The Story Within the Story 2-26-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 17:1-9, I explore the Transfiguration of Jesus, which was both thrilling and terrifying for those who witnessed it.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-story-within-the-story-2-26-17

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

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

If you happen to be a movie buff as I am, then today is an exciting day for you…because today, or more specifically, this evening is…the Oscars. One of countless award shows that goes on every year, but in the movie world, this is the big one…the most important.

Now my only complaint with the Oscars…is that it is really long…the typical runtime is usually way over 3 hours. Its long for different reasons…but one of them is the number of awards that are given out. There are a lot of them…and they are aimed a lot of different directions…but if I’m perfectly honest…I don’t really care about most of them…the only ones that I’m really excited about are Best Picture…which makes sense as that’s sorta the big one…and then the acting categories. Best Actor and Actress as well as Best Supporting Actor and Actress.

I think both sides are pretty important. In the lead category, you are looking at the actor or actress that carries the story…they are absolutely central…the supporting categories are aimed at performances that occur more in the background…important for the story…but not absolutely central…but that being said…I’ve often found that for those supporting characters…we could describe their role within the movie as “the story within the story.” (pause)
As I was working with this week’s text for the Transfiguration…and honestly as I was pondering on the gospel as a whole…I recognized that this idea of a story within the story seems to apply.  (pause) Now I don’t think any of us would argue that Jesus would fall in the leading actor category when it comes to the gospels.  Its kinda hard to have a Gospel of Jesus Christ without Jesus in it…and understandably, as we work our way through the different gospels…doesn’t matter which one…Jesus is at the center…and if the New Testament had its own Oscars ceremony, I think Jesus would take Best Actor every single year.

And maybe, just maybe, today’s story would win for best visual effects…because here at the Transfiguration some pretty amazing things happen. You’re likely familiar with it…we hear it every year at this time, just before the season of Lent kicks off.  Jesus decides to hike up a mountain…he takes the Big Three disciples, Peter and James and John and up they go…and while they are there…Jesus is transfigured.

Now just what that means, we don’t really know. All we hear within the different gospel accounts is that his face starts to glow like the sun, and his clothes become dazzling white…honestly that’s not a lot to go on…but as I’ve pondered on this event over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that somehow, someway…the Big Three were given a glimpse at the truth that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine…and this man that they’ve known…this man that they’ve followed around without too much in the way of problems…somehow the divine nature comes blasting through the human.

Now this is not to say that in this moment he became fully divine…I think its safe to say that the divine had been there all along. By this point in the gospel he’s performed countless miracles…but for what ever reason…it is in this moment that the divinity of Christ…the God-ness if that’s what you want to call it…becomes visible for a brief moment.

Now that in itself is amazing enough…but to add fuel to the fire…we also hear that Moses and Elijah show up here on the mountain and they are hanging out jabbering with Jesus as well. Admittedly I don’t quite know how Peter James and John would have known that this was Moses and Elijah…as both of them lived centuries before Jesus and the disciples were walking around…who knows, maybe they were wearing nametags.

But what we do know is that this moment is so amazing…it is so GOOD…that Peter wants to capture it.  If it had happened today…he’d probably want to take a selfie and post it all over Instagram and Twitter and Facebook…and if he did, he’d probably end up with millions of likes. (pause) But truly, Peter wants to stay put doesn’t he? Lord…it is good that we are here…how about I build three tents, one for you and Moses and Elijah…and we can just stay here for a while.

Peter wants to stay in this amazing moment…he wants to stay in the good…to capture it…because I think Peter realizes the truth…that it won’t last…because Peter knows that there’s more coming…that there’s some stuff right around the corner that will be a polar opposite of the glory that he’s witnessing here on the mountain. (pause)
And that brings me around the point that I started off with…the story within the story…because if there was a New Testament Oscar for supporting actor…I think it would go to Peter…at least here in the gospels.

I don’t know about you…but I’ve always related to Peter. He’s present for much of what goes on throughout the gospel…and maybe this is intentional on the part of the authors of the gospels…but he seems to be portrayed as the MOST human out of any of them. He sees incredible things…and he marvels at them. He makes incredibly Spirit filled proclamations about the true identity of Jesus as the Messiah….but he’s also impulsive…and he’s a blabbermouth.  He doesn’t think things through.  He walked on water with Jesus, but then promptly sank.  He expressed faith, and then when Jesus revealed that he would be killed, Peter rebukes him and promptly gets called Satan.

Later on he’ll swear up one side and down the other that he’ll stay with Jesus even into death, only to wimp out and swear up one side and down the other that he doesn’t even know Jesus.

Maybe its just me…but I often think that we are supposed to see this stuff through the eyes of one that we can relate to…because this stuff all happened…and real people witnessed it…real people who lack the ability to describe these amazing things that occurred…and for Peter…right on the tail of this amazing moment that he is seeing…Jesus transfigured on the mountain…just as Peter makes the statement that he wants to hang out here where its good…where he’s happy and comfortable…things take a turn.

Suddenly out of nowhere, a bright cloud envelops them…cutting off their vision…and the voice of God booms out “THIS IS MY SON THE BELOVED. LISTEN TO HIM.” (pause) It’s not quite a “no” in response to Peter’s question of “should we stay here.” But in the very least, it reveals, once again…just who Jesus really is.

And Peter, along with James and John…all three of them freak out…because they have now realized that GOD…IS…HERE. And they are on the ground, flat on their faces because they are terrified….scared out of their wits…or to use a phrase made popular by Luke’s gospel in the King James Version…they are sore afraid, just like the Shepherds who hear about the birth of Jesus…not to mention the women who will experience the empty tomb at Easter and a couple of angels addressing them…they’re absolutely terrified as well…not to mention when the resurrected Jesus shows up and starts talking to them.

It seems, that when God shows up…that when something truly DIVINE happens…it is simply too much for us.  I don’t why…and even if I did I don’t know if I could articulate it.  The only conclusion that I can reach from these different moments in scripture…including this one at the Transfiguration…is that whatever God is…whatever the DIVINE is…words cannot adequately express it…we cannot truly describe it.

That’s why we only hear that Jesus starting glowing…that’s why Moses was unable to actually look at God back there on Mount Sinai but couldn’t look at the place where God had just been. Because God is simply too much. God is in someway bigger…or stronger…or greater than we are…and to be in the presence of the divine must make the individual feel every aspect of being smaller…of being less…of being inadequate.

When I think about the attempt to describe God, I can only realize that our language is insufficient, just as our human limitations are insufficient…however “big” we might describe God, its not enough…and the only thing that I have ever experienced that might just give me a glimpse of this is when I stand next to the ocean…because as I have stood there on a few different beaches over the years looking out at this endless expanse of water, it makes me feel very small…but admittedly that’s not the right word either. Language fails me both in that description as well as in trying to define God.

So no wonder Peter freaked out…because God showed up…and if I was there, I’d say it’s a fair assumption to say I’d be facedown groveling in the dirt right next to him. (pause) But here’s the thing…this isn’t the end for Peter…and even though there’s still some dark junk that he’s going to experience between now and the cross of Christ…the message that he receives is one that we need to hear as well.

Listen to Jesus…and the next words that Jesus speaks are “Be risen and fear not.” Get up, and don’t be afraid because I am with you. (pause)  I love Peter’s story, especially today…because today his example shows us that we will experience the good and the terrifying.  Perhaps you’ve heard me say that the point of the sermon is to bring comfort to the afflicted and the bring affliction to the comfortable…and often times there are people on both sides of that coin sitting out there. But Peter’s example reminds us today that we will experience both in our lives…and sometimes we can go from one to the other just like that.

Peter went from absolute joy and wanting to bask in it, to absolute terror…and our lives reflect the same…but just as Peter was reminded to listen to Christ…we do the same…When we are comfortable and thinking that things are going well, let us look to Christ.  (pause) When we are terrified because what we are experiencing is simply too much for us…let us look to Christ.

Because if we are all doing that…regardless of the division that might be going on that separates the comfortable from the afflicted…well then maybe we can all begin to see what we have in common…a shared humanity redeemed by the one who allows us to approach the divine and not experience the holy terror that comes when our smallness butts up against the Lord’s bigness. (pause)
Truly, Peter’s journey through the gospel is a smaller story within the story…but if he shows us anything…its that he’s human, just like we are…and our limitations are on full display. (pause) And if today’s story of the Transfiguration shows us anything…its that we can’t really describe or understand just what it means when the divinity of Christ shines through the human…and you know what, that’s okay. Maybe we don’t need to know what it looked like…but we can be encouraged to know what the transfiguration means. That Christ bridges the gap…somehow, someway…and that he has assured us that we don’t have to be afraid. Amen.

Next Verse Same As the First 2-19-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:38-48, I wrap up a series from a larger teaching of Jesus. After several weeks, it might seem redundant, but sometimes we need to hear the same thing over and over.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/next-verse-same-as-the-first-2-19-17

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

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

My oldest niece is 17…in the midst of her junior year of high school…and she’s got a boyfriend. As her uncle…I kinda obligated to hate this whole situation right? Isn’t that like the unwritten rule? (pause) All jokes aside…admittedly, I’ve never met the kid…and all reports from my sister is that he’s a pretty decent guy…so I guess I’ll begrudgingly allow it.

And to his credit…he tries hard. As they are both upperclassmen this year, they are eligible to go to prom…and as the trend has moved in recent years to include what’s known as “the big ask” he pulled out all the stops and put together a scavenger hunt around town…each clue leading to specific location, and another clue…and once they were all put together…the question was revealed…but she couldn’t miss any of the steps…each one leading somewhere specific…each one…inviting…her towards something different. (pause)

Now, what does this have to do with today’s gospel? Good question…why would I bring up a scavenger hunt, and each step serving as in invitation when we have a gospel lesson that sounds like a broken record?  If you’ve been around…this is now the 4th week in a row that our gospel lesson has come out of Matthew chapter 5…and as I mentioned a week ago…its starting to sound REALLY redundant.

We’ve heard Jesus talk about who is blessed in the kingdom of heaven…and it’s the unexpected person…the person who is the opposite of who the world would typically point out as “blessed.” Then, in the week’s following we heard Jesus give us a reminder that we are different in the world…and that we are called to be different…and then he starts talking about the law…and righteousness and justification…and we are given constant reminders of the way that sin has permeated every aspect of our existence…and that “the law” gets broken way more than we realize.

We’ve heard several week’s worth of statements from Jesus that I like to call the “yah but” statements.  By now the format has likely become quite familiar to you…you have heard it said this….yah, but I tell you its actually like this…and today’s lesson is more of the same.

You’ve heard it said and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say that if someone strikes you, don’t retaliate, turn the other cheek and give them a new target. (pause) You’ve heard it said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy….YAH…but you know what you need to love your enemy too…and not only that but pray for them. Someone wants your shirt…give them your coat too…someone makes you go one mile, double it. (pause)

I can’t help but wonder why? What is Jesus really telling us here…other than perhaps offering up continued examples of that first idea that we heard a few weeks back…that you are salt…so be salt…be different and make a difference in the world.

Isn’t that what all these statements seem to be saying? Over and over and over again?  Honestly…as I think back over the past few weeks’ worth of lessons and sermons its starting to seem like that old repeating song about Henry the 8th. (Sing) I’m Henry the 8th I am, Henry the 8th I am I am…I got married to the widow next door, she’s been married 7 times before and everyone was a Henry HENRY. Henry the 8th I am…next verse, same as the first….and it repeats over and over again. (pause)

Just what is Jesus up to here? I pose that question, because after today, we are stepping away from the Sermon on the Mount…but the sermon itself does go on…there are 2 more chapters of this continued theme from Jesus…and the big question is why? Why does Jesus think that this is so important? Why…are we called to be different? Why does he continue to extend this invitation for us to move away from the status quo and to be something different? (pause)
But before I really dive into an attempt to answer that question, I’ll pose another one…is this something new? (pause) Interestingly enough…this is really just one more step in a long history of God inviting humanity forward into something new…a new way of acting…a new way of thinking…a new way of interacting with one another…and we see that very thing on display if we back up to the very statements that Jesus keeps referencing as coming from ancient times.

Our first reading came out of Leviticus today…and it represents just a small portion of “the law” that God gave to Moses…a code for how the Israelites were to treat one another and not only that but how they were to treat other cultures that they came into contact with…Now most of what we heard from Leviticus today was aimed at those interactions within the community of the Israelites…and we don’t actually hear the direct statements that Jesus would reference…but rest assured those statements were in there too.

As Jesus reminds us…you have heard it said to those in ancient times, and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…and while that might seems a little on the barbaric side to consider yanking another person’s eye out…it was actually revolutionary at the time…if someone harms you…don’t seek ultimate retaliation…but let the punishment fit the crime.  God was inviting the people to recognize that punishment did not need to be an escalation of violence…and at the time…that was a huge step forward.

Now fast forward several thousand years to Jesus day…and that old saying switches to something new…and why? Because through Christ, the kingdom is here now and with that change, once more God is inviting us into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of responding…because its no longer an eye for eye…but if someone takes a swing at you…offer up the other cheek as well. (pause)

Even today, 2000 years after Jesus posed this teaching…its hard…because every single atom of our being wants to strike back…that’s just the way we are wired isn’t it? If someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back…and all too often…we have the tendency to ramp things up…you hurt me, I’ll hurt you more so you’ll never try to hurt me again.

I can’t think about that without thinking about the last 15 years of conflict that our country has been involved in following 9-11…they hurt us, so we’ve been trying to strike back at them so hard that they’ll never dare raise a finger towards us again…and how’s that been working…we’re on our 3rd administration since that whole deal kicked off…and from where I’m standing there’s no end in site…and that’s not me being political…that’s me making an observation.

We’ve used violence to strike back against violence that was used to strike back against violence…and the cycle keep spiraling backwards through history…but it will never work…because violence can never drive out violence, only love can do that.

And maybe that’s precisely why Jesus gave us the moral imperative 2000 years back to try something different. The kingdom of Heaven is here now…but the world still looks pretty much the same because we can’t break ourselves of the habit of an eye for eye.

But Jesus told us to be salt…to be something that makes an actual difference in its environment…someone attacks you, don’t strike back…it might hurt…but it will sure as heck throw them off their game won’t it? And maybe…just maybe, our example which can only be inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us…maybe it’ll make a difference in the life of one person.

The world is ripe with individuals who are literally hurting for the gospel…they are hungry for a change in the ugliness of this world and how we treat one another…and sometimes…sometimes, all it takes is one small step to make a difference…that one small step can be the thing that opens their eyes and hearts to see the invitation that God is offering their direction through the life changing…earth shattering promise of the gospel…and that one small step can lead to the next thing, which can lead to the next thing…which can lead to the next thing…and the next thing you know…a life has change…and a heart has opened up…and I’ve seen it.

Last Tuesday night…a group of us were gathered downstairs in Bible Study…and we’ve been blessed over the past few weeks to have a new individual with us…a young woman named Brandy who’s been coming to church for a couple months now…drawn in because of a tragedy that our community experienced last fall. And as we sat there, having a discussion about sin and grace and brokenness and the love of God, something was at work in her…and as our discussion continued, focusing in on the truth that while we were sinners Christ died for us…Brandy got what I’ve called the spiritual 2×4 upside the head…and it clicked.  The glory of the gospel which seems like utter nonsense…right up until the moment that it doesn’t…caught her…and in that moment God invited her forward into something new…but it could not have happened if those different individuals that she’s been encountering since last fall hadn’t been doing something different…that’s why Jesus tells us to be different…to be salt…to go beyond what the world expects of us and to be something else…because Jesus knows that this world is not going change if we keep on doing the same old thing over and over again.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the story of the gospel can be broken down into 4 sections. God made it, humanity messed it up, Jesus redeemed it, and we are invited into the work of reconciling the world back to God.  That’s the work that the body of Christ is charged with. He’s in heaven now…but we are here and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be different…so that others may see the change that Christ has made in our lives…and maybe, just maybe they’ll start taking those steps forward as well…that’s how this world is going to change…not by continuing the same old thing…not by sitting around sitting on our hands waiting for Christ to come back, but by actually getting up, and following the invitation to BE Christ in the world…because if we’re willing to do that…who knows what might happen? Anyone want to find out? Amen

The Gospel is a Broken Record 2-12-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:21-37, I explore a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus reveals the depth of sin. It results in broken relationships, yet we are reminded to be reconciled.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-gospel-is-a-broken-record-2-12-17

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

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

This past Tuesday evening, the adult Bible Study gathered downstairs and spent about an hour discussing the 4th chapter of Romans. Now within that chapter, the Apostle Paul focuses quite heavily on the example of the Old Testament figure Abraham…and how he stands as an example of faith…Abraham fits this bill because for years he believed the promise of God, that he would have many descendants…even while he remained childless, until finally God makes good on the promise and Abraham has his beloved son.

I didn’t share this thought during Bible Study…but I was reminded of an old comedy routine…one that focuses in on this very idea.  For God came upon Abraham and asked Abraham do you love me…and Abraham said YES! And God said GOOD…now go in the kitchen…get a knife…and kill your own kid. And Abraham responded….Ummm, let me see if I got this….Could I not merely punch the lad to show my devotion? (pause)

It’s a bit cheesy, I realize that…but its interesting to consider that God asked for a pretty extreme display of faith…and all jokes aside, that situation happened back in Genesis. But coming all the way around, I thought this same sort of idea was on display here within our gospel lesson today…a situation where the punishment really seems to defy the severity of the crime. Where the result seems pretty extreme. (pause)
Admittedly, today’s story may seem like a bit of a broken record…like something we just heard…and rightly so. We’ve been here in Matthew chapter 5 for 3 weeks in a row…and if you were here last week you might remember that our lesson ended with the same verse that I started on today.  Its going to continue as well…and next week we’ll finish up chapter 5…and admittedly it will sound like more of the same.

And the ongoing theme…that which started off last week and continues right on through this week’s portion of the chapter…the law…only here Jesus seems to be explore the depths…and how the presence of sin in our reality goes far deeper than we realize.

Because that’s what the broken law is right? Sin? The failure to live out our day to day lives in a way that God approves of…in the way dictated so many centuries ago through the 10 commandments and the rest of the law…the “procedures” that God’s chosen people were supposed to follow, first of all to live in harmony with God and with each other…and then…if and when the law was broken…the procedure to go about atoning for it…the sacrifices to make, the prayers to pray.

Sound familiar? That’s what I talked about last week…and that Jesus raises up the example of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees to make that point…but sometimes, Jesus’ audience can be a little slow on the uptake right?  And its not enough for him to make the point once…but he needs to dive a little deeper…bringing in things that they would understand….and that’s precisely what’s going on here today.

Think for a moment, that you are a Jewish person…just living out your day to day life…and this traveling Rabbi comes around and starts quoting your cultural rules your way…you’d pick up on it right away wouldn’t you.

You’ve heard it said to those in ancient times…you shall not commit murder…and those who commit murder will be liable to judgment. (pause) Well duh. That’s a no brainer Jesus…its right there in the 10 commandments…we don’t have to dig very deep to find that one do we?

And that’s true…we don’t need to dig very deep in our day in age either do we? Murder is bad…I don’t think anyone would disagree with us, whether they claim to be a Christian or Jewish or any other religious standing. Murder is morally horrible…so of course you’re liable to judgment.

But here’s where it gets tricky…because Jesus starts to take things deeper than face value.  Because if you get angry with your brother or sister, you’re liable to judgment…and if you go one step farther and insult them, you’re liable to the council…and if you call them a fool, you’re liable to the fires of hell. (pause)

Is it just me…or does that seem to be going the wrong direction in terms of the severity of the offense?  It would seem, based on the escalation of judgment for murder all the way up to burning in hell for calling someone a fool…is that logical? Does it make any sense at all? (pause)

But maybe that’s the point…because maybe sin doesn’t make any sense…but if we are trying to make heads or tails of it, let’s take just a look at the rest of the examples that Jesus offers us today. Come to terms with your accuser or risk jail. Don’t commit adultery…good at face value, but apparently a lingering look at someone is just as damaging…and divorce is bad all around, regardless of what the law has to say about it…and then he wraps up this part with making oaths and not sticking to them… (pause)
Now of course, there are some other statements in there too…but when it gets right down to it…isn’t each one of those situations telling of a relationship that is in the very least damaged…and in the extreme is utterly destroyed? It seems so…and if we get right down to brass-tax, it seems to me that this is what sin does. It damages relationships.

Can’t we boil it all down to that…sin hurts…and it doesn’t matter who is the recipient of it…it doesn’t matter who is on the receiving end…because in the end…sin destroys. God made paradise, and he put two people in it who existed in unbroken harmony both together and with God…and then sin destroyed that…and we are still living the very same situation now…with our actions, with our words, with our intentions…we are flawed and the result is fractures in the relationships we have with those around us…and whether we realize it or not with God.

The 10 commandments weren’t just a batch of rules handed down by some cosmic policeman, but they were instructions for how to honor God and those around us…to exist within good relationship…and humanity has broken them, over and over again…and this all serves to support the very same statement that I made last week…I may sound like a broken record, but the truth is that we can’t do it.

The righteousness…which is simply being “right with God” is not possible out of anything we do or don’t do…and no batch of rules to follow…procedures to go through when the commandments are broken are going to atone for that. Righteousness through works of the law does…not…work. (pause)
And so, once again, as we heard last week…Jesus came to fulfill the law on our behalf. We can’t do it…so through the life death and resurrection of Christ God does it for us….its done…completed…fulfilled…period.

And you know what, that’s good news…that while we were sinners Christ died for us…and because of this, even if we don’t understand how or why…its done…and we are able to live in the freedom that Christ has given us…freedom from having to accomplish enough, or avoid enough…freedom to be back in relationship both with God and with each other.

But here’s the part where I get all Lutheran on you…and I throw out something that Martin Luther was found of saying. We are, at the same time, saints and sinners…we are forgiven of the sin that entangles us, and yet we are not perfect and we feel the effects of sin and brokenness…and of course, of broken relationship all the time.

Now maybe those of us sitting here in this room realize this…or maybe we don’t. Maybe we recognize that this is why we share in the brief order of confession and forgiveness every single week…because we need to continue to hear the words of forgiveness offered back to us…because even though we are saved…even though we are redeemed, we are still broken…and our relationships suffer…and being a follower of Christ does not excuse us from that…in fact it has the tendency make us more aware of it…and Jesus addresses that very thing today.

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and god…first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus wasn’t just talking to his Jewish audience who would go to the altar bearing a lamb to sacrifice…he was talking to us…knowing full well that we gather here in worship as forgiven people…and yet people who still harm one another…and as nice and civil as our congregation is…guess what people…we still hurt each other. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it…and I’m pretty sure that I’ve done it.

The gospel might seem like a broken record at times, repeating itself over and over again. Maybe there are times when my sermons sound like the same thing…maybe there are times when the scripture seems to be saying the same thing…and you know…its probably true, because regardless of the changing circumstances, the gospel doesn’t change. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Pause) And now, even if we are forgiven of sin, we are still called to reconcile ourselves to one another when our brokenness rears up and harms another.

And you know…there’s actually an old custom that’s built into traditional liturgy…and while we don’t do it here overly often, its probably something we should do…its called the passing of the peace…or the sharing of the peace….and while in many places it has morphed into a chance to shake hands and say good morning to each other, it should actually look like what Jesus describes today. Being reconciled to those we have wronged.

And so now, rather than doing my normal wrap up of saying amen and walking out to sit down before the organ fires up with the hymn of the day, I’m going to invite you to rise… (let them stand up)

May the peace of the Lord we be with you (and also with you). Let us share a sign of God’s peace with one another.

You Be You 2-5-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 5:13-20, I explore Jesus’ reminder that we are salt and light. This is followed up by Jesus’ reminder that he has come to fulfill the law. So what’s that mean for us?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-be-you-2-5-17

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

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

If I was to ask you to name one story written by the famous author Edgar Allan Poe…I’m guessing most of you would offer up The Raven…perhaps even quoting the raven…Nevermore.

But there’s another story written by Poe, perhaps not quite as well known, but its stuck with me over the years…its called the Tell-Tale Heart…Within the story, we hear the narrator, offering up to us an account of how he committed murder…but was captured after the victims post-mordum hearbeat drove him temporarily crazy and he confessed to the crime.

Now that in itself is strange to be sure…but there’s a detail within the story itself that always bugged me. You see, the premise for this whole murder was weird to begin with…apparently the victim was an okay guy…but one of his eyes was weird…apparently wide and menacing like a vulture is how Poe describes it. And the man who committed the murder, well he couldn’t stand it…so he decided to kill the guy.

And so…for a period of time, he plotted the murder…planning to do it at night…creeping into the man’s home…into his bedroom, where he would commit the crime…and so for a long period…night after night…the murderer would bring a long a lamp, creep slowly into the house, and down the hall to the bedroom door. Once he got his and arm inside the door, he’d open a shutter on the covered lamp, casting a light on his victim’s eye…night after night its shut…and its not until a slip up makes a noise that wakes the man, that he finally commits the murder.

Now the rest of details aren’t really important…but here’s the thing that’s always bugged me. The guy lights a lantern…and closes it…taking a lot of time to creep into the room. And if I know anything about a lantern…I know that it’s basically a candle burning inside a frame…and if you completely close it…which you would have to in order to keep any light from coming out…well then that candle is quickly going to use up all the air available to it…and its gonna go out long before he makes it into the bedroom…I don’t mean to be nitpicky Mr Poe…but that’s how a candle works…put it under a cover after its lit…well that’s just stupid. (pause) I’m guessing you see where I’m going with this.

Today, we dive into the meat of the Sermon on the Mount…a long period of teaching by Jesus…both to his disciples as well as the crowds that have gathered around him…and through the written word of the gospel…teaching aimed at us today. That’s the setting of today’s gospel…Jesus has just finished up the beatitudes, which we heard in worship a week ago…telling his audience about the unexpected people who are blessed in the kingdom of heaven…including You…we hear that…blessed are you. (pause)

And that leads directly into where we pick up today. A passage that seems to have 2 main parts…You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world…and then Jesus switches gears and starts talking about the law.

Now admittedly, this first portion seems a little strange…all this talk about salt and light…and while Jesus’ statements about light might seem kinda obvious, the salt thing is perhaps, a little harder to understand.

I was thinking about salt this week…where it comes from, what we use it for…things like that…and I compared this to Jesus’ words. If salt looses its flavor its worthless, so throw it out in the road…but when we think of salt now…what do we use it for? For its taste, to season our food, and to keep the ice off the roads right? And now…think of where we get salt…typically at the grocery store…and its pure right…because we’ve refined it…and so, for the salt to loose its saltiness, means that there’s nothing left…Pure salt, if its lost its saltiness, is nothing right? So I guess there wouldn’t be much left to throw out on the roads in the first place.

But in Jesus’ day, salt was a little different. They couldn’t go to Hy-Vee or Fareway and pick up a batch. Rather, salt came from a mine where it was chipped out of the rock…or it was scooped up from the sea-shore at lowtide, along with whatever sand and sediment was mixed in with it.

So you’ve got this salt/sand mixture…which admittedly doesn’t sound all that appealing to put on some food…but if something happened, and the salt disappeared, what’s left? Just a bunch of sand…and you aren’t gonna season anything with that are you…so you might as well throw it out in the road where it can provide some traction. (pause)

So it would seem, as Jesus offers up these two brief comments, that salt without its salt-ness…and light that’s covered up are both pointless. Neither one is fulfilling its essence…neither one is doing what it is, quite literally…made to do.

Now here’s the thing…Jesus says You ARE the salt of the earth…and then he says You ARE the light of the world. Jesus says this…Go in Human form…You ARE…not that you should be, or that you will be, or that you used to be…but you are. So be it…God told you that you are these things…so be salt…be light…be you…because you already are. (pause)

Now what’s that mean in the midst of our day to day life? Good question…and perhaps that’s why Jesus switches gears at this point…and we start hearing about the law. And he says some stuff about following the law…follow the commandments and teach others to do the same…don’t break them, because that won’t bode well for you in the kingdom of heaven. (pause) And I have to ask…what’s Jesus talk about here. Especially with his closing statement today…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you’ll never enter the kingdom. I can’t help but think that seems a little daunting…and perhaps a little odd at the same time.

Aren’t the scribes and the Pharisees always the ones that Jesus’ butts heads with? Aren’t they the ones that he call hypocrites? So why does it seem like he’s offering them up as the example today?

In order to answer that question, we need to remember what Jesus means by righteousness…and that word, one that we throw around a lot, simple means “being right with God.” And knowing that, we need to think about what the scribes and Pharisees do in order to “be right with God.” (pause) They follow the law, to the letter…and not just the 10 Commandments, but all the steps listed out to make up for their mistakes. The religious elite never claimed to be perfect, and we need to remember that…but they knew what do to make up for their sins…the right sacrifice to make…the right prayer to offer…in short…they followed the law, as they understood it, thinking that it made them righteous.

But the big question…how’d that work out for them? Not well…because we can’t do it. We can’t fulfill the law because the law is not just a list of things to do or not to do…and Jesus will spend a pretty big chunk of the sermon on the mount talking about this…that sin goes way deeper than our actions…it goes way deeper than our thoughts and words and intentions…it goes so deep into our broken human nature that we CAN NOT DO IT.

And so if Jesus is telling us to fulfill the law…to be righteous in a way that is greater than the religious elite…well how’s that going to happen? (pause) Well if we can’t do it…then I guess someone else is going to have to fulfill it for us…and maybe I’m crazy but didn’t Jesus tell us today that he has not come to do away with the law but to fulfill it? Pretty sure I heard that in there…
I have come, not to abolish, but to fulfill…To complete…to finish…and realizing that makes me think of a couple of words Jesus uttered on the cross right before he died. It…is…finished. (pause) As Jesus hung there…his body broken…his blood shed…it was fulfilled…and today…in just a few more minutes…we will each hear those same words spoken to us…The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.

This is the gospel…we can’t do it…so God does it for us…and the broken body and blood of Christ fulfills the law for us…the broken body and blood of Christ makes you righteous, whether you think you deserve it or not. (pause)

Now this is important…that we realize that our foolish attempts to justify ourselves…our efforts and our worrying about being good enough…being smart enough…or doing enough…are all just that…foolish waste of effort. Jesus assures us that its already done for you…now. And this frees us up to be what we are called to be…to be what we are made to be.

Salt is salty, otherwise its not salt. Light gives light, otherwise its darkness. You are you…made by God…bearing the divine image of the Lord…empowered with gifts and talents that are unique to you…so be you…quit worrying about being good enough for God and realize that there is nothing you need to do in order to be good enough for God.  He made us…and then he sat back and called humanity very good. And when humanity screwed it up…Christ redeemed it…and its already done. Period.

And now Christ is telling you…be YOU…be who you ARE. And you are a beloved child of God, claimed by our Lord and empowered to join together in reconciling the world back to the one who has redeemed it.

Salt makes a difference in food…and all you have to do it eat my wife’s cooking and then eat my cooking to taste the difference…because I always forget the salt.  Light illuminates…and all you have do it flip the switch in a dark room to see the difference. These things create a change simply by being what they are…and Christ says the same about you.

So you be you…wonderful, incredible…unique you. Not perfect…flawed and broken…but still beloved in the eyes of the one who made you in his own divine image…gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the world. Be what God has made you to be…nothing more, nothing less…You ARE a beloved child of God. Amen.

Its A Mystery 1-29-17

In this sermon, taken from the Old Testament book of Micah, chapter 6:1-8, I explore the reminder that God asks of us to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humble with our God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-a-mystery-1-29-17

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

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

Many of you know that I’m a pretty big fan of the fine arts…and that I was pretty active in a wide variety of the arts in my younger years. Band, Choir, Drama…and one of my favorites…speech.  I tried a lot of different styles, both large group and individual…but one of my favorites, one that I ended up doing all 4 years of high school was choral reading…about 15 of us…a scripted deal…on some sort of central theme…many voice all chiming in.

Now my freshman year, the very first time I participated…our message was called the Battle of the Sexes…and a pretty big part of it was aimed at how men and women just don’t understand each other very well…and there’s one part that I still chuckle at all these years later.  At one point…one of the girls says “I can’t handle this right now, I need to go to the bathroom.” And on cue…the rest of the girls all chime in “Me Too.” And they all shift off to the side together.  The guys stare at them as they leave…and then we hear one of the guys ask “Why do they always go in groups?” And then we hear… “It’s a mystery that will baffle men forever.” (Pause)

Now, while the mystery of group oriented bathroom visits isn’t overly earth-shattering in its importance…the fact of the matter is that there are certain things in life that we can’t explain…certain mysteries about the world around us…or the life that we live that are just that…mysteries. And yet our natural curiosity makes us wonder about them…we seek answers.

Now this in itself isn’t a bad thing at all. Human curiosity has led to countless advances and discoveries throughout our history. But at the same time, there are questions that don’t have good answers…mysteries that remain, well, mysterious for lack of a better word…and often times, throughout human history…religion has become the basis on which we try to arrive at understanding.

Now, one of the main mysteries that pretty much every religion attempts to answer is “where did all this come from?” And as we think along this lines it leads to the next question… “And who made it?” Now different faiths will answer this question in different ways, but when we are called upon to answer this question, we answer that God made it…we don’t know exactly how…but we trust that God, who is an entity or a power…or something much greater than we are…somehow, some way, pieced all of this together. (Pause)
Now with this in mind…as we consider that there is a power out there that is greater than we are…a power that’s capable of making everything including me, and that probably means that this power is also capable of UNMAKING me…then perhaps the biggest question of them all is “How do I keep them happy?” (pause)

What do you think? Is that a fair question? One that we still wrestle with today in the midst of our day to day lives? How do we keep God happy? How much is enough…is my offering enough…have I given enough of my time and talents at the local congregation? Have I crossed every t and dotted every i? (pause)

I can’t speak for you…but I know that I wrestle with that question on a pretty regular basis…and I can only assume that this doubt…this question…this fear…is a pretty normal human response…and as I think that…it gives me the tiniest bit of relief to know that this is not a new question…but it goes back a LONG way. (pause)

A brief history lesson…we find ourselves in the year 2017…Christianity…or followers of Christ…or even followers of “the way” as they were first called date all the way back to the period right after the death and resurrection of Jesus…right about the year 30…so about 2000 years, give or take…now this movement was an offshoot of the Jewish culture and religion…which itself dates all the way back to this random dude in the book of Genesis names Abraham who heard the voice of God and said “Okay…that all sounds good.” And that all happened, roughly 2000 years before Jesus was walking around…

Now, as this whole Jewish movement was growing…alongside their culture…things were getting a little hairy…and just like we have posed the question today…they asked the same thing…and so God gave them a little roadmap to help guide the path…this list carved out on some stone tablets called the 10 Commandments…and God told the people this is how you act…do this, and you’ll be honoring me and you’ll be living well together….and that worked out great…for about 5 minutes. (pause)
And this was a pattern that seems to exist all the way through the narrative of our scriptures. God delivers people out of some sort of oppression…and they’re grateful for a time…but then things go to pot as our human nature has the apparent need to screw up and turn away…and then after a while the people remember God and cry out again, and the process repeats itself.

That’s the history of the old testament…it starts off clear back at the beginning…before we had records or dates or anything of that nature…and eventually…God speaks through this low key prophet named Micah…just a normal guy going about his business about 700 years before Jesus would come on the scene…And God has a message for his people. It would seem that its time for a bit of a showdown.

But rather than being angry with the people…God poses a question. What have I done to you? Have I wearied you with displays of salvation and deliverance?  (pause) Time after time, God has shown mercy to his people…it almost seems like God is asking the people “What’s it going to take to get through to you?” (pause)
But here’s where things get kind of interesting…because in the midst of this back and forth between God and the people…it seems that the people finally express their confusion. “With what shall I come before the Lord?”

Keep in mind…that their customs of ritual sacrifice have been long established by the time of Micah…its all been dictated…but yet, no matter how often they attempt to atone for sinful behavior…it never feels like enough. And so…who ever it is that’s offering up the human voice…at least its honest.

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH GOD?   Is it enough if I offer and entire calf?  Well what if I bring 1000 rams…or 10000 vats of oil…not enough to atone for my shortcomings? Okay…I’ll offer my firstborn kid? What’s it gonna take Lord? When is it enough to for me to know that I’m justified? (long pause)
I think we can relate to this question…to this frustration. We live in a world today where enough is never enough…and no matter how hard we try in the midst of this dog eat dog world…this rat race that we love to run so hard…no matter how hard we try…its never enough…and we give and we give and we give…or on the flipside we buy into the world’s hype and we take and take and take…and I find myself wondering…how’s that working for us? (pause)

And in the midst of thinking about that…I find myself wondering if God looked at all the sacrifices that had been offered up…all the things that people tried to use in order to be justified…or to atone for their shortcomings…and God sorta sees all that stuff like a white elephant gift….Like, Oh that’s nice but what am I going to do with it? (pause)
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this honest look at the human condition…the honest question of how much do I need to give to be okay in your site Lord?  (pause)
But the truly amazing thing that we see today…is that God speaks through the prophet…and offers back a pretty eye opening answer…eye opening because of its simplicity. What is the Lord seeking from you?  That you do justice…love kindness…and walk humbly with your God. (pause) Now just what all that looks like…well we could debate that at length…but it seems to me that God is looking for us to look out for one another…and to treat one another like fellow people, worthy of love and respect…and then to recognize as we walk through this crazy thing called life that God is God and I am not. (pause) I am not God because I am human…and as such I fall short…I am broken and flawed…and I have thoughts that go through my head that aren’t overly loving…and I’m selfish…because when it gets right down to it…I break the 1st commandment…all…the…time…because my selfish sinful nature will place me on the pedestal with shocking regularity.  The 1st commandment is You shall have no other God’s before me…but when I look in the mirror, all too often I’m trying to place the face looking back at me in God’s place. (pause)

We can’t do it can we? And when we are honest with ourselves…when we humble ourselves before the one who made us. We recognize the truth about ourselves…and in doing so we realize just how futile of an effort it is for us to try and offer enough…or do enough…or say enough or think enough to justify ourselves. No matter how hard we try…we will let ourselves down…and we will let others down…its unavoidable.

But the wonderful thing about all this…is that God already knows that…and God has already done something about it. I heard a statement this week that I really like…Everyone else will let you down…but Jesus will never let you go. (pause)
Jesus…who is God in the flesh has done something that no burnt offering…no giant check written out to the local charity will ever do…Jesus has overcome the power of sin that we are powerless against…and Jesus has done this in order to prove to you that God loves you.

Now this raises a question…of just why does God love us so much? Well I can’t answer the question of why…but I do believe that its true…because God has claimed us…and we can see this in God’s actions of salvation and mercy throughout our history. We see it on full display in the cross of Christ…we saw it as God delivered his chosen people from slavery in Egypt…and interestingly enough, we can even see it both in today’s lesson, as well as in those 10 Commandments that I keep mentioning.

Walk humbly before the Lord YOUR God. That’s what Micah tells us…and clear back at the beginning of the 10 Commandments, before we get a list of what to do and what not do…we are given a reminder of WHOSE we are. I am the Lord your God. (pause) This is not a statement of humanity claiming God…but rather God claiming us…and that’s the key to the gospel right there…this is the key to every question that we ever ask of “how much is enough?” or “what does it take?”  Because salvation and mercy is not ever something we can obtain…and its about what God claims about us.

We are claimed as God’s people…because God has said so…simply because of his great unending love for each of us…so how might we live our lives today in this mind blowing promise? Well…I guess we need to do justice, love kindness…and walk humbly with our God. Amen.

 

We Are All Called 1-22-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 4:12-23, I explore the call of God to follow, and how this call has been extended to each of us, whether we realize it or not.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-are-all-called-1-22-17

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

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

The other day I was standing in the office making some copies…and as I stood there waiting for the machine I found myself staring at the large picture frame that displays the various pastors of our congregation. Now I’ve looked at that display many times…but this particular time it struck me to notice the number. Since the construction of this sanctuary, completed back in 1948, almost 70 years ago, 14 of us have stood in this pulpit as called pastors.

Now admittedly, I don’t know much about those that came before. Other than a few interactions with my immediate predecessor, I’ve never met any of them. I don’t know their stories or what brought them to Underwood…some of you long-time members out there might just know some of those stories…but all I can speak to is my own experience.

The very first time I ever heard the name Underwood Lutheran was nearly 4 years ago. February of 2013. A day that seminary students have come to call draft day. If you are unfamiliar, the vast majority of seminary students here in the ELCA are assigned a specific area where they will serve their first call. We have some input, but when it gets right down to it our fate is in the hands of the bishops of the different synods…as they gather together to hash out who’s going where.

This information is revealed to the student in two steps. First we learn what region we are assigned to…and then we sit with that information for about a week until the different bishops from that region hammer out who’s going into each individual synod. Now the day that happened for me was a Friday…and I recall sitting in class that afternoon…and each one of us was constantly checking our phones…waiting to it to ring as our new bishop called us to inform us where we’d be heading.

Funny enough…the first person to get the call that day was a fellow student skyping into class from Ohio…we all heard her phone go off over the computer…and her faced disappeared from the screen for a couple minutes before she came back on to share her news.

You can only image how intensely we were all looking at our phones from that moment on…various people getting calls here and there…but I waited…and waited…and waited.  Class got over, no call…I went home…no call. I saw postings on social media from classmates sharing their news…no call…and I could only think to myself…I didn’t get picked…perhaps you know the feeling if you’ve ever been the last one picked for a game at recess.

But…finally…about 8:30 that evening…my phone rang and I looked over to see “Storm Lake, IA” on the caller id…and our bishop shared the news with me, including the statement “And we’ve got this congregation in mind for you called Underwood.” (pause) It was wonderful news, once I finally got to that part…but the whole day leading up to it was horrible…because I wasn’t getting the call.

Now its this idea of receiving a call that takes me into the gospel today…for as we heard in the lesson, Jesus encounters the disciples for the first time…and Peter and Andrew and James and John, these two sets of brothers…this batch of fishermen…all hear the same call from Jesus…from God the son…come follow me…and as we hear, they drop everything and do just that.

Now interestingly enough, the confirmation class talked about this very story just a couple weeks back…and we talked about how Jesus was attracting a following here at the beginning of his ministry…and from that group of people that he attracted…somehow, someway…he tapped 12 of them to be “the disciples.” These 12 guys, 4 of which we hear about today along with 8 others…they are the ones that Jesus calls directly…and that’s a fascinating thing to consider.

But in the midst of that conversation during confirmation class, one of the students raised a pretty interesting question…(pause) Why did Jesus call these ones? (Pause) Why them and not someone else…especially considering the ongoing failures that we would see from this ragtag batch of guys. What was it that made Jesus look at them and say “you…I choose you.”

Now…its safe to say that we can’t answer that question…we don’t know the mind of God…we don’t know what was going through Jesus’ head…we don’t know what he knew about them…but yet, these are the ones he called…and as we see in the example of Peter and Andrew…and then immediately following James and John…they left everything behind to heed the call.

But here’s the really crazy part…they weren’t alone were they? There were other people around…particularly the 2nd time…James and John are sitting there in the boat, mending their nets…along with their father Zebedee…and along comes this rabbi with a couple of their fellow fishermen tagging along behind…and he looks at James and John…says come follow me…and they do.

Now imagine for a moment…that you’re Zebedee. We don’t know what’s going through his head at this point either. “MY BOYS? WHERE ARE YOU GOING?” or maybe “HEY, WE’VE GOT WORK TO DO HERE!” Or maybe, just maybe Zebedee was thinking “I want to go too.”

That’s been a strong thought in my head this week…what about the other people who were around…who encountered Jesus walking along…perhaps were even there when he offered the invitation…but for whatever reason, they are left behind. (pause) Why are some called and some aren’t?

Now we could argue, within the gospel anyway, that Jesus had a specific purpose in the early formation of the church that would take over as “the body” once his mission was over…and that the 12 that he picked were for a specific reason, even if we don’t know what it is. That’s a fair assumption.

But what about when we get farther down the line…maybe even to today….why does it seem that some are called and some aren’t? (pause) I wish I could answer that question…but I can’t…because I don’t know the mind of God…and I don’t understand why God does or doesn’t do things…and it would be incredibly arrogant for me to think otherwise.

But as we are thinking along those lines, I feel that it is important to dispel a common thought…that here in the church, only a few are “called” as the disciples were.  Admittedly, that’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, especially when we start talking about Pastors…that they are called…called to a congregation…called to be a pastor in the first place…because while that is true…they are not the only ones.

The amazing thing about the body of Christ is that we have all been called…we have all received the invitation to follow along after God…every…single…one of us.  (pause) The great reformer Martin Luther wrote about this 500 years ago when he said “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him…but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in truth faith.”

You are called…maybe not in the same way that Peter and Andrew and James and John were called…but make no mistake…God has called you through the Spirit…just as he has called and gathered the entire church throughout time…We are one body…each called to be a part of it. (pause)
Now that being said…perhaps the next big question is what are we to do now that we realize the truth of our call…and I believe that’s on display within today’s lesson as well…we are called to proclaim the gospel.  This lesson picks up at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He was baptized…the Spirit led him out into the wilderness where he endured 40 days of temptation at the hands of Satan…and then he got to work…and that’s where things pick up.

But here’s the important thing…we hear that John the Baptist has been arrested and put in prison…and because of this Jesus shifts his area of operation…but think about the message that Jesus is proclaiming…Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has come near. (pause)

Have we heard that before? Does it sound familiar? It should…because that is precisely the message that John the Baptist proclaimed during his ministry. (pause) The messenger is new…the tactics are different because their gifts are different. John was good at baptizing…while Jesus was good at being God…but in the end…the message is the same because the gospel does not change.

Likewise, we are called by God to share that same message…that same good news…in our own unique way…each and every one of us…we are all called to follow God…to go where God leads, recognizing that we are flawed, imperfect people who need a savior…and that we cling to the hope found in the promise of God through Jesus Christ that we are loved as we are…that we are called…as we are…and that we are to use the gifts that we have received from the spirit in our lives…right here right now…knowing that one day, our time as messenger will come to a close…but that others will come along behind us in order to share that same good news.  (pause)
Zebedee might have had to stay in the boat that day…but I like to think that at some point, that same call came for him as well…just as it has come to each of us. We are all called…now what are we going to do it with it? Amen

Its What You Do 1-15-17

In this sermon from John 1:29-42, I explore the invitation offered to different individuals to come and see. This is how we encounter Christ, and how we offer the invitation to others.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-what-you-do-1-15-17

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

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

I have come to the conclusion that if a company wants to make an impression on me, they should advertise with talking animals. This conclusion came to me in a moment when I was thinking about 2 different commercials, both made by the same company, that both feature this sort of thing…and at least in my mind, are unforgettable.

The company is Geico, and the first one features the Geico Gecko attempting to be dramatic as he talks about roadside assistance, and we “SOMEONE HELP ME I HAVE A FLAT TIRE!” The commercial is doing its job because I can instantly tell you both the company and the specific service that it is intended to sell me. (pause)
Now the second commercial, also for Geico, features 3 racoons, snooping around a batch of garbage cans…its mainly an exchange between 2 of the raccoons, with the nervous 3rd making occasional side comments. (pause)
“Woah this is awful…try it.” “Oh no that looks gross, what is that?” “You gotta try it, its terrible.” “I don’t want to try it if its terrible.” “Its like a combination of mango chutney and burnt hair.” “I’ve got a very sensitive pallet.” “JUST TRY IT.”  “Guys, I think we should hurry up.” “I can’t get the taste out of my mouth.” At this point we hear the tag line for the commercial come up…If you taste something bad, you want someone to try it…its what you do…before the raccoons get spooked by a bark and creep off into the night muttering “Dog…dog…dog.” (pause)
Now for those of you laughing out there…I see you share my infinity for Geico commercials…But interestingly enough…that single raccoon’s desire to share this amazingly bad taste with someone else is quite similar to what’s happening within today’s gospel lesson. (pause)
For those of you that were here last week and heard the story of Jesus baptism, then I’m guessing that a portion of this passage seems quite familiar…and that’s understandable. As we find ourselves here in the season of Epiphany, we continue to be reminded of the ways that Christ was revealed to the world.  Last week as we focused on the story of his baptism, the big reveal came straight from the source, as God the father made a big booming proclamation about the identity of Christ…the one who is God’s beloved Son.

But today we get the story from John’s gospel. As per usual here in the 4th gospel, this account of the story is a little different…as we see John the Baptist take the role of witness…bearing testimony to what he has seen and heard and experienced.

Now here in the 4th gospel, that’s how Jesus’ baptism is presented…its past tense…being recalled by John in addition to what God has revealed to him…that’s the thing about John…he knows who he is, and he knows who he isn’t. And we hear in different places that he has come to point the world towards the Messiah…and that God has somehow revealed to John that he would see the Holy Spirit descend upon a man…and the Spirit would abide within that man…and when John sees this, he will know that this is God’s messiah…this is the Lamb of God.

Now we’re familiar with the story of Jesus’ baptism…and we know that’s what happens…and that John was right there when it happened…and so now…as he stands before the crowds who have come out to hear him…and John see’s Jesus walking by…he shares his experience. (pause) BEHOLD…HERE IS THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD. (pause)
That’s John’s role…one that he takes quite seriously…to testify to his experience of the Messiah…to point him out to the world…and he does this by sharing what he has seen and heard…and John speaks this truth quite plainly. I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God. (pause)

Now, once John’s recollection and testimony about the baptism is over, the story jumps ahead 24 hours…though the scene sounds pretty similar. John is hanging around yet again…this time he’s got a couple of his followers along with him…when once more Jesus comes walking by…and John makes the very same statement. “BEHOLD…here is the lamb of God.”

Now we don’t know if these two guys had been there the day before or not…probably though we don’t know…but as disciples of John they were likely familiar with his message, so they’d likely heard his testimony about Jesus…and so as they’re standing there and hear John say “There he is!”  It must have been a pretty major moment for them. “THAT’S HIM?  THAT GUY RIGHT THERE?  Let’s follow him.” And they do, trailing along after Jesus. Now who knows why? Maybe they were a little starstruck…maybe they were geeking out…Lord’ knows I’ve had the same experience before…full disclosure, I geeked out on our former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson once.  I can only imagine what it would be like to have the Savior of the World walk by…someone that your entire culture has been waiting on for centuries.

And so Andrew and this other unnamed guy start tailing Jesus…and somewhere along the way he notices…and turns around…not cranky…not suspicious…just Jesus being Jesus, asking the right question at the right time…something he seems to be pretty good at.  What are you looking for?”

Now we could go all kinds of places with that question…because honestly what are we looking for? Any of us? Love, acceptance…joy…respect…fulfillment…some small glimmer of light in the midst of the darkness that this world is constantly smacking us with…that’s a big question…and maybe these two guys were overwhelmed by it…because their response is a little odd. Teacher…where are you staying? Where are you abiding?

And Jesus…God in the flesh…offers a simple invitation….Come and see. (pause) Come and see. Come check it out…see for yourself…and you’ll abide with me where I’m abiding…we’ll hang out together…and they do. And then…having done just that…having spent time together…Andrew realizes the truth of John’s testimony…that there’s something about this guy…that yes…this is the Messiah…and he is compelled to share it…so he goes to find his brother…Yo…SIMON..DUDE…YOU GOTTA CHECK THIS OUT!!!! Because apparently when you find the messiah, you invite others to find him too…its what you do. (pause)
Now this isn’t the only case either…directly following this passage, Jesus bumps into Philip, and because of this encounter, Philip goes off to invite Nathanael…Dude…we found the Messiah…come check it out.

And the thing that every one of these individuals has in common is that they did in fact, come and see…they spent time with Jesus…they had their own experience and then pointed him out to others. (pause)
You know there’s a name for that sort of thing…one that gets thrown around in the church world pretty regularly…but one that can make us squirm just a touch…Evangelism.

You know that word…it conjures up images of street preachers…and door knocking…of uncomfortable conversations that sound like “If you died tonight would you go to heaven or hell?”

But what if evangelism was as simple as “come and see.” That’s what John the Baptist did. That’s what Andrew did…that’s what Philip did…later on down the road Peter would do it…and Paul would do it…and others would do it too…and at some point a couple thousand years later, someone did the same for you…otherwise what are you doing here today?

You can use whatever word or phrase that you’re comfortable with…but evangelism…or sharing the gospel…or sharing your faith is as simple as sharing your story…and while some are called to go halfway around the world…and others are called to stand up before giant crowds…most of us are called to share our stories with those right there in our backyards.

As I think about these first disciples of Jesus…that’s all they did. Andrew and Peter were brothers…we hear that Philip and Nathanael are from the same home town…these are probably 4 guys that grew up together…and sharing this news “We have found the Messiah” came as easily as “The Cubs won the World Series!” (pause)
You’ve likely heard me use the phrase Cross Generational ministry. Its something we’ve been throwing around quite a bit in the past year here at the church. And this is all it is. Sharing our experience…sharing how we’ve seen God active in the world and in our lives…and realizing that when God encounters us, our story becomes part of His story…and that he desires that we share it…that we embrace the glorious truth of the gospel, that we are seen and claimed by the one who makes us and who loves us…and that God desires everyone to experience the same joy that comes with it…and that God desires it so much that he was willing to become one of us…he was willing to live out life with all of its sorrows and all its joys, and ultimately he was willing to die in order to overcome every obstacle that stands in the way…and in the end…he did it for you….and as amazing as that is…he also did it for your neighbor that lives across the fence…and all God asks of you is that you share it…that you invite them to come and see.

We plant the seeds…that’s all we do…its up to God to give the growth in the lives of others…and I don’t know about you…but remember that really takes the pressure off. Its not up to you to save the world, God’s already done it…its not up to you to change the minds and lives of others…only the Holy Spirit can do that…all we are called to do is live out the truth that we have experienced…that I am loved…and I am accepted…and I am redeemed by the one they call Jesus. (pause)

If you taste something bad, you want someone to try it…its what you do. (pause) If you experience the joy of the Lord, you want to share it…its what you do. Amen