Just A Guy In A Hole 12-3-17

In this sermon from Mark 13:24-37, I explore several themes. We begin the season of Advent, and with it a change in our focus. And yet the passage and theme is still very close to what we’ve seen that past few weeks out of Matthew’s gospel. We live in the tension between anticipating the celebration of the coming Messiah at Christmas, and knowing that this event has already occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/just-a-guy-in-a-hole-12-3-17
(note that at the time of recording, my voice was not in great shape)

You can also read 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

At some point in my elementary school days, I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it happened…my class participated in a project similar to what you might find in a high school year book. We all worked together to decide who would receive each special title…titles like Most Likely to Succeed, or Class Clown. (pause)  My class voted me…wait for it…Most Likely to be Seen on the News Someday. (pause)

Funny enough…it happened, and I wasn’t even out of elementary yet. One day, early in the spring of my 5th grade year, I happened to be home from school as I was feeling a little under the weather…I remember it was a bright and clear spring day…and all of the sudden, my mom called me to one of the windows. She pointed out a column of smoke coming from the vicinity of town…a batch of smoke heavy enough that we could see it from almost 10 miles away.

A moment later the phone rang, and mom answered it…and a minute later we were in the car driving into town, because the fire was happening at our church…and in a short amount of time…the church where I was baptized was destroyed…and of course there were news cameras there to report…which is how I ended up on the news.

Admittedly, this really isn’t something that I should make jokes about, as it was a very serious blow to my home congregation…granted I was too young to really understand the depths of what was happening at that time…but I’m sure those in the generations that came before me felt like their entire world was being rocked in that moment.

Now I wish I could say that this is the only major catastrophe that has befallen my old congregation…but its not…and actually just last week, my small town home church was in the news again when it went public that their former financial officer has been embezzling funds for years…funds in the neighborhood of half a million dollars. And once more, the people there are reeling…trying to figure out how to move forward as their world has been rocked. When their church, and their community is in utter upheaval. (pause)

Today marks a change…as you can see from the Christmas decorations here in the sanctuary and out in the narthex…the presence of the blue paraments and banners…by the Advent Wreath right over there…we’ve entered into a new season…and with  it a new church year. We’ve moved from the year of focus on Matthew’s gospel into the year of Mark…and at the same time we switch our focus away from the long ongoing life cycle of the church through the season of Pentecost into the sense of waiting…the feeling of anticipation of the coming Messiah at Christmas.

But despite the new season and new church year…perhaps things still sound pretty familiar…perhaps it sounds like more of the same as we consider the gospel lesson out of Mark that we’ve shared today…and if it does sound familiar…if it seems pretty spot on with the various readings and themes that we’ve shared in recent weeks out of Matthew, it should…because honestly it’s the same exact setting.

Jesus and his followers are in and around Jerusalem for the pending Passover festival…its his final week of life before his death on the cross…and together, this small group of people has been in and out of the temple…and in one of their trips through the gates the disciples are marveling at the magnificence of the temple and its massive building stones, when Jesus tells them that there will come a day when not one stone will be left upon another…and this freaks them out so much that they ask him “what will be a sign that this is about to happen?”

Same story…and that same sort of result with today’s reading isn’t it? Apocalyptic…end times-ish. Daunting as Jesus gives the instruction to stay awake for no one knows the day or the hour. (pause) Admittedly, when I read this passage at the beginning of the week to begin preparing for today, it caught me off guard. Pentecost is over…its Advent now…we should be looking for the coming Christ child not freaking out over what the end times are going to look like right? And yet…here we are…apparently stuck in the tension between these two events…and I’ve asked myself over and over again…Lord what are we to say about this? (pause)

And pretty soon I found myself thinking about that original question that the disciples asked…which perhaps was not just about “the end times” but was maybe about the destruction of the temple that Jesus had been talking about.

Now the Jewish people are no stranger to cultural tragedy are they…and in Jesus’ day they knew this same reality.  A culture which truly began in slavery…a culture that spent decades wandering as aimless nomads…a culture that scrapped tooth and nail for a land of their own and held it for a matter of a couple generations before it started falling apart and the various superpowers of the day came in and took it over…and keep in mind that the Jewish people have REALLY good memories for history…its vital to their culture…but that’s not the only thing…for their faith is also a central aspect.

And for this people who’s culture is so completely wrapped up in their relationship with God…the temple is vital…the temple is where you go to worship…the temple is where God is…tucked clear inside behind a curtain…but who’s presence is there none the less…and they’ve lost the temple before…the first temple built by King Solomon had been destroyed…and now Jesus is telling them that there will come a day when the most important location in their entire culture will be destroyed again. No wonder his followers found this shocking. That reality would have been devastating for them to experience. (pause)

But you know what, there’s another aspect to consider. Mark’s gospel is the oldest of the 4…but it was recorded decades after the fact…the stories of Christ and his disciples handed down, told from person to person…and by the time Mark was actually recorded…Jesus’ prediction had already happened…and the temple was already gone…utterly demolished by Roman troops as they squashed a Jewish revolt about 40 years after Jesus. (pause)
So we’ve got all kinds of turmoil in the works here. Turmoil for Jesus’ disciples as they hear that the center of their whole worlds will be destroyed.  Turmoil for the original audience of the gospel as they were living in that reality…I can only imagine that for them…it literally seemed like the world was ending…and the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus shares about the powers of heaven being shaken probably wouldn’t have seemed out of line when the physical representation of your faith has been utterly wiped off the map.

I can only imagine that for everyone that hears these words of Jesus…it hits home…living in the midst of events so drastic…so dire…so earth shattering that maybe we ask ourselves “is this the end?” And we shake our heads in disbelief with the feeling that there’s no hope…there’s no light…its all darkness. (pause0
I wonder if that sounds familiar? If you are experiencing something like this that has you shaken to your core…and all hope is gone.  I can’t help but think that if that’s not the case for you…then it is certainly the case for someone you know.

We can hardly turn on the news or open a newspaper or click into our internet browser without hearing about something. Shootings…bombings. Genocide. Tension between nuclear powers. Pain, hunger, sickness. Countless stories and accusations coming to light of public figures who have abused their position of authority for their own gratification at the expense of another person. Storms, fires, we have chaos all over the planet…and often in conversation with other people I hear them say “I think the end times are already here.”

And you know what, maybe they are…maybe they aren’t…but the only thing that we can say is that at some point for some person…the world is rocking them to their core and they feel lost…hopeless…abandoned…and if they look to the heavens and think that there’s some cosmic force out there looking down maybe they place the blame right there…or maybe they just get angry or discouraged and wonder if a word will ever come from on high. (pause)
This is the state that the nation of Israel found themselves in…the prophets had been silent for centuries…the temple system was corrupt…the government were puppets of the Romans…and yet they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah…they longed for the day when God would, once again…dwell among his chosen people…they waited, perhaps in agony…living in the tension of wondering if it would ever come to fruition.

We live in this same tension now today…as the church begins to look forward to the celebration of the Christ child at Christmas…an event that we celebrate and look forward to, but also one that we remember has ALREADY happened. Yes we look forward in Advent but the event which we look to is in the rearview mirror…Christ has already come and when he did he has utterly changed this reality.

But its not perfect yet…and perhaps for those of us experiencing those dark nights of the soul…those moments when hope is lost and we are stuck…it just feels like we are caught. (long pause)

A man is walking down the street and falls in a hole…and the sides are so steep, and that hole is so deep that the man can’t get out…he tries and tries and tries on his own but he’s stuck.  Low and behold, a doctor comes walking by. The man yells up Hey Doc can you get me out of here? The doctor writes a prescription and tosses it down in the hole and he walks away.  Then pretty soon an architect walks by. The man yells up Hey can you help me out? The architect draws up a schematic and tosses it in the hole and he walks away. But then the guys friend walks by…and he yells up Hey its me…can you help me out…and the friend jumps down into the hole next to him.  The guy says What are you doing, now we’re stuck in here together. But the friend says I know…but I’ve been in this hole before, and I know the way out. (pause)

Ever heard the song What a Friend We Have In Jesus? (pause) Life is messy…its hard and it knocks us around…sometimes so much that we can’t see anyway forward…but we have a God who has come to us…where we are…even in the bottom of a hole to show us that there is a way out…there is a way forward…if we can simply believe that there is a God out there who loves us enough to claim us as His own even in the midst of our turmoil.

And God has gone one step beyond that too…and God has given us to one another…because together we are the body of Christ…and so maybe, just maybe, the friend that you’ll find willing to jump down and guide you is sitting right across the aisle right now…just waiting for you to call out of the hole. Amen

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We Are Looking At Now Now 11-19-17

now

This sermon is based on Matthew 25:14-30. This is the parable of the talents, as Jesus reminds us with one lesson (that’s part of a larger teaching) to live our lives today in a way that reflects the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

Note that the overarching theme of this sermon is based on a scene from Spaceballs.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-looking-at-now-now-11-19-17

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

As a person who tries pretty hard to avoid taking things too seriously, I appreciate a good joke…especially when the target is good natured enough to take it. On that note, it probably is no shock to hear that I’m a fan of movies that do this. In my younger years there was a popular movie genre known as spoofs…whole movies that were made to poke fun…to make jokes about existing…and typically quite popular movies.

Now in my opinion, there is no greater example of the spoof movie than Spaceballs…a Mel Brooks classic that pokes fun at the first few Star Wars movies. The whole movie is great, but there is one scene that never fails to make me laugh.

About half through, the bad guys are trying to track down the good guys…but they can’t find them on radar…and so they try searching the home video of the movie itself. Apparently a new technology allows the release of films before they’re even done making them…that’s the first joke.

So they pop in the VHS copy of the movie and pull it up on the monitor and one of the characters is surprised to see themselves projected. They are looking at themselves in that exact instant…and in his surprise we hear this back and forth banter…

What am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie? Now…you’re looking at now sir. Everything that happens now is happening now.  What happened to then? We passed it. When? Just now. We’re at now now. Go back to then. I can’t. Why? We missed it. When? Just now. When will then be now? …Soon.   (pause)

Maybe its silly…but as I think about the overarching setting of today’s gospel lesson, I’m reminded of this scene. If you were here last week, we talked about this…about how Jesus’ words today are part of a larger teaching through 2 chapters of Matthew’s gospel…a long batch of teaching that is a response to the disciples asking the question of when they can expect the end times….what will be the sign of your coming? They might as well be asking that same question…when will then…be now?

Jesus response could have been limited to the very simple statement…no one knows the day or the hour…but instead Jesus gives us A LOT to go on…several separate and yet connected teachings about the unexpected time of his Glorious Reappearing…that the End Times…the Last Days…whatever we want to call it…that’s its going to happen…but it will occur unexpectedly.

This long teaching includes today’s gospel…the parable of the talents. The master is going off on a journey…but before he leaves he calls in three slaves and hands off to each of them something of enormous worth. The parable calls them talents in various amounts…one gets 5…one gets 2…the last gets 1…each according to their ability. Keep in mind that a talent as Jesus is using it, refers to 15 years’ worth of wages for a regular worker. And so all three of these slaves are being handed something incredibly valuable. Interestingly enough the master gives no indication of what to do with it…no instruction…no warning that he’ll be back looking for anything…he simply hands them off and goes on his merry way.

Now you know the story…the first two slaves put their talents to work…we don’t know exactly how…but somehow, they both manage to double the money…the one with 5 makes 5 more, the one with 2, 2 more. Call it what you will…good business…wise investing, whatever…but it seems that they thought it was worth the risk of their master’s property…and through whatever events transpired through the unknown amount of time that the master was away, they each end up with more.

Funny enough…that part of the story, while seemingly positive…is really boring and repetitious…did you notice that? The only thing that changes in the language of that part of the story is the number of talents. Likewise with the master’s response to them in his return. Then the one with 5 talents came forward, bringing 5 more talents saying “master you handed over to me five talents, see I have made five more talents.” His master said to him “Well done good and faithful slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things I will put you in charge of many things; enter in the joy of your master.” And then we hear the EXACT same thing from 2-talent man. Its almost laughable…and its almost boring.

I can’t help but think that we’re really supposed to zero on in 1-talent man…you know 1-talent man. He’s the one who’s scared…the one who’s so paralyzed out of fear…he’s caught up in how he perceives the master…and so he goes out and digs a hole…he hides the talent so that when the master comes around again, he can present it back to him…nothing ventured…nothing gained…but nothing lost.

The back and forth between the slave and the master is telling though isn’t it? I know that you are a harsh man…taking what isn’t yours…helping yourself to that which you did not earn…and low and behold…his judgement of the master is pretty spot on to the judgement that he receives. You wicked and lazy slave.  Take it away from him and give it to the other…and cast him out into suffering. (pause)
That’s the story…and as per usual, we’re faced with the question of interpretation…we’re left trying to make heads or tails of the message that we’re supposed to receive. (pause)

Now admittedly, we could hear a lot things in this passage. Its stewardship time here in the church…and we hear the word “Talent.” So maybe we think about the gifts and talents that we’ve been given in our lives and how we are called to share them in the church and in the world. Ok.   Maybe we hear talents and think about it from a financial standpoint and think its about giving to the church, about making solid financial moves with what we’ve been given, so that when the master returns we’ve got something to show for it. Ok. I don’t think these are wrong…but I think there’s more going on here than what we might pick up at face value.

And on the flip side I fear that there’s interpretations that can get into trouble as well.  We hear that 5-talent guy and 2-talent guy doubled their money and that’s what got them into the good graces of the master…that they had to earn it…that they had to somehow “buy” their way into whatever he’s talking about when he says “enter in the joy of your master.” And since, on the other hand, 1-talent guy didn’t produce anything, he’s cast out.

Make no mistake…we cannot hear this story and think that Jesus is telling us we’ve got earn God’s favor…there is no checklist…there is no scoreboard…there is no money tally…let me be clear. THAT’S NOT HOW THIS WORKS.  This parable is not about anything that we say or think or do or earn that somehow guarantees us a spot in the kingdom of heaven whenever it comes to fruition. (pause)

But saying that raises an important point…remember that Jesus is still teaching his followers that they SHOULD NOT be concerned with the end times…that they should not get all wrapped up in when it happen. We could even stick this into that Spaceballs scene….Jesus when will the end happen? When will then be now?   Soon. (long pause) BUT…NOT…YET.

We hear over and over again, Jesus tells us to be prepared…live right now in a way that reflects the coming of the kingdom…and remember that we have this sense that the kingdom is both now and not yet. That the promises of God are given to us now, even if they haven’t come to completion yet. That we are called to live out the reality of God’s love right here right now…and not only that but that we are called to share that same love with everyone around us…That we are called to risk it…we are called to do something. Not because we have to earn the master’s favor but because the master has already given it to us and we show our gratitude by sharing it with others.

God’s love and God’s favor and God’s grace are for everyone…period. That’s why Jesus said to love God and love your neighbor…and he tells us to do it now.  This theme is all over Jesus’ teachings here in Matthew’s gospel.

You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.  So be salty…be light…now…not just when we you think that someone’s watching and it gets you somewhere. Jesus also tells us don’t worry about tomorrow, today has enough cares of its own.  What do you think he’s saying there? Maybe he’s saying that if you’re wondering when is the right time to follow that little nudge in the back of your mind that tells you “I know what I’m supposed to do or say or offer to this other person.” That if you’re wondering when to do that…today…now.

Because God is going to show up unexpectedly…2 chapters of Matthew’s gospel tell us this over and over again…and maybe just maybe we need to stop looking for Jesus shining in the clouds and huge booming trumpets and angels singing all over the place and realize that God shows up in the face of the hungry…of the sick…of the lonely…that the king that we’re all waiting for and that we’ll celebrate next Sunday on Christ the King…he shows up as we face the reality that I was hungry and you gave me some food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you visited me…for just as you have done to the least of these you have done to me.

God shows up unexpectedly…every…single…day. So are you going to live your lives stuck in the future expectation, wondering how you can be ready…essentially living in the fear that you’ll be turned away? Or are you going to live in the reality that its now….live in the now…and live your life in a way that reflects the glory of the gospel…that God has already claimed you…that the promise is already yours…and that you are a beloved child of God? (pause)
That’s the gospel…and its WAY too good to sit on…or to throw in a hole.  If we learn nothing else let it be this…1-talent guy sat on it…this thing of immeasurable value…because he was too scared to run any risk. (pause)
What are you willing to risk? You’ve been given the best news in the world…that you are loved by the one who made you…are you willing to share that same love with another…are you willing to risk loving the one that’s different…the one who thinks different, or talks different, or looks different…or even the one who we might think isn’t deserving of that same love of God? Are you going to sit on it, or are you going to do something with it? (pause) We don’t act to earn ourselves anything, because we’ve already been given everything by the one who made us and loves us…and not only that, but the one who has invited us to share this same gift with the world…that is why we act…that is why we risk…because at some point the end times are coming…When will then be now? Soon…but not yet. Not until we all do our part to make it happen…not until we live out this moment in a way that reflects the realty of the kingdom…and maybe just maybe when we do that, then ALL the world will experience the joy of our master who loves and adores and treasures every single one of us. Amen.

Be Prepared 11-12-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 25:1-13, I explore an odd parable of 10 Bridesmaids, and the instruction to be prepared.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-prepared-11-12-17

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

Any fellow movie buffs out there will likely agree that there are very few new ideas making it to the big screen anymore. Sequels and reboots seem to make up the vast majority of the box office any more…and this has even started to effect one of the most creative movie studios out there…Disney.

Most recently, we’ve started to see the rash of Disney live-action remakes…taking their popular animated films from years past and through the magic of cgi, bringing them to life. We’ve seen it with Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast…we’ve seen it with Jungle Book. I hear that Dumbo in the works…and so is The Lion King.

Now admittedly, I’m kind of excited about the Lion King…it’s a great movie and they’ve got James Earl Jones to lend his voice to Mufasa again…so you can’t go wrong. But thinking about the Lion King reminds me of just how well Disney has perfected their storytelling. There’s always the hero going on the hero’s journey…there’s always a love interest…and there’s always the villain.

Some might argue that the villain is the best part…or at least the most entertaining…especially when they take the time to explain their grand plan to their lackey’s…who are always portrayed as bumbling or foolish for the purpose of comic relief…and more often than not in a Disney film…this scene is going to involve a dastardly song…and in the Lion King…we hear Scar…awesome name by the way…explain things to his silly hyena sidekicks…with the grand song and exclamation to (sing) “BE PREPARED…” and then one of the hyenas pipes “Yah be prepared…we’ll be prepared…(pause) For what?” (pause)

Scar

Now I can only think that this is a perfect example of where we find ourselves today, here in the final couple of weeks of the church year…and the turn in our texts to all things…apocalyptic…to the theme of the end times. This is the natural theme that emerges every year at this time, as the season of Pentecost winds down…and since Pentecost is aimed at the life cycle of the church following the Ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, it makes sense that we think about what will happen…what will occur…what its all gonna look like. (pause)

Honestly…these are pretty common questions…questions that I bump into pretty regularly as I talk with people…curiosity about what to look for. Or when we think its coming…or is it already here. And you know what, if you have those questions…you’re in good company…because people have been asking those same questions since Biblical Times…wondering about the Day of the Lord…or the Glorious Reappearing…

We hear this theme in the reading today from Amos…and I don’t know about you but it didn’t sound so pleasant there did it? It came up a lot in the years following Jesus’ walking around.  The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians about it 20 odd years after Jesus…knowing that Jesus had promised that he was coming back…but now some believers are starting to die off and Jesus isn’t back yet? What’s that mean?

The gospels addressed it…and while the stories date back to Jesus’ time, the gospels themselves were recorded quite a few decades after the fact…so those audiences had been waiting and wondering. (pause) And not only that…but as we hear…Jesus himself talked about it…and his closest followers…the 12 disciples…the ones who you’d think would be able to understand…well they come up short too. That’s the reason that Jesus tells this story…this parable today…its part of long teaching…one that covers 2 whole chapters of Matthew’s gospel…and it is in response to the disciples asking the very same questions that we are still asking today.

Jesus and the disciples are leaving the temple…and the disciples are impressed at the structure…but Jesus says there will be day when not one stone is left upon another…and after a few minutes of scratching their heads, the disciples ask him “Lord when will this be? What will be a sign of your coming?” They might as well be asking how can we be ready….how can we…be prepared? (pause)

Now as I mentioned…Jesus gives them A LOT to go on here…including this parable about the bridesmaids that we’ve shared today…and what’s interesting about this parable is the switch that we find right at the beginning. We’ve hit a lot of parables in the past few months…and all of them start with Jesus telling us “The kingdom of heaven IS like…” Well today, that’s different…and we hear “the kingdom of heaven WILL BE like…” We switch our focus from present tense to future tense…but in doing so, Jesus lays a doosy on us doesn’t he?

There’s a wedding…and 10 bridesmaids go out into the street to wait for the groom…so that they can join in the wedding procession. Now admittedly, we don’t know a ton about 1st century Jewish wedding customs…but we do know that they were a big deal…and that every in the community was involved in the celebration…and all we can say is that the groom is coming to get his bride and he, along with the rest of the wedding procession, will escort her to his father’s house where they will celebrate. (pause)
And so we’ve got these 10 bridesmaids with lamps. I don’t know why…but they’ve got them…and as we hear we’ve got 5 foolish ones who bring no supplies…and we’ve got 5 “wise” ones who bring extra oil. Now, take note…that these two descriptions aren’t exactly polar opposites…because the original language could call the second set wise, or it could mean shrewd or crafty…so when you hear wise, take that with a grain of salt.

But that being said, we hear of the delay…the groom is late to arrive…so late in fact that all 10 fall asleep, wise and foolish alike…EVERYONE was sleeping when finally…at midnight…when EVERYONE is in the midst of the deepest slumber…this guy that is SO Late, finally shows up…Behold here is the bridegroom.

And in their freshly awoken stupor, the bridesmaids all kinda freak out and try to light their lamps. The 5 foolish ones quickly realize that without oil their not getting much fire are they…and they ask…maybe even demand that the others share their oil…but the wise ones…well as we hear, they aren’t having it. “No, for there will not be enough for you and for us. Go get your own.” And as we hear, the 5 foolish ones run off to do just that. (pause)

Now typically, when I’ve talked about this story with others…I’ve heard the same response…we need to be like the wise ones…we need to be ready…we need to be prepared…and when I hear that my response is just like the hyena in Lion King. Yah we’ll be prepared…wait…for what?

Now some will say that the wise ones were “prepared” because they were ready to wait…but here’s the thing…what if the groom had waited till morning? What if he’d waited longer? It would be light out and they wouldn’t need their lamps would they? What if he’d come earlier before it got dark…same deal right?

And so what are to take from this? That their “preparation” of extra oil was beneficial because of dumb luck? I don’t think so. Maybe all we can really take from this is the sense that the bridegroom is coming, but we have no idea when its going to occur.

In this story we hear that he shows up late…but right before this, Jesus uses an example where the master shows up early…unexpected both times…but zero sense of when or how…and that’s the tricky part about trying to “prepare ourselves” for the end times…for the glorious moment when Jesus will come again.

Because I fear when we start down that road…we all fall into the trap of creating the checklist…what do I have to do? What do I have achieve…or what do I have to avoid in order to KNOW, that I’m okay…that I’m good to go. We all do it don’t we…and we can call it whatever we want…though self-justification is a pretty good lable…as we get stuck in the trap of thinking I’ve got it together…because as long as I follow “the rules” I know I’m safe…or maybe we compare ourselves to someone else when we think well I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not that bad.

That’s the trap…and its based on fear isn’t it? I’m afraid that I’ll be left out…and I want to be assured that I won’t be…Did you notice that all 10 bridesmaids got stuck in the same trap?  The 5 foolish ones were afraid that without a lit lamp…without oil to burn, the groom would turn them away…and so they literally ran away from him as he was arriving in order to complete the checklist.  And the 5 wise ones…did you notice that they had same fear. “If we give oil to you there won’t be enough for you and us.” They might as well have been saying that if we help you, we’re afraid that we won’t have our checklist done, and we’ll be left out too. (pause)

Its funny…Jesus tells us “Keep awake” but all 10 of them were sleeping weren’t they? (pause) Here’s the thing…and I know I’ve said it before…and I’m sure I’ll say it again. There is no checklist…there is no cosmic scoreboard…there is no indication that you’ve done enough or said enough or completed enough…that’s not how this works.

And maybe for those 10 bridesmaids, instead of operating out of fear that the groom would reject them because they weren’t ready, and instead they had taken the time to look the groom who had already arrived…maybe they would have found that groom was gracious…that the groom simply wanted them all to come along…and that the light of 5 lamps was more than enough to light the way for 10 people. Maybe, just maybe “being prepared” simply meant that they were there to greet him when he showed up.

So what’s that mean for us, here in the 21st century…as we are still waiting? How are we prepared? If there’s no checklist…then how do we respond to this? And maybe, just maybe the only thing we can take from this is to know that whenever it happens…whenever the bridegroom arrives looking for you as an individual, all you can do is rely on the promise that the groom wants you to come along into the banquet.

We wait for the second coming when the entire world will know that he’s come back.  We wait with anticipation and we trust in the promise that through Christ God has claimed us…that invitation has already been extended. And we live each day secure in this promise…whether we see Jesus in the cloud today, or tomorrow, or next week or next year…or if something else happens to us in the meantime.

I can only imagine 1 week ago…those 26 people who had gathered together for worship in Sutherland Springs Texas…those 26 people who gathered to offer up their praise and thanksgiving…the last thing they expected was death…and yet I believe that in that moment, tragic and horrific as it was…the groom showed up for them…just as he has promised to show up for each us as our life ends.

Maybe being prepared simply means believing that no matter what happens, that promise is true…and in the meantime, living out today in a way that reflect that promise to everyone else.  Jesus reminds us to love God and love our neighbor…and he also reminds us that whatever you have done for the least of these, you have also done for me.

We don’t earn our invitation into the banquet…its given to us…and that’s news worth sharing with the world through our words and our actions, so that we might mirror God’s perfect love for all the world. Amen.

2 Sides to the Same Coin 11-5-17

In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, taken from 1 John 3:1-3, I explore the promise made by God, through Christ, that have been claimed as God’s children now. One day we will see what this means for us in the eternal sense, but we cling to the hope now.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/2-sides-to-the-same-coin-11-5-17

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’ve often found that scientific concepts can be explained in one of 2 ways…the really technical way that is difficult to understand…also known as the hard way…and then…the easy way.  An example…Newton’s third law of motion states “all forces between two objects exist in equal magnitude and opposite direction.” The hard way…now the easy way…every action has an opposite reaction…I think I like the easy way better.

As I think about this…it points me in the direction of thinking about how there are a lot of opposites in the world…a lot of things that seem to have a counter-part on the other side of the line…almost like saying that there are two sides to every coin.

I think this is the case, not only in the world…but in life too…that there are events or situations that happen in life that that seem to have an opposite counterpart…some of which are celebrated here in the church…and perhaps the most fitting pair of opposites that comes to mind is how we celebrate both new life, particularly in terms of the baptism of an infant here in the font, and we also recognize the end of life through funerals.

Now this idea certainly ties in with the theme of the day…All Saints Sunday…when we take the time to stop and remember the individuals who have died over the course of the past year…as we consider those who have come before us in life, and gone on ahead of us into whatever it is that lies on the other side of death.

Now death is an odd aspect of our existence…one that we acknowledge…but that admittedly we don’t give a whole lot of focus within the church year.  Out of the countless worships services that we share every year, week in and week out, not to mention the special services on certain holidays…there are only 3 that really zero in on death.  Ash Wednesday when we are reminded of our own mortality. Good Friday when we remember the death of our Lord Jesus.  And today…All Saints Sunday. (pause)

Now to consider death is also to consider funerals…the worship services we have to commend the individual into the care of the Lord…and many of you sitting out there today have likely had the opportunity to hear me preach at a funeral before…but if you haven’t, you should know that there’s a question that I pose each time. Why are we here?

I pause for a moment and then I answer the question with a two-fold answer…an answer that probably seems to come off as 2 sides of the same coin. We gather at funerals to mourn the death while at the same time to celebrate the life of the individual.

Now as we think about that, perhaps we begin to see that those two aspects of a funeral each have their place within the context of those different “death oriented days” in the church year.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we tend to be pretty focused on the mourning part…while the general idea of All Saints Sunday is to celebrate the life and the witness of those who have come before us, and now have gone on ahead of us past that great unknown barrier known as death. (pause)

This is now the 5th time I’ve celebrated All Saints Sunday with you here at Underwood…and as I think back over the years, I remember the names that have been read as the candles were lit. 19 people over the course of the past 5 years…and as I think about those names, I remember the relationships that center around each of them…and I think about the way things felt around their death…and I imagine that it goes without saying that each one of them is a little different.image1

Take for instance…Gladys Carrigan…she’s the first candle over there today…I think about her death, one year ago today actually…and the circumstances that surrounded that wonderful 104 year old woman. Several people asked me how she died, and I could only respond…well she was 104.  Her funeral was a wonderful celebration of her life, I think any who were there would agree. But hers is not the only candle there today. (pause) There are 5 others. I look at them, I think about the names that will be read when we reach that part of our service in a few more minutes. (pause)

And then I look at the final candle, the one that we will light as we share the name Marcia Hastings…Marcia died just last week…with the news slowly trickling out…news which is painful to consider. News that some of you know, but that I fear will catch many of you by surprise to hear that Marcia took her own life…and it is in this shocking and painful news that we remember the truth about death.  That no matter how it happens…no matter what the circumstances…death just feels…somehow…wrong.  (pause)

If there is one truth that unites every instance of death…a truth that perhaps compounds this sense of wrongness…it is that death somehow creates a barrier…a separation between those of us still in this life, and those who have gone on to whatever it is that lies on the other side. (pause)

We never know how or when this painful truth will strike us…as those of us still in this life feel the sting of absence…even as we cherish the memory of those we have loved and lost…and yet this is our reality…one that goes beyond our ability to comprehend. (pause)

But as we must do…when we come face to face with death, we cling to the promise of new life made possible by God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…a promise which is given to us right here, right now…a promise that grants us hope in the midst of the lives that we live…and a promise which be made new in whatever lies beyond the barrier of death…yet to be revealed to us.

This is the hopeful promise that is given to us repeatedly in the short reading from 1 John today…an assurance of who we are now…or perhaps more importantly, Who’s we are today.  (pause) We are reminded that out of God’s great love for us…out of God’s delight, we are claimed…and we are called children of God…and that is what we are.  And if we didn’t quite catch it the first time, John repeats it for us…Beloved…we ARE God’s children NOW.  This is the promise made real for us in Jesus Christ, that through him we are made heirs of the promise…we are claimed and given this same birthright.

The only question is what that’s going to look like in the life to come…and the author recognizes this ambiguity…we are God’s children now…what we will be…has not…yet…been…revealed…but when it is revealed…we will be like God, for we will see him as he is…We won’t BE God…but we will be like him, for the broken parts of us will be stripped away and we shall see that we are all truly made bearing God’s divine image. (pause)

The promise of the life to come, whatever its going to look like gives us hope to live our lives today, on this side of death…in a way that reflects the joy and the love of God in each one of us. And this is what we must cling to in the face of pain and brokenness and death…because of the assurance that somehow, someway…through Jesus Christ and his perfect love for each us…God has overcome that which is so WRONG about death. (pause)

Today we acknowledge those who have come before us…we remember those who lived their lives in the hope of God’s promise…and we remember those who now have crossed over into whatever it is that we can’t see yet.  We acknowledge the joy of their memory…we acknowledge the pain of their absence…and above all…we cling to the hope given to us now…that through Christ, we will one day experience what they already know to be true. Amen.

Different is Shocking 10-29-17

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In this Reformation Sunday sermon, I explore John 8:31-36 as Jesus reminds us that the boxes that we create for ourselves are insufficient for salvation.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/different-is-shocking-10-29-17

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

Patterns are a wonderful thing…and they bring a sense of familiarity and often, predictability along with them. An example is the tendency for certain people to show up here in the church at predictable times. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but one of the things that I’ve come to recognize is that on Thursday afternoons…usually right about the same time that I’m getting ready to head out and get my kids at school, our very own Julie Larson is going to show up for some light altar guild duties…namely…she’s here to tend to the altar candles. Sometimes we overlap, sometimes I’m already out the door…but it happens often enough that I hear the front door open as I’m sitting in my office and I know who it is…and that about 10 seconds after I hear the front door, Julie will poke her head around and say hi as she’s walking into the sanctuary.

This, of course, was the case this past Thursday. Julie walked in as I was wrapping up…and she was still in the process of candles when I left…and so…when I walked into the office on Friday morning…and did my customary glance through the Sanctuary windows…I did a double take…I was shocked to see the change from the green paraments over the red for today.

Now any time the paraments change it catches my attention…but this time its probably safe to say that it shocked me a little more than normal…because they haven’t changed in a really long time. We’ve been in the season on Pentecost…which features the color green…and is also the longest season of the church year…and so there’s been no change in color since the beginning of June…almost half a year has gone by…no wonder I did a double take when things looked differently in here…I said it a minute ago, and I think it’s a good way to describe my reaction to the change…shocking.

Now…today is of course…Reformation Sunday, that’s why everything is red…and its big one isn’t it. This year is 500 years…we celebrate today on the last Sunday of October as we always do…and the actually anniversary is in just a couple days…we’ve been talking about it all year…but really, its safe to say that our tradition gives the Reformation a lot of emphasis…we even named ourselves after the guy who started it with a hammer and nail and 95 ideas for reforming the church.

Now that event in itself, was shocking enough…and the ripples have spread across the world over the course of the past 5 centuries…now for us its old hat…old news…familiar…but just think about how shocking it must have been for those who were alive at that time…that this upstart professor from backwater Germany was pushing back against Rome and the pope…that he dared challenge the authority…that he challenged the way things have ALWAYS been done.

Interestingly enough…Luther’s experience…and perhaps, the basis for his important work…well it stemmed from a shocking experience as well…and no I don’t mean the fact that he was almost struck by lightning in his younger years, though that would certainly be shocking…pardon the pun…but rather…in his study of the scriptures…Luther’s mind was blown…his world was rocked…when he stumbled across the passage from Romans that we shared a moment ago…and the verse “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  His view of a judgmental God that was waiting to strike us all down for our sins was blown out of the water as he recognized the free gift of God’s grace through Christ…shocking for him to say the least…and something that I think served as his metaphorical, or perhaps, spiritual 2×4 upside the head.

Change is shocking isn’t it? A change in decorations or color like here in the sanctuary. A change in tradition like Luther instigated through the Reformation…and also, the apparent shock that comes around when Jesus challenges the thought process of his audience in today’s gospel. (pause)

Now this brief reading out of John 8 is featured every year on Reformation Sunday…as Jesus reminds us about the importance of continuing in his word…or sometimes we hear remaining…or abiding…a common theme in John’s gospel…one that we hear many different times and in different settings.

And interestingly enough…the setting of this exchange between Jesus and some of the Jewish elite is a perfect example…but we’ve got to back up to the beginning of chapter 7 for things to start making sense…and as we look back, we learn that Jesus is in Jerusalem in order to celebrate one of the Jewish festivals…something that they did multiple times a year in their tradition…and this particular time, its for the festival of booths.

The whole setting of this festival is interesting…it lasts 8 days…with a Sabbath day at the beginning as everyone collectively rests…and then there’s another big Sabbath day at the end…and throughout the course of the entire festival…everyone is living in a booth…or a little tent that they’ve constructed in and around the city. The purpose of this festival was two-fold…first to celebrate the harvest in the fall…not unlike our Harvest Festival in November…but then as with all of the Jewish festivals…there was a sense of remembering the past…and in this case, God had instructed the Jewish culture to have this celebration every year to remember the 40 years of wandering as their ancestors lived out these years living in their tents…and not only that…but to remember that during that entire time of wandering…God dwelled among them…God, abided in their midst.

This is the festival that has JUST happened prior to today’s reading. One night has passed and Jesus is still in the city…hanging out in the temple courts…teaching and preaching as he often does. And because of his words…because of the truth that he’s been laying out…we hear that many of the Jews in his audience have come to believe in him…and with that, we hear his instruction of abiding in his words…and how this truth will set them free.

Cue the shocked look on the faces of these brand new believers…Wait a sec Jesus…we WILL be free? We’re descendants of Abraham…we’ve never been servants to anyone…what do you mean we will be free? (pause)
Now I can’t help but chuckle at this, because apparently these individuals…who are all members of a culture that places ultimate value on their history and their cultural identity which is tied intimately into past events…they seem to have forgotten that the vast majority of their history found them conquered and controlled by one ultimate political power of the day…the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Persians and Greeks and Romans.

These people seem to forget all of that history because they are completely stuck in the connection that they hold as descendants of Abraham…and the promise of God’s covenant made so many years before. For them…this is the ultimate distinction…and the thing that they place all of their stock in…as if to say that there’s a box…and if you fall in that box you’re good to go…but if not then you’ll somehow be found lacking. (pause)
I can’t help but find this almost laughable…they’ve just been celebrating God abiding among his people in a spiritual sense…but yet they fail to fully recognize that God has chosen to abide among his people in the physical sense…and even more specifically, that this God in human form…this Word of God made flesh was standing right in front of them talking to them.

Because to fully recognize this…and to fully accept his word and his teaching is to say that the box they had created…the connection to Abraham…their culture…to recognize that this distinction isn’t good enough…that’s downright shocking…it seems to be a tripping point for them that they just can’t get past.

And as I consider this, I can only think that its serves as an example for us as well…that somehow, someway every single one of us will come face to face with a tripping point…with a stumbling block, at some point in our lives…even in the midst of our lives of faith…perhaps even because of it.

Jesus says if you abide in my word you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  It seems that on that day, for these particular people…the truth that was revealed was that their cultural identity earned them zero points as far as justification goes. Their Jewish distinction got them nowhere…and it blew their minds to the point of being unable to continue following Jesus…which we hear if we continue on through the narrative.

And I find myself asking the same question…when we come face to face with the ultimate truth of God made flesh in Jesus Christ…what misconceptions…what falsehoods that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking give us the edge, will be brought to light for us to see?

Will it be the distinction of our American freedom?  Will it be our upper European Lutheran heritage that we celebrate today on Reformation Sunday…that idea that we’ve got all this theology and tradition figured out and everyone else has it wrong? Will it be our insistance that we don’t actually need God and that we alone are in control?

What is it that is revealed with THE LIGHT shines in our darkness? (pause) I can only think that when we face whatever truth shocks our fragile illusions, we will be left as bare as those individuals who couldn’t get past their cultural identity.  And when we come face to face with a truth that shocks us beyond measure…our only hope is to cling to the words of Christ…to remain there…to abide there in the midst of the promises that he has made…and here’s the thing…he promises us that if the Son makes you free…you are free indeed…and that because of what God has done through the death and resurrection of Christ…because of the proclamation that He has claimed you as his beloved child…the promise is yours that you will abide in his house forever.  (pause)
Here in the Lutheran church…we’ve spent a lot of time looking backwards at the last 500 years…clinging to our culture and tradition…and this is not a bad thing…but we must learn the same lesson that Jesus revealed to the Jews who were stuck in the same state…that now things have changed, and let us seek out how to live into the unknown future as we cling to the hope of God’s promises for each of us…let us remember the importance of what God has said about us…as we move into the next 500. And not just that but as we move past the last 2000 years, and not only that but as we move past all the years that have come and gone since time began and remember that God’s promise is to love us and claim us today and tomorrow and forever. And that this is true for us despite the brokenness that we all feel, shocking though it might be…let us abide in that. Amen

Say It Plainly 10-22-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 22:15-22, I explore an odd little encounter with Jesus and the elite over the subject of taxes. Jesus, as per usual, takes their trick and turns it on its ear.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/say-it-plainly-10-22-17

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 did some organizing in my office…I went through stacks of papers that had piled up…files that had accumulated…I moved some pictures and decorations around…and I took a look at many of the books that I’ve pulled into my ever-growing library. And I came across one book that I had to get very early on in my seminary career…The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms…a “handy” little book with “Over 300 terms clearly & concisely defined.”

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As I glanced through this book, I came across A great deal of fancy terminology…many of which I tend to call the big fancy 50-cent seminary words that perhaps don’t mean much…words like Eschatology…Hermeneutics….Paradigm, just to name a few…now when I was in school, I heard these words get thrown around a lot…and most of the time, I didn’t really know what they meant, and to be honest I didn’t really care.

But as I thought about it a little more I began to realize that here at the congregational level, we’ve got some fancy language of our own…words or names that are, perhaps, pretty foreign to anyone new that might come in our doors.  Words like…chancel…that’s the fancy name for the area up here in front of the altar…I could probably just say the front.  Or what about…Narthex…if you don’t know that one…it’s the area where we all gather out there…you know like the lobby…There’s another one that I kinda laugh at…Hymnal…its that green book with all the songs in it…someone might call it a song book…which wasn’t lost on whoever put together our supplemental red hymnal…go ahead, pull it out and look at the cover…its right there in the title…the Other…Song Book. At least they knew what was going on.

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As I think about these things…all this fancy terminology…50-cent seminary words…insider church language, there are times when I think that it would be easier if we just said what we mean…if we just used plain language that everyone understands…if we would just…say it…plainly…and I can’t but think that today’s gospel features Jesus doing just that. (pause)
Now before we jump in, we need to review just a bit…over the course of the past 4 weeks-worth of Gospels, Jesus has been teaching in parables…which of course he did on a pretty regular basis…and while the intention of a parable is to illustrate some difficult idea or concept in a way that is familiar, we see that often times his audience fails to grasp what’s he’s trying to tell them and they ask him to explain…once even going so far as saying “Tell us plainly…”

I can’t help but think we’re starting to see this today with the encounter that Jesus has with the powers that be.  Now if you’re familiar with the narrative, Jesus is in Jerusalem…and over the course of about a week, following his arrival, he’s in and out of the temple teaching…and as we’ve heard over the past few weeks, continuously butting heads the big wigs, mostly the religious elite, but here today some of the political ones as well.

For the past 3 Sunday’s we’ve heard parables from Jesus that have pointed out the shortcomings of these individuals…the failures of those entrusted with the leadership of the Jewish people…the hypocrisy that seems to dominate their actions and words, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not…but yet still there.

But now…it seems that Jesus is ready to cut the parables…to stop using illustrations and metaphor…and start…speaking…plainly. And I can’t only think that it’s a bit of knee-jerk reaction when he hears some very thinly veiled flattery coming his way.

Now his opponents think they’re pretty crafty…and they’ve come up with a scheme that will surely create problems for Jesus. But they’ve got to lower his defenses before they spring their trap…and so we hear… (lay on the sarcasm) Teacher…we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth and show deference to no one, for you do not regard people with partiality…

I can only imagine, but it stands to reason that just hearing this…Jesus’ hackles are probably up aren’t they? Because he catches on as they lay out the trick question…What do you think…is it lawful to pay the tax to Caesar or not? (pause)
Truly their craftiness is beyond measure…this will get him…You see, the Jewish people hated paying Romans taxes…it was a slap in the face that they had to pay to support the very people who were oppressing their culture…and so no self-respecting Jewish person liked these taxes…and so if Jesus says yes, he’ll lose credibility with the crowds…but if on the other hand…Jesus says no, that we should not pay the tax…well the Herodians, who represent Herod…who in turn really represents Rome…well then that’s gonna land Jesus in hot water from a legal standpoint.

But Jesus isn’t falling for it is he…and here’s the point where he switches from parables and illustrations to just calling a thing what it is…or in this case…calling them what they are. Hypocrites.

They don’t care about loyalty to Rome verses loyalty to the Jewish culture…and they sure as heck don’t care about the law, even as they pose the question…is it lawful. And we see this because Jesus points it out in a way that he seems REALLY good at doing in these different encounters that happen throughout the gospels.

Now the tax in question cost a coin…a denarius…a commonly used bit of currency in Jesus’ day…the normal payment for a day’s worth of labor…a coin that everyone there would have been familiar with…one that they all would have used…

Now we know what a denarius looks like…archeologists have found them, you can find pictures…and we know that the face on the coin was Caesar Tiberius…the son of the great Caesar Augustus…who the Romans understood to be divine…to be a god…and so the face of Tiberius was the face of the son of a god…and the inscription that is referenced says the very same thing. Son of the living god.

In short…this coin bears the image and wording of a god, small g, a false god…which is something the Jewish people would tend to call an idol…and something that the Jewish people would call breaking the first commandment….or more specifically, breaking “The Law.” (pause)

And here’s where it gets interesting. As Jesus is trying to make his point…he asks for a denarius…and where does he get one? The very people trying to trap him, reach into their pockets and pull out the coin…the image of idolatry. (pause) Hmm…seems like they’ve already made their peace with breaking “the Law” haven’t they?  Like they’ve fully accepted the rules of the human authority at the time. No wonder he calls them hypocrites as they try to trap him on something they are already doing. (pause)

But there’s something else at play here…something that is perhaps more important…because Jesus never just leaves things with straight up antagonism does he?  Doesn’t it seem like he always manages to reveal something else? Something good…something hopeful?

With his first statement and question revealing who the coin…who the tax belongs to…that being Caesar…he lays this little ditty out there…give that which is of Caesar to Caesar…Give that which is of God to God.

Now we could go round and round with just what that means but let’s keep it simple…that which belongs to Caesar..that which belongs to the realm of human authority…or government…or whatever we want to call it…it bears the image doesn’t it…the coin has his image on it…and Jesus says go a head and give it to him…quit worrying about all this petty human stuff…because when it comes to God, it’s a completely different playing field…Caesar’s stuff is down here (point low), but God’s stuff is clear up here (point high).

So the big question…what belongs to God…what’s created bearing God’s image…and to answer that question we need to take it clear back to the beginning and this cool little blurb from the book of Genesis.  Following the creation of everything else in the world…God says this. “Let us make humankind in our image…according to our likeness…and so God created humankind in his image, male and female he created them.”

Here’s the take away…often times I hear people talk about this passage…specifically this statement of Jesus about giving to Caesar and giving to God…and they use it to point towards the idea of the separation of church and state…or they talk about how its good that we do our part and pay our taxes, or they use it to highlight stewardship and giving to God…but I think the important thing for us to remember is that there are aspects of life that are just that…life…Jesus told them to pay the tax…it was the reality of the day. But he also reminds us that God claims a whole lot more than just taxes…because God places his image upon a whole lot of things. The coin was made bearing the image of Caesar…You are made bearing the image of God…and not only that…but I’m pretty sure that we hear in scripture that the Word was God, and through it ALL things were made…which seems to indicate that God’s concerned about, pretty well everything…and that includes the one which God deemed worthy of being made as a divine image bearer…that’s you.

God made you and God claimed you…period. You don’t need to be anything special…you don’t need to accomplish anything amazing…you don’t have to make yourself better…you don’t need to pass any test or batch of achievements to catch God’s attention. For God’s attention and love is already on you…that’s already done. You belong, now. You are seen now. You are loved…now…as you are…remarkably imperfect…and yet of priceless worth to the one who made you in the first place. God loves you now.  I can’t say it any more plainly. Amen.

Do We Expect the Spirit 10-15-17

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In this sermon, based on Matthew 22:1-14, I explore the parable of the wedding banquet. Do we expect to be changed when we encounter God? Maybe we should.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/do-we-expect-the-spirit-10-15-17

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

Many of you are familiar with the fact that in my former life, or the time before I became a pastor…that I started off my career managing golf courses. During that season of my life, I was employed on the maintenance crew at 2 different courses…the first through my college years, and the second for about 2 years after graduating.

Now as is the case with most things…different golf courses are going to be managed in different ways. The first was larger with a bigger crew, the second had a smaller crew…and this became most evident on the weekends.  Pretty much every course that I am aware of works an abridge schedule on the weekends. It’s the busy time for the course, so the workers show up, perhaps a touch earlier than on a weekday…they do the bare minimum, which is usually mowing the greens and raking the bunkers…and then they get out of the way. This was actually the case at both of those courses. The difference emerged when we looked at when crew members were on weekend duty. The first course offered a rotation…and we were pretty much on duty every other weekend, both Saturday and Sunday…but the second was a little different. A couple guys worked Saturday morning, and a couple of us worked Sunday morning…me included.

Now my boss there knew that I was a church-goer…and given every possibility that I wanted to make it to worship…and typically that worked ok…we’d get done what we needed and I’d have to time to get home, get cleaned up and head to church.

But there was one time that things were a little different…and it happened to occur on the day that one of my nieces was going to be baptized a couple towns over. Long story short…the service would take place earlier than I normally needed to be at church…and we had some extra going on workwise…and I got out, with just enough time to make the mental decision about either stopping off at home to try and clean up…or to show up for the baptism in my grubby clothes. (pause) Long story short, that day I set the record for the fastest I’ve ever gotten ready. In the door, shower, dressed in a full suit, and out the door again in 6 minutes…Now I easily could have shown up for the baptismal service grubby, and no one probably would have cared…but I felt like I needed to be a little more presentable. (pause)

Now that very idea brings me around to the gospel. Another parable…another story told by Jesus to illustrate the importance of our response to the invitation of the Lord into the Kingdom of Heaven…and its an interesting one.

A king is throwing a banquet for his son’s wedding. The invitations have already gone out to the king’s chosen guest list…but for whatever reason…once everything is ready and the king sends his messengers off with the call to show up…everyone on the guest list declines…some offer excuses…some get riled up and literally killed the messengers…the king in turn…he gets all riled up as well, sends out his soldiers to kill the perpetrators and burn down their city…which is lovely to say the least. But then the king tells his servants, go out…and anyone you find, invite them in because this banquet honoring my son…it will be filled…and this is precisely what happens.  And you know its interesting…the king doesn’t discriminate does he…bring them in…the good and the bad. And the wedding is filled.

Now here’s the thing…how many of those people out walking the streets…or working in the fields…how many of them do you suppose were carrying a wedding robe at the time?  (pause) Think about it? Why would they…there’s no reason for them to think on this particular day that the king was going to invite them into a banquet…but if a representative of the king grabs you and says “come to his banquet” you go…period…right then and there…there would be no option of stopping off at home for a 6 minute clean up session so they could arrive with a suit on.

But apparently there are robes aren’t there? There must be…because, as we hear…there’s an issue on this basis…one we’ll talk a bit more about momentarily…and so…it raises the question of just where are they getting the robes?

It stands to reason that the host provides them…that as they come in…they follow social decorum…knowing they need to accept the robe…and the host knows he needs to provide them…and everyone follows decorum…and the party gets going…and the king does a walk through and everything is peachy…until the king lays eyes on this one guy…this guy who has the audacity to NOT…be wearing a wedding robe.

The king asks him why…he of course has no good answer and is standing there silenced out of his guilt in the face of the king and host…and as we hear…there are consequences. (pause)
Now I’ve run over this in my head time after time…and I’ve wondered…what’s up with this guy. He knows the expectations…he walked in with everyone else…he showed up at the party…but when he reached the door and one of the servants offered him the robe…I can only think that he looked at them…checked out his own attire and thought… “Nah…I’m good.” (pause) But considering what ultimately happens…it would seem that no, he’s not good as is…and the change was expected. (pause)
So what’s that mean for us today? What’s this robe? What’s this wedding banquet? What are these expectations that Jesus is trying to broadcast for us? (Pause) I’ve wrestled with these questions quite a bit…because to talk about banquet in the scriptures seems like a pretty obvious reference to the heavenly banquet that we’ve been invited to…and if we proclaim, over and over again…that God invites as we are…and yes I believe that to be true…then what are we supposed to learn from the guy who takes a look at the robe offered by the host and thinks “Nah I’m good.”

Maybe the only conclusion that we can reach is that simply showing up at the banquet isn’t enough…maybe its insufficient to think that we can just be here and then walk out the same as when we walked in.

What are the “clothes” that we might need to change? What are the practices or understandings or ways of thinking that we might be called to set aside? What things might God ask us to take off and set down, so that we might emerge different than when we came in? (pause)

As I think along these lines, I find myself asking an important question…do we, as believers in Christ, enter into situations where God is present expecting to see change? What do we expect? Do we anticipate the Holy Spirit to be active…to blow through and change us? Or do we think that we can just be present for the event…whatever it is…and then walk away as if nothing significant has happened?

Now there are a lot of different events or situations that we could consider…but perhaps the easiest one to think about is worship…do we show up here at 10:15 on Sunday morning with the expectation that there will be something different about us when we walk out at 11:30? Because if we don’t, we are selling the Holy Spirit short in a big bad way. (pause)
There’s something that I do every week that perhaps you’ve noticed…and I’ve been asked about it before…at the end of worship, in the midst of the final hymn…once the acolyte walks out, I step out of my pew and stand in the front of the aisle for just a brief moment…and as I do I say a prayer thanking God for whatever the Spirit accomplished during this worship time…but there’s another thing I do that no one probably notices…at the beginning of worship, right after the organist makes eye contact with me and I’m about to walk up the aisle, I ask for the Spirit to show up…and we never know how that will happen do we?

Sometimes the Spirit shows up when a child asks the perfectly timed question during the children’s sermon…sometimes the Spirit shows up when I sing Jesus Loves Me and the music for offering happens to be the same song…sometimes the Spirit shows up when I’m sermonating about God talking to us in many ways and someone’s phone rings.

These are just a few ways that have happened in this sanctuary…and there are many others, some that are blatantly apparent and some that perhaps we fail to recognize…but I return to the question…what do we expect of the Spirit when we enter into a situation…and do we come with the expectation that we will be changed in the midst of it?

The apostle Paul tells us that if we are in Christ we are new creation…and this isn’t something that we merely pay lip service to…but we need to think of this in the same way that Paul does in the original language…because they way he writes it implies some pretty serious astonishment at play…if anyone is in Christ…NEW CREATION!!!!!!

And we can rest assured that is what the parable is trying to tell us…because throughout the New Testament we continue to hear imagery of clothing ourselves…to be clothed in righteousness…to be clothed in Christ…and my friends this is very sacramental when think about it…for to put on Christ happens in the waters of our baptism when we are empowered with the Holy Spirit…and we are joined together with the body of Christ. And interestingly enough, the last time I preached on this passage one of our blessed children was being baptized in this font.

But this is not to say that the “wedding robe” that we put on only happens once in our lives…but we must remember that every single day…each and every moment we are called to embody the reality of death and new life…something that is literally happening in our very bodies every moment. (pause)

Did you know that in your body…in any given moment about 300 million cells die…and in that same moment, your body gives rise to 300 million new ones to replace them? You are literally dying and rising again during every single instant of your lifetime…and even more amazing…you were intentionally made that way by the one who has made new life possible through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (pause)
God created us to quite literally, become new every moment…so let us live out every day, every moment, every situation in a way that reflects this…let us live our lives in a way that reflects the change that comes upon us through the presence of the Holy Spirit…the presence of God in us and around us.

We cannot expect to remain the same…for to try and remain the same is to deny the very being that God has made us in the first place. Amen.