? And how do we LIVE in that love? Is it simple enough to profess it…that yes, I am a beloved child of God?
Or does it go beyond that? To the point that we have to understand it…that we have to know where it comes from…or why? Or How? Is that a requirement…a prerequisite to abiding in the love of God expressed through Jesus Christ? (pause)
Or on the flip side…is it really as easy as it sounds? Yes Jesus loves me. (pause) It can’t be that simple can it? It has to be way more complicated than that right? (pause) I’ve posed that question before…and actually many times downstairs during education time as we’ve explored the scriptures together…can it really be that simple…can it really boil all the way down to that simple notion that God loves me? (pause)
Because if that’s really the case…then why the heck is this book (hold up the Bible) so darn thick? (pause) Why are there so many stories…and rules…and prophecies…why are there so many examples of God’s judgement…and of people going to war…of oppression and pain and suffering all within this one big thing often times called “The Good Book.” How can that be? (pause) And can we really boil it all down to the simple notion of God loves me? (pause)
And here’s the kicker…here’s how I answer that question whenever I encounter it…either from someone else…or when it pops up within my own head…yes and no. (pause) And yes you heard correctly…can we boil down all of scripture and faith and the church and the questions and answers and theology and dogma and liturgy and sacraments and everything in between to God loves me…yes…and…no.
Because faith is both incredibly easy….while simultaneously being the most mind blowingly complicated thing that I have ever encountered. (pause) But I think Jesus knew that…when he was addressing the disciples…because as he starts talking about abiding in the love of God, he gives us something that actually seems to serve as a pretty straightforward command…instructions that aren’t really that difficult to understand…and in true Jesus fashion…he repeats himself a couple times. Keep my commandments…and you will abide in my love…and this is the commandment…love each other. Period. (pause)
Simple right…and yet…not. (pause) Simple because at first glance love seems easy…and when we are in a situation where there is mutual love…well then it is simple…because its easy to return love for love…but Jesus talks about more than that…and Jesus tells us that we are to love everyone…even those that hate us…and the amazing thing about it is that we see Jesus boil down all of that stuff…theology and doctrine and rules and regulations in one simple statement…Lord, what is the most important commandment…Love God…and then love your neighbor as yourself…period. (pause)
Its not conditional…its not contingent…Jesus simply instructs us to love each other…that’s how we abide…and that is how the world will see that we are something different…that we are something new…that the love of God expressed in Christ Jesus within our lives as believers has made us into something other than what we were before…that we love where the world hates and schemes and plots…that the light of Christ does shine in our lives…in and through the darkness that we all experience and at times…embody.
And in the midst of all this…that our joy…that joy we find in knowing that there is more than what we can see now…that there is hope for the life to come…that we are not alone in the midst of the pain and sorrow that we experience in this life…that this joy is just another sign that we are abiding in the love of God…and finally this joy in knowing that all of this…is not up to us in the first place.
Jesus tells us that we do NOT choose him…but he has chosen us…he has loved US first…and asks only that we mirror that love outwards…that we reflect the love of God for us…so that this world of darkness may see His light…may witness His love…and one glorious day ALL the world may come to know that this love we reflect…this love we abide in…this love of God that we claim…is intended for all the world…each and every one individual…because we are each fearfully and wonderfully made by the one that delights in us…
That’s faith…that’s abiding…both incredibly easy and incredibly difficult all at the same time…but praise be to God that we don’t have to understand it to make it true…we just have to live in it…regardless of if we think its simple…or not…Amen.

Just Abide Already 5-3-15

This morning’s sermon comes from John 15:1-8, which is the parable of the vine and branches. This sermon happens in the context of Confirmation Sunday.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/just-abide-already-5-3-15

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
My first foray into living on my own was May 1998. I was 19 years old, and I departed my parents’ house for the first time to live on my own…and let me tell you…I was really venturing out…to Bible Camp…10 minutes from home…and it was only for a few months (pause) Impressive right?
Now my second time moving out was a little more extensive. It was a little over a year later…August of 1999…I had graduated from community college, and I was heading off to Ames to finish up my Bachelor’s degree at the one and only Iowa State University. For the first time, I would out of my regular stomping grounds…3 hours away…on my own.
My plan as of the night before moving to Ames…was to load up my car, and my brother was going to load up the rest of my stuff in his truck…and he would then follow me down to Ames and help me move in…but keep in mind I was moving into a dorm room…so I didn’t need everything under the sun…And even though the piles and boxes looked pretty extensive sitting on my bedroom floor…when I got started packing the car…somehow it all fit…and I called up my brother to let him know “Hey…don’t need you this time…I got it all in the car.” His reply “Alrighty…guess you don’t need me…good luck bro.” And he hung up.
And I…got in my car…and started that three hour drive. Now here’s the thing. I knew where I was going…I knew where my dorm was, even where my room was…but I think I was counting on my big brother for something other than just help moving…I think I was counting on him to be that last cord of connection to home…and him being there as I moved into the dorm and got settled…but instead…I was on my own.
And the longer I drove…the closer I got to Ames…the more nervous I got…and as the minutes clicked by I got worse…and worse…and worse…thinking that I was in over my head…and that my safety net was too far away…and that I had no idea what I was really in for…and then after awhile I saw a road sign. Ames…26 miles…and the nerves went up to here (level at chest)…and then a couple minutes later…Ames…10 miles…and the nerves were here (level at eyes)…and then I saw Ames Exit (level above head)…and a couple minutes later I parked my car outside of Helser Hall…and walked up 4 flights of stairs…around a corner…and down my hallway…and the nerves…well by that point they were through the roof…and I was scared to death… (pause)
And now I’m gonna switch gears…over into the gospel…and perhaps you’re wondering just what the heck my first move to Ames has to do with Jesus being the vine…and that is a great question…the connection here today isn’t so much this brief passage about vines and branches…but instead it’s the setting. You see this passage takes place in the midst of Jesus’ farewell address to the disciples at the last supper…a long moment of teaching…one last time before they head out to the Garden where Jesus will be arrested…and then he’ll be crucified…and he’ll be dead…and so in order to take full advantage of the tiny amount of time that they have left together Jesus lays out his final teaching for these men that he loves so much.
And throughout the course of this entire section of scripture…Jesus continues to tell them things like “I am only with you a little while longer” or “Now you see me, but soon you will not see me any longer” and “Soon you will be scattered…each to your own home.” (pause)
Think about how that must have come across to the disciples…they’ve been together 3 years…following Jesus around…they’ve been in community…and yes, they’ve seen some amazing things…had some amazing experiences…but throughout this entire time Jesus has been with them…and now he’s saying that’s coming a close? (pause) How can that be? (pause)
Because remember…they don’t know what’s coming…We say Last Supper…and we know what that means…that 24 hours later Jesus is dead…and then a couple days after that he’s alive again…but just like me driving closer and closer to Ames and finally walking into that dorm for the first time…the disciples have NO IDEA what’s coming next…and to hear that Jesus is going to be gone…their teacher…their master…the one who was always there to help make sense of things…is no longer going to be there to bail them out…to act as their safety net…they are gonna be on their own. (pause)
Now I think that the common tendency for us today is to think that the disciples had it all together by this time…or if not…then when Jesus is resurrected and appears to them that explains everything and they’ve got everything under control. Isn’t that true? Don’t we tend to think that…and maybe not just about the disciples but about all those Biblical Bigwig names that we hear…Moses…and David…Solomon…Elijah…and Peter and Paul…And James and John….they were all Biblical super heroes right? (pause) Or were they? (pause)
This past year in our confirmation class…we explored the Biblical narrative as deeply as we could in the time allowed…we covered a lot of stories involving a lot of individuals…many of whom I just named…and as we continued through the year…lesson after lesson…story after story…character after character…there was a theme there…one that the students and adults came to expect…and that theme is this…that God always seems to use the least likely person…the person who doesn’t have everything figured out…the person who has issues…and questions…and concerns…and problems.
And as we talked about that theme, over and over again…we also talked about how that applies to our lives…that we are called into a life of following Christ, just as those 12 disciples did…and not only are we called into it…but we share the struggle of the unknown…the struggle of not have all the answers…the struggle of having questions…make no mistake…we are more closely connected to the disciples sitting there at the table listening to Jesus than we might realize. (pause)
Now speaking of confirmation…today is of course a very special day for these 8 young people sitting in the front pews today…a day when they will stand up in the front of this sanctuary…and together they will affirm the promises made for them by their parents in the waters of their baptism…they will stand before you as a congregation…and they will stand before God while they do this. (pause)
One of the last things that they did in preparation for this day was to write a statement of belief…a statement that takes an honest look at where they are in their lives of faith today…after 2 years of confirmation instruction…and 14 or so years of growing up in the church.
My one bit of instruction for the students before leaving them to write their statements was “do not try to impress me. I’m not interested in fluff that you think I want to hear. I’m interested in hearing an honest statement of what you think about all this stuff.” And I was fascinated to read what they had to say.
There was a theme of belief that God is real…and is present. There was another theme that we live this life…and then there is something more to come…but we don’t know what it will be like…there was a random theme that they like turtles…inside joke…and finally there was a common theme of questions that the kids still have…ambiguity about all this stuff…how it works, or why…acknowledging the sense of mystery that surrounds our lives of faith.
Now all 8 statements were very good…and very honest…and there was one that seemed to encompass this sense of the unknown…and I’d like to share just a portion of it. “I wonder why this dude would send his only begotten son to die on the cross for our sins…it just boggles my mind. The way that God chose that people that you wouldn’t think that he would choose.”
Truly this stuff is a mystery to understand…but isn’t it wonderful that we don’t have to understand it…yet God chooses us anyway…Jesus himself says this to the disciples during this time…You did not choose me…but I chose you…and just as He chose those men to be in relationship…likewise God has chosen you. (pause)
But now let’s come back around full circle…because admittedly I haven’t been talking much about our specific passage today…but there is a connection…a very great one…and we find it within the repetition of the passage. Abiding.
As Jesus prepares to leave these men…he tells them over and over again to abide…Abide in me and I abide in you. You are the branches…abide in the vine…abide and bear much fruit…abide abide abide…and since this isn’t a word that we really use all that much…perhaps you’re wondering just what it means…and it means to remain…or to live with…or to be in relationship with…essentially…just as the branches must remain connected to the grapevine in order to live and bear fruit…we too must remain connected to the source of life…and we hear today that this is Christ himself.
And perhaps this seems a little strange for Jesus to tell them to remain connected to him when he’s about to leave them…and likewise its confusing for us to hear the same thing knowing that Christ has long since returned to heaven. And so we wonder is Jesus making some sort of joke here?
And the answer is no…because through Christ we are given many ways to remain in relationship. He tells us that his word abides in us…and through the scriptures we see this is true…and through Christ we can approach our Father in heaven through prayer…we have direct access to God…and finally through the body of Christ here on earth…through one another, united by the power of the Holy Spirit we remain together…we live together…we abide together…connected to one another…but more importantly connected to Jesus…the one who calls himself I am.
And this connection…this life together…this abiding in one another…its not conditional…we don’t have pass a test…we don’t have to earn it…its offered freely to us…and in the waters of our baptisms we join in this community…we join in this life together…we join in this connection…and we are not alone…for in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit we are in relationship.
I want to go back to that story that I started in the beginning…You might recall that I was walking down the hallway of my dorm for the first time…scared out of my mind…but then as I approached my door, even before I stepped through it…I heard two familiar voices…two friends that I already knew…close friends who were now my roommates…and as I heard those voices, and I stepped around the corner and saw their faces I knew I wasn’t in this alone…but that we were in it together…even if we didn’t know what to expect. And at that moment, I knew…in spite of all the questions and fears and doubts…that it was gonna be okay.
As I look out there today, and see the 8 of you sitting there…wondering just what all this faith stuff is all about…and wondering just how it all works…rest easy in knowing that you are a part of something bigger than just you…you are connected to this community…you are connected to the church…the body of Christ on earth…and this is a place where you can live with your questions…where its okay that things don’t always make sense…so live in it…be connected to it…remain in it…Just abide already. Amen.

Part of the Flock 4-26-15

In this sermon, based on John 10:11-18, I explore what Jesus is saying when he calls himself the Good Shepherd. What does it mean to be in relationship with one that knows us?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/part-of-the-flock-4-26-15

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 how little things will pop up that give me insight into preaching…conversations that occur, moments that I witness…things that I overhear…there are countless ways…and this time around it was a short video that made the rounds on facebook of a mom laying down with her quadruplet sons draped all over her. The dad is behind the camera making funny faces or noises or something that is making the 4 boys laugh uncontrollably….the video itself is hilarious…but as I watched it I remember thinking to myself “Wow…4 identical babies…how in the world do those parents tell them apart?”
In all honesty, this is not a new concept for me either. I have often times found myself in the situation of encountering multiples…typically when they are quite young…and being unable to tell them apart…most recently, the twin sons of one of the pastors at our church in the Twin Cities…now my wife, who worked with the pastor and encountered the boys more often, she could take a look at them and usually be able to tell which one was which, but I was lost…couldn’t tell one from another. (Pause)
But then I got to thinking some more about this week’s gospel lesson…a portion of the Good Shepherd discourse…a section of John’s gospel that is featured here on the 4th Sunday of Easter every single year…for it is informally known as Good Shepherd Sunday…and this year, we hear the go-to section when Jesus actually calls himself the good shepherd…and not just once but a couple times through the course of this brief section. (Pause)
Now the interesting thing about this whole passage, not just the portion we shared today, but actually all of John chapter 10…is the theme of sheep…Last year, during Lectionary year A we heard the first portion…that there are sheep, and they are in a pen…and some individuals try to climb over the fence and steal the sheep, but Jesus is the gate and the sheep know him and follow his voice. (pause) Next year in year C we’ll hear more of the same…of the sheep following the voice of Jesus and that by following him the sheep have eternal life. (pause) And this year, its really more of the same…sheep sheep sheep…but more importantly…in today’s portion, we actually hear the famous words. I AM…the Good Shepherd. (pause) This year Jesus actually says it…but even more importantly he talks about by being the good shepherd…he knows the sheep and the sheep know him…and that’s why we hear in the other passages from the other years that they are so keen on following him…because there is an intimacy there…a relationship.
And that’s why I am constantly unable to tell twins apart…something that their parents can so easily do…because their parents know them…they know everything about them…and can tell them apart easily. (pause)
But I thought about that notion a little more…and then since we’ve been talking about sheep so much I got to thinking about livestock. Now…how many of you have ever driven past a herd of livestock…or better yet walked up to the fence and looked at that herd…really any kind of animal…and thought to yourself…how can you tell them apart? They all look the same? Ever had that experience? (pause) I know I have…but I’ve been on the other side of things too.
Many of you know that I’m a farm kid…and in my younger days…up till I was about 16 or so, we milked cows…and it is certainly safe to say that I knew those cows…It didn’t matter if they were in the barn, locked into their stanchions…or out wandering around in the pasture…I could tell at a glance which one was which…even though someone unfamiliar would look and see a big mass of black and white animals that all look the same…I could tell you which ones were easy milkers…I could tell you which ones would always step into the wrong spot to eat the feed of another…which ones were old, which ones were young…and I could darn sure tell you which one had most recently hauled off and kicked me…and I could tell you all of this…I could distinguish between them simply because I knew them…I was familiar with them.
And that’s the important aspect of what Jesus is telling us today…he is the shepherd and we know this because he knows the sheep…he loves the sheep…he’s familiar with them…he’s in relationship with them…we can even say that he’s intimate with them.
That’s the basis for the word that Jesus uses when he says that I know my sheep and they know me…just as the father knows me and I know the father…this Greek word “to know”…it implies intimacy…not just casual acquaintance…in fact it is the same word that describes the intimate way that a husband and wife “KNOW” each other…and if you aren’t catching my drift there ask me after the service and I’ll be happy to clarify for you.
And this is how Jesus describes the relationship that he desires…and the truly amazing thing about all of this is that Jesus desires this relationship with those that have been cast out of other relationships. (pause) He tells us that he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold, and he must bring them in also…and while that may seem somewhat clear…its important to note that this entire story…every single bit of this is actually in response to something that Jesus has already done.
Prior to the good shepherd discourse, Jesus has healed a man who was born blind…and throughout the entirety of John chapter 9, this man who can now see is going back and forth with the religious leaders who flat out refuse to believe that Jesus should be able to work this miracle…and in the end…when the man refuses to throw Jesus under the bus, the leaders cast him out of the synagogue…essentially they kick him out of their church…telling him that he has no place among them anymore…that he is no longer worthy of being in relationship with them….and after all of this has happened…Jesus finds the man…and Jesus, brings him into relationship…
This whole discourse…all of this talk about sheep and pens and shepherds…all of this comes down to the simple fact that Jesus…the one who calls himself I AM…the one that is God in the flesh dwelling among us…Jesus…desires to be intimately known by those that HE…already knows intimately. (pause)
And that includes not only this one guy cast out of the synagogue…but that includes each and every one of us…across time and around the world. (pause) I love it that Jesus says that he has other sheep that he needs to bring into the fold…because this tells us that the work of Jesus isn’t done yet…its still going on…it didn’t stop with those 12 disciples and a few ragtag other followers….that work is still going on…because the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God in the world today continues to bring more and more into this one flock with Jesus as the shepherd…
If that wasn’t true…then none of us would be here today would we? If the work of Christ to continue to come into relationship with all of his sheep wasn’t still happening then we would have never heard of him would we? (pause) But we have…because the voice of Jesus Christ is still calling out…the gospel of Jesus Christ is still moving through the world and will continue to move through the world until that one glorious day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord…that Jesus is the shepherd for his sheep…that he is the one who loves and protects us…that he calls out to us and one by one we recognize his voice and follow along after him. (pause)
But at the same time, we know that work isn’t done yet is it? Because all we have to do is look around in the world today and we see plenty of hurt…and plenty of pain…and plenty of that pain is inflicted between us…from individual to individual…and this, painful though it may be to see and to experience is simply evidence that the work of our Good Shepherd isn’t done yet. (pause)
I once heard someone talk about happy endings…and they mentioned that it sure seems like real life doesn’t have happy endings…and you know what there’s something to that…but I also heard them say that in the end there is a happy ending, and God has already promised it to us…so if everything’s not happy then its not the end…and I believe that is the case because I believe that this life giving work of our Good Shepherd isn’t…Done…YET…but I believe that as his followers…as those of us who do recognize his voice and follow along after we are called to join in the work of spreading his voice around so that one day we will…in fact…reach that glorious day that I mentioned earlier. (pause)
Now there are days when this task that God has called us as believers into seems pretty daunting…and there are days when we look around at the world and think its too much…its too hard…its too far gone…truly those times happen…and perhaps we get discouraged in those moments.
But on the flip side…we have other days like today…days when we welcome new members into our congregation…new members into this little corner of the worldwide flock of Jesus Christ…and we have days like today when a precious little child is brought to this font…where in a few moments Sophie Thorne will come…and like Sophie that individual is washed in the water…and they are marked with the cross of Christ…and for the first time…they are called Beloved Child of God.
Today Sophie is claimed as Christ’s sheep…one that he knows…and more importantly as one that Christ is willing to lay down his life for…that is the power of our baptisms…that we join with Christ in a death like his so that we may also join with him in a resurrection like his…for as he has told us…He lays aside life in order that he picks it up again…and in the waters of baptism we believe that Sophie, along with every other believer, has her eternal life taken up by Christ…not out of anything that she has done…but because He knows her…and he loves her…just as he loves you. Amen.

Too Good To Be True 4-19-15

This week’s sermon is based on Luke 24:36b-48. This is Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples post-resurrection. I explore what’s going on when he eats with the disciples.

https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/too-good-to-be-true-4-19-15

You can also read 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
Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a situation that was beyond your ability to believe it? One of those moments that is monumentous and wonderful that you can’t quite wrap your head around the notion that this is actually happening…simply because it is so unexpected? (pause)
I found myself thinking about moments like this…and as I thought back through my life…I can remember some pretty big moments…exciting, wonderful, emotional moments…like the day that I asked Emily to marry me…and our wedding day…the first time I held each of my kids…more recently there was the day I finally graduated from Luther Seminary after A LOT of years of work…and then finally the day that my old mentor drapped a red stole around my shoulders at my ordination.
These were all amazing moments…but they were moments that I knew were coming…moments that I worked towards…moments that I planned out…and so as wonderful as they were…these are not the moments that I’m talking about…those moments that happen out of the blue and take us completely off guard.
Now I’ve had some unexpected situations as well…random acts of kindness thrown my direction…or opening letters informing me of scholarships…and a few brushes with celebrities here and there…but in all honesty, I’ve never really had an experience of something so amazingly unexpected that I found myself saying “I can’t believe this is really happening right now.” And that was confirmed for me when a random posting on Facebook this week led me to a video of a young women who had been deaf since early childhood received a cocular implant and heard sounds again for the first time in over 25 years…hearing her husband’s voice for the first time…and she is overcome with emotion at this amazing gift…and you can hear her say through her tears of joy “I can’t believe this is real.” (pause)
And that right there…seems to be the situation that the disciples find themselves in within today’s gospel story. (pause) Now, admittedly, this story may sound kind of familiar…if you were here last week we actually heard John’s account of this same story…when Jesus appears in the upper room to the disciples for the first time post resurrection.
And perhaps that seems a little strange that we would hear the exact same story two weeks in a row…particularly when they are so similar…and yet here in these early weeks of the season of Easter…it likely serves as a good reminder for us…because when we think about it for a moment…and we get honest with ourselves…I think the joyous note of Easter morning tends to pass by pretty quickly…and all too often the notion that the tomb IS empty…and that Christ IS risen, fades into the back of our minds as we go back about our normal day to day life. And so, these repeated reminders that Jesus was really raised from the dead…and he really did appear to different people are important for us to continue experiencing.
And of the 4 Gospels, none of them does as thorough of a job of recounting these experiences than Luke…but it is, admittedly…a long tail. Easter morning…the women go to the tomb…and find it empty…and an angel tells them that Jesus is risen, but no one sees him…and the women go off to tell the disciples…who discount it as an “idle tail.” …idle tail…if you’re wondering…that’s the nice way of letting us know that the disciples though the women were full of crap.
But then we hear of two random disciples walking down the road, returning home, when they encounter the risen Jesus…but don’t realize it…at least not until he opens up the scriptures to them, and then when he breaks bread with them, their eyes are opened and they realize that it is truly Jesus…and they run back to Jerusalem to find the disciples and share that they have seen the Lord…and in the midst of this very conversation…confusing though it must have been…Jesus himself is standing in the midst of them.
And though they first think “IT’S A GHOST!” Jesus assures them that this, is not…the case. (pause) Look at my hands and feet…see the holes there…its me…and I’m really hear…touch me and see that I am flesh and bone. (pause)
And then we hear these tell-tale words…while in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering. (pause) Luke doesn’t say it hear, but I’m guessing that at least one of the disciple said those same words “I can’t believe this is real.” (pause)
Could you? (pause) Think about it for a moment…this man that they loved…this man that they followed…that they put all of their stock into, traipsing along after him for three years…watching the miracles…listening to the teaching…but more than anything…simply loving the man…and he died. There can be no doubt of that…Jesus…was…dead. Laid in a tomb where he remained for several days. And if logic tells us anything, both today as well as 2000 odd years ago…when someone’s dead…that’s it…there’s no coming back from that…all hope of resurrection aside…Jesus was dead…but now, it seems like that’s no longer the case…of course the disciples were confused…but happy too…because he was alive again…but just think about how mind-blowing this had to be in that instant when Jesus is suddenly standing among them…talking to them.
But then, God’s never one to do things that we expect is he? (pause) God seems to be one who likes to open a new can of worms every once in awhile…and in the midst of this incredible encounter…Jesus takes action…and opens up some other stuff too. There’s a greek word that I really like…so much in fact that Emily once got a sign made with this word for me…and the word is dianoigo…which means to open completely…and in the 24th chapter of Luke, we hear it a few different times…When those two disciples eyes are finally opened to recognize Jesus…its dianoigo…when Jesus is opening the scriptures to them…to see how they point towards him…its dianoigo…and now when Jesus explains those same scriptures to his disciples…its dianoigo as he opens their minds to understand how those Old Testament scriptures point towards the amazing work that God has been doing and is continuing to do within the world…but the awesome thing about this…is that it cannot begin to make sense to us until we can view it through the lens of the resurrection of Jesus.
It’s one of those things that can only happen in hindsight because prior to the resurrection of Jesus, we had no basis to place the love of God. But when we think about it now, doesn’t it make sense…that yah…of course we have a God that loves humanity so much that he chooses to do something about the great separation…that He would chose to do something about death…that he would chose to overcome it. (pause)
That’s all pretty amazing to stop and think about…but as we’re thinking about it, perhaps we’re also asking the question of just what does that mean for us today…and I think we get a glimpse of that…because in the midst of this encounter between Jesus and the disciples here in Luke’s gospel…Jesus does something a little odd…he asks for something to eat…and then he eats it right there with them. (pause)
I dunno…maybe its because I’m Lutheran…and we sure like food don’t we…we love our potlucks…but isn’t it true that some pretty amazing things always happen over food? And keep in mind this is Jesus…and he’s lived that fact…this is the man constantly criticized for eating with the wrong people…for sitting down and breaking bread with sinners…and tax collectors…and prostitutes…heck even the 12 disciples were considered to be the “wrong people.” (pause) Yet Jesus…God in the flesh, joyfully sat with them over a meal.
And Jesus promises us that when we break bread and pour wine together…he is there too…This IS my body…this IS my blood…this IS me…and so in a few minutes when we gather before the table and share in holy communion we remember that Jesus is here with us too…part of this meal…and perhaps that gives us just a little bit of pause…because if Jesus was criticized for sharing a meal with the wrong people…then what’s that say about us? (pause)
Well, maybe it says the truth…the truth about who we are…unworthy…unable by anything we say or do to earn the favor of God, yet recipients of it anyway…because God himself says that we are worthy and that when we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins through the new covenant of his blood poured out for all people.
And I once heard it said that we know that it is truly communion…it is truly the Lord’s Supper when the wrong people are gathered around the table…because we are all the wrong people…yet God has claimed us anyway…simply to show us…that he is about love and acceptance…and that through the death of Jesus Christ on that cross he is finished with all that judgment and condemnation…and that in the resurrection of Jesus we are shown the promise that death HAS been overcome.
And this is the take away right here…the resurrection was not simply a feel good story…it was not a single event that happened 2000 years ago…and it not simply a promise to give us hope for the future…while these are all truthful statements, the resurrection is so much more than that…because we live in a reality now…today…where the resurrection from the dead is not just a possibility…it is a reality…and this is not simply hope for an unknown future…but it is a promise that we cling to today…and we not only cling to it…but we share it…because just as Jesus told the disciples, he tells us as well….you are witnesses of these things…and so we share that which we have experienced…that God has claimed us as his own…and that in the bread and the wine we experience the risen Lord…and even though it all seems too good to be true…we cling to it, because we believe that it IS true. Amen.

Peace To You 4-12-15

In this sermon, I tackle John 20:19-31. This is the story of Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples and includes the familiar passage of Doubting Thomas. In the sermon I explore the interesting first words that Jesus utters to his disciples and what they might mean for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/peace-to-you-4-12-15

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.
As many of you have likely figured out by now, I am a nature guy…and not only plants, but animals as well…and perhaps this is one reason why I enjoy springtime so much, because all of nature seems to be waking up and getting out in the sunshine.
That was never so apparent to me in the past week than on Friday…following several cold, wet, rainy…and even…snowy…days through this week…the sunshine and warmer weather on Friday was certainly welcome…and at one point through the day I was standing at the window looking outside…and I saw several squirrels bouncing and running all around…playing as squirrels will do. Whatever it was that they were up to…it really looked like they were enjoying themselves.
And I’m not the only one who noticed either…because sitting in the windowsill, right next to me…was my cat…intensely watching the squirrels as well…and if I was to venture a guess…I think she wanted to be outside…joining in the fun. (pause)
Now here’s the thing about my cat…I’m pretty sure that she thinks that she too…is a squirrel. Perhaps its because she is all black…and she will often times see the all-black variety of squirrels that we have here in Underwood…but regardless…whenever she sees squirrels outside…she sits in the window…and she chatters at them…it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard…and I wish I could understand just what it is she’s trying to say to them…but unfortunately, that’s just not a reality.
But if there is one things that’s apparent…its this…despite the obvious differences…cat…squirrels…inside…outside…she’s trying her best to communicate across those boundaries…and even though I can’t understand what she’s chattering at those squirrels, she’s clearly saying something….and she clearly desires interaction…relationship even…with those squirrels.
Likewise…in our story today…we see evidence of a lot of boundaries…a lot of differences. As per usual for the Sunday after Easter…the lectionary gives us the story of Jesus’ first appearances to his disciples post resurrection…which of course includes the commonly known story of Doubting Thomas. (pause)
Now from our perspective, Easter’s a week past…and we’ve been living with the reality of the resurrected Lord for several days now…long enough to get used to the notion of the empty grave and the resurrected Lord…but for the disciples, at least at the beginning of the story today…its only been a day…not even a full day in fact…as the story begins the very evening after Jesus has been raised from the dead…now here in John’s gospel we do hear that Jesus has appeared and spoken with Mary Magdalene…but that’s it…and we pick things up in a locked room…as the disciples…most of them anyway…have hidden themselves away out of fear that they might just share Jesus’ fate…Peter’s already been recognized…and since the Jewish leaders are on the warpath…perhaps they’ll be next. (pause)
And this is where something extraordinary happens…despite the locked doors…despite being hidden away…Jesus…finds them…and with no warning whatsoever…Jesus…the risen, resurrected Jesus…is standing among them…and I can only imagine just how startling that must have been for them…to have Jesus, the man who had been dead…suddenly standing there in their midst…and not only that…but talking to them. (pause)
Now I’ve often times found myself wondering just what Jesus looked like, generally speaking, but also in this specific post-resurrected instance. We don’t get a whole lot of information, but we know that his hands and feet still bear the marks of the nails…and he still has the hole in his side caused by the spear piercing his body…but beyond that, we don’t really know what else might be going on.
Perhaps he has something of a heavenly appearance…maybe it in some way looks like the transfiguration when his divine presences was shining through the human side…again we don’t know…but scripture does tell us in different places that there was a change…there was something different about him…and through the resurrection, Jesus took on the form that our bodies will have when we join in the resurrection…Still apparently human…yet different at the same time.
And so, with this difference…whatever it might be, Jesus is still here, among his friends…among those that he loves…and his first words are quite interesting…Peace be with you…or if we take the Greek quite literally…Peace to you…and there’s a couple of significant things about this…first off, his words are not quite what history would make us expect…for in almost every instance throughout scripture, when an individual encounters some sort of heavenly being…typically an angel…the experience seems to be terrifying for them…and across the board the being’s first words are always reassurance…Fear not…or Do not fear…or Do not be afraid…and so it seems that in those instances, the angel is addressing the immediate emotional state of the individual…and here’s the thing…we’ve just heard that the disciples gathered in that room are terrified…they’re scared…and that’s why they’ve got the doors locked…but Jesus doesn’t tell them “Don’t be afraid.” He tells them “Peace to you.” And not just once…but he repeats himself…and as we’ve discussed before, when something repeats in the scripture, its usually pretty important to take note.
“Peace to you.” He says it twice here to the disciples on Easter evening…and then a week or so later when he appears again…this time with Thomas present…he says the very same thing within the very same situation…Peace to you.
And if the example of angels teaches us that individuals receive reassurance based on their current emotional situation…then just what is Jesus trying to tell us with this statement…repeated over and over again…Peace to you. (pause)
Are the disciples concerned that he is angry or disappointed in them? Perhaps…after all, just a few days prior they’d all abandoned him…even denied him publically…not exactly a great final impression on their master…not to mention Thomas’ apparent lack of faith here within the story…and so is Jesus telling them to be at peace because he’s not upset with them? Well maybe…but I think there might be a little something more than that going on.
Because there’s another word that seems to come up over and over again…not only in this reading today…but all throughout John’s gospel. Believing…you might recall hearing it before, but in John’s gospel sin is failing to believe that Jesus is God…that’s it…and we even hear it in today’s passage that all of these things have been written down so that we might believe…that like Thomas we might go from being anti-believing to believing…and by believing that truly Jesus is Lord…that God has put on flesh and dwelled among us…that it is truly possible to be in relationship with God…that’s what this is all about…and in the end…that was the mission of Jesus in the first place…to make this relationship between God and humanity a possibility again…because that perfect relationship had been broken by the power of sin in this world.
And because of that broken relationship…because of the presence of sin in the world…we needed a renewed sense of peace between us…between God and Humanity…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what Jesus is talking…maybe that’s what Jesus was really accomplishing as he hung on that cross and uttered his final words It is finished…and with this work completed…that peace was now possible…and when Jesus appears in that room in the midst of the disciples…flawed men that they were…and he says “peace to you”…well maybe what he’s really saying is that there is now peace between God and humanity…peace and relationship where there had been division. (pause)
But you know what…there’s still more to all of this…because while the resurrected Jesus did stay here on Earth for a time, we also know that eventually he ascended into heaven…and so perhaps it seems like this newly established peace…this newly established relationship is again broken because he’s not here anymore…but Jesus did something about that as well…and we see that in today’s story as well.
For Jesus reminds us that just as the Father sent him into the world…he is now sending us into the world…and with that he breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples…the very spirit of God…is within us…and that same spirit binds us all together…thoughout the ages and throughout the world, this same Spirit of God has been present, uniting us all into the one body of Christ here on earth…that’s the church…the physical embodiment of Christ and his love for all of humanity here on Earth in his absence, empowered and untied by the Holy Spirit. (Pause)
And here’s the really awesome part of all this…when we stop and think about how we receive the Holy Spirit…and its in the very same way that Jesus did…for in the waters of his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven and rested upon Jesus…and likewise, we have been given the promise that in the waters of our baptism, we receive this same spirit.
And today, in just a few moments, three brothers are going to come up to this font…and one by one Oliver and Eivin and Soren Letnerwill be washed in the water…and they will receive the same promise…and as they are marked with the cross of Christ they will be claimed by God as his beloved children, and empowered with the same Holy Spirit…and they will join in a new relationship…not only joining together in relationship with all of us as fellow members of Christ’s body here on Earth…but joining together in relationship with God as his beloved children…made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is the promise that is given to us in the waters of our baptism…that relationship is made possible…and that it is offered to us…it is given to us…and so today hear the words of Jesus Christ…the risen Lord…when he tells you…when he promises you…when he announces…Peace to you. Amen.

Still Waiting On The Ending-Easter Sunday 4-5-15

In this sermon for Easter Sunday I explore Mark 16:1-8. This is Mark’s account of the resurrection, but it’s abrupt ending and no real resolution seemingly leaves us hanging.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/still-waiting-on-the-ending-4-5-15-easter-sunday

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.
Of the many different things that I spend my free time on, I think it is safe to say that there are two that probably dominate the majority of my attention. Reading fiction…and watching movies. I pursue both of these with equal excitement…because I just love being immersed in a good story…and sometimes, I’m even lucky enough to encounter both mediums of story-telling at the same time. (pause)
I’m talking, of course, of movie adaptations of popular books…and the longer I’ve paid attention, the more I realize that MANY movies are in fact adaptations of some sort. Now some movie adaptations are done really badly…and fans of the original story will pick it to pieces…finding fault with every single aspect that fails to meet their expectations…but then there are other times when the film makers do a REALLY good job, resulting in a movie that really pulls it off…and I love it when I encounter a movie like this.
Honestly, I think its great…to be able to see the characters in the flesh…living out the story that had only existed in print…and in the images within my mind that the printed words help create. Honestly, in my humble opinion…for the most part…a movie adaptation of a good book is almost a positive experience.
But that being said, I’ve noticed a trend in recent years…particularly when movie makers set out to adapt a series of books to the big screen…and this trend is taking the final book of the series…and splitting it into multiple movies…and there are MANY examples I can choose from…The Hungers Games is in the midst of it right now as we wait for Mockingjay Part 2 to hit theaters this November…and a few years back it was the Harry Potter series as we watched Deathly Hallows Part 1 in November of 2010 and then had to wait until the following July to wrap up the story in Part 2.
Now, the theory presented by the film studios…is that the complete story is so big and so important that they really need to divide it into multiple films to be able to convey it properly…and they claim that part 1 is simply the beginning of the end…but we know the truth don’t we? They just want to turn one $300 million dollar payday into 2 $300 million dollar paydays right? (pause)
But you know what…as I’ve thought about some of these situations, particularly as I sat and watched Part 1 in both the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, I wasn’t that upset…because I had read the books…I knew the stories…and sure I was excited about the visual aspect of seeing it up there…but I didn’t mind the anticipation of it all.
But I do remember a time when filmmakers went with the 2 part aspect of finishing up the story when I didn’t know how it was going to end…and it happened all the way back in 2003 with the release of The Matrix reloaded…which cut to the credits right after a shocking reveal of the hero unconscious right alongside of the villain…and then making us wait 6 months to find out how it would all end.
It was SO FRUSTRATING…and they left me sitting on the edge of my seat…with no idea what was going to happen next. Good story telling? Yah maybe…a good marketing technique…absolutely…but at the same time, absolutely maddening in terms of absolution…because there just wasn’t any. (pause)
And I’ll be honest with you…when I pick up the Bible…and I turn to the resurrection stories…I want absolution…because here on Easter Sunday we are coming out of the long dark season of Lent…and this year, at least here in our little community…one that is perhaps even darker than usual with some tough events that have happened recently…and so we look to the gospel…and we’ve come to expect something from it…we’ve come to expect the glorious resurrection…and the appearance of Jesus, resurrected…especially after the darkness of Friday and his torture…and his death…and all day Saturday as we sit in the knowledge that Jesus is dead in the tomb…here on Easter Sunday we want to cue the trumpets…turn on the lights…and experience the joy of seeing the Savior of the World alive once more…
But today…the lectionary plays a bit of a joke on us…and we hear Mark’s account of the resurrection…and Mark, not only fails to give us much in the way of absolution…but Mark fails to give us an ending period…listen again to the way that Mark ends his gospel, here in chapter 16 verse 8…So the women went out and fled from the tomb…for terror and amazement had seized them…and they said NOTHING to ANYONE…for they…were…afraid… (long pause)
This bizzare and uttery abrupt ending of Mark has been a topic of debate for almost as long as the gospel itself has been in existence…Some people believe that the final part of the scroll simply got torn off…and that there was in fact more to the story…so much in fact that within a couple hundred years of the death and resurrection…different “authorities” actually wrote additional endings to Mark…I’m serious…you can find them in your Bible…footnoted as additions of course…But isn’t that crazy…to think that the author of the Gospel simply ends the story like this…seemingly right in the middle of a thought…and certainly without any sort of resolution to the story what so ever.
I mean, COME ON!!! Jesus was dead…there can be no arguing that…and these three women that come to tomb on Sunday morning were there to see it…we hear them named specifically in chapter 15…watching the death of Jesus and watching as his body is placed in the tomb…and now following the Sabbath they head to the tomb…and find the stone pushed away…and there’s no body to be found…for Jesus isn’t here anymore.
No longer is Jesus among the dead…and the women hear from the angel, we also hear the same words….YOU are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified…he has been raised…he IS NOT…here. (pause) And as he told you…he has gone on ahead of you…and you will see him again. (pause)
But we don’t…and neither do the women…and the crazy thing is…that these witnesses to the resurrection…or in the very least…these witness to the empty tomb…run away…and don’t tell anyone. (pause)
And so now we come around to this question once again…what do we do with this? What are we to think about this empty tomb…and this proclamation that Jesus has been raised from the dead…and that he has gone on ahead of us…out into the world?
What do we do with this? How are we…people who have heard this story over and over again all of our lives…joining with 2000 years worth of individuals who have also heard the story and likewise have come to expect to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning…how do we explain this ending…this lack of resolution? (pause)
I’ll be honest with you this morning…if you’re sitting there asking yourself that question right now…and perhaps you’re looking back up at me as I stand here before you today, thinking that I’m going to explain it for you…well, then I’m going to disappoint you this morning. Because these are valid questions…but I believe that they are questions that I CANNOT answer for you…but I will offer you a touch of insight…insight that actually comes from Mark’s gospel…just the opposite end of it. (pause)
Mark Chapter 1 verse 1 reads “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” And according to Mark…the good news of Jesus doesn’t begin with his birth…but it begins right smack dab in the middle of the story, with his baptism and his ministry…and then Mark tells us about his ministry…filled with countless interactions with different individuals who encounter the Lord and are changed…but often times lack the understanding of just how it has happened…in fact Jesus own disciples…the men closest to him fail to understand just what’s going on…and in the end, he is betrayed…and he is tortured…and he is killed…and now today we hear…we don’t see…but we hear that he has been raised and he has disappeared out into the world where we will encounter him again… (pause)
And just as the women were amazed and terrified and I’m guessing pretty confused about this empty tomb…I think we share in this same confusion…Jesus was dead…but he’s not in that tomb anymore…and apparently, he’s not even hanging around it.
Apparently Jesus doesn’t have time to see if we understand it or not…because he’s got work to do out there in the world…and that…is where we go to start to find the answers to these questions that we have…to find the resolution of just what this empty tomb and abrupt halting to the story in Mark means.
We don’t find it in here…I’m sorry we just don’t…we find it out there…in the midst of our lives because THAT is where we encounter the risen Lord…and that means something different for each and every one of us because each and every one of us has a different experience. (pause)
So today, we sit here today…and we do celebrate the proclamation that we have come to believe that Jesus has been raised and he is no longer among the dead…and we rejoice in the promise that he has made that we will one day join with him in a resurrection like his…but in the midst of this, we also realize that the story is NOT over…that the work of God is still happening out there in the world…that we CANNOT simply tidy all of this up in a simple 15 minute sermon that answers every question and covers every contingency.
Rather, we have to go out there…and keep on living our lives…seeing where and when and how the risen Jesus Christ find us in the midst of our lives. (pause)
And I know that there is a lot of ambiguity in what I’ve said…and it hasn’t really resolved anything…but you know what…I think that’s what Mark intended when he wrote those final words…and left us all hanging with the question of “What comes next?”
And so I’ll ask that question…as you leave here today…having heard the proclamation that Jesus Christ is risen…well then…What comes next?
And then I’m gonna be a punk…and I’m not even attempt to answer it for you…because that’s between you and God. I’ll let the two of you hash that out…but I will tell you this…sometimes its just maddening to not know the resolution…and together with God, out there, we just have to live with it…because sometimes…Sometimes…

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