Some Assembly Required 7-24-16

In this sermon, based on the first account of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3, I explore the ongoing work that God has done in bringing our reality away from a formless void and moving towards order. This work is ongoing, and God has invited us to be a part of it.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/some-assembly-required-7-24-16

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

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

Often times when something annoys me, I end up calling it the bane of my existence…and I do this because I’m a little bit of a drama queen…and I’m okay with that.

But if there is one thing that truly does get my goat…it’s the phrase…some assembly required…and specifically…when I open up a package and find a batch of instructions that begin with this evil evil phrase. It happens with any number of different things…most recently, it was a new dresser…I’ve seen it on countless birthdays and Christmas mornings…after the presents are opened of course…and I even think about it when I’m faced with fajitas at a Mexican restaurant…I refuse to order them because my food should not be…some assembly required. (pause)
And yet, when we think about it…everything…absolutely everything here in our existence…was at one point…some assembly required…someone, or something…put it together…and we know this, because scientific discovery has allowed us to observe matter, all the way down to the atomic level…and of course, science is also working to bring our understanding down even farther than that…but since I don’t have an astrophysics degree, I’m gonna let that one go. (pause)

All of this…every single bit of it came from somewhere.  Now how it all works? I don’t know…Where it all came from…I don’t know…and I don’t have to…and yes I know that there are many different theories and ideas and understandings and interpretations…and we aren’t here to debate them today…but rather…we take a look around…as we find ourselves out in nature…out in our natural reality…out here in…creation.

Now creation is an interesting word…because it speaks to the very notion of being made…that this place where we are today…is part of a larger whole…this park, is part of a county…which is part of a state…which is part of a nation…which is part of a continent…which is part of a hemisphere…which is part of our world….and it doesn’t stop there…because it’s a part of our solar system, which is part of our galaxy…which is part of our universe…and at this point I’ll turn it back over to the astrophysicists again to explain it further.

But all of this…that which we can see and observe…and that which is either too small or too large…or simply too different for us to be able to witness…all of this…came from somewhere….and today we have heard an account of the creation of our reality…one of many possibilities…shoot, one of two that we find with distinct differences even within the first two chapters of scripture…an account that certainly butts heads with scientific theories…one that butts heads with other cultural mythologies of where everything came from.

This story…Genesis chapter 1 verse 1 through chapter 2 verse 3…tells the story of how God started off with a formless void…and step by step…in ways that we cannot understand or fathom…and certainly in ways that we ourselves cannot achieve…God has brought that formless void up to the point that we see as we look around right now…in this moment.

Now once again…I’m not going to tell you if you should take this batch of 34 verses literally…I’m not going to say that God pulled it off in 6 days and that the earth is a few thousand years old…and on the flip side I’m not going say that the Big Bang is right and all of this has been swirling around for a dozen or so billion years…you can make up your own minds about that.

But what I do think is this…that if we are to look at this story of creation, not to mention the second one that starts up immediately after it…I believe that we find a very simple and yet profound truth…that creation…was some assembly required…and that in each respective time frame…be them days or eons…God took creation one step away from that formless void…that chaos…and with each respective step, God brings creation…nearer and nearer to completion.

And with each step…God takes a look and like a proud craftsman…God nods his head and says….Yah…that’s good. (pause)

Day one…God hovers over a formless void…and we hear there’s water…which is understandable as the Jewish culture views the deep…the ocean…the sea…they understand as the unknown void…and if you’ve ever stood next to sea shore and felt utterly small…then you understand this.

That’s how things are…formless, empty, unknown…and dark…devoid of even the slightest trace of light…and so…that’s where God starts…Be light…and Light was…and there was a separation…and distinction between darkness and light…one step towards order…and that’s good.

And then God decided that there needs to be something of separation between water…there must have two sets of water…and so God made a dome to separate the top water from the bottom…and God called it sky…and God nodded his head…cuz that’s good.

And then God looked at the world that was in process…and God pulled the water together and called it Sea…and the dry land appeared and God called it Earth…so not only do has creation achieved separate and order between the land and the water…and not only has God set a boundary on the sea saying “you’ll come this far and no farther” But now we even hear that God grants identity to the two…you will be sea and you will be earth…another step towards order…and its good. (pause)

And now God starts making thing interesting…because next we have vegetation…grass and trees and all kinds of plant life…and we hear that God makes them to bear seed…to be able to reproduce…its at this point that God allows his creation…this ongoing masterpiece to begin to work along side him in the ongoing process of creating order…because if the plants can reproduce…then for the first time we have something able to be formed without God doing it directly…and what does God say? He says that’s good.

And then, God continues this work of creating distinction and order and he makes the sun and moon and stars…and makes them in such a way that they create order in the days and years and seasons…and even night and day…and that’s good.

And then God decides that plant life isn’t sufficient…because life is just too cool…and so the waters bring forth all matter of fish and swarming creatures…and the air is full of birds…and its good and God likes it and he tells these creatures…be fruitful and multiply…and fill the earth….and once more we have a step forward…as intelligent life is empowered to create of itself to fill the earth with life…and as good as God knows that is…he’s not content with the sea and the sky to be filled…and so he brings forth the beasts of the land…of every kind…and its good.

So now by this point…things have come a long way…we started with a formless void and now we have the earth and the seas and sky all filled with life…and we have the amazing creation of the earth itself with all of its majesty…but God’s not satisfied yet.

And so God makes that one thing that scripture tells us is God’s greatest creation…humanity…made in very image of God…and now what’s that mean? That’s a great question…maybe that divine image is what gives us our intellence…or our ability to form culture and relationships…maybe it is in the very appearance of our bodies…it could be a lot of things…or maybe its all of these things…but most importantly…it includes our God-given ability and instruction to join with him in the ongoing work of creation…and an appreciation for beauty and order.

We have this ability, because God instructed us to be fruitful and multiply…and subdue the earth…humanity alone in this amazing creation…we alone we invited by God to join with him in the work of bring all of this towards completion…with each step, God has brought things farther away from chaos and towards the ultimate balance…and we aren’t there yet…but isn’t it amazing to realize that God desires our help in this work…and if you don’t believe me…then believe God…because while every step up to this point has been…good…once God makes us and invites us into this work…indeed…it is…VERY GOOD.

And so, may we use our gifts and talents…those very qualities and abilities to help God create…believing in the promise that one day this work will be completed…and that God has promised that we each have a place within it. Amen.

Quit Working So Hard 7-17-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:38-42, I explore Jesus’ encounter with Mary and Martha, two sisters who represent both sides of the coin in our lives of faith.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/quit-working-so-hard-7-17-16

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

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

We moved from the Okoboji area up to the Twin Cities during the last couple of days of 2010…and so by the time of the Super Bowl in 2011, we’d only been living there for a month or so. For the most part, we didn’t know a whole lot of people up that way yet…with about our only built in community consisting of a couple of my wife’s cousins…and my uncle and his three kids.

As it turned out, my uncle invited us over to his house to watch the big game…and since we didn’t have any other plans, that’s what we figured on and so…on game day, late afternoon, we headed on over…now just a touch of back story…my uncle had recently been widowed, so hosting duties fell squarely on his shoulders that day…and let me tell you…he did not disappoint.

We walked in to find a spread of all sorts of different game time food including a bunch of different appetizers as well as some pretty darn good chili…not to mention the house was spotless…he had been busy.

But I still remember when we sat down, just in time for kickoff, my uncle let out a big old sigh and said “Wow…all this cooking and cleaning to get ready by myself…it’s a lot of work.” And I’m sure it was…it reminds me of the gradual change that we’ve undergone in recent years when we find ourselves preparing for guests coming over…particularly when the guests are family.

Gone are the days of making sure that the house is utterly spotless…because when we stop and think about it…all those extra people are going to get it messy…and then you promptly have to pick it all up again…and because of this, my wife and I have adopted a slightly different approach…bathroom and floors…namely we do clean the bathrooms and we run a broom across the floor…but that’s it…the major cleaning will happen after everyone else is gone.

Now I bring this up, because our gospel story features the same sort of deal…just like my uncle going all out to prepare for his role as host…with all sorts of food and a spotless house…just for us to sit and watch a football game mind you…today we hear that Jesus enters a village and is welcomed into the home of Martha…who turns into a major busy-body…all while her sister takes a load off, sitting at Jesus feet as he talks.

I can only imagine that Martha takes the same sort of approach…strapping on her apron and cooking up a storm…grabbing a broom…dusting spray, window cleaner…toilet bowl cleaner…washing the rugs, pulling out new bedding in the guest room…etc…etc…etc.

Okay, so maybe I went overboard there…but as we hear in the story…I’m not the only one…because Martha quite literally, goes overboard as well…and even though we don’t know exactly what’s she’s doing…we know she’s busy…so busy in fact that she was worried and stressed and completely absorbed in so many different things all at once, that she likely wasn’t accomplishing any of them overly well.

But you know what…I don’t really blame her…because she was in the mode of making sure absolutely everything got done that was expected…even if it was really needed. (pause) I think a lot of us have that tendency don’t we…the tendency to go overboard, trying to check everything off the list so that we can finally sit down and relax…all the while our guests…probably would rather that we just sit down and relax in the first place.

But that’s not what happens is it? (pause) Jesus has entered the house and is sitting there engaging with whoever else is there…and Martha keeps jumping from task to task…all the while getting more and more irritated because someone else is there who isn’t doing what’s expected of them…Mary…get off your keister and come help me.
But Mary ignores her…instead paying attention to the Lord…listening to his words…and Martha gets more and more irritated…and I don’t blame her…been there done that…who among us hasn’t had a time when they were doing task after task, and someone else just sits there…refusing to pitch in and do their share…doesn’t that drive you nuts when that happens? Doesn’t matter who it is…a coworker…a buddy…your kids…your spouse…they sit there, either intentionally ignoring you…or possibly just oblivious to the fact that you could use a hand.

No wonder Martha eventually got angry enough that she snarked off at Jesus…LORD…DON’T YOU CARE THAT MY SISTER HAS LEFT ME TO DO ALL THE WORK…TELL HER TO HELP ME!!!! (pause)
Now I have to admit…Jesus reaction in this story…it catches me just a little off guard…but maybe it shouldn’t…because he’s calling it like it is…Martha…Martha…you are worried and distracted by many things…there is need for only one…Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. (pause)

The reaction of Jesus gives me pause…mainly because of what we have just hear from him. Directly before this passage, Jesus shares the parable of the Good Samaritan…offering the lesson that as followers of Christ…we are called to be servants…to meet the needs of those that we encounter…Jesus himself tells us that he has come among us as a servant and instructed us to do likewise….so when Martha is so passionately trying to meet the needs of her guests…why is it that Jesus gives her this gentle rebuke? (pause)
All too often when we hear this passage…I fear that it’s a common reaction that we demonize Martha…that we paint her with a portrait of the tyrant older sister…the strict one who cares more about appearances and rules and expectations than she does about anything else…and at the same time, we think of Mary as having it all together…being the image of the perfect Christ follower…and when we do that…we are doing a disservice to Martha.

In truth, I think that Mary and Martha represent two sides of the same coin…how do we respond to the Lord…or perhaps a way for us to think about it today, is how do we respond to one who brings the good news…because isn’t that what Jesus must have been sharing as he sat there in Martha’s house? Isn’t that what Mary must have been listening to? (pause)
Now think back to some of the different gospel texts we’ve heard recently…the Good Samaritan and serving our neighbors that I’ve already mentioned…and the mission of the 70, when Jesus sends his followers out to proclaim the good news…and doing so at the mercy of others…utterly dependent upon the hospitality of those that they are proclaiming the good news to.

And so we realize that at times, we are called to serve…and at other times we’re called to listen to the voice of the Lord…both are needed…both are important…and I really realized this as I worked with the original language of this text…and we hear that Martha was so worried and distracted by her many tasks…but the word for that is the same word that we apply to the notion of service or ministry…Martha was distracted by her many ministries…and Jesus tells her…you are doing many things…only one is needed.

Now at first, when I thought about that…picturing Martha cooking a 5 course meal while trying to sweep and dust and wash windows all at the same time…it occurred to me that all Jesus probably needed was for her to pick up a spare cloak off the chair so he could sit down…and maybe she could make him a sandwich…and then come sit down too so they could actually share the time together….but she was so wrapped up in her many acts of service…her many ministries that she wasn’t actually accomplishing any of them…and she was ignoring the voice of the one who simply desired to spend time with her.

I wonder if we do the same…if we get so wrapped up in so many different things that we aren’t doing any of them well…and I wonder if this is the case in the church…we do a lot here at Underwood…and there are a lot of other churches that do a lot as well…and the greater church…we have so many ministries going on at any given time, I wonder if we are actually accomplishing that which is needed…which is often quite simple…Preach the gospel, share the sacraments, and announce the forgiveness of sins…that’s what the church is called to do…and in the mean time, we’re called to sit at the feet of our Lord…time well spent…time that shapes us…that helps us grow…a time that we could call Sabbath.

Now just what this looks like is different from person to person, and even from time to time…There is no rule book for Sabbath…God just tells us to keep it Holy…to realize that Sabbath is a way and a time that we encounter the Lord…perhaps its time spent in the word…or maybe its time we spend gathered in community here in worship…or maybe its time spent praying…or maybe, just maybe, its like when you’re sitting around with your buddied with no agenda…and someone says “What do you want to do?” And someone else says “I dunno…what do you want to do?” And so you just sit there drinking coffee and having a conversation about nothing…and then at some point you realize that this is some of the most relaxing wonderful time that you’ve ever spent together. (pause)

I think that’s the point that Jesus is trying to make today…when he gently calls Martha’s name twice…because maybe the first time she didn’t hear him…and he needed to call her again….Martha…calm down…you don’t have to do all that…all I need is a sandwich and place to sit down…and then we can spend time together.

Now granted…we don’t know just what happens…because the story cuts off here and Luke takes the narrative in a different direction…but I’d like to think that once Jesus finally gets Martha’s attention…that she stops…and she takes off her apron…and she puts down her broom…and she pulls up a chair beside her sister…content simply to spend time with the one who is willing to call her by name…just as he is willing to call each of us by name.

May we remember to slow down…and to stop trying to do everything…when only one thing is needed…you have been empowered by the Holy Spirit with gifts for the kingdom…and that is wonderful…and yes we are called to use them…but sometimes simply doing that one thing is enough…so that we still have time to listen the voice of the one who calls our name…and we can simply be content to ask the Lord “So what do you want to do?” and maybe in that instance, the Lord will simply reply “I dunno…what do you want to do?” (take a drink of coffee) Maybe we should just do this for awhile.   Amen.

Here We Go Again 7-10-16

In this sermon based on Luke 10:25-37, I explore the parable of the Good Samaritan in light of recent violence and killing. Jesus reminds us that we are unable to “do” the law, but reminds us that we can and must be moved to compassion to come along side our neighbors.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/here-we-go-again-7-10-16

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

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

My grandfather was in the Navy during World War 2. He was assigned to a destroyer escort, a small ship in the fleet compared with some of the big dogs like aircraft carriers or battleships…but important none the less.

The ship that Grandpa served on was stationed in the North Atlantic, and was tasked with hunting and destroying German submarines…now Grandpa never told me just how successful his ship was at this task…but I do know that they destroyed at least one. (pause)
Now I can’t speak from experience, but I have tried to imagine the state of mind when military members find themselves in situations like this…most of them young impressionable people…practically kids…following orders, and probably scared out their minds.

But regardless of that, Grandpa’s ship destroyed the sub, which came to the surface as it was breaking up…and survivors were jumping out into the water…and with that…the duty of the men on Grandpa’s ship changed…and they went out on deck to pluck those survivors out of the water…enemies yes…but now prisoners of war…and most importantly, fellow human beings.

Grandpa was on deck, pulling men up from the water…and one individual stood out…another young man who was wounded in the chest. Grandpa pulled him out, just one of who knows how many…but the memory of that man stayed with Grandpa…and decades later…somehow, someway, those two guys…now senior citizens…managed to locate one another…Grandpa in Arizona, the other man in Germany…and thanks to a friendly neighbor down the street who was fluid in the language, Grandpa was able to exchange letters with this former enemy for several years…learning about one another and sharing stories of their respective lives…they never met again in person…but in this small way, these two former enemies became friends. (pause)

I’m guessing that you’re making the connection. The parable of the Good Samaritan…when someone offers a helping hand…this story is perhaps…one of the finest in the scriptures…or in the very least, its one of the most widely known.  So much so that the phrase “good Samaritan” has become synonymous with the idea of random acts of kindness…witnesses the need of a stranger and coming to their aid.  We have laws dubbed Good Samaritan…and these laws were even featured in the series finale of the popular sitcom Seinfeld…resulting in the 4 main characters sent to jail for failing to help someone in need.

Now all too often…when this story comes up for preaching…or even in general conversation…we hear the application of how we should think or act from a moral standpoint…see the need meet the need…and that’s not in error…after all Jesus says “Go and do likewise.”

But to be perfectly honest…I’m not even that interested in the parable itself today. Rather…I’m more interested in the exchange that goes on between Jesus and the expert in the law at the beginning of the passage.

Now here’s the thing…this isn’t a lawyer like we think of things today…but rather…he’s an expert in the law of Moses…he’s the pro…the authority…the equivalent of a tenured Seminary professor with a doctorate in the 10 Commandments as well as the rest of the laws laid out by Moses clear back in the book of Deuteronomy. He knows it cold.

And so we begin to question his motives when he steps up to “test” Jesus…while we can’t be sure…it certainly seems as if his intentions are less than ideal…likely he’s hoping to discredit Jesus’ teaching…or in the very least, since he’s wanting to justified…his intentions are simply to make himself look good…but regardless…whatever his motivations are…he asks what could be considered to be the most important question that any of us ever wrestle with…what must I do to inherit eternal life?

Now what strikes me as interesting here, is that Jesus does the typical Jesus thing…and manages to point out exactly where the problem is for the individual…and he does so here by turning the question back upon the questioner…What is written in the law? What do you read?

Jesus might as well be saying “You know this, what do I need to tell you for.” But the man responds…love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind…and then love your neighbor as yourself…and Jesus approves…you have given the right answer…do this and you will live.

But now here’s where things get tricky…and where the man trips up…because its not enough to know the right answer…as we see…he needs to go one step farther to prove…perhaps to those around but most importantly to himself…that’s he’s covered the bases…and so he poses the next question…And who is my neighbor?

Cue the parable…random dude gets jumped by bandits and is left for dead…two people who should both know better…who’s very identities dictate that they are the very ones who must stop and help him…don’t…they choose to ignore him…to act like they didn’t see him, or that his life is not important enough for them to be bothered.

But then here comes the token good guy…the proverbial good Samaritan who not only helps him…but goes WAY out of his way, at significant personal cost…to help him. (pause)
Now I could go into a whole bunch of stuff here…really unpacking this to reveal just why it would have been so shocking, not only for the lawyer in the story, but for everyone else that heard it…but the long and sort of it is that the Samaritan was the enemy…there would have been nothing but hatred and animosity between these two individuals…simply because of the cultural differences…words cannot express how utterly “at odds” these two cultures were…and yet they were quite literally neighbors.

And this guy helps…and as shocking as that must have been…Jesus tells this expert in the law that in order to love his neighbor…in order to fulfill what must be done to inherit eternal life…he needs to learn from the enemy. (pause) How well do you suppose that went over?  Do you think the lawyer really learned the lesson that Jesus was sharing? (pause) Have we?

Friday morning I was stuck asking myself “who am I in this story?” Because it has happened again…more needless killing. 2 African American men killed in confrontations with police officers…and then 5 police officers killed and 6 more wounded while doing their jobs.

Call it what you will…escalation…choosing sides…whatever…one thing led to the next thing…and I’m guessing that its going to lead to the next thing…which will lead to the next thing.

What’s it been…3 weeks…a month maybe since I stood up here and talked about pointless hate and the utter destruction of life that this hate has caused? And now, here we are again…different circumstances…difference groups of people involved…but the same result…People died…people who should have lived long joyful lives…cut short…families broken…people grieving.

How many times do we have to have this conversation? How many times do we have to hear news like this before we finally decide enough is enough? I’ve asked myself that question over and over again…but as I dwelled on these questions another one came to mind…based on our history…and the constant reminders of violence and hatred and fear that dominate our society…ARE WE ACTUALLY ABLE TO DO SOMETHING?

I don’t ask this question to imply that there’s nothing we can do so we should just shrug our shoulders and ignore it…that’s what the priest and levite did…but maybe, just maybe what we need to pay attention to is the notion that the Samaritan WAS MOVED with pity.

This is important to take note of…original language…this is passive…the Samaritan does not choose pity leading him to help the man…he was moved BY it. This was an outside force working on him, leading him to respond as he does.

This happens 3 times in Luke’s gospel…this is one…the second is within the parable of the prodigal son when the father see’s his wayward child and is moved by compassion because this son of mine that was dead has come back….and the third is Jesus when he encounters a widow who has lost her only son and is moved by compassion to help her.

The story of the good Samaritan is not just some corrective for us to take the moral road…but it points out that there are forces in this world that are directing us to be different…there are forces in this world that empower us to do something…and they ARE NOT…self-generated…because as we see in the case of the priest and the Levite…not to mention the lawyer who posed these questions in the first place…our selfish sinful nature will seek to justify ourselves…and therefore will end up placing us on the pedestal above others every single time.

And so when Jesus says “you know the law…do this and you will live.” We realize that we don’t do it…and we die…because the wages of sin is death…we don’t know when or where, but it catches all of us…and for 7 beloved children of God…fellow members of the human race bearing the divine image of God…it came too soon.

And in the aftermath far too many have taken up sides…and even if they don’t intend to, they are seeking to justify themselves…and we use these tragedies as ammunition to use against each other…but no one wins…I know African Americans who are outraged and yet afraid…and I know police officers who are outraged and afraid…and this problem is not limited to these two groups…but as we’ve seen time and time again, hate seems pretty universal….They’re different than me…they look different…or they sound different…or the believe different things…and how do we respond? Fear…we feel like we’re backed into a corner like a dog and what does a cornered dog do? Its bites.

Jesus says do this and you will live…We don’t…and so as I wrestled with this text in light of this week’s events, I struggled to find the gospel…but then I realized that Jesus wasn’t trying to give a moral lesson…he was pointing out our human inability to fulfill the law…love God and your neighbor…sorry, you can’t pull it off…none of us can.

And yet God loves us all…every single one of us…so much…that he looks upon us…trapped in this sinful reality…and just like the man in the story…we are left for dead…and God is moved to compassion…and through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, our sinful death sentence is overcome…and we are invited by God to join in proclaiming this message to the entire world.

But in doing so…we are, in fact…called into action…not only to proclaim the gospel…but to recognize our neighbor…and who is our neighbor? Its everyone…and that includes the one that we perceive to be our enemy.

The holy spirit empowers us to be different in this world…not perfect…but different…to look upon one another and see a fellow child of God…worthy of love and respect and acceptance…not as someone who is less human than I am.

No longer can we be like the priest or the Levite…those who couldn’t be bothered to step up and do something for our neighbor…those who chose to ignore the Holy Spirit moving us to compassion…we’ve done that for too long…and our society and the latent hate that is so present is evidence to that.

Are we willing to stand up? Are we willing to listen to the prompting of God who desires for this work of reconciling the entire world to himself to come to completion? Or will we chose to ignore it…and convince ourselves that it didn’t happen to us…or it didn’t happen here…because we’ve sat behind that excuse long enough.

You can apply whatever hashtag you want to this. Black lives matter…blue lives matter…poor lives matter…gay lives matter…refuge lives matter…Hispanic lives matter…yes all lives matter…and so I leave you with this question…who is your neighbor…who do you need to accept mercy from…and who do you need to offer mercy to?

I can’t answer that question for you…only you can…I’ll be over here figuring it out for myself…but may it be our prayer that the world…and yes that includes us…remember Jesus words….what does the law say?
Well, the law includes the 5th commandment…thou shall not kill. (pause) Maybe we should start there. Amen

If These Walls Could Talk 7-3-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, I explore the story of Jesus sending out the 70 to proclaim the good news in the places where he intended to go. We share in this mission, and though the time and place has changed, the message hasn’t.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/if-these-walls-could-talk-7-3-16

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

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

As we begin today, a brief survey…just to gather a bit of history about those of us gathered. How many of you were married here in this sanctuary? (pause for answer) Okay…now how many of you were confirmed here in this sanctuary? (pause for answer) Alright, lets go back to the beginning. How many of you were baptized in this sanctuary? (pause for answer) On the flip side, how many of you have been coming here for less than 5 years? (pause for answer) And on the opposite end of the spectrum, anyone here today that was around when this building was dedicated and the congregation moved in all the way back in the 50’s? (pause for answer)

Okay, well between everyone here today, there are a lot of stories…a lot of experiences here within the sanctuary of Underwood Lutheran…and as I think about that multitude of stories…it reminds me of the old saying “If these walls could talk.” (pause) These walls have witnessed every one of those stories…and prior to Underwood Lutheran calling this building home, those of you familiar with our history know that this sanctuary was a military chapel out in Nebraska…and so there’s another section of history that we are all oblivious to…but boy, if these walls could talk. (pause)

But they can’t talk can they? So we have to find other ways to tell the stories…to remember the events of the past…and of course there are a lot of ways to do that as well…memories can be recorded in journals and diaries…pictures or videos can be taken to offer a snippet of things that have occurred…but perhaps the most effective way that these events live on, is when we tell the story…when we remember and pass on what has occurred. (pause)
Earlier this week, I was in conversation…talking about the old days…and how things have changed over the years…but that there are times or places that offer us a little snippet into the ways things used to be…as we sat there jabbering about different places like this…we also started talking about the old stories that go along with them…and how those stories serve to keep the memories alive…even if time and retelling tends to create various embellishments to what actually happened…its still wonderful to hear them…and to be able to fill in some of the blanks of what life was like in days gone by.

Its funny…how connected we humans are to the past…the way that we try to hold onto things even as time marches on…and things change…even in our modern fast paced lives that we lead today, we see evidence of this…for instance, log onto Facebook, and you’ll be greeted with a picture that you posted on this particular date a few years ago. It seems like every time that happens, we stop and relive the memory…and often we retell the story to those who aren’t familiar with it.

Without a doubt…humanity is a species of story tellers…and we have been for as long as we’ve been walking the earth…which is a pretty good thing when you think about it…because without the desire to tell stories of our history…the need to pass them along from one generation to the next, well we wouldn’t have this amazing book known as the Bible.

The entire narrative of the Bible consists of stories that were passed down…New Testament, Old Testament…all of it…including the gospels…which of course includes today’s gospel lesson…handed down from person to person…stories told over and over again…sharing the message of what has happened…until finally, in the case of Luke’s gospel…roughly 70 years after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…someone wrote it down so that these stories…these events that surround God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ would not be lost.

And these events…these things that Jesus said and did…these things that were witnessed by a tiny group of people…they’ve changed the world…and over the course of 2000 years, these stories have been told and retold…and translated into different languages…and they’ve been read, and reread…and they’ve revealed new things to new people…and they’ve confirmed things in people who have read them before…this is the Gospel…the good news of what God is up to in the world.

Now our story for today, it highlights this very thing. For as Jesus was walking around Judea for 3 years…he attracted a following…great crowds surrounded him…amazed at his miracles and his teachings…but most of them came and went…and only a small group of people stuck with him…he had 12 dudes…a batch of ladies that came along as well…and eventually…by the time of his resurrection and return to heaven…the total number was about 120…

But at this point…its 70…not a huge number…honestly, about the size of our normal worship service here in the summer time…70 people who have heard the call of Jesus to “follow me” and did just that. But at this point, Jesus is no longer content to let them follow…for he has made a change…and he is intentionally on his way to the cross. But there’s a lot of ground to cover…and a lot of ministry to do…and a lot of towns to visit before he finally makes it to Jerusalem…and so, he empowers these 70 people to go out in pairs…never alone mind you…and to enter these places where Jesus intended to go…and they were to proclaim the gospel.

Now the way that Jesus sent them out is interesting…take no purse, no bag…no extra sandals…but go…and rely on the hospitality of the very people that you will proclaim the good news to. I’m sending you like sheep among wolves…with nothing of your own to depend on…powerless against the world…now go. (pause)

And here’s the interesting thing…Jesus warns them that they’re about to face mixed results…some will listen…some will welcome you…some will flat out reject you. Because the good news invites mixed results…that’s just the way it is.

But the instructions for these pairs of evangelists doesn’t change…enter a town and go into a house…and tell them “Peace to you.” That peace may be reciprocated…and you may be welcomed…and if you are, well, eat what they give you…and stay there until such time as you leave the town…heal the sick as I have give you power…cast out demons, for I give you that power too…and proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. (pause)
Well Jesus, that sounds good…but what do we do when they won’t receive us? (Pause) Great question guys…if you enter a house and they refuse the peace you offer it will return to you…so walk out, and shake the dust of the town from your sandals, and head on to the next place…but tell them “The kingdom of God has come near.” (pause)
Did you catch that? Regardless of the response…the message DOES…NOT…CHANGE.

The kingdom of God has come near. (pause) Now often times, people will ask just what that means…what does that look like…that the kingdom of God is near to us? Even John the Baptist posed this question when he sent his disciples to ask Jesus “are you the one to come or do we wait for another.” Jesus response…the blind see, the deaf hear, the sick are healed, and the good news is proclaimed. (pause)

The kingdom of God comes near when the gospel is shared…that’s the good news…freedom from that which hinders us…that which isolates us…and that which creates separation…most importantly separation from God. The kingdom comes near when someone hears that freedom is offered to them…that God desires that they be set free…and that Christ has come in order to make that possible.

Now here’s the amazing thing about all this…remember that Jesus sent out the 70 into the places that he intended to go…and likewise we are also sent…but it raises the question of why? Because if Jesus was sending them to prepare for his arrival, and now he’s not in the world anymore…then what are we sent to prepare for?

Well…because Jesus has promised us that he will return…he will, once more enter into this world…and so we are called to go out and proclaim freedom from that which hinders…and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come near…and one day, Christ will follow where that message has gone. (pause)

And this story gives us an important reminder…and I think perhaps a critique…that over recent history, we’ve been doing it wrong. (pause) Think about how often you hear the phrase “we’re a welcoming church.” Or we want to be experienced as welcoming. Or, we want new people to come and feel welcome. (pause)
But think about it…to be welcoming…is passive, because you have to wait for people to come to you…and I fear this environment within the greater church conveys the message that “we want you to come be like us.”
But that’s not what Jesus instructed…he sent them out…totally dependent upon those that they were ministering to…to be shaped by those that they were ministering to…so that as the body of Christ grows…the body truly becomes more and more like Christ…we are shaped and changed by those we encounter…and together we become more like Christ.

We must be willing to be changed….and we must be willing to be rejected…and yet throughout the experiences that we have when we actively go out in the world…our message does not change…the Kingdom of God has come near…and freedom is offered to those who are hindered. (pause)

Now what does that look like for us? Well…we can still welcome the new person when they come…but we also need to consider how to be more active out there in the world…allowing ourselves to be shaped by those who receive the good news…and remember that we don’t have to go around the world…the mission field is right out there…because the world is right out there…and we are sent where Jesus intends to go.

We are sent to share the same message…the same story…the same good news of Jesus Christ, through our stories…knowing that we are shaped by what Christ has done…and in sharing this, other lives will be shaped as well.

If these walls could talk…the stories they could tell…but they can’t…so we remember them…and we tell them…passing them on to the next generation…likewise, the world cannot tell the story of what God has done through Jesus Christ…so we remember it…and we tell it…but even more importantly…we are invited to follow along…and become part of it. Amen.

At the Last Minute 6-26-16

In this sermon from Luke 9:51-62, I explore several odd interactions that Jesus has with potential followers.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/at-the-last-minute-6-26-16

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

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

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years of regular preaching…its that I never know quite where the spark of inspiration is going to come from. This week, I was sitting in the sanctuary, pondering on the text, and the baptismal font caught my eye.

I sat there looking at it for a moment, and I found myself thinking about the various baptisms that I’ve participated in here at Underwood…and then I got to thinking about my own baptism.  Now I don’t remember it, because I was only 6 days old when it happened.

Now, that’s pretty early…typically a child is at least a couple months old before we baptize them…not because they need to be, but because logistics of lining up a date usually take about that long…but in my case, it was a little different.

At the time of my birth, Bethel Lutheran Church in Graettinger Iowa was served by Pastor Auto Reitz…he’d been there for a few years, long enough to have baptized my brother in 1974 and my sister in ’76…but by late April of ’79, he was about to leave…in fact…he had one more Sunday to go before he was done…and I was born on Monday…and I guess Mom REALLY wanted him to complete the set, so he said “If you can have him here on Sunday, we’ll get him baptized.” And so, 6 days later, I took a dip in the water…what amounts to the very last official act that Pr Reitz did at Bethel Lutheran. I was, almost literally, baptized at the last minute as far as he was concerned.

Funny enough, that’s not the only time I’ve been on the receiving end of a Pastor’s last deal. Fast forward to June of 2013, and the current Western Iowa Synod Bishop, Michael Last, was in his final days of being bishop before retiring…and if you think about it, that was right after I’d graduated seminary…in fact, to my knowledge, the last thing that Michael Last did as Bishop of Western Iowa, was my ordination…and then he was out the door.

Two very important events in my life, overseen by two different pastors, and completed at the last minute…done just before they closed the door on one thing and moved on to the next. (pause) And in today’s story, there’s a little snippet that indicates the notion that Jesus is making a transition as well…listen to our opening verse again. When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face towards Jerusalem.

This is a bit of foreshadowing to the tail end of Luke’s gospel…for the closing verses of Luke highlight Jesus’ being taken up into heaven…and important event that was followed up his resurrection, which of course followed his death on the cross…all of which happened…in Jerusalem.

And so we hear that its getting on towards time for Jesus mission on earth…his work of redeeming humankind and renewing our relationship with the Lord…its coming to head…but before it can happen, well…Jesus has to get his tail to Jerusalem.

Up to this point, he’s mostly stayed around Galilee…hanging out in his home territory in the northern part of the region…of course he does get out and about as well…moving into various area to do his ministry…to perform the healings…to teach the masses…but now at this point…as we hear…Jesus decides that its time to head south…and if you’re familiar with the region, it explains a bit. Galilee is in the north, Jerusalem in the south…but to get from one spot to the other, you’ve got to go through Samaria…it was the central region, and so you either walked right through, or you went around.

And now here’s the thing…Samaritans and Jews…well they weren’t on the best of terms. Each group saw the other as outsiders…and even though they worshiped the same Lord, they did it differently and so neither group recognized the validity of the other one…and so lets just say that their interactions with one another…which only occurred in the instances that they absolutely could not avoid…were tense at best. (pause)

But this passage marks the switch. Jesus changes gears from what he’s been doing…and now he’s intentionally on the way to Jerusalem…it just takes him a long time to get there…we’re in chapter 9 now…he’s finally make it into town on the back of a donkey at the end of chapter 19…so we see that there’s a lot of interaction…a lot of ministry still going on as he’s on the way…but from this point on, everything that Jesus is doing…everywhere he goes…Jerusalem, is the end game…that’s the goal.

But boy, aren’t there some crazy events happening while he’s on the way? First the whole deal with the Samaritan village…just what’s going on there we don’t know…only that they refuse Jesus…we don’t know why, other than because he’s set on Jerusalem…but regardless…James and John decide that the best course of action…the best way to respond to this snub…is to ask permission to call down fire from heaven and consume the town.

Just what is going on in their heads is hard to say. This event does occur between two different times when Jesus sends his followers out, empowered, in order to heal and proclaim the kingdom…the first time around its just the 12, and it occurs shortly before this…the second time, it’s a larger group, and Jesus sends them out two by two into the villages that he plans to visit on the way to Jerusalem…and it would seem, that this particular Samaritan village is the first.

Now James and John…maybe they’re just jonesing for another chance to utilize a little bit of divine power that they’ve gotten a taste of…but regardless, Jesus turns around and rebukes them…he flat out rips into them…because he knows…that the Good News…the gospel…the coming Kingdom of God is going to be met with opposition…but Jesus doesn’t chose to condemn that…Call down fire? Heck no…let them be…we’ll head on to the next town.

Now maybe this is just a bit of foreshadowing…because once Jesus gets to Jerusalem…well we all know how much opposition he faces don’t we…it gets pretty dire…but even as he’s hanging on the cross…completely innocent and yet condemned to die…he didn’t call down fire on his captors…actually he forgave them. (pause)

And so, as we see, James and John put back in their place, Jesus and his followers continue…and then we hear of three quite random encounters that occurred somewhere along the road. (pause) Now just who these random three people are, we don’t know…some think based on the different statements that are present here in Luke’s account that it MAY have been conversations between Jesus and some of the disciples…but we don’t know. It could very easily have just been three random people that he encountered…that’s a pretty common theme in the gospels as well.

But what we do know, is that three people are given something of a harsh reaction as they express interest in being a follower of Christ. I will follow you where you go…You will huh? Well, that means that you will have no home…and you will wander. (pause) Another gets the invitation but says “Well first I need to go bury my father.” Let the dead bury their own dead. (pause) And then finally, I’ll come, but let me go home and tell everyone goodbye…Looking back is pointless. (pause)
Isn’t that a little weird…the way that Jesus has reacted in these three encounters?

Because aren’t there times when we face those same choices? I think we all like having a home to go to…a place to lay down at night. And there are times when we are called to care for our loved ones…and there are times when we need to grieve their loss…And likewise, we all have relationships to maintain at home…for our lives as Christians include relationship…so just what is Jesus really talking about here? How are we supposed to respond when we hear this?

Are we called to abandon everything? I don’t know about you…but I really don’t think so…and so what do we do with this? (pause) Maybe, what Jesus is talking about here…is priorities…and doing what we are called to do. And yes, sometimes that call is to be at home with the ones that we love…or to grieve the lives that are lost….but there are also times when we are called to go out and care for the needy…or times when we are called to visit the sick…and there are times when we are called to serve at a shelter…we all face countless choices of ways to serve the kingdom of God.

And the crazy thing about all of this…and what kind of seems to be going on here in the story, is the reminder that we simply are not capable of being all things to all people all the time.  Perhaps you are called to serve God over here…but if you are doing that here, well then something is being missed over there.

For any of my fellow geek culture nerds out there…guess what…you share this trait with Superman…because his greatest burden is that choosing to help someone means not being available to help someone else. (pause)
This is simply evidence of our flawed reality…that no matter how good our intensions are…we fall short… (pause)

And so this raises the question…if this entire passage is Jesus seeming to rebuke those who have expressed a desire to follow him…then where’s the good news? Where is the hope that we find?

And the good news lies in the simple action that Jesus makes right at the beginning. He turns his face to Jerusalem. Jesus willingly and intentionally goes to the place where he knows he’s going to be tortured and killed…and he does so because he knows that this is the only way to overcome the power of sin and death in this world…those powers that are present that hinder us…those things that tie us down…those things that ultimate isolate us from God and from one another.

That’s the good news…and remember this…Luke’s gospel more than any of the others shows us…time and time again…that Jesus will always stand with the marginalized…with the isolated…and we remember that in the end…when we have reached our last minute…on that day when each and every one of us faces our judgement…we need Christ to stand with us…and because of what he has done…because of the amazing love that he holds for each and every one of us….when we need him…he WILL be standing there with us…not because he has to…but because he choses to.

He has set his face towards Jerusalem…and in doing so…he has set his mind upon you…not expecting us to be perfect…to have every answer, or provide every service…not needing us to get everything right…but asking only to follow me…knowing that at times we will fail…but when we recognize it and ask his forgiveness…his grace is big enough to provide it….this is good news for all of us…because the last act that Jesus does as part of his ministry…its for you…YOU are the recipient of what Jesus does…quite literally in HIS…last minute. Amen.

A Random Road Trip 6-19-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 8:26-39, I explore Jesus’ venture into Gentile territory in order to free one man possessed by demons. The fear that erupts around this event reminds us of how scary change can be, and yet we see how far God will go for those who are isolated. In light of Orlando, this is an important reminder.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-random-road-trip-6-19-16

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

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

Over the course of the past 3 years of living in the area, I’ve noticed several different landmarks. One of them has caught my eye on numerous occasions. It lies just off of 680, about a mile east of the intersection with I-29…a large lookout tower.

I’ve driven past that tower, looking at it from down on the interstate, over and over again…most recently about a month back as we headed that general direction for a baseball game…and my wife and I agreed that sometime, we should drive up and check it out.

Well about two weeks ago, we did just that. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and we were all a little stir-crazy…so we jumped in the car and drove on up there…we pulled off at the exit and parked the car at the base of the tower. We walked up the roughly 75 steps to the top, and spent a couple minutes looking out over the Missouri river valley, as well as back to the east over the rolling hillsides of Iowa. (pause)

And then we left. (pause) Now while we did end up doing some other random things while we were out and about that day…the whole point of the excursion…the only reason for leaving the house and driving clear up there, was to walk up those steps…and that…is…it. It was a random road trip with a singular purpose.

Today’s story…it features the exact same thing. A random trip…with a singular purpose…though of course it sits nicely within a larger portion of narrative about Jesus ministry…especially considering the relative regularity that he feels the need to cross the sea. Over and over again we hear of Jesus getting in a boat and traveling to the far side of the sea of Galilee…doing some sort of ministry in Jewish territory, and then crossing over into Gentile territory…back and forth.

And today’s story, is just one example…for just prior to the opening verse for today, Jesus says to the disciples “Let’s go to the other side of the sea.” And they get into the boat to do just that…interestingly enough…as they’re crossing, Jesus konks out and a great big storm comes up…freaking out the disciples, so they wake Jesus up…and he gives them a look before telling Mother Nature…HEY…KNOCK IT OFF…and amazingly enough…it does.

Following that little adventure, this random road trip…or perhaps boat trip would be a better name…brings them to the far side of the sea, in the area known as Gerasenes…and immediately Jesus encounters the demoniac.

Now just what he’s up to, we don’t really know…but it seems safe to say that he’s got a pretty lousy life going on…possessed of countless demons…driven out of town…driven out of his right mind…living day by day in the tombs…sometimes chained up, but most off trailing the broken chains along behind him…this man is the epitome of isolation…shunted to the side by the people of the city…out of sight and out of mind…and why? Well, because these demons, whatever they are, cause him to behave like a raving lunatic…the last person that civilized people want to have in their neighborhood. (pause)

Now you all know the story…you know what happens…Jesus recognizes the presence of evil spirits and commands them out…they talk back…seemingly in fear of Jesus, because they recognize that this man is God….that this man has power and authority over all kinds of stuff…diseases…death…nature…and yes, even demons…and so they beg him “DON’T CAST US INTO THE ABYSS!!!” There’s pigs over there? Can we go into them instead?

I can almost see Jesus get a little grin on his face…You don’t want to be cast into the bottomless void…but pigs are okay? Well sure Legion, head on over to those pigs…which they do…and the pigs FREAK out…and run into the sea where they drown…and whatever the heck demons are…if they require a living host, well then I guess they end up right where they don’t go in the first place don’t they?

That’s the story…Jesus sees the man…sees the presence of evil…and takes care of it, leaving this poor soul…this wild man who has been shoved to the margins…whole again.

But what’s the response of those who witness it? Well, they freak out too…they run off to the city and bring everyone out…and they all see this man who they only know as a dangerous lunatic…as one to be feared and therefore controlled or cast out…they see him sane…and whole, just sitting there listening to Jesus…so changed that he desires to give up his life as he knows it…and his community even though it has cast him out…and follow after Jesus…but Jesus has other plans for this man…turning him into an Evangelist who returns to his home to tell everyone what God has done.

And once again, the response of the people who witness the results of God’s work through Christ…they’re afraid…and they ask him to leave…beg him even…and Jesus gets back in the boat…and together with the disciples, he sets sail back for Jewish territory…His whole purpose in coming all the way across the sea…braving the dangers of a storm…the whole point was to heal this man pushed beyond the margins…who lives among the dead…to free him of what oppresses him…and then he left. (pause)
Now all of that is amazing enough on its own…to consider that Jesus would go CLEAR out of his way for this one miracle…for this one act of mercy…but its even more amazing than that. Jesus broke just about every single cultural rule and boundary to do this. He’s a Jew and he enters into Gentile territory…the man himself, a Gentile…He’s naked, so for Jesus to engage with him breaks another cultural taboo…the fact that he lives in the tombs means that he literally lives in the midst of death…and guess what, dead bodies make you ritually unclean…there’s another rule that Jesus bypasses…heck even the presence of pigs which are an unclean animal creates another boundary.

And yet, Jesus doesn’t hesitate…in fact…despite all of these forces that stand in the way…his very purpose for going in the first place was to free this man from oppression…from isolation…to restore him to life in community.

Jesus shows us in this story that he willingly, and perhaps even intentionally crosses any and all barriers to bring ONE individual back from that which isolates him…to bring him back from life quite literally as a dead man….foreshadowing perhaps? A little glimpse into just how far Jesus is willing to go to reestablish life in relationship for any one person? Yah, I’d say so. (pause)

Now that’s all well and good…honestly that’s the gospel in a nutshell right there…but I’m drawn back to the response of the people who were there…fear. (pause) Now just what it is that they are afraid of is hard to tell…Perhaps they’re afraid to witness a supernatural power that is so much greater than they are…I’d say that’s fair…perhaps on the other hand they’re afraid that Jesus will continue to cost them their livelihood…after all, his actions cost them a great herd of pigs worth a great deal.

Or maybe, on the flip side…maybe they’re afraid of what it means that now this man is coming back into the community. For a long time, they’ve known this guy as the demoniac…a lunatic, dangerous…unacceptable and unpredictable…a danger to himself and to others…and so they cast him…tie him up and leave him chained in the tombs among the dead…but now…this guy…known only by his history, is going to be back in the neighborhood…living among them as one of them…and maybe, just maybe, they can’t get past that…maybe they can’t see him for what he is, a fellow human being…and they can only see the history that surrounds him…and the fact that the measures they have taken to contain him are no longer applicable…for his presence, clothed and in his right mind represents a total change from how they’ve dealt with the situation up to this point. (pause) And yah…that can be scary.

Now keep in mind, these are Gentiles…maybe they’ve heard of God, but it stands to reason that they’ve got their own gods…their own way of thinking about things…but despite their views or their theology, God acts in their midst anyway…and this really shouldn’t surprise us, because it seems like throughout scripture God…and especially God the Son…pretty much always ends up standing with the marginalized….whether everyone else approves of it or not. (pause)

Now what’s that mean for us today? Well, that’s the million dollar question. Usually at this point I’ll throw out something generic about recognizing the presence of the marginalized within our lives…how sometimes we are the ones pushed to the side…and that is true, I don’t dispute that…and yes the good news of the gospel IS for us.

But recent events have brought things to the point where I can’t just be generic anymore. Last Sunday, I had no more than wrapped up worship including a sermon about recognizing one another as people…as human…as individuals of worth…and I stepped into my office to do a little of the follow up work I do every Sunday…and that’s when I saw the news about Orlando…and the mass shooting…49 people dead at a nightclub.

And all I could think was “AGAIN?” And I shook my head in disbelief…because these events are happening SO often that there’s nothing else I feel like I can do or so…and so I went on about my day…but I kept hearing the news…and more and more details emerged…and in the end, it has come light…that the nightclub was a gay bar…and the perpetrator used his beliefs to justify killing almost 50 people simply because of their orientation. (pause)

Now I’m not going to stand up here and tell you what you should think or feel…or tell you what’s the right theological understanding on what we always seem to label as the “Gay Issue.” That’s another conversation for another day…but what I am going to say is that NOTHING…NOT ONE THING…can possibly justify the senseless slaughter.

These were human lives…fellow human beings…and whether society wants to approve and condone their lifestyle or not…it doesn’t change the fact that they are human just like the rest of us…and as fellow members of the human race…they are made in the divine image of God…just like everyone else…we hear way back in Genesis 1…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them…

I’m pretty sure that male and female covers the gambit of humanity…we are all made in the image of God and God has called this Very Good. And yet we see fit to destroy one another simply because we are different…

Now I’m not going to try and change your mind…I know that many of you sitting out there disagree and I respect that…but what I am saying is that we MUST find a way to co-exist with one another…and to treat one another as equals. (pause)

I do not fool myself into thinking that this is easy, but I do believe that God is calling us to mutual respect for one another…for Christ himself commanded us to first love God, and then to love our neighbor…even going so far as to tell us that the world will know that we are His followers if we have love for another. (pause)

Life is messy…and life is complicated…and its hard…and we all fall along different points in terms of our views on this topic…I get that…but praise be to God that nothing in all creation, not our shortcomings nor our sin, nor our mistakes will separate us from His love…Jesus made the ultimate road trip for that purpose…to free us all from that which isolates us….and there was nothing random about that. (pause)

I know that this conversation…this topic…is emotionally charged…I know that its scary…maybe even dangerous to tread into these waters…But God entered our reality in order to bring about unity…and remember that unity does not equal conformity…but rather a mutual love and respect for those we encounter. It is my prayer that we can start there…and trust that God will ultimately lead us where He wants us to go….whatever that might ultimately look like. Amen

You Know What They Say About Assuming 6-12-16

This sermon, based on Luke 7:36-50, explores the dangers of letting our assumptions about individuals define them in our minds rather than seeing them as precious people.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-know-what-they-say-about-assuming-6-12-16

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

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

As I think back on elementary school, I have certain memories that stand out for each and every year…certain events or interactions that have seared themselves into my memory…but one year actually has 2 of these memories…3rd grade…the year I mistakenly called my nearly retirement aged teacher Grandma…and more importantly, the year when I got a strange notion to watch the clock on the wall for 15 minutes straight…right in the middle of whatever lesson was currently going on…I’m not making this up.

For whatever reason, I sat and stared at the clock, watching the second hand make lap after lap for 15 straight minutes…I was so impressed with my laser like focus, that I raised my hand, and interrupted the lesson to share with my teacher and the rest of my class that… “I just watched the clock for 15 straight minutes.” I assumed that my teacher would be impressed…but you know what they say about assuming…if you’re familiar with that old saying, I think its safe to say that I certainly fit the bill that day…and needless to say, I didn’t score any brownie points with my teacher.  (pause)
Now why do I bring this up today? Because the notion of assumptions is all over this gospel lesson…while Jesus reclines at dinner hosted by Simon the Pharisee, a sinful woman enters, approaches him, cries on his feet, wipes them with her hair, and then pours expensive perfume on them…this sparks off a great deal of controversy and conversation around the table…along with assumptions and judgements.  (pause)
Now the first assumption that happens belongs to the host…Simon the Pharisee. Just why he chose to invite Jesus to dinner is up in the air…perhaps he was curious…perhaps he hoped to learn more…or on the flip side perhaps he had already passed judgment on Jesus and he hoped to use this as a chance to discredit him…but either way, Simon holds an assumption…a preconceived notion about Jesus.

Then once the woman enters…Simon makes assumption number two…that Jesus must not be who he says he is…the rumors must not be true…because IF he were a PROPHET….he would know what type of woman this is that is touching him…that she is a sinner. (pause)

Now here’s the funny thing…because for many of us…perhaps even most of us that are familiar with this story…I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’ve made an assumption as well…Ask yourselves this question…what do we know about her? Think about it for a second. (pause) Now what did you come up with? I’m guessing that some of you have it in mind that this woman is a prostitute…and that her sinful reputation is physical in nature…am I right…at least with some of you?

If so, don’t feel bad…you aren’t the first one to come to this conclusion…but if you did, allow me correct you…no where in scripture are we given any evidence of who this woman is, or what she does…and more important what the nature of her sinful reputation entails…but if that’s the case then were does the assumption come from?

Perhaps from the somewhat scandalous nature of what she does…at least for that time. Keep in mind that it was socially unacceptable for a woman to approach a man in this way…it was also unheard of for a woman to touch a man who wasn’t her husband…and even the fact that she lets down her hair to wipe his feet is something that would not have been done…and so for those present in that day and age…this would be a little scandalous…and perhaps its in the scholarly knowledge of Jewish custom at that time that has given us the common assumption that she’s a prostitute…but in reality…the only thing that we know…is that she is sinful…but just like Simon the Pharisee, we have judged this book by its cover. (pause)

Honestly, isn’t that what’s going on here…as the event unfolds Simon thinks to himself that because Jesus allows himself to be touched…to be engaged by this sinful woman, then there is no way that he can be a prophet…in short…Simon’s passing judgment on both of them at the same time.

Now after some back and forth…Jesus asks a question…Do you see this woman? I thought a lot about that question…because at face value, it could be a simple question…Hey Simon, look at her…but it doesn’t seem to be…rather in this simple question, Jesus points out that Simon sees only the sin…only the reputation…only that which the rules dictate to be unacceptable…

But Jesus sees more…he sees the woman for who she is…as an individual…not as a list of prior infractions and mistakes…and then he goes one step farther, pointing out something that perhaps Simon had completely overlooked…that this SINFUL woman, has actually fulfilled the acceptable rules of hospitality that Simon overlooked.

I am your guest Simon, but you gave me no water to wash my feet. You gave me no kiss of greeting. You did not anoint my head with oil…all the things that the host is expected to do, Simon neglected…now perhaps he thinks that Jesus is a lowly guest who’s unworthy of these things…or maybe he’s just forgetful…we don’t know…but what Jesus points out is that the woman, in doing what Simon assumes to be scandalous, is actually fulfilling what was expected of Simon…funny, it seems that she’s bailing him out of his faux pau…this lowly sinner and this SUPPOSISED prophet, have put Simon in his place. (pause)

Now that’s all well and good…and it serves to support the notion that Jesus has come to usher in a great reversal…that God stands with the downtrodden…and that her sins while many, are forgiven because of the faith that she displays.

But what’s this got to do with real life? I went round and round with that over the course of this week…and honestly, I kept coming back to the assumptions about the woman…that Simon assumes to know her…and that we hold the misconception that she’s a prostitute…in short…that we all assume the worst and define her by it rather than seeing her as a person…as someone of worth.

And while I pondered on all this…the news this week has been slammed with story after story of a gifted college athlete receiving a slap on the wrist sentence after being convicted of 3 counts of sexual assault…I’m guessing most of you are familiar with the story…and you’ve perhaps clicked on the links to read the letter that his victim shared at his sentencing…and the public outcry over his lack of compassion…his lack of ownership over what he has done.

Now this is only one example…but it’s a story that I hear about far too often…when someone victimizes another person…and all too often…our assumptions end up placing blame on the victim…and instead of hearing words of comfort…we make statements and assumptions that she was asking for it…that she have known better.

And this is unacceptable…this is a failure on the part of our society…first off that we shift the blame away from the perpetrator onto the victim…and secondly that we have not done a better job of teaching our children how to love and honor and respect one another.

For how else could this have happened besides one individual failing to see another individual as a person of worth…but rather as an object to be used as they saw fit…isn’t that really what sexual assault is? And likewise, isn’t that what Simon did in the story…by failing to see the woman as a person, but rather as a listing of her past…and if that example isn’t fitting enough, lets slide back to our Old Testament reading…and the great king David…the epitome of a leader who follows after God…well he did the exact same thing with Bathsheba…treating her as an object for his desire…and when it backfired on him…he went on to treat her husband as less than human…having him killed. (pause)

Now as I share all of this today, I know that its harsh…and I realize that some of you might need to go home and have some uncomfortable conversations within your families…but this is reality…this is life…and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times, the Bible…Scripture, its honest about the fact that life…is….messy…and its messy because of sin.

And when we boil it all the way down, I think its safe to say that sin manifests itself in selfishness…in placing ourselves above others…either in how we view them, or how we judge them…or how we treat them…sin will place us on the pedestal every single time. (pause)
I wish that I could stand here and tell you what to do about it…but I can’t…I wish that I could tell you how to solve it, but I can’t…because we can’t solve it.

We can only look to the example of Christ, who reminds us to look and see the person…not the sin…to see the individual, not the assumptions that we make about them…and finally to look to Christ with humbleness, recognizing that we are sinful…that we are flawed…and that we need to be saved from it…and thanks be to God that Christ has already saved us from it…it is already done…and as he tells the woman, your faith has saved you, go in peace. (pause)
That’s good news for us to take with us as we go…but as we go we also need to be aware of what’s going on in the world today and hold ourselves and those around us as accountable for how we treat one another…Let us learn to ask the question in every encounter…Do you see this woman? Do you see this man? And in the meantime, let it be our prayer that we do not look to our assumptions…but that we see one another as God sees us…a person of worth…a person worth compassion and love and acceptance….and lets throw those assumptions out the window…because in the end, you know what they say about assuming…

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