I Will Not Leave You Orphaned 5-21-17

In this sermon, based on John 14:15-21, I explore Jesus promise to his followers that he will not leave us orphaned. Just what does that really mean?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-will-not-leave-you-orphaned-5-21-17

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 read a lot, and over the years I’ve slogged through many different stories…some great, some not so great. I’ve read a lot of different types of stories and followed along with many different characters. And it seems to me, that one of the types of stories that is always engaging has to do with a main character that’s an orphan. Someone who begins the story disconnected, with no sense of being part of anything.

Many of our classic stories, both old as well as new, fall in this category. Huckleberry Finn…Anne of Green Gables…Little Orphan Annie…Harry Potter…just to name a few…and if there’s one thing that these characters seem to have in common through their respective stories, it’s a search for connection…for belonging…the search to find the place where they belong.

Perhaps these various characters and their fictional stories are so engaging is because, deep down…I think its part of our very nature to seek this out for ourselves…connection…community…belonging.  Now there are many different places that we can find this sense…in fact our very understanding of socializing is based on it…we spend time with those we that we belong to…those who share a sense of commonality.

Many of the words that we would use to describe ourselves reflect this…and perhaps none more deeply than the connection that we hold with our family. Good bad or otherwise, so much of our identity is tied to our family of origin…and perhaps for many of us, maybe even all of us…our family offers us a sense of stability in terms of who we are.

Now perhaps, this is why a brief statement offered by Jesus in today’s reading seems so utterly significant. As Jesus sits at the table of the Last Supper with the disciples…with this small group of individuals that he has claimed as his own…this group of people who he has even come to call family…as he sits there with them, sharing a final time together, he knows that he’s saying goodbye…and maybe knowing this…he feels compelled to give them an assurance that they will not be left alone. And not only that…but his promise…I will not leave you orphaned. (pause)
I thought a lot about that this week…about what it must be like to be orphaned…about the sense of isolation that it must create…to be utterly disconnected from everyone. To have no sense of belonging…no one present who will care for you…no one that shares a common life with you…and I can only imagine just how isolating and terrifying that must be, not only for a child…but for anyone who has lost those family connections within their lives.

And as I thought along those lines, I found myself asking the opposite question…if Jesus will not leave his followers, either the 12 men sitting at the table with him…or any of the rest of his followers throughout the ages that have passed, including us of course…but what does it mean that he will not leave us orphaned? (pause)
If we are to answer that question…what is the opposite of being orphaned…it would seem to include connection…inclusion into something…to be cared for…to be claimed…in short…to belong with someone else….in short…family.

Now family is an interesting term…often we think of a connection by genetics…but I think the term family can certainly farther reaching than that…as it seems to imply a sense of closeness that exceeds all else…and this closeness is a sense that can create amazing joy and comfort…and at the same time, it can create an amazing sense of loss when that person that we claim as family is no longer around…and as we all know…separation is a reality.

It come in many forms…but none so final…none so utterly complete…than death. I can only imagine that was a sense that Jesus was experiencing at the Last Supper…knowing that he was going away…that he was going to a place where his friends…his family…could not go.

Many of us sitting here today have experiencing the pain and separation caused by death…and if you haven’t, just wait…it’ll find you sooner or later…because it is a reality in our existence…painful, but true. (pause)
But that being said…there’s a promise…one that we cling to as followers of Christ…one that he hints at today as he says “Because I live, you will live also.” We cling to the promise that there is more to our existence beyond the separation of death. We may not know just what it looks like…we may not know just how it works, but Christ has made us this promise…one that we often call eternal life…or heaven…or the afterlife…and it’s a promise that we cling to, one that gives us hope, especially when we look forward and see the reality of our own death.

Now here’s the thing…earlier this week I was having a conversation with an individual who’s health is not great…and though it now seems that she’s gonna be with us for a while longer, it WAS touch and go. (pause) Now as we sat and talked, she said “Well…I honestly didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go there (point upwards)…and I wanted to stay here.” When I asked her why that was she said “I’ve got family there…and I’ve got family here.” And after a moment of silence she said “Wouldn’t it be great to get the whole family back together.” (pause)
The depths of the love that this women feels for her family, both those still living and those who have died is amazing…and she recognizes the disconnect that is caused by death…the separation…the isolation. And as we all think about it today I think we would agree that its just…not…right.

And you know what…we aren’t the only ones. Because God recognizes this as well…and in fact…if scripture tells us anything…its that God is at work to rectify it…and this is where Jesus comes in…for Jesus God in the flesh…God entering into our reality and experiencing just as we do so that he may somehow, someway overcome that which is broken within it…that he might overcome the power of sin and death and the separation and isolation that comes with it.

And God is not simply doing this because we are part of the creation that he made and is proud of…but God is doing this because to God we…are…family. Throughout scripture we see time after time that God calls us his children. God has claimed us…repeatedly…calling us heirs….and in the Biblical sense…that’s what adoption is all about.

Jesus says we will not be orphaned…and by its very definition the opposite of being orphaned is being adopted…and in Jesus’ time, that meant that the owner of the household claimed you as their heir…they claimed you as their child…and I believe that God looks upon all of humanity in this way…and Jesus came into our reality in order to show us this…Jesus came into our reality in order to get the family back together for good. (pause)

Now interestingly enough…as we’ve said before…the redemptive work of God in Christ Jesus is already finished, even if it doesn’t feel like it yet…but the work of reconciling this world…of gathering this family back together…that work is still going on…and it happens under the power of the one that Jesus talks about today.

I am going away, but I will send another advocate…another helper…the Holy Spirit which will abide with you and in you…now here’s the thing about the Holy Spirit…the thing that all too often we here in the Lutheran church push to the back burner…the action of the Holy Spirit in the world is the action of God in the world.

We might not fully grasp just what Holy Spirit is…and that’s ok…but the Spirit is at work whether we recognize it or not. (pause) Now there are many places to look and see…and we profess several them every week here in worship. I believe in the Holy Spirit…the holy catholic church…the communion of saints…the forgiveness of sins….the resurrection of the body…and the life everlasting. (pause) Sound familiar?

Each of those statements, taken from the Apostles Creed, testify to the work of the Holy Spirit and the one that I think is THE MOST important, is also the first…the holy catholic church…which those of you who have been through confirmation with me know…catholic starts with a small c…and that means UNIVERSAL, not Roman.

Somehow, someway, the power of the Holy Spirit unites us all together as ONE CHURCH…ONE body here on the earth…together we make up the physical representation of Christ on Earth as he hangs out in heaven preparing a place for us. I can’t explain how it works…and often I’m quite discouraged by the bickering and the disagreement that occurs within different branches of this ONE body…but in the end if we can agree that Jesus is Lord and salvation comes through what he has done, then maybe, just maybe all that other stuff is just secondary…and we can focus on the thing that we have in common…the thing that unites us together…the thing that makes us…FAMILY.

There’s a song that I like a lot…it says “In Christ alone, my hope is found.” Today, may we all find that hope in his promise that we will not be left as orphans…but because the one who made us in the first place claims us as his children, and unites us together through the power of His Spirit…we will never be alone.

And so as we look around this room…seeing one another…may we see family…united together as beloved children of God…freed to love one another as Christ has first loved us…because we are united by something that is stronger than just genetics…we are united by blood…his blood…which was shed for you and for ALL people for the forgiveness of sins…so that we might be claimed as his own. Amen.

There Is No Ladder 5-14-17

In this sermon, based on John 14:1-14, Jesus says “I am the way.” I explore what he is saying here.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/there-is-no-ladder-5-14-17

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 there was one thing that I discovered at a pretty young age while growing up on the farm, its this…farms have ladders everywhere. Everywhere you look is a ladder. Now some of them are actually intended as ladders…there are ladders in barns…there are ladders in corn cribs…there are ladders going up the side of a grain bin or a silo…there are ladders down into well pits.

There are other things that, for a rambunctious kid that likes to climb, will serve as ladders. I climbed the wooded structural braces on the inside of a Morton building. I climbed gates in fences. I climbed fence posts to get on top of buildings…I climbed trees to get on the roof of the house.  I was always ready to climb. And my dad figured this out pretty early on in my memory…probably because I was the youngest and he had witnessed this type of climbing behavior in my brother and sister…but because of this, Dad was always very clear about the things I should not climb…most specifically the tall ladder going up to the top of the bins in the corn crib…bins with no safety rails to prevent a nice 40 foot drop…and then the ladder on the side of the silo, which didn’t even start until 10 feet off the ground…not that I would be prevented…because as soon as Dad’s back was turned…I climbed those ladders just like all the rest of them.

I guess you could say that I just liked getting up high…up to those places where I wasn’t supposed to be…those places where I wasn’t mean to go…but one of those times when Dad had told me to stay off some of those particularly high and, honestly, quite dangerous spots…I remember quite vividly asking myself the question “Well if you’re not supposed to go there…why’d they build a ladder? (Pause) Why’d they make a way in the first place?” (pause)

Now fortunately, even with all of my climbing, I never fell…but I did have a few close calls…times when I missed my footing and slid down a rung or two before catching myself. I’m probably just lucky in that regard, because like most kids do, I never really used those ladders like you’re supposed to.

Ladders, by their very design, are pretty useful when it comes to getting somewhere that’s out of reach. Climb up rung by rung…and you get higher…those out of reach locations start to become more accessible…and vice versa…climb down a rung at a time, or heaven forbid, slip and miss the rungs altogether, and you find yourself back down on the ground where you started in the first place. They are a way to get from here to there…at least when here to there involves a change in elevation. (pause)
Now this idea of a change in elevation brings up an old notion that’s called the 3 tiers of reality.  The earth is here…in the middle…and that’s where we are…now heaven is up above us…we’re not exactly sure where…but its up there somewhere…and hell, well that’s down below…its probably easiest to understand this like a house. We’re on the main floor. Heaven is upstairs, and hell is down in the basement….and this is the way that people thought about things…and in many cases, that people still think about them.

And if we think about the relation of earth and heaven and hell in this way…then the question will eventually come around to how we get from one to another…Sure we probably ignore the idea of heading down into the basement of hell, because none of us really want to go there…but it is pretty common to sit around and wonder just how we manage to get ourselves upstairs into Heaven.

And if my childhood on the farm taught me anything…if you want to go up…you need a ladder…and that right there…this idea that somehow, some way we can manage to climb our way high enough…that we can manage to get ourselves up to heaven where God is…this idea has permeated our society in a lot of ways…I fear, most destructively, with the idea that faith, or religion, or spirituality, or whatever you want to call it gets boiled down into some sort of cosmic ladder.

Ever thought about it that way? I think we probably all have at one point or another…especially when we start talking about the things that are morally right or wrong…and there’s this myth…this idea in the back of our minds that if we do enough right things, we’ll keep climbing up the rungs of that ladder…and as long as we avoid enough bad things in our lives that we won’t slip back down…like life is just a giant game of shoots and ladders…with the final end goal of climbing that cosmic ladder up high enough to get to where God is.

Well let me say this…there is no ladder…that’s not how all this works…and it was never supposed to…and all these rules and regulations and statues or whatever you want to call them…all these ideas of what we should or shouldn’t be doing…while perhaps good for the purpose of life…they don’t get us anywhere on the eternal scale…there is no ladder to climb…and there is no cosmic score board that God looks at to see if our good score is higher than our bad score.  That’s not how this goes. (pause)
Now what’s all this got to do with today’s gospel?  Why would Jesus be sharing this with his disciples?  It is a bit of a strange situation…actually this passage is found in the Last Supper…Jesus final bit of teaching for his disciples as he’s telling them goodbye…because right after this, he’s betrayed and killed. Just before this, he’s told them about the betrayal…he’s had his encounter with Judas who prompted fled the house…he’s told Peter about the pending denial…and above all he’s told them that he’s about to die. No wonder he starts off today “do not let your hearts be troubled.” I don’t know about you but I’m guessing it was a troubling state to be in.

And not only that, but perhaps for us today, hearing this 5 weeks AFTER Easter, perhaps it’s a little troubling for us as well…Why do we hear this now? Well, if the resurrection has already happened…and we’ll recognize the Ascension of Jesus back into Heaven quite soon…and in our reality today Jesus has already returned to Heaven…maybe as we consider all of that…the Last Supper is a little troubling for us too…because what does it mean to believe in Christ…what does it mean to be a follower of Christ, when the one that we follow has gone to a place where we can’t go?

That’s the question that comes up in the back and forth with the disciples.  Jesus assures them that he has gone to the dwelling place of the Father…what we call Heaven…and he has done so in order to prepare dwelling places for each of us…and here’s the kicker…he says “Where I am going, you know the way.”

And then a hand goes up…Ummm Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?  And Jesus throws it all out there. I Am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me…

Certainly, this is a familiar passage of scripture…one that gets thrown around a lot…and I fear…one that gets used in a way that serves to exclude individuals…and because of this history, this passage is often heard by non-believers as judgmental…exclusive…like a warning that you better believe this or you’re going to hell…and not only that but if you do believe it then you better shape up and start acting like it. (Pause) You better start doing all the right stuff…and land yourself on that mythical magic ladder so you can climb up high enough that God will notice you…and then you can be where he is.

Ever heard that sort of thing before…or felt like that…or wondered if that’s what all this church stuff is really all about. If so, just know this…you aren’t the only one…if Thomas’ question today shows us anything…its that even Jesus’ disciples thought this way…like Jesus was physically going somewhere and if they just look in the right spot they can figure out the way to get there too.

But there is no physical way to get to Heaven…there is no way for us to go there…we can’t get there…we’ve never been able to get there…and God knows it…God has always known it…and God has done something about it…God has come to where we are through Jesus Christ to create a way.

All too often I fear that the world hears Jesus say I am the way…and it sounds like “This is the only way.” And worse yet when someone shares that with them it sounds like “I’m right and you’re wrong.”  But what if what Jesus is really saying is “Now there IS…a way.” (pause)

Growing up on the farm, when Dad would tell me, you aren’t supposed to be up there…I always wondered…if you don’t want me there, why is there a way?   Jesus has gone away…but he has done this so that that now, there is a way for us to be there too. Its not about being good enough, or smart enough…its not about following all the rules and climbing high enough up the ladder…Jesus is telling us…he is showing us that God has already come to us where we are…and because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…now somehow, someway…there IS…a way.  Amen.

 

He Calls Them By Name 5-7-17

In this sermon, taken from John 10:1-10, I explore the promise of God given to us in baptism, that we are claimed as his children. This sermon, shorter than normal, is happening in the context of Confirmation Sunday in my congregation.

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

Full disclosure…as a preacher, I’m pulling double duty today. In addition to standing before you now, I’ll also be preaching this evening up at the high school for the annual Baccalaureate service. Now both situations have something in common…as they celebrate and honor a group of young people at the end of an educational experience. Baccalaureate, of course marks the end of high school for our graduating seniors…and Confirmation here this morning, which traditionally marks the close of religious education for our 8th graders…and because of the similarities between these two occasions…if you happen to be at the high school this evening, you may hear a similar theme…as I proclaim a message that, I hope and pray, will be moving and inspirational for those who hear it as they close one chapter of their lives and prepare to move into the next one.

That being said, earlier this week I was meeting with several other area pastors, discussing the gospel text for today, and the fact that it is Confirmation Sunday for at least a couple of us that were there, the conversation came around to a question that I have been thinking about all week.  What do you wish you had heard on your Confirmation Day?

I pondered on that question…thinking back over time to the day when I was confirmed…April 25th 1993 at Bethel Lutheran Church in Graettinger Iowa, under the guidance of Pastor Wilbur Holtz, just in case you were wondering…and as I think back to the message that was shared by that Pastor more than 24 years ago…I realized (long pause) that I can’t remember a darn thing…and realizing this, well it kinda took the pressure off for today…because 24 years from now, its pretty unlikely that the 8 of you sitting out there this morning will be able to remember what I had to say either.

But if my own history does teach me anything, its that you will very likely remember the people who were involved…those who invested in you to bring you to this point…many of whom are sitting out there in the congregation right now.  I myself remember that pastor…I remember the two other teachers who volunteered to lead my class through both 6th and 7th grade…and even if I don’t recall much about the lessons themselves that they taught me…I remember the interactions with those individuals…and the stern looks I got from that Pastor in class when I got a little too squirrely…which of course happened with fair bit of regularity…and I remember the statement he made years later when I ran into him at a Pastor’s conference… “Yah Scott, you were a handful, but I always had a feeling about you.” (pause) And let me state for the record that I’ve got a feeling about a couple of you 8th graders too. (pause)
Now, many of you sitting out there are familiar with something I do each year with the Confirmation class. During their very last time together, I have them write out a statement of faith…a personal creed…something that we call the “I believe” statements.  Before they write them, I always tell them “Don’t just tell me what you think I want to hear. Be honest…at this point in your lives, tell me what you think.” Year in and year out these statements are fascinating, and this year is no different.

What caught my attention this time around was how literal the 8th graders took the instruction to tell me what “I believe.”  Over the course of reading their 8 different statements, I found the phrase “I believe” 21 times…and the theme that emerged more than anything is that they believe in God…even going so far as to say that God is the greatest thing…EVER. (pause)

But now…lets come back around to it…what message do the 8 of you need to hear today…and to answer that question let me say this. You believe in God…Good…He believes in you too…and not only that…he loves you…and he claims you as his own.

Admittedly, this is gonna be a short message today…because sometimes you don’t have beat something to death to make a point. Within today’s gospel, Jesus is talking about shepherds and sheep and pens and gates and all kinds of things…a bunch of things that honestly can be a little difficult to wrap our heads around…but the main point that jumped out of Jesus’ words today.
He calls his sheep by name and leads them out…Whatever this pen is…whatever this abundant life is that he keeps talking about…I can only imagine that he’s talking about life lived in relationship, both with one another as fellow human beings and also, more importantly, a life lived in relationship with the Lord.

He calls you by name…because he is the shepherd…the one who is willing to lay down his life for you…and not only is he willing but he has already done it. Jesus Christ died on the cross…dying the most brutal death imaginable…and he did so in order to show YOU that there is nothing that God will not do in order to be with you.

Your name was on his mind…Your name was on his lips. Quinn. Taylor. Mason. Megan. Tommy. Blake. Brayden. Emma…and for everyone else sitting out there today, guess what…your name is in that list too.

But there’s one more point I need to make.  Not only does the Lord of this abundant life know you by your given name…but he has given you another one…Beloved Child of God. This is a name given to you in the waters of your baptism…a time when you were washed with water and the promise of God was spoken you…a promise that God has claimed you as his own…a promise which nothing can take away from you…and now today, in just a few moments, the 8 of you will stand up before this congregation…before this gathering of the body of Christ…and you will acknowledge that promise which God has made to you.

That’s what’s happening today…because the action is already done…God has already said this about you. God has already claimed you….whether you realize it or not. Nothing takes that name away from you…so own it…and not just today but every day…for Beloved Child of God, you have been marked with the cross of Christ in the waters of your baptism…and you have been sealed in his love forever. He calls his own by name and he leads them…whether they (Pause). Whether you…realize it or not.

That is what I believe…and it is my hope and my prayer that throughout the course of your lives, you believe it too. Amen.

 

This Is Weird 4-30-17

This morning’s sermon is based on the Road to Emmaus story found in Luke 24:13-35. I explore what is, to me, a quite familiar story, but wonder if it is as familiar to everyone.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-is-weird-4-30-17

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

I have confession to make…sometimes pastors will reuse a sermon. This can happen for a variety of reasons…maybe a week becomes too hectic and they don’t get a new sermon prepared. Sometimes, they just said what needed to be said really well the previous time. (pause)

Now, I will say that this is not one of those times…but I have been guilty of this tactic…called recycling…in the past…and though it pains me to say it…I have done it with this very scripture.

The first time I preached on this passage, July 2012…it was towards the end of my year of internship. That congregation does not follow the lectionary as we do here at Underwood, but it came around during a sermon series and happened to fall on my week to preach…I’ll admit it…I was proud of that sermon…it was a good one.

Fast forward 3 months, and I was slated to return to my home congregation and preach…but it was a crazy week…and I…shamefully, recycled that Road Emmaus sermon…that was the fall of 2012. (pause)

Then, in 2013, I was called here to Underwood Lutheran…and my first Sunday was July 7…we moved into town on the 5th and I knew that in the craziness of the move…I would not have time to prepare a sermon…once again…shamefully…I recycled that same Road to Emmaus sermon. (pause)
Low and behold…the next spring…actually my first Confirmation Sunday as the pastor here at Underwood…the lectionary brought the Road to Emmaus back around again…now that time, I actually prepped a different sermon, so at least I’m not completely unoriginal. (pause)
Now here’s the thing…I have enough history with this particular gospel lesson in my history as a preacher…that this week, as I worked towards today’s sermon…I was convinced that this passage comes up every single year in the lectionary.  I was mistaken…but, given my personal history…its safe to say that this is a familiar passage for me…and maybe, just maybe…it’s a familiar one to you as well. (pause)
Now to put things in context…this is another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus…we’ve been having these over the course of the past few weeks as we move through the early part of the Easter Season…and so it stands to reason that we’re going to have the resurrected Jesus appearing to someone that he knows.

As I stand here, the first though that goes through my head is that we all know this story.  2 minor disciples of Jesus…followers though not among the “12” disciples…are heading home. The festival of Passover is over…the Sabbath has come and gone…and so they join the throng of faithful Jewish people heading of the city.

Now remember…even though we celebrated Easter and the Resurrection a couple weeks ago…for these two guys…its still that day…the women had just found the empty tomb and heard the angelic proclamation that morning…and a few of the men had gone and seen the tomb…but as the moment that these two guys hit the road…no one really seems to know what’s going on.  Is Jesus alive? Is he not…is there something crazy going on?  What should we do? Do we pack it all in and go back normal?

This is the state of these two guys…the man that they had followed…the man that they thought was the Messiah…the one to deliver Israel…had died…and despite some odd happenings that morning, no one seemed to know what do.  And so they walk along when another random guy starts walking with them and asks “What are you talking about?” (pause)
Now we know the rest of the story, its Jesus…they don’t recognize him for WHATVER reason…there’s a little back and forth, as these two guys are flabbergasted that he seems to be unaware of what’s been going on…asking if he’s a stranger…but then he opens up the truth of the Old Testament scriptures to them…and once they finally arrive in Emmaus, they invite him in…they all sit down together, he blesses the bread and breaks it…and BOOM…their eyes are open and they recognize the Risen Lord…and now everything makes sense to them so they hightail back to Jerusalem where they find the others and excited relay the message they have encountered the Lord and he was made known in the breaking of the bread.

That’s the story…familiar right? We’ve heard it plenty of times in the past…and combine it with the past 2 weeks’ worth of hearing about Jesus appearing in random ways to various people…and maybe, just maybe, its become a little too familiar.

I wonder if anyone else has fallen into the same trap that I have this week…thinking that EVERYONE knows this story…and like the 2 disciples…astonished that someone would have to ask “What are you talking about?”

But here’s the thing that I realized this week…not everyone knows this story…I think, this is what Jesus is modeling for us today. He approaches the two men with a question…asking them what they’re discussing…and what they’re discussing is the death of the Messiah…as well as the crazy possibility that maybe, just maybe that dead man was alive again…its crazy to them that he would ask…because apparently its all anyone in the city had been talk about since the previous Friday when Jesus had died on the cross…this is why they ask him if he’s a stranger. (pause)
But I’ll say it again…I think Jesus is modeling the stranger in our midst.  (pause) Now I’ll admit it…I live and breathe this stuff week and week out…and sometimes I forget that even regular church people aren’t as familiar with stuff as I might be…but even beyond that…there are times when I taken completely of guard and find out that someone is utterly unfamiliar with this whole story….and not just the road to Emmaus, but the gospel in general.

Granted we live in a society where, most people have in the very least, the passing idea that Jesus is somehow connected to God and that he died and that on Easter he wasn’t dead anymore…but for some…that’s pretty where understanding stops…that’s just the reality.

I came face to face with a good reminder of this through the week. I was sitting down with the high schoolers…and we read through this story…and our newest member Brandy, who is just scratching the surface of a lot of this stuff…she starting asking questions.

Wait a sec…so this is Easter right? And he had just risen? Yes.  And now he’s appearing to his friends…but they don’t recognize him? Yes. Why not? Does he look different? I don’t know…but for some reason they don’t.  Okay…but then when he finally broke the bread, and they recognize him…he disappeared? Yes. (Pause) This is weird. (pause)

Sometimes it takes someone seeing this with a fresh set of eyes to reveal very important truth.  WHATEVER IT IS, that the resurrected Jesus was up to during these various appearances…it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us…and maybe, just maybe, its not supposed to make sense.

After all…this whole gospel story is pretty off the wall isn’t it? The ultimate creator of the universe and everything in it…an entity or presence or something that we call God enters into our reality as one of us…and then God dies…and then, defying all logic…this dead man who is also God, is raised from the dead and starts popping up in random places before ultimately going back to heaven, but empowering his followers with the Spirit of God and the command to announce that somehow, someway we have been forgiven of our brokenness and through his resurrection, somehow we will be given life after death. (pause)

Sometimes I say that…and I don’t even want to believe myself…and yet…because of the power Holy Spirit…I do…and as I see a few of you nodding out there…or as I simply look out and see you gathered here today…it would seem that you believe it to.

This is the amazing thing about the gospel…this thing that shouldn’t make any sense…and in many cases…doesn’t make any sense…suddenly…does. We can’t explain why…we can’t explain how…and yet, just as the two men experienced but didn’t recognize until Christ was revealed to them…something about all this burns within us.

But today, here’s the takeaway.  We need to remember that not everyone gets it…not everyone knows it…and some have never heard it before. And so I pose this question…who is the stranger that needs us to tell them what happened? Who is the stranger that needs to hear the events that surround this dead messiah who somehow isn’t dead anymore?

I ask this question, because I think that when we miss those opportunities in our regular day to day lives…maybe we’re missing the presence of the Risen Lord.  Maybe we’re walking along, and our eyes are kept from realizing that God is at work right in front of us…or even that God is here with the stranger in our midst…just waiting for the opportunity to open up a whole world that we all get to be a part of.

So yah…this whole thing is pretty weird isn’t it?  But its also pretty wo

Peace in the Midst of Life 4-23-17

This morning’s sermon is based on John 20:19-31. This story is commonly known as Doubting Thomas, but yet makes up 2 separate examples of Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/peace-in-the-midst-of-life-4-23-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I’ve got quite a few pictures that decorate my office. Some are pretty new…others quite a bit older…they were taken in a wide variety of different situations and places…but a couple of them were taken in one of my favorite places in the world. Rainbow Trail Lutheran Bible camp in the mountains of southern Colorado.

Most of you have probably heard me talk about Rainbow Trail before. Once a year, my family packs up the car and road trips out west for a week of family camp. We drive and we drive…and finally after winding our way around countless mountain peaks, we turn off the main highway, and drive about 3 miles up a bumpy gravel road to camp.

Its usually the highlight of our year. We are refreshed and rejuvenated. We enjoy the company of wonderful people that we’ve gotten to know over the course of the past 11 years. We spend every waking moment taking in glorious views, with the constant programming we are going from morning till night…and perhaps most wonderful of all, up in the mountains there is zero cell reception…so there are no interruptions from the outside world.

But inevitably…the end of the week rolls around…and we pack ourselves back in the car…and the tiredness of the week catches up…and the cramped feeling of being in the car at the beginning of more than 11 hours’ worth of driving sets in…and as we drive back down that bumpy gravel road…back into the presence of cell service…the phone starts beeping with all the missed calls and texts…and usually before we’ve even driven 5 miles, we’ve started bickering.  And when that happens, one of us, usually my wife makes the statement “Welcome back to real life.” (pause)
I can’t help but think that same sort of situation has been our reality in our very recent history. Just 1 week ago…we all experienced the mountaintop that is Easter Sunday…and it was glorious.  Here at the church, Easter kicked off with our Confirmation Students leading the worship for our Sunrise Service…This led into a wonderful time of fellowship downstairs for breakfast…a couple hours later the sanctuary was packed to the rafters for our regular Easter service…and after that everyone scattered out in their own directions for various family dinners and gathers and celebrations…and it seemed…for that brief moment anyway…that everything was perfect…and nothing could mess up that feeling. (pause)
But I find myself wondering…just how long that feeling lasted for everyone? How long did it take for real life to take hold again…how soon did the craziness of life push that mountaintop experience of Easter to the back burner? (pause) THE TOMB IS EMPTY…HE HAS RISEN…HALLEJAH!!!!!! Oh, but guess what, welcome back to real life. (pause)

As true as that seems to be for us today…I can’t help but think that the earliest followers of Jesus must have been experiencing the very same thing…and I wonder just how quickly real life…how quickly reality…got in the way for them. (pause)

Over the course of the next several weeks…we’ll continue to encounter the various stories that occurred when Jesus made post-resurrection appearances…times when various individuals would encounter the risen Lord. And as we begin to take a look at those different stories…those different encounters…we begin to see some similarities between them…but we also see some pretty major differences for the individuals who have these experiences.

Now interestingly enough…our story today…commonly known as the Doubting Thomas story…it begins on Easter…so as we pick things up today, we almost need to backtrack a week…almost like the beginning of most tv shows anymore that give you a quick reminder of “previously on our show.” (pause)
Well previously on this show was Easter Sunday…when the tomb is empty and as we hear in John’s gospel…Mary Magdalene is the first one to encounter the risen Lord…but at first she doesn’t recognize him…and its only through their ongoing encounter that she does…but when she does, she goes off and tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” (pause)
Well now, we jump ahead a few hours…to the evening of Easter Sunday…and we find 10 of the disciples, no Judas, no Thomas…but the rest of them…huddled in a locked room out of fear. They’ve heard Mary’s report, but it doesn’t seem that its made much difference for them…and they are stuck in the reality of fear…afraid for their lives…afraid that their association with Jesus might just land them in the same boat with the Religious leaders…and they might be arrested or killed just like Jesus had been.

Suddenly…out of nowhere…Jesus is standing among them. We don’t know quite how he manages this…but he does…and he says to them, not once but twice. Peace to you…and he shows them his wounds so that they know its really him…and then he strengthens them by breathing out the very spirit of God…the Holy Spirit into each one of them. (pause)

Amazing right? Now, here in the midst of their fear…the resurrected Jesus has appeared, defying all logic…and for these men, everything is different for they have encountered the Risen Lord…all except Thomas. Poor guy.

When he hears the news he can only think that he’s missed out…that he’s missed his opportunity…but since he’s heard the reports…it seems that he hopes to have the same experience.  Mary encountered the Risen Jesus and reported “I have seen the Lord.”  Then the other disciples encountered the Risen Jesus and gave the same report “We have seen the Lord.”

So don’t sell Thomas short here…even though history remembers him for doubting…it seems to me that he’s simply expressing his hope…his desire…to physically encounter the Risen Jesus just as the rest of them had….and low and behold…a week goes by…and the situation is still pretty similar….they’re all still locked away…and so it seems that the fear is still hanging around…and this time Thomas is there…and once more Jesus is among them with the same message…Peace to you…and then he turns to Thomas, who gets his personal encounter with the Risen Jesus…and once he does, Thomas makes the ultimate confession…My Lord and My God. (pause)
Now these are just a few of the different stories we have of the Risen Jesus and the encounters that different have with him.  We also hear of the road to Emmaeus when two disciples encounter him…and walk along side him for 7 miles…talking…and they don’t recognize him…being to consumed by grief.  (pause) We hear of the disciples encountering Jesus on a mountain, and they worship him…but we hear that they doubted.   We hear that Jesus appears on the seashore after Peter and handful of the others decide to go fishing.

And interestingly enough…John tells us that there are others stories that we haven’t been told…that he did many other signs in the presences of his followers that are not recorded…but we hear about these ones so that we might come to believe…and even Jesus himself reminds us that blessed is the one who has not SEEN…and yet comes to believe. (pause)

Now I bring all of this up…all of these stories…to remind us that countless people encountered the Risen Jesus in many different circumstances…and it would seem that none of those individuals was in an overly happy mode when it happened.

Likewise…I think its safe to say that as wonderful as our Easter mountaintop experience was last Sunday, real life came crashing back in pretty quickly didn’t it…because real life is still happening at the same time as our celebration of the Risen Christ.

This craziness of life comes at us in many different ways. Different for each of us. I discovered it first hand as I tried to deal with a malfunctioning air conditioner and lack of internet connection in the office. Granted these are minor problems, but they added up to create a couple of crazy days this week. But there are others out there who have experienced a whole lot more “real life” than this. Some are dealing with the last days of a loved ones life.  Some are dealing with surgeries and sickness. Others with unease in their employment and finances…others experiencing broken relationships…and the list goes on and on.

Every single one of us is experiencing the ups and downs of life…the roller coaster…with wonderful things happening in one instant…and devastating things happening in the next…and that’s life.  But here’s the thing…that is where we encounter the risen Lord.  Remember that from last week…no one encountered Jesus in the tomb…they encountered him in the midst of the pain and the anguish of life…and so do we.

But if there’s one thing we can take away from today’s story…and the encounter of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room, both the first time around as well as a week later when Thomas was around…its this…the first words of Jesus to us in the midst of the craziness of life…the first words uttered by the Risen Lord are this. Peace be with you. (pause)
He doesn’t tell them not to be afraid…he doesn’t tell them hi or anything else so trivial as that…in the midst of whatever anguish and pain that life had dealt them in that instant he offers them peace.

This is what our Lord can do…this is what our Lord has already done.  He has come into our broken existence…and through his life, death, and resurrection has somehow, some way made it possible for us to find a sense of peace right in the middle of all of it…he has given us something to cling to when things are darkest…he has given us hope…and we receive this hope through the power of the Holy Spirit that he has given us. (pause)

I can’t tell you just how you have encountered the Risen Lord…because as we see in the scripture, that’s different for everyone…and its especially important to note that our experience is very different from his first followers…for they were actually able to see him…and like Thomas they were able to see the marks in his hands and feet…they were able to physically encounter the Risen Lord…but our reality is a little different…and our encounter with the Risen Lord comes through the proclamation of others…through their stories of ways that they have encountered the power of God at work…through their stories of what the Holy Spirit has done….and yet Christ reminds us that we are blessed because we have not seen and yet we come to believe. (pause)

Whatever craziness of life you are facing in this moment…whatever storms are raging in the back of your mind…because they are the reality of your life…remember this…the Risen Lord grants you peace in the midst of it….a peace which passes all human understanding…a peace that we cling…just as we cling to one another for support…and as we look around this room today, may we see one another as a gathering of people who are willing to offering this to one another…for this is why we gather together today, to get through this thing called life…knowing that with the peace of God given to us by Christ, and the strength that we find in the united body of Christ here on earth…that somehow, some way, we will find God’s peace in the midst of the craziness of this life. Amen.

Behold 4-16-17 Easter Sunday

In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, found in 28:1-10. We see a lot…and we are intended to. The tomb is open so that we can be witnesses to what has occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/behold-4-16-17-easter-sunday

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The first of my grandparents to die was my grandpa on my mom’s side.  He and my grandma had moved to the Phoenix Arizona are when I was 5 years old…and they were still living there in the midst of my junior year of college, when Grandpa, quite suddenly had a serious health problem. He hung in there for a while…long enough for my mom to get down there to see him…but shortly after that he died. There was a small funeral for him, attended by those who could make it…but the timing was off for me, happening right in the midst of college mid-terms and sadly, I was unable to attend.

Then about three years later…I was finished with college. My wife and I had been married for about 18 months or so, and we decided to fly down to Arizona to visit my grandma…and while we were there, the three of us hopped in the car and visited the cemetery where my grandpa had been buried.

Now of course, I had mourned my grandfather when he died…but when we walked up to his grave and I looked at his tombstone, I just…lost it. I can’t explain why this happened, but I learned an important lesson that day. There are certainly things that you just have to see in order to fully experience them…and in this case…it was the grave of my grandfather.

(pause) Now, perhaps it seems a little strange to kick off an easter sermon by talking about death. Admittedly, I sort of thought the same thing as I sat at my desk on Friday, working my way through the preparation of this message.  As you likely realize, Friday was, of course…Good Friday…and I struggled with this message because my head was in two different places…I was thinking about Good Friday and our worship service that was coming up that evening…and at the same time I was thinking about this morning and the joy of Easter Sunday…and I was stuck in that tension between the two…I was stuck in thoughts about death while I was trying to think about new life.

But then I read today’s gospel lesson again and I realized that this is exactly where the story of Easter begins…with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb…and rest assured, they know where to find it.  If we back track just a little ways, we hear that these two women have been witnesses to all that Jesus has endured. They are among the women standing there when he dies on the cross…and they are watching when his dead body is taken off the cross and laid in this very tomb.

And so, as the action picks up…early morning on this random Sunday 2000 years ago…these two women are walking to see the tomb.  That’s an interesting point here in Matthew’s gospel…there are no spices in tow…and nothing about going to anoint his body…the tomb is closed…he’s dead and buried…they are simply going to see the tomb.

Now I pondered on that fact for a while…and then I remembered what happened to me at my grandpa’s grave…sometimes you’ve got to see it…and maybe, just maybe they were going there in order to try and feel a tiny little bit of connection to this man that they had known and loved.

Isn’t that what we do when we visit a cemetery…when we walk up to the grave of someone that we loved in this life…when we sit there and talk to them…what is it that we are doing, besides trying to have a tiny little bit of connection to this beloved person who has crossed the boundary that death creates.

Make no mistake…we all know, as we walk up to that tombstone…that in no way are we going to see the person again. We know that if we talk them, they aren’t going to talk back again…we all know about this division…this boundary created by death…and the two women knew it too.

They knew he was dead…but yet they went to SEE the tomb…and make no mistake…they saw the tomb…but they saw a whole lot more than that…Interestingly enough…the phrase “to see” or “to behold” is all over this short passage today…and there is a lot to behold.

They went to behold to tomb…and BEHOLD…there was an earthquake….and BEHOLD and angel descended from heaven and rolled the stone away. The angel greets the women, telling them fear not…You are looking to Behold Jesus who was crucified…BUT BEHOLD…he is not here…come and see.

The angel has a message…and a command…go and tell the disciples…he has been raised…but go into Galilee and there you will BEHOLD the risen Christ…this is so amazing…also frightening…but with joy the women run away from the tomb…and wouldn’t you know it…BEHOLD, there’s Jesus….who tells them the very same thing…don’t be afraid, but go tell my brothers to go out into Galilee and there they will BEHOLD me. (pause)

If the old saying is true…and seeing is believing…then we’ve got a lot to believe today don’t we? But what is truly amazing to me, is that what the women expect to see is the polar opposite of what they experience. They went looking for the tomb…but they found a whole lot more…and so…do…we. (pause)
Now…I don’t even need to tell you that Christ is Risen do I? I mean, of course he has…but you already know that…you’re already here today…clearly the Resurrected Jesus is something that is prominent enough on your radar that you are already here.

But imagine if you didn’t know that…because that’s the situation the women found themselves in. They went expecting death…and interestingly enough…but what they experienced included and earthquake, and an angel opening up the tomb…and then the angel pointed something out to them…not the Risen Christ…they didn’t find him there…the angel pointed out the lack of a dead Jesus. You are looking for Jesus was crucified, but see he is not here.

Here’s the amazing thing about that angel’s message and action of rolling away the stone. He didn’t show up in order to let the risen Jesus out of the grave…somehow that had already happened, even with the stone blocking the entrance…he moved the stone to let the women…and to let us IN…so that we can BEHOLD that the tomb is empty…that death didn’t get the last word…and that somehow, some way, there’s more to this story.

Now in it in their fear AND great joy…experienced at the same time mind you…as they follow the command of the angel to go and tell the disciples what they experienced…that’s when they encounter Christ…not among the dead, but out there in the world….and his command, repeated to the women in order that they might share it with the disciples is the same…tell my brothers that they must go out into the world and THERE they will see me. (pause)

This is the big deal about today…like the women, we expect to find death…and sure enough, we all experience it…and I’m not just talking about physical death…but something I tend to call little deaths…because this world is not perfect…and our lives are not perfect…and simply being followers of Christ in whatever capacity we find ourselves today does not excuse us from that.

We come to worship this morning…expecting the empty tomb…expecting trumpets and joyful proclamations…expecting the Resurrected Jesus…BUT…we come bearing all sorts of little death…you know what they are in your life. Those things that you struggle with…those voices in the back of our heads that tell us that we aren’t good enough…that we aren’t smart enough…that we haven’t done and will NEVER be good enough. We all have those hardships…those trials…those things that stand in the way of joy. (pause)
BUT…the tomb is empty. (pause) Death doesn’t get the last word…and what we experience…what we see…what we BEHOLD in the empty tomb is that we have a God who can…who has…who DOES create new life out of death…and as we go forth…out there into the world, bearing the news that the tomb is empty…bearing the knowledge of our experience…of our own story about what we have seen God do in our lives…when we are out there….that’s where the joy of the resurrected Christ meets us…and as we share this news as WE have experienced it…just like the women…just like the disciples at the end of the gospel…that’s where we find the Resurrected Lord….not in here…because here today…we find an empty tomb…but out there…as we bear this news that the tomb is empty…that death doesn’t get the last word…as we look in the face of the beloved child of God that we share this news with….that’s where we see Jesus….and maybe, just maybe, they’ll see him too. (pause)
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen…and that’s something to behold. Amen.

Love Wins 4-13-17 (Maundy Thursday)

In this sermon for Maundy Thursday, I explore the importance of the foot washing that Jesus provides for his disciples at the Last Supper.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/4-13-17-love-wins-maundy-thursday

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 we get older, I think its fair to say that bit of advice and wisdom that someone chose to share with us in our younger years tends to stick…and soon enough we find ourselves bestowing that very same wisdom or advice on to others.  I’ve certainly discovered that to be true within the various aspects of ministry that I am involved with.

Some of you have probably picked up on this. When I find myself in a situation that repeats, what comes out of my mouth probably sounds the same time after time. Its true in teaching…its true in preaching…I’ve found it to be true in the proclamation of the gospel in funerals…and I’ve found it to be true in the advice I give couples on their wedding day.

Now, perhaps this will come as no great surprise, but this wedding advice that I pass along was advice given to my wife and I during our wedding ceremony. It speaks to the patient nature of mutual love for one another…especially in situations when we start getting on one another’s nerves…those situations when we let one another down…those times when we just aren’t getting along.

In those times, as we look at each other, and we aren’t feeling a whole lot of warm fuzzies for each other…we need to remember this advice. Even though I don’t like you very much right now…I still love you.

I think that very sentiment reflects the truth about our relationships with one another…because we all fail…we all get selfish or moody…we all get frustrated and angry…and in one way or another we always end up hurting one another…I guess you could call that a true aspect of the human condition. (pause)
Now I was thinking along these very lines earlier this week as I pondered on tonight’s scripture and sermon. This is, of course a familiar passage…one featured every year here on Maundy Thursday…John’s account of the Last Supper, as Jesus gathers along with the 12 disciples to share one final meal…to share in a time of teaching and fellowship…and a time when Jesus will show his love for his disciples by setting aside the position of honor and authority as the host of the meal…and taking on the role of the lowliest servant to stoop down and wash the feet of these men that he loves. (pause)

Now admittedly…Holy Week is a time when I tend to think of all that God is doing…and because of this…when I think about Jesus…I tend to think about his divinity…that Jesus is the personification of God’s literal and physical action within our reality…and throw in the strong focus of John’s gospel on the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh…and for me…it becomes quite simple to forget that in addition to being fully divine…Jesus was also fully human.

Yes, this is God playing host to the disciples at the Last Supper…but at the very same time…this is also a Man.  And just like each one of us…Jesus…experienced the full gambit of emotions. We hear about that in various aspects of the gospels. He experiences joy. He experiences anger. He experiences sorrow and mourning…He experiences frustrations…just like us.  And even though we likely fail to realize…I think its safe to say that Jesus experienced his share of frustrations…even with those he cared about most…even the 12 disciples. (pause)

But despite that reality…Jesus invites them into the meal…and as we have heard, he serves them all.  But there’s one point that catches my attention right at the beginning of this passage. Jesus…knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…all things. Jesus…knew…everything. (pause)

He knew what was coming. He knew the hearts and minds of those 12 men who sat at the table with him. He knew what they were going to do. (pause) If we look ahead in the story…knowing what’s coming over the course of the next 24 hours…Jesus looked at these guys and I can’t imagine the disappointment he must have felt.  Judas…well that’s a no brainer. Judas would utterly betray him. Judas would be responsible for leading the soldiers to arrest him.  He looks at Peter…knowing that even though Peter is his strongest supporter…he would ultimately deny even knowing Jesus not just once, but three times.  He looks into the face of each and every one of them…knowing that when things get ugly out there in the garden…every one of them is going to run away…every…single…one.

And I can only imagine that as Jesus sat there at the table with them…and then as he got up and filled the basin, and then knelt at the feet of each one of them…and gently washed their feet and dried off…looking each on in the face as he did so…I can only imagine the disappoint that he must have felt…knowing that he has poured his heart and soul into them…teaching them…guiding them…only to have them run away when things get darkest.  (pause) Maybe, just maybe in that instant, Jesus is thinking to himself…Right now I don’t like you very much…but, I still love you. (pause)
That’s the thing…that is what we need to remember…because that’s what this night is all about. Jesus has gathered with those closest to him…these men, who in a few short days, will take over as the core group of his body here on earth…and in spite of any negative human emotions that Jesus must have been experiencing…his love for them as individuals is on full display….and not just for one or two of them…but all 12.

He washes the feet of the men who will abandon him in the garden…He washes the feet of the 3 guys who fail to stay away and pray with him, even though he asks them more than once…He washes the feet of Peter, the one who will deny him…and he even washes the feet of Judas…the one who will betray him…he knows all of this is about to happen and he serves them anyway.

Why would he do that? I think its safe to say that is any of us were in his position….we’d probably err on the side of condemnation…or in the very least shooting a guilt trip at each person for the failure that they will ultimately endure…But Jesus doesn’t do it?

Because for Jesus…who is fully human in this moment…and yet is also fully God…love wins.  Love trumps everything.  We hear this…having loved his own…he loved them till the end…he loved them in the midst of their failures…he loved them through his own death and resurrection…and he still loves them…because we haven’t reached the end yet.

This is the amazing thing about the God that we serve…about the God that we worship…that ultimately…even though this world is dark and broken…and even though we ultimately end up failing one another with startling regularity…God still loves us. And just as he washed the feet of his disciples knowing what was in their hearts, he took the cross for all of us, knowing what is in our hearts.

Now there are times when that amazing news seems so clear…and its so easy to hold on to…to believe…but there are also times when it seems so unrealistic…but you know what…Jesus knew that too…and as he says to Peter…what I am doing you do not know now…but later you will understand.

This gospel that we profess is so utterly and completely mind blowing…that it should come as no great shock that we experience moments of doubt and disbelief. Likewise, it should come as no great shock to us that express this belief that there are many in the world who can’t wrap their heads around the gospel.

This is the reality that we live in…but there is a promise that we can cling to in the midst of all this. Remember the exchange between Jesus and Peter.  When Jesus offers something to Peter…at first he tries to refuse…and then in his lack of understanding he asks for more than he needs. But Jesus assures him in the end…Peter, you are clean…

The amazing thing that we need to remember from this night…is that salvation is not up to us…its not a choice that we make ourselves…because God offers it to us freely…and at the same time…its not difficult…and in the end…salvation is simply about what Jesus has said about you…and what he has said is that you are mine.  This action of action…and this declaration of Christ is not up to you…but it is for you.

And tonight, we begin the final journey that Jesus will endure in order to show you just how far he is willing to go to prove this amazing sacrificial love for you.  Despite any and all failings on our part…he still makes the choice to do this…because when it comes it comes to God…our failures don’t matter…and in the end, love wins.  Amen.