Remember Whose We Are 6-25-17

This sermon is based on Matthew 10:24-39. Jesus offers the disciples a very candid view of the opposition that they will face in the world, something that applies to us as well.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/remember-whose-we-are-6-25-17

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

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

I’ve been in Underwood 4 years now…this is my 4th full summer here…and I’ve noticed a trend, a rather unfortunately trend for me.  Somehow, I’ve managed to hurt myself through my own unbridled stupidity every…single…summer.

2014, I’ve been here almost a year…and we had our first block party…and I was in the midst of a game of basketball out in the street…while wearing sandals…and I landed wrong. Many of you were here that day when my ankle decided to roll over on itself…and you likely remember the way that I hobbled around following that injury.

2015, late April…a gorgeous morning and I decide I’ll go out for my first outdoor run of the season…and after just a few minutes…somehow, someway I manage to put my left foot through the loop of the shoelace on my root foot…and I faceplant…hard. My wrist takes the brunt of the force, thankfully saving my face…but I tweaked my wrist pretty badly…and broke the screen on my cell phone in the process.

2016…late May. My daughter is trying to figure out how to ride a bike…and after several laps of running beside her up and down our street during my lunch break, I say “Let’s go one more time.” And this time I want to teach her how to use the brakes…which she wasn’t read for yet…and as I keep telling her to stop, we get tangled up together and wipe out…resulting in my bad ankle blowing itself out yet again…and for the next month I was hobbling around again.

2017…last Thursday evening…we’re on a bike ride…and as we cruise along, I get careless and cocky…and I let go of the handlebars…and a moment later, I was on the pavement…once more I took the brunt of the fall on my hands…and so my wrists and one shoulder are still feeling pretty sore…and I scrapped the dickens out of my shin and ankle and sliced open 2 toes…because I was dumb enough to be wearing sandals. (pause)

I swear…it’s a trend…and its getting to the point where I can just about plan on the fact that somehow, right about this time of year…physical activity combined with my own stupidity, which I can only call evidence of my own brokenness…together this is going to result in injury and hardship on my behalf. (pause)

Now keep that in mind…and let’s jump into the gospel. We find ourselves with a continuation of the gospel from last week. If you were here, we heard how Jesus recognizes the need to expand the ministry that he’s been up to…the proclamation that the kingdom has come near to us…the healing of diseases…the casting out of demons…even the raising of the dead…all of this amazing stuff that he’s been up to, and Jesus sees the need to spread out the work so that it will begin to reach more people.

And so he calls his 12 disciples…these guys who have been following him around…learning from him…watching him in action…you could say that he was in the process of mentoring them…and as he calls them, he empowers them to go out into the world and do the exact same work that he’s been doing…his followers are called by name and empowered to be Christ in the world…something that extends out to us as well, as we too, profess to be followers of Christ, called by God in the waters of our baptism…joined together as the body of Christ here on earth.

Well that was last week…but as the story continues…as we continue to move through this portion of Matthew’s gospel…we hear Jesus offering some pretty startling…pretty eye opening…pretty darn depressing views into just what discipleship of Jesus…views into what being a follower of Christ, really means.

We hear all kinds of stuff through this back half of chapter 10. If they insult the master, calling him a demon, what will they do to his followers? There will be condemnation…some will be killed…we hear that they’ll be dragged in front of kings and officials…we hear that there will be division and scoffing…households turning against one another…we hear the need to pick up the cross, like those condemned by the powers of the world…we hear all things and more…and let’s be honest…Jesus isn’t painting a real pretty picture of discipleship is he?

But maybe that’s exactly what we should expect to see when we take on this mantle of Christian…Christ follower…disciple of Jesus. Isn’t that what he faced? Surely, if we are reading the gospels, and particularly the gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus always at odds with the powers that be…he butts up against he religious elite…he butts up against the government…and in the end…these powers of the world…these forces that seem so hell-bent on silencing this invitation into a new way of living…that they trump up charges of insurrection and nail him to a cross.  (pause)
And if Jesus’ words to his followers, both the 12 disciples sitting there that day as well as everyone else who has come along behind in the 2000 years since then…if his words tell us anything, its that we can expect…we can pretty much plan on having the exact same experience that he did…for the servant is not above the master…the student not above the teacher.

Now there are times when I sit and I wonder why this is? Why would the world and those in it have such a reaction against what we have come to understand as good news? The gospel offers freedom and healing…it offers acceptance and love…it offers a new way to simply be in this world that we know…but make no mistake…the powers that benefit in this world…those dark powers that find strength in the exploitation of the weak…that wield their authority over the lowly and the marginalized…over those who are pushed to the edges and are treated like they are less than human….those powers will do WHATEVER they can to push back, or better yet silence that voice that says “there’s a better way…there’s an easier way…a way of acceptance…a way where everyone has a spot at the table…a way where everyone is equal, not only in the eyes of one another, but in the eyes of the one that made them in the first place.”

But to recognize this way…and live within that reality of true freedom, it comes at a cost…and that cost is the power and authority that our broken world has given to the mighty…but if the good news of Jesus Christ tells us anything…its that those that derive their power out of brokenness are destined to crash and burn.

We’ve seen it through history…as empire and after empire has risen and fallen…only to be replaced by something different…by the new superpower…but one by one…they all…fall. (pause) But amazingly, through our history, both that of the Jewish people in the Old Testament, and the early church in the New Testament, and all the way through our own history up till now, we continue to hear the promise that we have a God who is for the lowly…we have a God who stands with those who suffer under oppression…we have a God who sees us, even with our own brokenness…and this God continues to invite all of us…all of humanity…forward into something new.

And so it should come as no great shock, when this earth shattering good news…when this new way of seeing the world and everything in it, continues to stand up against the dark forces still at work in this world. Jesus experienced it…his disciples experienced it…and in our own lives, we experience it in one way or another.

But there is good news here…even in the midst of this stark reality that Jesus reveals today…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny, yet not one falls to the ground without the Father seeing…and you, you are worth many sparrows. (pause)
Our God sees you…right here, right now…in the midst of whatever brokenness you embody. He sees YOU…and God loves you…and God calls you good…and God claims you as his own….for you…are…of… worth.

Truly discipleship…following Christ…comes with cost. There can be no doubt of that…and truly there are still some on the world that know that far better than we do. Yes we experience hardships in this life, but there are many in the world, even today who face many of the exact same hardships that Jesus has described…even to the point of condemnation and death…and yet, the brokenness of the world and the brokenness that lies within each of us, is a reality…and we see that in the ways that we hurt one another…in the ways that we hurt ourselves…and in the ways that we ourselves are hurt. Because the work that Jesus has invited us into…this work of subduing the world…the work of being the light that shines in the darkness, it is not done yet.

And so in the midst of this life, as we experience all that life has to offer, the good and the bad…the blessed and the broken, may we remember WHOSE we are…and like Jasen in just a few moments, as we are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are claimed as Beloved Children of God…and that is an identity, that is a truth that NOTHING can overcome…for I am convinced that NOTHING in all creation can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus….nothing…not hardship…not insult…not division…not even death. So remember when struggles come your way, and they will…remember WHOSE…you are. Amen.

We Get To Work 6-18-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 9:35-10:8, I explore the work that Jesus is up to in the world. He’s bringing about the reality of the kingdom of Heaven, and as his followers, we are invited into the very same work.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-get-to-work-6-18-17

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

The phrase “mountain-top experience” has become synonymous with those events in our lives that are just big…those things that are rare or deeply meaningful…those times that sear themselves in our memory. I’ve had several in my lifetime. My wedding day and the birth of my kids are great examples. Another one was sharing in holy communion, quite literally on top of a mountain during one my annual trips to Colorado. My graduation from seminary was a big one…and one more…my ordination day on June 16th 2013…this past Friday marked the 4-year anniversary of that day…truly a mountaintop experience for me.

That was a wonderful day, but it preceded my start date here in Underwood by a couple of weeks…and immediately following my ordination, we actually headed back up to the Twin Cities, where we were still living…and interestingly enough, since school was already done and I had some free time on my hands prior to moving, I spent the next week after my ordination volunteering at our church in the Cities…helping out with the opening and closing assembly for their Vacation Bible School. VBS had a kingdom theme that year and so I was portraying a character known as King Humperdink…but since Humperdink is kind of a difficult name for small kids to remember, over the course of the week my name morphed slowly into King Hobodog Dude. (pause)
Now interestingly enough, on the first morning, I can remember having a conversation with the other guy that I was working with. We didn’t know each other at all prior to that day, so as we talked he discovered that I had just been ordained the previous day…and he said “Oh wow…so I guess its ‘Pastor Scott’ isn’t it?” (pause) And thinking back on that, I realize that my first ministry work as “Pastor Scott” was volunteering to make kids laugh as King Hobodog Dude…but more importantly, that the 2 weeks that I thought I had between that mountaintop experience of my ordination and the beginning of my work in ministry were non-existent…and the work was starting as soon as I came down off that mountain.

Now in similar fashion…the narrative that we have of Jesus’ life and ministry in the gospels is full of mountaintop experiences as well…and in his case…pretty much all of them occurred when he was, quite literally, on a mountain. The sermon on the mount…that one is right there in the name…the long sermon that begins with the familiar passage of the beatitudes and his words about those who are downtrodden…those who are broken and suffering, and how they will be somehow lifted up.

There’s other mountaintops for Jesus as well…the transfiguration…his night of prayer and betrayal in the garden was on top of the mount of olives. The great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel is on a mountaintop…and even the crucifixion took place on the pinnacle of a small mountain outside the city of Jerusalem.

All of these big momentous events that are so memorable out of the gospel narrative…but interestingly enough, we don’t see a whole lot of Jesus’ ministry work happening in those spots do we? (pause) The ministry…the work, that happens in the valleys between the mountains…and with just a little bit of searching, we see that work typically kicks in as soon as he comes down.

Take for instance, the rather lengthy Sermon on the Mount…no sooner does he come down off the mountain, then he encounters a man with leprosy…and the man is cleansed…and then a Roman officer comes to him, speaking of a beloved servant that is sick, and the servant is healed…and then Jesus ends up in Peter’s house where he restores Peter’s mother in law to health…and he casts out demons from 2 men, sending them into a herd of swine, and then the lame are made to walk, and to top it all off, Jesus raises a little girl from death…and throughout all of this that has been going on since Jesus walked down off that mountaintop experience, he’s been sharing the good news that the kingdom has come near.  That’s what he’s been up to in the early days of his ministry.

And this is exactly where today’s story starts isn’t it? Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. (pause) And as we hear, he’s attracting quite the crowds…and when he looks upon them, he is moved to compassion for they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd to guide them and protect them. (pause)

Now that’s an interesting way to describe the people in the crowds isn’t it? Harassed and helpless…you might also call them troubled…or wounded…or lost…and to say that are with a shepherd is to compare the people to a sheep who is wounded and helpless and afraid…just waiting for a predator to come in for the kill…it seems that they are in a state of brokenness…that whatever it is that troubles them…whatever it is that has them downtrodden and oppressed…whatever their individual situation is, they are broken and lost…they are in need of liberation from what hinders them…they are in need of healing of whatever ails them.

And Jesus…God in human form…looks upon them with compassion. Not distain…not irritation…but compassion and love. And when I consider this state of compassion that Jesus experiences for the lost sheep of the world I am reminded of the words of our most famous Psalm…the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Jesus sees sheep without a shepherd…and Jesus…God…gets to work…and this work…this ministry begins with the proclamation that the kingdom has come near…but then Jesus goes another step to show us just what that looks like…liberation from what enslaves us…and healing from what ails us…whatever the brokenness is, Jesus enters into it, and somehow, someway…in ways that go far beyond our ability to understand, Jesus…God…does something about it. (pause) And the same promise is made for us…for like the people that day, we all experience brokenness…and it manifests itself in so many different ways…but make no mistake, its there in the lives of all of us, and to claim otherwise is to deceive yourself…but remember that God sees your brokenness…God meets you there…and God works to free you from it, to heal you from it. (pause)

But here’s the thing…it’s a great big world out there isn’t it? And its full of broken people in need of the good news…in need of news that liberates and heals…and Jesus knows it…and so what does he do? Well, he brings in reinforcements…calling the 12 disciples by name…he empowers them and sends them out with a mission. (Pause) Did you catch what that mission is?

As you go, proclaim the good news that the kingdom has come near. If they are sick, YOU heal them. If they are dead, YOU raise them. If they are lepers, YOU cleanse them. If there are demons, YOU cast them out.

Jesus calls his followers by name, he empowers them, and he sends them out to do exactly the same thing he’s already been doing. The mission of the disciples is to multiply the work of the kingdom that Jesus…that God in human form is already up to. (pause)
Now here’s the cool part. Keep in mind that Jesus summons the 12…he calls them to him…and they are called by name…and as he calls them he empowers them…now does that sound familiar? I don’t know about you but it sounds an awful lot like baptism doesn’t it? A time when we as individuals are called by name, are claimed by God, and are empowered with the Holy Spirit to join in the body of Christ…to join in the work that God is up to in the world.

And if the work that Jesus gave the to the 12 that day was the same work that he’d already been doing, well then it stands to reason that our mission is the same. Where there is sickness, offer healing. Where there is bondage, bring liberation.

Now I can’t tell you just what that looks like…but I find myself wondering if that’s the work that we’re up to…if those two things are the driving force behind the work of the church…behind the work of our congregation? Behind the work of the kingdom that we as individuals are participating in…because if its not, then we better take a long hard look at just what our motivations are….and if we are off…if our motivations are selfish…then repentance is our next step…but praise be to God that where there is repentance of our own brokenness, there is also forgiveness…and we will hear that word spoken to us today as we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which was broken and poured out for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.

And that right there…that IS good news…that is news of liberation from what enslaves us…and that is news that brings healing beyond our physical bodies…and the work that God has begun in Christ Jesus…and that Jesus has invited us to participate in is to carry that news out in the world…to break down the barriers that exists that hinder…and to fight tooth and nail to overcome anything that stands in the way of God’s mercy reaching those that need it, even those who are so broken that they fail to recognize that need.

God has invited each on of us into this work…and in the midst of it we do experience those amazing moments…those mountaintop experiences that fill us with joy at this world and this life that we are blessed with…and those moments are important for us, but as we come back down from those mountains…may our eyes be opened to see the kingdom work that lies before us…and may we get to work. Amen.

What Direction Are We Going? 6-11-17

In this sermon I explore the first account of Creation found in Genesis 1:1-2:3. This is quite fitting on this Holy Trinity Sunday as we worshiped outdoors in the midst of God’s creation. Amazingly enough, God invites us to join in the ongoing work.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-direction-are-we-going-6-11-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. Note that there are a few deviations from the audio version.

On this Holy Trinity Sunday I say to you, grace and peace in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Just out of curiosity, how many of you out there are cat people? (Pause) Okay…cats are interesting creatures aren’t they? They can be incredibly loving, and incredibly arrogant. They can show amazing laziness, and unbridled chaotic energy. And they are incredibly fickle…and maybe even arrogant…aren’t they?

Our cat often looks at me, and I think I can pretty much read her mind. “You, human. Do not disturb my sleep. But go downstairs and scoop my box. You will also feed me, because seeing the bottom of my food dish uncovered is unacceptable…Now, I have decided that you will pet me…this is how you will pet me, front to back from the base of my neck to a spot 2 inches in front of my tail. You will not deviate from this…You will pet me precisely 7 times, and then I bite you.” (pause) Sound about right?

This strange nature of cats…this utter, mind of their own, is where the expression “trying to herd cats” comes from. Because it just doesn’t work…and if you try to manhandle even one cat, what happens? It goes…NUTS…biting, hissing, clawing. If you try to subdue it, it will fight you with every atom of its being. (Pause)
Now I bring up this craziness, because I think that it perfectly represents some truth that we see in the creation story that we’ve shared today. Its fitting that we hear this story today as we are out in creation…and as we look around, seeing all there is to see, we hear how God makes it.

But here’s the funny thing about the creation story…its just one of many possibilities isn’t it? There’s a second one that starts up right after this one, and while there’s a lot of similarities, there are some very stark differences as well. But this one, we’re familiar with…because we’ve heard it many times.

That’s the basis for how the Jewish culture passed on their stories…those stories that shaped who they were as a people. Parents and grandparents…those who came before would tell their stories to their children and grandchildren, and they in turn would share the same story, and it carried on generation after generation over the course of centuries.

Now the first account of creation wasn’t actually written down until pretty late in the history of the Jewish culture…about 600BC, the southern kingdom of Judea was conquered by the Babylonians, who were the dominant empire at that particular moment…and pretty much all of the Jewish people were hauled off into a foreign land where they had to keep their heads down and their cultural identity pretty much on the down low…and everything about the Babylonian culture was dominant…including their religious view on where the world came from.

The Babylonians believed in many different gods…and way back when, two of them got in a big fight…their main god named Marduk fought and killed another god named Tiamot…and then Marduk used Tiamot’s dead body to build the earth. Lovely huh? The dominant view at the time was that our world…our reality…only came about through death and destruction.

But in the middle of this, the Jewish culture kept on telling the story of our god…GOD…who created our reality in a much different way and out of much better motivation. God didn’t start with death…God started with delight…think about it. It begins as the Spirit of God is hovering over chaos…disorder.

And God says Let there be light…and there was…and from that point forward we see the chaos, the disorder begin to move towards something. First we’ve got a separation between the light and the dark, simply because God said let light be. And God took a look and called it good…do you remember the Hebrew word for good? (Pause) TOV.

Well then apparently there’s all this water swirling around, and God says let’s put that in order…let there be a separation…and there was water above and water below…TOV

Now God thinks we need to better down below…let the water be pushed back and let there be earth…and there was…TOV…but that earth seems pretty bare, so lets grow something on it…Let there be plants and grass and trees and fruit and all that stuff…yep, TOV.

And since plant life is so awesome, God thinks that we need another step of life…and so let there be birds and fish so that the air and the sea will be filled and that’s so TOV that God decides that life needs to join in this creation, in this move towards order, and so God instructs the birds and the fish to multiply, to do what they are intended to do…and then since they’re so TOV God decides that we need animals out on the land as well and says Let there be cattle and beasts and creeping things and there is and that’s TOV.

And now, God wants to top it all off…and God starts talking to himself, which is a bit weird right? But remember we’ve got the creator speaking this disorder into order…and we’ve got the Spirit that we heard was hovering over the chaos to begin with, and as we heard at the start of worship out of John, that reminder that the Word which would become flesh was there too and all things came into being through him…and so it would seem that the Holy Trinity which are one but three at the same time…namely, our God that exists in relationship.

And not only that, but the final bit of God’s TOV creation is us…humanity and we are made, male and female both, bearing this divine image…and image that I think instills in us this same need to be in relationship just like God is in relationship….and once we’re around, doing our thing…God calls everything…very good…very TOV…or TOV MIHOT. (pause)

So now we’ve got this amazing creation that God spoke into existence, not out of death destruction, but because God takes delight in everything that he makes…and that’s mind blowing. (pause) But here’s the thing, when God makes each thing, he doesn’t command it…he doesn’t say “this is how you will be.” God says “let there be…” Let light be…Let the world…be…let life…be. And I think that means that God gave each part of creation, each part of reality the freedom to BE, as it is…not perfect…but the world as we see it…and then to top it off, God looks at humanity and gives us a task. Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth…and…SUBDUE it. (pause) Subdue creation.

Think back to what we starting talking about…and trying to control a cat. It fights back right back? It follows its very nature to resist your domination of it…your attempts to subdue it. And I think the rest of creation does the very same thing doesn’t it? God allowed it to be as it is, and yet God instructs us to subdue it…now wonder our reality is so broken and flawed…because it is resisting our attempts to subdue it…our attempts to join with God in the work of bringing disorder into order…of bringing chaos to peace. (pause)

In the end, I think that’s what’s really going on here. God started with chaos, and very slowly God is at work to bring it towards order…towards peace…and he’s invited us into that work…and amazingly enough, God has done all of this out of love…out of delight…and we know this because God calls it GOOD.

One day, this work will be done…and all the disorder…all the chaos…all the brokenness that exists without our reality, and even within our very nature will achieve peace…that’s where this is all headed, and how amazing is it that we get to join in and be a part of it all. Amen

Its Holy But Its Scary 6-4-17

In this Pentecost sermon, based on Acts 2:1-21, I explore the action of the Holy Spirit empowering the disciples, as well as the invitation to join in God’s action in the world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-holy-but-its-scary-6-4-17

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

The first time my dad got me up on a tractor to actually drive the thing, I was 13. A year later he had me out in the field discing, which is of probably the type of field work least likely to get screwed up. I also got my learners permit that same year. A year later I had my school permit, and the year after that I was licensed to drive all over the place. A quick bit of math reveals that I’ve been behind the wheel of some type of vehicle for the past quarter of a century.

For the most part, its gone just fine. In fact I’ve been driving long enough that its completely second nature and I cruise down the road without much thought of the power in the vehicle that I’m controlling. (pause) But there have been a couple of instances where that wasn’t the case…the most prominent in my memory happened when I was 18, and three of my friends and I were involved in a roll over accident.

A blown tire threw us completely out of control, and after fishtailing back and forth a few times, we rolled sideways 2 times right down the middle of the highway before coming to a stop. (pause) Now its hard to say how long it took for our car to roll over, probably no more than a second or two…but I can still remember it quite vividly…and the sense that there was nothing I could do against the violence of that rollover wreck.

Now to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember what the first words out of my mouth were…knowing me it was probably a 2 word phrase that starts with Holy and ends…well it ends with something I probably shouldn’t say in the pulpit…but I do remember the first words that one of the other guys said from the backseat…WHAT HAPPENED?

Now other than a few bumps and scrapes…all 4 of us were pretty much okay…we were pretty blessed that day…but in remembering the violence of that moment…the same question remains…What happened….or you could ask…what is this?  (pause) Or maybe some would ask, what does this mean? (pause)

Pentecost Sunday…the day when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit…empowering the disciples to do something amazing…and typically when we think of this story…its exciting…everyone’s hanging out in Jerusalem…pilgrims from all over the world are there to celebrate…when suddenly the wind starts blowing, and flames start…flaming…and the disciples start rattling off the message of God’s deeds of power in all kinds of different languages…languages of the countless different nationalities that were present.

But there’s a word in there…one that I’ve never really picked up on until this time around.  Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a VIOLENT wind. (pause) This was no simple breeze…it was violent…and we need only think about the last major thunderstorm that we stood outside watching to recognize the amazing power that is present within a violent wind…so no wonder it attracted a crowd that day in Jerusalem. (pause)
Now of course, Pentecost…this event that we’re talking about today…we recognize it as the work of the Holy Spirit…and while we know that the Spirit of God has been around since the very beginning…this marks the start of something new…and the disciples are empowered to get to work…they are bonded together by something new…in fact…this violent presence of the Spirit in wind and fire creates an event that is impossible to ignore…and these are the exact types of things that have the tendency to bond groups of people together.

But make no mistake…this isn’t the work of the disciples…they aren’t the ones up to something here…this is the work of God…and we see that if we pay attention to the many different things that the Holy Spirit either does or empowers in this story. The Spirit violently comes out of heaven…burning like fire it rests on the men…it fills them and gives them the ability to speak in different dialects…and when the astonished crowd starts to push back a little, the Spirit empowers Peter to get up and speak…and what’s he talk about? The signs of the Spirit’s presence among all flesh in the last days. Dreams, prophecy, visions…disruptions in nature…all of it from the power of the Holy Spirit…of God’s Spirit active in the world. (pause)
Now I bring this up to highlight that yes…the Spirit is really up to something here…and its utter madness…its an upheaval…its not pleasant…and its not well received…the people are either astonished…and not in a good way…or they flat out refuse to believe what they see blaming the disciples linguist achievements on too much booze.

But whatever it is that the Spirit is up to here…I can only imagine just how good of a story it made for those who were there…and as we hear…it was people from all over the place. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Libians, Judeans, Cappocians, Asians and residents of Pontus and Phryrigia and Pamphila and Egypt and Rome and Crete and Arabia…Native Jews and converts…people from literally all over the world at that time were there to see this…and whether they believed it or not…which many did while many did not…you can bet that when the festival was over…they went home with a crazy story to tell…wind and fire and crazy Galileans preaching in all kinds of different languages. (pause)
Now part of me has often gotten stuck on the excuse that the naysayers make about the disciples being drunk…and I can’t help but think that people will go to any length to deny the work that God is up in the world…and while that might be true…thinking on this story reminded me of another story by the same author.

Keep in mind that Luke wrote the book of Acts as well as his gospel…and in his gospel we hear that Jesus empowers his followers, sending 70 of them out in pairs…empowered to cast out demons and heal diseases, some amazing things to be sure…but also to declare that the kingdom has come near…to declare the gospel as they had experienced it to that point…and the kicker…is that Jesus sends them out into the places where he planned to go. The story of Christ went first, and then Christ came along after.

Now with that in mind, think about Pentecost…and those residents of every nation under the heaven…going home with a story of this crazy event…an event that can’t be explained…only that it must have been some act of God…whatever god that might be in their individual culture…the story of God’s action in the world being carried out.

And just as Christ planned to follow after the disciples…the body of Christ here in the world follows after these individuals who carry the story out in the world…because of the countless different things that the Spirit of God is up to in the world…perhaps the single most important aspect is the way that the presence of the Spirit unites individuals together into something bigger than themselves.

Here in the Lutheran church we often tend to think of our spiritual gifts in a very individualistic way…and that’s not a bad thing…but we must also recognize that the power of the Spirit is community building as well…uniting all believers together as the one body of Christ.

Jesus tells his followers that they will be his witnesses…in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth…and the united body of Christ, which is the church throughout the ages that have followed are still in the midst of that task…of being Christ in the world that has heard stories of these crazy things that God is up to. (pause)

Now there’s another aspect of this story that we have recognize as we consider the way that the spirit does unite us together as community…there were nay-sayers in the crowd that day…but there were also 3000 people that believed and were baptized…people from every nationality…every corner of the world…and you can bet that they looked different…that they sounded different…that their day to day lives were different…and yet the Spirit brought them all together.

You can imagine how scary that was…to be in community…to be considered one with people that are different…people that you might even consider to be your cultural enemy…what must that be like to look at the other…and try and see them as your brother or sister….as your equal.

This is what the Holy Spirit is up to…and honestly we see this same story over and over again throughout scripture and throughout history…the action of the Spirit in the world is constantly inviting us forward into something new…and in this case a new sense of community with those that we would not expect…it may be holy…but by God its also scary isn’t it?

But we must recognize that what God is calling us into is not always easy…in fact more often not it’s the opposite of easy…its tough…its difficult…its scary…maybe even dangerous…and who knows what we might have to give up in order for this united community of faith to move forward into the future?

Are we willing to give up the sense that our way is the right way? Are we willing to give up our cultural hold on how to “do church?” Are we willing to take those scary steps forward…to meet the other who looks different than us…or to continue to build the body of Christ to better represent all of humanity, because guess what, that’s who God’s working on reaching.

Are we willing to take those scary steps forward so that the church will be stronger for our children…so that the church that Camden is about to be baptized into will be open to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit which will come upon him with the water and the word. This is the body of Christ…and only together…and I mean completely together…will we one day, truly embody what the body is supposed to look like.

Scary as it is…the Spirit invites us forward into something new…we are never called backwards…because that’s not how God is working in our world…may we have the courage to follow where the Spirit is blowing. Amen

I Will Not Leave You Orphaned 5-21-17

In this sermon, based on John 14:15-21, I explore Jesus promise to his followers that he will not leave us orphaned. Just what does that really mean?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-will-not-leave-you-orphaned-5-21-17

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

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

I read a lot, and over the years I’ve slogged through many different stories…some great, some not so great. I’ve read a lot of different types of stories and followed along with many different characters. And it seems to me, that one of the types of stories that is always engaging has to do with a main character that’s an orphan. Someone who begins the story disconnected, with no sense of being part of anything.

Many of our classic stories, both old as well as new, fall in this category. Huckleberry Finn…Anne of Green Gables…Little Orphan Annie…Harry Potter…just to name a few…and if there’s one thing that these characters seem to have in common through their respective stories, it’s a search for connection…for belonging…the search to find the place where they belong.

Perhaps these various characters and their fictional stories are so engaging is because, deep down…I think its part of our very nature to seek this out for ourselves…connection…community…belonging.  Now there are many different places that we can find this sense…in fact our very understanding of socializing is based on it…we spend time with those we that we belong to…those who share a sense of commonality.

Many of the words that we would use to describe ourselves reflect this…and perhaps none more deeply than the connection that we hold with our family. Good bad or otherwise, so much of our identity is tied to our family of origin…and perhaps for many of us, maybe even all of us…our family offers us a sense of stability in terms of who we are.

Now perhaps, this is why a brief statement offered by Jesus in today’s reading seems so utterly significant. As Jesus sits at the table of the Last Supper with the disciples…with this small group of individuals that he has claimed as his own…this group of people who he has even come to call family…as he sits there with them, sharing a final time together, he knows that he’s saying goodbye…and maybe knowing this…he feels compelled to give them an assurance that they will not be left alone. And not only that…but his promise…I will not leave you orphaned. (pause)
I thought a lot about that this week…about what it must be like to be orphaned…about the sense of isolation that it must create…to be utterly disconnected from everyone. To have no sense of belonging…no one present who will care for you…no one that shares a common life with you…and I can only imagine just how isolating and terrifying that must be, not only for a child…but for anyone who has lost those family connections within their lives.

And as I thought along those lines, I found myself asking the opposite question…if Jesus will not leave his followers, either the 12 men sitting at the table with him…or any of the rest of his followers throughout the ages that have passed, including us of course…but what does it mean that he will not leave us orphaned? (pause)
If we are to answer that question…what is the opposite of being orphaned…it would seem to include connection…inclusion into something…to be cared for…to be claimed…in short…to belong with someone else….in short…family.

Now family is an interesting term…often we think of a connection by genetics…but I think the term family can certainly farther reaching than that…as it seems to imply a sense of closeness that exceeds all else…and this closeness is a sense that can create amazing joy and comfort…and at the same time, it can create an amazing sense of loss when that person that we claim as family is no longer around…and as we all know…separation is a reality.

It come in many forms…but none so final…none so utterly complete…than death. I can only imagine that was a sense that Jesus was experiencing at the Last Supper…knowing that he was going away…that he was going to a place where his friends…his family…could not go.

Many of us sitting here today have experiencing the pain and separation caused by death…and if you haven’t, just wait…it’ll find you sooner or later…because it is a reality in our existence…painful, but true. (pause)
But that being said…there’s a promise…one that we cling to as followers of Christ…one that he hints at today as he says “Because I live, you will live also.” We cling to the promise that there is more to our existence beyond the separation of death. We may not know just what it looks like…we may not know just how it works, but Christ has made us this promise…one that we often call eternal life…or heaven…or the afterlife…and it’s a promise that we cling to, one that gives us hope, especially when we look forward and see the reality of our own death.

Now here’s the thing…earlier this week I was having a conversation with an individual who’s health is not great…and though it now seems that she’s gonna be with us for a while longer, it WAS touch and go. (pause) Now as we sat and talked, she said “Well…I honestly didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go there (point upwards)…and I wanted to stay here.” When I asked her why that was she said “I’ve got family there…and I’ve got family here.” And after a moment of silence she said “Wouldn’t it be great to get the whole family back together.” (pause)
The depths of the love that this women feels for her family, both those still living and those who have died is amazing…and she recognizes the disconnect that is caused by death…the separation…the isolation. And as we all think about it today I think we would agree that its just…not…right.

And you know what…we aren’t the only ones. Because God recognizes this as well…and in fact…if scripture tells us anything…its that God is at work to rectify it…and this is where Jesus comes in…for Jesus God in the flesh…God entering into our reality and experiencing just as we do so that he may somehow, someway overcome that which is broken within it…that he might overcome the power of sin and death and the separation and isolation that comes with it.

And God is not simply doing this because we are part of the creation that he made and is proud of…but God is doing this because to God we…are…family. Throughout scripture we see time after time that God calls us his children. God has claimed us…repeatedly…calling us heirs….and in the Biblical sense…that’s what adoption is all about.

Jesus says we will not be orphaned…and by its very definition the opposite of being orphaned is being adopted…and in Jesus’ time, that meant that the owner of the household claimed you as their heir…they claimed you as their child…and I believe that God looks upon all of humanity in this way…and Jesus came into our reality in order to show us this…Jesus came into our reality in order to get the family back together for good. (pause)

Now interestingly enough…as we’ve said before…the redemptive work of God in Christ Jesus is already finished, even if it doesn’t feel like it yet…but the work of reconciling this world…of gathering this family back together…that work is still going on…and it happens under the power of the one that Jesus talks about today.

I am going away, but I will send another advocate…another helper…the Holy Spirit which will abide with you and in you…now here’s the thing about the Holy Spirit…the thing that all too often we here in the Lutheran church push to the back burner…the action of the Holy Spirit in the world is the action of God in the world.

We might not fully grasp just what Holy Spirit is…and that’s ok…but the Spirit is at work whether we recognize it or not. (pause) Now there are many places to look and see…and we profess several them every week here in worship. I believe in the Holy Spirit…the holy catholic church…the communion of saints…the forgiveness of sins….the resurrection of the body…and the life everlasting. (pause) Sound familiar?

Each of those statements, taken from the Apostles Creed, testify to the work of the Holy Spirit and the one that I think is THE MOST important, is also the first…the holy catholic church…which those of you who have been through confirmation with me know…catholic starts with a small c…and that means UNIVERSAL, not Roman.

Somehow, someway, the power of the Holy Spirit unites us all together as ONE CHURCH…ONE body here on the earth…together we make up the physical representation of Christ on Earth as he hangs out in heaven preparing a place for us. I can’t explain how it works…and often I’m quite discouraged by the bickering and the disagreement that occurs within different branches of this ONE body…but in the end if we can agree that Jesus is Lord and salvation comes through what he has done, then maybe, just maybe all that other stuff is just secondary…and we can focus on the thing that we have in common…the thing that unites us together…the thing that makes us…FAMILY.

There’s a song that I like a lot…it says “In Christ alone, my hope is found.” Today, may we all find that hope in his promise that we will not be left as orphans…but because the one who made us in the first place claims us as his children, and unites us together through the power of His Spirit…we will never be alone.

And so as we look around this room…seeing one another…may we see family…united together as beloved children of God…freed to love one another as Christ has first loved us…because we are united by something that is stronger than just genetics…we are united by blood…his blood…which was shed for you and for ALL people for the forgiveness of sins…so that we might be claimed as his own. Amen.

There Is No Ladder 5-14-17

In this sermon, based on John 14:1-14, Jesus says “I am the way.” I explore what he is saying here.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/there-is-no-ladder-5-14-17

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

If there was one thing that I discovered at a pretty young age while growing up on the farm, its this…farms have ladders everywhere. Everywhere you look is a ladder. Now some of them are actually intended as ladders…there are ladders in barns…there are ladders in corn cribs…there are ladders going up the side of a grain bin or a silo…there are ladders down into well pits.

There are other things that, for a rambunctious kid that likes to climb, will serve as ladders. I climbed the wooded structural braces on the inside of a Morton building. I climbed gates in fences. I climbed fence posts to get on top of buildings…I climbed trees to get on the roof of the house.  I was always ready to climb. And my dad figured this out pretty early on in my memory…probably because I was the youngest and he had witnessed this type of climbing behavior in my brother and sister…but because of this, Dad was always very clear about the things I should not climb…most specifically the tall ladder going up to the top of the bins in the corn crib…bins with no safety rails to prevent a nice 40 foot drop…and then the ladder on the side of the silo, which didn’t even start until 10 feet off the ground…not that I would be prevented…because as soon as Dad’s back was turned…I climbed those ladders just like all the rest of them.

I guess you could say that I just liked getting up high…up to those places where I wasn’t supposed to be…those places where I wasn’t mean to go…but one of those times when Dad had told me to stay off some of those particularly high and, honestly, quite dangerous spots…I remember quite vividly asking myself the question “Well if you’re not supposed to go there…why’d they build a ladder? (Pause) Why’d they make a way in the first place?” (pause)

Now fortunately, even with all of my climbing, I never fell…but I did have a few close calls…times when I missed my footing and slid down a rung or two before catching myself. I’m probably just lucky in that regard, because like most kids do, I never really used those ladders like you’re supposed to.

Ladders, by their very design, are pretty useful when it comes to getting somewhere that’s out of reach. Climb up rung by rung…and you get higher…those out of reach locations start to become more accessible…and vice versa…climb down a rung at a time, or heaven forbid, slip and miss the rungs altogether, and you find yourself back down on the ground where you started in the first place. They are a way to get from here to there…at least when here to there involves a change in elevation. (pause)
Now this idea of a change in elevation brings up an old notion that’s called the 3 tiers of reality.  The earth is here…in the middle…and that’s where we are…now heaven is up above us…we’re not exactly sure where…but its up there somewhere…and hell, well that’s down below…its probably easiest to understand this like a house. We’re on the main floor. Heaven is upstairs, and hell is down in the basement….and this is the way that people thought about things…and in many cases, that people still think about them.

And if we think about the relation of earth and heaven and hell in this way…then the question will eventually come around to how we get from one to another…Sure we probably ignore the idea of heading down into the basement of hell, because none of us really want to go there…but it is pretty common to sit around and wonder just how we manage to get ourselves upstairs into Heaven.

And if my childhood on the farm taught me anything…if you want to go up…you need a ladder…and that right there…this idea that somehow, some way we can manage to climb our way high enough…that we can manage to get ourselves up to heaven where God is…this idea has permeated our society in a lot of ways…I fear, most destructively, with the idea that faith, or religion, or spirituality, or whatever you want to call it gets boiled down into some sort of cosmic ladder.

Ever thought about it that way? I think we probably all have at one point or another…especially when we start talking about the things that are morally right or wrong…and there’s this myth…this idea in the back of our minds that if we do enough right things, we’ll keep climbing up the rungs of that ladder…and as long as we avoid enough bad things in our lives that we won’t slip back down…like life is just a giant game of shoots and ladders…with the final end goal of climbing that cosmic ladder up high enough to get to where God is.

Well let me say this…there is no ladder…that’s not how all this works…and it was never supposed to…and all these rules and regulations and statues or whatever you want to call them…all these ideas of what we should or shouldn’t be doing…while perhaps good for the purpose of life…they don’t get us anywhere on the eternal scale…there is no ladder to climb…and there is no cosmic score board that God looks at to see if our good score is higher than our bad score.  That’s not how this goes. (pause)
Now what’s all this got to do with today’s gospel?  Why would Jesus be sharing this with his disciples?  It is a bit of a strange situation…actually this passage is found in the Last Supper…Jesus final bit of teaching for his disciples as he’s telling them goodbye…because right after this, he’s betrayed and killed. Just before this, he’s told them about the betrayal…he’s had his encounter with Judas who prompted fled the house…he’s told Peter about the pending denial…and above all he’s told them that he’s about to die. No wonder he starts off today “do not let your hearts be troubled.” I don’t know about you but I’m guessing it was a troubling state to be in.

And not only that, but perhaps for us today, hearing this 5 weeks AFTER Easter, perhaps it’s a little troubling for us as well…Why do we hear this now? Well, if the resurrection has already happened…and we’ll recognize the Ascension of Jesus back into Heaven quite soon…and in our reality today Jesus has already returned to Heaven…maybe as we consider all of that…the Last Supper is a little troubling for us too…because what does it mean to believe in Christ…what does it mean to be a follower of Christ, when the one that we follow has gone to a place where we can’t go?

That’s the question that comes up in the back and forth with the disciples.  Jesus assures them that he has gone to the dwelling place of the Father…what we call Heaven…and he has done so in order to prepare dwelling places for each of us…and here’s the kicker…he says “Where I am going, you know the way.”

And then a hand goes up…Ummm Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?  And Jesus throws it all out there. I Am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me…

Certainly, this is a familiar passage of scripture…one that gets thrown around a lot…and I fear…one that gets used in a way that serves to exclude individuals…and because of this history, this passage is often heard by non-believers as judgmental…exclusive…like a warning that you better believe this or you’re going to hell…and not only that but if you do believe it then you better shape up and start acting like it. (Pause) You better start doing all the right stuff…and land yourself on that mythical magic ladder so you can climb up high enough that God will notice you…and then you can be where he is.

Ever heard that sort of thing before…or felt like that…or wondered if that’s what all this church stuff is really all about. If so, just know this…you aren’t the only one…if Thomas’ question today shows us anything…its that even Jesus’ disciples thought this way…like Jesus was physically going somewhere and if they just look in the right spot they can figure out the way to get there too.

But there is no physical way to get to Heaven…there is no way for us to go there…we can’t get there…we’ve never been able to get there…and God knows it…God has always known it…and God has done something about it…God has come to where we are through Jesus Christ to create a way.

All too often I fear that the world hears Jesus say I am the way…and it sounds like “This is the only way.” And worse yet when someone shares that with them it sounds like “I’m right and you’re wrong.”  But what if what Jesus is really saying is “Now there IS…a way.” (pause)

Growing up on the farm, when Dad would tell me, you aren’t supposed to be up there…I always wondered…if you don’t want me there, why is there a way?   Jesus has gone away…but he has done this so that that now, there is a way for us to be there too. Its not about being good enough, or smart enough…its not about following all the rules and climbing high enough up the ladder…Jesus is telling us…he is showing us that God has already come to us where we are…and because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…now somehow, someway…there IS…a way.  Amen.

 

He Calls Them By Name 5-7-17

In this sermon, taken from John 10:1-10, I explore the promise of God given to us in baptism, that we are claimed as his children. This sermon, shorter than normal, is happening in the context of Confirmation Sunday in my congregation.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

 

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

Full disclosure…as a preacher, I’m pulling double duty today. In addition to standing before you now, I’ll also be preaching this evening up at the high school for the annual Baccalaureate service. Now both situations have something in common…as they celebrate and honor a group of young people at the end of an educational experience. Baccalaureate, of course marks the end of high school for our graduating seniors…and Confirmation here this morning, which traditionally marks the close of religious education for our 8th graders…and because of the similarities between these two occasions…if you happen to be at the high school this evening, you may hear a similar theme…as I proclaim a message that, I hope and pray, will be moving and inspirational for those who hear it as they close one chapter of their lives and prepare to move into the next one.

That being said, earlier this week I was meeting with several other area pastors, discussing the gospel text for today, and the fact that it is Confirmation Sunday for at least a couple of us that were there, the conversation came around to a question that I have been thinking about all week.  What do you wish you had heard on your Confirmation Day?

I pondered on that question…thinking back over time to the day when I was confirmed…April 25th 1993 at Bethel Lutheran Church in Graettinger Iowa, under the guidance of Pastor Wilbur Holtz, just in case you were wondering…and as I think back to the message that was shared by that Pastor more than 24 years ago…I realized (long pause) that I can’t remember a darn thing…and realizing this, well it kinda took the pressure off for today…because 24 years from now, its pretty unlikely that the 8 of you sitting out there this morning will be able to remember what I had to say either.

But if my own history does teach me anything, its that you will very likely remember the people who were involved…those who invested in you to bring you to this point…many of whom are sitting out there in the congregation right now.  I myself remember that pastor…I remember the two other teachers who volunteered to lead my class through both 6th and 7th grade…and even if I don’t recall much about the lessons themselves that they taught me…I remember the interactions with those individuals…and the stern looks I got from that Pastor in class when I got a little too squirrely…which of course happened with fair bit of regularity…and I remember the statement he made years later when I ran into him at a Pastor’s conference… “Yah Scott, you were a handful, but I always had a feeling about you.” (pause) And let me state for the record that I’ve got a feeling about a couple of you 8th graders too. (pause)
Now, many of you sitting out there are familiar with something I do each year with the Confirmation class. During their very last time together, I have them write out a statement of faith…a personal creed…something that we call the “I believe” statements.  Before they write them, I always tell them “Don’t just tell me what you think I want to hear. Be honest…at this point in your lives, tell me what you think.” Year in and year out these statements are fascinating, and this year is no different.

What caught my attention this time around was how literal the 8th graders took the instruction to tell me what “I believe.”  Over the course of reading their 8 different statements, I found the phrase “I believe” 21 times…and the theme that emerged more than anything is that they believe in God…even going so far as to say that God is the greatest thing…EVER. (pause)

But now…lets come back around to it…what message do the 8 of you need to hear today…and to answer that question let me say this. You believe in God…Good…He believes in you too…and not only that…he loves you…and he claims you as his own.

Admittedly, this is gonna be a short message today…because sometimes you don’t have beat something to death to make a point. Within today’s gospel, Jesus is talking about shepherds and sheep and pens and gates and all kinds of things…a bunch of things that honestly can be a little difficult to wrap our heads around…but the main point that jumped out of Jesus’ words today.
He calls his sheep by name and leads them out…Whatever this pen is…whatever this abundant life is that he keeps talking about…I can only imagine that he’s talking about life lived in relationship, both with one another as fellow human beings and also, more importantly, a life lived in relationship with the Lord.

He calls you by name…because he is the shepherd…the one who is willing to lay down his life for you…and not only is he willing but he has already done it. Jesus Christ died on the cross…dying the most brutal death imaginable…and he did so in order to show YOU that there is nothing that God will not do in order to be with you.

Your name was on his mind…Your name was on his lips. Quinn. Taylor. Mason. Megan. Tommy. Blake. Brayden. Emma…and for everyone else sitting out there today, guess what…your name is in that list too.

But there’s one more point I need to make.  Not only does the Lord of this abundant life know you by your given name…but he has given you another one…Beloved Child of God. This is a name given to you in the waters of your baptism…a time when you were washed with water and the promise of God was spoken you…a promise that God has claimed you as his own…a promise which nothing can take away from you…and now today, in just a few moments, the 8 of you will stand up before this congregation…before this gathering of the body of Christ…and you will acknowledge that promise which God has made to you.

That’s what’s happening today…because the action is already done…God has already said this about you. God has already claimed you….whether you realize it or not. Nothing takes that name away from you…so own it…and not just today but every day…for Beloved Child of God, you have been marked with the cross of Christ in the waters of your baptism…and you have been sealed in his love forever. He calls his own by name and he leads them…whether they (Pause). Whether you…realize it or not.

That is what I believe…and it is my hope and my prayer that throughout the course of your lives, you believe it too. Amen.