The Same Old Story 5-1-16

In this sermon, taken from John 14:23-29, I explore Jesus’ promises that we will never be left alone. This happens in the context of Confirmation Sunday, when Jesus’ promises are particularly important for our young people.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-same-old-story-5-1-16

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

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

Most of you know that I’m pretty active with various types of social media…facebook, Instagram, and twitter being the main 3. They each do their own thing, and I use them in different ways, but one thing I like about my settings on Twitter, is that anytime someone directly interacts with me I get a text on my phone.

Friday morning…I was pacing around my office, my brain spinning round and round as I pondered on today’s sermon, when my phone chirped at me with a text…and sure enough, it was from Twitter, letting me know that some random person had liked one my old tweets from about a month ago…and the fact that it was an old tweet caught my attention…because I realized that the exact same person had liked that exact same tweet almost exactly 24 hours previously…a day apart…an old offhanded statement of mine got twitter love from the exact same source.

Now I was thinking about the significance of this, because its something of a “same old story” type situation…and when I think along those lines, I’m reminded of the whole process of preaching in the first place. One of the statements that I hear with fair bit of regularity is “I don’t know how you can do that every week.” Well to be honest, I ask myself that same question quite a bit too…and most often when I find myself in a preaching situation aimed at specific day.

This happens when I encounter out of the ordinary situations like weddings or funerals…and it happens with certain holidays like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost…when the gospel is the same story, repeated year after year, or when the situation dictates the same sort of theme for the sermon.

Now when that happens, its pretty normal for me, while in the midst of my preparation, to go back and see just what I’ve said before…sometimes the message doesn’t really change much…while other times the significant events happening in that moment can drastically alter how the text will preach that time around…but the long and short of this whole situation…is that preaching, regardless of the text, regardless of the season and day, regardless of everything…still includes the gospel…which itself…doesn’t really change…and so the struggle for a preacher in these moments is asking the question “how do I say the same thing differently this time around.”

Today is one of those days…sort of anyway…confirmation Sunday…when a group of our young people stand up before the congregation and publically claim for themselves, the promises made by their parents and sponsors and congregation at the time of their baptism…a time when these young people publically claim their faith in which they were raised.

And, since this is one of those times that repeats year after year, I did my normal thing of looking back to see just what I had said before. This is confirmation day number 3 for me here at Underwood, and so I had a couple different confirmation sermons under my belt…but what caught my attention as I looked back at those two sermons was the realization that our tradition makes sure I’ve got drastically different gospel texts each time. Now this happens for a couple different reasons, but mainly it’s a combination of the fact that we always do Confirmation on the first Sunday of May, along with the fact that this is always during the season of Easter, but with the back and forth nature of Easter’s changing date, we never know which Sunday of the Easter Sunday this will be year to year…and because of that, the various gospel texts, while fitting in with an overarching theme…can and are…drastically different.

But now here’s the amazing thing about all this…as I read back over those two sermons from the past two years…as well as pondering on the text for today…I was amazed to realize that despite the wondrous variety of these three different gospel texts…and despite the vast difference in individuals between each of these three particular confirmation classes…a theme has emerged.

Each year, I’ve given the confirmation class an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned…the discussions and lessons that we have shared…and to write a statement of belief…a creed…an honest reflection of just what they have come to believe about this whole faith and gospel of Jesus Christ thing up to this point. And while each and every statement has been different…they have all reflected a similar theme that I have come to believe is pretty normal…an understanding that God is always present along with an honest bit of confusion about all of this stuff. (pause) I’ve seen it across the board, with both of my previous classes, as well as in all 5 statements written by this years class. (pause) And if today’s gospel is any indication…you 5 students are in good company.

Now this of course brings me into today’s gospel lesson, which admittedly I haven’t said much about yet…but here we are…rapidly approaching Ascension Day when Jesus will depart from our reality and return to Heaven…and our gospel for today, once more, is taken from Jesus final time of teaching his followers…a lengthy passage, several chapters long…most of which is Jesus talking…but with a few interjections of questions from his disciples…and in fact our opening verse today is in response to one of these questions…three times in fact, one of the disciples…a different one each time…seems to raise his hand and say “Uhhh…Jesus…I don’t get it.”

Aren’t these the very people that we would expect to get it? They’ve followed Jesus around, they’ve seen the miracles, they’ve heard the teachings…they’ve even been privy to direct explanations of some of Jesus’ more cryptic teaching moments…and yet, they still don’t get it.

Jesus stands there telling them…over and over again…I am leaving…you’ll look for me but won’t find me…for I am going to my father…but you know what do….UHHHH, excuse me Jesus…ummm…no we don’t…what are we supposed to do? (pause)

And so Jesus goes over things again and again…but as we know…as he says, he is leaving…and perhaps it seems that he’s leaving his followers to their own devises despite their doubt and fear and shortcomings. (pause) But in the midst of all this, Jesus reminds his disciples and us today, that we are not left alone.

Those that love me keep my word…they observe it, they honor it…they remember it…and the father and I will come to them and make our home with them…We remember the words of Christ and in that, God is dwelling with us…that’s the first promise…but Jesus goes beyond that as well…and he starts talking about the Holy Spirit…the helper…the advocate…what Jesus actually the Paraclete, or the one who comes along side us…to help us…to guide us…and to teach us.

Jesus promises us that even though he departs from the earth…even though he steps away from our plane of existence, he assures us that God does not leave us alone. We’ve got this crazy notion of a God who is three different people…Father Son and Holy Spirit…one God in three forms…One God in three people…and no one, and I mean no one can try to wrap their heads around just how that really works without experiencing a fair amount of confusion…but that’s okay…because Jesus promises us that its true…and not only do we have this God that exists in ways beyond our understanding…but this amazing God dwells with us…among us…along side us in every moment…whether we understand it or not. (pause)
Now as I look here in the front row at these 5 students affirming their baptism today, I am once again reminded of the theme that emerged from their belief statements…God is with us, even when we don’t understand it…and as Jesus tells us today, it is the Holy Spirit, continuing to teach us…continuing to remind us of that which we have already learned…even in the moments when it doesn’t make sense.

And here’s a little bit of insight that I think any one of the people who have come before you would agree with…there are a lot of moments when this stuff doesn’t make sense. Life is hard…and its messy…and the various statements of belief that we profess sometimes seem pretty crazy…and that’s…okay…because Faith does not mean having all the answers…far from it in fact…faith, this faith in which you were baptized and which you are claiming for yourselves today…simply means believing that somehow, someway, God will do what God says he will do…and that promise that God will do it…that gives us hope.

Hope and faith are connected, but they are not the same thing. Hope is that which we cling to in the midst of the hard stuff…in the midst of those moments where it seems like maybe the darkness is winning…hope, is the glimmer of light that we hold onto in the knowledge that there is more out there…and that God is with us in the midst of that very hard stuff.

This is something you’ve heard before. We’ve talked about in confirmation class many different times…you’ve heard me preach on it many different times…and perhaps it sounds like the same old story…all boiled down to the idea that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

And I’ll say this…yes…it is the same old story…but it’s a good one…and it is my prayer that in the days and weeks and months and years and even decades to come…in the midst of every moment in that big unknown future that lies before you today…it is my hope that you will cling to those promises that God has made…that He has already claimed you as his own…that work is already done for you…that promises is already given to you…both in the moments when its easy to believe…and in the ones where it seems a little confusing…its already done for you…so cling to that hope…and believe in those promises…and remember that you…are never alone. Amen.

 

The Human Condition 4-24-16

In this sermon, based on John 13:31-35, I explore Jesus commandment for us to love perfectly, and the way that our human condition gets in the way of that.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-human-condition-4-24-16

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

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

There are times when the Holy Spirit works very clearly and very plainly, and by the time I sit down to write my sermon on Friday, I know exactly what to talk about. Other times though, not so much…and that was the situation this time around. Today’s gospel is quite brief…and its setting in the Last Supper makes it an odd choice to be the assigned text here three-quarters of the way through the season of Easter.

And so, Friday morning I stood in the kitchen over at the parsonage and made the comment to my wife “I’ve got zero clue what I’m going to do with this one.” (pause) Its funny though…because sometimes life has this funny way of revealing just what the spirit it up to…and so…today…a modern day parable…

The kingdom of heaven is like a guy who goes to the store and places an order for a new dryer…the salesman is quite helpful, and after a few moments, the sale is complete…with the expected delivery and setup scheduled for the following Friday, as well as the plan to haul away the old dryer…and when the day of arrival occurs, the delivery team shows up, as expected, and everything seemingly goes well…until the team leaves, having said “you’re good to go” and then the man walks down into his basement to discover that the power cord now installed is simply hanging off the new dryer, as it was the wrong style of cord.

The man calls customer service and explains the issue, but is told that they can’t get someone back out to fix the problem until Monday…and so, irritated with the inability to get the problem resolved on their end…the man takes it upon himself to overcome the problem…and so he grabs his tools, disconnects the incorrect cord, drives 30 miles each way to exchange it…and then installs the correct cord himself…leaving himself greatly inconvenienced…and yet with a functional dryer. (pause)

Now, if this was actually happening in the gospels…we would likely see the same sort of result…when Jesus’ audience, whether it’s the crowds or religious opposition, or possibly even Jesus’ disciples asking the question, “Lord, we don’t understand…what does this mean?”

That question right there…as well as the parable itself, reveal a lot about the human condition…our inability to understand just what God is up to in the world…as well as our shortcomings which caused God to take action in the world in the first place. (pause)

And now, to explain the parable…the man had expectations of what would happen…that the store and the delivery would hold up their end of those expectations…but they didn’t…and when presented with a way to overcome the issue, they reveal that they are unable to do so in a way that’s acceptable…and so the man takes matters into his own hands to overcome the problem, despite the personal cost of time and effort.

Now I could connect that, in general to the overarching story of the gospel…in that God created humanity, and gave us a single expectation…which we messed up…and then God gave the Law, intended as a way to overcome and atone for the foul up…but we were unable to successfully fulfill it…and so God took matters into his own hands, at great personal cost to rectify the situation…and so long story short…the man buying the dryer is God…the furniture store is humanity, the dryer itself seems to be the functioning relationship between God and humanity…and that cord…well that seems to represent sin, or our brokenness…because as it originally was…well, it just didn’t work.

But despite all that going on…and despite the surface value of using this whole dryer delivery as a metaphor for THE GOSPEL…perhaps you’re wondering just where this fits in with TODAY’S gospel…and that’s a pretty good question.

Now as I mentioned earlier, this is a bit of an odd snippet to cover…but if we think about it…perhaps it starts to make a little more sense if we consider Jesus’ statement to the disciples that “I will be with you only a little longer.” If we think Last Supper, then that points towards his death which was literally right around the corner. But on the other hand, if we consider it in light of our current season and timing…we begin to think of Jesus’ pending ascension…40 days after Easter…and coming right up in about another week and a half.

And so, in that light, we see the importance of Jesus’ teaching here towards the end of his earthly life…but even more than that…we see the importance of this new commandment that he issues to the disciples…as they look towards the pending reality of Jesus’ absence…when they will look for him and will not find him, because where he is about to go…they…and we for that matter…cannot follow.

A new commandment I give to you…love one another, just as I have loved you…so you must love on another…by this all will know that you are my disciples…if you love one another. (pause) Now, by itself…perhaps this isn’t surprising…one of our most basic tenants of the faith is that God is love…it shows up all over the place…particulary in the writing of John…and specifically in two different spots which I’m guessing you’ll recognize. Who among us doesn’t know the song (sing) “Beloved…let us love one another, for love is of God and anyone who loveth is born of God and knoweth God…he who loveth not…knoweth not God for God is love…beloved, let us love one another 1st John 4, 7 & 8.”

And then the second one is equally well known…maybe even a little bit better when we hear “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (pause) Love…it’s a pretty major point isn’t it…and so coming back around to this new commandment that Jesus gives during his final hurrah…maybe it seems like a bit of a no brainer…at least until we take a closer look…and realize that Jesus says “As I have loved you.” (pause)
Jesus is throwing out an expectation here…a benchmark for us to attain…but it’s a little trickier than it seems at face value…because of the way that Jesus says it…now in the original language, there are bunch of different words that we call love…and they reveal slightly different situations…but the word that Jesus uses here is Agape…perfect love…the perfect love that God has for all of creation including us…PERFECT…all encompassing love…and so let’s plug that back into the commandment…Agape one another…just as I have agaped you, so you must agape one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you agape one another.

But here’s the kicker…can we pull that off? Can we achieve…perfect love, even for a moment…if we think about it and answer that question honestly…well then I think we all come to the conclusion of no. We may feel love for one another…we may show it…and perhaps with a fair bit of regularity…but each and every day, somehow some way our selfish nature takes over and we fall short of that perfect love that Jesus commands…the presence of which reveals us to be his followers. (pause) That blasted human condition…this flawed nature that we possess, this messed up life that we live…it wins every time…which I guess doesn’t bode very well for us does it?

No wonder Jesus tells us that where he is going, we are unable to follow. We’re unable to follow his perfect example of love…just as we are unable to follow him beyond the borders created by the presence of sin and death in our reality. (pause)

But…there’s more to the story…remember back to our modern day parable…did the man simply accept that the situation was a lost cause? No…he did something about it…and took steps to fix it…and that’s why Jesus is here in the first place…we can’t do it…we can’t love perfectly as God loves us…but God has taken steps to overcome the breach…because of his perfect love for each of us. (pause)

Now if I had continued reading a few more verses beyond the end of today’s lesson…we would have heard Jesus tell us “Do not let your hearts be troubled…Believe in God, believe also in me…In my father’s house are many dwelling places…if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, SO THAT WHERE I AM, THERE YOU MAY BE ALSO.”

This is the promise of the gospel…flawed and broken as the world may be…and as such we are cut off from the life intended for us by the Father…but despite that God, fixes what we are incapable of fixing…God meets the expectation for us since we are unable…and Jesus promises, that he comes back for us to bring us where we cannot follow on our own.

This is the promise of the gospel…that God claims us, even though we don’t deserve it…and in this regard, the gospel is the polar opposition of what we like to call Karma…instead of getting what we deserve, the gospel promises us that we get precisely that which we do not deserve and it is all predicated on this perfect love of God expressed in Christ Jesus…and the amazing thing about all of this is that it is offered to each and every one of us…and we receive this promise in a tangible way, through the waters of our baptism when God uses ordinary water to wash away our sinful self and we emerge as a new creation, claimed by God as his beloved child…and today, its Jett Taylor’s turn…today God claims him when he is brought up to this font by his parents and sponsors and by this congregation.

Together we are expressing love for him…not the perfect love that God commands, but yet we are expressing love in the best way that we can…by sharing the promises of God’s perfect love in the way that he is has commanded us to…this is how we share God’s perfect love, by proclaiming God’s promises for us…because despite our failings, despite our human condition, God’s love is still perfect, and his promise is for you. Amen.

Is It Good To Be A Sheep 4-17-16

Today’s sermon is based on John 10:22-30, in which Jesus speaks about being our good shepherd. But I guess that makes us sheep doesn’t it?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/is-it-good-to-be-a-sheep-4-17

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

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

With warm spring weather upon us, I’m getting back into the habit of walking over to the post office to grab the mail. It’s a win win situation. I get a little exercise and I get to spend a few moments out in the beauty of nature. Friday morning I did just that as I pondered on this week’s sermon…the gospel lesson rattling around in my head as I headed the few blocks over to main street and back.

As I walked, I enjoyed the wonderful sounds of birds chirping…I spotted quite a few squirrels bouncing around like they do…I even spotted a couple of rabbits hopping from place to place. And in those moments I realized the joy of spring and wildlife.

And as I thought about it a little more, I found myself chuckling at an old comedy bit from my youth, when the actor and comedian Denis Leary started talking about animals and animal lovers…and remarked…you know, it’s a pet-peeve of mine when people start in about loving the animals…I LOVE THE ANIMALS I LOVE THEM SO MUCH…but no you don’t…you only love the cute animals…maybe we should just have animal auditions…let them come in and plead their case…What are you? I’m an otter. And what do you do? I swim around all day on my back and do cute human things with my hands…you’re free to go. (pause) And what are you? I’m a cow…GET ON THE TRUCK! But I’m an animal…You are a baseball glove…But…your a t-bone steak…you are a delicious greasy hamburger…get on the truck.

That bit makes me laugh, because honestly there’s a lot of truth there…and if we consider the multitude of domesticated animals in our history…we keep most of them around because they are useful…or at least delicious. (pause) Cattle…hogs…chickens…all useful in their own right…and so we keep them around…and in my days of growing up on the farm I worked with all of them.

But…there is one type of farm animal that I am glad my dad never chose to get involved with. Sheep…because in my experience, such as it is…sheep are quite possibly the dumbest animal on the planet. I first experienced this fact when helping a friend of mine load sheep into a trailer when I was about 16. All we had to do was block off one open slot in the fence, and the only direction they could go was down the fence line into the trailer…but as I stood there, blocking off a gap that wasn’t more than about 3 feet wide…that batch of sheep, being chased by my friend…totally ignored the open path right next to them…and thought that their best course of action was to go over me…not past me, not through me…but over me…and 5 sheep all attempted to jump over top of me.

I’ve heard stories of sheep in a pasture standing in one place…eating every single bit of grass within reach…and then refuse to move, to the point of someone having to go out and chase them to a new spot, otherwise they’ll starve.  They are completely and totally reliant on whoever it is that has taken on the task of caring for them. Sheep are the epitome of helpless creatures. They need to be led to water…they need to be led to pasture…and if a predator shows up…the blasted things will just stand there quivering until the predator comes in and picks one off.

Its true today…and based on a lot of the various stuff we hear in the scriptures, I’m guessing it was the same exact thing in Jesus day…Sheep are dumb. (pause) And now, as we find ourselves celebrating what is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday…we hear a portion of the larger story known as the Good Shepherd discourse…and over the course of the 3 year lectionary cycle, we hear the vast majority of this passage…as Jesus talks about being the shepherd…the one who cares for the sheep…the one who brings them in and out of the pen…who leads them to green pastures…the one who protects them from the bandit who breaks in to steal…his sheep know his voice and follow him when he calls.

Now you know…that is an interesting thing to think about…the sheep knowing the voice of the one who calls to them…they hear “Follow me” and that’s exactly what they do…but if they don’t recognize the voice, they ignore it…and I’ve certainly seen that in action growing up on the farm.

Dad would often send me out first to start rounding up the cows for milking…and so I’d head out in to the pasture…and pretty much all I would accomplish would be moving them from one corner to another as they simply walked away from me, and went right back to eating grass…but then a couple minutes later, Dad would step out of the barn…and I’d hear a whistle and a “COMEBOSS” and sure enough…those blasted cows would line right up and go traipsing into the barn slick as can be…they knew his voice, but ignored mine. (pause)
And so, as we hear in the scriptures…Jesus here in the midst of opposition, as he often finds himself…facing the question “Are you the Messiah” which is actually a question of “Are you the one who is going to lead us and take care of us?” And Jesus…gets the tiniest bit testy…Am I the Messiah…I have already told you that…and the signs that I have done testify to the truth of who I am. (pause) And then he drops the hammer on them…you don’t believe it, because you aren’t my sheep. They know me…they know my voice and believe it…they follow me…and I take care of them. (pause)

Now most often, when I hear this passage…or others like it…as Jesus talks about caring for his flock, and the trust that they have in him…its reassuring for me…because I count myself within that flock….but I got to thinking about it this week…and I realized that if Jesus is the shepherd…which he is…and I’m part of his flock…well then it stands to reason that Jesus…God in human form…is calling me a sheep.

God…is calling me a stupid, idiodic, mindless moron who is totally dependent on someone else for my well being…and as true as that might just be…it almost seems a little on the insulting side doesn’t it? Think about it…as you are sitting here today…it would seem that you’ve also heard the voice of the shepherd calling in one form or another…and so you have followed here, to this place…and so I guess that makes you a sheep too. We’re all in this together…a bunch of stupid creatures who will stand there starving to death rather than to walk 5 feet to achieve that which will sustain us…that is unless…someone leads us there. (pause)
But you know what…as crazy as that might sound…isn’t it about right? We human beings…as smart and accomplished as we have become as a species…are still pretty stupid aren’t we? We do dumb stuff…we say dumb stuff…we think dumb stuff…and more often that not…even though we might know better…we choose the dumb choice…because its in our nature.

We are sheep…totally dependent on the life that the shepherd provides for us…we may not always think so, but I think when we take an honest look we’ll all realize it. We need to be cared for…we need to be looked after…because in the end we are all broken creatures, standing there timidly shaking in the face of whatever predator it is that’s stalking us.

What is it that you fear? Be honest with yourself…because we all do. What makes you worry, quaking in your boots with the “what if” or the “What if not…” What pain lies in your life…whether physical or emotional…because we all carry pain…we all have sorrow, and fear…and perhaps…maybe, just maybe, the one that we all share, whether we want to admit it or not…is the realm of death…because its out there and even though we might chose to ignore it, it rears its ugly head more often than we care to admit.

Earlier this week my son was reading the headlines, and discovered that a pro wrestler that he knows and watches has been diagnosed with cancer…and the very same day he shared that with me, I received word that a gentleman who has served as camp grandpa out at family camp in Colorado…a man that I know as Grandpa Dave over the past decade, lost his battle with cancer…and as my son and I sat there talking about both of these things, we both agreed that death…it just doesn’t care. You can be old or young…you can be rich or poor…you can be famous or a nobody…and yet death comes after us all…and the more often I face it, the more I realize that its true…and it is scary.

And as I think about all of that…I start to see the truth…and I’ll admit it…Jesus says he’s the shepherd of the sheep…and I’m a sheep….BAA!

But there’s hope here too…because Jesus makes a promise…a promise that not only does he care for the sheep…he holds them in his hand…and nothing will snatch them away from him…not even death…because of what he has done for us…we hold onto the hope that there is more…that there is life beyond whatever barrier death represents…

But even more than that…right here…right now…in the midst of everything in this big scary world that often times leaves me shaking in my boots…Jesus says tells us that his sheep know his voice…and that is true…but even more importantly HE…KNOWS…THEM. (pause) He knows you…he knows your name…he knows your every thought…he knows your fears and your doubts and your failures and your victories…he knows your pain and sorrow…and he see each and every tear that falls…and in the midst of all that…HE HOLDS YOU IN HIS HANDS…both in those moments that we recognize it…as well as in the moments when our “sheep-brain” takes over and we’re too dim to realize it…Just like in the All-State commercials…you’re in good hands…because you’re in his hands. You are held in the hands of the good shepherd.

And just in case you’re wondering what makes him so good? Well, because our shepherd that gives us life abundant…our shepherd that loves his sheep…was willing to become one himself. He’s lived this life…he’s overcome the forces that bind us within it…and he leads us beyond them. (pause)
The Lord is my shepherd…I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. Yay though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…for you are with me…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  (pause)

Sheep are dumb and helpless…and I’m a sheep. BAA!

Normal is Out the Window 4-10-16

In this sermon, based on John 21:1-19, I explore the reality of God’s grace and how it utterly changes us. There is no going back to “normal.”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/normal-is-out-the-window-4-10-16

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

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

By now, I think most of you are used to my normal way of opening a sermon. I talk about a movie or a tv show or a song or a conversation or an event from my past that, at least in my mind, somehow connects with the gospel story…and once I explain the applicable anecdote its normal for me to say something along the lines of “and that’s where I connect with today’s gospel lesson.” (pause)

But today, normal is going out the window…and I’m going to start things off with a thought about creation…all the way back in Genesis 1…somewhere between the lines of the 4th day as God is making the various animals that walk the earth…because in the midst of everything…God said “Let there be dog,” and there was dog…and God saw that dog was good…and God said “Who’s a good dog? You’re a good dog.” (pause)

Full disclosure…that has nothing to do with ANYTHING today…but I saw it pop up on Facebook as I was pondering on this sermon and it made me laugh…because its so random…and telling a completely unrelated random joke, though not out of the ordinary for me in other settings…is so COMPLETELY out of the norm for me, it seemed like the perfect way to start off this sermon. (pause) Because as I mentioned…today, normal is right out the window…but not for lack of trying.

For today, as we find ourselves a few weeks out from the resurrection…and the reality that the tomb is empty has sorta begun to sink in for the disciples…and they seem to have accepted that the Risen Jesus is still out there walking around somewhere…popping into view from time to time…a group of the them are sitting around…a little over half of the remaining 11 disciples…and all I can think is…they’re getting bored. (pause)

Ever have a time like that…just sitting around…with nothing really going on…and out of the blue, someone has a random idea that they just decide to run with…that’s what happens…as these 7 guys are sitting there, wondering what’s next…Peter has a spark of an idea. “DUDES!!!! I’m going fishin.” I can only imagine the other 6 guys blinking at one another for a moment, only to chime in “Yah, that sounds good…let’s do that.” (pause)

But this is no random notion of a leisurely way to kill an afternoon…I think Peter has something else in mind all together. Because as we hear…this all occurs on the Sea of Tiberius…or as its more commonly known, the Sea of Galilee…and so it seems that Peter is heading home to his old stomping grounds…that’s where he’s from…that’s where he grew up…and fishing on the sea of Galilee…that’s how he made his living before that fateful day 3 years earlier when a random rabbi found him on the beach…and he’s not alone either…for also in the group are the sons of Zebedee…aka James and John…as well as a couple of unidentified disciples…one of which is likely Peter’s brother Andrew…and if you recall, those 4 dudes were partners…they worked together in the boats, with their nets…night after night…bringing in fish. (pause)
And now…it appears that they are going right back to it….almost like nothing had ever happened…like the past 3 years of their lives hadn’t occurred…that they hadn’t been called to follow Jesus…and wandered around with him…watching the healings…listening to the teaching…seeing the opposition…and that they hadn’t ended up in Jerusalem for the Passover…and shared a meal with Jesus when he washed their feet and told them to love one another…only to see him betrayed by his friend…and arrested, and tortured…and hung on a cross where he died…like they hadn’t seen the empty tomb, and then stood there in astonishment when the risen Lord appeared in their midst on multiple occasions. (pause)
Think about it…how could Peter have witnessed all of this stuff…and then shrugged his shoulders…and thought “Well, I guess this is done…I’ll just go back to normal.” (pause) Isn’t that what he’s doing here? Jumping right back into life like he knew it before? Seems like it…right on down to the events that occurred just before Jesus showed up in the first place.

We hear early on in Luke’s gospel, that Jesus shows up on the shore to find Peter and James and John and Andrew coming off an unproductive night’s worth of fishing…and he jumps in the boat with them, tells them to head back out…and throw the net off the wrong side of the boat…and low and behold…a miraculous catch of fish.

And now…here at the end…as they’ve attempted to get back to normal…they hear a voice from shore. “Children, have you no fish? (pause) Throw your net on the other side.” (pause) And once more…an amazing catch of fish…an abundant gift, miraculously provided by the Lord…and in this…they realize who it is that is calling out to them from the shore…and Peter…ever the impulsive one…promptly dives into the water to swim up to shore…leaving everyone else to haul in the amazing catch.

But what Peter finds when he makes it to shore seems to stop him up in a hurry doesn’t it? A charcoal fire burning…just like the one that had been burning in the courtyard of the temple…a fire just like the one where Peter warmed himself in the cold of night…when others stood there asking him “aren’t you one of his disciples…aren’t you one of his followers?” And three times at that fire…Peter…says…no. (pause)

And so as he comes up to shore, I can only imagine that previous moment…that previous failure…those three denials…were playing out in his mind…but the Lord, well he’s not thinking about that…he just invites his friends to breakfast…come on guys…let’s have a sandwich together. (pause)

Now here’s the thing…here in John’s gospel…this is it…this is the last story…there’s only a few more verses that follow what we read today before John comes to a close…and so as far John is concerned…this is the last encounter that the disciples will have with Jesus…and what do they do? Pretty much the same thing that Jesus always seems to do with those he encounters…they hang out…they share a meal…and have a conversation.

I get the sense that this was the key to Jesus…time spent with one another…abiding together…just being in the moment and enjoying the company…the relationship…but in this moment, Jesus also realizes that there’s something in the way for Peter…and that Peter’s thoughts are still caught up in his failure at that first charcoal fire…and maybe, just maybe, Jesus also realizes that Peter is living in denial of everything, as he has tried to go back to normal life…life like it was before…But Jesus knows better…and he reaches out to Peter, meeting him in the midst of the pain that he’s feeling in his failure.

Peter…do you love me? (hold up 1 finger). Yes Lord I love you…Okay…feed my lambs. (pause) Peter…do you love me (Hold up 2 fingers). Yes Lord, I love you…Okay…tend my sheep. Peter…do you love me (hold up 3 fingers). Yes Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you…Okay, Feed my sheep.

We hear that Peter is hurt at this three-fold question…but perhaps its simply because it reveals the depth of his betrayal and the shame that he feels at not being able to live up to what he had promised. (pause)

I’ve often found that life has this funny way of pointing out our failures and shortcomings to us doesn’t it? Maybe its our conscious, or maybe its that voice of the liar in the back of our minds that loves to make us feel lousy about ourselves…but I think its safe to say that no one recognizes our failings quite as well as we do about ourselves…and yet…God meets us right there.

That’s the amazing thing about the grace of God. This free gift of forgiveness and salvation…and a life eternal, spent abiding with God…both in the here and now as well as in the age to come…that’s the promise of God’s grace…that we don’t have to earn it…or avoid something in order to keep from loosing it…but rather that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less and that his love for us is already here…and the promise is already made and it is offered to us each and every day…each and every time we need it.

3 times Peter denied being Jesus’ follower…and so Jesus gives him 3 chances to renew the relationship…and then he gives him a task. (pause) Sin…repent…receive God’s grace already given…and get back to work.

That’s the amazing thing about this gift of God…this promise made to us…that once we receive it…normal goes right out the window…and life is not the same. When the grace of God hits you…and the Holy Spirit gives you that metaphorical 2×4 upside the head…there is no going back to the way things were…sure our day to day activities may continue…but the grace of God and his promises for us come along for the ride and that cannot be denied.

And the wonderful thing about all this…is that we have signs of this promise…something that we do, that God has given us, when these promises are made real in a tangible way…and we call this the sacraments…when we come to this font…or to any other font…or any other body of water period…and we hear the words that you are baptized in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit, then you are a new creation…and you are claimed by God as his beloved child, and those promises are yours. Not because of anything that you have done or said or thought…not by anything you have earned, or problems you have avoided…but simply because God has spoken this promise for you…and in just a few moments Rylan Pedersen will be brought to this font where the promises of God will be proclaimed for him…just as they are freely offered and proclaimed for each of you. Receive it today…and know that because of what God has already done…whatever normal has dominated your existence up until this point…its right out the window…because you are God’s beloved child, named and claimed…and nothing can take that away. Amen

This Makes No Sense 3-27-16

HE HAS RISEN!

In this sermon for Easter Sunday, taken from Luke 24:1-12, I explore the empty tomb and the angelic proclamation, but recognize that we have yet to see the Lord.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-makes-no-sense-3-27-16

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

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

During my first couple of years of college, I worked part time for a local pharmacy. I had a few different duties in that job, but my main one was making deliveries. The store offered the service of deliveries, a service utilized by quite a few shut-ins around the community, not to mention the three different nursing homes in town.

Now I really enjoyed this job, because the majority of my time was spent driving around town in my boss’ brand new, light blue, Chevy pickup, and keep in mind that this was in the late 90’s right about the time that remote car locks came on the scene. That was always my favorite part of deliveries. First stepping out of the truck and clicking that button, hearing the “CHIRP” of the horn…or on the flipside walking back out to the truck, hitting the button in my hand as I stepped up to door, and hearing the click of the door unlocking.

Except one time…I had just made a delivery to one of the nursing homes…and was walking back out through the parking lot…and as I stepped around the front end of a light blue pickup, I clicked that button…and nothing happened…so a second later when I reached out for the door handle…it didn’t open.

I didn’t think too much of it…and so I clicked the button again…nothing…now things are starting to get weird…but I thought, hey, I’ve still got the actual keys in my hand…I guess I’ll just unlock the door manually…kids, you might not realize this, but there was a time when we actually had to pull our keys out of our pockets and stick them in the car door to unlock it…crazy huh?

But when I tried that…it didn’t work either…and I just kinda stood there for a moment in disbelief…my mind could not comprehend the problem…which I’m guessing by now you have figured out (pause). Wrong truck…there happened to be 2 different light blue Chevy pickups sitting in the lot in that moment…and I was standing at the driver’s door of the wrong one…something that I discovered when I finally had the brilliant thought to click the lock button and I heard the “CHIRP”…from two spots away. (pause) Now I wish I could tell you that this is the only time that has ever happened to me…but I can’t. I did the exact same thing just a month or two ago in the parking lot down at Walmart…when I walked right up to a maroon Chrysler 200…and could not figure out why I couldn’t see the light’s flashing when I hit the unlock button…

Sometimes our minds just cannot accept the truth of what we are seeing…we cannot manage to wrap our heads around what are witnessing or experiencing. (pause)

And now…Easter Sunday…the Resurrection…one of the most important instances within the entire Bible…so important…that it is one of those stories featured in all four gospels…now of course, each account has some small differences in terms of details…but the overarching arc of this event holds true.

Jesus is buried on Friday…everyone waits through Saturday…women go to the tomb first thing Sunday morning…the stone is removed…the tomb is empty…and angels show up making proclamations about what has happened. (pause) That about covers it right? And Luke’s account that we have shared today is no exception.

But one thing about it that jumps out at me…is that the women must have had an experience sort of like what I did when I could not wrap my head around the issue with the car doors failing to unlock…now keep in mind, the women had watched everything happen on Friday…including the removal of Jesus body…and the placement of his body in the tomb…that’s why I included those extra couple of verses at the beginning of the gospel today…there can be no doubt…they watched it happen…and they knew…where the body of Jesus was…they knew where they were going.

And so when they show up early Sunday morning…and they find an open tomb…confusion…for they had seen the stone rolled in front of the door…but all that aside…then they step into the tomb…expecting to see a dead body, wrapped in linen, laying there on the stone floor of this small cave, carved out of solid rock.

But when they step into that tomb…there’s no body…and we hear that they were perplexed…which is really just a nice way of saying that they lost their minds over this. HOW CAN THIS BE? WHERE IS HIS BODY? WHERE IS THE LORD? (pause)
All logic says that his body should be laying there in the tomb…it was there a couple days ago…it should be there now…but…it…isn’t. And all the women see…all they experience in this moment…is an empty tomb…an empty grave…his body was here…and now it isn’t. (pause)

And as they stood there…perplexed…confused…out of nowhere…a couple of angels show up with a pretty question. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Imagine being the women in that moment…faced with this question…Why are you looking for him here? “Well duh…he’s dead…this is his grave…where else would he be?”

But then the angels give them the rest of the story…Yes…he was dead…but no longer…and look he is not here for he has risen…Remember his words that he told you…he predicted that this would happen…he told you he would die but then…that he would be raised.

And with that…the divine light bulb goes off for the women…and they remember that Yes…JESUS DID TELL US THIS…and it has come true…and that confusion…that state of being perplexed…that lifts…and their minds and their hearts are filled with faith…with belief…and not just belief in what the angels were telling them…but belief in the promise that Jesus had made…that he would rise again…and filled with this faithful joy, they run off to the disciples and share their experience.

I can only imagine the excitement that the women were feeling and showing as they shared the news…that the tomb is empty and angels appeared saying he is risen…can you imagine it?  (pause) Well something tells me that they must have been pretty worked up, because as we hear…the disciples…the very individuals who you would fully expect to get it…to understand it…to believe it…don’t. Luke tells us that the disciples thought the women were feeding them an idle tail…which is just a really nice politically correct way of saying the disciples thought this was a giant load of B.S…and they don’t believe a word of it.

The only one to even give it a second thought is Peter…and we hear that he runs off to see the empty tomb…only to head off from there in amazement…aka…just as confused as the women initially found themselves. (pause)
So just what the heck is going on here? We’ve got an empty tomb…and we’ve got an announcement of the Risen Lord…but what we don’t have…is a Risen Lord…granted…he shows up later…Later on that day he pops up on the road walking with two random disciples who cover 7 miles without recognizing him, until he breaks bread for them.

We hear somewhere during the day he shows up to Peter…and then later that night…he shows up out of nowhere with the entire group of disciples…who freak out, thinking he’s a ghost…and its not until he grabs a hunk of fish and eats it in front of them that they start to believe that its really him…

But that’s all later…here today…in our joyous celebration of Easter Sunday…there is no Jesus present…and when I realized that…it really made me stop and pay attention…and I began to ask the question…what is it that we are celebrating today? (pause
And the answer…the tomb is empty…and there has been an announcement that he is risen…and at this point…that’s it…HALLELUJAH!!!!! AN EMPTY CAVE! (pause)

But you know what…we all know that’s the not the end of the story…and even though we cut it off there today…it goes on…and we do hear about those instances when Jesus shows himself to his followers…and the interactions they have with the Resurrected Lord before he eventually ascends to Heaven and sends the Holy Spirit among us…and gradually, as those different individuals encountered the Risen Lord, they believed…but Jesus had a message for them…You have believed because you have seen me…blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.

And guess what my friends…that includes us…because look around…Have we seen the Lord? (pause) As much as I would love to say yes…I can’t…can you? (Pause) And yet you are here…and why? Well, because somewhere there is an empty tomb…missing a body…and because someone proclaimed to you that He Has Risen…

Now the funny thing about this…is that there are two possible reactions to this…two ways to respond to an empty grave and a proclamation of Resurrection…we can believe it as the women did…or we can blow it off as a big load of B.S. like the disciples did at first. (pause)
And think about it…doesn’t that pretty much cover the bases of responses? It does for me…because for a long time…I thought it was…and IDLE TAIL…but I kept hearing the proclamation…the words that Jesus himself had said…that he would be killed and then he would rise…and somehow…someway…the Holy Spirit managed to get in my brain…and I believed it. (pause) And since you are here…I’m guessing that you believed it too…maybe even just a little tiny bit…enough to bring you hear today to see if maybe, just maybe that tomb really is empty.

But others don’t…that’s just a reality of the world we live in…some believe this news that we claim as the best news in the world…but some laugh it off…because its utterly ludicrous to think that IF there’s a God out there…that God would become human…and that God would die…or that someone who had died…would come back. It defies all logic…and our minds cannot make sense of it. (pause) Mine couldn’t.

But maybe that’s okay…and maybe we don’t have to make sense of it…maybe we don’t have to understand it…maybe, the tomb just has to be empty…and someone needs to tell us He is Risen…Amen.

This Isn’t The End Maundy Thursday

This sermon for Maundy Thursday comes from John 13:1-12a, 31b-35. In the sermon I explore Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper, and the promises that are made that God’s love for us, expressed through Jesus Christ, will never end.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-isnt-the-end-maundy-thursday

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

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

There are quite a few things hanging on my refrigerator…but one dominating feature is a multitude of family pictures taken each year at Family Camp in Colorado, something many of you are aware that we do annually. We’ve been doing it for a while now too…and so there are 9 years’ worth of pictures hanging there.

I was looking at them yesterday morning…and of course the main thing that jumped at me was to see the changes of my kids as they’ve been growing. But as I sat there looking at the various pictures, I found myself thinking back to last year, and some of the things that were happening behind the scenes of that particular trip out west.

Some of you are aware that we had a health scare about that time…as there was a strong possibility that my wife had developed a cancerous growth in her neck…and for several months, she went through various tests with inconclusive results…and there was a lot of unknown…which culminated on that particular trip. It was shortly after we got home from Colorado last year that we found out that the growth was not cancer, and in the long run everything was fine. (pause)

But up until that moment when the doctor talked to me to let me know it was nothing more than the result of an infection…we were living in the tension of the unknown…and in that time I discovered something about myself. While I am pretty good at sitting with other people in the midst of their dark moments…I’m pretty lousy at sitting through my own…but I wonder…isn’t that the case for everyone? (pause)

And speaking of dark moments…tonight we find ourselves in the midst of about the darkest moment that the gospels have to offer. Maundy Thursday…the night when Jesus reclines at the table of the Last Supper with his disciples…the night he washes their feet as a sign of servant love…the night that he institutes the Lord’s supper (pause) The night…when he was betrayed.

Now interestingly enough…all these different events are tied in together…and though we didn’t highlight the specific passage tonight, its in the midst of what we did read…that Jesus once more predicts his betrayal, telling the disciples that the betrayer is sitting right there at the table with them…and after some further discussion, Jesus looks Judas in the eye…tells him to go do what he must do…and we hear as Judas leaves the table and then the house…that it is night.

Its not daytime, its not dusk, its not morning…its night…as dark as you can get…both figuratively as well as literally. (pause) Jesus finds himself on this night, in about the darkest point he can be…but in the midst of all this…he’s still busy doing the work intended by the father…and we hear, that Jesus loves his own who are in the world…and that he loves them till the end. (pause)

That’s an important phrase…till the end…because if we think about everything going on here in the gospel…it seems like the end isn’t very far off. Tonight is the night when Jesus is betrayed…tomorrow…he’s dead and buried…even the name given to this meal…the Last Supper…gives a tone of finality doesn’t it? (pause) And so what do we make of that phrase that Jesus loves his own until the end? Perhaps we think of the way in which he protects his disciples later on that night…as he leaves them in the protection of the garden and goes out to meet the mob led by Judas…Perhaps we think of the moment as Jesus hangs on the cross, and in the midst of his torment, he provides ongoing care for his mother by placing her in the protection of the beloved disciple…or the way that he forgives the very people that are torturing him…or when he tells the criminal hanging beside him that today you will be with me in paradise.

But then, Jesus dies…and his body is placed in the tomb…and so it seems, by all logic…that the end…is coming right up doesn’t it? It seems that the darkness is about to win…and with it…the love of Jesus for his own in the world…will end as Jesus meets his end. (pause)

And if that’s the case…then the events here at the last supper seem a little strange…because I’m pretty sure that Jesus knew what was coming…he knew what was about to happen…and yet he spends this time, serving his disciples…taking on the role of a slave by washing their feet…and then as they recline at the table…Jesus grabs a hunk of bread and he tears off a piece and before handing it, one by one…to each of his beloved friends he tells them…this is my body…it is broken for you…when you eat it…remember me.  And then after supper is over he picks up the cup of wine…and once more looks them in the eye and says this is my blood poured out for you…when you drink it, remember me.

These seemingly simple acts and words are anything but…simple…because here at the Last Supper…we realize that the supper isn’t over yet…and if Jesus loves his own who are in the world till the end…then we need to realize that its not the end yet. (pause)

You know its funny, my preaching professors back in school harped on us the importance of preaching the day…and more often than not I stick to that…but if that’s the case…then I need to stop right now…because its Thursday…and yes Jesus eats a meal with his disciples…and does some simple yet utterly cryptic stuff…but then then walk out of that supper and I’m guessing the disciples were still confused…and then a little while later…Jesus is arrested…and they run away.

And so if I preach the day…that’s where I stop…with all hope lost…with the first steps happening towards the cross which Jesus has predicted time and time again. (pause) But I can’t stop there…and I won’t…If you were in worship a couple weeks ago, I talked about being Saturday people…of living in the tension between the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and the joy of the resurrection on Sunday.

And that notion of living in that tension still holds today. Yes, we are in dark time now…and tomorrow is even darker…but we also know what happens on Sunday…because for us the tomb is already empty…and we know…that tonight is not the end…no matter how much it might have seemed like it in that moment. (pause)

I want to back up now to something I said earlier…about how I’m pretty good at sitting with people in the midst of their darkness, but I have found that I’m pretty bad at sitting in the midst of my own. (pause)
I was reminded of that on Tuesday…because Tuesday was a pretty dark day in a lot of ways…none that really applied to me directly…but to a lot of people around me…people that I care about.

If any of you were in town Monday late afternoon…you heard the sirens of the ambulance and firetrucks leaving town…racing north…racing to the scene of an accident that left 3 high schoolers injured and one 14 year old boy dead…I heard the sirens, but I didn’t hear the news until Tuesday morning…that for 3 families, life was shaken…and for 1 family…everything just stopped.

I was also thinking about a family…and specifically an individual…who is watching their mom die…having just gone into hospice…and another family dealing with a painful memory tied to that day.

And I was thinking about a pair of my seminary classmates…a married couple, 6 months into their first pregnancy…only to lose their baby…and finally in the midst of all that stuff rattling around in my head before I even got into the office on Tuesday…then I opened my computer to read the news of two bombs going off in Brussels…40 or so dead, countless more injured. (pause)

All of this stuff going on around me…not really to me mind you…but around me…all these different individuals and families who were experiencing the tragedy…the darkness…and for them in that instant…life came screeching to a halt…the world was ending….and because I care about these people and the world that we live in…it affected me…and so I was pretty moody through the day.

But then the day went on…and I walked out of the office…and I recognized how beautiful of a day it was…and my son and I went out into the backyard to play catch…and as we were out there…I heard birds singing…and cars going by on the highway…and I heard the sounds of the high school soccer practice in the open field down the hill…and later on we walked over the school and I stood and watched a few minutes of a little league baseball game…and I talked with different people…and life went on. (pause)

I’ve noticed this type of thing before…typically on days when I’ve presided at funerals…because more often than not, funerals end up happening on nice days…and outside of that funeral…which is so difficult for those in attendance…life goes on for everyone else…the world might be ending for those individuals…but not for everyone else.

I bring all of this up…because of that promise that we hear about Jesus…that he loves his own…and he is with them till the end…and if Holy Week shows us nothing else…it is this…we haven’t reached the end yet. The world continues…and you know what…the Last Supper isn’t over yet either….because when we receive the bread and the wine…and we hear the same words that Jesus spoke to his friends…we are joining in that same supper…and the love of Jesus is still present in the world. We just need to know where to look for it.

But you know what…Jesus talked about too…I give you a new commandment…that you love one another…this is how the world will know that you are my disciples, whom I love…that you love one another. (pause)

We are the body of Christ here on Earth…we are joined together through the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that go far beyond our understanding…but as the body of Christ we are called to be Christ for one another.

On Tuesday, many different people experienced the darkness first hand…and for them, in that instant, it seemed like the end…but those around them…those who gathered around them with love and support…they were Christ in that moment…continuing to love those who needed it…sitting in the midst of the darkness with those who couldn’t escape it.

That is what we are called to do…that is why Christ tells us to love one another…so that in our moments of darkness that we can’t escape…we can see first-hand that it…IS NOT…the end…and that the love of God is still present…even in the midst of the darkness. (pause)
Tonight Jesus is betrayed…he is arrested…he is tortured…he is hung on a cross and he dies…but the biggest threat to Jesus…the thing he feared the most was being separated from the love of the Father…even for a period of a couple of days in the tomb…but Jesus will do this…Jesus…HAS…done this…to ensure that we are never left alone…because he loves us…till the end…and his love is present whenever we show love and compassion for one another…and we find his love, in our darkest moments, in the love and compassion we receive from those around us. May we realize, both now on this dark night…and in each of those moments when darkness surround us…that despite everything this dark world throws at us…Jesus has promised us…that this is not the end.

If you can see this…then be the light…show the love of Christ for those around you who need it…and if you can’t…then look to those who offer it to you.  We are not alone in this world…for we are the body of Christ…He loves us till the end…so we love too. Because this isn’t the end. Amen.

 

A Piece of that Peace 3-20-16

This morning’s sermon for Palm Sunday comes from Luke 19:28-40. This is the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, and features the only gospel account of opposition within the crowd during his entry into the city. I explore the basis of that opposition.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-piece-of-that-peace-3-20-16

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

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

If you get a group of people together who are familiar with the Christmas story and ask them to list out the details of that story…just spit-balling off the top of their heads…inevitably before the list is complete someone will mention Mary riding a donkey into Bethlehem. I have seen this time and again…most recently a few months back when our Adult Bible study bumped into the Christmas story.

Now in itself this isn’t a bad thing at all…there’s only one catch…nowhere in the gospel narrative…not even in a single gospel account…do we actually hear that Mary and Joseph have a donkey on their trip between Nazareth and Bethlehem. While its certainly possible that there was a donkey in tow…the scriptures never mention it.

And so ever since that discussion…there has been an ongoing joke within the group about that blasted donkey…but today’s gospel lesson offers the reprieve…and even though Mary didn’t have a donkey…30 odd years later…Jesus rode one into town. (pause)

All kidding aside, the setting for today’s story is a familiar one…Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry…as Jesus parades into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey…heralded by shouts of joy and hosanna…with people laying their cloaks on the road before him and waving their palms around…BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD….Blessed is the king. (pause)

Certainly this is one of those stories that we have heard before isn’t it? We celebrate this day every year on the church calendar…the lectionary texts highlight it to kick off Holy Week every year…all four gospels feature it in one form or another…and in a rare instance…all four gospels are fairly consistent with the details…but…as per usual with stories featured across the board…not everything is the same is it…and so allow me to point out a couple of differences.

The first one is simply a humorous observation…here in Luke, when Jesus instructs the two disciples to go find the donkey…there is no indication that once the Lord is done with it, he will send it back…it seems that here in Luke, the donkey remains with Jesus…in short, Jesus hijacks the donkey…perhaps to make up for the lack of his mother’s donkey 30 years prior. (pause)

Secondly…and much more serious…the opposition from the Pharisees. Luke alone lists opposition here at the triumphal entry…Matthew and Mark and John…all three of them simply list out the celebration…the joy of Jesus entering the city…and its only in the encounters that come after this that we hear of the religious elite stirring up trouble…But that’s not the case here in Luke…and we hear in the midst of the celebration…the Pharisees…the Biblical Bad-Guys…pull Jesus aside to try to get him to hush up the crowd. “Teacher…rebuke your disciples.”

Now this raises the question of what they are opposing. And if we shoot from the hip on this one…perhaps it seems that they are simply carrying on with their regular response to Jesus…opposing his message…opposing him…and simply sitting there on their Pharisee-high horse. That’s par for the course for this group of people isn’t it?

But what if that wasn’t in fact the case…and what if there was actually something else going on? (pause) That brings me to the last difference here in Luke’s account that isn’t present in the other gospels…the actual words that the crowd is joyfully shouting to the rooftops as Jesus rides into town…Blessed is the king. (pause) Luke not only features the Pharisees squawking…trying their best to hush every one up…but its also the only time that the crowds use the word…king. (pause)

Now at first glance this may not seem like a huge deal…but allow me to set the stage again. Jesus is coming into Jerusalem…which we all know…it is the site of the temple…and as such is the center of the Jewish culture…it is the religious center…and for them, their religious life is tied 100% together with all things political…going all the way back to King David…the one who established Jerusalem as the capital…and laid plans for the temple to be built in the first place.

So that’s where Jesus is coming into…and the timing it pretty important as well…for Jesus is coming into the Passover celebration…one of the three big important festivals in the Jewish culture…and now think about what Passover celebrates in the first place…the time when God freed the Israelites from slavery and oppression at the hands of Egypt…in short…this is a festival that celebrates new freedom…and it is attended by countless Jewish people from all over the known world. (pause)

And one more point…consider the known world at the time…this was the height of the Roman Empire…and Rome controlled everything…including Jerusalem. (pause) And here’s the thing about Rome…once an area and culture was conquered…they fell under something called the Roman Peace…which essentially meant that if you kept your head down…and paid your taxes…and didn’t interfere or talk back…they would pretty much leave you alone…but on the flip side…if you opposed them…well then the Romans weren’t quite so nice.

Now, what do you think they would do if suddenly this little backwater part of the empire suddenly crowned a new a king…and started rallying around this guy, who their religion taught them would toss the oppressors out on their keisters. Something tells me that wouldn’t go over very well.

And so here we are…in Jerusalem…at the start of a festival that celebrates liberation from oppression…and giant crowds have gathered to do just that…and so the Romans bring in tons of re-enforcements including the Governor himself…this guy you may heard of named Pilate…and now…this random dude attracts a crowd of his own, who are chanting about him being the coming King…and not only that, but riding a donkey which just so happens to fulfill the ancient prophecies about how the anointed king would enter into the city. (pause)

Sorta sounds like trouble is brewing doesn’t it? Sorta sounds like the very thing that might just end that Roman Peace that was in effect…sounds like the very thing that might end up bringing the Roman Army down upon them.

And considering all that…who among the Jewish culture would be the ones to realize all this? The cultural leaders perhaps? Those who are prominent in society? Like maybe…some of the religious leaders…the Pharisees perhaps? (pause)

What if the Pharisees…when they tell Jesus “Teacher, rebuke your disciples” they aren’t trying to hush the crowds into denying Jesus…but maybe, just maybe…they were trying to protect them…maybe, despite their error…they actually have Israel’s best interest in mind here…and they are trying to maintain the peace…or at least the peace found in their current status quo. Maybe they actually have good intentions. (pause)

But you know what they say…the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (pause) Because in the end, what happens…First off, Jesus tells them that if the people don’t celebrate his arrival then the rocks will cry out…that even nature recognizes that something big is happening…and there is no stopping it.

But then, Jesus goes on his way…he enters the city…reeks further havoc when he goes into the temple and drives out the merchants…but then spends the next few days sitting there in the temple teaching the crowds. The Romans don’t seem to care…and in fact, its not until the religious leaders trump up false accusations against him at the end of the week that the Romans even get involved…and when they do…they don’t really want to do anything. (pause)

I say all of this…because the fragile peace that the Pharisees were trying to protect…was simply an illusion…there was no peace…they were simply keeping their heads down to avoid the display of power on the part of the biggest schoolyard bully that existed at the time…40 years later…their illusion of peace was gone when Rome utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. (pause)

But Jesus was up to something more…and he knew it…he wasn’t coming into Jerusalem just to celebrate the Passover like a good Jewish man was expected to do…Jesus came to challenge the status quo…and to bring about true peace…not just the illusion of peace that exists here in our present reality…the illusion that disappears the instant someone feels the need to display their power.

Jesus was coming to accomplish something that had never happened before…and through the most violent, horrific, tragic torture and death that you can imagine…he brought about peace between God and humanity…he went through the ultimate darkness to reveal the light of life within our dark reality. (pause)

And maybe…just maybe, the Pharisees saw that coming…or maybe they didn’t and in the end all they were really trying to do was save their own skin…maintain their own illusion of safety…

Don’t we do the same? (pause) Don’t we love to live in denial…to keep our head’s down thinking that the status quo is the only way it can be? We hide from the light of God…because all too often we don’t like what light reveals.

Every morning, when the sun shines through the big east window over in the parsonage, I’m amazed at two things…to see just how dirty those windows are…and second at the amazing amount of dust and dirt that shows up when the light shines on it.

And this is true in our lives as well…because the light of the ultimate truth reveals those things that we’d rather keep out of sight and out of mind…those secrets that we keep…and society for us today…just like the Pharisees back in Jesus day…it dictates what is acceptable and what should remain hidden.

We all have these things…these painful secrets that we hide away…but I want you to know that Jesus desires that you be free of those things…that’s why the light entered the darkness…to drive it back…and take these burdens from us…whatever it is…addiction…mental illness…anger…sadness…depression…all of these things that society has deemed unacceptable…and so more often that not we hide them away…and put on the illusion of peace in our lives…but that’s all it is…an illusion.

But thanks be to God that Jesus took the darkness of the cross, revealing the true light of God…but more importantly revealing those things within us that we can’t hide from God. (pause) And despite those things about ourselves that we are ashamed of…those things that society says are unacceptable…God looks at us, and doesn’t see those things…God looks at us and sees one that he loves…one that he adores…one that he claims as his beloved…and there is nothing that will stand in the way of God making that claim upon us…that’s what Jesus shows us this week…that there is no length he will not go to for us…to establish the TRUE peace within our lives…and within our relationship with God.

And that gives me hope…hope in the face of that crap that lies back in the shadows of my life…hope in the presence of pain caused by the darkness within those that I care about…and even…hope in the face of this dark world that tries so hard to keep us in the status quo.

This hope found in Jesus is true peace…and while this does not ensure that our lives will be perfect…we cling to the hope and the joy that we find in knowing that we are loved and we are accepted…and that in the relationship between God and you…there is true peace.

I’ll take a piece…of that peace any day. Amen.

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