One Plus One Equals One 6-2-19

In this sermon, based on John 17:20-26, I explore Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers, just prior to his betrayal.  This unity is not based on everyone being identical, but rather on our shared humanity.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/one-plus-one-equals-one-6-2-19

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 like Math…I just do…because it always works. I’ve heard it said that Math is the universal language…because when it gets right down to it…1 plus 1 equals 2….or Uno y Uno es Does…I could continue in other languages but unfortunately those are the only two I know.  But it always works…if you have something…and you bring in one more thing…then you have two things. Period.

I love math…but…not everyone does…and in my observation, for anyone who isn’t a fan of math, story problems are the bane of their homework existence…I’ve seen it many times as I’ve helped my kids with math homework…and I can remember many of my classmates lamenting them during my school days.

Now personally I’ve never really had a problem with them…because for whatever reason, my brain connects well with the very linear method of thinking required to solve story problems…in order to solve the question, I need to find this, and in order to find that, I need to solve this, and in order to solve that, I need to do this particular process with these available numbers…one thing leads to the next thing, which leads to the next thing.

Now because my mind works pretty well to move through that linear pattern of problem solving, I was geared well to handle geometry during my sophomore year of high school…and in particular, writing geometric proofs…something that the vast majority of my classmates hated…and yet I could sit there and do them all day.

Because this is true, we know that this is also true…and because that is true, we can deduce that this is also true…and if that is true, then we know that this is also true…and so on and so forth…Admittedly, it probably makes me pretty nerdy…but its safe to say that I actually enjoyed the process of moving forward from what was given to end up at the desired result…from start to finish…always pushing forward despite any tricky roadblocks that might get in the way of where we were trying to get to. (pause)

Now today’s gospel lesson offers us something of a similar type of situation. We find ourselves today at the final Sunday of the Easter season…Ascension Day was last Thursday…and so, within our calendar we have passed the point where Jesus returned to Heaven…coming up next Sunday, one week from today, we hit the day of Pentecost when Jesus sends the Holy Spirit upon his followers, just as he promised…and with that, we will begin to see and remember the explosive growth of the early church which has led all the way up, across the last 2000 years to today…and which will continue on until the last days…when Jesus will return ushering in a new era…a new reality with a new heaven and a new earth where God dwells among us.

That’s the direction that this is all going…that’s the end game that God has in mind…and in fact, it seems to me that this has been the plan all along…when God sparked off creation, and somehow, someway made the world and everything in it, not to mention the great cosmos that exists out there…and everything in that too…and ever since that initial moment, whenever it was, when God spoke existence into creation…its all been moving forward…and despite your personal thoughts on creation…despite what you might think about the debates between science and religion…it seems to me, that creation…or reality…or whatever you want to call it, continues to move forward…with something of an energetic spark behind it…I happen to think that energetic spark is God…but that’s just me…

But regardless, as time marches on, this reality is moving forward towards something…and the scriptures give us glimpses into the various moments when God has acted directly here within our reality to continue this forward momentum…and now coming all the way back around to the gospel for today…we see Jesus engage in the same sort of forward movement within the context of a prayer.

The entirety of chapter 17 of John’s gospel is a prayer…Jesus has wrapped up his final time of teaching…and just before they head out to the garden to kick off this whole death and resurrection thing…Jesus takes the time to pray.

Now this is a unique situation…because the majority of the time in the gospels we don’t get to hear just what Jesus is praying for. There are brief moments, but they’re pretty rare…but here we have the entirety…and the amazing thing, as we see in the verses just before this one, and then throughout these verses as well…is the fact that Jesus is praying directly for his followers…and remember that they are sitting there at the table with him…think about that.

What does it feel like when someone takes the time to pray for you…and you are there, privy to what’s on their heart for you…it’s a pretty amazing thing…and in this situation…its Jesus…God in human form…God the son…The word of God made flesh…praying for his followers…and newsflash…YOU are a part of that…You…are included as a recipient of Jesus’ prayer…YOU are on his mind.

Father I ask not only on behalf of these who are sitting here, but also on behalf of those who will believe because of their words. (pause). Without a doubt…we are included in that number…because 2000 years after Jesus lived died and rose again…the life altering gospel has reached our ears, and that has brought us here today.

So let that sink in for just a moment. At the Last Supper…just before Jesus endured the most horrific fate that we can imagine…he prayed…for…you. (pause)

Now the basic theme of this prayer…unity. Father, you and I are one.  So let them be one…and all those who will believe later…yah let them be one too…and why? Well so the world will believe that you sent me…and if they believe it, then we dwell with them…and they with us…and we’re all one…and if we’re unified, then they’ll see my glory, and my glory is your glory, and if they see it, then we’ll glorify them too…so let them be one…because we are one, and we want to be one with them…because we love them. (pause)

But the really interesting thing about all of this, is that Jesus’ prayer is almost structured like one of those geometry proofs that I loved so much in high school…and its because of the presence of a single word that is repeated over and over again.  In the Greek, it’s a word called Hina…and its best translated “in order that.” And in these 7 verses, it happens 9 times.

Just like those proofs…since this is true, then we know this is true…and it happens here too. Father I pray for them, IN ORDER THAT they be one…that they be unified, IN ORDER THAT we may be with them and they with us, IN ORDER THAT the world may come to know that you sent me. And they will believe that you sent me IN ORDER THAT your glory may be in them, and if your glory is in them, then your name is glorified in them IN ORDER THAT your love is in them, IN ORDER THAT the world may know your love. (pause)

Its all moving forward…its all moving towards something…and in the end, it seems like God is working in the world, which has been redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the end result of this work, which we have not yet reached…is unity…that we may be unified as the one body of Christ, and that the one body of Christ may be unified with God…and as Jesus says…so that where we are, they may be also…that’s where this is all going…and Jesus desires it…not only for those guys sitting at the table that night, but for you and me…and everyone that has come before us and everyone that will come after…that in the end, we may all be unified…that we may all be one. (pause)
Now, how does all this work? Well, I have no idea…but I do know that it involves the power of the Holy Spirit…which Jesus is about to send our direction at Pentecost…the Spirit of God which flows through the world…empowering the church…and empowering us as individuals to join with God in this work of unification.

And what I do know is this…it is only possible because of the hand of God at work…because there are way too many different forces at work here in the world that are trying to push back against God’s invitation forward towards unity…the powers of sin and death…the powers of darkness and destruction…powers that we see first-hand on a regular basis…because pretty much every time we open up the obituaries…there’s another one in there…and death is only one of the forces that work against the unity that God desires for us and with us.

All we need to do is turn on the news and we witness more…anytime the world…which unfortunately includes us as well…tries to throw up some sort of barrier…whatever that barrier is…division based on race, or gender, or economic status, or age, or orientation…and even here within the realm of the church…divisions and judgements based on denomination or Biblical interpretation or tradition.

We create barriers to unity all the time…but praise be to God that no matter what we throw at it…the world…this realty…this creation that we live in…God is moving it forward whether we like it or not…whether we come on board or not…whether we take God’s invitation to join in this work of reconciliation or not…its happening. (pause)

You know interestingly enough, I sat down with several of our members throughout this week, talking about this very subject…and right after one of those conversations, I had the radio playing in the background…and one of those really catchy songs came on…you know the type…the ones that even if you don’t like them, you hear it and it catches your attention.

And this song that came on the radio was Taylor Swift… (sing it) We…are never ever ever…getting back together. (pause) And the more I thought about that blasted song the more it seemed fitting.  Because all that dark stuff within our reality…whatever it is…its trying tooth and nail to keep us apart…to keep us separated…and the world and all the divisions that we create might tell us “We’re never getting back together…its too far gone…never gonna happen.” But God says…Oh yah…you just wait and see.

We may not get it now…because God works in ways that go far beyond our ability to see or do or understand…and what God’s up to doesn’t always make sense to us…in fact the work of God often times to be the polar opposite of what logic says should happen.

And as much as I might love math…and the way that it always works…the unity that God is working towards even throws that for a loop…because math may tell us that 1 plus 1 equals 2…but it seems to me that Jesus is saying that 1 plus 1 equals 1…at least it will when its all said and done. Amen

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How Is God Revealed 5-26-19

In this sermon, based on John 14:23-39, I explore a bit of Jesus’ farewell to the disciples at the Last Supper. This is, perhaps, odd here in the Easter Season, but is still fitting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-is-god-revealed-5-26-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord and Savior be yours, now and forever. Amen

Every once in a while, we need to toot our own horns…we need to recognize something important, or even special about ourselves. This is good to do for our own mental health and wellness…and so I’m gonna toot my own horn for a sec.

I pride myself in being pretty sharp in most situations.  I’ve got a quick enough mind that I can usually make connections and figure things out pretty rapidly…and I’m proud of that fact. (pause) But…there are exceptions to every rule…and I wonder if anyone else can relate.

Have you ever had a situation where you were utterly slow on the uptake?  A time where you just couldn’t put the pieces together? Where something that should be obvious…for whatever reason, just wouldn’t click?  If so, you are in good company.

I’m thinking back to summer of 1998…my second summer on staff up at Ingham Lake Bible Camp…and a bit of relationship dynamics.  There was a good friend that I knew from the previous summer…and I knew that she had a new boyfriend…and I also knew that this mysterious new boyfriend was on staff for the summer over at the Okoboji site…but what I didn’t know was who he was.

Now, we cycled through the first few weeks of camp, along with the subsequent weekends of free time…and I had noticed this guy from Okoboji who had spent the weekends there at Ingham a couple of times…but I had no idea who this guy was…until finally…after WAY to long I realized…OH…that’s the new boyfriend…which caused pretty else on staff to reply “DUH!!!!”  Admittedly, not my smartest moment.

But you know what, I can’t help but think that I’m in good company…and this same sense of not quite being able to realize, or to recognize the truth of what’s right in front us…it seems like the disciples share it too…in fact, I can’t help but think that just about everyone who was walking around Israel in the time of Jesus was facing this exact same issue. (pause)
Now the passage that we have shared today is a small portion of Jesus’ final words to the disciples at the Last Supper.  Following this time, he’ll be arrested…and then killed…and then he’ll rise again and appear to his followers off and on for about 40 days until he’s taken back into Heaven on Ascension Day.

And this whole batch of teaching…this back and forth exchange with the disciples…it features a few questions.  You’d think that after 3 years together and all they had seen and heard and witnessed and experienced…that the disciples would be able to connect the dots…but instead…we find evidence of ongoing confusion.

It starts off with Peter…who’s listening to Jesus talk about the new commandment to love one another…by this everyone will know you are my disciples. (Slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…where are you going?
(facepalm) Ok Peter…let me explain…and Jesus goes on.

A minute later Jesus tells them “you know way to where I am going.”  And now its Thomas (slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…we don’t know where you’re going…how can we know the way? (facepalm)  Jesus goes on…talking about how they already know the Father, because they know him…and this time its Philip (slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…if you show us the Father, we’ll be satisfied. (facepalm)

Suppose Jesus is getting irritated yet?  This time he carries on for a little longer, before one more question from Judas…not that Judas…the other Judas…because Jesus has been reminding them of the connection that they share through him…and through him with the divine…and that as he departs, he will not leave them alone but will send the Holy Spirit…and that through the power of the Spirit, God will abide with them…and then he reminds them of the importance of love for one another…and that in the expression of love, that’s how God will be revealed…and with that, Judas (slowly raise hand) Uh…Jesus…why do you reveal yourself to us and not the world? (facepalm and pause).

I’ll be honest…I half expect Jesus to just blow up on these guys…throw his hands up and head out to find a new batch of followers who might figure things out before his arrest a few minutes later….but that’s not what happens…and instead, we have the subtle reminder from Jesus that we are to love God and love one another…and that this will be possible because of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us and within us…that is the promise.

Now, it probably makes sense that Jesus would remind them of this…that he would continue to share it at this point…just before his death…but it also important for us to be reminded of these same words here at the end of the Easter season.  This Thursday is Ascension Day…the time when Jesus’ bodily form leaves earth, before the arrival of the Spirit 10 days later at Pentecost.

We can call this a lot of things…a goodbye…a parting shot…acknowledgement of the way things are going to change…but at the same time…while many things are changing…some things are staying the same…and one of those universal things…both in this back and forth between Jesus and the disciples, as well as the countless interactions that we’ve heard in recent weeks from different people who just want a straight answer about Jesus and his identity…not to mention 2000 years of history where the church has continued to wrestle with many of these same questions.

Who is this God? Who is this Jesus…What is the Holy Spirit?  What does it mean to love our neighbors? What does the peace of Jesus look like?  Seriously…how many questions can we raise just from this short little passage today?  Tons?  And when we consider all of scripture in its entirety…the list would probably be unending.

But you know what…that’s not a bad thing…Jesus doesn’t get upset with the disciples when they fail to connect the dots…he doesn’t get irritated when they come up short, lacking understanding…because I think Jesus knows that when it comes to faith…or the divine…or the action of God in the world…we’re just not capable of making all those connections…its bigger than we are…its beyond us…but…Jesus also welcomes the questions.

And I think that’s the take away today…that faith doesn’t mean everything is cut and dry…following Christ doesn’t mean that every question is answered and can be recited in some meme-worthy sound-bite.  Faith is hard…and making sense of Jesus’ words and the scriptures and the ongoing action of God in continually inviting our reality forward…its confusing.

But can this be a place where those questions are okay…where we can ask them confidently…and together we can explore where those questions might take us?  Is that what Jesus is talking about when he says that the Holy Spirit will teach us…and will remind us of his words? Is that the sense of peace that he’s going to leave us with? A peace in knowing that its okay to not know?  Maybe…I hope so. (pause)

Its funny…because this brief little passage is one that reveals the Holy Trinity to us. Jesus is speaking of the Father…and he is speaking of the Holy Spirit…all three…but we know how confusing that three in one God is don’t we?

That was a question that kept coming up in Confirmation this past year…because Jesus is God…we learn that in the opening verses of John’s Gospel…but if Jesus is God…who’s he praying to? And does that somehow mean that Jesus is his own dad?  And how’s the Spirit of God connect into this whole thing?  We went round and round with that question…and we never came up with a satisfactory answer…even if the truth was staring right in the face…but maybe we don’t have to.

Maybe the peace of Christ is the assurance that we don’t have to get all that stuff figured out in order for it to still be true…maybe all we have to do is remember the command that Jesus gives us over and over again…to love one another.

Because that’s how he answers Judas’ question. How will you be revealed to the world?  Jesus says, love one another…that’s how you keep my word…and in doing so my father and I will dwell among you. (pause)

You know love is hard…especially in those moments when our selfishness ramps up…and the love that Jesus keeps talking about…its Agape love…which is perfect, all in, sacrificial love…and we all know how hard that is…but maybe, just maybe, when we see or feel or experience those tiny little glimmers of that agape love in the midst of our brokenness…well then we get a tiny little glimmer of the presence of the divine dwelling among us.  (pause)
How is God revealed?  That my friends…is a good…question. Amen

How Revolting 5-19-19

In this sermon, based on Acts 11:1-18, I explore the mind-blowing action of the Holy Spirit moving across cultural boundaries in the expansion of the church. This action is still going on as we are invited into deeper levels of inclusion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-revolting-5-19-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord be yours, now and forever. Amen

There is a scene from the movie Highlander that I love.  In a flashback to the mid-1500’s the main character, who is Scottish by the way…is trying to learn proper balance by standing up in a row boat…and when his mentor shakes the boat he cries out “You stupid haggis!”  “Haggis…what is haggis?”  “Sheep stomach stuffed with meat and barley.” “And what do you do with it?”  “You eat it.”  “How revolting.” (pause)

Its kind of a silly thing…but it reveals a certain truth. There are some things that might seem quite common to one person…but because of countless differences between individuals…that same thing might seem utterly crazy…disgusting…revolting even.

Based on that example…we’re probably thinking of odd or exotic foods…like haggis…or lutefisk for us Scandanavians…but this idea can certainly expand into a lot of different realms as well…like jobs or tasks that an individual might take on…even be used to it…but to someone who is unfamiliar it turns the stomach…like someone who works in a sewer treatment plant…or a caretaker in a big industrial chicken farm…or the poor guy who has to drive the rendering truck around and pick up dead animals. (pause) I’m sure we can all think of those types of things…something that just seems utterly wrong…so wrong that our reaction is revulsion. (pause)

Now “revulsion,” that’s a strong word isn’t it? One that we probably don’t really use that often…but it’s a good one…and I think it expresses an extreme reaction…not just dislike…but the sense of being completely repulsed by something…or even someone.

And that sense right there…I want you to hold onto that…because this very sense helps explain the mentality that Peter was facing in today’s story that we heard out of Acts. (pause)

Now at this point…the Jesus movement…or the way of Christ, or the church, or Christianity…whatever we want to call it…its pretty well been limited within the confines of the Jewish faith up to this point.  Jesus’ own action and ministry, with a few notable exceptions, has been aimed at the lost sheep of Israel.

Following his ascension right at the beginning of Acts, the tiny group of his followers are empowered by the Holy Spirit during the festival of Pentecost…and following an impassioned sermon from Peter, 3000 Jewish people became believers.  A couple chapters later we hear about 5000 more…but up to this point…we’ve yet to see the Gospel REALLY cross those cultural boundaries and reach the Gentiles…

That is, until Acts chapter 10…when Peter has a vision regarding Jewish dietary restrictions that repeats itself a few times until he starts to get the bigger picture…and then he’s summoned off to Caesarea and the home of Cornelius…a Gentile and Centurion in the Roman Army…Peter enters his home…having learned in his repeating vision that God shows no partiality and that the “unclean nature” of Gentiles should not stop him…he shares the gospel…the entire household believes…the Holy Spirit shows up just as it did to the disciples at Pentecost…and moved by the Spirit, Peter baptizes the entire household…all that happens in chapter 10.

But hold on a sec. Look back at your bulletins…doesn’t it also happen in chapter 11?  Didn’t we read pretty much that exact thing in chapter 11? Yah we did…so why the repeat?  Why, when Luke was putting all this together did he feel the need to tell the story, and then have Peter turn around and tell it again? Why the repeat? (pause)

Well…when someone repeats themselves in scripture, its usually important right? And as we hear today…Peter is telling this story to the believers in Jerusalem…and especially to his critics…who we hear are the circumcised believers. (pause)

Let’s take a second here.  Circumcise believers…Jewish believers…those who follow the Law…those who cling to the idea that followers of Christ, must be Jewish…that its open to anyone, as long as they’ve first fulfilled the law…and you know what part of that Law says?  That you should not break bread with Gentiles…you should not even enter their house…because to do so makes YOU unclean…and therefore unfit to come before God. (pause)  And did you notice…that’s their complaint…as Peter shares the news of this AMAZING new development empowered by the Holy Spirit and the shared gift of the Spirit beyond cultural boundaries…the only thing they pick up on is the revolting reality that Peter entered the house of a Gentile.  (pause)
Can you believe that…that these guys are SO caught up in “the rules” and proper order or whatever we want to call it that they seem to completely miss the enormity of what Peter is telling them.

But you know what…its not just “the rules.” It seems to go deeper than that…these guys seem to be utterly disgusted…revolted at the very idea of sharing space and time and food with Gentiles…it just does not compute as even being possible…and yet…as Peter shares his experience…as he shares what he witnessed…how the hearing of the good news of Christ brought the Spirit and the gift of faith upon this household, regardless of their culture or nationality…regardless of their background…and Peter shares the mind-blowing insight that he has learned…I know that God shows no partiality.

I can only imagine how amazing this was for Peter and the fellow believers who were with him…for the gift of the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and his family in exactly the same way as it had for Peter and the others…no differences…we find that in the first account of this story…and in his own joyous astonishment, Peter says “If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God.” (pause)

Who are we to hinder that which God is up to? (pause) I think that’s a question that we all need to be asking ourselves…because the Spirit blows where it will…bringing the gift of faith into countless places and people that we think are lost causes…over and over again we hear in the scriptures…and sometimes we see with our own eyes…the way that God shows up where we least expect it…even among those who we think are unworthy…even those who we have no desire to associate with…even those who we might find revolting if we are honest with ourselves. (pause)

So who is that?  Who might the Holy Spirit be working among…having brought the gift of faith…who might God be calling even if we think it breaks the rules?  That’s a question that the church has long wrestled with in countless different situations…some of which seem to have settled…and some of which are still ongoing.

Here in the Lutheran church…or at least our branch of it…we’ve been ordaining women for almost 50 years…and that’s a good thing…because they are called and they are empowered by that same Spirit…and yet there are many, both individuals and groups, who still deny their legitimacy…who try to make them somehow less because of their gender. And what’s worse, they use scripture as a weapon to do it.

That’s just one example…there are countless more…and I can only think that when we fall in this trap, we are somehow denying the very personhood…the true identity of the individual…denying their mutual humanity and the truth that they are bearers of the divine image.

Who is God calling that we don’t agree with?  Who is God empowering that we just can’t wrap our heads around…because its been drilled into us by tradition that “it doesn’t work that way.” Or because our own personal prejudice or more often fear of the unknown whispers a lie in our ear to make us believe that they are somehow less…or unacceptable…or maybe Christianity’s favorite trope…that they are too sinful. (pause)

Over and over again, the story of scripture reveals mind-blowing ways that God continues to invite us forward…and this tends to reveal itself with ever increases examples of inclusion that crosses the boundaries created by society…and each and every time a line is drawn in the sand about who is in and who is out…we find Jesus on the other side. (pause)

Peter says “who am I that I could hinder God?” God will not be hindered…the Holy Spirit will not be limited because of our narrowmindedness, whether we like it or not…because the Gospel of Christ is WAY TOO big for our petty limitations to keep under control, and we find this in the very end of the book of Acts, as the Gospel of Christ and the kingdom of God is proclaimed with all boldness and WITHOUT…HINDRANCE.

Here’s the thing folks…the Spirit’s not done yet either…whatever was going on when Peter interacted with Cornelius…you better believe it was mind-blowing…Peter himself had to experience this vision 3 different times before he finally started opening up to it.  Then his critics in Jerusalem had to hear evidence, not only from him, but from 6 other people that the Spirit had in fact acted across racial and cultural boundaries before they could accept it…this was no easy thing…and I’m guessing it wasn’t just cut and dry…easy peasy…for any of them.

But that’s the radical nature of God’s amazing Grace made manifest through Jesus Christ…it goes beyond all logic…it goes beyond all understanding…and it breaks EVERY barrier…it has to, or its not grace.

So who might be our Cornelius?  Who might God be calling US into faithful relationship with…into shared communion…into this ONE body of Christ on earth?  That’s something we always need to be paying attention to…because the moment we wrap our heads around one mind-blowing situation on inclusion, God’s probably starting to prep the next one for us.

And you know what, that’s a good thing…because if God’s grace is really THAT big…well that means that its big enough for me…no matter how revolting that might have been for someone else, that God would chose to love me. That’s the amazing grace of God folks…and it really is THAT big.   Amen.

Tell Us Plainly 5-12-19

In this sermon, based on John 10:22-30, I explore the urgent request of Jesus’ opponents to “tell us plainly” if he is the Messiah. But to understand the work of God through Jesus, and to hear the voice of God through it can be difficult. But to be known by God, is a reassuring sense.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/tell-us-plainly-5-12-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord be yours, now and forever. Amen

About a dozen or so years back…as I was in the process of discerning my call into ministry…I participated in an ongoing class aimed at leadership development…and one of the processes that we went through was an exploration of our inherent strengths…we did this through an assessment test known as Strengthsfinders…some of you might be familiar with it.

The point is kinda right there in the name…as the results of this assessment identify your top 5 natural leadership abilities out of a listing of about 30 or so possibilities. Now as I reviewed my own personal results, I discovered that Communication was one of my top 5, and with that I began to understand some of my own personal tendencies.  I hate being misunderstood…I absolutely hate it…and this manifests in my tendency to OVER-communicate…especially in written forms of communication.  Any of you parents who have gotten informational emails about confirmation have seen this first hand…and I’m almost ashamed to admit how utterly long and complicated my “helpful information” is when someone new is going to visit and provide pulpit supply.  I am the epitome of “too much information.”

Now, the longer I’ve been doing this, the more aware I’ve become of this tendency, and I have tried to take steps to simplify things and just “tell it plainly.” And maybe, just maybe this falls in line with the exasperated statement we hear from the opponents of Jesus in today’s story as they say “If you are the messiah, tell us plainly.”

Come on Jesus…don’t beat around the bush…don’t be so cryptic…are you…or aren’t you? (pause) That seems to the be sense behind their words. And maybe that strikes us as a little odd…why wouldn’t they know? Isn’t it a no-brainer? Of course Jesus is the Messiah…and they should all know that right?  Or should they?

By this point Jesus has been on the scene for a while. He’s gathered a following…the disciples are trailing along behind him. He’s been performing miraculous signs, both for individuals as well as for the crowds…he’s been teaching and debating and all that kind of stuff…and yet…the people can’t quite make up their mind about him…some of think he is the long awaited Messiah…some of them think he’s just some backwater Galilean quack…and some just don’t know. (pause)

For us, it’s a no brainer…but keep in mind that the people were in the midst of the story at that time…they didn’t have 2000 years of hindsight…and its very seldom that anything…especially matters of faith, are nice and neat…real life tends to be a little messier…and the messages that come from God are only apparent as we look back at them after the fact.

And, to the credit of the individuals who are asking him…Jesus hasn’t been overly forthright with this information either…in fact, to this point, he’s only come out and told 1 person that he’s the Messiah…1. The Samaritan Woman at the well. Many have suspected it…many have even made up their minds about it…but beyond that one instance for an audience of 1…Jesus has been pretty quiet on the subject. Jesus…tell us plainly… (pause)

But I wonder…why now? Why do they chose this particular instance to ask Jesus about it? He’s spent plenty of time in the temple…he hasn’t exactly been incognito…so why, here in the Festival of the Dedication, are these particular religious leaders so intent on Jesus’ messianic identity?

And to get to the heart of that question, a little history.  The festival of the dedication, which as we hear happens in mid-winter…has another name that you might be more familiar with…the festival of lights…or Hanukah…and it dates back to a period about 150 years before the birth of Jesus…and a bit of Jewish history known as the Maccabean revolution.  At that moment in history, Israel was under the control of the Seleucid empire…and the top dog came into the temple and desecrated it by sacrificing to his particular god…and this angered the Jewish people so much that a revolt started up under a guy named Judas Maccabeus…a revolt that succeeded in throwing out the Seleucids and for one brief period in Israel’s history…they were self-governed.  And they needed to rededicate the temple to God, which involved burning a candle that must never go out…and it burns special consecrated oil, and they only had enough for a day, but miraculously it kept burning for 8 days until more oil was available…that’s the whole point behind the festival of the dedication or Hanukah.

But then, if you know your history…it wasn’t long before the Roman Empire came to power, and spread through the region of Israel…and with that fall to foreign power once again…a condition so familiar to the Jewish people throughout their history…don’t you think they’d be looking for another great leader…one anointed by God to lead the people…to reestablish the glory of the past…and if this random guy that some say might just be the one…if he felt like making it official and declaring himself…wouldn’t the festival that originated with a successful Jewish revolt against foreign oppressors be the PERFECT opportunity? Seems logical…so Jesus…if you are the Messiah…tell…us…plainly. (pause)

But instead of finding himself a podium with some historic backdrop and getting a bunch of news cameras and a photo-op to declare his campaign like we tend to see these days…Jesus just says “I have told you and you do not believe…the signs that I do testify to me…you do not believe…because you do not belong to my sheep…My sheep hear my voice.  I KNOW THEM…and they follow me.” (pause)

Now there is a lot going on in that statement…but I think one way to understand it is to say that to be one of the sheep that belongs to the one who calls himself the good shepherd is to believe…and to believe is to belong…and to belong is to be known. (pause)

This implies a sense of utter familiarity…to be known and to know one another…the original language implies utter intimacy…to be known completely…and maybe you know that sense.  Like the way you can pick your kid out of the crowd on the football field, even covered up in full pads.  Or the way that can see the look on your mom or dad’s face and know that you’ve crossed a line.  Or the way you can hear a voice and know exactly who it is.

I was joking around last week with a few people…and commented about I can sit at my desk and can identify certain individuals just by listening to their footsteps as they walk towards my door.  You know what I mean…that total and complete sense of familiarity with one another.

That’s what Jesus is talking about…a sense that makes us pay attention because of how closely connected we are…even within moments when everything else is struggling to pull our attention away.  There are times when that still small voice of God is speaking…but it can be so hard to hear because of the countless distractions…

And on the flip side there are also times when the voice of God is silent…and we have the tendency to fill in the blanks with all kinds of stuff…things that make us feel like we’re still on the right track…things like rituals…or traditions that have gone beyond their intended purpose and have become the rule that must be followed…and I can’t help but think that was the very thing that God wanted to free us from in the person of Jesus Christ…the myth or the lie that only through what we do or what we refrain from doing will make us good enough to hear that quiet voice speaking.

That seemed to be the mission of Christ during his ministry…as we continually see him crossing the boundaries of who’s in and who’s out…those lines drawn by society, or by religion, or by culture that say “you’re not good enough.” Over and over again we see Jesus standing on the OTHER side of that line…sometimes quietly and sometimes quite forcefully…as the one who is also God tries SO HARD to show us that we are already loved and claimed by the one who lovingly made us in the first place.

There is no test to pass…there is no magic words to utter…there’s no perfect liturgy to recite or attendance record to make or dress code to follow or benchmark to achieve…right now…as you are…you are claimed by the one who calls to you…and this God who calls out to you does so in the form of a human being…this God who took on flesh and dwelled among us to show us…quite literally, that there is no length that God will not go to in order to be with you…and then…having claimed you through that familiar voice which lovingly says “you are mine,” we are called simply to follow.

That catches my attention today…as Jesus says “my sheep hear my voice. I know them…and they follow me.”  These are also the final words spoken by Jesus here in John’s gospel…following his resurrection as he appears to some of the disciples and finally tells Peter, quite simply…follow me.

We don’t know what comes after…because John cuts things off…but we do know that it wasn’t the end of the line…and this isn’t the end of the line for us either.

Admittedly, there are times in our lives when we want to yell at God…those moments of confusion or heartache when we long to scream “JUST TELL US PLAINLY!” And know that if you need to do so, that’s ok…God will take that.

And there are also times when it all seems so apparent…and let us rejoice in those moments.  (Pause) So regardless of where we find ourselves today…Let each of us listen for that still small voice which calls out to us…let us recognize it as the voice of the one who knows us and loves us…and let us follow where He leads. Amen.

I Have Seen the Lord 4-28-19

In this sermon, based on John 20:19-31, I explore two of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Thomas’ honest response to the proclamation of the Risen Lord reveals a desire to have the same experience for himself.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-have-seen-the-lord-4-28-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord and Savior be yours, today and forever. Amen

Ever found yourself in the midst of situation where one person utterly surprises another? Now I don’t mean in the “SURPRISE!!” way, but like the “utterly mind blowing because you’re in a place where this person has no business being” kinda way?

Happened to me a few times…just last December, on our way home from vacation, we were sitting in the Houston airport, when I saw a couple that lives here in town…turns out they’d been in Texas for Iowa States’ bowl game and were on their way home as well. (pause)
I remember another time, we were out in Colorado for camp a few years back, when low and behold I came around a corner and there was an old friend and coworker from my year of Internship in Minnesota…and we were in the same spot at the same time, half way across the country. (pause)

I’ve been on the other end of this type of thing, too.  Clear back in 1999, during my junior year at Iowa State…I remember packing up my stuff to head home for the weekend…and as I was leaving…my roommate was busy playing some online game or another, networked in with the two guys that lived across the hall…I grabbed my stuff…told him to have a good weekend…and out the door I went…and then on Sunday, the weekend being almost over, I walked back into our room, saw him at his desk…the same game on his computer…and I just said “hey man.”

Now his response caught me off guard… “Hey…what you forget?”  “What?”  “What you forget? You must have forgotten something to be back already?”  In my confusion I responded “Dude, what are you talking about…its Sunday.”  And he stopped…turned and looked at me and said “It is?” And then he just kinda sat there blinking while his mind was catching up with reality.  Apparently, the game had been so engrossing that he had sat there all weekend long playing it…losing all sense of time…which is why it was so confusing for him when I walked back in the door 48 hours later.

Now this idea of encounters that defy what our minds tell us should be possible…that’s where we are connecting into the gospel for today. Today’s story is one that we share on this week every year…the second Sunday after Easter and the encounter that we’ve come to know as Doubting Thomas…which, for the record, isn’t an overly great name…and its worth noting that today’s passage includes not one but two different encounters with the resurrected Jesus.

Now I can’t help but think that today’s story includes a little bit of implied time travel.  Because the action picks up the evening of the Resurrection…and so we need to turn our minds backwards 7 days…to last Sunday night…we had all gathered together that morning to celebrate the Risen Jesus…we shared breakfast…everyone departed for their various family celebrations…I’m sure there were naps involved…but then, by late afternoon, early evening…everyone had settled in…back to normal…thinking about work the next day…but that’s our perspective.

For the ones there that day…things are little different.  If we back up ever so slightly in the passage itself…we have the testimony of Mary Magdalene…the first witness to the empty tomb…Mary alone encounters the Risen Jesus…now if you recall that account, she’s confused at who he is until he calls her by name…revealing the personal connection…and she recognizes him…and then reports back to the disciples “I have seen the Lord.”

It seems that none of them really know what to make of this…and they lock themselves away somewhere out of fear…when suddenly out of nowhere…defying all logic…in utterly mind-blowing fashion…Jesus is standing among them…and unlike my surprise appearance that freaked out my roommate after a fast weekend…and despite the fact that Jesus had told them repeatedly that he would be raised…and despite the earlier testimony of Mary…I can only imagine that this just didn’t compute.

JESUS WAS DEAD…AND THE DOOR IS LOCKED…DUDES! HOW IS HE HERE? These must have been the thoughts racing through their minds…and I imagine that Jesus knows it because not just once but twice he greets them with an offer of peace. Peace be with you…as he shows them the marks of the crucifixion that he still bears in his body…assuring them that he is in fact, the Risen Lord…and with that he breathes the Holy Spirit into them…empowering them with a mission. Just as the Father has sent me…so I send you.

And with this, the disciples are somehow changed.  And they are  empowered by the Spirit in order to share their testimony…their personal encounter that has revealed the good news of the Resurrected Jesus…and if you notice…when they bump in to Thomas, who was absent in this amazing moment…their testimony is pretty much identical to Mary’s from earlier that day. She says “I have seen the Lord.” They say “We have seen the Lord.” (pause)

Now here’s where things get little shady for good old Thomas.  We have no idea where he was this first time around…but he seems to know that he missed out on something special.  Unless I see the marks of the nails, put my finger in them, and stick my hand in the wound on his side, I can’t believe it. (pause)

What’s really going on here? Is Thomas just fickle?  Is he a skeptic…denying the possibility that Jesus was dead and now he isn’t? Or, does Thomas just hope to have the same experience as the others…is it simply his hope and desire to encounter the Risen Lord so he can make the same proclamation?  Is this doubt? Or is this revealing a longing that I think we all share…to somehow encounter the Risen Lord.  Don’t we all long to see Jesus?  Can you blame Thomas?

He’d spent the same amount of time following Jesus as the rest of them.  He abandoned Jesus just like the others…and they still got to see him…stands to reason that Thomas should too…and the whole “put my finger in the nail holes thing,” well Jesus had shown the others his hands and side…Thomas just wants to experience that too.  This isn’t doubt…this is a desire to experience it for himself. (pause)

As I think about that…I think of the wide variety of ways that the Resurrected Jesus is revealed throughout the scriptures.  He shows up on a mountaintop…to joyful and yet confused disciples and gives them the great commission.  He travels along with 2 followers on the road to Emmaus and is only revealed through the breaking of the bread.  He is revealed to Mary as he calls her by name.  He’s revealed to the disciples in an offer of peace…Thomas included, although a week later. He shows up on the road in a blinding light to the Apostle Paul.

In a different sense, John’s gospel itself testifies that Jesus is revealed through the written account of his many signs…and that begins to point us to something different…the importance of proclamation…that the Holy Spirit…mysterious as it might be, acts within us through the proclamation of the good news of the resurrection…and this has been ongoing over the course of the past 2000 years…this is vital for those of us who were not there to see the Resurrected Jesus for ourselves…for those of us who might wish to hear a word of peace from his mouth…who might wish to hear him call us by name…or to see with our own eyes the holes in his hands and feet…but for us and for countless individuals who have come before us…that’s not possible.

And yet…here we are today…gathered together to worship our Risen Lord and to give thanks for all that God has accomplished through his life death and resurrection…we are gathered because we have heard the proclamation and through the hearing of this good news the Spirit has created the gift of faith within us…the ability to believe that which is unbelievable…to trust in the truth of that which we have not seen for ourselves.

And that faith…that promise which is spoken over us in the waters of our baptism…this is what these three young people are affirming for themselves today. (pause) Now as many of you know…one of the last things I have our Confirmation Students do is write a statement, which I call their “I believe” Statements…no fluff…not telling me what they think I want to hear…but an honest reflection of what they believe at this point in their lives. And its never disappointing.

This year, there was a theme of the importance of others…of those who are part of this church, this community of believers, who have set examples and have built into the lives of these three young people…a theme of the way their faith has been shaped to this point…and in one of the statements, was something that seems very applicable as we consider the desire to see the resurrected Lord.

“Even though Jesus isn’t here physically I always know he is with me and watching over me.”  That’s the promise right there…and we profess that in the physical absence of Christ here in the world, we who are gathered and empowered and most importantly, connected by the Holy Spirit…we are the body of Christ on earth…and as we gather…and live out this life of faith in the midst of the crazy up and downs of the world…may we continue to reveal the presence of God to one another and this world that we share.

That is my prayer for the three of you today…that you will continue to experience this for yourselves…that you would continue to feel that urge…that desire to seek out the presence of the divine in your own lives…and that no matter what you will experience in the years to come…that your testimony will somehow be able to echo the testimony of those who have come before…that somehow, you can say, I have seen the Lord. Amen.

I Gotta Share This 4-21-19

In this Easter sermon, I explore the unexplainable joy that we find in the resurrection of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-gotta-share-this-4-21-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ be with you, now and forever. Amen.

Anyone remember the Beverly Hills Cop movies? There’s a little bit of dialogue that keeps popping up through the second one that I appreciate, as Eddie Murphy…a police officer mind you, continues to do little things that…MIGHT not be strictly legal…and every he time he does, he makes the same comment… “You know I wasn’t always a cop. I fractured an occasional law.”(pause) Over the past few years, I’ve found myself in similar moments…and in conversation over old stories of my former life…I’ve been quoted as saying “Well you know, I wasn’t always a pastor…”

Like anyone…I’ve got some stupid stuff in my past…and one in particular comes to mind today…a moment that happened when I was pretty young…maybe 10 or 11…when I tagged along with my older brother and one his friends, down the road about half a mile to the old farm place where my grandparents used to live…and where my dad had actually grown up.  Now we called this, quite simply, “the old place.” And on occasion we would go exploring through the old buildings that still stood there…and on this particular day…we ended up breaking windows. I don’t remember how it started, but it did. Not proud of it…but I was a part of it.

Now here’s the thing…I was the type of kid who was REALLY bad at keeping secrets…and so it wasn’t long before I spilled the beans about our little destructive escapade. I just couldn’t keep it in…now if you’re wondering…yes there were consequences…but those details aren’t really important…What is important, is that sense of needing to tell someone…of having news that you just can’t keep in…I want you to keep that in mind while we think about the amazing story of the resurrection that we are sharing today. (pause)
Now, as we know the story of the resurrection doesn’t really start on Sunday morning…it starts on Friday evening…with Jesus dead…his body taken down off the cross…wrapped in burial cloth and laid in the tomb with the entrance covered by a giant stone…all of this witnessed by a group of women who have been following Jesus throughout his ministry…right up to the point of his burial…long after he was deserted and left by the men who swore they would follow him, even to death…interesting to see who actually made good on that promise isn’t it? (pause)

Now all logic says that’s the end right. Jesus is dead. And death is it right? The end of the line…and even though these people have watched Jesus overcome death more than once as he raised 3 different people from the dead…they are still caught in grief…in pain…in mourning and loss and rightly so…because death is final…and everyone knows that.

And so, in the hopes of one final act of kindness and love for Jesus, the women prepare spices for anointing his body…and then as their Sabbath begins, they dutifully wait, until the first possible moment, here at dawn on the first day of the week…and they head to the tomb…to the place where they had watched as he was laid…in order to fulfill this last act.

But what happens next…defies…all…logic.  (pause) As the women approach the tomb, they see the stone rolled away…that’s weird…but okay…I guess that’s one thing they don’t have to do right? And so they poke their heads inside, fully expecting to see a body wrapped up in cloth…but its…not…there.  The tomb is empty except for the discarded burial shroud.

Confusing? Yep…Perplexing….you better believe it? And the women are just kind of looking at one another in their confusion when out of nowhere BOOM…there’s two angels standing there…and the women are so freaked out…so startled and so scared to be in the presence of these beings of heavenly origin that they hit the ground.

Now…we’ve heard stories like this before…when some heavenly being, whether God in some crazy weird form or an angel of some sort shows up…apparently its…freaky…I can imagine that the person is scared because that which is divine in nature has gotta be so much more than we can handle…and we hear this in the greeting of the heavenly being ALMOST every single time…as they begin with “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” (pause) Except this time…they…don’t…say it.  Did you catch that?

The very first thing out of the angels…is a question of joyful origin.  Why do you look for the living among the dead?  (Pause) Now wait a sec…think about that question…think about what it implies.  The man who was dead…we watched him die…we watched as his body was placed…RIGHT…HERE…he…was…dead.  And now, he’s not.   WHAT?!?

I mean, that’s the message right? And it is SO GOOD…that the angels can’t be bothered with anything else…this has to be shared right away…just like that time when I was 10 years old and just couldn’t keep in the news that we had done something stupid…the angels can’t keep this amazing news quiet either.

Remember how he told you in Galilee…He would be betrayed…he would be crucified…but then on the 3rd day…he would…rise. (pause) Jesus TOLD THEM ALL THIS NEWS…and not just once…we’ve got details of at least 3 times when Jesus told his followers that THIS VERY THING was gonna happen.

And each and every time…it would seem that the news just didn’t sink in for any of them…not for the 12…and apparently not for the women numbered among his followers either…at least not until this moment…this moment when they find the tomb empty…and they hear the proclamation of the Risen Lord…and they…REMEMBERED…his words.

You know what we call that? We call that faith…that somehow as we hear the story…and we remember the words that JESUS HIMSELF shared…the Holy Spirit takes that and somehow makes this unbelievable thing…this event that defies all logic…and makes it believable.

THINK ABOUT IT…death, which is supposed to be the ultimate end of the line…isn’t anymore. WHAT?  How does that work? Well…I DON’T KNOW…but it does…that’s the promise…and through the power of that same Holy Spirit that was acting in the hearts and minds of the women works in us too…and you know what…it empowers us to do the exact same thing.

Because this is amazing news isn’t it? Jesus was dead, but now he’s alive again…that’s too good to sit on…and apparently that’s how the women felt…that I can’t hold this in…I gotta share it…and who better to share it with than the men who were considered the closest friends of Jesus himself…and so they run off to the tell the disciples…and the disciples…blow it off.  Luke describes their reaction as hearing an “idle tail.” And since I wasn’t always a pastor, you probably know what OTHER 2 word phrase I would use to describe that…hint…it has to do with a male cow going the bathroom… (pause)

Isn’t that crazy…Jesus told these guys too…more than once…and now, hearing the proclamation…they promptly…do nothing…the only one who can even be bothered to get up and look is Peter, who goes and finds the empty tomb itself, still doesn’t believe it…none of these guys do until the resurrected Jesus actually appears before them later on that day…and even then they don’t quite grasp it until he picks up a piece of fish and eats it. (pause)
And you know…I always think that seems crazy…that not even THESE GURS could believe the gospel of the resurrection without physical proof…but that speaks to ludicrous nature of the gospel…the crazy news that Jesus was dead but is alive again. This gospel that we share…and that we profess as true.

So what is it…what was different about the women compared to men…because the ladies didn’t see Jesus…and yet the proclamation was enough to create faith in the resurrected Lord…and Jesus himself talks about this very thing in one of the other gospels as he addresses the disciples and says “You have believed because you have seen…but blessed are the ones who have NOT seen, and yet come to believe.”

Any idea just who Jesus might be talking about? (pause) HINT….LOOK AROUND YOU…AND IF YOU GOT A MIRROR LOOK IN THAT…BECAUSE YOU ARE THE PEOPLE HE’S TALKING ABOUT. (pause)  Folks…this faith thing is crazy…it doesn’t make any sense…but somehow it works…and whatever it is that the Holy Spirit is up to…somehow we are empowered and given the gift of faith…the gift of believing that he who was dead is alive again…and that through that same Spirit, we are made heirs of the same promise of the resurrection…and that somehow, someway…we have joined with him in a life like his…that one day each of one us will join with him in a death like his…but most importantly…we will also join with him in a resurrection like his.

This is what God has accomplished through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…to show us that there is NO length that God will not go in order to make it possible for us to be reunited with God…Now…that perfect love, while beyond our ability in this life…is possible…and even though our broken world killed him for it…God has shown us through that empty tomb…through the proclamation that Jesus was dead and now he’s alive again…God has shown us that Love is bigger than anything else…and that nothing…not even death gets the last word where we are concerned…God does…and now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, may each one of us carry this amazing news…news that takes us out of the place of death and into the joy of new life…and like the women who were the first preachers of the gospel…may we share this same amazing message with the world around us…so that they too, might come to believe this amazing news…this story that is SO GOOD…it leaves us with a sense…that I gotta share this. Amen.

Remember 4-18-19

In this Maundy Thursday sermon, I explore the actions taken by Jesus at the Last Supper, whether the foot-washing found in John’s gospel or the institution of Holy Communion found in the other gospels. Jesus seems to be saying goodbye, and wants to do so in a meaningful way that will help those present to remember.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/remember-4-18-19

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

May the grace and peace of the Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

Sometimes it amazes me at how quickly time flies by…recently in the midst of conversation, I realized that its already been more than a year since I visited the Holy Land…touring many of the sites that carry historical significance connected to the life of Jesus.

An interesting thing about the Holy Land is the mix of the old and the new. There are some places…some cities or locations, as well as individual sites that are actually quite new, but there are others that have been there for a REALLY long time…and I remember feeling the significance of all that history on the day when we visited the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem…a very large church built on the site believed to be Jesus’ actual birth place.

I can’t recall if it’s the oldest standing church in the world, but it does have the distinction of being the oldest church in the Holy Land by a pretty large margin. The structure itself was built approximately 1600 years ago…and it survived a purge, wide spread destruction of pretty much every other Christian structure which occurred a few hundred years later…and only because the Persian empire that invaded held an appreciation for the Nativity, because the Wise Men in the story are believed to be Persians. (pause)

I remember a sense of just how significant it was…to stand there in a structure that is that old…and to lean against a wall which has stood there the better part of 2 millennia.  Imagine if those walls could talk…the history they could share…and now on the flipside imagine what would be lost if that structure was destroyed.

We caught a glimpse of that sort of thing just a few days ago…as news reports spread…and video surfaced of the devastating fire that ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris…a heartbreaking event for the world, and especially for our Catholic sisters and brothers.

Now I don’t know if any of you have noticed this or not…but it wasn’t long after news broke about the destruction of that beautiful old church, that people started bickering on social media about it.  Butting heads over all kinds of things…One of the arguments I noticed centers around the statement “the church is not the building.”’

I’ve heard that statement before…I’ve even said it…but when I started hearing about the tension around I stopped to think about it…and while there is certainly truth in that statement…truth that points us towards the importance of the community of fellow believers over the material…there is also truth on the other side.  The loss of that beautiful place…a beacon of the Catholic church and faith…that’s something worth grieving.

Because our faith has a way of taking on shape as it connects into something else…and this can take on all matter of forms.  Buildings, hymns or songs, places, traditions, even down to the clothes we wear.  Perhaps here in the Lutheran church, the importance of tradition is one that we can relate to…after all, tonight right here in Worship we are celebrating with our traditional liturgy…as we look around this sanctuary…perhaps for each of us there is a particular item that holds some sort of significance…maybe you connect with a particular aspect of worship…or even in the shared connection that you hold with another person that holds meaning in your faith life.

I think back, and realize that I’ve got a couple examples of this sort of thing from my own faith history.  Some of you have heard me talk about the time in 5th grade when I made it on the news…but only because I happened to be in the background when they reported on the fire that destroyed my home congregation’s building.  It didn’t occur to me until years later that I can no longer stand in the sanctuary and touch the font in which I was baptized.

Likewise, the church building where my wife and I were married…a few years later that congregation moved into a new facility, and the building was sold to a congregation of a different denomination…and while they probably wouldn’t turn me away if I tried to visit…somehow that space…that place…isn’t the same anymore…and that’s another bit of my own faith history that is now lost.

Here’s the thing though…the loss of the place doesn’t take away from the significance of the event itself.  I can’t visit the sanctuary where I said “I do” but I am still married…I literally cannot walk into the room and see the font where I was washed in the water…but I am still baptized…these things do not change, and yet…there is still a sense of loss…

I wonder if you have something in your history that similar in scope to this…a place or a ritual that holds deep meaning…and yet is somehow lost to you. (Pause) This brings us to the significance of this evening…Maundy Thursday and the story of the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with the disciples.

As per usual, we’ve heard the story from John’s gospel…featuring the event of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples…a perspective unique to John…while the other three gospels all focus in on the institution of Holy Communion…and honestly…both events seem to hold this same connection…a ritual…an event…intended as a gift that is to be remembered…an intimate moment between individuals that I believe Jesus intended to be meaningful as he says goodbye to these people who have been so close to him during his ministry. (pause)

Now we could try to dive into the how or the why of these events…but maybe tonight all that really isn’t important…maybe the thing that we need to hold on to in this moment is the sense of saying goodbye. Imagine it from the perspective of Jesus…I’ll admit to you that’s not something I had ever really done before…but maybe we should.  Because Jesus, knowing all things…all that which had already occurred…and all that which was about to…created these memorable moments for his friends…just before events would transpire that would leave him betrayed…alone…tortured…and killed.

Think about his perspective…and this last opportunity to show someone how you feel about them. (pause) What would you do? How do you say goodbye? (pause)  In my work, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the room with families in this type of situation…those times when death is not far away…and everyone is saying their goodbyes. It’s a solemn time…a sad time…and it carries a sense of finality that isn’t like anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Now sometimes, the person is unable to participate…because they are either gone to quickly, without warning…or their physical state doesn’t allow it…but sometimes the opposite is true…and they are able to be a part…and having been in several different rooms where that’s the case over the course of recent history…I’ve been thinking a lot about it…and the way that I’ve watched as they’ve shared a moment…a word…a long embrace or a tender kiss…as they’ve shared tears…as they’ve shared laughter…as they’ve shared a special moment with each different individual and I can only imagine that the hope for that person, who knows they will be leaving…is that this moment will stay with the other person as their life goes on.

And, I’ll be honest, in one of those instances…I didn’t just sit there and pray after bringing Holy Communion…but in that moment, I sat at the bedside while the wonderful lady, only about a day away from death reached up, and for a moment just held my cheek.  It was an expression of love that I will never forget. (pause)

These moments…these memories or places…or traditions…they hold power…and this power somehow impacts and strengthens our faith…and I believe that’s what Jesus was really up to…when he knelt at the feet of his disciples to wash the dirt and dust away…as he looked them in the eye in a moment of connection…or as he lifted the bread and broke it…and passed the cup, assuring them that his body and his blood are broken and poured out for them…and that whenever they share this meal…to remember. (pause)

What a blessing to know…that somehow through the power of the Holy Spirit…we are included in that invitation…somehow we are sitting at that table…and that the power in Jesus’ words…and the significance of his actions are pointed towards us as well…so that we might be strengthened…so that we might find hope through whatever it is to come…until that glorious day, when we are united completely with Christ…and when we join in that heavenly banquet which we have been promised…and which we will celebrate together with all those who have gone before…those who have left us with powerful moments to remember. Amen.