Too Good To Be True 4-19-15

This week’s sermon is based on Luke 24:36b-48. This is Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples post-resurrection. I explore what’s going on when he eats with the disciples.

https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/too-good-to-be-true-4-19-15

You can also read 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 found yourself in the midst of a situation that was beyond your ability to believe it? One of those moments that is monumentous and wonderful that you can’t quite wrap your head around the notion that this is actually happening…simply because it is so unexpected? (pause)
I found myself thinking about moments like this…and as I thought back through my life…I can remember some pretty big moments…exciting, wonderful, emotional moments…like the day that I asked Emily to marry me…and our wedding day…the first time I held each of my kids…more recently there was the day I finally graduated from Luther Seminary after A LOT of years of work…and then finally the day that my old mentor drapped a red stole around my shoulders at my ordination.
These were all amazing moments…but they were moments that I knew were coming…moments that I worked towards…moments that I planned out…and so as wonderful as they were…these are not the moments that I’m talking about…those moments that happen out of the blue and take us completely off guard.
Now I’ve had some unexpected situations as well…random acts of kindness thrown my direction…or opening letters informing me of scholarships…and a few brushes with celebrities here and there…but in all honesty, I’ve never really had an experience of something so amazingly unexpected that I found myself saying “I can’t believe this is really happening right now.” And that was confirmed for me when a random posting on Facebook this week led me to a video of a young women who had been deaf since early childhood received a cocular implant and heard sounds again for the first time in over 25 years…hearing her husband’s voice for the first time…and she is overcome with emotion at this amazing gift…and you can hear her say through her tears of joy “I can’t believe this is real.” (pause)
And that right there…seems to be the situation that the disciples find themselves in within today’s gospel story. (pause) Now, admittedly, this story may sound kind of familiar…if you were here last week we actually heard John’s account of this same story…when Jesus appears in the upper room to the disciples for the first time post resurrection.
And perhaps that seems a little strange that we would hear the exact same story two weeks in a row…particularly when they are so similar…and yet here in these early weeks of the season of Easter…it likely serves as a good reminder for us…because when we think about it for a moment…and we get honest with ourselves…I think the joyous note of Easter morning tends to pass by pretty quickly…and all too often the notion that the tomb IS empty…and that Christ IS risen, fades into the back of our minds as we go back about our normal day to day life. And so, these repeated reminders that Jesus was really raised from the dead…and he really did appear to different people are important for us to continue experiencing.
And of the 4 Gospels, none of them does as thorough of a job of recounting these experiences than Luke…but it is, admittedly…a long tail. Easter morning…the women go to the tomb…and find it empty…and an angel tells them that Jesus is risen, but no one sees him…and the women go off to tell the disciples…who discount it as an “idle tail.” …idle tail…if you’re wondering…that’s the nice way of letting us know that the disciples though the women were full of crap.
But then we hear of two random disciples walking down the road, returning home, when they encounter the risen Jesus…but don’t realize it…at least not until he opens up the scriptures to them, and then when he breaks bread with them, their eyes are opened and they realize that it is truly Jesus…and they run back to Jerusalem to find the disciples and share that they have seen the Lord…and in the midst of this very conversation…confusing though it must have been…Jesus himself is standing in the midst of them.
And though they first think “IT’S A GHOST!” Jesus assures them that this, is not…the case. (pause) Look at my hands and feet…see the holes there…its me…and I’m really hear…touch me and see that I am flesh and bone. (pause)
And then we hear these tell-tale words…while in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering. (pause) Luke doesn’t say it hear, but I’m guessing that at least one of the disciple said those same words “I can’t believe this is real.” (pause)
Could you? (pause) Think about it for a moment…this man that they loved…this man that they followed…that they put all of their stock into, traipsing along after him for three years…watching the miracles…listening to the teaching…but more than anything…simply loving the man…and he died. There can be no doubt of that…Jesus…was…dead. Laid in a tomb where he remained for several days. And if logic tells us anything, both today as well as 2000 odd years ago…when someone’s dead…that’s it…there’s no coming back from that…all hope of resurrection aside…Jesus was dead…but now, it seems like that’s no longer the case…of course the disciples were confused…but happy too…because he was alive again…but just think about how mind-blowing this had to be in that instant when Jesus is suddenly standing among them…talking to them.
But then, God’s never one to do things that we expect is he? (pause) God seems to be one who likes to open a new can of worms every once in awhile…and in the midst of this incredible encounter…Jesus takes action…and opens up some other stuff too. There’s a greek word that I really like…so much in fact that Emily once got a sign made with this word for me…and the word is dianoigo…which means to open completely…and in the 24th chapter of Luke, we hear it a few different times…When those two disciples eyes are finally opened to recognize Jesus…its dianoigo…when Jesus is opening the scriptures to them…to see how they point towards him…its dianoigo…and now when Jesus explains those same scriptures to his disciples…its dianoigo as he opens their minds to understand how those Old Testament scriptures point towards the amazing work that God has been doing and is continuing to do within the world…but the awesome thing about this…is that it cannot begin to make sense to us until we can view it through the lens of the resurrection of Jesus.
It’s one of those things that can only happen in hindsight because prior to the resurrection of Jesus, we had no basis to place the love of God. But when we think about it now, doesn’t it make sense…that yah…of course we have a God that loves humanity so much that he chooses to do something about the great separation…that He would chose to do something about death…that he would chose to overcome it. (pause)
That’s all pretty amazing to stop and think about…but as we’re thinking about it, perhaps we’re also asking the question of just what does that mean for us today…and I think we get a glimpse of that…because in the midst of this encounter between Jesus and the disciples here in Luke’s gospel…Jesus does something a little odd…he asks for something to eat…and then he eats it right there with them. (pause)
I dunno…maybe its because I’m Lutheran…and we sure like food don’t we…we love our potlucks…but isn’t it true that some pretty amazing things always happen over food? And keep in mind this is Jesus…and he’s lived that fact…this is the man constantly criticized for eating with the wrong people…for sitting down and breaking bread with sinners…and tax collectors…and prostitutes…heck even the 12 disciples were considered to be the “wrong people.” (pause) Yet Jesus…God in the flesh, joyfully sat with them over a meal.
And Jesus promises us that when we break bread and pour wine together…he is there too…This IS my body…this IS my blood…this IS me…and so in a few minutes when we gather before the table and share in holy communion we remember that Jesus is here with us too…part of this meal…and perhaps that gives us just a little bit of pause…because if Jesus was criticized for sharing a meal with the wrong people…then what’s that say about us? (pause)
Well, maybe it says the truth…the truth about who we are…unworthy…unable by anything we say or do to earn the favor of God, yet recipients of it anyway…because God himself says that we are worthy and that when we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins through the new covenant of his blood poured out for all people.
And I once heard it said that we know that it is truly communion…it is truly the Lord’s Supper when the wrong people are gathered around the table…because we are all the wrong people…yet God has claimed us anyway…simply to show us…that he is about love and acceptance…and that through the death of Jesus Christ on that cross he is finished with all that judgment and condemnation…and that in the resurrection of Jesus we are shown the promise that death HAS been overcome.
And this is the take away right here…the resurrection was not simply a feel good story…it was not a single event that happened 2000 years ago…and it not simply a promise to give us hope for the future…while these are all truthful statements, the resurrection is so much more than that…because we live in a reality now…today…where the resurrection from the dead is not just a possibility…it is a reality…and this is not simply hope for an unknown future…but it is a promise that we cling to today…and we not only cling to it…but we share it…because just as Jesus told the disciples, he tells us as well….you are witnesses of these things…and so we share that which we have experienced…that God has claimed us as his own…and that in the bread and the wine we experience the risen Lord…and even though it all seems too good to be true…we cling to it, because we believe that it IS true. Amen.

Peace To You 4-12-15

In this sermon, I tackle John 20:19-31. This is the story of Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples and includes the familiar passage of Doubting Thomas. In the sermon I explore the interesting first words that Jesus utters to his disciples and what they might mean for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/peace-to-you-4-12-15

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.
As many of you have likely figured out by now, I am a nature guy…and not only plants, but animals as well…and perhaps this is one reason why I enjoy springtime so much, because all of nature seems to be waking up and getting out in the sunshine.
That was never so apparent to me in the past week than on Friday…following several cold, wet, rainy…and even…snowy…days through this week…the sunshine and warmer weather on Friday was certainly welcome…and at one point through the day I was standing at the window looking outside…and I saw several squirrels bouncing and running all around…playing as squirrels will do. Whatever it was that they were up to…it really looked like they were enjoying themselves.
And I’m not the only one who noticed either…because sitting in the windowsill, right next to me…was my cat…intensely watching the squirrels as well…and if I was to venture a guess…I think she wanted to be outside…joining in the fun. (pause)
Now here’s the thing about my cat…I’m pretty sure that she thinks that she too…is a squirrel. Perhaps its because she is all black…and she will often times see the all-black variety of squirrels that we have here in Underwood…but regardless…whenever she sees squirrels outside…she sits in the window…and she chatters at them…it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard…and I wish I could understand just what it is she’s trying to say to them…but unfortunately, that’s just not a reality.
But if there is one things that’s apparent…its this…despite the obvious differences…cat…squirrels…inside…outside…she’s trying her best to communicate across those boundaries…and even though I can’t understand what she’s chattering at those squirrels, she’s clearly saying something….and she clearly desires interaction…relationship even…with those squirrels.
Likewise…in our story today…we see evidence of a lot of boundaries…a lot of differences. As per usual for the Sunday after Easter…the lectionary gives us the story of Jesus’ first appearances to his disciples post resurrection…which of course includes the commonly known story of Doubting Thomas. (pause)
Now from our perspective, Easter’s a week past…and we’ve been living with the reality of the resurrected Lord for several days now…long enough to get used to the notion of the empty grave and the resurrected Lord…but for the disciples, at least at the beginning of the story today…its only been a day…not even a full day in fact…as the story begins the very evening after Jesus has been raised from the dead…now here in John’s gospel we do hear that Jesus has appeared and spoken with Mary Magdalene…but that’s it…and we pick things up in a locked room…as the disciples…most of them anyway…have hidden themselves away out of fear that they might just share Jesus’ fate…Peter’s already been recognized…and since the Jewish leaders are on the warpath…perhaps they’ll be next. (pause)
And this is where something extraordinary happens…despite the locked doors…despite being hidden away…Jesus…finds them…and with no warning whatsoever…Jesus…the risen, resurrected Jesus…is standing among them…and I can only imagine just how startling that must have been for them…to have Jesus, the man who had been dead…suddenly standing there in their midst…and not only that…but talking to them. (pause)
Now I’ve often times found myself wondering just what Jesus looked like, generally speaking, but also in this specific post-resurrected instance. We don’t get a whole lot of information, but we know that his hands and feet still bear the marks of the nails…and he still has the hole in his side caused by the spear piercing his body…but beyond that, we don’t really know what else might be going on.
Perhaps he has something of a heavenly appearance…maybe it in some way looks like the transfiguration when his divine presences was shining through the human side…again we don’t know…but scripture does tell us in different places that there was a change…there was something different about him…and through the resurrection, Jesus took on the form that our bodies will have when we join in the resurrection…Still apparently human…yet different at the same time.
And so, with this difference…whatever it might be, Jesus is still here, among his friends…among those that he loves…and his first words are quite interesting…Peace be with you…or if we take the Greek quite literally…Peace to you…and there’s a couple of significant things about this…first off, his words are not quite what history would make us expect…for in almost every instance throughout scripture, when an individual encounters some sort of heavenly being…typically an angel…the experience seems to be terrifying for them…and across the board the being’s first words are always reassurance…Fear not…or Do not fear…or Do not be afraid…and so it seems that in those instances, the angel is addressing the immediate emotional state of the individual…and here’s the thing…we’ve just heard that the disciples gathered in that room are terrified…they’re scared…and that’s why they’ve got the doors locked…but Jesus doesn’t tell them “Don’t be afraid.” He tells them “Peace to you.” And not just once…but he repeats himself…and as we’ve discussed before, when something repeats in the scripture, its usually pretty important to take note.
“Peace to you.” He says it twice here to the disciples on Easter evening…and then a week or so later when he appears again…this time with Thomas present…he says the very same thing within the very same situation…Peace to you.
And if the example of angels teaches us that individuals receive reassurance based on their current emotional situation…then just what is Jesus trying to tell us with this statement…repeated over and over again…Peace to you. (pause)
Are the disciples concerned that he is angry or disappointed in them? Perhaps…after all, just a few days prior they’d all abandoned him…even denied him publically…not exactly a great final impression on their master…not to mention Thomas’ apparent lack of faith here within the story…and so is Jesus telling them to be at peace because he’s not upset with them? Well maybe…but I think there might be a little something more than that going on.
Because there’s another word that seems to come up over and over again…not only in this reading today…but all throughout John’s gospel. Believing…you might recall hearing it before, but in John’s gospel sin is failing to believe that Jesus is God…that’s it…and we even hear it in today’s passage that all of these things have been written down so that we might believe…that like Thomas we might go from being anti-believing to believing…and by believing that truly Jesus is Lord…that God has put on flesh and dwelled among us…that it is truly possible to be in relationship with God…that’s what this is all about…and in the end…that was the mission of Jesus in the first place…to make this relationship between God and humanity a possibility again…because that perfect relationship had been broken by the power of sin in this world.
And because of that broken relationship…because of the presence of sin in the world…we needed a renewed sense of peace between us…between God and Humanity…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what Jesus is talking…maybe that’s what Jesus was really accomplishing as he hung on that cross and uttered his final words It is finished…and with this work completed…that peace was now possible…and when Jesus appears in that room in the midst of the disciples…flawed men that they were…and he says “peace to you”…well maybe what he’s really saying is that there is now peace between God and humanity…peace and relationship where there had been division. (pause)
But you know what…there’s still more to all of this…because while the resurrected Jesus did stay here on Earth for a time, we also know that eventually he ascended into heaven…and so perhaps it seems like this newly established peace…this newly established relationship is again broken because he’s not here anymore…but Jesus did something about that as well…and we see that in today’s story as well.
For Jesus reminds us that just as the Father sent him into the world…he is now sending us into the world…and with that he breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples…the very spirit of God…is within us…and that same spirit binds us all together…thoughout the ages and throughout the world, this same Spirit of God has been present, uniting us all into the one body of Christ here on earth…that’s the church…the physical embodiment of Christ and his love for all of humanity here on Earth in his absence, empowered and untied by the Holy Spirit. (Pause)
And here’s the really awesome part of all this…when we stop and think about how we receive the Holy Spirit…and its in the very same way that Jesus did…for in the waters of his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven and rested upon Jesus…and likewise, we have been given the promise that in the waters of our baptism, we receive this same spirit.
And today, in just a few moments, three brothers are going to come up to this font…and one by one Oliver and Eivin and Soren Letnerwill be washed in the water…and they will receive the same promise…and as they are marked with the cross of Christ they will be claimed by God as his beloved children, and empowered with the same Holy Spirit…and they will join in a new relationship…not only joining together in relationship with all of us as fellow members of Christ’s body here on Earth…but joining together in relationship with God as his beloved children…made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is the promise that is given to us in the waters of our baptism…that relationship is made possible…and that it is offered to us…it is given to us…and so today hear the words of Jesus Christ…the risen Lord…when he tells you…when he promises you…when he announces…Peace to you. Amen.

Still Waiting On The Ending-Easter Sunday 4-5-15

In this sermon for Easter Sunday I explore Mark 16:1-8. This is Mark’s account of the resurrection, but it’s abrupt ending and no real resolution seemingly leaves us hanging.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/still-waiting-on-the-ending-4-5-15-easter-sunday

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.
Of the many different things that I spend my free time on, I think it is safe to say that there are two that probably dominate the majority of my attention. Reading fiction…and watching movies. I pursue both of these with equal excitement…because I just love being immersed in a good story…and sometimes, I’m even lucky enough to encounter both mediums of story-telling at the same time. (pause)
I’m talking, of course, of movie adaptations of popular books…and the longer I’ve paid attention, the more I realize that MANY movies are in fact adaptations of some sort. Now some movie adaptations are done really badly…and fans of the original story will pick it to pieces…finding fault with every single aspect that fails to meet their expectations…but then there are other times when the film makers do a REALLY good job, resulting in a movie that really pulls it off…and I love it when I encounter a movie like this.
Honestly, I think its great…to be able to see the characters in the flesh…living out the story that had only existed in print…and in the images within my mind that the printed words help create. Honestly, in my humble opinion…for the most part…a movie adaptation of a good book is almost a positive experience.
But that being said, I’ve noticed a trend in recent years…particularly when movie makers set out to adapt a series of books to the big screen…and this trend is taking the final book of the series…and splitting it into multiple movies…and there are MANY examples I can choose from…The Hungers Games is in the midst of it right now as we wait for Mockingjay Part 2 to hit theaters this November…and a few years back it was the Harry Potter series as we watched Deathly Hallows Part 1 in November of 2010 and then had to wait until the following July to wrap up the story in Part 2.
Now, the theory presented by the film studios…is that the complete story is so big and so important that they really need to divide it into multiple films to be able to convey it properly…and they claim that part 1 is simply the beginning of the end…but we know the truth don’t we? They just want to turn one $300 million dollar payday into 2 $300 million dollar paydays right? (pause)
But you know what…as I’ve thought about some of these situations, particularly as I sat and watched Part 1 in both the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, I wasn’t that upset…because I had read the books…I knew the stories…and sure I was excited about the visual aspect of seeing it up there…but I didn’t mind the anticipation of it all.
But I do remember a time when filmmakers went with the 2 part aspect of finishing up the story when I didn’t know how it was going to end…and it happened all the way back in 2003 with the release of The Matrix reloaded…which cut to the credits right after a shocking reveal of the hero unconscious right alongside of the villain…and then making us wait 6 months to find out how it would all end.
It was SO FRUSTRATING…and they left me sitting on the edge of my seat…with no idea what was going to happen next. Good story telling? Yah maybe…a good marketing technique…absolutely…but at the same time, absolutely maddening in terms of absolution…because there just wasn’t any. (pause)
And I’ll be honest with you…when I pick up the Bible…and I turn to the resurrection stories…I want absolution…because here on Easter Sunday we are coming out of the long dark season of Lent…and this year, at least here in our little community…one that is perhaps even darker than usual with some tough events that have happened recently…and so we look to the gospel…and we’ve come to expect something from it…we’ve come to expect the glorious resurrection…and the appearance of Jesus, resurrected…especially after the darkness of Friday and his torture…and his death…and all day Saturday as we sit in the knowledge that Jesus is dead in the tomb…here on Easter Sunday we want to cue the trumpets…turn on the lights…and experience the joy of seeing the Savior of the World alive once more…
But today…the lectionary plays a bit of a joke on us…and we hear Mark’s account of the resurrection…and Mark, not only fails to give us much in the way of absolution…but Mark fails to give us an ending period…listen again to the way that Mark ends his gospel, here in chapter 16 verse 8…So the women went out and fled from the tomb…for terror and amazement had seized them…and they said NOTHING to ANYONE…for they…were…afraid… (long pause)
This bizzare and uttery abrupt ending of Mark has been a topic of debate for almost as long as the gospel itself has been in existence…Some people believe that the final part of the scroll simply got torn off…and that there was in fact more to the story…so much in fact that within a couple hundred years of the death and resurrection…different “authorities” actually wrote additional endings to Mark…I’m serious…you can find them in your Bible…footnoted as additions of course…But isn’t that crazy…to think that the author of the Gospel simply ends the story like this…seemingly right in the middle of a thought…and certainly without any sort of resolution to the story what so ever.
I mean, COME ON!!! Jesus was dead…there can be no arguing that…and these three women that come to tomb on Sunday morning were there to see it…we hear them named specifically in chapter 15…watching the death of Jesus and watching as his body is placed in the tomb…and now following the Sabbath they head to the tomb…and find the stone pushed away…and there’s no body to be found…for Jesus isn’t here anymore.
No longer is Jesus among the dead…and the women hear from the angel, we also hear the same words….YOU are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified…he has been raised…he IS NOT…here. (pause) And as he told you…he has gone on ahead of you…and you will see him again. (pause)
But we don’t…and neither do the women…and the crazy thing is…that these witnesses to the resurrection…or in the very least…these witness to the empty tomb…run away…and don’t tell anyone. (pause)
And so now we come around to this question once again…what do we do with this? What are we to think about this empty tomb…and this proclamation that Jesus has been raised from the dead…and that he has gone on ahead of us…out into the world?
What do we do with this? How are we…people who have heard this story over and over again all of our lives…joining with 2000 years worth of individuals who have also heard the story and likewise have come to expect to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning…how do we explain this ending…this lack of resolution? (pause)
I’ll be honest with you this morning…if you’re sitting there asking yourself that question right now…and perhaps you’re looking back up at me as I stand here before you today, thinking that I’m going to explain it for you…well, then I’m going to disappoint you this morning. Because these are valid questions…but I believe that they are questions that I CANNOT answer for you…but I will offer you a touch of insight…insight that actually comes from Mark’s gospel…just the opposite end of it. (pause)
Mark Chapter 1 verse 1 reads “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” And according to Mark…the good news of Jesus doesn’t begin with his birth…but it begins right smack dab in the middle of the story, with his baptism and his ministry…and then Mark tells us about his ministry…filled with countless interactions with different individuals who encounter the Lord and are changed…but often times lack the understanding of just how it has happened…in fact Jesus own disciples…the men closest to him fail to understand just what’s going on…and in the end, he is betrayed…and he is tortured…and he is killed…and now today we hear…we don’t see…but we hear that he has been raised and he has disappeared out into the world where we will encounter him again… (pause)
And just as the women were amazed and terrified and I’m guessing pretty confused about this empty tomb…I think we share in this same confusion…Jesus was dead…but he’s not in that tomb anymore…and apparently, he’s not even hanging around it.
Apparently Jesus doesn’t have time to see if we understand it or not…because he’s got work to do out there in the world…and that…is where we go to start to find the answers to these questions that we have…to find the resolution of just what this empty tomb and abrupt halting to the story in Mark means.
We don’t find it in here…I’m sorry we just don’t…we find it out there…in the midst of our lives because THAT is where we encounter the risen Lord…and that means something different for each and every one of us because each and every one of us has a different experience. (pause)
So today, we sit here today…and we do celebrate the proclamation that we have come to believe that Jesus has been raised and he is no longer among the dead…and we rejoice in the promise that he has made that we will one day join with him in a resurrection like his…but in the midst of this, we also realize that the story is NOT over…that the work of God is still happening out there in the world…that we CANNOT simply tidy all of this up in a simple 15 minute sermon that answers every question and covers every contingency.
Rather, we have to go out there…and keep on living our lives…seeing where and when and how the risen Jesus Christ find us in the midst of our lives. (pause)
And I know that there is a lot of ambiguity in what I’ve said…and it hasn’t really resolved anything…but you know what…I think that’s what Mark intended when he wrote those final words…and left us all hanging with the question of “What comes next?”
And so I’ll ask that question…as you leave here today…having heard the proclamation that Jesus Christ is risen…well then…What comes next?
And then I’m gonna be a punk…and I’m not even attempt to answer it for you…because that’s between you and God. I’ll let the two of you hash that out…but I will tell you this…sometimes its just maddening to not know the resolution…and together with God, out there, we just have to live with it…because sometimes…Sometimes…

Don’t Point the Finger 4-2-15 Maundy Thursday

This evening’s Maundy Thursday sermon came from John 13:1-12, 20-35. This is John’s account of the Last Supper including the footwashing and I also included the exchange between Jesus and Judas. Though John’s account is typically not associated with the sacraments, I explore some sacramental themes.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-point-the-finger-4-2-15-maundy-thursday

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 am guessing that by now, most of you have figured out that I am NOT…a sports guy. I’m just not, and I’m okay with that. If its not a little white ball with dimples then I just do not pay attention…but I am constantly surrounded by people who are…and it always strikes me as funny when someone attempts a conversation with me in and around sports related situations.
Admittedly I struggle to understand it…its not that I don’t care…its just that I don’t understand it…but I always try my best to engage…and to cover my complete lack of knowledge of just what they are talking about…My son is one of them…and he covers random information on pretty much every sport out there…baseball…football…and right now the big one is of course, college basketball. I’m impressed by his knowledge…I am, I just don’t get it…and another one that will often engage with me is Dick Miller…bringing up the current news of Iowa State athletics…and though I never really pay attention to the games…I can always rest assured that Dick will keep me abreast of what’s going on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the interaction, and I certainly appreciate the individual’s passion for whatever sport they are talking about…but its just not something I share…and because of that, I often times fail to wrap my head around whatever big news is going on in the sports world…and that was never so evident to me…especially in this part of the country…on a specific date last fall…November 30th, 2014…the date that news went public that the University of Nebraska…had fired…Bo Pelini…the head coach of the Huskers football team.
Apparently, no one else was shocked by this news…but it caught me off guard…because I couldn’t understand why…Pelini had coached the Huskers from 2008-2014…and during that time they had a record of 67 wins and 27 loses…and to me at least…that seems pretty positive…at least 9 wins every year…qualifying for bowl games…each and every year…so what was the problem? (pause)
Admittedly, I tend to ask this question whenever news breaks of some head coach of a college team or a pro team gets the boot…because I just do not understand why one person gets the blame when things don’t go quite right. Granted, I know that there are aspects to being the head coach that are far reaching…but it’s a team…its not one person…and so I ask the question…time after time…of why does this one person get such a bad wrap? (pause)
And that question right there…that is where Bo Pelini and fired head coaches connects into tonight’s gospel lesson. (pause) Here we are…Maundy Thursday…on the verge of the Passion…standing on the precipice of Jesus betrayal and arrest and torture and death…and in our story for tonight, we hear a snippet of the final meal that Jesus would share with those 12 men that he loved so much…those 12 men who were his disciples…those 12 men…who were his mission here on Earth. (pause)
And those 12 men included one that we like to single out don’t we? You know who I’m talking about…Judas Iscariot…Judas the betrayer…the one that would hand Jesus over to the authorities…none of the Gospels make any great secret about this…and understandably so, because they were all written after the fact…and likewise we share the benefit of hindsight…of knowing the full story…and so whenever we hear about Judas, perhaps we grimace just a little bit…and we judge him…we point the finger at him. (pause)
Now just a few days ago…last Sunday morning…our gospel was the Triumphal Entry as Jesus comes riding into the Jerusalem to the cheers of the city…and we heard in Mark’s account that there was zero opposition…and we explored the difficult nature of this reality…that there was no one that we could point out…no one that we could call out…no one that could take the moniker of Bad Guy…therefore taking the pressure off of every other person who would also go on to turn their backs on Jesus…but now…we hear differently don’t we. (pause)
Now we have someone to single out…someone to point the finger at…and even the text makes no qualms about it…because we hear immediately at the beginning of the story…the beginning of John’s account of the Last Supper that the devil had ALREADY…put it in the heart of Judas to betray Jesus…and not only do we know it…but Jesus knew it too…because he knew now that his hour had finally come…and that he was about to depart from the world…and despite that reality…Jesus willingly walked into this time with his disciples…this final time to teach them…to share time with them…to love them…even knowing full well…that Judas was among them…knowing that evil lurked among them. (pause)
And now…the Last Supper…it’s a great story isn’t it? One that’s familiar…though as per usual John’s account gives us some differences when compared to the other three…The overall length of the Last Supper in John is remarkably longer, as Jesus addresses the disciples over the course of chapters 13-17…commonly known as the farewell discourse…and in addition, we also hear the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples…taking the role of the servant and humbling himself to show them the lengths that God is willing to go in order to be in relationship with those that he loves. (pause)
But regardless of the various stories…I think for most of us…when we think about the Last Supper…our minds tend to shift over to thoughts that are a little more sacramental in nature…as well they should…because in the context of the Last Supper we hear familiar words, not here in John but in the other accounts…that in the night in which he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples. (pause)
You know these words…we hear them in worship on a regular basis…and we will hear them again later on this evening as we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion…the time when God uses simple things like bread and wine along with his promises to come to us and assure us that Jesus will endure his body being broken and his blood poured out for you…for the forgiveness of sins. (pause)
That’s the direction that our minds often go when we think of the Last Supper…and it is understandable that many congregations will highlight Communion within the context of Maundy Thursday…tonight is a night when many young people will experience their first communion around the world…sharing along with the disciples…their first experience with the body and blood of Jesus. (pause)
And perhaps if we consider John’s account, including the washing of the disciples feet, then our minds will slip over to thinking about baptism as well…and rightly so…for that is a time when we believe that God washes us clean from the power of sin and death…just as Jesus washes the dirt away from those that he loved. (pause)
But now here’s the thing…within the story that we shared tonight…taken from John’s account…we have to try pretty hard to find much evidence of the sacraments…but…they…are…there…if we take the time to look for them. (pause)
Within the familiar passage of the footwashing, we hear that Jesus approaches Peter as he makes his way around the table…and after initial resistance, Peter asks that Jesus wash his hands and head…in short he is saying “Jesus…please wash all of me” which would be very similar to the request to be baptized, which in those days was full emersion…yet Jesus tells him…Peter, you are already clean…if I say it is so, then it is so…and just as we are washed in the waters of our own baptisms…we hear the promise from God that we are cleansed from our sinful selves. (pause)
But what about communion…where do we find that? Well, when Jesus begins telling his disciples that his heart is troubled…because there is one among you that will betray me…they ask him who it will be…and he tells them that the one that I give this bread is the one…and he takes a piece of bread…broken from a loaf…and he dips it…and you can pretty much bet that he dipped it in wine…because that’s what they drank in his day…and when he had done this…he handed it to Judas. (pause)
The only hint we have of Communion in John’s account of the Last Supper is Judas…the one who is about to betray Jesus…the one who the devil has already singled out…the one who personifies the presence of evil here during this holy time…Judas is the one to receive the bread and wine…and Judas had his feet washed by Jesus as well. (pause)
And isn’t that telling? Tonight as we look forward to the passion…the anguish in the garden and his arrest that happen yet tonight…the trial and the torture and his death on the cross which happens tomorrow…we are on the verge, yet Jesus shows his love for us tonight by offering the means of God’s grace to the very one who would inevitably betray him. (pause)
And now what does that tell us about God’s grace? (pause) If he is willing to offer it to the one who he flat out knows will reject it and betray him…then we see that when we are offered the grace of God…the promise that we are washed clean from the power of sin and that through his body and blood we receive the forgiveness of sins…we see that surely this promise is true…because the grace of God is that big…he’ll offer it to the one who personifies evil…and likewise he offers it to us…even though we know within our hearts that the darkness that consumed Judas also resides right here. (pause)
On Sunday we had no one to blame…no one to point the finger at…because no one opposed Jesus…but by tomorrow…everyone has turned their back on him…including us…and so tonight…rather than point the finger at the easy target…we realize that we need the grace of God just as much as he does…and praise be to God that He is willing to give it to us…simply because he loves us too much not to. Amen.

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.

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