Will I Survive This 2-14-16

In this sermon, I explore the temptation of Jesus. This is the featured text for the first Sunday in Lent every year.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/will-i-survive-this-2-14-16

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.

Sometimes it floors me when I think back to the Millennium…and I realize just how long its been since we entered the 21st century…16 years ago…and things are vastly different than they were back then. One of the things that has changed so dramatically is the state of television…the bulk of tv shows, especially primetime shows were scripted back then…but in the year 2000, a new show came on that helped usher in the age of reality tv that we are so familiar with today…that show was Survivor…and the premise of this show, still running and just about to begin its 32nd season by the way…the premise, was quite simple…strand a bunch of people out in the middle of no where with hardly anything in terms of food and supplies…and see who can last the longest…and over the course of 40 days, let them gradually vote each other out of the game until there’s only one left and they are the sole survivor.

I was obsessed with this show for a while…I came into it a few years in and stuck with it up until just a couple years ago when I finally realized that every season is pretty much the same thing over and over again…but as obsessed as I was with it, I never tried out for it…I knew better…but I always wondered just what I would look like if I managed to go the full 40 days…and so for a long time, each every year when Lent kicked in…and different people would talk about giving something up…I always said I was giving up shaving just so I could see what 40 days of beard would look like…side note, I’ve never made it…16 days was longest I’ve ever managed…so I think its safe to say that if I can’t even make it 40 days without shaving…I certainly would fail to survive the actual experience…and some else would win the title of sole survivor.

That beings said…if there’s anyone who might just be able to endure the various hardships of 40 days in the middle of nowhere…with no supplies…no food…I guess today’s story shows us that Jesus might just make a pretty decent contestant.

Today, as we do on the first Sunday of Lent every year, we feature the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness…40 days…and Luke tells us that this wasn’t simply 40 days of fasting followed by 3 quick temptations…rather Luke tells us that the entire 40 days was filled with temptations…Jesus is out there alone for whatever reason…and Satan puts him through the ringer…and I’ve often wondered if there were moments during that time when Jesus asked the question “Will I survive this?”

I thought a lot about Luke’s emphasis on the 40 days of temptation that Jesus endured…wondering if the three temptations listed were it and those three lasted the 40 days…or if there were a lot of other temptations and these were simply the 3 that we hear about…I wonder if like Matthew tells us, that Jesus was out there fasting and Satan thought that hunger was a pretty powerful temptation to hit him with at the end of all that…and in short we don’t really know…only that these three temptations happen…but all I do know…is that it’s a good thing that it wasn’t me out there…because judging at how quickly my stomach starts growling on a daily basis…Satan probably could have tripped me up with that whole stones into bread thing by about noon on the first day…much less going 40 days without food. (pause)
But Jesus doesn’t go for it does he…nor does he fall to the other listed temptations. (pause) If you’re the son of God…turn these stones to bread. (pause) All the kingdoms of the world…I can give them to you…and all the glory that comes with it…if you’ll worship me. (pause) If you’re the son of God, throw yourself down from the temple…and he’ll send his angels to protect you. (pause)

We’re familiar with the 3 temptations aren’t we…we hear this story from the different gospels every year…we know how they go…and we know how Jesus resists…by quoting scripture…by throwing the word of God in Satan’s face…though interestingly enough…Satan uses the same tactic on him…he’s a crafty one that Satan. (pause)

But what interest me a little more is the way that things keep ramping up. With every passing temptation, Satan turns the screws a little bit more…taking up the intensity…and perhaps…the cost…Turn these stones into bread…You’re hungry…I can see that…in this first temptation…Satan uses physical need…something that we’ll all fall to…and as human Jesus was prone to this physical need as well…but the temptation is not in the hunger…the temptation is to use the power of God that lies with him…to twist God’s creation…that’s the cost here…it may seem minimal…it’ll only cost a couple of stones…and yet, what’s really happening would be Jesus deciding that these stones that God made to be stones, should be something else…that God’s creation isn’t good enough for him.

Well what about temptation number two? Satan shows off the kingdoms of the world…and reveals that, for the time being anyway, he holds dominion in this world…and he can give the power to anyone he chooses…and all Jesus has to do is ask. (Pause) So what’s the temptation here? Seems to be the desire for power…or advancement or glory here on earth…and we can probably relate to that can’t we? But then what’s the cost here? Well once again, it seems to be the notion that what God intended us to be, isn’t good enough…that want more than what we already have…that our pride craves the power that this world can offer…instead of being content with what we are given. (pause)

Well now what about number 3? When Satan hauls Jesus off to Jerusalem and sets him on the top of the temple…Hey son of God…jump off…because if you are REALLY who you say you are…then God’s not let anything happen to you…If he REALLY loves you like you say, then he’ll protect you…go ahead…prove it.

And once again, what’s the cost here? Seems to be forcing God’s hand…demanding divine intervention to prove something…and ironically, it would simply be proving something that not only Jesus already knows…but that Satan already knows as well…and so what good would that do? (pause)

These are the temptations that Jesus faces while he’s in the wilderness, just trying to physically survive…and its funny how Satan targets us when we’re weak just as Jesus was weak with hunger…but then he hits us when we’re strong…like when Jesus resisted the previous temptation…because as I said, that Satan…he’s a crafty one…so crafty in fact that he doesn’t just tempt us when we seem susceptible…he’s tempting us all the time…and if we look at the rest of Jesus’ ministry…the rest of the story right up until his death…the temptation continues…its even in the same form…it just comes from a slightly different source.

Turn these stones into bread…meet the physical need that humanity shares…temptation number 1…now think of what happened after Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 people with a few loaves and fish…they kept hounding him…so much so that he scolded them saying “you’re not following because of the sign…but because you ate your fill and now you’re hungry again…Jesus…meet our need. (pause)

All the kingdoms of the world I will give to you…take the power of the world…temptation number 2…and now think of the Jewish notion of the Messiah…the great earthly ruler who would reestablish the throne of Israel…who would cast out the Romans and place Judah at the head of all nations…Jesus…take power…and elevate us with you. (pause)

If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…use your divine influence to save yourself…temptation number 3…which if you recall, happens in Jerusalem…the same place where Jesus hangs from a cross and hears the taunts “If you are the Messiah save yourself…come down from there…if you are able.” (pause)

Some scholars have suggested that these three temptations were only foreshadowing to the temptations that Jesus would constantly face during his ministry…right up to the moment when he dies on the cross…and there might just be some merit to that if we consider it…what’s a little odd about this suggestion, is that it seems to turn the temptation of Christ into a parable of sorts…and while I don’t think that the 40 days in the wilderness was a made up story to prove a point, the notion does give us something to think about.

Because if it was a parable…then we need to ask ourselves the normal parable question of who are we? Initially, we might think that we fit in with Jesus…because in our day to day lives we face temptation…but then as we see Jesus overcome temptation after temptation…and we know that we would never survive it…I think that rules us out of the Jesus connection pretty quickly…

And so…who’s left? Who’s the only other character there during the 40 days? (pause) Satan…but if we’re somehow connected with Satan, then just what is that telling us? Well, maybe on one hand it reminds us that we can be the source of temptation, both for others as well as for ourselves…and maybe in anther manner of thinking we’re just like those who tempted Jesus during his ministry…feed us…take the earthly power and share it with us…or prove to us that you are God. Prove to us that you are who you say you are. (pause)
And so maybe, just maybe there’s a little bit of truth here…and if so then maybe we see that the one that Jesus had to overcome is us…and while that might give us just a bit of pause when we start thinking about…isn’t it true that God became human and entered into our flawed reality to overcome that which we are powerless to overcome on our own?

Didn’t Jesus live and die and rise again to overcome the power of sin and death that reside within each and every one of us? Didn’t Jesus come to overpower that which we are unable to survive on our own? That darkness that resides right here…that darkness that we love and cling to…and yet hate it and hide it at the same time…we tuck it away, down deep inside us where no one can see it…well no one except God…but we cling to it so tightly that we cannot be honest with ourselves…much less can we be in relationship with the one who made us in the first place.

That is what Jesus came to overcome…that darkness that will continue to gather through this season of Lent…amazingly enough centering around Jesus until the moment that our darkness kills him. But the amazing thing about all this is not that we blame ourselves…or that we hate ourselves…or that we get this image of an angry God who is so mad at us that he has to kill his own kid.

Rather, we walk through this dark season right up to the cross, recognizing that Jesus could have saved himself…he could have let this cup pass…that he could have ended it…but that he loves us so much that he did it anyway…even though our temptations are too much for him to survive…because sin…brings…death.

But God…goes…farther…Yes Jesus WILL die on Good Friday…or at least we’ll remember, once again…that he did…because that work of God…that work of Christ…it is already finished…and Easter has already happened…and Christ has already walked out that tomb…it has already happened…and the good news that we find on this dark day, here at the beginning of this dark season…is that the temptations that Satan throws our direction now…has already been overcome. Yes we still feel it…and yes we need to acknowledge it…that’s what this season is about…about recognizing that temptation is not something that I will survive…but thanks to the love of God, shown for each us through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that temptation, has already been overcome.

I may be the problem…but God, has already given the solution. Amen.

Why Are We Doing This Again 2-10-16

In this sermon for Ash Wednesday, I explore Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. In this passage Jesus warns us against public displays of piety, which is ironic considering this is a day when we are doing just that.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/why-are-we-doing-this-again-2-10-16

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

Ash Wednesday…the day, or in this case the evening, that starts off the season of Lent. In a moment of disclosure, I first started thinking about Lent as a whole back about Christmas time…as I started to mull over possible themes and characters that would take us through the season. But on thing that I didn’t really have to think about much was tonight…Ash Wednesday as a whole is pretty well set in terms of worship and liturgy by this point…and so about the only thing I needed to do was pick out what scripture lesson I would utilize for the sermon. This happens to be one of the days in the church year that uses the same set of lessons every year, and so in order to keep some variety, I made the overarching decision a couple years back that I would rotate the lessons.

So my first Ash Wednesday, I used the reading assigned out of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Last year, the old testament reading from the prophet Joel seemed to be in order and so, a month and a half ago when I started looking at stuff for tonight, it seemed like a no-brainer…go ahead and use the gospel reading from Matthew. I made the decision, marked it in my files for prep work, and moved on to other things.

Then about a week ago, as I knew that Ash Wednesday was pending, I figured it was high time that I start thinking about it…about this day…which is sort of the one time in the Lutheran church when we gather together to recognize our limitations and our sinfulness and the reality of death in our world…and as part of the whole deal, we receive the sign of the cross, in ashes, on our foreheads…in short…we display a sign of our faith…something that one might call a public display of piety.

And I was thinking about that very notion…this public display of piety…I opened up to Matthew 6 only to find…Jesus warning us against public displays of piety…this resulted in the most epic facepalm that I have ever endured…and my first question, was what in the world am I going to do with this one? (pause) Adding to the ironic nature of this whole deal, in the study Bible that sits on my desk…the one I utilize most often in my work…I had previously highlighted the final verse of Matthew chapter 5, which seemed to add insult to injury, as Jesus tells his audience “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.”

That highlighted verse seemed to taunt me throughout this past week as I considered the notion that here on Ash Wednesday we are actively reminding ourselves of how much we are NOT PERFECT …of how much we ARE NOT…like our heavenly father…needless to say, this one has given me the feeling of being behind the 8-ball from the get-go.

But yet, here we are tonight…gathered together, to do all of this…to acknowledge our shortcomings…to remember that one day we will return to the dust that God formed us from back in in the beginning…and in the end to quite literally bear that truth right there on our faces.

And in the midst of it, Jesus gives us 3 different warnings…and if we are paying attention…all three really narrow down to the same thing. When you practice your piety…don’t be like the hypocrites who go out of their way to call public attention to it…because that attention is their reward…but when you do it, do it quietly and your Father in Heaven will see it. (pause) That’s the gist of all three warnings…and after Jesus has made each of these three individual warnings…he sums it all up…Do not store up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in to steal.

Now I thought about that statement for quite a while…wondering just what this earthly treasure is that Jesus is talking about…and if we think about it generically, I guess it makes sense…don’t put all your stock in things that won’t last…clothes wear out…money can be lost or stolen…nothing in this world is permanent, no matter how much we might like to think it is…but what about when we start talking about this lesson…and these warnings against piety done for the purpose of public opinion? When we think along those lines, maybe this all starts to make a little more sense…because if we are giving alms…or praying…or fasting…and shining a spotlight on ourselves just to make sure everyone else knows what we’re up to…well then we pretty quickly fall into the trap of politicians…doing it all for the purpose of public opinion…and we all know how fleeting that is don’t we? And just like things wearing out…people’s opinion of us can be taken away pretty quickly, leaving us with a whole lot of nothing. (pause)
And so, on the flip side, Jesus tells us to store up treasure in heaven, treasure that will not spoil and cannot be taken away from us…but I found myself wondering…just what is this heavenly treasure? (pause) Certainly we could say that its eternal life…that’s what we’re after…or God’s favor and that’s true too…but I don’t think we should limit to just that…because if all of this stuff that we’re doing here…all of these things that we say and do…if its all just for the sake of building up some eternal life insurance policy…well then I think we’re missing the point of why Jesus entered into our reality in the first place…those things are part of it…but Jesus also came that we might have life and have abundantly…life, in the here and now…a life that’s fulfilling…a life that’s complete…because it is a life IN RELATIONSHIP with our maker….with the one that formed us from the dust in the first place….that’s a heavenly treasure.

But all that being said…I’m not suggesting that public displays of piety are a bad thing…Jesus isn’t really saying that either…he doesn’t tell the people to stop doing them…rather, he’s telling us that we better make darn sure to question our motives for it…what’s our reason for doing it…because if we’re doing it just to be seen…well then there you go…you’ve been seen…and having been seen by others…maybe praised…maybe scorned, who knows…but having been seen, I’ll ask the question…is that enough for you? Does it make you feel whole…good…complete…perfect even? (pause)

We can’t achieve perfect can we? And so I’ve often wondered just what Jesus was talking about with that passage…be perfect as your Heavenly father is perfect…but then I did a little digging, and I realized that this is a pretty awful and inaccurate translation. A better way to say is to be complete…be fulfilled…be ENOUGH…as your heavenly father is enough.

And God is enough…He really is perfect, even if that goes beyond our ability to understand…but the amazing thing about this…is that our perfect God…the one who made us in the first place…HE calls us enough…He calls us Good…and this is something that is utterly different than the notion of perfection…the notion of the ideal…the thing that we SHOULD strive for.

And interestingly enough…when we start thinking about creation…God never intended perfection in the first place…that’s a Greek idea…a philosophy…a way of thinking that came around WAY after the world was made…this is why when we see Greek sculptures and paintings from Jesus’ time, they all feature humanity in its perfect form…something that we certainly never see when we look in the mirror…but they thought that with enough work and training and study we can continue to better ourselves to the point of perfection…but reality…especially the reality made by God back in the beginning…well God had a different word for it…In the Hebrew, it’s the word TOV…kind of a fun word…and TOV…it means…Good.

During creation, we hear it over and over again…God makes something…and he looks at it…and its TOV…its GOOD…and then God makes humanity…he bends down and grabs a bunch of dirt…and he forms it into an image that mirrors God himself…and he breathes life into it…and there’s a man…and then he takes out a rib from the man and God makes a woman…2 parts that equally mirror the image of God…and God says…that’s TOV…and not just that…its REALLY TOV…its VERY TOV…its UBER TOV.

God makes us…and God call us Good…and this is before the fall and the presence of sin entering the world…the world…and humanity was not made perfect and God never intended it…but God calls us Good…just as we are…but then when sin did enter in…and twist around this Good reality that God had made…and it separated us from being in relationship with God like he intended…well he still thought we were good enough…that we were enough for him to do something about it…and that’s why Jesus came into this reality in the first place…not to perfect us…but to bring us back into relationship with God…the one who calls us…TOV. (pause)

And so tonight…as we have gathered…one by one we will hear the words…remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return…and one by one we’ll have ashes spread on our heads…and we’ll display publically our acceptance of our limitations within this world…and as we do…may we remember that we are not doing it to be seen by one another…we are not doing it to earn the praise and admiration of other people…but rather we are simply acknowledging the truth of our existence…flawed though it is…but that in our flawed reality our God calls us Good…He calls us Enough…and worthwhile…God calls us…TOV. And if God believes we’re good enough…then maybe, just maybe, we are freed to believe it about ourselves. Amen.

What Are We Sleeping Through 2-7-16

This sermon is based on Luke 9:28-36, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-you-sleeping-through-2-7-16

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

One of my most vivid memories of my time working at Bible Camp back in my college days was when lightning hit a tree on site. I was in a building about 100 yards away when the strike occurred…and in a split second, a lot of different things happened. The tree that was hit literally exploded, sending off wooden shrapnel in every direction as far as 3 or 4 football fields. Also, the enormous surge in electrical power blew out the light bulb in the room I was standing in. The boom of thunder was deafening and instantaneous…but most striking was how bright it was…unbelievable and words can’t even describe it.

The power in a bolt of lightning is beyond my ability to comprehend. Some estimate that a bolt carries upwards of 10 BILLION watts…and reaches temperatures roughly 9 times hotter than the sun…and while I can’t really wrap my head around the reality of those values, having witnessed the awesome power first hand, I certainly believe it…but the thing I remember the most about that instance was the unbelievably bright flash…and that’s where I connect into today’s gospel.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday…and as such our gospel features the story when Jesus is somehow changed…transfigured…and we hear of the unbelievable brightness of his clothing…so much so that the translation is literally that his clothes became white like a flash of lightning.

There is so much to love about this story…and yet, just as we lack the ability to really wrap our heads around the true amount of power found in a bolt of lightning…the transfiguration is one of those instances in scripture that is amazingly huge…so much so, that perhaps we lack the ability to comprehend just what has really occurred.

Perhaps part of the problem stems from the lack of detail that the different gospels give us regarding the transfiguration itself. This story appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so we get a different accounting each respective year…but overall the details about the change that comes upon Jesus in this moment…well they are pretty lacking. We hear that the appearance of his face changes…and his clothes become uber-bright…and that’s about it.

But fortunately…Jesus must have had a little bit of foresight about this…and lucky for us…he brought along some witnesses…Peter, James, and John…3 out of 4 of Jesus first disciples…the Big 3 as I like to call them…the 3 guys who for whatever reason…always seem to be the ones that Jesus chooses to witness the really big events. All throughout the gospels we hear of different situations that Jesus head’s off to deal with…and he separates off the big 3 to come along with him. We don’t know why its these three and not some of the others…but time and time again we see it…and this time, is no exception.

And wow…what a thing to witness this time around…beyond the obvious, if ambiguous situation of the transfiguration itself…amazing though that must have been for them…there’s a whole lot else that they are privy to in this instance…Jesus invites them to come away…on up the mountain…for some private prayer time…then Jesus’ divine nature comes blazing through his human form…and low and behold…Moses and Elijah show up talking with Jesus…and then Peter decides that this is worthy of a long term camping trip, so he suggests building some shelters for the Messiah, the representative of the Law, and the Representative of the prophets…3 pretty important aspects of scripture mind you…but then as he’s uttering this, for lack of anything better to say…a giant cloud comes rolling in, scaring the pants off the big 3…and then the voice of God booms down around them…reminding them of what they’ve heard before…that THIS is God’s Son…the one he has chosen and they better listen up…and as soon as they receive this divine instruction to pay attention…the cloud disappears…Moses and Elijah are gone…and there’s only Jesus, standing there along with the three of them…and because they are so confused…and probably still scared…and most likely overwhelmed by this entire experience…they traipse back down the mountain in silence, and didn’t tell anyone what had happened for a good long while. (pause)

That’s the story…that’s the transfiguration…this moment that we feature each and every year, here in the last week of Epiphany, just before the start of Lent…just before we begin that dark journey together…a season that grows steadily darker until we reach holy week…and it culminates with the death of Jesus…in a time when it is both figuratively as dark as it can get, as well as a moment when it literally grows dark.

Now often times, people think of the transfiguration as the ultimate “mountain top experience.” A time when God’s glory literally shines and its literally on top of a mountain…but to limit this story to just a feel good experience that we compare with the high notes in our own spiritual lives…to do this misses the point…but it is good to recognize that this is simply the first mountain top…for on the other side of the dark valley of Lent, Jesus is found on another mountaintop…this time just outside of Jerusalem…as he hangs on a cross…dying in the literal and figurative darkness.

That’s what we are kicking off today…as we join Jesus and the big 3 on top of this mountain, before traveling back down with them into the valley that lies before the next mountain…and the cross that marks the fulfillment of Jesus’ true work on Earth…the fulfillment that Moses and Elijah are discussing with him when they appear.

I love Luke’s account of the transfiguration because he includes a few little details that are lacking in Matthew and Mark…and this is one of them…the subject of the conversation that is going on between these 3 vital Biblical figures…Jesus, Moses, and Elijah…talking about his departure from this world…both in his death, but also in his ascension back to heaven following his resurrection…and interestingly enough…another little detail here in Luke is revealed when we remember the Father’s words. This is my son…listen to him. (pause)
Now when I think of that command…I’m reminded of when I tell my kids to listen up…it usually happens for 1 of two reasons…either I’ve just said something important that they missed…or on the flip side I’m about to say something that they need to hear…and in the case of God saying this to the Big 3…both sides of the coin are in effect.

If we look backwards…the last thing that Jesus has talked about was the fact that the Son of Man must undergo suffering and rejection and he will be killed before being raised 3 days later…some pretty healthy foreshadowing…and on the flip side, if we look ahead…his next words are “how much longer must I be with you?” (pause) God tells them to listen up and in both instances Jesus is talking about his departure from this world…something that will happen in Jerusalem…the very conversation that Peter, James, and John have just witnessed at the top of this mountain.

Now this is all big stuff…but there’s one more little detail that Luke includes here that really catches my attention…and that is the fact that Peter, James, and John…almost sleep right through this whole episode…did you catch that…they were weighed down with sleep…and perhaps understandably so…they’d just climbed a mountain after all…and that’s hard work…I’ve done that and it wipes you out…and their weariness…their desire to rest and sleep is simple evidence of the weak state of our frail human bodies…we have needs…we need rest, we need nourishment…and these needs often command out attention…so much so, that for these three guys…their need to rest almost caused them to sleep through this amazing situation…they almost missed it…and funny enough…this isn’t the only time that happens.

Because there’s another time when Jesus brings the disciples along…and then invites the big 3 to remain close to him…and this time its not on a mountain…its in a garden…just before Jesus is betrayed…and he’s praying to his father that the cup will pass from his lips…and when he turns around to face Peter, James, and John…having literally been sweating blood from his intense anxiety…he finds them asleep…because it’s the middle of the night…and they’ve been celebrating the Passover all week…and their bodies, their frail weak bodies…require the rest.

What else have these guys slept through…they’ve walked around with Jesus for 3 years…all this time while Jesus has performed countless miracles…when unbelievable moments of the divine have occurred and I wonder just how many they missed.

And I also wonder…how many, do WE…miss…what are…WE…sleeping through…what is God up to over here (hand up behind me) while our weakness has our attention over here (hand up in front me of)? There can be little doubt that God is up to something in the world…and just like the big 3, we are invited to experience it…to witness it…and then to go on share that experience…but I fear that all too often we miss it because something else is going on.

Because life happens it…sometimes the good things…but often times it’s the hard things…diseases…accidents…the phone call that rocks your world with bad news…death…pain…sadness caused by countless different sources…all of these things can get in the way…all of these things remind us of the dark valleys that we walk through…those dark valleys just like the one that we are about to entire…this dark of season of Lent…with the brightness of the transfiguration behind us…and the utter despair of the cross before us.

We live in this valley don’t we? This place of life with all its unpredictable nature…but the good news is that we don’t walk that valley alone. You all know Psalm 23…the one that we hear at pretty much every funeral…Even though I walk through the darkest valley…YOU..ARE…WITH ME. (pause) Jesus walked down that mountain of the transfiguration along with the disciples…he was there as they went on to Jerusalem…and then he walked the road to the cross alone…he took those steps that we are unable to walk…He braved the darkness so that we don’t have to do it on our own.

And perhaps the good news of all this…is that in those moments when our weakness…when our frailty…when those things command our attention over here…the amazing “God-thing” that we are missing back here is simply that He is still here beside us in that weakness…and that he will help us bear that burden…and that one day…somehow, someway, we will walk out the other side of this dark valley, and into the glorious light that God has intended for us. Amen

Dark Hats or Dark Hearts 1-31-16

This morning’s sermon is based on Luke 4:21-30, though I also included the opening portion of the same story (verses 14-20). Jesus addresses the hometown crowd, and things get a little tense.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dark-hats-or-dark-hearts-1-31-16

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

In recent years, I have noticed a trend with the entertainment realm dealing with the main character of various movies or television shows…the anti-hero…In short, the main character, or protagonist as they are called, has morphed from the typical good guy into the type that is way more ambiguous from the moral perspective.

The anti-hero acts in ways that normally we would consider to be negative, and yet, with the narrative of the story revolving around them, they remain the one that we root for…so much so that a movie from just a few years back actually came with the tagline “Get ready to root for the bad guy.” There are certainly a lot of examples of this, with a few recent examples including shows like Breaking Bad or the Sopranos.

As we continue to see this brand of story telling more and more often, it really reveals how much things have changed since the good old days…I can remember sitting and watching old episodes of Gunsmoke with my dad when I was younger…and even though I was clueless as to just who was who…I never had to question who was the good guy and who was the bad guy in any given scene.

The good guy always wore the white hat…and the bad guy was wearing the dark one. They put it right there on front street…but now…well, it’s a little harder to know just who we should be rooting for isn’t it? (pause) But you know what…that’s kinda telling of our day to day lives too isn’t it? Morality and choices…how we treat one another…how we act in our day to day…its all gotten pretty muddled…and at times I think it would be easier if everyone would just wear a hat that would show me in an instant, if I could trust them or not…a hat…that would reveal the color of their heart…but of course, that’s the not the case…and it’s a lot harder, at a glance, to pick out those with a dark heart, than it would be to see them wearing the dark hat. (pause)

Now granted, this isn’t a movie, and it certainly isn’t a western where everyone is walking around with a 10-gallon hat on their head and a revolver on their hip. Real life, we all know its different…and even if we did all wear a hat that revealed our intentions…we’d likely be switching back and forth from that white hat to the dark one over and over again…minute to minute…because human nature is fickle isn’t it? (pause)
Now we see this fickle nature on display here in the gospel lesson for today…that continuation of the same story from last week…as Jesus opens up his ministry in his home stopping grounds…going synagogue to synagogue…enjoying positive reaction after positive reaction…that is, until…he makes it home. (pause)

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives…sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed…Jesus reads these words from the prophet Isaiah…and then as he opens his mouth the preach…the first thing he says is “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (pause) This all sounds familiar doesn’t it? We heard all this last week…but now today, we get the rest of the story.

Initially…the people here in Jesus home town…men and women that he had grown up with…friends, neighbors…aunts and uncles, people who have known him since he was a babe in Mary’s arms…initially, they’re all pretty impressed at this word of grace that he has uttered…and to hear him say that its now fulfilled through him? Wow. This…is pretty big news…and their astonishment is clear. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (pause)
And that right there…that question, that statement…which could be expressing amazed astonishment in recognizing the truth…or on the flip side snarky negativity wondering who this upstart that we’ve known forever thinks he is…could be either way…but this statement…sets Jesus…off.

That’s the thing that surprised me the most as I was working with this passage. Jesus almost seems like he’s picking a fight here…Jesus’ human nature along with its tendency to be back and forth, one extreme to the other…he is the one, who seemingly turns a little dark in order to take the first shot. (pause)
Doubtless you’ll say to me “doctor cure yourself” and then you’ll ask me to perform the deeds of power that you’ve been hearing about…and I can only imagine that the people are sitting there nodding, perhaps wondering why Jesus is starting to turn negative…but then he really pours it on…Truly I tell you…no prophet is accepted in their hometown. (pause) Jaws have to be dropping in the synagogue by this point…and people must be looking at each other with confusion…wondering just what he’s talking about.

If what he says is true…and the prophecy of the Lord’s favor being turned towards the oppressed…certainly that has to include us right? (pause) After all, the Jewish people know all about oppression…having been conquered over and over again…and now in Jesus time being subject to the Romans and whatever whims the government or the military throws out…they are very familiar with this frame of mind.

So why would Jesus start talking so negatively…and why on earth, would he go on in the way that he does? (pause) In Elijah’s day, Israel was filled with widows during a famine…but God sent the prophet to a Gentile woman….and Elisha, he could have healed countless Jewish lepers, but it was the foreign general that received the healing. God’s blessing, which should have gone to his chosen people, were instead bestowed on their enemies. (pause)
I can only imagine when Jesus makes this bold statement there amongst his friends and neighbors…there must have been a shocked silence for a moment…until anger boiled out of them…because Jesus seems to be telling them…Yes…the favor of God is fulfilled through me, but don’t think that just because you know me that you automatically get it…You’re not privy to anything here. (pause) Mind…blown…and not in a good way…

And how do we see them respond? These people, who only moments before we’re astonished and joyful are not full of anger…and wrath…and they grab Jesus and drag him out to the gate of the city, where they fully intend to toss him right down the mountain…You ungrateful brat…how dare you treat us this way…You were raised here…you know our struggles…you know our traditions…you know that we are good people…and that we are God’s chosen people…how dare you say that we don’t deserve this blessing? (pause)

That’s the rub…that’s the tension…the thing that sets them off…when they are faced with the truth that their culture…their heritage…their family line…their pedigree…earns them nothing. (pause)

But it goes even beyond that. God’s blessings, foretold centuries before by the prophet Isaiah…now coming to fulfillment…and instead of being given to those who thought they were chosen by God…its offered to their mortal enemies…the absolute worst of the worst…to those who would be wearing the black hat if this was an old western. (pause)

And so we ask the question of just what does this mean for us today…when God in human form tells us that our association gets us nothing…and that the blessing is instead offered to those that we feel have no right to it what so ever? (pause) Here’s that offensive nature of the gospel that we’ve talked about before.

That the good news doesn’t just apply to certain people who look a certain way, or talk a certain way, or think a certain way…but that maybe, just maybe when we hear that God so loved the world that he gave his Son that maybe, just maybe that really means that God really does love the entire world.

Think about the people that shouldn’t get it…that don’t deserve it…the liars and the thieves…murderers and rapists…atheists or agnostics…or hindu’s or buddists…and maybe I’ll ruffle some feathers with this…but what about Muslims, or homosexuals…or on the other hand the ultra right wing fundamentalists who end up borderline cult-like and condemn everyone else to hell if they don’t think exactly the same way…When I ask you to mentally list those who don’t get the gospel…those who fail to grasp it…those who sure don’t deserve it…I’m guessing that every single one of you can make that list. It will have different types of people on it depending on who you are…and yes…full disclosure, I’ve got that list too…I am just as prone to the need to justify myself at the expense of others as anyone, sinful though that is…and I know it is…because the second I make a list of that includes those who I deem as unworthy of the gospel then I have just placed myself in the judgement seat…I have just set myself above God…I have put my way as the only way.

But my way, its not the right way…because I’m pretty sure that this random carpenter 2000 years ago named Jesus made the statement that I am the way…and if scripture shows us anything its that when someone things that they’ve got it all figured out, Jesus tends to get a little harsh with them…but when someone finds themselves on the outside…marginalized…outcast…that tends to be the one that Jesus is hanging out with.

It seems that the scripture shows us that anytime we, or anyone else for that matter, draws a line in the sand dividing those who are right from those who aren’t…dividing us from them…Jesus is typically standing on the opposite side of that line. (pause)

As I stand up here saying all this…I wonder how many of you are thinking that I’m coming off pretty judgmental…I know I sound that way…and yes there are times when I think that way…times when I hope for more from our congregation and get frustrated when I feel like I’m not seeing the results that God desires…but when I boil all that down I know that its just another case of me placing myself into a spot where I have no business being…and my pride has tripped me up again.

This is the human condition…we don’t all wear white hats or dark hats…because our human nature is too wrapped up with the flawed reality of sin…but there is good news here.

Even though Jesus gets a little harsh with the people in his hometown, he does tell them, Today, this is fulfilled in your hearing…and Jesus is not just saying that it is fulfilled in me…though that is true…but it is fulfilled…the gospel is fulfilled…the release of the captive is fulfilled in YOU hearing it.

You are set free when you hear the good news that God loves you as you are…that Jesus has redeemed you as you are…and at the beginning of worship when we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, then we hear those words, spoken in the authority of Christ that you are forgiven…and all of it counts. Jesus died for all sins…even THAT one. (pause)

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we should all be wearing the dark hat…because it speaks to the truth of a dark heart within us…but praise be to God that he loves us enough to meet us in the darkness…to bring that darkness right up in our face…where we cannot deny it…and then through Jesus Christ that darkness…is…no more.

This is the promise given to us through the waters of our baptism…that we are a new creation, and sin, though it is still present, no longer holds sway. We recognize it, we confess it…and we hear those sweet words from God that you…my child…are forgiven.

These are the words of grace spoken by our Lord…they are spoken for us to hear each and every time we stumble…and likewise, they are for us to share as well….not because we have to…not to earn ourselves brownie points or to erase enough checkmarks on some cosmic bad-deeds list…but we share it because it is good news…and it does grant freedom…and because it is intended for everyone, whether we like it or not…because as Jesus has told us…it IS fulfilled…and there’s really nothing we can do about it…except maybe, to share it. Amen.

Can You Picture It 1-24-16

This sermon, based on Luke 4:14-21, explores the great work of reversal that God is up to in the world through Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This same spirit empowers us to join together in this important work.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/can-you-picture-it-1-24-16

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

You’ve all heard the old saying, “a picture is worth a 1000 words.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement…As a person who values detailed descriptions, the added value of a picture is huge…specifically in how it can instantly show the details that it would take countless words to describe.

But that being said, I’ve found that there are two sides to this coin. Sometimes, a picture, detailed though it may be, only creates more questions. (pause)

As you walked into the sanctuary, most of you likely saw this picture (hold up picture). My sister in law took this picture years ago. Honestly I have no idea how I ever ended up with it, but now it sits on my desk. A random elderly man, walking slowing through a park with his dog. Other than this detail, we know nothing about him…we can only imagine his story and what may have been going in his mind on that sunny afternoon as he walked through a random east coast park. (pause)

But on the flip side, sometimes a picture can reveal something specific…something that we can all share in…and we have examples of this here in this room as well. Around this sanctuary are several sets of stained-glass windows…and the center pane of each holds images that likely reveal a specific Biblical instance in your mind when you see them. One is loaves and fish at the feeding of the 5000. Another is 3 crosses for the crucifixion of Jesus…another shows the birth and another the resurrection…but one…this one right up here behind the organ…well it seems particularly fitting today.

Most of you likely can’t see it from where you’re sitting due to the angle, but the picture in this window shows a white dove and tongues of fire…pointing to the two instances in the scriptures when the holy spirit takes on some sort of physical form…and its fitting today, because as we heard, the Holy Spirit is active in leading Jesus through into Galilee to begin the first portion of his ministry.

Now this is something of an important theme here in Luke…particularly in the opening few chapters as we hear over and over again of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding and empowering individuals to participate in the work that God is up to in the world.

The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary to conceive Jesus in the first place. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, are filled with the spirit. John himself is filled with the spirit even before he’s born. Two prophets are led into the temple by the spirit to witness the baby Jesus. Jesus himself is anointed with the spirit in his baptism. The spirit leads him into the wilderness just before today’s story…and once that time is over, we hear today that the same spirit leads him into the Galilee where he begins to preach…and everyone is amazed at this local boy…and they all speak highly of him…and then…the Spirit leads him home…and since it’s the Sabbath day, Jesus heads into the synagogue where he is the featured preacher for the day…and we hear once more about the Spirit of the Lord…and we realize that this is nothing new. (pause)

For Jesus takes the scroll of the prophet Isaiah…writings that originated centuries before Jesus came on the scene…and we hear these words. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (pause)
As I pondered on this text this week, I was struck by the realization that this notion, proclaimed by Jesus has being fulfilled, is in fact a very old notion. Not only that Isaiah proclaimed it some 500 odd years before Jesus was around…but its even older than that. I’m reminded of the ongoing discussion that we’ve been having in Bible Study as we explore the Story, that God’s intention for the Jewish people…for this great nation…God’s chosen people…was for them to serve as an example for the whole world, what God desires for relationship, both between individuals as well as between God and humanity.

This was the purpose of the 10 commandments…this was the purpose of God’s promises to Abraham all the way back…that God would bring about a great reversal of everything that society and power dictates should be…Good news to the poor, release of the captives, sight to the blind…we are reminded as Jesus reads from Isaiah…that even in Jesus’ time, this was nothing new…but it represents a vital reminder of just what God is up to in the world. (pause)
But that being said…there is something else at work…for we are reminded that in Jesus…in the life of Christ, God in human form…this work that God is up to in our reality takes an important step forward…for while this was God’s intention for his chosen people…and while the word of God came upon the prophet Isaiah in order to proclaim this good news…in Christ…this work takes another important step forward…and the great reversal takes action.

Christ tells us that it has been fulfilled…and it is because of the power of the Holy Spirit, which first gave the power of proclamation…but goes so far beyond that. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the major power player behind the scenes here in Luke’s writings…something that we see center around Jesus in the gospel…and then in the book of Acts, at Pentecost when the Spirit comes upon the disciples…this work of Christ…this work of God in our reality is taken up by humanity through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And here’s the thing…Isaiah was anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim this good news…Jesus was empowered by the same Spirit in the waters of his baptism…and likewise…so…were…we. (pause) Just as the disciples received the Holy Spirit and got to work, likewise we are empowered by that same spirit to get to work as well…we are empowered and united through the spirit into the one body of Christ here on Earth. (pause)
There’s another picture in this church that displays this notion…its out in the narthex…and from a distance when you look at it…it simply looks like a picture of Christ…and the caption even says “The body of Christ.” But then as you get closer to it…the image gets grainy…and the closer you get, the more you can see that this single large image of the body is made up of tiny images of our members, taken from a collection of family pictures for a directory…reminding us that we are one body with many members, united by the Spirit.

And not only are we united, but we…are…empowered…first to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ…to proclaim this great reversal…and this incredible notion that we have a God who desires to be in relationship with us…and not only with us, but with everyone…the poor…the outcast…the disabled…those that we have the tendency to miss. (pause)
I was struck by that notion as well this week…that the Holy Spirit anoints us to reach out and embrace those that society has deemed unacceptable…as unworthy…as worthless…to proclaim…to share the truth that they are of worth…that they are loved…not only by the one who made them…but also by the ones who make up the body here on Earth.

We are called by God…we are anointed by the Spirit…and that’s a pretty big deal…for we are called to be different…we are called to live out this great reversal…recognizing that at times, we are the ones who need to hear the good news…that at times we are the outcast…the unacceptable…and we find great joy in knowing that our maker loves us and claims us as his beloved children.

But there are other times that we are called and anointed to do something with that knowledge and that hope and that gift. (pause) There is another sign in our narthex that caught my attention this week. I’ve seen it countless times, but something about it made me wake up and pay attention this week…it hangs over the sink next to the bathroom and reads, quite simply…its in the giving, we receive.

This simple statement speaks volumes of what we are called to do as the body of Christ…not only to proclaim the good news…but do go outside these walls to embody the love of God in Christ Jesus…to stand with the oppressed…to lift up the stranger and the outcast…to live out the love of God in Christ Jesus first shown to us. (pause)
Last Sunday, we took some important steps in this direction within the annual meeting…pledging to give $5000 to a program that provides food for children in many different communities who lack this simple resource…children who leave school on Friday with a backpack full of food so that they don’t have to go hungry until Monday…this is a huge step…and one of many different opportunities right here in our community, that we can support, not only with our dollars, but with our time and energy as well. (pause)

This serves as a good reminder for us…that doing the work of God in the world doesn’t mean we have to pack up and move to a foreign country on the other side of the world to proclaim the gospel…sometimes…many times in fact…the work of God is literally in our backyard…something that we are reminded of in today’s lesson…for Jesus…filled with the Holy Spirit…filled with the power player in Luke’s gospel…the one behind the scenes…Jesus…returns home…and gets to work. (pause)

Likewise we’re called to do the same…we are empowered by the same spirit to follow the example of our Savior…and get to work…remembering the overarching story of what God is up to in the world…God made it, humanity messed it up, Jesus redeemed it…and now we are invited into the work of reconciliation…and what might that look like when all of God’s people begin to stand with the oppressed…with the marginalized…with the powerless…Can you picture it? (pause) Now let’s work together to not only picture it…but empowered by the Spirit…to go out there and do it. Amen.

An Abundance of the Best 1-17-16

In this sermon, taken from John 2:1-11, I explore the story of Jesus turning water into wine. This is the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs in John, and shows us that God desires an abundant life for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/an-abundance-of-the-best-1-17-16

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 very likely that I’ve mentioned this before, but I am a big fan of weddings. They are a lot of fun, and I have enjoyed a multitude of them. Several stick out in my memory as significant, but the first wedding that I really remember loving was my sister’s wedding, which happened the summer after I graduated high school.

Probably the reason that I enjoyed that wedding so much was the dance. It was a blast and I danced up a storm…so much so, that I was hot and sweaty pretty much the whole time…and at one point, I remember needing to take a breather, so I plopped down at a table next to one of my mom’s cousins…who shall remain nameless.

She took one look at me and asked “Having fun out there?” To which I replied “Sure am, but man am I thirsty.” And without skipping a beat, she grabbed an empty glass on the table in front of us and poured me a healthy swig of beer. “Here you go, and don’t worry, you parent’s aren’t’ looking.”

So I took that swig of beer and for the first time ever…I thought beer was delicious. It was ice cold and I was so thirsty…it really hit the spot…(pause) And now many of you are aware that I’m a fan of beer…but at that point I wasn’t…not to mention, I was underage anyway…but I’ll cop to it. That moment represented the first time that I thought beer…even cheap American Light beer…was good. (pause)
Now don’t get me wrong…I’m certainly not advocating for underage drinking here…but rather making a connection with a mighty fine tasting beverage…in the setting of a wedding. (pause) Seems fitting with today’s story right?

For in today’s story we see something…kinda similar. An amazing tasting beverage at a wedding. The obvious difference of course…the source of said beverage. (pause) The wedding at Cana…the first of Jesus’ signs here in John’s gospel…the first time he publically performs something miraculous in public causing different individuals to believe in him. Fitting that we have this story here during the season of epiphany as Jesus continues to be revealed to the world. (pause)

Now the nature of this whole story is a little odd. We’ve got Jesus and his disciples crashing a local wedding…Mary’s there…and for whatever reason…the hosts have committed the ultimate wedding faux pa, and have failed to stock enough provisions to last throughout the entirety of the celebration…7 days worth…which I can only imagine represents a pretty healthy stockpile of quality vintage.

Though that being said…the enormous quantity required for that much time would explain the common custom that the steward mentions…starting off with the good stuff and moving into the low quality swill when people got a little too tipsy to tell the difference.

But all that aside…this really was a big deal…and for the hosts to run out of wine part way through…that would have been a huge stain on their reputation…it was simply something that you did not do…if you’ve heard the old saying “its better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it” Well that’s certainly in effect in this situation…and yet…as we see…that’s exactly what happens.

And when it happens…for whatever reason…the individual to step and take charge…is Mary, the mother of Jesus. We have no idea why…but she certainly seems to have a plan, even if Jesus is less than keen about.

PSST…JESUS…SON, Come here…What Mom? They’re out of wine. Yah? So? (pause) At first glance that seems to the be the end of it as Jesus rather bluntly tells Mary off…or does he? Maybe all he needs is this little push. Maybe, Mary knows exactly what she’s doing…or maybe she has a gut feeling that Jesus, this amazing Son of God that she has born and raised…could do something about it…and so she steps aside to the servants with the bold statement “If he tells you to do something…do it.”

And of course…as we know…whether Jesus really wanted to or not…whether it was the proper hour or not…Jesus…for the first time here in John’s gospel…Jesus…takes divine action.

You see those jars…those big ones over there…Fill ‘em up…Fill them with what Jesus? We’re out of wine. Yah, I know…fill them with water. So they do….Now what Jesus? Draw some back out…and take it to the steward…Let him taste it.

And low and behold…somehow…someway that water has turned into wine…and not just any wine…but the best wine…and the steward, as we hear…is amazed. At this point in the celebration, he’s expecting…Arbor Mist…but he gets Crystal…he’s expecting a Natty Light…and gets the most pristine Craft Beer available…And he is amazed…and so he runs of the groom to congratulate him on this amazing development…and I can only imagine the groom to be utterly clueless to just what the steward is talking about. (pause)

Funny…how many different individuals there are that are involved in this whole situation…different individuals, who show a wide variety of understanding about just what is really happening.

We’ve got Jesus…and of course he’s aware…We’ve got Mary, who may or may not know the result. We’ve got the steward who completely misunderstands the situation and misses the miracle itself and the groom…and who knows what he’s thinking. In fact…other than Jesus himself…the only ones who really witness the sign from start to finish are the servants.

But regardless of everyone’s level of understanding…everyone benefits don’t they? The guests can continue the celebration…the servants can keep doing their work…Mary’s request if fulfilled…and the host saves face…even if they don’t fully grasp what’s going on.

Because isn’t that often the case when Jesus does something miraculous…when he performs some amazing sign? There are many of them in scripture…and 7 here in John’s gospel…this is only the first…and one of them…the feeding of the 5000 bears a lot of similarity…when Jesus takes almost nothing…and through his divine power…he is able to provide for everyone…and not just enough…but in abundance.

And we see the same sort of thing here…especially when we begin to consider just how much water was in those big jars in the first place. 6 jars, each one holding 20-30 gallons…and with a little bit of math, we see that Jesus has created anywhere from 600-1000 bottles of wine…WAY more than the party would ever require….and as we heard it was the BEST wine.

Because when God does something…when God choses to provide something…God doesn’t go half way…God does just allow things to squeak by…no, we have a God who provides an abundance…and not only that…but an abundance of that which is best for us.

I’ve often heard this passage explained as something called grace upon grace…and it speaks to this very train of thought…that God gives far over and beyond what is necessary…and often times in ways that we fail to grasp or understand…God’s glory is shown through his grace for us…and not only that God forgives our sins…but that God desires an abundant life for us, both in the eternity of the resurrection, but also in the here and now.

Jesus provided the wine to allow that simply celebration to continue…so that those present could continue to experience the joy of the day…the joy of the celebration…and the joy of community with one another…and likewise God desires that we experience the same…both in our day to day lives as well as our eternal relationship with him, made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That’s what the signs of Christ point towards…a life of abundance…and that’s what Christ’s entire existence was geared towards…even if he seemed a little hesitant to show it that day…Admittedly I’ve always found Jesus’ response to Mary a little odd…why should I care…my hour has not yet come.

Well Jesus…when will your hour come? Because we hear this statement from him countless times throughout the gospel…but, we also get an answer to that question…For when Jesus finally reveals that his hour has come…its at the last supper…just before he is betrayed…and tortured…and killed. And that, THAT, is where God’s glory and God’s intention for us is truly revealed…when God shows us that there is no length he will not go to in order for us to have life and to have it abundantly…God is willing to die for it…and talk about something that makes no sense…something that we fail to grasp. God dies? (pause) You bet he does…and he does it for each and every one of you, regardless of if you think you’re worthy or not…because that’s grace…that’s a free gift…one that’s given beyond our ability to understand or comprehend. (pause)
And so now I ask, what will you do with this gift? With this abundant life that God has given you? (pause) I cannot answer that question for you, because the gifts of God given to us through the Holy Spirit are individual gifts, but together when we start using those gifts, then the body of Christ is strengthened…and when we take those gifts outside these walls into the world out there…that’s when the world will experience the abundance that God continues to grant us…all made possible simply because Jesus, God in human form chose to give us and abundance of that which is best. Amen.

Haven’t We Heard This Before 1-10-16

This morning’s sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday comes from Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. I explore the importance of Jesus’ baptism and the promises made for each one of us in our own.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/havent-we-heard-this-before-1-10-16

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

In any situation, when a person sets out to tell a story, no matter what form its in, every story can break down to one of three different plots. The person verses person…person verses the environment that they are in…and person verses themselves…that’s it…every single story line, in its most basic form will fall into one of those three categories.

And so, many story tellers will often report that there are no original stories…simply that every story is a variation on one of those three plots. And in recent history, no other medium highlights this notion as well as the movie industry. Considering that we are now into a new year, and me being a movie buff…I got a little geeky and looked up the top 10 grossing movies of last year…at least for here in the US…and here’s the list starting with number 10 moving up to number 1. See if you recognize these titles. Spectre, Cinderella, The Martian, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Minions, Furious 7, Inside Out, Avengers Age of Ultron, and the winner…Star Wars The Force Awakens. (pause)
Now…did you sense a trend? Out of those 10 movies, 1 is an original idea…1 is a nearly verbatim adaptation of a book, 1 is a live action remake of the very same story told in animated form, and the rest…7 of the top 10 films of the year…are sequels…and not only are they sequels, but they are increasingly far into different series. There is 1 part 2, 1 part 3, 2 part 4’s, 2 part SEVENS…and finally…the 24th…Bond Movie. (pause)

With these stats in mind…I believe that it is beyond debate…that Hollywood, is REALLY good…and telling the same story over again. Because in the end…particularly with movies…that’s what sequels do…they tell the same basic story with new details…period.

And I bring all of this up, because today’s gospel lesson reminds me of a sequel in many different ways. First off…because the opening portion of today’s gospel was featured just 4 weeks ago as we heard John the Baptist rattling on about NOT being the messiah, and pointing out the important differences between them. (pause) And secondly…because this story…the baptism of our Lord…is one of those stories that we hear, every year…there are a few different ones…Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Transfiguration…and this one…the Baptism of our Lord.

Now, some of those stories are always the exact same gospel…Christmas for instance always comes out of Luke…others from that list will feature the same story but from a different gospel…and today, the baptism of Jesus…well it falls into that second category. For the baptism of Jesus is mentioned in all four gospels…even John gets in on it…but with the other gospels, Matthew Mark and Luke…the details surrounding the baptism are all pretty similar…there are a few differences here and there…but we see those differences within the lead up to the baptism itself…and when we get right down to the nitty gritty of the story…when we get down to the action featured here for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday…no matter which gospel, it’s the same deal…and here…I’ll read it again…the baptism of Jesus.

When all the people had been baptized, and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form and a voice came from heaven saying You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased. (pause)

Wait a sec…did we miss something? Was there a baptism in there…oh yah…Jesus was baptized…talk about a throw away comment…but, I guess it is in there that Jesus was in fact baptized…even if every one of the gospels almost glosses over it…they all do tell us that it happened…but then…in all four gospels…we hear about what happens next…it’s the same old story…SLIGHTLY different details…just like movie sequels.

But you know what…the focus that all four gospels gives on this next part is probably a pretty good indication that we should sit up and pay attention…for following the baptism of Jesus…the heavens open up…and the Holy Spirit shows up with some sort of physical form…one of only 2 times in scripture when this happens…and the Spirit comes upon Jesus…but that’s not all…and we hear, once again, each and every year…the voice of God the Father…You are my son the beloved, in you I am well pleased. (pause)
This moment…this one story, told from different perspectives…is the ONLY time in the entire Bible…when we have all three members of the Holy Trinity present and accounted for. The voice of the father, proclaiming to the world the identity of the Son, who now harbors the Holy Spirit. 1 God in three persons, all of them here. (pause) And let me remind you of the occasion…this all happens because Jesus is baptized…

So what is it about this story…that is so significant…what is it about this story that led the different authors of the gospel to line up some precisely with the details of what has happened…what is that causes us to talk about it, each and every year? (pause)

Great questions…especially when we stop and think about baptism as a whole. For it was nothing new at that time. John was simply utilizing an old Jewish practice to symbolize the purification of the sin that they had repented of…but then John tells the people, when they claim him as the messiah…that no…the Messiah will still baptize you…but it will be different…He will still purify you…but in a way that we can never do…With the Holy Spirit and with fire. (pause)
And we all know that the practice of baptism has continued…most of us in this room, if not all of us…have been baptized…and interestingly enough, at first glance it almost seems like our baptisms are closer to John’s…for we use water don’t we? There’s no fire here…and thankfully so because I don’t think any of us would react very well to being dipped in fire would we? (pause)

But here’s the thing…something that I talked about a few weeks back when this passage came up…something I talked about a year ago when this story was featured…something I talk about in every baptism class with new parents seeking baptism for their child…something I talk about for 2 class periods with the confirmation students…and something that discuss with individuals on a constant basis…
Jesus has taken baptism…and through the ordinary element of water, God does something impossible…God does something new…God does something different…and somehow, someway…in ways that we can neither physically see or understand…God is able to purify us with fire…through the power of the Holy Spirit…in the same baptism perfected by Christ…and just as Christ experienced death and resurrection, we are given the promise in the waters of our baptism that we have joined with Christ in baptism like his…and likewise we join with Christ in a death like his, for the waters of our baptism drown the sinful self and we rise out of that water…with new life…a new creation…and as such we claim the promise that we will join with Christ in a resurrection like his. (pause)
This is the work that God is up to in the waters of our baptisms…its nothing that we do…its nothing that the parents or the sponsors…or relatives or friends…and certainly, this is not the work of the individual who is baptized…this is the work of God…and this is a wonderful thing…that we do…and we do it…because Christ himself told us to…

I mentioned before, that this is the one time when the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all present and accounted for…but there is one more time when all three are named…and it happens in the great commission when Jesus tells us to Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…one God in three persons.

And we invoke all three for a very specific purpose…remembering that it is not us who does the work…But we are baptized in the name of the Father who created us in the first place…in the name of the Son who redeems us through his death and resurrection…and in the name of the Holy Spirit who comes upon us in our baptism to unite us as individuals into the one body of Christ…and to empower us to be the church…to be the body here on earth until such time that Christ shall return and we will join together in his resurrection.

And this…is a very big deal…something worth remembering…something worth clinging to…and that is why we tell this story every year…remembering that Christ was baptized so that in the waters of our baptism we might join with him…and as God calls Jesus his beloved Son…God is also pleased to claim us as individuals, through our baptisms as His beloved child.

We cling to this promise…in all things…we cling to the hope found in the promise when we face the reality of death, that it does not get the last word…we cling to the promise that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…not even our failings…and so we remember…and as Martin Luther said…every day when you wash your face, remember your baptism…live in the promise that God has given you that you belong to him…that he has claimed you…and yes, we’ve all heard this before…but it is worth hearing it again….because this same old story…is the best news that we can ever receive. Amen

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