So Simple So Complex 3-4-18

In this sermon, based on Exodus 20:1-17, I explore the 10 Commandments. They are given to God’s people as a gift of covenant, not just a rule book.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Many of you out there know that I’m not much a sports guy…I often joke that if its not a little white ball with dimples I don’t really pay attention…but golf…man I love it. It’s a wonderful game, both to watch and to play. Its amazing simple and yet utterly complex all at same time.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, though I’ve got an okay swing…and I’ve tried at different times to teach someone how to swing a club…and every time I try this, I gain more respect for golf coaches…for swing coaches…for those who manage to actually teach this uniquely wonderful and challenging maneuver.

And as per usual…there’s a movie scene that I think of in this instance…comes from a great film called Tin Cup staring Kevin Costner as a skilled but flawed golf pro who’s giving Rene Russo her first ever golf lesson…and they begin with the question “How do you hit a golf shot.” He walks over, smacks a shot off the range and says “Like that.”  And she responds “Well I process verbally. Can you break down into words how you just did that?” And so he does.

It begins with the grip, the hands combine together to form a single unit…overlap the pinky. Lowly and slowly the club head is led backwards, pulled into position, not by the hands, but by the body which turns away from the target, shifting weight to right side without shifting balance, tempo is everything, perfection unobtainable as the body coils now to the top of the swing, there’s a slight hesitation, a little nod to the gods for he is fallible, and now the weight begins shifting back to the left, pulled by the powers inside the earth, its alive this swing a living sculpture, and down through contact always down, striking the ball crisply, with character, a tuning fork goes off in your heart, such a pure feeling is the well struck golf shot, and then the follow through to the finish always on line…

She just kinda looks at him at this point…and they go back forth a couple times before he says “there’s only one other acceptable theory on how to hit a golf ball…grip it and rip it.” (pause)

I love this scene because it highlights an important point about golf, its both incredibly simple…and its utterly complex all at the same time…and this same truth applies to life as well doesn’t it? (pause)

Now I bring all this up today, because today’s lesson features something else that falls in this same category of incredibly simple and yet utterly complex…the 10 Commandments…the beginning of what we have come know as the Law…specially Jewish Law or Old Testament Law…its got a lot of different names within different traditions…but one thing we can all agree on is where it came from.

Now this story is the third covenant story that we’ve hit upon here in the season of Lent. We started two weeks ago, about 10 generations following the creation and fall of humanity, and we found God making a covenant with Noah, post flood, that never again would the earth be destroyed by flood water. Last week we shifted ahead about another 10 generations….the covenant that God made with Abraham, that despite all logic, his descendants would become a great nation, and all the earth would be blessed through him.

And now we shift ahead once more, covering roughly 500 years of history since Abraham…his descendants have grown…becoming not only a family but eventually an entire culture…an entire nation known as the Israelites…a nation that came into being under the yoke of bondage…in slavery in the land of Egypt…but following some amazingly miraculous signs from God…signs that show them that they have a God who is not okay with enslavement…that their God is one of freedom from oppression, they follow the great deliver Moses out of Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea…and onward through the desert to Mount Sinai where they camp out for a pretty lengthy amount of time…spending about a year here at the base of the mountain…a period of time that starts off with Moses up on top of the mountain for 40 days receiving what has come to be known as the law.

Now this long teaching…this long period of instruction that the Lord gives to Moses on behalf of the Israelites is utterly complex…all told, between what God gives Moses, and what their later interpretations would establish…there are over 600 articles in the Jewish Law…it takes up a ton of Exodus…a bunch of Leviticus and a fair amount of Deuteronomy to cover it all…and you know what, its not unlike golf in that respect either…serious side note…the official rules of golf include 34 separate rules broken down into 126 sub-sections…its super complex…but can be narrowed down to something as simple as hit the ball repeatedly until it falls in the hole. (pause)
But now back to the 10 Commandments…and the law. I wrestled around with this quite a bit this week…because it seems, at first glance anyway…that this one doesn’t quite fall under the category of covenant like the previous readings.  Those came right out and said it…and for the most part, the action in those seemed like it fell on God, and not so much on the people…but this ones different isn’t it? (pause)

Now I’d like to think that the 10 Commandments are pretty well known…many of us here have studied them in the past…it’s a very common topic in our confirmation tradition…and pretty much every time I’ve worked on this topic with a group, our initial conversation goes the same direction…at face value, the 10 Commandments come across like a rule book…like God is some cosmic life judge who’s giving us pointers on what is and isn’t acceptable…like the Lord is just trying to take away our personal freedom and control everything.

Think about it…is that your response to this list? Is that how you view it? How you hear it? Let’s go down the list…I am the Lord your God, have no other gods before me…Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain…Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy…honor your father and mother…do not commit murder, don’t commit adultery…don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet your neighbors stuff…don’t covet your neighbors people or animals…sure enough, it’s a lot of do’s and don’ts. (pause)

As covenants go, this one sure seems to put the pressure on the people doesn’t it? But here’s the thing…while its become second nature for us to consider this a drag…a how-to list for acceptable living…just another notch on the board of what we have to…for the original recipients…it wasn’t a drag…it was a gift.

The 10 Commandments were given to a people as a physical reminder of the promise that God had made to them all those generations before…a promise to be with them, and the bless them…but not only that…that they would be a blessing to the rest of the world. And this is the next step in how all that works.

All too often we hear rules…regulations…the list of what we have to do in order to be considered “in”…acceptable…good. But what if I told you that God has intended this for something way deeper…what if I told you that the covenant that God has made with these people is intended as a way for them to be an example of how to live in harmony in this world that God has made…because that’s what God says to them before this whole carving the law out on stone tablets thing happens.  You shall be for me a priestly kingdom…a holy nation…

God intends for the Israelites to be an example for the rest of the world…an example in the way that they live with one another and for one another…and we see it in the recipients of the Commandments themselves…I often bring this up when teaching on the commandments…that the first 3 are aimed at our relationship with God…and the rest are aimed at our relationship with our neighbors…a distinction not lost on Christ by the way…for when Jesus was asked “what’s the most important commandment, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He responded Love God and love your neighbor…all of the law and the prophets can be hung upon this.

But why? Why is it important…that is perhaps the big question both for the Israelites back then…and for us now…and to answer that question, I need to point out a distinction that pops up repeated in this passage.  I am the Lord your God….anyone catch that? 5 times it shows up…5 times we are reminded that the Lord is our God, and if that is true, then so is the reverse…God belongs to us, but more importantly we belong to God, because God is the one who made us in the first place.

If we go all the way back to the beginning, we find a God who creates our world…our entire existence, bringing chaos towards order, and calling each and every step good. God created all of this out of delight and it culminated when God created humanity, each member of the human race bearing the divine image of God…a creation that God calls VERY GOOD.

But this work of bringing chaos towards order isn’t done yet…and I believe that bearing the divine image of the Lord means that we are capable of being invited into this work alongside God…and that means that we are called…we are invited…we are blessed to be able to live in harmony with the one who made it all in the first place…and to live in harmony with the good life that surrounds us in every other person…because all life is precious…all life is good…and we share the ability to recognize that.

But…we also share a different distinction…that we each have the capability for great destruction…and I believe that this is why God has given us a reminder of how to live…not as a way to curry favor…not as a way to try and buy ourselves into divine good graces…but as a response to the divine love and favor that has already been shown to us, simply because God delights in you.

Let me be clear…the law…the commandments…whatever we want to call them are not intended to be viewed as the way to earn God’s favor…and if we only see them in that way we have missed the mark…but rather…they are intended to reveal the way to live in gratitude for the love of God, and in harmony with one another.

And as we consider this, we must also recognize that the Commandments themselves…are utterly simple, and yet utterly complex all at the same time…take number 5 for instance…you shall not kill…no brainer…unless someone threatens you…unless someone threatens your children….what then? Is it okay? Can we justify it? Maybe, maybe not? (pause)

And does it go even deeper than that? If Jesus is to be believed…and I think he is…then it would seem so…remember that little ditty when Jesus says “You have heard it said in ancient time you shall not murder, I tell you that if anyone is angry with a brother or sister, they have committed murder in their heart.” Not quite so simple anymore is it?

Here’s the take away…as we travel through the season of Lent…as we continue to move closer and closer and closer to the betrayal, the arrest…the torture and death of Jesus…as things continue to get darker, we are reminded that whatever it is that God is slowly moving this existence towards…whatever the eventual order is that God is pulling us towards…its not done yet…because there is bad that still occurs right alongside the good.  And yet, the kingdom comes near as we live in a way that brings honor and dignity to those around us…because by doing this we honor the divine image that lies within them as an individual…and when we do this, we honor and respect and love the one who made it all in the first place…and who is this? Who is the one that gives us a way to live that is both utterly simple and yet utterly complex…He tells us several times today…I am the Lord your God.

Now you can take that and try to make it really deep…really complex…really difficult…or you can just grip it and rip it.



Its About You But Not Just You 2-25-18

In this sermon, based on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, I explore God’s ongoing covenant with Abraham. This promise continues to build on each step that God has laid out before, eventually going on to bless the entire world.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

As I continue to get older, I’m constantly being reminded that I am a creature of habit…and perhaps the greatest evidence of this happens when I’m driving my wife’s car. Now, many of you are likely aware of where I park. My maroon car sits on the other side of the parking lot, and has ever since we moved to town…and so its utter habit for me as I’m coming home to roll right past the driveway and swing into the parking lot…and in those instances when I’m in my wife’s car, its always right AFTER I pull into the parking lot that I realize my folly and I have to swing it around and pull into the garage.

This habit…and this tendency to always park in the same place goes way back for me…it’s a habit that I’ve had ever since I started driving. And my parking spot when I was a teenager was right alongside the garage at my parent’s place…a detached garage about 75 feet away from the front door…and just like my habit of pulling into the parking lot now…I would come driving into the yard and swing right up next the garage before throwing it in park and walking into the house.

Now I can remember doing that very thing countless times while I still lived with my parents…and more often than not it was after dark….because of course I was a teenager and I stayed out late…and I can remember, more often than not…of seeing the beautiful stars as I walked through the yard…and I can remember one time in particular…as I stepped out of the car and walked towards the door…of how amazingly bright and clear the stars were…even more vivid than normal…and it wasn’t until I walked inside to find candles lit that I realized the power was off and so the yard light was off.

Now this raises the question…have you ever seen the stars in the absence of light pollution…because it is utterly breathtaking…the clarity…and perhaps even more amazing…the magnitude of the stars in the night sky…a number that is beyond counting. (Pause)
Now perhaps you see where I’m going with this. Today’s scripture features Abraham…or Abram as he’s known on the front of end of today’s story…a man known as the first of the Old Testament patriarchs…a figure from the Old Testament who is arguably one of the most important and well known…probably right on par with Moses who’ll pop up in the book of Exodus a few centuries later.

A man…seemingly plucked from obscurity…chosen by God…and told…promised…that he would be blessed…that his name would become great…and that he would be the father of many nations…a promise which was illustrated by God telling him to go outside and look at the night sky…look and see the stars in their multitude…so shall your descendants be. (pause)
But Abram…his whole story is pretty incredible. For starters he’s a direct descendent of Noah, who we heard about last week…he was born about 10 or 11 generations after Noah, and Abram falls in the line of the oldest son of each respective generation…each father passing along the inheritance…the wealth…the power and influence to his oldest son…generation after generation until we get to Teran, Abram’s dad. Now over the course of these generations its thought that they amassed a fair amount of wealth and influence…and where they lived along the Euphrates river in present day Iraq, Abram’s family were the movers and the shakers…and then along comes God…telling Abram that he should leave the house of his father and go off into some unknown land that God will show him. And funny enough Abram says “Okay.”

Now here’s the thing…Abram is already 75 years old when this happens…no spring chicken by any means…though we do hear later that he lives another 100 years beyond this point so even though he’s well aged by this point, we could argue that Abram is still middle aged.

And Abram will go on variety of adventures during his time in the scriptures…his story covers a fair amount of Genesis, 20 or so odd chapters. There are some ups and downs…he prospers as God makes good on the promise to make his name great…but he also does some really dumb stuff like trying to pass off his wife Sarai as his sister for personal gain and saving his own skin…and not just once, but he does this twice.

Now for a few years…Abram and Sarai, along with their household travel around…before finally one night God appears to Abram again…and Abram has a question…Hey Lord…remember how you told me that I was going to be the father of many nations? Yah…umm…I don’t know if you noticed or not…but ummmm…I don’t have any kids…and my heir is just a dude that works for me…and you know I’m not getting any younger…and neither is Sarai…so you know umm…what should we do about that?

And God tells him to look at the stars once again…and God tells him the promise again…but this time God does something a little different…and God makes a covenant…but God does it in a really odd way. You see there was this custom that when two people made a covenant they’d take livestock…and they’d sacrifice them…and they’d cut the carcass in half and lay the pieces out on the ground…and then they’d walk between the pieces saying “If I don’t hold my end of the covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me.” But God does things a little different…he has Abram cut up the animals and lay them out…but then as Abram watches…God appears as a firey lamp that passes between the animals…and God promises to give the land where they are to the descendants of Abram….like Noah last week, Abram receives a one-sided promise…and all he has to do is continue to trust that God will do what God says He’ll do. (pause)
Now, we gotta fast forward a few more years…Abram is about 86 now…so its been 10 or 11 years since God started making these promises…one that builds upon the one before it. And Abram still believes that God is going to give him descendants…but again…he and Sarai aren’t getting any younger…and they decide to take matters into their own hands…and Sarai gives her slave Hagar to Abram saying “Have children for me through her.” Yes its odd…but it happened in those days…it was actually quite common…and it worked…Abram has a son named Ishmael…And now, this whole situation does cause some angst in the household. But for the most part…Abram…well, he’s kinda okay…he’s got his son…he’s got a descendent…so maybe just maybe God’s finally making good on this whole thing…and with that we fast forward another 13 years…13 years…almost 25 since God made the promise in the first place…and for those 13 years, I can only imagine that Abram felt like everything was as it was supposed to be. (pause)
But God wasn’t done yet…because when God makes a promise…or in this case a covenant…it seems to me that God means it, even if God’s timing doesn’t quite line up with ours…and finally when Abram has reached the impressive age of 99…God shows up again.

Now here’s the thing about what we hear today…we hear, once again…that God makes a covenant…that God repeats the promise…and just like we heard before…God takes that same promise and goes one step farther.  First it was…leave your father’s house…leave his realm…leave everything that is familiar and beneficial for you…and go and I’ll give you lots of descendants…then a few years and several wacky adventures later…the promise grew to include the land…and now the promise grows yet again…we still hear of descendants…but we also hear that the covenant is between God and Abram…but its also between God and his offspring throughout all of their generations…an everlasting covenant that goes far beyond this one guy.

Now there’s some different stuff going on here…Abram is probably thinking to himself…well yah God…I’ve got my son here with me…we’re all good…but God’s not done…and we see another step…a name change…and Abram, which means exalted father by the way…becomes Abraham, which means father of many.

He receives a new identity because of what God is doing in him and through him…because of the promises made by God on his behalf…he is not the same person that he was before…And God takes this theme…this new idea of a new identity a step beyond Abraham…and we find that Sarai receives a new name as well…a new name that reminds Abraham that this promise of God is NOT just about him…but that whatever it is that God is up to…this new thing that is coming about through this covenant…through these ongoing…building…promises…it involves more than just one person. For God’s promise…whether they had trouble living up to it or not…was going to occur through Abraham and Sarah…and that the generations to come would come through her.

And yet…there is also truth in the promise that Abraham was the father of different nations…for blessings passed to Ishmael who would become the Arab nation…and blessings would pass to Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, who would become the Jewish nation…and following the death of Sarah, Abraham remarried and had more children who would go to form other tribes and people…truly when God makes a promise, God makes good on it. (pause)We see this in the literal case for Abraham and his children…and we see it in the ongoing promise that God brings about through the covenant with Abraham and Sarah.
But what does all this mean for us today? That is, perhaps, the most important question…what can we learn…what truth can we take…what hope can we find in this story? (pause) Perhaps the truth that we find is in the reminder that the promises God makes on our behalf…they aren’t just limited to us. We are included in this original promise and covenant that God made with Abraham…we are included in the generations that came after him…we are heirs to this promise…but just as God continued to build on the promises he made each time to Abraham…God has continued to build upon the promises as they come to us…and through Christ…through what Christ has done…we are also given a new identity, just as Abraham was. We are given the identity, beloved child of God.

But we must also remember that this new identity given to us by God, goes beyond us as individuals.  The good news of Jesus Christ is meant to bless all the world…and in response to the grace that God has shown us when we are claimed…the blessing flows through us into others…and just as Sarai became Sarah through the promise made to Abraham…the promise that we are made God’s children flows through us and changes the identity of those who come after us. (pause)

Now I started this whole thing off by talking about the stars…and here’s the thing about the stars…about the amazingly vast cosmos out there.  When the lights are all off…we can see a mind-blowing number of stars…but the number of stars in the heavens that we can’t see…its beyond measure. And the same God who made them…who placed them in the cosmos has made a promise that we are all a part of…that his blessing is also beyond measure…its beyond measure in its magnitude for each of us as an individual…and its beyond measure in the scope of who its for…reaching far beyond what we can see or comprehend.

May you remember that the promises of God that are found in the scriptures…they’re about you…but not only you. May they pass through you to bless others as well. Amen.

Its A Symbol 2-18-18

In this sermon, based on Genesis 9:8-17, I explore the covenant that God made with Noah and with all life following the destruction of the flood.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

As a species, humanity loves symbols. We have symbols for all kinds of stuff…and rightly so. Symbols serve a good purpose…to remind of us things…to represent something specific.  Some symbols are patriotic like a bald eagle or the US flag. Other symbols work to keep us safe, like the red and green lights on a traffic symbol, telling us when to go and when to stop.

There are countless different symbols representing countless different things surrounding us at any given time…and this is true here in the church as well…we love our symbols here…the cross is an obvious one…reminding us of the hope that we find in the death and resurrection of Christ.  The ever-present Christ candle burning up here on the altar is another one, a visual reminder that the light is always shining in the darkness.

Our different liturgical colors are another symbol…purple and red, green and white and blue…all pointing towards different seasons of the church year with different focal points…

We have different traditions that act like symbols too…things that we do that mark a certain day or are intended to help us consider something specific…the candles that we light on Christmas Eve…the Ashes spread on our foreheads just a few days ago on Ash Wednesday…the slamming of the book on Good Friday, or the smell of the lilies on Easter morning.

All of these things are good things…meaningful things…and all of them, in one way or another…are symbols. (pause) Now I’ve been thinking about this idea of symbols a lot…and I also realized that there are certain things that can also symbolize an end, the finishing of a chapter in life…and as I thought about this, I remembered something that I saw quite a few years back during the 2004 Summer Olympic games.

Some of you may remember the name Rulon Gardner…He was a Greco-Roman wrestler…he had sorta come out of nowhere 4 years earlier…shocking everyone by beating the reigning Olympic heavyweight champion from Russia…and then everyone expected him to repeat and win the gold again in 2004…and maybe just maybe to go on winning…as he had said many times that he would continue to compete until someone came along that could beat him…but that when that happened, he would retire.

And then…in his semi-final match…he lost…and so he had just one more match, to wrestle for the bronze medal, a match that he did win…but once it was over, Rulan Gardner joined a long tradition of wrestlers…he walked out to the center of the mat…bent down and began to untie his shoes…finally taking them off and leaving them in the center of the mat…a tradition…a symbol to represent his retirement.

Now the cheers from the crowd were incredible…as everyone recognized and honored his great commitment to the sport…but you could see the sadness and anguish on his face, tears in his eyes as he set his shoes down, because this symbol meant something different to him…it was a reminder that wrestling was over, all the work, all the competition…it was all done.

Now that’s where I want to connect into the scripture…we have heard today the story of God making a covenant with Noah following the flood…a story that many of us know quite well. The world had grown evil and sinful…and God decides to cleanse the earth of its wickedness with a great flood…but there’s one guy…Noah…and he’s upright and righteous…and so God decides to spare Noah and his sons and their wives…so God has Noah build a great big boat…and together with his family and a whole slug of animals that God has sent 2 by 2…they float around on all this flood water while the rest of life on the earth is destroyed.

The rains fall for 40 days…but the flood itself lasts WAY longer than that…Noah and his crew are actually on the ark for an entire year before God finally remembers them and calls them to come out.  Now, with this, Noah is so happy to be back on dry ground that he builds an altar and makes a sacrifice to God…and then God starts talking to Noah.

Now the first thing we hear, just before our reading starts up today…is a reminder from something going all the way back to the beginning…as we hear that all of humankind has been made bearing the divine image of God…and then God takes look at Noah and says something that sounds, downright familiar…be fruitful and multiply…the exact same thing God has said clear back in the story of the creation with Adam and Eve…and maybe that makes sense…humanity has essentially been wiped out, and the animal population wasn’t fairing much better, so maybe it stands to reason that God would need to repeat this command to go out and do what life does…to live and multiply.

But with this, God makes a promise…and as we hear today…God must think its pretty important because we hear it repeated several times over. I establish my covenant with you and your descendants…and with all the animals and the birds…with all life for all generations to come…never again will I destroy the earth by flood.

And then again…I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall flesh be cut off by flood, never again will flood destroy the earth…And then we hear of a sign…a sign of the covenant…which covenant…the one that is between me and you and between me and all flesh…and what is that sign? I have set my bow in the clouds…and when I see it I will remember the covenant that I have made with you and with all flesh to never destroy the earth…Yes when that bow is in the clouds I will see it and I will remember the everlasting covenant between me and all flesh…

And then God reminds Noah one more time…just for good measure….This is the sign of the covenant between me and all flesh on the earth. (pause) Did you sense a trend there?

I can only think that God wants to make it abundantly clear that he is making a covenant with ALL life, not just Noah but all life that this utter destruction will never happen again…and that there is a sign for it…the bow that God has set in the clouds. (pause)
Now here’s the thing that I think is pretty important…this covenant, which interestingly enough is the very first covenant that God makes with humanity in the scriptures…this covenant is utterly one-sided. Now that’s not typically the case is it. Anytime there’s a covenant, or a contract or whatever we want to call it…both parties typically bring something to the table don’t they?

But not this time…God literally asks nothing of Noah or his sons or the rest of humanity…the only person who is beholden to anything here is God…who will see the sign of the covenant in the clouds and will remember…God will remember that the destruction of the earth is over. Just like a wrestler putting his shoes on the mat, signifying the end of all the work and the sacrifice and the competition, God remembers that destruction is over. (pause)

Now this is all pretty amazing, but it makes me stop and think just what is it that God was destroying in the first place? That’s the funny thing about this whole story…that even though this is one that we typically consider nice and cute…and we see images of Noah and the Ark and all the animals smiling under a rainbow in church nurseries and storybook Bibles…but in the end we need to remember that this is utter devastation on the part of God…and that’s sort of eye opening.

Now, at times when I’ve talked about this, I’ve heard people say that the God of the Old Testament seems to be angry and judgmental and full of wrath…but interestingly enough…that’s not what causes God to send the flood…If you don’t believe me, go home and look it up, its in Genesis 6 if you’re looking…and if we look back we find that humankind has become wicked and evil…But God isn’t angry…God is sorry that he has created us…God grieves the existence that humanity has taken on…and it has only taken 10 generations since Adam and Eve. 10 generations to move from the Tov…from the Very Good of God’s creation that has culminated in humanity to God literally being sorry that we were created in the first place.

Let that sink in…We have a God who grieves in the mess that we have made of our existence and our reality…and all I have to do today is say the words “recent events” and I’m guessing many of you out there today are going start nodding your heads…because its not hard to understand God’s grief with how humanity treats one another is it? (Long pause)

And yet…God’s not done with us yet. And we know its true because as we heard, over and over again…God has made a promise, a covenant…never again…and God has given us a symbol…a bow set in the clouds.

Now here’s the thing about that bow…for us, its become a beautiful symbol hasn’t it…the rainbow…a bright and vibrant splash of color in the sky showing us that the storm is over…now I’ve seen many rainbows in my life…but never so bright and clear as the ones that I see at camp in the mountains of Colorado. I can only think that the conditions are perfection for the creation of rainbows there…as afternoon storms come rolling down the mountain which faces west, into the afternoon soon…and the storms let loose for about 10 minutes, and then the clouds slide farther on down the mountain, out across the valley to the east that overlooks the next range…and as the clouds slide by the afternoon sun lights up those clouds and the most vivid rainbows come in to focus…sometimes doubles…and I’ve even seen a triple before…and its gorgeous and it literally serves as a sign that the storm is over and its safe to go outside again.

But the sign is different for God than it is today…and maybe just maybe it was different for our brothers and sisters of ancient times…because what if God wasn’t just talking a rainbow…what if God was talking about a weapon?

You see, in ancient times, it was thought that when a storm came over, some divine being up in the heavens, didn’t matter which culture you were a part of, but whoever your god was…they thought that god was shooting arrows at the earth in the bolts of lightning that would come crashing down…but what if that divine being has made a promise to hang up the bow that fires the arrows?

Maybe that’s what this symbolizes…that the one who is capable of bringing utter destruction upon the earth is hanging up the weapon that causes it…and if we think about that bow…its pointing up away from the earth.  Just like a wrestlers shoes signify the end of his career…the weapon being hung up serves as a symbol to signify the end of destruction.

And as we mentioned before…this covenant, this promise is utterly one sided, which if we think about many of our Biblical figures, perhaps becomes quite apparent. God made this covenant with Noah…and it took approximately 4 verses for Noah to screw up and in a drunken stupor begin cursing his offspring.  Likewise, Adam and Eve…the epitome of the Good creation of God…they lasted 6 verses.  God’s chosen people the Israelites….the ones who received the law through Moses…they were literally breaking the 1st commandment in the same instant that God was giving Moses the commandments.

I bring all this up to remind us that humanity has always been, and will continue to be broken and flawed…and yet out of God’s divine favor for those made in his image, he has promised us never again. But what is even more amazing than that…out of that divine favor comes another promise, one that is made real for each us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…that through him we have been claimed…and we have been given a sign of that promise as well…2 of them actually…one we’ll share in a few moments when we hear the body of Christ broken for you, the blood of Christ shed for you.

And the other one…interestingly enough it has to do with water as well…for our baptism serves a physical reminder of the promise that God has made on your behalf…a promise that speaks of your identity as far as God is concerned.

But, even though the covenant is one-sided…in the waters of our baptism we are also invited into something different…because we are invited into the work of reconciling this world back to God through the Good News of Jesus Christ, the one who has redeemed this broken world that we are a part of…this broken world that all too often seems dark and dreary and hopeless…especially in light of recent news.

And yet…just as the rainbow serves as a reminder of the promise that God made to the world…just as our baptism serves as a reminder of the promise that God has spoken into our lives as individuals…may we continue to find hope…and not only that but may we carry the source of that hope out into this dark broken world, so that maybe, just maybe we can begin to see the Kingdom of Heaven come near for all people. Amen.

Remember Who You Are 2-14-18

In this Ash Wednesday sermon, taken from Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 I explore the prophetic call to turn back to the Lord. This is a fitting idea to recognize on a day when we are reminded of our mortality, and yet are given the promise of God’s claim upon our lives.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

There are two actors that arguably have the greatest voices ever. Their voices are utterly distinct and carry a gravitas that cannot be matched. Now one of them is Morgan Freeman, an actor who has perhaps becomes synonymous with a mental image that we have of God…he’s even played God in two different movies. And his voice is amazing.

Now the second actor is James Earl Jones…and he has lent his voice to some pretty amazing projects.  He’s the voice of Darth Vader…for years his dulcet tones announced “this…is CNN.” And he’s the voice of Mufasa from one of my favorite movies…The Lion King. (pause)

Now it occurs to me, that The Lion King must be pretty much the perfect movie…and apparently its chock full of scenes and dialogue and images that fall into the Theological realm…because as I’ve looked back I’ve found several different sermons where I referenced this movie…and I’m gonna do it again tonight…admittedly, I’ll probably use it again in the future as I’ve come nowhere close to exhausting the different references from this gem of a movie.

Now there’s a scene about 3/4 through…quite of the bit of the story has already happened…Simba, the hero, has gone off on his hero’s journey…Mufasa, his father and the former King lion has died…and Simba encounters the wise old sage Rafiki…a baboon who carries a stick and knows Kung Fu…seriously, this movie is perfection.

As Rafiki and Simba talk to one another…Simba is starting to come around, knowing he needs to return home, and he says “If I go back there, it won’t be easy…I’ll have to confront my past.” And WHAM!!! Rafiki knocks him on the head with his stick. “OWWW…what did you do that for?” “It doesn’t matta…its in the past.” “Yah but it still hurts.” “Ahh yes, the past can hurt…but the way I see it, you can either run from it…or learn from it.”

Now the “past” that they/re talking about includes the death of Mufasa…but just before this back and forth…Mufasa, who seems to take a page out of God’s book from some of our recent scripture lessons, and he has appeared in a cloud to Simba…they talk and forth and then as Mufasa is disappearing we hear in his amazing voice…Remember who you are. (pause)
It would seem throughout this scene…and these different encounters, that the main character needs to come to grips with the truth of his identity…and then he has a choice to turn away from it, or to turn back to it. And this is where we connect into tonight’s reading from Joel.

Now Joel is one of the Minor Prophets…a batch of short prophetic writings toward the end of the Old Testament…a batch of guys that we don’t know a ton about. We can’t put a pin exactly in what period of Israel’s history that Joel was active, we don’t really know…but the best guess places his ministry in the range somewhere between about 400-350BC.

Now what we do know is this…in the first chapter of Joel…he describes an utterly devastating plague of locusts that has descended upon the land…destroying everything. Now I’ve never seen a locust swarm…but I’ve heard it described as being so thick that it will literally blot out the sun as they fly over…an image that connects pretty well into the way that our reading starts tonight…the day of the Lord is coming…a day of darkness and gloom…of clouds and thick darkness, like blackness spreading over the mountains as a great and powerful army comes. (pause)

Now lets think about this for a moment. A plague of locust, might be just that…or it might be prophetic imagery, because he also talks about this great army that comes…and now let’s think back in our history to this point where we think Joel was active. By this period late in the 4th century before Jesus, the Babylonians had already laid waste to Israel and hauled them off into exile…that was actually a couple hundred years prior…and then the Persian empire had risen up and taken over…and they let the Israelites return…Jerusalem had been rebuilt including the temple…but now there’s a new empire on the rise…the Greeks, which soon would be led by a famous guy named Alexander the Great…who led an incredible army that would eventually conquer all of the known world…an army that would spread over the earth like locusts perhaps?

That’s just a glimpse of what’s going on in the history…but all imagery aside, whatever it is that Joel is describing…it doesn’t seem good does it? Not a lot of positivity in these opening couple of verses…Blow the trumpet…get EVERYONE’S attention, because judgement and wrath are coming…something the ancient Israelites understood to be the day of the Lord. (pause)

Now we’ve got a gap in the reading, and through this gap we hear more of the same…destruction and death…war and anguish…all pointing to the same thing, this day of Lord…and it ends by saying “Truly the day of the Lord is great; terrible indeed, who can endure it?”

Doesn’t sound very peachy does it? Sounds like something you’d want to avoid…something you’d want to run away from if it was possible…to hear this prophetic imagery points us to something that will hurt to say the least…but Joel doesn’t stop there…and when we pick back up in verse 12 we hear this.

Yet even now says the Lord, return to me with all your heart…with fasting, with weeping, with mourning. Rend your hearts and not your clothing…then we hear it again. Return to Lord your God.

Joel talks about offerings…he talks about fasts and sanctifying the assembly…of gathering EVERYONE, the young and the old, infants and children, even the priests and ministers…Joel talks about rituals that they need to do…all aimed at the same thing…bringing everyone together to return to the Lord…to turn back to the one who is gracious and merciful…the one who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…the one who relents from punishing.

There’s a word for this…this returning…this idea of turning back…the word is Shoov…it literally means turn around…to go back…might as well use it for Simba as he gets smacked on the head and decides its time to return home.

This is what Joel is calling the people to do…to gather for a ritual aimed at turning back to God…a ritual aimed at repentance for the way they have lived…for the way that they have walked away…for the path that they have taken.

Now I can’t help but think that this sounds familiar…here we are on Ash Wednesday, a day when we practice a ritual aimed at recognizing our own limitations…our own brokenness…our own sinfulness…and the consequences that come with it.

As we hear the words tonight, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return…we come face to face with our mortality…with what can perhaps be best described as the darkness that looms at the ending of each of our lives…that unknown barrier that rests out there.

Its not quite the same thing that Joel is describing for the people to gather and do together…but its not far off either…for both are a call to turn back…to see the darkness that lies before us…to acknowledge not only the brokenness of our past, which can and does hurt, but to also acknowledge the brokenness that lies right here in front of us…and then to turn back to the one who is able to do something about it.

And as we hear from Joel…we are not the only ones who turns back…who Shoov…but we hear that the Lord will turn back as well…that the Lord will turn from punishment and wrath because our Lord is merciful and gracious.

This is what I love about Ash Wednesday…and why I find this worship service to be among the most powerful that we participate in throughout the year.  For in just a few moments, we will come forward one by one…and we will each hear those words again. Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return…words that speak of our death…but immediately after you hear those words you will also hear the body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.

We acknowledge our brokenness and the consequences of it…but we also hear the promise that the one who is able to do something about it has already done it. We hear the words of promise that we have been claimed by the one who will ultimately get the last word in the story of your existence. The one who has claimed you. (pause) Mufasa told Simba remember who you are…and with a slight tweak we do the same…Remember WHOSE…you are. (pause)

Now I can’t help but laugh tonight as I consider the date. Today is Ash Wednesday…but its also Valentines Day. A day that celebrates love overlapping with a day that acknowledges brokenness and death. But maybe putting love and death right up next to each other isn’t the worst thing in the world…because the Love of God is shown to each one of us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…love is found as life meets death.

You might notice that there’s a plant sitting down here on the piano tonight…its small palm plant…one that I was given about a year ago and it sits back in my office most of the time. Now, you’ll walk past it right after you’ve received the ashes and communion and as you do I’ll invite you to take a look at it…I’ve been watching a couple new leaves develop over the past couple of weeks and which are just now starting to open up…and as I was looking closely at it, I realized that there’s one leaf that’s mostly dead right next to that new leaf that’s forming…death and new life, all wrapped up together…and this is what we recognize within ourselves tonight.

We acknowledge our own death…something that creates the ultimate separation…but we hear a word of promise from the one who claims us…even beyond the point of death…and so we turn to the one who has already turned to us…

Tonight we remember who we are…But more importantly we remember…WHOSE…we are. Amen.


All Y’All 2-11-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:2-29, I explore the confusing situation of the Transfiguration. We don’t fully grasp just what went on, but that’s okay. We just need to remember to listen to what Jesus has to say to us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

In recent years, I’ve gotten a lot of experience in dealing with young people, particularly junior high and high schoolers…not to mention the fact that I’m raising a couple of kids in that range…and in that time, I’ve observed something that has now become a bit of a motto.  Every 15 year old is a moron…just try not to be much of a moron.

Namely, yes you will make mistakes, but try to not be stupid.  (pause) Now in recent history, there has been news of this “15 year old syndrome” spreading around…apparently the hip thing was to record yourself eating a Tidepod…one of those little packets of laundry soap…and then posting the video online.

I really hope that this trend has already played itself out…but if not…and you are considering the Tidepod challenge…don’t. Its stupid. And because of this I can’t help but think that Tide has been concerned about their image and that the marketing department felt the need to do some scrambling…and what better way to go viral in the positive sense…than to take advantage of the huge viewership of the Super Bowl…and with that, we saw commercial after commercial…situation after situation, all the way through the game when a working actor named David Harbour pops up out of nowhere to tell…Tide Commercial. No stains…bright colors…Tide Commercial.

And I couldn’t help but think that if Jesus was walking around these days and not 2000 years ago…this is what the scripture would say…And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white…such as no one on earth could bleach them…No Stains…Tide Commercial. (pause)

Super Bowl marketing aside, we find ourselves here at the end of Epiphany…and one last story of how Jesus is revealed to the world…the Transfiguration. We hear story at this time every year, just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent…and it’s a familiar one.

Jesus grabs the big 3 disciples…Peter, James, and John, and they walk up a mountain, just the 4 of them…and up on that mountain…something unexpected and amazing happens…the transfiguration. Jesus is somehow changed…even his clothes take on dazzling appearance…Old Testament big wigs pop up…Moses the giver the of the Law and Elijah the greatest of the prophets…and they’re standing there talking with the Jesus.

Now I can only imagine what the three disciples must have been thinking in this moment…I can only think that it must have been incredible to witness…this amazing transformation that Jesus undergoes, even if its momentary…and honestly…I find myself a little jealous of what they witnessed. It must have something to behold…something amazing to see…something that honestly probably goes far beyond the ability to truly describe.

Now the authors of the gospels try to clue us in…this story pops up in 3 of the 4 gospels and they’re all pretty similar so apparently whatever it was that Peter and James and John experienced that day…whatever it was that they saw…this was the best that they could explain it.

But honestly…what happened? We don’t have a whole to go on do we? Jesus is somehow changed…his clothes get super bright…and 2 random dudes who should be dead pop up out of nowhere…That’s the transfiguration…that’s all the detail we’re given before Peter starts acting like Peter and starts blabbing, apparently succeeding in putting his foot in his mouth…because his words seemingly prompt God to show up…or in the very least for a thick cloud to overshadow them and the voice of God to come booming out all around them. “This is my son, the beloved…Listen to him.” (pause)

Now as we hear…whatever it is that’s going on, even before the cloud and the voice of God show up…its terrifying…and I’ve often times found myself wondering just what it is that Peter and the other two guys are experiencing…and honestly it can get a little frustrating that we’re actually given so little to go on.

Just what actually happened up on that mountain? (pause) This is a question that scholars have pondered on for 2 millenia…with many different attempts to explain it…ways to rationalize or to consider the few small details of this epic event that we are given in the narrative.

But admittedly, I’ve never found anything that adequately revealed just what went on…every explanation that I’ve come across…and honestly even some that I’ve tried to offer in the past…they all come up short…and I can only think that our language, and not only that but our ability to understand and comprehend will always be lacking when it comes to the divine…and I can only think that this is what was somehow happening on the mountain…that in this brief instance…in this amazing and yet terrifying situation, somehow the divinity of Jesus was shining through the human.

We don’t know what exactly that means…and apparently beyond referencing a tide commercial and the lack of human ability to produce the effect of what’s going on with Jesus…maybe that’s all we can say…that in this instance we are reminded that this man who was walking around…this man who could perform miracles…this man who possessed amazing authority was…in fact…God the son…The word made flesh…the creator of the universe and everything in it who has come among us as one of us…and for just a brief fleeting moment on top of a mountain…that divine eternal all-encompassing entity came shining through the man… (pause)

To call this moment a revelation of Jesus’ true identity perhaps goes without saying…but then we get divine confirmation when the voice of the Father booms out. This is my son. (pause) Transfiguration aside…that’s a big deal too…Jesus is only called the Son of God 3 times in Mark’s Gospel…and all three occur alongside something pretty incredible.

Jesus is baptized and we hear that the heavens are ripped open and the holy spirit lands upon him…and we hear the voice of God. You are my beloved Son…Here Jesus is transfigured, whatever that means….and we hear again, this is my son the beloved…and the third time occurs during Jesus’ crucifixion…as the sun has gone black for several hours and the curtain in the temple spontaneously rips in two…and the centurion standing there before the cross says Truly this is the son of God.

3 times…3 divinely empowered events…3 proclamations of the true identity of this man named Jesus…the beloved Son…but what makes today special…what makes the Transfiguration stand out among these 3 events…is that God also gives us a command.

Now we hear God say, this is my beloved son, listen to him…but its worth digging just a little bit…we pick up in the original language that God isn’t just talking to Peter in response to his bonehead comment about staying put and building tents to live in…God is talking to everyone…like if we were in Texas God would be talking to All ya’ll.

Like…All ya’ll listen up to what my sons got to say. (pause)
Now funny enough, Jesus doesn’t say a ton here, other than waiting until after he’s raised from the dead to talk about what has happened….but we do get a clue as to what we’re supposed to listen to…and its kicks off today’s reading.  6 days later. (pause) 6 days later than what?

If we back up in the narrative we find the exchange between Jesus and Peter when Peter calls Jesus the Messiah…and Jesus promptly lets him in on just what that means…that the messiah will be betrayed and killed but on the third day raised again…and Peter wigs out, rebuking Jesus before Jesus calls him Satan…that’s what happened 6 days before the Transfiguration.

But that’s not the only time we hear this message from Jesus. Right after this story, as they get down the mountain, Jesus cast a demon out of boy and then repeats the same message. The Messiah will be betrayed and crucified but on the third day he will be raised.

And not only that…but Jesus shares this message a third time. (pause) You’ve ever thought about the importance of repetition? That if something keeps popping up its probably worth listening to? Seems to the case with this message that Jesus proclaims…this message that he is the Messiah and that he will be betrayed and killed but that through his life and death and then his resurrection God is truly up to something new…something utterly different…something utterly beyond our ability to fully grasp and understand.

But we are given little glimpses aren’t we? Little bits in the scripture about the presence of the kingdom of heaven which has come near to us…and the promise that we have a place in it because of what has Christ has done. This is the message that he has come to proclaim…the message that he has come to embody…the message and the promise that he has come to deliver to each one us.

We are flawed broken people…utterly limited in our existence and our ability to comprehend and grasp things that are divine…utterly inadequate to fully describe moments when we encounter the divine before us…and yet, we are still recipients of God’s divine favor, shown to us simply because of God’s amazing, all encompassing, way bigger than we can fully understand, love for each one of us.

And through the life, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, the divine is taking action in our reality to show us that there is no length that God will not go to in order to be with us.

That’s the gospel…that’s his message to all the world…so All Ya’ll…listen to him. Amen

Something Unexpected 2-4-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:29-39, I explore the healing of Peter’s mother in law, as well as the unexpected way that Jesus reacts to Capernaum’s favorable opinion of him.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

Quite a few years back, early on in the days when I was just starting to discern the call into ministry…I took an assessment called Stengthsfinders…some of you might have heard of it…it’s a test that identifies between a large number of personality traits to identify just how the individual is wired…and specifically, it will identity your top 5 strengths.

Here are mine…see if you think these are accurate. Empathy…the ability to relate to the emotional state of another person. (pause) Communication…that one’s pretty self-explanatory. (Pause) Something called Woo…which sounds like I just like to go around yelling “WHOO” but actually points to the ability to persuade others to your point of view. (Pause) Input…which describes a person who wants to keep learning…they’ve never collected enough info…particularly off the wall, useless information. (Pause) And the final one, actually my number one…is Adaptability…the tendency to simply go with the flow and take things as they come…Sound about right?

Here’s the thing though…you’d think with my number one strength being adaptability…that I would bristle against repetition…planning…expectations of what will happen…but strangely enough, I’ve grown more and more accustomed to a general flow of how things will happen…especially here in worship.

Most of you have probably picked up on that. We have certain tendencies…ways that worship flows from one part to another…whether it’s the general order of worship…or the things that I say that introduce certain aspects…you probably have an idea of what to expect from me don’t you?

Admittedly, some friends of mine REALLY want me to shake things up on you sometime….they continue to push that just once…out of the blue…right in the middle of the sermon…that I should just…stop talking…and silently walk down the aisle and out of the sanctuary, around the corner and out the door…then walk across the parking lot and just sack out over on the deck at the parsonage…just to see how long it would take for someone to poke their head out the door and come looking for me. (pause)

Now rest assured….I’m never going to actually do that…as crazy as I might be, I know that would be utterly foolish…not to mention completely disruptive…but think about it…what would you do? What would happen if someone in a position of leadership, whether a pastor or not…just utterly upended everyone’s expectation? Because that’s what’s happening today. (pause)
Now its important to realize that as our gospel picks up today, we are in a utter continuation of where were last week.  As we’ve mentioned before, Mark chapter 1 crams A LOT of stuff into a pretty short space…and Mark as a whole is pretty good about moving the action along, often times glossing over the passage of time as we move from one instance right into the next…but this time is one of those where the action that we heard last week literally flows straight into today…

So let’s back up just a touch…Jesus has called the first 4 disciples, Peter and Andrew and James and John as he encountered them on the seashore…and then they mosey into Capernaum…which is the home town of these 4 guys…and then on the Sabbath day Jesus and the disciples have popped into the synagogue where Jesus takes on the role of preacher…proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Now we heard last week that he teaches with authority…and while we might not know just what exactly that means, we find that it takes shape when a man with an unclean spirit jumps up right in the midst of everything and Jesus throws his divine beat down on the spirit, commanding it to come out of the man…and it does.

This astonishes everyone else in attendance…and they recognize that this authority over unclean spirits simply illustrates the divine authority that lies behind his proclamation…behind his teaching…the authority behind his message…and with that, Jesus is walking out of the synagogue.

If we were watching tv right now…that would have been the “previously on” montage that opens up most episodes anymore…catching us up to where we are now…and where we are now is Jesus and the 4 guys walking out of the synagogue…seemingly across the street into Peter’s house…and here we find Pete’s mother in law in bed with a fever.

Now Jesus doesn’t miss a beat…he walks over to her…he grabs her by the hand…and as we hear she is “raised up” by Jesus…the language is quite literally that she is raised…anyone else think that sounds a lot like Easter morning when Jesus is “raised up” from the dead? It should.  Likewise she is raised to new life…and she responds by entering into service. (Pause)
Now its worth mentioning that Pete’s mother in law is not simply stepping back into traditional gender roles here. Once again the language tells us that she “serving” or more specifically that she’s “ministering.” And this is the same thing that angels do for Jesus in the wilderness…it is the same thing that Jesus proclaims as he says I have come not be served but to serve…and it’s the same thing that he commands to his followers when he says whoever shall be greatest among shall become a servant. (pause) Pete’s mom in law is raised up to a new life in Christ, a new life as a Christ-follower…as a disciple…as one who willingly serves the other…now that right there…that’s awesome…and its unexpected…but that’s a side note. (pause)

So let’s go on with the story…word of these 2 healings…first the unclean spirit being cast of the man in the synagogue and now Pete’s mother in law…it spreads around town like wildfire…and understandably…everyone in the synagogue saw it…and Capernaum wasn’t exactly a huge town…miraculous healings would have been something to talk about.

And so…when evening falls, everyone seems to know about it, and everyone starts bringing the sick and the possessed to Jesus to be healed…the entire city gathers around the door…and into the night, Jesus heals them all.

Now I can only imagine what the people were thinking there in Capernaum…Guys…this is awesome…we’ve got this AMAZING preacher…and not only that…he can heal…like…actually heal. We should keep this dude around…we can learn a lot from him…and if we get sick he can heal us…I mean…maybe he’s like, the Messiah or something? So I think we should keep him around, maybe give him a house or something so he’ll stay…so we’ve got him right here when we need him. Sounds good. (pause)

But Jesus doesn’t exactly play along does he? After all the healings are done…late at night…actually early in the morning before it even gets light…he slips off into the wilderness to be alone…and we hear the next day that everyone is hunting for him…now its Peter and the other 3 guys who actually locate him…and it seems like they are buying into things too…Master, everyone is hunting for you. (pause)  Now think about it for a second…if you’re hunting for something…you want something from it right?  I remember in my younger days when I would go fishing, I practiced catch and release…but its pretty hard to catch and release when you’re hunting isn’t it? And so it stands to reason that if everyone in town is hunting for Jesus, they want something from him. They want him to live up to their expectations…expectations that he’ll keep healing…that he’ll keep teaching…that he’ll take on the mantel of Messiah that fits the bill of what they’ve come to expect.

And I can’t help but think that the people of Capernaum…all of them, even including the 4 disciples at this point…I think they’re stuck in expectations….they’re stuck in what they’ve always thought…what they’ve always known…and we find evidence in this in what might have been almost a throw away comment from the narration of Mark.

Did you catch when the people from the city started bringing their sick to Jesus? (Pause) At sundown…and here’s the thing…in the Jewish understanding…the new day started at sundown…like today is Sunday…but at sundown, when its evening…it stops being today and starts being tomorrow…everyone with me?

Okay…and remember what the setting was at the beginning today? Jesus was in the synagogue…and it was the Sabbath…Jesus heals, not once, but twice on the Sabbath…he performs “Work” but the law says that’s a no-no. The law says they have to wait until the Sabbath is over…which happens at sundown right? (pause)

The people of Capernaum are stuck in the old way of thinking. They’re caught in the old rule book. They’re still following the same method of bookkeeping…thinking that there’s some cosmic scoreboard that they need to be aware of in terms of honoring the Sabbath. Not only that…but Jesus seems to know that if he sticks around Capernaum…they’re gonna force his hand…they’re gonna try and make him be the Messiah that they expect…which is to say a political figure…that’s what Messiah’s were…God’s anointed leaders…often the kings of their history…that’s what they wanted him to be…and hey, throw in the ability to heal diseases and you got a bonus out of this Messiah right? (Pause)
But here’s the thing. Jesus is doing something utterly different. Utterly other…utterly new. Jesus isn’t playing by the rules anymore…in fact, whatever it is that God is up to in the world through the life death and resurrection of this man known as Jesus of Nazareth…the one that we have come to call the Messiah or the Christ…whatever it is that God is doing…it is completely off the map of expectations.

Sabbath rules don’t apply…if someone needs healing, Jesus will heal them…if someone needs to be freed from what hinders them…Jesus will free them…and why? (Pause) Because the kingdom of heaven has come near. And this kingdom is utterly unlike ANYTHING that we can imagine or anticipate.

And this is what Christ has come to do…to proclaim the good news of the kingdom…and not just Capernaum, but everywhere. (pause) Yes, Jesus can and does heal.  Yes, Jesus shows compassion on those who cast aside. Yes…Jesus brings about a new normal…a new existence…a new way of being in this world that we have been given, flawed though it is.

This is what Jesus has come to do…to make all things new…to make all things Good…and to draw all people to himself….Jesus has entered into our reality in order to bring about this kingdom and he has invited us into it. (pause)
So what does that mean for us today? How do we respond to this man, who is also God…who has utterly changed the game? What does life look like now, in the midst of this kingdom which is both now and not yet?

In order to answer that question, we need to look back at Pete’s mother in law…we must remember that her story is not an example of a happy little house wife that we can say “oh now you’re up and about, good make me a sandwich.” What we learn from her is that to be raised to a new life by Christ is reflected in our ability and desire to serve those around us…to minister to those around…to literally embody the change that the kingdom of heaven is bringing into this world. (pause)

We all have our tendencies to be like Capernaum…wanting the Messiah to act a certain way…or to be a certain way…or to bless the ones that we want…we all fall in the trap of setting up the Messiah according to our expectations…but in the end that’s not how this works…because Jesus is continuously bringing about something new…and through the power of the holy spirit may he change us all in a way that makes our lives reflect this utterly new thing out into the world that we hope to see changed. May we be the change that we hope to see in the world…and may we give credit where credit is due…that this change is only possible through the power of Christ working in us and through us. May that be…the kingdom coming near to us. Amen.

Shut Up and Get Out 1-28-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:21-28, I explore Jesus’ first miracle in Mark’s gospel, the healing of a man with an unclean spirit. We find that God will act when there is something that is hindering the good life he desires for his children.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

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

Every once in a while something happens that makes me think back to the teachers that really had an impact on me. Most recently it was news of the death of my middle school English teacher just a few weeks ago.

In times like this I tend to stop and think about those different teachers…the really good ones…who incidentally also tend to be the ones that made you work the hardest. She was the one in middle school…but once that was done and I moved into High School, it was the Social Studies teacher that fit the bill. Mr Worley. He had been around forever. He started at my school at the beginning of my Dad’s senior year, back in 66-67, and he stayed year after year until his eventual retirement about 5 years after I graduated. He always said he was sticking around for a third generation of Dalen’s but didn’t quite make it.

Now, Mr. Worley was a small guy…most of us towered over him even as piddly little freshmen…but MAN he was intimidating…So much so that in conversation about the guy we dropped the Mr. and just called him Worley. I think he was so intimidating because he expected a lot from us…and, more importantly in the classroom…Worley took ZERO crap. If you were messing around, or you got mouthy, he’d kick you out…he didn’t care…and the amazing thing was that he didn’t even have to say anything…he’d just look you in the eyes and do this. (Point sideways at the door) That point…said everything it needed to…that point said “You’re done…shut up and get out.”  (pause)

Now its probably safe to assume that no kid from Graettinger High School has EVER compared Worley to Jesus…but I’m going to do it today…because I think we see a very similar situation in today’s gospel lesson.

Today we have the distinction of hearing about the very first divine action here in Mark’s gospel. Now we’re still in the season of Epiphany…a time when we hear stories about the ways that Jesus is revealed to the world…and here in Mark’s gospel…most of these stories are pretty brief. I mean, we’re still in chapter 1 here…and we’ve already heard that this is the beginning of the Good news of Jesus Christ. We’ve had the baptism of Jesus…we hear a throwaway comment about the 40 days of temptation…Jesus has called the 4 disciples along the seashore, uttering his first words in Mark, to follow me. And now…here in verse 21, ministry begins.

Jesus and the disciples go walking into the synagogue in Capernaum. And Jesus starts teaching…instantly…immediately Jesus takes over and apparently whatever his teaching style is…its something utterly new…and everyone is astonished at his teaching. I do wonder just what it looked like…but we don’t have to wonder about his message…because we’ve already heard it from Jesus here in Mark 1. “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Rejoice and believe the good news.”

Now the funny thing about this short passage, is that the teaching of Jesus really seems to be focal point. We hear that the people are astounded from the get go…and then a few verses later as Jesus is wrapping up here in the synagogue and is getting ready to head out again, we hear again that the people are amazed at this new teaching…one with authority. (pause)

But something else happened in the midst of all this didn’t it? Not only is he teaching…we see the first miracle that Jesus performs here in Mark…healing a man with an unclean spirit.

Admittedly we don’t know a whole lot here. We don’t know who the guy is…we don’t know exactly what the problem is…we have no history whatsoever…all we know is that he has an unclean spirit. (pause) Now that unclean spirit has been the center of a lot of debate over the years…and I can attest to that personally as I went round and round with several colleagues in our mutual preparation for today to try and put our finger on just what this unclean spirit is. Is it a demon…maybe, but we don’t know.  Is it Mark’s understanding of mental illness in Jesus’ time…we hear that he shakes and cries out uncontrollably, so maybe that puts us in mind of epilepsy and Tourette’s syndrome. Honestly we just don’t quite know what to make of this unclean spirit…but maybe in the end we don’t need to know…maybe all we need to realize is that whatever it is…it hinders the life of this man. (pause)

And there’s another point that I think we need to recognize…and that’s to remember WHERE this is all taking place…they’re in the synagogue…they are in the center of the Jewish community…ESPECIALLY by the time that Mark’s gospel was recorded, and the temple had already been destroyed, the synagogue was LITERALLY the central aspect of Jewish life in every community…particularly in terms of their life of faith. The synagogue was their church…and this is where the man with the unclean spirit is found by Jesus…right here in the midst of his teaching…it would be like if someone suddenly jumped up screaming and shaking in the middle of Sunday School or even right here in the midst of worship.

As people of faith, we must recognize this fact…that unclean spirits, whatever they are, come right in with us, just like it came into the synagogue with the man that day. He was not immune as a faithful Jewish man…and we are not immune as faithful followers of Christ.

So let’s back up and think some more about this whole unclean spirit thing. We don’t know what it was…and maybe just maybe we don’t need to know. Maybe we just to acknowledge what we can about it…that it is some force that is hindering the life of the man. We could probably call it whatever we wanted to…a demon…an illness…a force…a power of darkness, take your pick…because the label doesn’t matter. What does matter is the effect that it has on the life of the man…the life of the individual…the life of this child of God.

Most of you have probably heard me say TOV before…it means good and it’s the Hebrew word for what God calls every single step of creation clear back in Genesis 1. Every action that God takes in bringing chaos towards order…of bringing our reality towards something new…God calls it TOV…and then when God makes humanity he calls us REALLY TOV.

But not only that…we hear clear back in the beginning that God has a good existence in mind for his children…a good path…a good journey…a good life, however we want to say it…but we also hear that there are those things that hinder this good existence that God desires for us…and we can call this many things.  Brokenness…sin…pain, suffering…death.  Disease, addiction…isolation. Countless different things.

I can’t name just what it is that has come in through these doors with you today…but I have no doubt that it is there, even here in the midst of God’s house…the powers of darkness…the unclean spirit if you want to use that term…its here with you…its here with all of us…there is something fighting tooth and nail to hinder that TOV life that God desires for you. YOU know it. You see it…even if no else does…but you are not alone in it…because God sees it too. (pause)
Now let’s jump back into the text for a moment. We find this man, overcome by something…and whatever it is, it sees Jesus and it recognizes his authority…the authority to do something about it…even to the point of destroying it…this spirit, whatever it is sees Jesus and recognizes the power of God…and it starts screaming.

But Jesus isn’t having it…BE SILENT and come out of him. Be quiet…we can even say be muzzled…or maybe we can picture my old teacher Worley pointing with a gesture that says Your done, shut up and get out. (pause) Now the spirit doesn’t go easy does it? It shakes the man and screams as it goes…but it goes.

Whatever the forces of darkness are that you sense within your life…whatever it is that’s there behind the scenes hindering your good life that God has intended…its not gonna go down easy…and we know that don’t we…when we’re honest with ourselves.

But as we consider this story from today the good news is this. Whatever it is that is hindering you…the power of God active in the world through Christ, WILL overcome it…because it recognizes the authority that is greater than it is…and God will give you this gift of freedom somehow someway…because God loves you…and God loves you because you are his child. (pause)

There’s a phrase that get’s thrown around sometimes…describing a parent who’s standing up for their kid…you’ve heard it. I went all Momma Bear…My Pappa bear came out…because you would do anything for your child to protect them. And I believe that Jesus is doing just that today….giving us a reminder that when it comes to the things that hinder your TOV…God’s bear comes out.

This is what we see in Jesus’ divine action today. He looks this unclean spirit right in the face, whatever it is…and he says “That’s my kid, you’re done…shut up and get out.”

And somehow, someway God will do the same for you. We don’t know exactly how it’ll happen…and often times it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense…and we know that those forces aren’t gonna go down easy…sometimes we’ve even got to go through death before that power can be put down.  But EVERY SINGLE TIME…God gets the last word…and that’s a word that is for you. Amen.