You Can’t Get There From Here 9-25-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 16:19-31, I explore the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and what it means to be known by God.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-cant-get-there-from-here-9-25-16

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

Ever heard the expression “You can’t get there from here?”  When I was younger, admittedly, I could never wrap my head around it. It just didn’t make any sense…but keep in mind that I grew up in the northern part of the state…far enough away from the rivers that border both sides of Iowa that things are pretty open and flat…and for the most part…every road is straight, and there’s an intersection pretty much every mile…so if you are trying to get somewhere…more often than not…there’s a direct route…You can get there from here.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve driven in some different places where this…IS NOT…the case. Having lived in the city…you deal with all sorts of stuff that gets in the way…Vacationing in the mountains of Colorado…its even more prominent as the roads follows the contours…and you can’t drive straight to anything.

And finally, living here now…down close to the river…and the ways that pretty much all of our roads within 50 miles curve and bend all over the place…I’ve certainly learned the truth of the statement…particularly when I’m trying to drive over to Crescent…which is only about 10 or 11 miles as the crow flies…but somehow it still takes almost half an hour to drive there.

You can’t get there from here…we all know what that really means don’t we? Its not just the lack of a straight road between where we are and where we are trying to get to.  Rather, it implies some sort of barrier in the way. It can mean rolling hills or rivers…it could mean bridges out or road construction…it can mean a lot of things…but unlike those physical barriers to travel that the phrase implies…those things that the human race has found ways to overcome…making travel to literally anywhere in the world possible…in today’s gospel story, there’s a barrier that we hear is unbeatable…not just difficult…but impossible.

Now today’s gospel is an interesting parable…the rich man and Lazarus…one unique here in Luke’s gospel…but perhaps if think about the other stories we’ve encountered in recent weeks, one that kinda fits in. There’s a rich guy and a poor guy…and the little details that Jesus shares sheds light on just how opposite these two guys are.  The rich guy wears purple, nearly impossible to get in those days…saved for the ultimate elite in society…and he feasts every day…living every day in celebration of all that he has.

And on the flip side, there’s a poor guy laying at his gate…physically kept out…and he’s stricken with some disease that leaves sores all over his body…which would make him ritually unclean…and not only that but his only companions seem to be dogs who come to lick his sores…which sounds bad enough…but add to it the fact that dogs were unclean animals…and we see that he’s ostracized completely.  (pause)
These two guys in the parable lives their lives as polar opposites…utterly separated both physically and culturally…even though Lazarus literally lays at the gate of the rich man…they exist mere feet from each other…but they might as well be on opposite sides of the planet.

But…as we hear…regardless of their differences…regardless of the separation…the great equalizer shows up, seemingly at the same time…and they both die. (pause) Now this is where the parable often times gets hazy…because we see that the rich guy ends up in Hades…tormented in flame…and Lazarus is hanging out in paradise with Abraham…and though apparently they can see one another…there’s a great chasm placed between them…some sort of separation…and though the rich guy cries out for mercy and help…Abraham says well, you can’t get there from here.

Now there’s the odd little statement made about their respective lot in life…and how that’s been reversed here in the afterlife…and because of this…often times this parable gets lumped into the notion that wealth is bad…and to limit this parable to that understanding is a bit of a mistake.

Rather…I think we need to focus in on attitude of the rich guy…who, upon finding himself in the midst of torture here in Hades…which if you’re wondering is simply “the place where dead people are.” We see that his attitude of self-importance that must have defined his life as he ignored Lazarus languishing just outside his door…this attitude continues.

Father Abraham…Send Lazarus to attend to my needs…send him with water to cool my tongue…Now we already know that this doesn’t happen…and can’t because of the great chasm…so then, he changes his tune.  Well then Father Abraham…send him to my home…for I have brothers and I don’t want them to end up here as well. (pause)

Its almost funny, how this guy seems to think that he can order others around…and how much he’s clinging to his status…even in the way that he addresses Abraham…Father Abraham…By doing this…he is claiming the status as a Jewish person…as a descendent of Abraham…and an heir of the promise God made so many generations before…and ironically, Abraham doesn’t dispute it…going so far as to call him “Child” at one point…confirming that YES…he is a child of Abraham…but where does that get him? (pause) Absolutely nowhere.

Now we might think that its commendable that the rich guy changes his tune and hopes to warn his brothers so they will avoid his fate…but Abraham’s response here is telling…for as Children of Abraham…as members of the Jewish culture…they have Moses and the Prophets…they have calls to repentance…invitations to turn away from sin and look back to God…to turn away from selfishness and follow God’s command to care for all people….the invitation is already there…offered to them freely in life…before the great barrier of death places them on the opposite side of the chasm…before the separation occurs.  (pause)

Now perhaps as you hear all this, you are thinking that this is a call to repentance…and that’s all the message that Jesus is making today…you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this…and yes I think that Jesus is reminding us of the need to repent from our selfishness and to open our hearts to meet the needs of those around us. (pause)
But…its also important to look at the flip side…to look at Lazarus…now as per usual…we lose a little bit of meaning in translation…because the way many of our current translation read…we hear that Lazarus seems to just be standing there next to Abraham…just standing there on the good side of the chasm of death…seemingly in heaven, which admittedly is where we would expect to find Abraham in the afterlife…he was counted as righteous by God after all.

I think we can all agree…that where ever it is that Lazarus is found…it represents paradise…heaven…and Abraham, being the father of the covenant…the original recipient of the promise…the one who seems to be the embodiment of God’s promise…well, it doesn’t seem like much a stretch to think that Abraham is the stand-in for God within this parable…and we also need to recognize that Lazarus isn’t just standing next to him…in the original language…Lazarus is found in his bosom…pressed up against his chest…within the very heart of God…and all we have to do is consider how close a mother is when nursing her child to see that Lazarus is experiencing the ultimate connection with the Lord. (pause)

And we need to remember…that this has not happened simply because Lazarus was some poor guy…but rather because Lazarus is known. (pause) Remember that this is a parable…a story told by Jesus to make a point…and Lazarus is the only character within any parable…the only one ever…to have a name.  Lazarus is identified…he is known by God…known intimately just as God knows each of us intimately…calling us by name, Lazarus is named…and interestingly enough his name is a clue into this as well…for Lazarus means “helped by God.” (pause)

If this parable teaches us anything…it is that to enter into paradise, whatever that’s going to look like in the age to come…to be on the “good” side of that great chasm caused by death…we must be helped by God…we must be known by God…its not about our status here in this life.

And how wonderful is it to receive the promise that truly God does know us…that he knows our names…he knows our every thought…he sees every tear that falls from our eyes and hears every laugh that comes from our mouths…for we are claimed by God and we are named by God…through our Baptism, we join with Christ, and through his life death and resurrection it is made possible for us to be known as heirs to the promise…and we are claimed as beloved children of God. (pause)

This is good news for all people…but as recipients of that good news…as heirs of the promise…we are given a task…and so we must also look back to the rich man in the parable…for once he recognizes his fate…he hopes to save his brothers from the same and asks that Lazarus return from the dead to testify…but as we hear, it is not enough for someone to return from the dead…and as we know, that’s already happened…Jesus has already returned…but there are those in this life who have not come to believe…and so we pray for those people…that in this life they would come to faith…that the holy spirit would work within them.

But before the Spirit can work in them…before they can believe the gospel…they need to hear it…and so in this life…before we cross that great barrier of death…we are called to share the good news…Lazarus doesn’t come back from death…but we who are still in this life are invited into the important work of God…who is bringing reconciliation between himself and the world…and we who have been claimed as God’s children are sent out to share this good news with all that we encounter so that one day…one glorious day…every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord…and on that glorious day, when God brings about the new heaven and the new earth…whatever that’s going to look like…then may we all be held in the bosom of the Lord…to be held by the one who knows our name.

We know that we cannot get there from here by our own power…but thanks be to God, that through Jesus Christ…through his death and resurrection, God has helped each of us…and we are all known as Lazarus…as the one that God helps. Amen

 

The Blows Keep Coming 9-18-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 16:1-13, I explore a troublesome parable of the Dishonest Steward. The parable is tricky because the man is commended for acting in an underhanded way. Yet we remember that what the world commends is not what God desires for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-blows-keep-coming-9-18-16

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

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

Does anyone else ever fall in the trap of seeing something in a movie or on tv and think to yourself…I could do that. (pause) This can happen in any sort of thing, but in my case, it probably happens the most when I see something physical…Now if I’m watching some fictional story, I embrace the fiction and the thought in my head is usually “Yah, I could do that.” But on the flipside, when I’m watching something that’s actually real…things like the popular show American Ninja Warrior…or televised boxing matches…and in this case, the thought is usually more of a question “I wonder if I could do that.”

If I am honest with myself, I know the answer to that question…no, I can’t do that…and my history does include one bit of actual evidence to support this conclusion. When I was a student at Iowa State, homecoming week was always exciting…and the college provided various types of entertainment for the students…one of which was a blowup boxing challenge.

Perhaps you’ve seen this…the ring is a big inflatable that you can bounce around in…and the boxing gloves are enormous…you stick your hands in them and grab a handle…but they are giant and bulky and sort of heavy…so you really can’t swing them very hard…and of course they are padded too…so if you happen to catch one in the face, it doesn’t really hurt you.

But…it will knock you down…which I learned the hard way.  A friend and I were walking past and saw this thing…and we since neither one of us had ever been in a fight before we thought this was the perfect way to give it a shot…and I thought I’d be really good at it…but I was fooling myself and reality was a little different.

Let’s just say my friend was a much better inflatable boxer than me…he was bigger and taller and he used this to full advantage…and for me, the blows just kept coming…it amazed me at how quickly I found myself flat on my back, not quite sure how I got there…and then I’d get up…and pretty quick…he’d knock me right back down again.

Now here’s the weird part about it…getting cracked in the head with a big padded boxing glove doesn’t hurt…but it does stun you…and likewise, getting knocked down onto a big bouncy surface doesn’t hurt either…but it does sort of knock the wind out of you. (pause) And so I learned that day, even if you soften the blows…you still take the blows.

(pause)
Now we take a lot of blows in our lives don’t we…and they take a lot of different forms and come from a lot of different directions. We get knocked down emotionally…we get knocked down spiritually…we get knocked down financially…sometimes we even get knocked down physically…and each of these have a wide variety of examples that we can apply.

But sometimes…perhaps most surprisingly today…we can even get knocked down theologically…and it stuns us. (pause) In a moment of full disclosure…today’s gospel lesson is one of those things that stuns me…because I have no idea what to make of this parable…and I have a hunch that I’m not the only one. (pause) Now I’ve never been secretive about the fact that preaching about parables is pretty low on my list…but of all the parables that we encounter throughout the course of the lectionary…this one is my least favorite…To be perfectly blunt…I hate this parable…and I hate it because it is impossible to make heads or tails out of it. (pause) And maybe, just maybe, if you hear this parable and find yourself scratching your head about what Jesus is talking about…then rest assured you…are not…alone. (pause)

A rich man employs a manager, or a steward…and I honestly wonder just how this guy got the job in the first place…because apparently he’s REALLY lousy at his job…but while he has it…he takes full advantage…living it up in his master’s household…every need is met and he’s comfortable.

But then the boss man catches wind of this guy’s issues…and as expected…he fires him…and now all of the sudden the rug is being pulled out from under the steward…and his comfortable life that he had perhaps taken for granted…is being taken away…to go back to our boxing story, he’s taken a solid cross face and he’s on his way to the mat.

Now here’s where the story gets weird…the steward, knowing that he has zero life skills to fall back on, gets creative…and he starts calling in his master’s debtors…and tries to win himself some favor with them by cutting their bills way down…thinking that if he does them this favor with the little bit of power he still holds for the moment, then when the rug is finally pulled out from under him that maybe they’ll repay the favor and take care of him….but if we think about it…what’s the steward really doing?

It would seem that he’s short changing his soon-to-be former master…squandering even more of his property in order to improve his own situation…and now here’s the part that confuses me to no end…the master…commends him for it. Basically telling him…hey good job…way to be shrewd…you’ve cheated me…and I applaud you for it. (pause)

And I have to ask…just what the heck is Jesus trying to teach us here? What’s the lesson? Is he simply being snarky? Is he being ironic? I just don’t get it…because at face value it seems like Jesus is telling us to be shrewd…to be crafty…and to do whatever it takes to improve our own situation. (pause)

Now if this is confusing for you, don’t feel bad…I get the sense that its confusing for everyone…and as per usual, Jesus does offer some teaching…though I fail to see much in the way of connection…because Jesus’ words on the subject, pretty much boil down to his statement that we cannot serve two masters…because we will always place one above the other…and in his final words we hear that we cannot serve both God and wealth. (pause)
Does anyone else have a hard time connecting Jesus’ teaching with the parable?  The teaching seems pretty straight forward…but there’s not really much to connect it with the lousy steward trying his best to improve a bad situation at the expense of his master. (pause) Unless we consider the motive behind the steward’s actions.

He knows the blow is about to fall…he’s about to be fired…he’s about to be cast out of the household and his entire life of privilege is about to come crashing down…and having nothing else to fall back on…he does his best to soften the blow…to give himself a bouncy pad to land on…and to place a big soft pad on the boxing glove that’s catching him with a solid shot.

And in the end…that’s all he really accomplishes…to soften the blow…it might not hurt so much…but it still happens. (pause) And maybe, just maybe, that’s the best that we can ever hope for in this life…because the blows catch us don’t they? Whether we are looking for them or not…they still rain down on us…and if we see it coming, whatever it might be…we might be able to soften it, but we can’t stop it…and that’s the best that we can hope for in this life…in this reality…to maybe see it coming and try to soften the landing when we come crashing down.

And the funny thing is that we create an illusion of control…and we think that if we build up all the barriers…then we can stop the blows from hitting us…and we all do it…so what are your barriers? What are the things that you build up in order to keep the shots from hitting you? (pause)  You know what they call that? When you place your faith in something?  They call that idol…and that’s the connection back to Jesus’ teachings.

We lose a little something in our modern translations…and often times we hear the statement that you can’t serve God and wealth, or maybe money…and that’s not really accurate…but perhaps you’ve heard the old word…especially some of you a little farther along in years…you cannot serve God and mammon.

Mammon is an odd word…one that could be described as dishonest wealth…but when we boil it all the way down…mammon is actually the name given to the idol of wealth…the Jewish culture named it…just like any of the other false gods like Ba’al or Asharah…Mammon, is the name of a god…little g. (pause)
Now we all have our idols…whether we want to admit it or not…and maybe, just maybe the reason that this parable is so troublesome for us…is simply because it hits pretty close to home, especially considering our culture and our economy…and the fact that we live in a dog eat dog world…and we disguise it…we soften it, by calling it the American dream…that we do whatever it takes to get the dollar out of your pocket and into mine.

And the parable is troublesome because the way Jesus tells it…this behavior…is commended. (pause) But maybe what Jesus is telling us…is that to put all our eggs in this basket…and to live our lives as if this is the most important thing…well then the very best we can hope for is to soften the blows when they come…and that if we try to improve our situation by aligning with others in this way…then when the rug gets pulled out from under us we will be welcomed into eternal homes…but now notice that Jesus said eternal…not heavenly. (pause)

This is where the rubber meets the road…what do we serve? And this is an important question to ask…because often we look at scripture and we ask what is the eternal aspect…and at the same time, if the kingdom has come near, then what is the here and now aspect? And maybe, just maybe, this particular one only has an eternal aspect…because in life the blows keep coming…and sooner or later the big one lands…and there’s no getting up from that one.

So maybe Jesus is getting pretty blunt here…and telling us in no certain terms that we darn well better look to the one who is capable of overcoming that final blow for us…as opposed to seeking out what the world would commend and placing our faith in that. (pause)

But that being said…we do still need to think about what it means for us now…and maybe think back to the role that the guy in the parable held in the first place…a steward…and in doing so we remember that we are all stewards of something…we are all called to manage something…but just like the steward managed that which was not his own…we need to remember that its not ours either…because if it was then we could take it with us…but we all know that we can’t.

So what does this mean for our wealth? What does this mean for us as we consider money…and property…and bills and paychecks…and our savings account and the charities that we give to? Well, in the end, we need to remember that all of that stuff exists as a tool in the lives that we live with our God…who is the one that gives it to us in the first place…its not the other way around…We use wealth in our lives…we do not live our lives to serve wealth. (pause)

All that being said, I’m not going to stand up here and tell you what to do with your money.  I’m not going stand up here and tell you that you need to get your priorities straight and serve God by putting some extra in the offering plate today so that we can meet our budget…but I will pose the question one more time…what are we going to trust in?

Our congregation is blessed in many ways, including financially…but we are also looking at the possibility of some things in the future that will stretch us…and as we look towards those things we must ask ourselves of just what we are trying to accomplish…and what direction are we following…is the work of the Spirit guiding us into the world to engage and seek the lost? Or are we just trying to survive?  These are the questions that we are wrestling with…and I invite you to wrestle with them too…and if you feel in your heart that what we as the church are doing is serving the will of our Lord, then support that in any way that you can…with your time and talents and treasures…with those gifts that you have been entrusted with.

That is what we do in this life…here in the tension between the now and the not yet…within our day to day lives and the life that is yet to come.  And in the midst of it, we stand together…and we do our best to support one another when the blows come…and yes the blows keep on coming, whether we work to soften them or not…but thanks be to God that He has chosen to live this life along side us, even as we struggle…we know that we are not alone. Amen.

What Does Lost Really Mean 9-11-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 15:1-10, I explore the notion of being lost. This is aimed both at when we are lost, and when things are lost to us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-does-lost-really-mean-9-11-16

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

A couple weeks back I traveled up to the Twin Cities for a couple days of continuing education at Luther Seminary. I arrived in the Cities the evening before the class began, and so I had a little time to drive through some of the old neighborhoods that I frequented during the 2.5 years that I lived there.

Of all the different spots that I drove past, none was quite so weird as when I went by our old townhouse. It was just a little surreal to roll past our old front door, knowing full well that I couldn’t walk up the sidewalk and stroll in.  Like many other places in my history, its lost to me. Still there, but no longer accessible.

Now of course, I have a lot of different places that fall under this category. Homes where my family and I have lived…back rooms in my former places of employment…and while I have some feelings of nostalgia about all of these places…perhaps none have ever struck me as significantly as when I think about my grandparents old farm.

They had lived there as long as I could remember…and one of my favorite places on the farm was Grandpa’s shed. Every corner of that shed was filled with something. The workbench running all the way along one wall was covered with tools of every kind.  The walls were covered with rakes and hoes and brooms and all kinds of other stuff. There were piles of old equipment stacked up all over the place…and of course Grandpa’s tractors were always in there as well.

It is a place of significant memory for me…and not only the building itself, but the times standing next to grandpa as he was working on something…memories from as far back as I can remember. (pause) But as we all learn at some point in our lives, time marches on…and things change. After several years of declining health as well as complications from Alzheimers, my grandpa died in 2006…My grandma remained on the farm for a couple more years, and so it was still a place where I could visit…entering back into those cherished memories from time to time. But shortly after grandma died in 2011, the farm was sold. All the equipment was sold and carted away…although I wasn’t present when that all occurred.

But interestingly enough, the night before the farm changed hands, my brother spent some time in Grandpa’s shed…now completely cleaned out…barren and empty…and he sent me a picture, which I still look at from time to time. Every time I look at it, I find it strange…because that’s not Grandpa’s shed. Grandpa’s shed was full of stuff…that picture…well, it just a building. (pause) That picture serves as reminder for me that Grandpa’s shed is lost to me. (pause)
Now I share all this for what I suspect is fairly clear….the notion of loss…that there are things, or places, or people…that are lost…and as we think about the gospel lesson for today…and these two parables that Jesus shares about the lost, I find myself asking a couple of related questions.  First off, what does the word “Lost” really mean?  And secondly, a question for each of you…What have you lost? (pause)

The parable of the lost sheep, followed up by the parable of the lost coin.  Two brief snippets shared by Jesus in response to another batch of grumbling on the part of the religious elite. (pause) THIS MAN WELCOMES SINNERS AND EATS WITH THEM!  How dare he?

Certainly this is nothing new…we see this type of thing happening with a fair bit of regularity in the gospel narratives…when the big wigs…the “righteous ones” who OF COURSE…have it all together, criticize Jesus and labeling him guilty by association…for he willingly spends time alongside side these sinful people. He should know better. (pause)
And in response…the parables…what man having 100 sheep and losing one will not leave the 99 and go in search…rejoicing when he finds it…and what woman having 10 coins and losing one will not light a lamp and search diligently until she finds it…rejoicing when she does. (pause)
2 parables, both quite alike in the message that they reveal…that yes…things get lost…and yet the one that values that which is lost, will go to any length in order to find it…and because they value it so much, they will rejoice when it is found.

Now of course…the sheep and the coin…well they pretty clearly seem to represent those lost sinners that have come looking for something…and the rejoicing that goes on? Its happening in Heaven when the one lost to sin, repents…and comes back into the fold.

If we think along these lines, then it stands to reason that the one searching…the one so willing to set everything else aside, the one to bring light into the world to seek the lost in the darkness…pretty obvious that this is Jesus right? (pause)

Perhaps this gospel lesson comes across as a no-brainer…as obvious…as pretty cut and dry.  Sinners are lost to the one that values them above all others…and God will search beyond measure…and rejoice when that sinner is found.  (pause)
But to be lost in sin, is only one example of how we, the sheep…the coin…how we are lost…and now that word…lost…its sorta funny…because it carries a lot of different possibilities. Because something can be misplaced…only to be located and picked up again…no harm no foul…or on the flip side…something might be destroyed…or living things can die…and we would still call them lost.

And so thinking along these lines, I’ve pondered at great length about just what it means to be lost…both to us…when we lose something or someone…as well as when we ourselves are lost. (pause)

Perhaps one of the most pertinent examples of this happens to each us as we age…we slow down…our bodies don’t quite work like they used to…and things that once we took for granted…abilities, strengths…all the sudden we realize that we can’t do them anymore…and perhaps that’s something to grieve…and perhaps we realize that even our own self-image of who we are…has been lost to us. (pause)
But what about on the flipside…what are some of the ways that things of value…and more specifically, people that we value…that we cherish and love….how can they be lost?

I’ve already mentioned the theological aspect of being lost in sin…something that’s a reality for each of us…but what about the more tangible?  Loved ones are lost through the reality of distance…the separation that can result from broken relationships…we’ve seen first hand here in our community the reality of loss through death…when our loved ones cross that boundary where we are completely unable to find them.

But there are other ways as well…ways that are perhaps even more difficult to deal with…when someone we love is effected by mental decline…and the person that we remember…the person that we should encounter as we sit there face to face with them…just…isn’t…there.

Several families right here in our congregation are dealing with this reality…and with our extended life expectancy, I think its safe to say that most families have dealt with it at one time or another…and its devastating…to lose the person that we know, even while they are still physically with us. (pause)

So I ask again…what have you lost? (pause) Who have you lost? (pause) And finally…how are you…lost? (pause)  I can’t answer these questions for you…but I can remind you that this is the human reality…flawed and broken…and perhaps in each of these situations, we could say that there is the presence of death.

But…remember that we have a God who can…and does…create new life out of death…this is the promise of the gospel…this is the hope of the resurrection…that somehow…someway…that which is lost…whether metaphorically…or literally…WILL…BE…FOUND.

In the waters of our baptism, we are made heirs of the promise of the resurrection, joining with Christ, one day, in a resurrection like his…and though we lack the knowledge of just what this is going to look like…the promise remains. That the one that values each and every one of us more than any other can or will…God…will search…and God will find you…and on that glorious day described by the Apostle Paul when the trumpet sounds and we are all changed…somehow, those who are lost to us in the here and now will be found…whole once more. (pause)
This is the promise of the gospel…and the promise of Christ today…that we who are lost…will NOT stay that way…for God will continue to search in ways that go far beyond our human abilities to comprehend or achieve…and when we are found…then God will rejoice…and he invites us…to do the same. Amen.

So What Does The Cross Really Mean 9-4-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 14:25-33, I explore some rather harsh statements from Jesus regarding the cost of discipleship. Different audiences can and likely do hear his words differently.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/so-what-does-the-cross-mean-9-4-16

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

If there is a single type of movie that society would consider to be the “most popular” right now…my vote would be the comic book movie. They are everywhere…you can barely turn on the tv anymore without seeing a commercial for someone flying around in a cape.

Now I’m not complaining about this in the least possible way…because I love them…and I’m a big fan about how each of the major organizations that are making these movies are working to create a shared universe…namely, that all of the different movies and characters and stories that fall under their particular brand occur within the same universe.

Now if you’re familiar with the universe, if you’ve seen the different movies…then you can typically pick up on the different little details…but on the flip side…if you aren’t familiar, then it can get really confusing.  (pause) This was on full display at my house the other night. My son Jack and I had been channel surfing and we happened to find Iron Man 3…and so we were sitting there watching it.  If you’re unfamiliar, Iron Man falls under the Marvel brand, alongside other names like Captain America, or the Hulk, and Thor…and one that I’m guessing you’ve at least heard of before…the Avengers.

There are all kinds of movies mixed in with tv shows…in short…there’s A LOT in the Marvel universe…and Iron Man 3, the particular movie we were watching, came out about 3 years ago…so there’s been a lot more story that’s developed in the mean time.

That being said, Jack and I were watching…making comments about things in this movie that set up stuff that came later on…comments about characters and settings…all kinds of stuff…and my wife…well…she was completely lost…to her credit…she was asking questions…trying to understand…but we might as well have been speaking another language…and I think that all she was really getting out the movie was a bunch of flashy explosions. (pause)

This whole deal points towards an important point.  Audience is important…different audiences will understand things differently…they’ll interpret things differently…and this is true whether we are speaking about individuals, as well as when we get a little more generic and talk about groups…in short…our experience changes how we understand something…and this is important because today’s gospel lesson puts this truth on display. (pause)

I’ve often talked before about the differences in how people in Jesus’ time would understand a particular situation…and how that can often be different from the way we do…and it’s the result of many different things…but mainly boiling down to the differences in context…and to offer even a tiny glimpse at this…within today’s story Jesus talks about a king going out to war. At that time, the notion of 10,000 men fighting 20,000 hand to hand made perfect sense…but they would have zero notion of what to make of airstrikes or nuclear submarines, something that we take almost for granted. (pause) Context determines understanding for different audiences.

And today’s story…perhaps more than any other that I’ve really come across highlights this…typically when this comes up there are two possible audiences…but today, there are 3…Those of us hearing it today, bringing with us all of our experiences and ideas…then there would have been Luke’s audience…individuals living approximately 75 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus…individuals who would be 2 or 3 generations down the line from the events described in the story….and then there would have been the audience of Jesus…standing there in the crowds actually listening to him that day…and I’m guessing that all three audiences…21st century upper Midwest Lutherans…early 2nd century believers…and early 1st Century Jews…all three probably pick up things a little differently. (pause)

Now this particular passage is often referred to as the cost of discipleship…sparked off when large crowds are following Jesus…likely for a very wide variety of reasons…and Jesus lays out some truth for them to make sure they actually understand what it means to be his disciple…now Jesus lays this out in the first portion of the reading…with these shocking words about hating parents, spouses, children, siblings…even our very lives…and then picking up our cross to follow him…the rest of the reading about building the tower and the king going to war are just illustrations intended to highlight this notion. (pause)
But for everyone who hears these words…I’m guessing something specific…and likely different…jumps out. Now admittedly, this is a hard passage…to hear Jesus, the one we are so used to hearing talk about love and acceptance…say that we are supposed to hate our family…that’s a hard pill for us to swallow…because we are so used to the big picture…we’re used to hearing those other teachings from Jesus…and because of that…this comes across really harsh.

But let’s back it up…what about the audience of Jesus that day? Most of them would have been Jewish…and I’m guessing that this was even more shocking…hate your parents? Well that breaks one of the commandments…hate your family? By no means!!! These individuals was culturally engrained to think about their family, their heritage…it was central to them.

But then what about Luke’s audience…those 2nd century believers who had very likely experienced this sort of thing first hand…Remember just how divisive the gospel was at THAT time…these would have been individuals that were cast out of community…out of their synagogues…they would have been disowned by family members that could NOT tolerate this new belief…and so for those people…hearing these words of Jesus, while painful, would have served as more of a reminder of the life they were living…the choices that they had made to follow Christ. (pause)
And there’s another statement that Jesus makes that really falls under this whole situation as well…Anyone who does not carry the cross ad follow me cannot be my disciple. (pause)

Now how do we hear that? I fear that the first thought that enters our head is the very common statement “that’s my cross to bear” which if you’re family is typically used to describe some uncomfortable situation…but we think of it as our personal cost…the thing that we have to endure simply because we are believers in Christ…but perhaps at the same time…our Lutheran theology always makes us think about the cross as a symbol of hope…and the notion of what God accomplished through the death of Jesus on the Cross and his subsequent resurrection…2000 years of history and interpretation lead us to that…that’s what we think of.
But let’s back up…and what would the other audiences hear? For Luke’s audience…those 2nd century Christians…those people who lived under the threat of being martyred…those individuals who had likely watched friends or family be tortured and killed, perhaps even crucified…because of their faith?  Well that’s going to mean something dramatically different than it does for us won’t it? (pause) And finally, what about Jesus’ audience that day…those people in the crowds who hear “carry the cross.” What would they think?

Because keep in mind…at that point…the Cross as we think of it…it hadn’t happened yet…The crucifixion of Jesus…hadn’t happened yet…His death and resurrection was not yet a reality…and so for those people there THAT day…all they could possibly think of is who they’ve seen carrying a cross.

And that…is the one who has been condemned…remember that crucifixion in general was VERY common…it was the Roman’s favorite form of public execution…intended to send a message…and the worst part of it…when you were condemned to die by crucifixion, you had to carry your own cross. How horrible is that? (pause) And so, for Jesus’ audience…they would hear “those who do not willingly recognize that they are condemned cannot be my disciple.” (pause)

Let me say that one more time…those who do not recognize that they are condemned cannot be my disciple. (pause) Think about that for a moment…Harsh? Utterly devoid of hope or promise?  Shocking…you better believe it.

But that…that right there…that is precisely how we need to hear these words today…Now there are times when we look for the gospel in the midst of Jesus’ words…and there are times when we look towards the greater overarching story…but then again…sometimes the Holy Spirit smacks us directly with his…exact…words. To be a disciple of Christ is to see ourselves as the one who is already condemned. (pause)
Now I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently…likely because of the fact that our congregation has experienced 2 deaths…2 funerals in the past 2 weeks…and one of the themes that emerge in and around funerals is the truth of death within our reality…and additionally that death is the result of sin.

This is the reality for each and every one of us…each of us experiences 1 death…it is inevitable and it is the result of the presence of sin within our individuals lives…the apostle Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death…and there are no exception…we are each subject to it…you might say that we are each condemned. (pause)

That’s the reality that Jesus’ audience would have heard that day…that to be his follower is to recognize that you are condemned…and there was no joy to be found in the cross yet…and so that raises the question of what does it mean to be people of the cross in the here and now…while we are in the midst of this life…and that’s a great question…perhaps one that we cannot truly answer…because that is not our reality.

We live in a reality where the cross…the crucifixion…the death AND the resurrection of Jesus HAS already happened…and we are shaped by the history that has occurred…and we cling to the hope that the cross represents for us…and we call things what they are. YES…we are condemned by the presence of sin in our lives…but through the cross…through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the power of sin and death has been overcome…and so when Jesus reminds us to carry our cross as his disciples, we are simply acknowledging that alone, I am as good as dead…but thanks be to God that God didn’t leave it there.  (pause)

So what does the cross really mean? Well…it means something different to everyone…but the hope that we cling to…the hope and the faith that we express each and every week here in worship…is that through the cross…through the death of Jesus followed by his resurrection, our lives today are lived in the promise of life everlasting…and we live in that freedom right here, right now. (pause)

Now that being said, this does not mean that our lives as disciples of Christ are going to be easy…often times far from it…and that’s where the rest of Jesus’ words today are still important for us to hear…there is cost to discipleship…and its different for every single individual…for some it might be the loss of family connections…it might even be the loss of our very lives…and yes there are parts of the world, even today, where this is still a very real thing.

Our faith in Christ is both unbelievable easy…because we don’t have to do anything to get it…but at the same time it comes with extraordinary cost…because through it, your life will never be the same…so keep that in mind as you follow where Christ leads. Amen.

Be Humble 8-28-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 14:1, 7-14, I explore an odd little encounter where Jesus seems to offer shrewd advice on how to gain public honor. This is way out of the norm for Jesus, and yet if we look deeper, there is more going on.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-humble-8-28-16

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

Last Sunday night, the Olympics wrapped up…closing ceremonies…tons of pomp and circumstance…a great big show that culminated with the torch going out. No more games, no more events…no more prime time tv coverage to fill each and every evening…at least not for another couple years until the next winter games.

I’ve been thinking a lot about it though…some of the highlights from the Rio games…and there were quite a few of them…and while I know that everyone has their own favorite events to really pay attention to, I think my highlight was men’s sprinting…and seeing whether or not Usain Bolt, the self-professed “world’s fastest man” could capitalize in his 3 events to pull off what they were calling the triple-triple…He had gotten the gold in the 100m, the 200m, and the 4x100m relay in both of the 2 previous Olympic games, first in Bejing in 2008 and then again in London in 2012…and when it came to men’s sprinting…all eyes were on him to see if he could get all three gold medals again…winning 3 golds in 3 consecutive Olympics.

Now, if Olympic sprinting is your thing…you already know the answer…yes he did it…and he did it with style…his charismatic and flamboyant demeanor on full display after each of the 3 victories.  And as exciting as it was…I remember hearing an interview with him after the first win…and he talked about his speed and his training and his natural ability…and then he went on to say how much the sport of sprinting needed him. I was sitting there watching it with my son Jack…and I looked over at him and said…he’s good, but he’s not very humble is he? (pause) Now that comment from me prompted a rather lengthy discussion about humility and social graces…it actually turned into a pretty important teaching moment…so if nothing else…all world records and gold medals aside, Usain Bolt, you provided this…good job.

But when it gets right down to it…this notion of humility is on display today in the gospel lesson…and I have to tell you…I find this passage pretty odd. (pause) Jesus is invited to a banquet, and socially speaking, it’s a pretty big deal. Because not only is he invited by one of the Pharisees, which did happen from time to time…this particular time he’s invited by one of their leaders…and keep in mind that within the Jewish culture…the Pharisees sat WAY high up the social ladder.

They were the religious elite, and in a culture where religion is so closely tied into EVERY aspect of life…this means socially, they were important…and as this is one of the leaders of the Pharisees…this guy…he’s a pretty big deal.

And Jesus has somehow scored an invite, which as we hear, he accepts…but as he sits there that day…he notices something…just how much everyone is jockeying for position…trying to get the seats of honor.

Now I thought a lot about this…and it seemed to be a pretty foreign idea, at least in the social circles where I find myself…this whole “seat of honor” thing doesn’t really apply. But again…different cultural situation. For in Jesus day, your placement at the table was a very big deal. The more prominent you were, the closer you sat to the host…and so as Jesus sits there, he watches everyone elbowing their way up, trying to get the choice spots.

But Jesus…as per usual, recognizes a flaw in all this jockeying…and here’s where it gets weird…Jesus seemingly starts to offer shrewd social advice. (pause) When you come to a banquet, take the lowest seat, for when the host comes in and sees you there, he will move you up in front of everyone and you will be publically honored…BUT…if you seat yourself higher than you should, when the host comes in and sees you…well then right there in front of everyone you’ll get shamed when you are kicked farther on down the table.

So…be shrewd…sit yourself low to get the public honor. (pause) Isn’t that what Jesus is saying here? (pause) My first thought was to focus on the second part of the passage when Jesus switches his focus to the host…but that’s pretty much in the same vein…don’t invite people because of what you’ll get out of it…you already have what you need, so invite the humble. (pause)

Admittedly…this whole passage seems like Jesus giving shrewd tips on social graces…and when I realized that, I just sort of sat there…because that is so completely off from what we normally see. Isn’t Jesus the one who tends to ignore all things social…the one who breaks the rules? The one who seeks the outcast to bring them into relationship even though society deems them unacceptable? (pause)

So just what the heck are we supposed to do with this? (pause) And where is the good news that needs to be proclaimed? (pause) Interestingly enough, as I was having a lot of these thoughts, particularly early in the week, I was in St Paul MN, at Luther Seminary…in conversation with the very professor that had a big role in teaching me how to do this…and she told me “Scott, go through the process…” And I did…and while I won’t bore you with all the details I considered the big picture…something they like to call Eschatological…which is just a fancy word of saying God’s ultimate goal. And I considered Luke’s gospel as a whole. Now Jesus is heading somewhere. A fairly sizable chunk of Luke’s gospel occurs after Jesus has turned his face towards Jerusalem…including this part. And he knows what’s coming in Jerusalem. Betrayal, torture, and death on the cross…

And that…is precisely where God’s ultimate plan…takes shape…that is the place where Jesus, God in human form, overcomes the reality of sin and death here in our flawed reality. And by doing so, God has made it possible for us to move past that barrier that sin has created…in short, inviting us into the ultimate heavenly banquet…which is another fancy way of saying eternal life. (pause)
Through Christ, God has invited us into this heavenly banquet…in short, God is the host…and so, even if we throw out the notion of being humble for the sake of being seen by others…then we darn well better remember to be humble before the host…before the one who invites us in the first place.

And since God is the host…the one doing the inviting…we need to remember that He already has invited the poor and the crippled and the lam and the blind…and we…fall…in…that…list. For we are all broken…we are all the outcast with no way of repaying the one who invites us. (pause)
And truly we ARE invited…and not just into this end times heavenly banquet, but as we hear in the beginning of the Gospel, through Christ, the kingdom has come near…we are invited into it right here…right now…and not through any merit of our own…not because of anything we have to offer…but simply because of the free gift of God…simply because God has chosen this. (pause)

That’s the gospel right there…that is the good news in a nutshell…that nothing we do…no jockeying or elbowing for position earns us the invitation…and likewise, its not about the honor that we attempt to bestow on ourselves…in the end…its about what the host says about us…and our host gives us the title that society scoffs at…but one that can give us no greater thing…than to be called a beloved child of God. (pause)

Now the funny thing about all this…or perhaps the frustrating thing about it…is even though we are assured of this promise…that we are claimed by God…we still mess up…because sin is always present in this life even if we are no longer subject to the penalty…its still there…and this whole notion of humility…its funny how quickly it can turn to pride.

Remember Usain Bolt…and the conversation that he sparked with my son? Admittedly, I was looking down my nose at him…saying that he needed humility…he needed to tone down the self-congratulations. (pause) And as I was doing it…I was passing judgment…talking about how he was doing it wrong…and do you know what they call that? Pride. Self Justification…and in short placing myself in the judgement seat which is somewhere I have no business being. (pause)
And I had to eat some crow on that too…because a day or two after that particular interview, I saw Bolt give another interview…and in the midst…our National Anthem started playing for a medal ceremony in the background…And he stopped the interview…telling the reporter “Hold on, we need to listen to this.” And Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man…stood there honoring another athlete from a different country. (pause) And in that moment I got the message loud and clear…who needs humility now? (pause…put hand up)

This is our reality…twisted and flawed…and we fit right in…but thanks be to God that he has offered us his grace freely…and invited us into something more. May we humbly accept this gift, and recognize our need for it each and every day. Amen.

Be Loosed 8-21-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 13:10-17, I explore the controversy that surrounds Jesus healing on the Sabbath. “The Rules” dictate that this is work, yet Jesus points out that we are called to do that which is life-giving on the Sabbath. From there I explore the notion of forgiveness of sins, and the freedom that God gives us from what binds us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-loosed-8-21-16

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

The human body is a pretty amazing thing. Just how everything works. We have all these different systems within us, all interacting with one another enabling life as we know it. Modern medicine has explained a lot of how our bodies work, but not entirely. But regardless, if we think about it…it makes sense that following the creation of humanity, God sat back and called it very good.

However, as we all come to realize with the realities of aging, eventually, our bodies wear down. For some it happens sooner, for others later…but its inevitable.  I never wanted to admit this about myself…and admittedly, I’ve taken steps to avoid it. Since taking up regular excersize and being at least a little bit more mindful of what I’m eating, I’m proud to say that I’m actually in better shape now in my mid to late 30’s than I was through most of my 20’s.

But not entirely…most of you sitting out there know that I have a bum ankle…one that has thrown me for a loop a total of 4 times in my life, 3 of which in the past 2 years…and most notably…at our 1st annual block party when I made the mistake of playing basketball in sandals.

Following that injury which a lot of you witnessed…I found myself sitting in the doctors office for x-rays…and while nothing was broken, he did remind me “You’re 35 now…you gotta knock that stuff off.”

But ankle injuries aside, I have been pretty blessed up to this point. And as I think back, there are only two times that I can recall where my body failed me…and they were both self-inflicted. Most of you have heard the story of when I tried to swim out to a buoy and ran out of gas…nearly drowning. And the other time was my most recent attempt to climb a mountain in CO three years ago…when I ran out of gas coming back down the mountain and spent hours just trudging along, feeling like death warmed over. It was not a feeling that I enjoyed…to have my body fail…and yet, in life, it is inevitable. (pause)
But as I mentioned a moment ago, for some, it happens much sooner than we normally expect…there’s no rhyme or reason to it…unfortunately sometimes it just happens…and there are wide variety of causes. Sometimes it can be an accident…other times an illness…still others are sideswiped by genetics and are born that way. None of these things are good…but they are a reality that countless people deal with…sometimes for a short amount of time…others for years or even for their entire lives. (pause)
That’s the case in today’s gospel story…as Jesus encounters a woman with a pretty drastic physical ailment that has quite literally hindered her for nearly 2 decades…Just what exactly is happening we don’t quite know.  We hear that she has a spirit of infirmity, crippling her…we hear Jesus say that Satan has bound her…so it seems that there’s something of the demonic going on here…but regardless, it affects her physically…keeping her hunch over…unable to stand up straight…and so for years, she has been shunted to the side…unable to look anyone in the face…unable to view the world beyond the ground, as her body is physically unable to straighten itself out.

That in itself must have been bad enough…but imagine what this must have done for the woman from a social standpoint. With the physical inability to look anyone in the face, how hard must it have been for her to engage in relationship with those that she encounters? Her stricken appearance a constant reminder of her problem…and keep in mind the common thought at the time that a situation like this was the punishment for sin…and so for her to experience such a dramatic problem, she would have likely been considered ultra sinful…and people would keep their distance…avoiding her whenever possible…and even in the setting today…she is one in the crowd at the synagogue…think logistically for a moment…she’s bent over within a crowd of people standing…she would be invisible… (pause)
And yet…Jesus sees her….and not only does he see her…but he engages her…he acknowledges her and calls her over…and then Jesus goes a pretty amazing step beyond that…but he tells her she is set free…and he lays hands upon her and she is healed. (pause)
Now this is all amazing right? But if we think about it…its pretty par for the course…Many times Jesus sees a need such as this and does something about it…but the controversy this time…is because of timing…and as we hear…the leader of the synagogue…the one in charge…the expert…he starts squawking.

There are 6 days to work…come for healing on those days…not on the Sabbath…I kind of chuckle at this, as the leader addresses the crowd…being pretty passive aggressive at his actual target of Jesus…This man heals on the Sabbath…he’s working on the Sabbath…He’s breaking the rules.

Because…of course…the 10 commandments tell us to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy…to do no work on the Sabbath because even God rested on that day…but think about it…what did Jesus really do?  He told her she was free…and talking is not work…and then he laid hands upon her…another thing that was not considered work…seems to me that the leader is being pretty nitpicky here…and we see exactly that when Jesus strikes back at his hypocritical attitude. Because in the expanded law of Moses…there are loopholes.  Does not each of you untie your ox or donkey and lead him to water on the Sabbath? (pause)
That’s okay…you can untie an animal and take it to water…although you aren’t allowed to bring water to the animal.  It would seem that to unbind the animal in order for it to have what’s needed for life is okay though…and I suppose that’s a pretty good loophole isn’t it? A good way to sidestep the notion of “no work on Sabbath.” (pause)
Now this is not to say that Jesus needs loopholes, because he doesn’t…But rather, what Jesus is doing here is pointing out the very same instance, just on a very different scale. It is acceptable…even honorable, to allow your beasts of burden water on the Sabbath…you could even say that the simple act of unbinding them is life giving…and likewise…Jesus is unbinding this woman from that which hinders her life. He sets her free from that which oppressed her…which separated her…and why? Well, because she is a daughter of Abraham. (pause)
Now when Jesus calls her this…it’s a big deal. Keep in mind, for the Jewish people, being connected to Abraham…being one of his descendants is vital to their identity. It brings them into the community…and for a culture as utterly structured as the Jewish people at the time…this inclusion is utterly important.

So for Jesus to call this woman Daughter of Abraham…he might as well be calling her a child of heaven…or to use a term that we might find familiar, beloved child of God…Jesus, God in the flesh sees this woman who might as well been invisible, sets her loose from what physical binds her…and claims her as a beloved child. (pause)

Sound familiar? Sorta seems like baptism to me doesn’t it? When God looks upon us as an individual, broken as we are…and sets us free from the power of sin simply because He names us his beloved child…Now most often when something this happens for us, it happens in the setting of worship…so much so that its pretty much an expectation…but if we come back around to expectation that Jesus was breaking that day…it all boils down to who is working on the Sabbath…and if the rules are broken…and the notion that there is some “RIGHT WAY” that we do Sabbath. But Jesus has faced this sort of thing before…and he will face it again…and each and every time, he reminds those detractors…as well as each of us…that he is the Lord of the Sabbath…in short…that he is the Lord…ironic that He’s even called the Lord here in today’s passage…as he strikes out at the hypocrites…it could even be the voice of God booming out in opposition to this misunderstanding of what can and should be happening on the Sabbath day as these people have gathered for worship. (pause)

Now I have to say…I like this story a lot…because the woman is a physical representation of each of us. She comes to worship, broken…and so do we. Each and every one of us here…all of us…NO EXCEPTIONS…We are all broken people and we come before the Lord…and just as Jesus sees the woman…God sees you…and he calls to you…and he sets you free from what binds you because he has claimed you as his child. (pause)

If you were here last week, you know that I wasn’t…because I was off with my family on our annual pilgrimage to the mountains for family camp. And over the course of the week, we shared communion several times…the first of which, we shared in the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness, just like we do every week here in worship…you know the part…when I invite you to turn to page 56…and together we confess that we are bound…unable to set ourselves loose…but then at the end, I stand before, just as I already have this morning…and I share these words, just as I share them again now…as a called and ordained minister of the Christ and by HIS authority, I therefore declare unto you the entire forgiveness of ALL of your sins. (pause)

But last week, I got to hear that proclaimed to me…and boy it struck me hard…because as a solo pastor I proclaim it but I don’t actually hear it that much….and I don’t say to be whiny, but rather because in that moment, of hearing someone proclaim to me, the forgiveness of the sin that binds me…I felt free…and I realized just how big of deal we participate in each and every week here in worship.

Here on the Sabbath…God frees us from that which binds us…and if its not enough to hear about…he has also blessed us with a physical reminder…one which we will share in a few more minutes…and in this holy meal, we are reminded that his body is broken and his blood is shed for you…for the forgiveness of your sin…not because you have earned it…not because you are worthy of it…but because he loves you and has chosen to do this for you. (pause)

We hear at the end of today’s passage, that his opponents are put to shame…and may we remember that whenever we stand in the way of what God is up to…whether intentionally or not…God’s grace is simple yet universal…and if we think that God’s grace can be hindered in anyway, well then Christ died for nothing…and its not grace…it doesn’t matter what we look like, or sound like…it doesn’t matter where we come from…or if we follow the rules or not…God’s grace is offered to broken people…period. No conditions…no expectations…no exceptions.

God’s grace is offered…freely…and knowing that…perhaps we need to join the crowd in rejoicing at the wonderful thing that he is doing…Freeing each of us…setting us loose from what binds us…You are a child of God…seen, named, and claimed. And I announce to you today that because of what Christ has done…be loosed. Amen.

Barn Guy 7-31-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 12:13-21 I explore the parable of the barn guy, as Jesus warns us against greed and coveting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/barn-guy-7-31-16

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
It is my hope and intention…that I never do anything foolish enough to land myself in prison….However…if, heaven forbid, I do ever end up there…I have often said that my plan would be to get myself put in solitary confinement…because I can just sit there and play various movies in my head…and not only that, but I can have meaningful conversation with myself…and therefore I could keep myself entertained…but of course…that’s just a joke…and the reality of this hypothetical situation is quite a bit different.

About midway through my seminary education, I took the first of two ethics courses…and one of the writing assignments that we had in that particular class was to identify a social issue and write on it from a theological standpoint. I ended up choosing the topic of solitary confinement and whether or not it is an ethical punishment from a theological standpoint.

I won’t bore you with the full extent of my theological or ethical conclusions…other than way back in the beginning, God himself said “it is not good for the man to be alone.” So let’s just say in the long run, IF I ever ended up in solitary confinement, I think its safe to say that this is not good. (pause)

Humanity is not intended to be alone…we crave relationship, we desire it within our very nature…and I believe that this is all because we bear the divine image of God…the divine image of the one who exists in three persons…father, son, and holy spirit…and yes this goes beyond our ability to comprehend…and yet we confess it to be true.

And our Lord…the triune God…the one who exists in relationship, desires this same sort of relationship, both with us…as well as for us…but since this crafty thing known as sin came into the picture and skewed our reality…hindering our ability to exist with one another in harmony…well then the 10 commandments came along…several of which are aimed at how we live in relationship with God, honoring and loving him…and the rest aimed at how we live in relationship with one another, honoring and loving our neighbors.

Now one of the 10 commandments…one of the things that God warns us about…is on display here in today’s gospel lesson…Teacher…tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me…a request that Jesus immediately sidesteps…Dude, who made me judge over you and your brother? (pause) What’s interesting is that this is one of only two times in Luke’s gospel when someone demands that Jesus intervene to make a judgement call…the other one, we heard it a few weeks ago when Martha told Jesus to step in and get Mary to pull her weight in the house work, and perhaps you recall how that one turned out for Martha…but now this random guy wants Jesus to use his apparent authority…in order to put some green in his pocket. (pause)

But as Jesus sidesteps this random request…he jumps into a teaching moment…be on your guard from all kinds of greed…Now granted, we don’t know what’s going on in this situation…we don’t know the details…maybe the random guy was actually justified in his request…but if Jesus’ statement shows us anything…its that this guy just wanted to improve his situation…and he didn’t care who got hurt in the process.

Because isn’t that what greed does? It sets us up as number one…I want more…more…more…I want this, I want that.  And this need for more consumes us…and we don’t care who gets hurt in the process because our focus has turned inwards.

And I find myself thinking…isn’t that what it means to covet? We’ve got 2 commandments about this…don’t covet your neighbors house…and don’t covet his wife or servants or animals…pretty well covers the bases…don’t covet that which is your neighbors…because if you do, then you are falling in the greed trap…seeing yourself as more deserving of it than your neighbor…in short…greed…or coveting…like pretty much every single one of the commandments…places us on the pedestal…and embodies that old saying “Look out for number 1.” And in doing do…aren’t we creating an idol? Something that we are putting all of our stock in…something that commands our attention…

Idols take a lot of forms…and in this case…when greed rears its ugly head…well then the idol takes the form of the face looking back in the mirror. (pause)
And you know what…sometimes that face looking back at us from the mirror…sometimes he really seems to know what he’s talking about…You ever have that conversation with yourself…talking yourself into something…or maybe out of something…listening to that voice…listening only to that voice?
That’s what happens in the parable…and I gotta say, as parables go, this is a pretty good one…pretty well known…one that I’ve heard call the parable of the barn guy.  Here’s this rich farmer…who has a particularly good year…so much so that his, normally adequate barns and storehouses aren’t gonna cut it…What to do? What to do? What to do?

That’s the question…and rather than seeking advice…barn guy looks in the mirror…first with the question “What will I do?” And then with quite the plan.  This is what I will do. I…will pull down my barns…and I…will build bigger ones…and there I…will store my grain and my goods…and once I…have done this I…will tell myself….SELF…you are good to go…you have done all this work and now you will reap the rewards…Rest…eat…drink…and be merry.”

Sounds like barn guy is having quite the lively conversation with himself…going back and forth…talking to the guy in the mirror…but here’s the tripping point…all the while, he is only thinking of himself…that’s the tension about this parable…all too often its seen as a critique of wealth…as taking a shot at the rich…and it makes us question the way we go about things in our society today…should I save for the future? Or is this asking me to just give it all away.

But that’s not really the case here…the problem is that greed…the desire for more…and the faith that barn guy finds in having accounted for the future…it all stops right there…and because of this…he is completely self centered…there is no thought of anyone else…no one else’s voice in the conversation…the entire world of barn guy is population 1…just him. (pause)
Now I’ve had this thought before…this isn’t the first time I’ve come across this passage after all…and I’ll be honest…when I read it…it hits close to home…Barn guy seems to be asking the question of How can I take advantage of this windfall? How do I look out for the future? But maybe we can boil it down to the question of “how much is enough?” And I don’t know about you, but I fall in that trap with a fair bit of regularity.

But as I was reading through it this time around, something caught my attention…and its God’s response to the man…You know how it goes. Just when he thinks he’s got it all figured out…God calls him on the carpet. You FOOL…tonight you die…and who will have all that you have prepared for yourself?”

Now every other time I’ve read this passage, I took that as God saying that “someone else will have the fruits of all your work and scheming.” And while that might be true…this time around I was struck by the isolated nature of the man…his greed has isolated him to the point where there is no one around him…he can’t even pass on all of his accumulated goods to anyone else…because there’s no one there.

And so it seems that his barns are going to rot and fall to pieces…and all his grain will spoil…and no one…absolutely no one…will benefit from all this. (pause)

It is not good to be alone. God said this at the beginning of humanities existence…but because of the isolating nature of sin in our lives…we end up alone…but thanks be to God that through Jesus Christ, God has overcome that which isolates us…sin is overcome…relationship with God and with one another IS possible…despite our failings and the ongoing presence of sin in this flawed reality.

Now there are many signs of community and relationship within our lives…families, friends, neighbors, communities, schools, workplaces…and on and on and on…but one of the most important communities that God has given us is a community of faith.

When we gather here for worship, we join together, not only with one another, but with fellow believers all over the world…and across time…together we make up the one body…but we are also reminded that individuals parts of the body can, and will, become isolated…it still happens. We see it as individual people…and we see it within congregations.

And perhaps it is there that we find a touch of critique from this parable…I’m guessing I’m not the only one who hears this passage and feels that slight twinge of discomfort because we recognize that it hits close to home.

And I fear that we as a congregation need to listen to this word of critique…for we have been blessed beyond measure…and we reap the ongoing benefits of this blessing…yet this does not give us an excuse to simply eat, drink, and be merry…resting on our laurels because of the financial surplus that we are experiencing.

Rather it seems that the lesson today is reminding us of the need to look outwards…our needs are meet for today…so who can we help…who else can benefit from the excess that we have blessed with…this is an ongoing question…one that we’ve discussed before…and a discussion that continues to be ongoing. May our collective eyes and ears be open to the voices of those outside our walls. (pause)

There’s a saying in my house…something have reminded ourselves of when faced with questions like this…4 walls and roof.  Today we have 4 walls around us and roof over our heads…today we have food in our stomach and clothes on our back…and today, that’s enough…and we will worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

May we as a community of faith trust that our Lord will continue to provide for us in the future…and so in the present may we do our best to look outwards…to not allow ourselves to become isolated by the blessings that allow us to be comfortable today.

And above all…may we remember why we are a church in the first place…we exist to be the body of Christ in the world…to declare the good news of Jesus Christ in the world…and to care for those that we encounter…may we cling to that mission, so that one day…if heaven forbid…the life of this congregation is demanded of it…there will be someone else out there to benefit from the true treasure that we possess…the freedom which has been granted to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.