On The Verg 3-29-15

This morning’s sermon comes from Mark 11:1-11 and features the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem which kicks off the final week of his life. In the sermon I explore the stark lack of conflict and tension that’s present in the story.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/on-the-verge-3-29-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
I graduated from high school in May of 1997…and one of the highlights for me happened just a week or so after my graduation, when I along with two of my closest friends packed up my parents old pop up camper, and ventured up to a resort in northern Minnesota for a week’s worth of camping…just the guys.
Now…being typical young guys…the notion of roughing it didn’t really sound that appealing to us…and so in addition to having the camper…we also brought along a lot of the comforts of home…we had a small fridge so we could keep things cold…we brought along a stereo because we had to have tunes playing in the background…and we also brought along a tv and vcr…hey it was the 90’s, dvd’s weren’t around yet.
Now we didn’t really use the tv/vcr that much, mainly only after it got dark or during the one day of the week when it was rainy and we had to stay inside the camper…but there was one afternoon when we embraced our science fiction loving nature, and we sat down to watch a long movie…actually it was a mini-series that had aired on tv back in the early 80’s…a mini-series called V.
Now both of my buddies were familiar with this show…as they are both a couple years older than me they were actually old enough to remember it when first aired…but it sounded interesting to me…being about a group of aliens that show up on earth…in what seems to be a peaceful manner, only to reveal that they are lizard people intent on eating us…and so we sat down to watch it.
Going in, I knew that it had aired as a miniseries and so it would last several hours to watch…and it did…but what I didn’t know, was that this mini-series was intended to introduce the following tv series…and so there was no real conclusion. And for three plus hours I sat there, watching a lot of boring exposition…and a little bit of action…but not much…the entire time thinking…Okay, something will happen…there has to be a climax at some point…and as the minutes passed by…nothing happened…until finally in the closing scene, some random guy takes a can of spray paint and puts a big V on the wall…A V that stands for the fact that humanity is going to fight back…and one day we will have victory over the invaders…and then the screen fades to black around that big red V…before the credits rolled.
And I remember being so mad…because nothing happened…there was no climax…nothing…and to this day, if the guys want to get a rise out of me, all they have to do is say “V” and I get a little twitchy. (pause)
Now perhaps you’re wondering just what this all has to do with our gospel lesson for today…and admittedly that’s a fair question…for today is one of those days of celebration…Palm Sunday…the Triumphal Entry…the day that Jesus finally hops on the donkey and rides into Jerusalem…riding in to the joyous shouts of Hosanna in the highest…as the entire city rejoices at the arrival of the King. (pause)
Now granted, Palm Sunday isn’t quite as big of a deal as some of our other “big days.” Easter’s a week away…and Christmas is the other obvious one…but still…Palm Sunday is one that we celebrate…at least on a smaller scale…but the interesting thing about Palm Sunday…joyous though it might be…is that it tends to be just a little more muted because we know what’s coming don’t we? (pause)
Yes, Easter is just a week away…we are almost through this dark season of Lent…we are almost to the amazing moment when the angels roll away the stone and the resurrected Jesus comes walking out of the tomb…but before we get there…we still have some rough stuff to get through…We’ve got opposition…tension…a final meal…anguish in the garden…and a crucifixion to get through before Jesus can rise again. (pause)
And so here’s the thing…knowing what we know…knowing what’s still in store…doesn’t Palm Sunday always seems just a little premature…because we know what’s right around the corner. (pause)
Now here’s something that gives me just a little bit of pause today…I’ve gotten far enough into my years of ministry now that I’ve had the opportunity to preach on Palm Sunday during all three years of the lectionary…I preached out of Luke during my year of Internship…and a year ago for our first Lent and Easter season together, Palm Sunday came out of Matthew…and now this year its Mark.
And even though I often times remind myself that we shouldn’t try to mix up the different gospel accounts of the same story, I’ve found myself doing it all week long with this one…and not only the triumphal entry itself, but really the different accounts of Jesus’ final week of life in and around Jerusalem. (pause)
And there’s a pretty stark difference between Mark and the other Gospels…and that difference is the complete lack of conflict in this story. In Luke, its not even subtle…the Pharisees and Sadducees, you know them…the go-to Biblical Badguys…come right out and argue with Jesus, telling him to instruct everyone waving their palm branches and shouting out joyfully that they need to keep it down…Matthew is a little bit more ambiguous, but the question is raised throughout the entire city of “Who is this man that they cheer for?”
But Mark…well Mark’s got nothing…the only hint of any sort of opposition at all occurs when the two disciples find the colt…and some random person says “Ahh guys…how come you’re taking that colt?” “Well the Lord needs it.” “Umm…okay.” (pause) That’s it…there’s nothing else…there’s no conflict at all…and everyone just seems excited that this guy is riding into the city.
And let’s be honest…as great as the celebration seems to be…isn’t it completely anti-climactic? Think about it…Jesus comes riding into town…and everyone seems to come outside to gawk and to cheer…which is maybe understandable…they didn’t have cable or wifi to keep them occupied, so I guess this would grab some attention…for about 5 minutes anyway…because did you notice that the crowd melted away…almost instantly?
YAY!!! HOSSANA!!!! Ummm…okay let’s go back inside….beacuse we hear that HE…entered the city and went into the temple. Not the crowd following him…just him…seemingly by himself now…crazy…and here’s another thing…both Matthew and Luke tell us that he enters the temple and immediately we hear the story of the cleansing…when Jesus goes off on the merchants and money changers….CONFLICT!!!!
But here in Mark…that doesn’t happen till the next day…Seriously…Jesus rides into town…the crowds cheer and then leave…and he walks in the temple…takes one look and leaves again…NOTHING HAPPENS…It raises the question of just why in the heck Jesus even went into the city in the first place…he started off in Bethany…he rides in and then promptly heads back to Bethany again. WHY?!?!
Now here’s the deal about Mark…out of all of the gospels…Mark, even though it’s the shortest one…is the most thorough about details of the final week that Jesus spends in Jerusalem before his passion…and as the days tick by, two things happen…the tension and opposition steadily increases…while at the same time those coming along for the ride with Jesus steadily decrease. (pause)
Think about this for a moment…we begin here…with the triumphal entry and ZERO tension…no one is squawking…no one is scheming…but then we have the cleansing of the temple the next day…and Jesus butts heads with the religious leaders over things over the next couple of days…and then the last Supper and the garden and the arrest and the trial and the eventual crucifixion…that’s all ahead…building steadily.
And on the flip side today, we have the entire city cheering for Jesus, but they’re gone by the end of the ride into town…and Jesus is left with his large gang of followers…but then by Thursday, we’re down to the 12 disciples sitting in the upper room…and then they head out to the garden where Jesus experiences his anguish…and he’s only got 3 men with him at that point…and then pretty soon he’s arrested and everyone’s tucked tail except Peter who follows at a distance…and then the next thing you know Jesus is alone…hanging on that cross. (pause)
The tension mounts and the people fade away…turning their backs on him…betraying him…abandoning him…(pause) And we all come to expect this don’t we? As we sit here today…Palm Sunday, knowing what’s to come…knowing that one by one everyone will turn their backs on the savior of the world…how can we celebrate today? (pause)
But here in Mark…that’s exactly what happens…and admittedly, I’ve found myself irritated by it this week. I want there to be opposition…I want someone to speak out against Jesus…to squawk at him…to do something…don’t just cheer for him…someone be the bad guy…anyone… (pause)
Because…if there’s a bad guy that we can point at today…even in the midst of the celebration…then maybe, just maybe the eventual betrayal of every single person during the course of this week won’t feel quite so bad…because if there’s someone that we can point our finger at today…then it takes the pressure off of us…it makes the betrayal just a little bit easier to swallow.
But that’s not the case…here in Mark’s gospel…the entire city…filled with Jewish people from all over the known world…a crowd of people that we might as well call the entire world loves Jesus…and I guess that includes us too doesn’t it…for about 5 minutes…
But one by one…as this week marches on…EVERYONE leaves him…and I have to say that includes us too because on Friday, as he hangs there, gasping for breath…he…is…alone. (pause)
And perhaps when we think about that we wonder just how it is that we abandoned the Savior of the World…after all, this happened 2000 years ago…we weren’t there…we didn’t do it…but then we remember the power of sin and death in this world…and we realize that our own sinful nature…the darkness that resides right here…turned away from Jesus whether we were standing in that crowd or not…whether we were holding the nails that pierced his hands or not…we all did it.
But the amazing thing about this…is that if Jesus had it to do all over again…and the world consisted of Jesus…God in Human form…and one other person…you…He would still do it…he would still take it…and he would do it willingly in order to beat back those powers of darkness that hinder our relationship with God.
That’s the glory of the gospel…that God willingly does this…even for a world that turns its back on him…even for individuals who in one moment are cheering for him…and in the next are ignoring him…and this all happens in the next 7 days. (pause)
So today we cheer…knowing the back of our minds that today’s joy does not last long…and that things are about to get a whole lot darker…and that one by one we will turn and walk away…leaving our Lord behind…but praise be to God that he takes it…and in the end, we rejoice in knowing that he took it for us…and that if he needed to…he would do it all again.
Today is Palm Sunday…and we’re almost there…because this week it happens…we’re on the verge…so let’s walk this final road to the cross together. Amen.

Let’s Plant Some Seeds 3-22-15

This week’s sermon is based on John 12:20-33. Jesus shares a micro-parable in the midst of teaching during his final week of life. In the parable he talks about the need for a seed to die before it can bear fruit. I take this concept and connect into baptism, as a brother and sister were baptized during worship.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lets-plant-some-seeds-3-22-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Last Friday turned into one heck of a fine day didn’t it? Bright and sunny and warm. Just one of quite a few beautiful days that we’ve experienced in the past few weeks as this unseasonably warm March sneaks past us.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been enjoying all this gorgeous weather just as much as everyone else…but I have to admit to being somewhat pessimistic about its longevity…I’ve been talking to a lot of different people throughout the course of the past several weeks…and in each instance, when the weather comes up I’ve said the same thing. “Boy its sure nice, and I’ll take it…but I don’t expect it to last.” (pause)
Its just so early isn’t it? And it feels like we’re cheating…having it be so great this early in the year…and perhaps we’re all thinking the same thing…its not gonna last…winter is going to rear its head again. We’ve all seen the horrible March weather…and the unexpected April snowstorms…even after gorgeous warm weather…and so while we love the weather we’ve been having, I don’t think anyone is ready to declare it springtime yet. (pause)
But maybe we should…Friday marked the first day of Spring…at least in terms of the season on the calendar…so whether we want to admit it or not, it is “Officially” springtime. But like many of you out there, I don’t judge seasons by the calendar…but by what nature is actually telling us…and I have to admit…that nature seems to be saying that spring has arrived.
I’ve been seeing robins hopping around for a couple weeks now…there are little tints of green springing up in many of the lawns around town…and a week ago, last Sunday morning as I walked across the parking lot I noticed that there’s a tulip up in our corner flowerbed out on the southeast corner of the church. There’s really only one more sign that I’m looking for at this point…the sign I look for every year that, in my head anyway…announces that spring is really around…something I call green mist…that faint hint of green as the buds break on the trees and the tiny little leaves unfurl.
And when I see that for the first time, I get pretty giddy…because it means that once again…the new life of spring has kicked in…and perhaps it’s the fact that I’m a farm kid through and through…but spring is just an exciting time.
Just the other day I heard that calving season is well underway, as one of our members got 5 in a single day…and that’s just one aspect of new life…and another is the fact that each and every farmer is already chomping at the bit to get out there into the fields…to get them ready…and eventually…to put seed in the ground.
I have to admit to you…it never ceases to amaze me to witness the presence of hope in a farmer. Each and every year they faithfully prepare the ground…and then plant the seed…trusting that the seed is going to do what it’s supposed to do…trusting that the weather and the soil and everything else will do its part…so that tiny little seed can sprout…and grow…throw up a shoot and push out some roots…and before you know it…that tiny seed has produced a cornstalk 8 feet high with 3 or 4 ears full of kernels…just like the one that was planted in the first place…and then in the fall, the harvest comes in…the result of all that work…and all that time…and all that trust that nature…is gonna due what we hope. (pause)
Its true…you want to see the notion of faith and hope in action…just watch the farmers…because they live it each and every year…and since spring seems to be here…we’re just about to see them do it again. (pause)
Now most of you know by now that I am a plant guy…my undergrad degree from Iowa State University…so tragically knocked out of the big dance in round one…*hand on heart* rest in peace…is in horticulture…and so anytime our scripture lesson features something of a farming metaphor I tend to perk up just a little bit…and this week’s is certainly a doosy…and it speaks to exactly that point that I was making about the farmers…Jesus himself tells us that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains the same…if a seed isn’t planted…it stays the seed…but throw it in some dirt and add water…and something remarkable happens…but it happens at the expense of the seed itself. (pause)
Have you ever thought about that…the notion that the seed has to die? (pause) Maybe it doesn’t seem like it when we first think about it…after all its growing right? Producing the plant…doesn’t that mean that its actually alive? (pause) Well, yes, from a certain of view…but the seed itself…its no more…the seed itself…dies to itself…the seed is gone…and something else replaces it…something that in time…multiplies…
Now here’s the strange thing about this little micro-parable that Jesus shares in our gospel today. It’s not super clear exactly what he’s talking about. Is he talking about himself? Is he talking about us and our lives of faith? Just what is it?
His previous statement doesn’t help a whole lot to set it up does it? The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…ummm okay…and how exactly? Well…according to Jesus, by a death that will result in much fruit. (pause) Now Jesus goes on from there and he talks about those loving their life on earth losing it and vice versa…so maybe it seems at first glance that he is talking about us with the whole dying seed thing…but if we keep going…right up to the end of this passage we hear him say “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” indicating the death he would experience…that death on a cross when he is lifted up to hang there in agony…and we hear that this draws in all people.
And so perhaps when we look at it from this perspective we see that the seed that Jesus is talking about really is him…and make no mistake…Jesus, like that seed…dies. (pause) In just a couple more weeks…Jesus Christ…the Son of God…the one who calls himself I Am…the one who is God…will be betrayed by one that he loves…one that he has just shared bread and wine with…and he will be beaten…and eventually he will be nailed to a cross…and he…then…dies. (pause)
But here’s the amazing thing about all this…both the death of Jesus…and the death of that seed that we keep talking about…in the death…it becomes something new…the seed puts down roots and puts up a shoot…and Jesus puts down death…and raises up the church.
We are the fruit…you, me, everyone in this room…and dare I even say everyone else in the world as well…because Jesus says that…in his death…when his earthly life is over…he tells us that he draws all people to himself. (pause) Now just how that works I can’t tell you…its above my paygrade as they say…but just as the farmers plant those seeds every spring, trusting and hoping that nature will do what its supposed to…I trust that Jesus does what he promises….that Jesus creates new life and offers it to each of one us…and he proves it…because of the new life that he embodied on that Sunday morning when he walked out of the tomb…and through his life, his death, and his resurrection…he bears much fruit…and he will continue to do so. (pause)
Now perhaps you’re wondering if there is a sign for all this…a sign beyond the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus…and the wonderful thing about our faith…is that we have signs. Jesus saw fit to give us physical signs that connect us to his life and death and resurrection that happened some 2000 odd years ago…because he told us that when we sit down and break bread together, and share a glass of wine…that he is there…and that IS his body and blood broken and poured for you…he made that promise…and he made another one…
Jesus also promised us that when we take water, and we wash one another along with the words that you are baptized in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit that God comes to us in that as well.
In a few moments, two small children will come to this font, brought forth by their parents in the presence of all of you as witnesses…all of you who represent the body of Christ…you are the plant…and the fruit that has grown up from the seed of Christ that died on that cross all those years ago…and when Coltin and McKenzie are washed in the water, and they hear those words, they will take their place among you…as fellow members of the body of Christ…joining together in a death like his…drowning that sinful self that resides within each one of us…and rising up from the water a new creation… (pause)
And may it be our hope…and our prayer…that today the seed of faith is planted in their lives…and together, as parents and sponsors and fellow members of the body of Christ, may we do our part to nurture that seed…to be the soil and water and the sunshine…so that it may blossom into a beautiful life of faith…Come Holy Spirit…and make this hope a reality…not only for these two beautiful children…but for each and every one of us…Amen.

See the Need, Meet the Need 3-15-15

This sermon is based on John 3:14-21. It features the “mini-gospel” found in verse 16. In the sermon I focus on the unconditional love of God that is expressed in Jesus Christ, and what it really means.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/see-the-need-meet-the-need-3-15-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen.
Its funny how certain things stick with you…there are many different times when some random fact or thought or memory that I’ve had stored back in the deep recesses of my brain will come swimming up to the surface…sometimes after years without ever thinking about it.
I never know what it will be, and I don’t know what triggers certain things…but it certainly does happen…now this week, as I was reading through the various scripture passages for the day, I was taken right back to my days working at camp…specifically by our second lesson out of Ephesians.
You see, this reading out of Ephesians features what we called a theme verse. We had different theme verses at camp…one over arching one that covered the entire week…as well as daily theme verses. If you’ve ever been to our summer Bible school program, you’ve heard the kids recite these verses…because the staff members teach them…each and every time.
And now I’ve heard it said that setting something to music is a great way to really engrain it in our memory…and that must be true…because I can still rattle off that theme verse…even after 17 years.
(sing Ephesians 2:8) For it is by grace…you have been saved…through faith…not of ourselves…it is a gift…a gift of God…Ephesians 2….verse 8 chachacha.
And you know what…there must be something about the camp setting that engrains other things in your head as well…and another one that I remember quite vividly described how we as staff members approached our day to day activities…See the need…meet the need.
At first that sounds pretty simple…as well it should…and it basically means that if you spot something that needs to get cleaned up, or fixed…or thrown away…or whatever…you did it…period…there’s a need there and you meet it…call it whatever you want…responsibility, hospitality…whatever…see the need…meet the need. (pause)
And this is where I shift gears and connect into the gospel for the day…admittedly…a little grudgingly…because as I thought about this particular gospel story through the course of this week, I found myself getting a little annoyed by it from a preaching perspective…what to do with? What can I unpack…discuss…highlight?
That’s often the question that I wrestle with as I work with each week’s gospel text…and this week, I sorta had a little bit of a revelation…I really struggle with gospel text’s when there’s no action…perhaps you recall last fall when we went through a series of parables…simple stories without a great deal of action…and all a preacher can do with it is try to puzzle out the theological implications of the passage.
Well, as you may have figured out, I tend to be more reactive in nature…and so for me personally, it’s a little easier to gain insight when there’s actual story with actual action…in short…its easier for me to preach on a passage when something happens…but, unfortunately…today that’s not the case…today…Jesus is talking…and that’s it. There’s no interaction…no back and forth bantering…just Jesus talking…and so…the million dollar question this week…what do we talk about? (pause)
And the crazy part about this is that it shouldn’t be difficult…because this week our gospel features what is likely the single most quoted New Testament verse in existence…John 3:16…for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish…but have eternal life.
We’ve all heard it right? We’re all familiar with it…and so perhaps this should be the week that I constant joke about when I say “Did you hear that? So did I….Amen” and go sit down. But as you know…I’m not gonna do that…I’m not going to just highlight that one well known passage and stop…because the scripture doesn’t stop…it goes on doesn’t it? Even if we really don’t it to.
Because what comes next? (pause) What follows this famous feel good passage? (pause) Discussion about condemnation…judgment…how we hate the light, and cling to the darkness…and that’s the stuff that tends to make us squirm just a little bit.
And why? Well, maybe because we’re Lutherans…and we put so much stock in that notion of grace…that notion of the free gift that frees us from judgment and wrath and destruction…that makes us feel better…so we just focus on that and ignore the tough stuff.
But here’s the kicker…Jesus doesn’t. As he’s speaking in today’s lesson…laying down some important truth…Jesus sees the need to be honest about the state of the world…and he meets it. He doesn’t sugar coat it…but he speaks with the truth as only God can know it…as only God can understand it. (pause)
And the truth that Jesus is speaking…the truth that is being revealed…it has more to do with the state of the world than the nature of judgment and condemnation…but I fear that sometimes we have the tendency to look at this whole deal from the wrong perspective…and I also fear that many people living in our world today do the same. (pause)
As I was reading through this passage, over and over again this week…my focus kept landing on those words about judgment and condemnation…each and every time…and I don’t really know why that is…maybe its just human nature to focus on the negative…perhaps I’m a closet pessimist…who knows. (pause)
But in many of the conversations that I have with individuals who don’t attend church…who don’t claim any religious affiliation…this very topic seems to be a tripping point…that all Christianity…or religion in general cares about is judging everyone and telling them they’re going to hell. (pause) And how often do we fall into that same trap? Of starting up that mental checklist of our good stuff that we did…or the bad stuff that we avoided just so that we’ve done enough…earned enough brownie points…so that we can avoid our own condemnation? (pause)
It really seems to me…that the human perspective gets caught up on the judging…especially in this set of verses. (pause) Or maybe…that’s just me.
About 2 or 3 weeks ago, I was downstairs with the adult forum during education time…and we were in the midst of discussing the featured gospel lesson for that week. Honestly the passage itself escapes me at the moment, but as we were discussing things…I got overtly analytical…talking through the process of understanding the passage in its context…and the theological implications…and the connections with other passages…in short…I was over thinking it. (pause)
But in the midst of that conversation…two different individuals made comments that really kinda stopped me in my tracks…First off was Judy Pingel who commented that my brain is trained to think along those lines…it’s the pastor thing…and I kind of chuckled at that thought…but then the second person kicked in their opinion…Phil Spencer…who has one of the longest tenures as a member here at Underwood…and when Phil makes a comment in that setting, which he doesn’t always do…I find that it’s a good idea to pay attention. And Phil said this… “I don’t know about all that other stuff…but I do know this. God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” And then he crossed his arms…and just kinda sat back in his chair.
That moment serves a good reminder for me that when we are talking about the gospel…the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…it can be REALLY complicated…while at the same time being EXTREMELY easy. (pause) Many people call this particular verse the mini-gospel, and they do so because this really lines of the truth of the situation. God loves us…so God sent his son…who was God in flesh…so that we can live in eternal relationship with God.
But the million dollar question on a lot of people’s minds…perhaps some of you here today, but more importantly for many people out there…can it really be that simple? It can’t be that simple right? There has to be more to it than that…but what if it really is that simple? What if we have a God who really does love us so much that he’ll sacrifice everything for us? A God who loves us even when we hurt Him…or when we hate Him…or even worse yet…a God who loves us when we flat out ignore him?
Any parent out there knows this cycle…we have moments when our child loves us unconditionally…but at the drop of a hat we hear the words “I HATE YOU!” And I don’t know about you, but the most frustrating thing in the world that my kids can do is ignore me when I know full well they heard what I said. (pause)
And this is what humanity has done…and continues to do with God. At times we show our love and gratitude…usually when things are going pretty well for us…but when things start to get rocky we’re quick to throw blame God’s way…either that or we pretty much forget He’s there…turning our backs and acting like God doesn’t even exist.
That was the state of the world 2000 years ago…and in many ways is still the state of the world today…and why? Well, because as the scripture says…we love our darkness don’t we? But the amazing thing about all this…is not that we have a judgmental God, but rather that we have a God who wanted to do something about it. (pause)
As I mentioned earlier I kept getting caught up on the whole condemnation thing this week…and how it seems at first glance that God’s going to condemn…but the crazy thing is, because of the power of sin in this world…the world stands in a state of already being condemned and we see this because of the presence of death in this world…the Apostle Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death…sin is present…the darkness is present…pain and suffering is present…and that is all evidence of the state the world is in.
And here’s where the love of God comes in…here’s where God sees the need…and meets the need…God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn it…nor the people in it…because they already are…God sent Jesus to free us from it…not because we’ve earned it or because we deserve it…but simply because he loves us that much…and the humbling thing about it…about that crazy love of God…is that there is nothing we can do about it.
God loves us, even when we don’t want him to…the love of God in Christ Jesus is present…and its for you…like it or not. He loves you enough to go to any length for you…even to death on a cross and beyond it…simply so you will begin to understand those three simple words. I…Love…You…and there’s nothing you can do about it. Amen.

Angry Jesus 3-8-15

In this sermon I explore the cleansing of the temple in John’s gospel, and I also address a local situation that has reminded us that the darkness of the world is still very real.
You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/angry-jesus-3-8-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
There is a picture hanging up in my office that I received as a gift on my ordination day from some very close friends…at first glance, it appears to be a pencil sketch of Jesus looking up to heaven praying. No coloration, just various degrees of shading…and that’s all well and good, but what I really like about this picture is what is revealed when you get right up close to it…and you realize that the entire picture is actually made up of words of the entire gospel of John.
For most of you, it comes as no great shock to hear me say that John’s gospel is my favorite of the 4. I make no secret of this…and I’ve often been asked in the past as to just why this is the case…and you know what, there’s no one simple reason why…but if I was to put it in a nutshell I think it’s because John is just so different. John’s gospel is unique in its narrative and details…offering a much different picture of the life and ministry of Jesus than we get from the other three gospels.
Certainly stories take place in different ways…the order of things gets changed around…all sorts of things are different…and considering that I’m an individual who embraces being a little “different,” its probably fitting that I like John. (pause)
Now I bring this up for a specific reason, because today we have shared in a story where a lot of this applies. The cleansing of the temple…a story that is actually found in all four gospels…but in true John fashion, he switches some stuff up…most notably…the location and time when it happened. Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this story in the final week of Jesus’ life…directly following his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday…he heads on into the temple to find the proverbial den of robbers. (pause)
But perhaps you noticed…that we’re only in chapter 2 of John’s gospel. We are early in the story…so far all John has told us is that the light is shining in the darkness…Jesus has invited a few people to follow him…and he headed off to a wedding in Cana where he kept the party going by turning water into wine…and now…right away…we hear this story…the one that can best be described as…Angry Jesus. (pause)
I heard that somewhere this week…honestly I can’t even tell you where I heard it, but I liked it…because it describes something that I’ve actually witnessed before…back in my days of working at camp…we used to do a long drama for the kids called the Christ walk…moving through various scenes from the gospels…including this one.
I’ll never forget the very first time we did it…I was on stage…making a big racket as one of the people in the temple…when all of the sudden the guy playing Jesus…who was himself a pretty lowkey calm guy…came flying in and sent a table flying 30 feet across the stage as he screamed at us…needless to say…my reaction was genuine…because it shocked me. (pause)
And perhaps this notion of Angry Jesus is a little shocking to you as well. All too often we tend to think of Jesus as mild mannered…calm…and quiet…and serene…but this story gives us one heck of a wake up call.
Jesus witnesses all this madness going on in the temple courts…and he…goes…postal…making a whip…throwing over tables…screaming at people…this is not a quiet lamb waiting for slaughter…this is the epitome of being “fired up.” (pause)
And so today, we ask the question of why? What was it that got Jesus so riled up in the first place? What was it that made Jesus go off…why did he feel the need to cleanse the temple in the first place? (pause) And we begin to catch just a little bit of insight when we explore the differences in John compared to the other gospels…In Matthew, Mark, and Luke…we hear Jesus scream out against making the temple into a den of robbers…but here in John…it’s a marketplace that Jesus opposes. (pause)
But why? What is it that’s so shocking to Jesus about this? (pause) Because for the Jewish people…the marketplace…particularly during a big festival like Passover…is necessary…In order to follow the rules…in order to make atonement for the sins that they committed…the people needed to make a sacrifice in the temple…and this is where the oxen or the sheep or the doves come in…because those were the animals that needed to be sacrificed.
But at the big festivals…there would be Jewish people coming from all over the known world…some traveling great distances…and those individuals would often times purchase the sacrificial animal there in Jerusalem rather than trying to bring it along with them…and then the money changers? Well, they had a similar situation…as the individuals would need to exchange their common currency for that which was acceptable to offer at the temple. (pause)
And so, in order for the people to follow the rules…to worship correctly…to be in good order…this marketplace would have been helpful…this marketplace would have been a good thing…and so, once more…I’ll present the question…what was it about this that God Jesus so riled up in the first place? Was it that the merchants and the money changers were swindling the people…overcharging for their goods or services? Well maybe…but I think its actually more than that…
You see…Jesus wasn’t just throwing some tables around…he was tearing the whole system down…the people didn’t need to go to the temple anymore…they didn’t need to go there and make sacrifices…they didn’t have to go there to find God because…in Jesus…God was already among them…God was no longer limited to one place…God has dwelled among us…God…has put on flesh and is out in the world… (pause)
In short…we see in Jesus Christ…the one who calls himself I Am…that God is now human…and being fully human God experiences emotion…and when God see’s something in the world that is an error…or an injustice…God…gets…mad. (pause) And today…we see it…today…we see that Jesus…God in human form…God in the flesh…Jesus…gets mad…because he wouldn’t be human if he didn’t. Jesus shares this same trait with us…this trait of unpredictable emotion in the face of something…Jesus gets angry…and so do we. (pause)
Last Sunday, my sermon centered around our human tendency to ignore bad news when it doesn’t directly affect us…and those lies that Satan tells us…that these things don’t really matter…well here in Underwood…news broke this week…that we just couldn’t ignore. (pause)
Most of you sitting here today already know what I’m talking about…but if you are visiting, or if you haven’t heard…a former teacher and coach from our middle school…an individual that has been a respected part of our community for 20 years…got caught up in something that he had no business doing…and on Monday, the news went public about a long term, wildly inappropriate relationship that had been going on between this individual and an underage student for several…years. (pause)
Admittedly, I had known about it before in a small capacity…I think many of us here in the community were aware…but when I read the full news report…I was shocked…and I was saddened. (pause) That was my initial reaction…sadness that now this individual’s life is pretty much ruined…and not only that…but his family will bear the brunt…and not only that, but the young girl that was involved and her family…because that’s the nature of sin…it doesn’t just effect the individual…sin radiates out in those that it harms. (pause)
Now I need to pause for just a second…because everything that I’ve been saying up to this point likely sounds like its coming from a pastor…and perhaps you look up here and you see the collar in the black shirt…and that seems fitting. (pause…take off/unbutton the collar)…but right now I don’t want to talk to you as a pastor. (pause)
Because later on that day…I was sitting in a Bible Study with a group of other pastors…and somehow this situation came up…and as we talked about it more and more and more…I started getting emotional about it…it wasn’t sadness any longer…I think its safe to say that my emotional state was a little bit more fiery.
Because I realized…this guy didn’t just hurt himself and a couple of families…this guy betrayed the trust of an entire community…he betrayed the trust that we place in him as an authority figure…as someone that we trusted our children with…and when it occurred to me that I had trusted this guy as a coach to my son…I…got…mad. (pause)
Needless to say…I was not feeling very pastoral in that moment…and the longer it went on…the worse it got…to the point that I had to get up and walk out of that room…I had to remove myself from the conversation in order to regain my composure…because the anger that felt…the emotion that I was feeling at this situation, which can best be described as a travesty…was that strong. (pause)
And I know that some of you…perhaps all of you that are familiar with this situation…have had equally strong emotional reactions…over the course of this week I’ve shared in many conversations with individuals who are saddened…who are hurt…who are angry and confused…some all at once…and I think we are all asking ourselves the question right now of where do we go from here…what do we do with this…How are we supposed to react when we witness first hand…the presence of darkness right here in the midst of our little community? (long pause)
How are we supposed to react to something that is so dark…so horrible, painful and infuriating? (pause) Admittedly, I’ve been wrestling with that all week long…trying to come up with something good to share…something that speaks into this situation…something that would calm the fury…the emotion…that I’ve been feeling all week long. (pause)
And the only thing that I can think of…it to remember why Jesus cleared out the temple in the first place…because God’s out here…in the middle of all this stuff…whether we realize it or not. (pause) On Tuesday, when I walked out of the Bible Study with the other pastors…I ended up walking into the sanctuary at St John’s down in Council Bluffs…it was dark…all the lights were off…and I went in and just sat in a pew for a few minutes…stewing…when all of the sudden I looked up…and I saw the Christ candle burning away…a small dim light…that was just shining away…in the midst of the darkness of that room…I was reminded that the light shines in the darkness…and the darkness HAS NOT…overcome it. (pause)
The light IS still shining….and the word IS still dwelling among us…God is still here…because we have a God who will NOT be contained…not by a temple…and not by the darkness that is still fighting tooth and nail to keep our attention…to cloud our vision…the same God who took on flesh and got angry at the injustice that He witnessed in the temple is still with us today, even in the midst of this situation. (pause…rebutton collar and put tab back in)
And now here’s the really crazy thing about all of this…one last difference in John’s account of the story…Here in John, when Jesus makes the whip…he drives out the oxen and the sheep…and while he’s ripping into the people…setting them straight in the midst of his divine anger…he doesn’t drive the people out…the people remain…even in the midst of rebuke…and there’s a lesson for us in the midst of that too.
Because for all of the anger and hurt that we are feeling towards this individual who’s boneheaded actions rocked the world of Underwood Iowa…we MUST remember that the grace of God is also offered to him…and I have put my collar back on now to remind us all that I am both Scott Dalen and Pastor Scott Dalen…and that in the midst of our lives…we are called to proclaim the grace of God made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…by which our Father in Heaven showed his love, grace, and mercy for the ENTIRE WORLD. (pause)
I am not saying that we excuse the actions of this man…because our actions do have consequences…but we MUST remember that just as we receive the grace of God…the forgiveness of God for our sin through the blood of Jesus Christ…we also remember that God has forgiven this man…that is the nature of the Gospel…and that’s how far the love of God will go…far beyond our capacity…far beyond our ability to even comprehend…but praise be to God that its not dependent upon us. (pause)
And so today, as we try to figure out where to go from here…remember this…it is not bad that you have an emotional response to this situation…Angry Jesus shows us that today…that’s part of being human…and so in these moments we look to one another for love and support…and in doing so we follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors…and we remember in the midst of all of this that the light is still shining…and no matter how hard the darkness of the world might try…it will not overcome it…God is here among us…and Jesus was willing to die in order to prove it…so that by the grace of God…we might just believe it. Amen.

Just Get Behind Me 3-1-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 8:31-38. I explore the famous exchange between Jesus and Peter where we hear “Get behind me Satan.”

You can listen to audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/just-get-behind-me-3-1-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Friday dawned as one of those perfect late winter days. It was cold to be sure, but there was no wind and the sky was clear. As the morning went on the sun got up in the air I found myself standing at various windows…just soaking up the sunshine.
Most of you have heard me express my extreme dislike for the winter season, but days like that almost make it okay…and the sunshine helps give me hope for spring which is right around the corner. (pause)
But…in what seems to be a trend…those beautiful sunny days always seem like they get interrupted by bad news…and the darkness of the world creeps into the glorious brightness of the day. (pause)
That happened Friday…right at lunch time…when social media broke the news that rocked the world for every single science fiction fan out there…Leonard Nimoy…the actor best known for playing the Vulcan Spock in Star Trek…was dead. (pause) Its weird…that the death of someone that I’ve never met…someone that I didn’t really know at all…would smack me like it did…and as I sat there thinking about the fact that Spock is dead…I admittedly starting thinking about the storyline of the character through the original television series as well as the 6 movies that featured the original cast.
And anyone out there that is a Star Trek fan knows that Spock is truly the Christ figure…both figuratively as well as literally in one case…for at the end of Star Trek 2, Spock makes a decision to sacrifice himself in order to repair the Enterprise and allow it to escape destruction…therefore saving all of his friends at the expense of his own life…but then, in order to complete the Christ comparison…in Star Trek 3…Spock is resurrected…alive once more. (pause)
But that’s a character…a fictitious alien in a popular, but equally fictitious story. Spock is not dead…because he was never real…the reality of this situation…saddening though it was for the science fiction realm…is that an actor lived a full life…and at the age of 83 died of complications resulting from COPD. A loss to be sure…but certainly not unexpected…and certainly not tragic. (pause)
And in a personal note…what gives me pause in this whole situation…was that I was more effected by this news than I was by some actual tragic news that broke earlier that morning…the news that an unidentified individual went on a killing spree across several communities in southern Missouri, before turning the gun on himself…resulting in the deaths of 9 people. (pause) Sure I was saddened when I read that news…and I said a quick prayer for those that were affected by it…but then I put that in the back of my mind and went on about my day…only to feel a stronger feeling of loss and sadness at the death of an actor a few hours later. (pause)
Now I’ll be the first to admit that my personal reaction to these two different bits of news that center around death was misguided. I pretty much disregarded the important one…and I dwelled on the understandable one…and the only sense I can make of my misguided reaction is to embrace the fact that I’m human…and I’m not perfect. (pause) And I share that trait with a certain character in today’s gospel lesson…Peter…ever the impulsive one…ever the one opening his mouth and promptly sticking his foot in it…ever the one making the bonehead comment.
And today is no different…in our story, which is a direct continuation of the story when Peter makes the ultimate confession of Jesus’ identity as messiah…he proceeds to spout off yet again. (pause) Now we don’t hear what Peter has to say…only that he’s listening to Jesus explain just what it truly means to be the Messiah…and Peter…is apparently flabbergasted.
It would seem that Peter’s got some preconceived notions about the Messiah…and understandably so. Because his perception is shaped by his history and by his culture…and there have been messiahs before…because in the Jewish culture…Messiah in the Hebrew, or Christ in the Greek simply means the anointed one of God…and they’ve got at least two major ones in their history…the first two kings of Israel…Saul and then David…both of these men were anointed…and the ongoing expectation for the people…Peter included…was that the long awaited Messiah was going to follow that same line…
They thought he’d come on the scene…and kick out whatever oppressive culture was in charge at the time…reestablish the throne of David and everything would be good to go. That’s what they thought…but now things are a little different…because Peter’s been following Jesus around for awhile.
And in the midst of this…Peter has seen just what old JC is capable of…he’s seen the miracles…he’s seen the healings…he’s seen the exorcisms…and Peter knows that Jesus has the power of God on his side…and so it would seem that Peter’s got this notion in his head that Jesus is gonna use that supernatural power and throw his proverbial beat down on the Romans…miraculously kicking their keisters right on outa here. (pause)
And now Jesus is teaching them something that seems to blow Peter’s expectations right out the window…and Peter’s not having it…period, end of story…and he thinks he justified to pull Jesus aside and set him straight…Peter…tries to tell Jesus what’s gonna happen…Peter…tries to take control of the situation…Peter, even though he means well…is trying to take over. (pause)
And now its Jesus who’s not having it… “Get…behind me Satan.” (pause) Woah. That’s pretty harsh isn’t it? Calling the one that would eventually take over as the head guy Satan…that seems a little extreme doesn’t it? (pause) Or is it precisely what needs to happen? (pause)
Because Peter’s got human ideas in mind…human notions that can be…and in all likelihood were shaped by selfish human desires…desires that can be…and in all likelihood were twisted by the lies of Satan to trip up Peter…and maybe…just maybe if Satan got really lucky…it would even trip up Jesus as well.
But Jesus doesn’t let that happen…because he’s got a bigger picture in mind…Jesus knows the truth of what it means to be God’s Messiah…he’s no ordinary king or prophet…he’s not just some great military leader that’s eventually going to throw a Biblical beat down on the Romans…the Messiah is here to establish something entirely different.
And so with this harsh statement to get behind me…Jesus isn’t just shutting down the lies of the enemy…but he’s also saving Peter from his error…he’s saving him from himself…and in the end…isn’t that really what he was here to do in the first place? (pause) Isn’t that where all of this is going? As we move through this dark season, we know where it ends…it ends with Jesus hanging on a cross…utterly forsaken…and ultimately…dead.
But here’s the difference between us and Peter…we know that there’s more to the story…we’ve got the benefit of hindsight…Peter didn’t…and so perhaps it comes as no great shock that as Jesus shares just what it truly means that he IS the Messiah…that this truth utterly blows Peter’s mind. (pause)
This truth, begins to show Peter just a little bit about the work that God was actually up to…the saving work through Jesus Christ…that ultimately will serve to save us from ourselves…and this is where we once again recognize our connection to Peter and the rest of the disciples…when we recognize our own limited understanding of just what’s really going on in the world…much less our understanding of what God is up to as he seeks to rectify it. (pause)
So maybe that statement…Get behind me…which at first glance seems so harsh…and so negative…maybe just maybe that statement is actually one uttered out of love…love for one that Jesus is trying to protect. This is the man that will take the cross for Peter…This is the man who will step out of the garden and be arrested in order to protect his followers…This is the man who calls himself the good shepherd…the one who will protect his flock…even from themselves.
This is the man who makes the ultimate sacrifice for someone else…even though we can’t begin to fathom what he’s really up to in the midst of it.
The world is a messed up place…there can be doubt of that…and on almost a daily occurrence we hear bad news…disasters…sickness…death…storms and earthquakes, tension and battles…bad news followed by bad news followed by bad news. We hear so much of it that perhaps, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re becoming immune to it…just as I was hardly effected by the horrific news in Missouri on Friday…and I listened to the lie in the back of my mind that it didn’t affect me and so it didn’t really matter…well maybe, just maybe God wanted to save us from those lies too…to save us from ourselves.
And that’s what Jesus was really up to…that’s what being the Messiah really means…not that we should be subject to him…or that we need to get behind him out of some ambition on Jesus’ part…but we get behind him so that he can protect us…so that he can protect us from everything…even from ourselves…even, from those lies that we tell ourselves…those lies that say that death doesn’t matter…that suffering doesn’t matter…that the darkness in the world doesn’t matter as long as we’re okay at the moment.
And I believe that Jesus saves us from this because God knows that all that stuff does matter…and throughout all the darkness in the world, that which we recognize and that which we gloss over and forget about…the first being to mourn this reality is God…and through Jesus, God…is truly…doing something about it. (pause)
But…it doesn’t come without cost…and its going to cost Jesus his life…and as we see today…Peter is offended by this…he’s offended by the notion that the Lord would have to die…and maybe just maybe he’s offended by the idea that our perfect Lord would willingly die for someone that’s unworthy…but the remarkable thing about the gospel is that this is exactly what God choses to do…to die for the unworthy…because we’re unworthy, and yet in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God proves that he is will to do that which we find offensive in order to repair the breach between God and all of humankind…and it IS freely offered to EVERYONE, whether we like it or not…the remarkable yet utterly offensive nature of the gospel is that everyone gets it…even that troubled man that took lives on Friday…Jesus was willing to die for him…so that he could be protected from the darkness inside of him…
And if Jesus was willing to die for him…well then maybe…just maybe…he was willing to die for me…in order to protect me too. Amen.

One Big Wilderness 2-22-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 1:9-15, and features the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness…always the featured story for the first Sunday of Lent. I explore the temptation and what it means for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/one-big-wilderness-2-22-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
This past week holds an interesting distinction for me…this week I had the opportunity to write 2 different sermons at home. First my sermon for Ash Wednesday which I wrote on Monday…and then since the kids were out of school on Friday, I wrote this one at home as well.
And as can sometimes be the case…I was stuck on this one for a pretty good chunk of the day…and so finally at one point I asked the kids “Hey guys…what should I preach about on Sunday?” Jack suggested that I just not do it…which was sort of tempting…but then Ava piped up with her idea… “Kittens.” (pause)
Now here’s the crazy thing…we never know what God is going to use to spark off an idea…but in this case…kittens was the spark. Because as I sat there thinking about the domesticated cat and their offspring, I was reminded of many instances where cats show their wild side. There have been the recent “dear kitten” commercials produced by Friskies…one of which involves the cat going all ninja crazy town on the dog…this in turn makes me think of our cat and her odd tendency to simply go off on Emily…you may pet me 3 time…no more…or I will bite you. (pause)
But finally, this got me thinking about an article that I had read not so long ago that named house cats…yes…house cats…as the single most dangerous, diverse, equal opportunity hunter in the world. Cats are responsible for the deaths of more birds and small animals than any other predator out there. (pause) And when I remembered that I realized that cats are the best representative of what today’s gospel lesson calls the wild beasts. (pause)
Now if today’s story sounds somewhat familiar, it should…this particular passage in Mark is highlighted three separate times within the first few months of the lectionary this year. We heard the first portion at the baptism of Jesus back in January…and we heard the final portion when Jesus proclaims that the kingdom has come near shortly after that when Jesus calls the first disciples…and now we hear it all again…simply because it also includes the temptation of Jesus…as this story happens to be the featured lesson for the first Sunday of Lent each and every year.
And why is that you ask? Is it because Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and Lent is 40 days? Maybe. Is it a reminder that even Jesus endured dark times which serves as a reminder for this dark season? Again, maybe. Or maybe, in the long run there isn’t really a good explanation and we simply accept that every year at this time we’re going to hear the story of the temptation.
But now here’s the kicker…Mark, as we’ve discussed before is kind of stickler when it comes to detail…he just doesn’t include much of anything does he? And because of this…maybe that’s why we get the overlap of two other stories that we’ve already heard and focused on in the past 6 weeks…simply because the lectionary needed to add a little filler into the gospel lesson for the week.
In all honesty, if this week is supposed to cover the temptation in the wilderness…we could have stuck with the two verses in the middle…And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him…period…end of story. (pause)
That’s it? Really? Come on Mark…you gotta give us something…no details about the 3 temptations themselves…no back and forth verbal sparing with Satan…Jesus doesn’t endure and then bark an order to “Depart from me Satan!” (pause)
Seriously…the lack of anything even remotely resembling details of just what’s happening out there in the wilderness is devastating…once again we’ve got nothing to go on…All we know is that Satan’s there…and animals are there…and Jesus is there…and it was the prompting of the Spirit that got him there in the first place. (pause)
Oh hold on now…just a second here…anyone remember the last time we bumped something like this? I actually think it was the story of Jesus’ baptism a few weeks back…and in that instance it seems like I mentioned that since Mark says so little, we REALLY need to pay attention to what he does say.
And Mark tells us that immediately following his baptism…the Holy Spirit DROVE him into the wilderness…we could also say that the Spirit CAST HIM OUT into the wilderness…and I don’t know about you…but that seems pretty harsh…that the spirit of God got a little physical with Jesus, just as he himself would later get physical with demons…not to mention all the merchants and money changers in the temple…same deal…the Spirit…almost violently takes Jesus out of civilization and out into the wilderness.
And he’s not alone…because Satan’s there…instantly…right away…immediately following his baptism Jesus comes under fire…Jesus is subject to temptation…and its not limited to 3 different temptations…we don’t hear of three isolated things that Satan smacks ol’ JC with…no, Mark tells us that he is tempted for 40 days…apparently non-stop…and in the midst of all that…there’s dangerous animals around…this is no pleasant setting that Jesus finds himself in.
He’s in physical danger…and he’s in spiritual danger…and all of this at the whim of the Holy Spirit. (pause) And when we realize all that, perhaps it gives us a moment of pause…and the question creeps into our mind…wait a sec, the Spirit drove him out to where he was going to tempted…does that mean that God wanted Jesus tempted? And if so…does that mean that God wants us to be tempted? (pause)
Did anyone else go there? Or was it just me? Does anyone else hear this and squirm just a little bit…wondering just what in the heck we are supposed to take from this? (pause) Because surely we can start to see a lot of similarities here. Jesus was baptized…Jesus was tempted…and Jesus was in the wilderness…and in our lives…we experience a lot of the same stuff…because we live our lives in the midst of wilderness…perhaps not a physical one…but we certainly find ourselves in the midst of a spiritual wilderness within our regular lives don’t we? Times when we feel alone…or times when we feel surrounded by enemies…times when it feels like everything and everyone is a predator just waiting…stalking us…seeking to move in for the kill. (pause)
Does that sound familiar to anyone out there? I imagine so, because for many of you, I’m familiar with your stories…I know some of the things that you’re experiencing…some of the things that you are walking through…and perhaps it seems like there is no end in sight. (pause)
Now Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days…a month plus…and I’m guessing that in the midst of the temptations…in the midst of the testing that he endured at the hands of Satan, it probably seemed like there was no end in sight for him too. (pause)
And so once more, I beg the question…was this the will of God…for Jesus to be alone out there…for Jesus to be subject to the attacks of Satan…and if it was, does God intend the same for us? (pause) And my answer to that question…is no…because Jesus wasn’t alone was he?
And I’m not just talking about Satan or the animals…but I’m talking about the angels…throughout this entire ordeal, Jesus was…not…alone…and neither are we. (pause)
Now at this point I could say that we aren’t alone simply because Jesus faced temptation…not only facing it but overcoming it…and because of that we have a God who has experienced the same temptations we do…and while I believe that is true…that’s not what prompts me to say that we are not alone…
And its also not because Jesus had angels with him…because when we are in the midst of temptation…I’ve never looked around and seen a glimmering dude with wings and a halo backing me up…but yet I will still say it…we are not alone.
And I say this because of the mission of Jesus Christ…not just to endure temptation…not just to live and perform miracles…not to gain a following and then die on a cross…but the mission of Jesus Christ was to enable relationship. Remember that all of this happened at the prodding of the Spirit which had entered into him at his baptism…the Spirit of God was with Jesus throughout this ordeal…because in the Father Son and Holy Spirit we see that even God is in relationship and we remember that God desires us to be in that relationship as well…and not just between himself and us as individuals…but between us as fellow believers as well.
Not only did Jesus’ death and resurrection enable us to once again be in relationship with our heavenly father…the one who calls us his beloved child just as he called Jesus the beloved…but his death and resurrection also made it possible for us as sinful people to forgive the hurts that we cause one another and come into blessed relationship with one another.
This is fellowship…this is community…this is togetherness and remember even in the midst of the wilderness and temptation at the hands of Satan…Jesus experienced community. And take heart in knowing that this community is where we seek aid…where we seek support in those instances when we experience our own temptations in the midst of our day to day wilderness. (pause)
And so I’ll ask it one more time…does God intend for us to experience temptation in our wilderness? And I believe the answer to that question is no…but God is aware that we will experience it…and so He has provided us with the means to endure it…and in those times when we do fail…when we fall to temptation…he has also given us the means to hear the words of forgiveness…to hear the words of grace made possible through Jesus Christ…to know that our sin no longer holds sway over us…
And so…during this season of Lent…these 40 dark days that mirror the 40 days of darkness that Jesus endured in the wilderness…let us join together as a community…let us support one another and pray for one another…so that we too might be sustained…just as the angels sustained Jesus…and at the end of those 40 days, we will emerge into the glory of the resurrected Christ…who has made it possible for us to join in his victory over Satan. Amen.

Turn Away From Turning Away…Ash Wednesday 2-18-15

This sermon, which occurred in the context of Ash Wednesday, is based on Joel 2:1-2, 12-17. In the sermon I explore the call that God gives us to acknowledge our sin and turn away from it and back to God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/turn-away-from-turning-away-2-18-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Have you ever heard the expression, life imitates art? In a moment of personal disclosure, I fought this sermon tooth and nail…not that I didn’t want to write it, but because I didn’t want to write it on Monday, which is normally my day off…yet the longer the day went on the more my mind kept coming back around to this sermon…to the need to write it…I just kept dwelling on it and as much as continued to try and blow it off and relax…that just didn’t happen…and before long I was pacing the house…round and round…lap after lap…cycle after cycle. (pause)
And the more I thought about it, the more the notion of cycles seemed to be significant…because life is just full of cycles…and the more I pondered on that particular thought…the more I got to thinking about a theme that has emerged this year in the class I teach on Sunday mornings with the confirmation students and the adult forum.
Those of you who have sat through those class will likely recognize this cycle as we’ve talked about it over and over again…but in particular we discussed this cycle early in the program year…starting last fall…as we discussed the narrative found throughout the Old Testament.
The people follow God…things go well…time passes…the people turn away from God…things stop going well…things start to get bad…things remain bad…the people can’t figure out why things are going bad…then the people remember God…the people turn back towards God…God once again blesses the people as they are following God…things go well…time passes…repeat…repeat…repeat. (pause)
Now perhaps I’m just keenly aware of this idea because tonight I’m preaching out of an Old Testament passage…and not just a regular Old Testament passage…but a prophetic passage…and not just any prophetic passage…but one of the passages featured in the category known as the minor prophets…namely the short books found towards the end of the Old Testament from prophets that we just don’t know much about. (Pause) And of course…I’m talking about the passage from the prophet Joel that I shared a moment ago. And here’s the skinny on Joel…we know hardly anything about him…period. We know his name and his father’s name…and that’s pretty much it. Scholars will tell you that Joel was active at some point between 2 and 10 centuries before Christ…so we’ve got a nice 800 year window of history…a history full of that very cycle that I talked about a moment ago…The people follow God, the people forget God, the people turn away from God.
And so as I thought about this passage in preparation for this evening, I found that it was extremely difficult to try and place this passage in any sort of context that might just help connect it into our lives…simply because we know so little about it…but then I kept thinking about the cycle…going round and round and round again…both the people through the history of the Old Testament as well as my own pacing round and round…
And as I pondered on this cycle itself…I got to thinking about what Joel is instructing the people to do…declare a fast…call an assembly…bring together the people…and in the midst of bringing everyone together…we hear the word of the Lord “Return to me with all your heart.” (pause)
In this random moment, at some unknown point in the history of the Jewish people…in the midst of that cycle that repeated time after time…we find ourselves at the point when the people turn away from what ever it is that has captured their attention…whatever it is that has pulled them away from the Lord…and now they are turning back towards God. (pause)
This notion of turning back…or turning away from that which captures our attention…this is where the theme of repentance comes from. A theme that has been present throughout Old Testament history…and one that comes all the way through the New Testament…and right up to today…because to repent means…quite literally…to turn away.
And its funny because the idea of turning away can really be found on both sides of the coin in terms of the cycle that we live out in our lives…because everyone…turns away from God…everyone gets distracted by something…or places something above God…everyone across the board…and when its gets right down to it…that’s sin…that is what hinders us…that is what stands in the way of our relationship with our maker…and none of us are immune to it…and because of this…because all of humanity is caught by the power of sin…we all turn from God…and because we turn away from God…God calls us to turn back…to fix our attention back to the one that has made us… (pause)
But at the same time…as easy as that sounds…in theory…we all know just how impossible it is to pull it off…we can’t do it on our own…and because of this…because of the human need to place ourselves above God…because of our inability to due to the will of God…all of humanity has been cursed by sin…with death. (pause)
And today is a day…one of the few in the church year…when we sit back…and acknowledge it…Ash Wednesday…Good Friday…and funerals when they happen…and when we stop and think about it…that’s really about it….maybe because death is painful…because death is the ultimate separation…and it is…any of us who have lost loved ones knows this…death creates a barrier that we cannot cross…and God knows this too…because death is the result of sin…death is the result of the broken relationship that humanity has experienced with God…death is the result of humanity turning away from God…not because we want to or that we chose to…but because we live an existence that itself has already turned from God. (pause) That’s the power of sin…not some bad thing that we say or do…but an active evil within existence…and active evil which has taken hold of us and offers us no hope of escaping by anything that we can say or do or accomplish. (pause)
Yet there is one that can do something…there is one that can overcome this separation…and that is God…and so as the prophet Joel tells us…we turn to the one who can do something…as we recognize whatever it is that holds our attention and has caused us to turn from God…and we turn away from that…back to God…we turn away from turning away…
This is repentance…this is turning away…and returning our attention…our devotion…our love to the one who can act on our behalf…who has already acted on our behalf…and who is still acting on our behalf…and we look towards the saving grace of God found in Jesus Christ…not the man who did the miracles…not the great teacher or healer…but to God himself who took all that sin and all the death and all the darkness upon himself as he hung on the cross…dying in our place…but then going beyond it so that one glorious day we may join with him in the resurrection…fully forgiven of the sin that entangles…of this sin that captures our attention…of the sin that turns us from God. (pause)
Now here’s the thing…the resurrection of Jesus is an amazing thing…it is a life altering…not to mention a death altering story…one full of hope and joy…And just last Sunday, this was the story that we discussed downstairs in confirmation…and after the lesson was over, and we gathered in groups to talk a little more about it…I was sitting with the adults…and rather than focus on the resurrection itself…our discussion centered on death…and that was hard…I think it was hard for all of us as we sat there…and for some it was harder than others…perhaps due to personal circumstances…and personal history.
And as I thought about that discussion, I wondered just what it was that took us from the glory of the resurrection back to the pain of death…and then I realized that we can’t get to the resurrection without experiencing the death first. Jesus couldn’t be raised from the dead until he was dead…likewise…we can’t join with Jesus in a resurrection like his until we experience our own death…and make no mistake…we will…because the wages of sin are death…and our belief in Christ as our savior does not excuse us from it…but it does open the door to what lies beyond it… (pause)
This is why we acknowledge death…because it is a reality…one that we will all share…and this is why in a few moments we will each hear the words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is death that we are talking about…but because of the saving of love of God expressed through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are able to turn away from it…we are able to turn away when we hear the words that we are forgiven.
And so tonight…immediately after you hear those words that acknowledge your own death…you will also hear the words the body and blood of Jesus Christ given for you for the forgiveness of sins. (pause) We acknowledge our sin…we turn from our sin…and we find the grace of God…not because we earn it…not because we’re entitled to it…but because God chooses it. (pause)
So over the course of the next several weeks, as together we travel through this dark season of Lent…the season that culminates on Good Friday with the death of Jesus Christ…remember this…we have to go through death to get to the resurrection…we have to go through the pain and the fear and the darkness…not as punishment…not as penance…but simply because it exists…but praise God that through Christ…through his death…there is something more and he has promised…that we…will…receive it. Because through the death of Jesus, God has made it possible each and every day for us to turn away from turning away…and so Even Now, declares the Lord…return to me with all your heart. Amen

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers