The Rules Are Not Enough 10-4-15

This sermon is based on Mark 10:2-16, as Jesus tackles an uncomfortable topic in divorce. But what catches us more importantly is the notion that rules are never going to define righteousness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

My Sunday morning outfit never really changes much does it? Dress shoes, nice pants, and a suit coat over my clerical shirt. Occasionally I put on my robe and stole, but that doesn’t happen very often anymore…and so for individuals walking through the doors, about the one outward sign that I’m the pastor is my clerical shirt.

More often than not, I wear a black cleric right? About the only time you’ve seen me in anything different is the two occasions during the liturgical year when I wear my red shirt…Reformation Sunday and Pentecost…however…there are a multitude of different colors of clerics available for purchase.

I found that out a few years back as I was nearing my ordination…and I thought that I would attempt to secure a different shirt for each color represented in our liturgical calendar. Green for the season of Pentecost, red as I mentioned a moment ago, black which I obviously managed, dark blue for Advent, white for Christmas and Easter, and purple for Lent. And so I went online to a supplier to attempt to get as many of those as I could find…but they came up a little short on selection…and so I ended up with black, red, light gray, light blue…and purple.

And then about a week or so later…I was sitting down with a fellow pastor, and we ended up talking about this particular order…and when I mentioned purple…he just sort of looked at me funny for a moment before asking me a simple question, “Scott…in the Lutheran church…who wears purple?” (pause)

If you’re unaware, there’s something of an unwritten rule here in the ELCA that only bishops wear purple…as far as I know its not actually recorded anywhere officially…but its one of those things that you just don’t do…and so I panicked and called the supplier right away. Fortunately it was a small one man operation in terms of order processing, and the guy on the phone actually informed me that the purple shirt that I had ordered was actually on backorder…and so he said he would process everything else and cancel that one.

I breathed a sigh of relief…only to have the back ordered purple clerical shirt show up about 2 months later. So I called him back and he made the joke of “well, after talking to you on the phone I figured you would be a bishop by now, so I sent it anyway.” (pause) But as we all know, I am not a bishop…and that “unwritten” rule against wearing purple is not one that I plan on breaking anytime soon.

Now I bring this all up because today’s gospel features pretty heavily on this notion of rules. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a squirmy subject today, as the Pharisees attempt to utilize a long standing rule…one going all the way back to Deuteronomy and Moses…in order to try and trip up Jesus.

And considering the ongoing tendency of the religious leaders to try and use various religious law to discredit him, it would seem that the subject they breech must have been every bit as uncomfortable then as it is now…divorce…and make no mistake…reading this passage in this day and age where over 50% of marriages end in divorce and then hearing Jesus’ words on the subject…its uncomfortable.

I discussed this passage in a few different settings with a few different people this week, and each and every time we agreed…yah…that’s tough…and a couple of the high school boys were blunt enough to make the statement that I wish I could make “Glad I’m not preaching on it.”

But here we are…faced with a situation where individuals try to trap Jesus by using the rules…and in all honesty…I’m drawn more to that fact than I am to Jesus blunt words about divorce and adultery. (pause) And so for the sake of covering our bases today can we simply agree that divorce is bad…and while there are times when it may be the best thing, its never a good thing? I hope so…if you want to hear more, I preached on this about a year and a half ago…hit me up and I’ll send you the sound file for it. (pause)

But in the end…I’m struck a little more firmly by yet another example of individuals trying to play the rule card with Jesus. (pause) How often do we see this sort of thing in the gospels? Over and over again. (pause) We’ve heard “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We’ve heard the disciples arguing about how to be great in the kingdom of Heaven. We’ve heard the question of how many times do I need to forgive my brother? Or why do your followers eat with defiled hands?

Today…the question…Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (pause) Over and over again people get caught up with the rules. The checklists…the notion of salvation being granted by what we accomplish or what we successfully avoid….this notion that if I can mark enough checkboxes then I’ll be covered…and if I can avoid a list of bad stuff I won’t lose it. (pause)
Isn’t that telling of our society today though? We have rules about everything…bench marks that we need to achieve…negative things that we need to avoid. (pause)

Look at sporting events…collectively we do such a bad job of following the rules that we have guidelines for the various penalties of breaking them. And if you need a visual example…just watch a football game and look for those yellow flags getting thrown all over the place.

Additionally…we have those unwritten rules in society of how to treat one another…when its okay to speak out about something and when we should just bite our tongue.

Rules rules rules…we have rules everywhere…and I wonder…how’s that working out for everyone? (pause) I’m going to run the risk of sounding political for just a moment here…but rest assured that’s not my intention…here in our country…we have laws about firearms. Some will argue that they are too strict…others that they aren’t strict enough…but regardless of your personal opinion on guns in our country…10 people died last Thursday when yet another nutjob opened fire at a community college in Oregon.

Now I know it doesn’t sound very loving for me to call the shooter names…but like all of you, I’m sick of hearing this news every few months…that it happened again…that once again…someone breaks the law…and a bunch of people die. (pause)

People die…because the law…can’t protect them…it can’t save them. (pause) And that right there is the truth of our reality…the reason that Jesus always had something to say whenever he faced the question of how to interpret some law…how much is enough, or what is considered going too far.

The law…the rules…the guidelines are never going to do enough or be enough to save us…because our reality is too flawed…flawed by sin…flawed by that which breaks down our relationships in the first place.

Think about it for a moment…the original law…the 10 Commandments were given to the people of God as a gift in order to show them how they can live in harmony with God and with one another…how they can live in relationship with God and with one another…but as we have seen throughout the course of Old Testament history…and perhaps more specifically through the teachings of Jesus during his ministry, we CANNOT do it…we cannot fulfill the law. No matter how hard we try, its not enough…and the relationships always suffer because of it.

Maybe that’s why Jesus speaks out against divorce in today’s passage…because divorce at its very core is the ending of a relationship…and if our relationships are destroyed by the power of sin in our reality, then I suppose we have to say that divorce is sinful…just as the destruction of any relationship for any reason is the result of sin.

Now once again…I’m not trying to call out divorce right now…I’m really not…rather I’m being realistic…realistic about the fact that our reality…our very existence as it is today is contrary to how we were created in the first place. (pause) Think about the story of creation…we know there are two accounts at the beginning of Genesis and we heard a portion of one in our first lesson…but we see when God decides to create humanity in the first place…God says “Let us create humankind in OUR image.” Let me say that one more time…in OUR image.

We see in Genesis chapter 1…from the beginning God is in relationship…our Triune God…one God-3 parts…confusing as that might be…was in relationship before our reality began…and then we were made in that image…we were made to be in relationship as well…first off relationship with God…and then as we see our first lesson, equal relationship with one another as well. (pause)
We live in a reality, created by God in order to be with one another…and sin breaks that down…period…and there is nothing that we can do about it. There is no magic set of rules…no checklist…no batch of things to avoid that is going to take sin out of our existence…its dug in too deep.

That is why Jesus always seems able to counter the questions of those looking to trip him up with just the right thing to point out to that individual how deep sin runs in their existence…and because it runs so deep…that’s why Jesus came in the first place.

Since we are unable to repair the breach in our relationships caused by the presence of sin…the only being able to do anything about it…did…that is why God entered into our reality…not in order to establish some new set of rules and guidelines that we would turn around and fail at…but in order to bring the kingdom of heaven here.

We can’t get there…so he comes here…and he pays the price of sin…the wages of sin is death…and now through Jesus Christ that debt has been paid…because through Jesus Christ…God takes our messes…our screw-ups…our weaknesses…and God makes them into miracles. (pause)

And so…to wrap this all up today…yes…today Jesus presents us with a hard teaching…one that we’re all uncomfortable with…because there is no good answer to either the question of divorce…nor is there a good answer to the bigger question of “Well Lord…how much is enough?” Because the rules…can never…and will never…be enough…Only God is enough…and praise BE to God…that through the work of Christ, He makes us enough too. Amen.

Be Salty 9-27-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:38-50 I explore Jesus instruction that we be salty, and its importance as we celebrate the baptism of one of the “little ones.”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

My wife is a cook…period. She just is. I like food…a lot…period…We are a good match. And because of this mutual interest in both the preparation as well as the consumption of food, we tend to have Food Network on tv quite a bit.

Now over the course of the past several years, I’ve noticed a change in the typical programming on Food Network…especially during primetime in the evenings…There used to be a lot of shows dedicated to some well-known chef preparing food on camera, simply for the enjoyment of the viewer. Perhaps the most famous one being the Italian Chef Emeril Lagasse…and his signature catch phrase of “BAM!” as he added some seasoning to whatever dish he was currently making.

But now…the trend has moved more towards various cooking competition shows where various chefs and cooks compete round by round, enduring strange challenges and celebrity judge critiques to emerge as the champion.

Perhaps the most well known of these newer shows is one called Chopped where the contestants have to utilize mystery ingredients found in their baskets to prepare a signature dish for each round. And then after each and every round, one of them hears the dreaded words “I’m sorry, you’ve been chopped.”

Its all very dramatic…and of course the editing of the show prior to its viewing certainly helps…but as the clock counts down, you better get your food on the plate…and it better include every one of those mystery ingredients…because if you miss one, you are almost certain to be the next victim on the chopping block.

But all that being said…I often find that it’s the critiques of the judges that lend to the most drama…and by far, there are two main criticisms that pop up the most often. The first is that the food is overcooked…and the second, is the dreaded critique that your food, is under seasoned…bland…blaw. (pause)

Now certainly there are many different kinds of seasonings…one trip down the spice aisle in the grocery store will show you that…but the most common spice…and what I’ve heard chef after chef say…is the most important spice is salt…because salt brings out the natural flavors found within the food itself. (pause) So all you aspiring chefs out there…remember…salt is your friend.

And salt…is of course, where I’m going to jump into today’s lesson…because at the end of quite a bit of random teaching from Jesus…we hear him say these words…For everyone will be salted with fire….and have salt in yourselves…in short…be salty. (pause)
Now to be sure…today’s lesson offers a pretty mixed bag of topics…which, if you’ve caught the past couple of weeks here in Mark chapter 9, has sorta been the theme…as Jesus and the disciples make their way around the area…and Jesus continues to teach them…we seem to hear a lot of random tidbits that really don’t seem to be connected all that well.

It all starts off with John tattling on some random exorcist…some random unnamed guy that has caught wind of Jesus’ ability to cast out demons and so he has started to captilize…casting out demons in the name of Jesus…and John tells on him.
JESUS!!!! WE SAW SOMEONE…AND HE SHOULDN’T BE DOING THIS…HE’S NOT ONE OF US…TELL HIM TO STOP. (pause) Gosh John…I’ve heard the same sort of thing out of my kids when they’re bickering…and Jesus reaction is probably about the same as mine. HEY…YOU WORRY ABOUT YOU…HE’S NOT HURTING ANYTHING.

It would seem in this first exchange, Jesus is reminding the disciples…and probably us as well…that no one has the sole authority in the kingdom. Probably a good reminder for us in those times when we like to point our fingers at different denominations. (pause)
But then Jesus switches gears…and he starts talking about the little ones again…and considering that they’re still sitting in the same house as they were a week ago when Jesus bear hugs a random child to prove a point…it would seem that now he’s jumping back into that discussion after John’s little nitpicky moment.

And Jesus tells us…that anyone who makes one of these little ones stumble might as well tie a giant stone around their neck and jump in the ocean…and he goes on from there…if your hand makes you stumble…cut it off…your foot? Same deal…your eye…yank that puppy out and get rid of it.

And why? Well, because it is apparently better that you are dead than to make someone else stumble…and better that you remove the temptation rather than making yourself stumble…and in the midst we hear about hell and some worm won’t die and unquenchable fire. (pause) Holy smokes Jesus…you are all over the map today.

But…what if he’s not…and what if this is all connected? (Pause) Let’s back up for a second here…because this all starts with a warning against causing a little one to stumble…now that word stumble is an interesting one…and we hear it quite a few times today…and it actually means a few different things…one is literally a stumbling block…another is to scandalize…or other times we hear it translated as cause to sin. (pause)

And that right there starts to shed some light…any of you who causes another to sin…especially one of these young impressionable children who are looking to you to set an example in life…in faith…in how to live….well if you cause them to sin…you might as well be dead…and why? Well, anyone remember what is the wage of sin? (pause) Paul tells us its death.

And that’s what Jesus is talking about…your hand make you sin? Cut it off…do you wanna be dead or do you want life…and not just life but eternal? (pause)
But here’s the thing…we hear this and maybe we start thinking Okay…so Jesus is telling us that we need to act a certain way…or talk a certain way or think a certain way…or maybe Jesus is telling us to grab a knife and start cutting…but we all know that there is nothing that we can actually do in order to make ourselves good enough…its not about presenting a pretty picture of who we are…and we know that we can’t do anything to change ourselves…we just can’t do it on our own.

But we don’t lose hope either…because there is more to the story…because there is something out there…a power…a force…whatever you want to call it…that can make a difference…that can make a change in our lives…but before I start talking about that…I want to back up to salt again.

Because Jesus tells us to be salty…to have salt amongst us…and think for a bit about just what salt does when you put it on food…because salt doesn’t actually change the food…you put some salt on a burger before you cook it…its still a burger…but when you take a bite of it…it tastes different…you perceive it differently…you encounter it differently…your experience of that burger is different with salt that it would be if there was no salt. (pause) So maybe it the salt doesn’t change the form of the food…but it changes the taste doesn’t it? (pause)

So maybe when Jesus is telling us to be salty he’s really saying that there needs to be something else there with you that changes how you are perceived…how you are experienced…how the world sees you…how the world experiences you.

And that, my friends…is the Holy Spirit…the presence of God in spiritual form…the presence of God within you that makes the gift of faith possible…that makes forgiveness of sins possible…that makes eternal life possible despite anything that we can say or think or do.

The Holy Spirit seasons us…changes us…and yes over time this will result in a change in how we act and how we talk and even how we think but its not anything we do…it’s the power of God within us…seasoning us…changing us. (pause)

Now all that is wonderful…but of course it raises the question of just where does the Spirit come from? How can I get me some of that Spirit stuff? (pause) And while I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit can and does come upon whoever God choses…I also believe the promise that is made that in the waters of our baptism, we receive the gift of the spirit…

That water, splashed on our heads…together with the promises of God spoken over us…received in faith…seasons us in way that simple salt never will…and this is not a one time thing…for each and every day, we remember our baptism…we cling to those promises made to us as individuals that God loves you and God claims you through the power of the Holy Spirit, overcoming the sinful nature that leads to death and grants us eternal life along with him in the age to come.

In just a few moments, Leah Grace Neumann will come to this font, brought by her parents who desire that she receive this promise as her own…that receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…and as the water splashes over her head, then we believe and we confess that this is true. (pause)

But now here’s the thing…I want to come back around to one more point that Jesus made…because I think its important that we remember it. “If any of you puts a stumbling block before one of these little ones, it would be better for you to tie a millstone around your neck and be thrown into the sea.” (pause)

If you’ve sat in these pews during a baptism before…you know that once its over, I take that child in my arms, just as Christ gathers us in his arms…and I walk down the aisle…and more often that not, that sweet little child is staring out at all of you…and you hear me say the words that they will be watching you…and that each and every one of you shares in the promises made for that child…and each and every one of you shares the responsibility of raising that child in faith…and that comes down to your example.

Be different because you have the presence of the Spirit within you…Be different because of what God has done in your life…be seasoned by God’s presence…be salty…not because I told you to or because you’ll earn cosmic brownie points…but because she needs you to be…Amen.

Its A No Brainer 9-20-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:30-37, I explore what Jesus is trying to tell us when he says that we must welcome a child. Unfortunately, we have the tendency, like the disciples, of being a little dense about his teachings.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

There’s a movie that came out while I was in college called Office Space. The entire premise of this movie is how much the main character hates his job…he works in a cubicle at a big software company, and day after day, his work makes him miserable.

Early on in the movie, we see just how true this is, when he walks up to the only two individuals at his job that he actually gets along with, and says “I’ve gotta get out of here…you guys wanna go get some coffee?” And we find out that they are only 30 minutes into their work day. Turns out this little episode is because some perky coworker accused him of having a case of the Mondays.

I get it…Monday’s are tough…because the work week is just starting off…the freedom of the weekend has just ended and you are as far away from the next weekend as possible…and if you happen to be in a job that isn’t all that great…the weekly case of the Mondays seems even worse. (pause)
Now that being said, I actually like Monday because its my day off…but I feel the same sort of dread towards Tuesdays. However, I’ve also gotten into a routine that breaks that blaw feeling…and that’s the pastor’s text study that I attend on Tuesday mornings. We talk about the gospel…debating various passages and scriptural connections…sharing insights with one another while discussing various points of view on the different texts. Then, once we’ve done that for a couple hours, we head off somewhere in town to have lunch together.

Admittedly, I love this sort of thing…honest discussion around scripture is exciting for me…and I love to learn with one another in this way. But sometimes we’ll hit a certain bit of scripture and we just can’t seem to get anywhere with it…actually this happens a lot.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that the word of God is living and active…and it is…sometimes a certain passage is understood one way…but then the next time around your new experience or context makes you see it a little bit differently…sometimes the scriptures appear to be metaphorical…and sometimes they seem to be quite literal…

This week…the issue of metaphorical verses literal tripped us up…and we spent quite a bit of time trying to determine just what Jesus is talking about when he gathers a child into his arms and tells his disciples that they need to welcome one such as this.

Is he being literal? Telling the disciples…and not just them but us as well…Hey…you need to welcome kids…or on the flip side, is he telling us that we need to welcome the powerless…the ones that lack status and can’t protect themselves…

That was the big question…and we didn’t really come up with a good solution…and after a lot of discussion…we hit a lull in the conversation…and since it was pushing noon, my stomach started growling…and it was loud enough that everyone at the table heard it…so we figured it was time to break for lunch.

And so, a few minutes later, we were sitting at a table at Applebees…having more laid back conversation while we waited for our food to arrive…when I noticed a small girl, probably about 4 or 5 bouncing around in the entryway. Her family was waiting for their table and she was entertaining herself by running towards one of the padded benches that sits there in the entry way…and then she’d jump on it.

The girl did this about 2 or 3 times until she misjudged a jump…and promptly smacked her face into the windowsill…and at that…the conversation at my table utterly stopped…we had all seen it happen…and I think the same thought crossed ever single mind as we saw the girls face scrunch up and the tears well up… “Where’s mom?”

The girl stood there crying for a few seconds…and we were just about to get up to go help her when she ran out of site around a corner to where her parents were standing…and once we saw that she was back with her caretakers…I think we all breathed a sigh of relief. (pause)
But I kept thinking about that moment throughout the course of this week…thinking that maybe, just maybe that was a bit of a sign for us following that debate in text study.

That child was in need…if only for an instant…and that need commanded the attention of an entire table…in that instant all we cared about was her well-being…and the fact that she was unable to comfort herself. (pause)

And as I pondered on that…I had the thought that maybe, just maybe we were putting way too much thought into the debate…that in this instance, we were letting our intellect get in the way of understanding just what Jesus was trying to tell us. That maybe, this should be a no brainer.

And as soon as I had that thought…and the small amount of shame that can, at times accompany a thought like that…I felt an awful lot like the disciples in the story today. (pause) Once again…we hear that Jesus is teaching the disciples…and that once again…they fail to grasp what he’s saying. (pause)
A week ago, we heard Jesus make the first prediction of his suffering and death that would occur…something called the Passion Predictions…there are three of them in Mark’s Gospel…we heard the first one last week…and Peter promptly rebukes Jesus only to have Jesus slam him right back.

The second one appears here…just one chapter later…and the final one is coming right up in chapter 10. Three times Jesus plainly tells his disciples “Hey guys…I’m going to die…and its not going to be pretty…but don’t worry because 3 days later I’ll be alive again.” (pause)

And all three times…the disciples…utterly fail to understand him…and its not like Jesus it speaking cryptically…he’s sharing the truth openly and bluntly. I will die…period. (pause) Admittedly, every time I hear moments like this…times when the disciples fail to understand what’s going on, it leaves me scratching my head just a little bit.

Shouldn’t they get it? I mean, they’ve got Jesus right there…the source of the teaching…the teacher himself…doesn’t he explain it in a way that makes sense? And especially this situation…how much more clear can you get than “I will suffer and die and then I will rise again?”

But here’s the thing…we’ve got hindsight…we know the full story…and we know what’s coming…Jesus is betrayed and arrested…and the disciples all run away…and he’s beaten…and he’s crucified…and he dies and is put in a tomb…and then…in the end…he walks out of that tomb alive again.

We’ve heard the whole story…and so when we hear Jesus start talking about it…it comes as no great surprise to us…but the disciples didn’t have hindsight did they? They were living in this story…experiencing it in real time. And so when their master sits them down and says “Guys…you’ve been with me for awhile now…you’ve seen the miracles…you’ve heard the teaching…you know that I’m the Son of God…but I’m gonna die,” don’t you think that would probably blow their minds just a little bit…that they would lack the ability to wrap their heads around it?

But if we think about it, maybe that’s not so surprising…because even with the benefit of hindsight, don’t we all lack understanding about what Jesus tells us? (pause) And maybe, just maybe, we end up falling into the same trap as the disciples.

Because following Jesus’ proclamation of his coming demise…they start bickering with one another about who’s the greatest. “Hey Peter…you used to the favorite until you yelled at Jesus…I bet he likes me better now.” “Shut up Andrew, at least I can name all the prophets.” “That’s nothing John, I get to carry the money bag for us all…I’m the best.” (pause)

I’ll admit it, I don’t know what the debates all about here…unless they are trying to establish the pecking order for who will be in charge when Jesus actually does die…but regardless of their motivation, Jesus flips everything on its ear by talking about the greatest being the one that is willing to serve everyone else…and then he goes one step beyond that and grabs this random child in a big bear hug…and tells them…you want to be great…then you need to receive this one…this one that has no status…this one that has no rights…this one that has no way to protect themselves…you need to receive this one…and then…only then will you receive me…and not only that but you will have received God. (pause)

Interestingly enough…we don’t hear the response of the disciples to this revelation by Christ…maybe because they had nothing to say…maybe they were rendered speechless…maybe the rules that they had grown up knowing had no answer to this. (pause)
Because at face value…Jesus seems to be talking about the notion of hospitality…that you need to welcome everyone…that you shouldn’t exclude anyone…even the least worthy…the last one expected…but if that’s the case…then Jesus is actually laying down some law here…saying that if we want to receive God…if we want to come into the presence of God, we need to welcome the powerless. (pause)
But I don’t think Jesus came into our reality in order to establish more rules…I don’t think he came into our reality to create more barriers that we need to somehow jump over in order to please God…things that we must do in order to be good enough…I’m pretty sure that Jesus came into our reality, lived died and rose again in order to tear down those barriers…to upend those rules. (pause)

Because if its really all about the rules…then this would have been a no-brainer for the disciples…their culture was centered around the notion of hospitality…that you welcomed the stranger into your midst…into your home and at your table…so why would Jesus need to share this? Why would have to hammer on this idea…unless the disciples…those following Jesus…which includes us by the way…aren’t the ones that need to do the welcoming?

The question occurs to me, what if we are the child? What if we are the powerless one…what if we are the ones that Jesus gathers into his arms in a giant bear hug? (pause) I thought about that…and then I realized that there is only 1 other place in all of the gospels when Jesus bear hugs someone like this? It’s a chapter later, when he tells us that any who wish to receive the kingdom of God must become like the child…like the child that he holds in his arms. (pause)

My friends…certainly there are times in life…times in our walk as followers of Christ when we are called to receive others…but what we must remember is that it is not up to our judgment to determine who these others are. Jesus does that…we are called to receive the ones that Jesus has taken hold of…the ones wrapped in his arms…its up to him…not us.

And the second we start to think that it is up to us…and that we hold the key…that we hold the power…then we need to realize that sin has just knocked us flat once more…and once more we must rely on the grace of God…on the love of Christ, who wraps us in his arms once more.

This is why Martin Luther called us simultaneous saints and sinners…because in every moment we are fully justified in the arms of Christ…while still being fully entangled in the power of sin…And yet God looks at us with love and concern and acceptance despite our flaws…and when God asks the question of whether or not this sinner is worth the cost of salvation…whether or not you are worth the price paid by Christ…God says each and every time…Of course my child…that’s a no brainer. Amen.

Human Moments 9-13-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 8:27-38, I explore an example where the Apostle Peter displays typical human tendency. It gives us a good reminder of the human condition that we all share.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to notice a new tendency…when I get together with my friends…we very rarely create new memories…mostly, we just sit around and talk about our old memories…we share stories…often times punctuated with great laughter, about the old times…the silly things that we did in our younger years.

I’ve been noticing this for several years now…and it happened again quite recently as I got together with an old friend for lunch. Now this particular friend hails from this area, but we got to know each other in college, meeting during our first year at the community college close to where I grew up, growing close through those first two years before transferring to Iowa State together and even spending one year as roommates before life started taking us in different directions.

Sure enough though, life has brought us back together here…as he lives with his family in Council Bluffs and I am here in Underwood…and so periodically we’ll get together and reminisce about the old times. Inevitably…each and every time we do that…two inside jokes come up that we still get a kick out of. One of which shines a light on the positive side of our nature, and the other one…well not so much.

First off, the negative one…We both hated our first year college English class. We just hated it…and so as we always joked around about how we wanted to act out. To be sitting there during lecture…and without warning…completely out of nowhere…stand up, throw the table over…and storm out the door…only to step back in a moment later to sheepishly say “Sorry, I forgot my books.” Needless to say, we never acted on that impulse…but we still laugh about it.

But on the other hand…the second joke that we share certainly reflects a little bit better on us as individuals…and its actually a touch of advice that I pass on to students from time to time…I’ll be honest, I can’t remember where I first hear this…but if you ever want to score points with a teacher when you are sitting in a really boring lecture…simply make eye contact with them as they are making a point…then when they pause…nod your head…say “Nice”…and then act like you are writing down some notes based on what they were saying. (pause) We tried it once in Biology…works like a charm.

Two old jokes…two different situations that reveal opposite sides of human nature…and specifically MY nature…that I can ponder on being super respectful and attentive…and at the same time I can ponder on being an unruly menace.(pause) But…isn’t that human nature? (pause)
That we can have big victories one moment, and turn into complete boneheads in the next.

And if we were to try and identify a character from the Bible that best embodies this back and forth tendency…it would have to be Peter. (pause) Perhaps I’m the only person that thinks so…but I’ll stick by it…perhaps only because I relate to Peter so much…I see so much of myself in how Peter is portrayed throughout the gospels…the top of the class one minute and getting crabbed out for being stupid in the next.

We certainly see that very thing in today’s lesson don’t we? As Peter, in one spirit-filled moment, with no prompting what so ever…correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah…the one anointed by God…or more specifically in Jesus’ case, anointed by the Spirit…to usher in a new era…an era where the kingdom of Heaven has come near to us all.

And then…seemingly a moment later…having heard Jesus discuss just what the reality of being the Messiah truly means…Peter spouts off…and rips into Jesus…Peter tries to teach the teacher…Peter tries to master the master…in short…Peter doesn’t think…or perhaps one could argue that Peter thinks too much…and Jesus immediately cuts him down to size.

But certainly this isn’t the only time that we see Peter display the polar opposite of human tendency is it? Peter is the one who displays enough faith in Christ to literally walk on water in one instant…only to be way-laid by fear, and nearly drown because of it.

Or in another instance…Peter pulls a sword to attack those who are arresting Jesus in the garden…only to tuck tail and run away, before ultimately denying Jesus 3 times in a row.

Peter is always the one to spout off impulsively because he doesn’t know what else to say…and yet Peter is the rock on which Christ builds his church. (pause)
I thought a lot about that very fact this week…not just this one instance when Peter rips Jesus a new one only to have Jesus turn around and school him in the art of rebuking…but the fact that we have so many instances…so many stories where we see both sides of Peter…the triumphs and the failures…the faithful moment as well as the faithless ones.

And as I thought about those…I realized that recognizing these moments about Peter…these honest moments in the scripture begins to reveal a great deal about that same human nature…those same back and forth tendencies that we all share.

And we do don’t we? (pause) Because life is messy…and faith is messy…and sometimes we get it…sometimes the Holy Spirit shows us something so clearly in one moment…but it’s not long before life gets in the way…life with all its imperfections…and not only that but our warped sinful reality gets in the way and what was once so clear now seems so unlikely…so muddled…perhaps even impossible. (pause)
But now here’s the thing…if that was the end of the story…and all we had to learn today was that human nature is fickle…then I think the gospel would have ended right there…but it doesn’t? (pause) Because Jesus goes one doesn’t he? And we hear that he calls the crowds together…not just addressing Peter currently sitting in bonehead mode…not just the 12 disciples reeling from the fact that Jesus has called Peter Satan…but Jesus calls everyone together…and publicly talks about what it means to be his follower.

Words about denying ourselves…and picking up our crosses…and why? Well, because the cross is pretty much the end all-be all for us isn’t it? And when we stop and think about it…the cross is a pretty ugly deal…and no matter how much we might try to polish up the image, the truth about the cross is bloody and brutal.

The cross…crucifixion…was torture to the nth degree…a method of drawn out death that the Romans perfected as a warning to everyone that if you step out of line, this is what happens…and in the midst of this brutal death…God meets us. (pause)
And so…Jesus seems to be showing us here that to be his follower means that we need to honest and realistic about things. We need to call it like it is…and sometimes this brutal honesty means we need to be honest with ourselves. (pause)

And perhaps Peter is getting the short end of the stick here…as he often times seems to throughout scripture…but when we’re honest about our own existence…I think we realize that we all experience the same ups and downs…We all experience moments where it feels like we can do no wrong, only to have that pedestal that we have placed ourselves on knocked right out from under us. (pause)
But as we sit here…perhaps stewing in our own juices that being honest about our experience…about our own reality means owning our own imperfections…as horrific as they might be…there’s another point that I need to make. (pause)

Because we are given another example of just what it means to be human…and that example…is Jesus Christ himself. (pause) Jesus…the one who rebukes Peter in this instance…telling him that he needs to set his mind on divine things will soon find himself in the middle of a dark garden at night…in the midst of such excruciating stress that he’s sweating blood…and asking the Father to take this cup away from my lips…and yet…Jesus also utters these words…Not MY will…but your will.

Jesus, while being fully God…was also fully human…and as a human being he DID NOT…want to experience the torture that awaited him…just as we do not want to experience those moments when our human nature leaves us looking foolish, or silly, or stupid…or worse. (pause)
In today’s story, Jesus asks an important question, one that we all need to answer…Just who is he? Is he the Son of God…the one who came into our reality to bring the kingdom of heaven near? The one who eats with sinners…the one who takes the cross to conquer death? Or is he just a man that lived and died?

Sometimes when we are honest with ourselves…the answer that we give to that question is the logical one…that there is no way that this can be true…but on the other hand…sometimes we answer that question empowered by the Holy Spirit, who gives us the gift to believe that which cannot be proven…we answer through the power of faith…

And depending on who’s paying attention…either one of these answers can seem to be either really smart…or really stupid…and that’s part of the human condition as well…that the work of redemption that God is up to through Jesus Christ isn’t completed yet…and because of that people will respond differently in any given situation…just as we ourselves respond differently…because that is part of what makes us human…that we are flawed…that we are wishy washy…and yet praise be to God that he accepts us anyway…no matter how we respond. Amen.

What Does the Crumb Look Like 9-6-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:24-37, I explore two quite strange healings that Jesus performs. This is, admittedly, a troubling passage considering Jesus’ blunt and offensive response to a Gentile woman seeking healing for her daughter.

You can listen to the audio of the text here:

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

Labor Day weekend…and here in Underwood, we find ourselves 2 weeks into the new school year…in many ways, new school years are exciting…but each new school year also brings its share of new challenges.

This year, in the Dalen house, we are all adjusting to the reality of having a middle schooler…and perhaps more specifically…we are dealing with the reality that is…the middle school homework load. My son Jack has been bringing home A LOT…of homework. Now at first…we thought it was just him…but after keeping my ear to the ground here in town…talking with some other 6th grade parents…we’ve learned that its like this for everyone.

With the change to moving around from room to room for different subjects…and specific time limits for each class, there’s more homework. There just is, and pretty much all we can do is help our respective 6th graders to learn how to deal with the load, and develop work patterns to accomplish what needs to be done.

But as any parent out there knows…this sort of thing takes time and as such, I’ve been sitting at the table with my son quite a bit, helping him work through the various subjects…trying to help him learn the tricks…and so far…during the last two weeks, we’ve spent the largest amount of time together…working on math.

Math is one of those subjects that it seems like people either love or they hate…there’s no gray area…it seems like people either get it really easily, or they have to work at it…but if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed over the years, its that one thing always seems to build on the next thing…and so lessons will often be structured to bring in multiple different ways to demonstrate that the lesson has been mastered.

Most recently, my son’s been working on something I call the order of operations…that if you have a multi-step problem, you need to know which portion to do first…perhaps you know the steps as well…you go multiplication, then division, then addition, then subtraction…and for the most part Jack has got that figured out…but last Thursday evening, after he had knocked out the rest of his homework, and then finished up all but 4 problems of this math lesson, he went off to football practice…and we had agreed that after practice was over, we’d sit down to finish up those last couple of problems.

Little did we realize that the final problem was structured like this…various numbers were listed, with blanks left for the different type of application…and then there was the final answer. The problem was solved by putting the correct application sign into the blanks…so essentially we had to figure out where to put a multiplication sign and a division sign, etc…and its basically guess and check…and by the time we got to that problem it was already almost 9pm…we were both tired…and neither one of us had a fully functioning brain.

Do you think we could figure that out? (pause) Finally after staring at this problem for more than half an hour, I threw up my hands and told him “Go to bed. This is impossible. I don’t get it.” (pause) Frustrated…confused…angry…all of it. Because at that point…what we were trying to accomplish seemed impossible. There was no good explanation…and no good answer. (pause)
Today’s gospel story…well, let’s just say that it seems pretty similar to that…because today’s story is completely filled with a bunch of stuff that makes absolutely no sense what so ever. (pause)

During the first part of the week, I thought it was just me…and then I thought that it could just be that it was early and I hadn’t done much work with the text yet…and further study would begin to reveal insight into what’s happening. (pause)
But it didn’t…and I went to text study with some of the other area pastors…and I heard every single one of them struggling with the exact same response. “What is going on here?” (pause)

And admittedly, there is a lot going on in this passage. Two separate stories of healing…both of which might be happening within Gentile territory. There is debate…a lot of really random travel plans…and two completely different styles of healing…so what do you say…let’s dive into all this.

First off…Jesus takes a break from all the crowds…or at least he tries to…and he heads off to Tyre…a region and city along the Mediterranean Sea…a very diverse city…and definitely outside what we would call a Jewish area…and it seems like Jesus is trying to catch a little alone time but as per usual, he’s recognized…and people bring requests.
This time around…it’s a woman…and keep in mind the big cultural no-no’s she’s doing. She’s a Gentile…specifically Syrophoenician…and she’s approaching a Jew…and as we’ve seen in the past, they don’t often play nice together…but not only that, she’s a woman approaching a man…something else that simply would not have happened…and yet…for the sake of her daughter…she feels that these two pretty major cultural infractions are worth it…and she comes to Jesus, falls at his feet and passionately makes her request. (pause)
So far so good…we’ve seen this sort of thing before haven’t we? And I think we’ve all come to expect a certain sort of response from Jesus…compassion…acceptance…likely a rebuke for the other people who condemn the individual as unacceptable. (pause) But not today.

Today…Jesus shoots her down with what might just be the single most offensive thing he has ever said. Its not right to take the food from the children and throw it to the dogs…honestly that seems bad enough at face value…but with a little leg work, the original language reveals that Jesus is being a little more blunt…a little more colorful as he calls either this woman or her daughter, we’re not sure which…a name that actually refers to a female dog…

Not willing to be deterred…the woman seemingly accepts the rude statement, and throws it right back in Jesus’ face with this statement about even the dogs eating the crumbs from the table…an od response…but one that seems to convince Jesus of her faith…and instantly, without even seeing the girl first hand…Jesus grants the healing…he just says that its done…the epitome of phoning it in. (pause)

Certainly this is all pretty weird…but as we know…the story doesn’t stop there…and Jesus continues his roadtrip towards the sea of Galilee and the Decopolis…strangely enough by first going farther north to Sidon, before ending up to the southeast…and once he finally arrives after his meandering he’s once again greeted with the crowds who bring him someone else to heal. (pause)

Now we don’t know much about this random guy…we don’t know if he’s a Jew or a Gentile…could honestly be either one as the population was mixed in this particular area…but we see this guy who can’t talk very well at all and he’s deaf.

And while in the last situation Jesus just spoke the word to heal remotely, he has to take this guy off by himself…and then he does some pretty weird stuff. (pause) Essentially, he gives the guy a wet willy and hawks a loogy in his mouth…and only then…once he’s done this, does Jesus heave a big sigh and tell him to quite literally, open up…Now once again…we see that it works…and the man is healed…just as the little girl was freed from the unclean spirit. (pause)

That’s a lot of stuff isn’t it? A lot of really random information…all of which combined to leave me scratching my head…and asking myself the question…WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON HERE?

Jesus tells someone off who is seeking healing…and then he responds to another healing in about the grossest way possible. (pause)
This isn’t the Jesus that we’ve come to expect is it? Particularly in how he responds to the woman in the first half of the story. His response…its offensive…and honestly its downright shocking that Jesus…the one who has modeled and preached love and acceptance would make such a rude comment at the expense of this person who recognizes him as Lord.

In fact, this is so shocking…that scholars have provided a wide variety of explanations for just what is going on here. Some call it a test…that’s he’s merely testing the faith of the woman to see how much she really wants this. Other’s say that he’s merely joking with the woman…making a statement based on what society would expect, and that she instantly picks up on it…that these two are having friendly banter, when all the while he’s already accepted her…and finally, some say that Jesus’ humanity is really dominating here…and that he’s a product of the male dominated, Jewish segregated society…and that this woman actually teaches him a lesson about just who the kingdom of heaven is really for. (pause)

And so I ask…are any of these explanations acceptable? (pause) That was the big question in my text study this week…and you should have seen the way that this group of pastors went round and round and round…we didn’t quite come to blows but it got pretty heated as different individuals offered their two-cents about what’s going on.

But for me…I walked out there that day every bit as confused as I still am as I stand here before you this morning.

Because despite any explanation that we might to try to offer…we hear Jesus spout off…we see Jesus seemingly blow this woman off despite her display of faith that the power of God is present and can heal her daughter.

And that says nothing for the confusion that I feel when comparing the two actual healings…one remotely…and one that I find to be honestly kind of disgusting.

And yet…both healings happened didn’t they? (pause)

Regardless of the situation…regardless of the tension that we find in this passage…regardless of how much it leaves us confused…or perhaps, disgusted…perhaps even disappointed that our loving savior would call anyone a dog, much less a helpless woman…regardless of all this…the healing happens…the woman receives the crumb from table….and the crumb…is enough…because her daughter is healed…and the man…yes he got his ears poked and another person’s spit in his mouth…but he is healed. This odd crumb that he receives is enough as well. (pause)

So where do we go from here? What do we do with this? (pause) Personally, even with the success of the healing…even with the two individuals being freed from what has them hindered…I find this passage troubling…

I find it troubling because Jesus makes a statement that Jesus…God in human form…the one who came to bring the kingdom of heaven near…the one that came to make relationship with our loving God that claims us and accepts us, flawed as we are, the one that came to make that possible…makes this statement that in the very least reflects the really crappy reality of how different members of society treat one another and in the worst case reflects just how our savior feels about an individual on a personal level, and it reflects very poorly.

If I claim that God loves us so much and God in the flesh makes statements like this…then I’m really at a loss for what to do…a loss of what to think…and I wonder if I’m the only one. (pause)

But maybe…just maybe, this is one of those situations that I talk about sometimes…one of those hard situations…one of those tough questions to which there are no good answers. (pause)

Is Jesus really calling this woman a dog and blowing her off? Maybe, I don’t know…is she really teaching him something about the kingdom of God that he didn’t already know? Maybe, I don’t know. Does Jesus really need to spit in order to open the ears and tongue of this other random guy when he’s already proven that he can simply speak the word and have it be done? Maybe…I…don’t…know…and I don’t expect you to know either.

Because that’s life…life, is messy…life is full of questions, and concerns…and situations that don’t turn out like we hope or expect…and simply being people of faith doesn’t change that for us…that woman expressed faith and got called a dog…and yet…the crumb that she receives is enough…the healing happens whether we like the details or not.

And sometimes…that needs to be enough for us…because there’s really nothing that we can do about it. Sometimes society calls someone unacceptable…sometimes we do…but in the end…God gives us a crumb…somehow, someway God gives us that crumb…and its enough. The woman got her daughter back, and for her, I bet it was worth it to be called a dog. The man could hear and speak, probably worth a random rabbi spitting in his mouth…

I don’t know what your crumb is…but I think God gives them to all of us…it might not be what we hope for…it might not be what we expect and it sure as heck might not come in the way that we want…but it comes…whether we think we’re worthy of it or not…God does, and even if we fail to understand his tactics…Jesus lived and died and rose again to prove it…may that crumb be enough today…regardless of what it looks like. Amen.

Same Story Different Language 8-30-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 7:1-8, 14-23. Within this text, Jesus’ audience changes a couple of times. Likewise, his method for address changes, but his message remains consistent. We can take a lesson from this.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

If you were previously unaware, you likely noticed on your way into the church this morning that the first phase of our landscaping project, both on the front side as well as the backside of the church, has now been completed.

The initial work happened about a week ago as the dirt was moved around and the concrete footings for the new bell stand were poured…and then the rest of the work happened through the middle of this past week. A crew of 5 or 6 individuals were here, putting the different types of brick in place to create the wall and the bell platform as well as the decorative portion of the sidewalk.

As per usual in a situation like this, they were outside doing their work, while life inside the building went on like usual. Interactions between me and the crew were minimal, limited to a casual hello or a nod as I walked past them headed towards the front door…but there was one that caught my attention. I’d been in the office and was heading out…and as per usual I push open the front door and immediately turn to the right, heading out towards the parking lot…

But this time around, the timing was pretty spot on…and I pushed open the door just as two of the members of the crew spouted off at one another…and as can be pretty typical in situations like this…the language was…well, let’s just say it was pretty colorful on the part of the individual who had his back to the door…the one who didn’t realize that I was in earshot. (pause)
Now the reaction of one of the other crew members was pretty priceless…and as I was walking towards the parking lot I heard “Oh nice man…cussing in front of the pastor.” (pause) I thought about turning around to assure them that it was okay and I didn’t mind…but in all honesty, I was way too busy laughing at the situation to even do that. (pause)

Now for many of you this is no great shock…but I myself have the tendency for colorful language in many different situations…a situation that has gotten me strange looks from individuals on more than one occasion…and if, for whatever reason you haven’t heard me before, yes I will admit it…I have moments when I cuss like a sailor…I hope you don’t hold it against me.

But I bring all this up, because I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk to each other in our regular day to day lives…or more specifically, I’ve been thinking about how we address one another…and how we have the tendency to present ourselves a little differently in different situations…how the way we talk might change as our audience changes. (pause) I don’t think that this tendency is a bad thing…at least as long as the message remains consistent. (pause)

Now perhaps you’re wondering just what this all has to do with today’s gospel lesson…and as per usual, that’s a fair question…because today’s lesson…at least at face value…doesn’t really seem to have a whole lot to do with language…in fact, it really seems to be aimed at the notion of rules…and that Jesus is discounting the old rules…perhaps calling people out for following the rules a little too closely. (pause)

That was my first thought as I approached this lesson throughout the course of this week…that Jesus is assuring us that faith doesn’t fit in a rule book…and that his harsh words for the Pharisee’s and the scribes are telling that he has abolished the Old Testament Law…in fact it almost seems as if he’s condemning them for relying on it too heavily…That was my first thought. (pause)
But then I read through it a few more times…and not just the broken batch of verses listed in the bulletin, but I read through the entirety of the chapter…and I noticed something important. (pause) Throughout the course of this chapter…at least through the first 23 verses of it…the audience that Jesus is talking to changes…not just once, but twice.

He starts off talking to the Pharisees and the scribes…but then he directly addresses the crowd that is sitting there listening to them…before finally pulling his disciples aside to explain just what it is that he’s been talking about. (pause) Three different audiences…and three different methods of talking to them. (pause)

First off the Pharisees and scribes…members of the group that I tend to call the religious big-wigs…and not only that…but Mark flat out tells us that they have traveled out from Jerusalem…and so, we see that these guys are THE elite…the best of the best…these guys come from headquarters…if they were Catholic, they’d be from the Vatican…they’d be the professors…the experts…and as such…you can bet a pretty penny that they know the scriptures like the back of their hands…the law…the rules…yah…they know what they’re talking about. (pause)

And so, they bring up rules of cleanliness…and honestly, don’t they sound like every dotting parent out there? Why don’t your kids wash their hands before they eat? (pause) That’s literally their question…they take a rule that in all truth only pertains to the Priests in the temple…and they embellish just a touch saying that EVERYONE does it…and in the end, all they’re really doing is trying to discredit Jesus by association.

But the thing to pay attention to here…is how Jesus responds. Keep in mind these are the experts of the law and the scriptures…and Jesus treats them that way…by sitting down and having a debate over those very laws…over those very scriptures…honestly it reminds me of a scene I saw many times at Seminary when two or three professors would be sitting around debating theology in the campus coffee shop.

And yes, Jesus calls them on their error…pointing out the hypocritical nature of clinging to ritual for the sake of ritual…the thought that how well we follow the rules matters for how righteous or faithful we are…Jesus tells them, in somewhat heated, yet scholarly debate…that they’re wrong…that this has no bearing on matters of faith in their lives. (pause)

And then…Jesus changes, his audience…for having set them straight…or at least sent them packing…Jesus turns his attention back to the crowds who are still present…likely wondering about the outcome of this scholarly conversation…And as Jesus addresses a new group of people…people with different background and understanding…he quite simply takes on the role of teacher…something that he always does with the crowd…and he lays out the same argument…the same truth as before…he just does it a whole lot different. “Guys…trust me, its not what you eat that defiles…its what comes out…your actions, your words…they shine a light on the defilement that resides within the individual.” Short…and to the point.

And then…as he withdraws with the disciples…and they ask him just what it is that he’s talking about…he gets pretty blunt…as I think a lot of us tend to do when we are with those that we know best…those who know us best…and once again…it’s the same topic…just a little more blunt so they get the point.

“Lord, what do you mean it is not what goes in that defiles?” And Jesus looks them straight in the eye “DUDE…SERIOUSLY? We’re talking about food here…you eat it…and eventually it ends up in the toilet.” It’s a natural process how can that defile you…and then in his normal fashion, Jesus gets pretty specific with the disciples…and why? Well because he knows that in the long run these guys are going to become the pillars of the church here on earth…in the long run, these guys need to understand what it is that he’s teaching them.

You notice that he doesn’t change the message…only how he shares it. And that is true regardless of the specific story that we read…as Jesus shares the gospel…as he shares the good news that through him, the kingdom of heaven has come near, the end result is always the same.

Today he’s talking about what defiles a person…and he tells us that what defiles us is the flawed human nature…that a sinful human heart lies within all of us, and that our actions and words reflect it. Period. (pause) And so now comes the million dollar question…what do we do with that?

Well first…we need to hear the gospel…that that sinful human nature…that lies within all of us…it just does…and then we realize that there’s nothing we can do about it…and yet God choses us anyway…through Christ, we are forgiven…we are accepted…just as we are.

And then, we share it…but what we learn today is that the way we share it is going to be different all the time. Because the gospel meets us where we are…and if we’re the one sharing it…then the gospel needs to meet the other individual where they are…and not only that…but we also recognize that each and every individual is going to share the gospel in a different way…because God uses them as they are…with the gifts that they possess…with the voice that they’ve been given.

And I remember when that particular lesson hit home for me…I was in my second year preaching class…spring semester 2011…Now by this point, I was no stranger to preaching…I’d been preaching off and on for several years by this point…and while my own style was certainly evident, I’d also picked up a lot of tendencies from other people…and during the critique phase of about my second sermon in that class…my professor pointed it out to me. These odd little phrases like “And so now I’d like to invite you to consider this possibility…”

And she said “Scott…I’ve listened to you talk…you don’t talk like that. What would you actually say?” I thought about it for a moment…Well in regular conversation I’d say “Think about it.” (pause) And she smiled and said “So say it like that in your sermon.” (pause)
The wonderful nature of the gospel is that its personal. Its personal to the person hearing it because it says that God has chosen you…God, loves…you. (pause) And its also personal to the person sharing it because it says “I have seen God do this, now let me share that with you.” (pause)

Sometimes we share the gospel very bluntly…because that’s what people need to hear…sometimes we share it through our actions…how we treat one another…sometimes the gospel sounds like “I don’t know.” Sometimes it sounds like “I’m so sorry.” And sometimes it sounds like Yes Jesus Loves Me.

We might be speaking a different language…and we might be hearing a different language…but praise be to God that the message is always the same. God loves you, and he died to prove it. Amen.

What Are You Known For 8-23-15

In this sermon, based on John 6:56-69, I explore the “hard teaching” of Jesus that causes many of his disciples to turn away. What is this teaching, and why is it so offensive, even at times, to those of us who follow Christ?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

We all have something that we’re known for…something that people always associate with us…typically, its something from our past…some memorable event or activity that we will be forever tied to…and for those who are familiar with this situation, its never ending.

Granted, I’ve got a lot of these in my history…different situations that define me within different groups and circles….here in town, its probably the fact that I’m a pastor…when I was in seminary, I became known as the guy in the orange hat…my senior year at Iowa State, the entire Horticulture department called me Red because of a certain episode with some hair dye…my group of close friends dating all the way back to Jr High have a multitude of inside jokes that they can pull out at my expense to make me cringe…but in all likelihood, the one that goes back the farthest…the story that has defined me the longest, well it exists in the context of my extended family on my dad’s side.

April of 1988…exactly one week after my 9th birthday…the wedding day of my dad’s youngest sister…and a time when personal video cameras were pretty new…and were unbelievably intriguing to 9 year olds. (pause) After the ceremony was over, the camera operator set up the tripod to record the recession line, as the multitude of guest filed out the sanctuary to greet the wedding party…as is the custom…and low and behold…this little 9 year old spaz case…kept popping up in frame…looking at the camera…turning around to look at the people filing by…turning back around to look at the camera…over and over again. Throughout the course of the entire video…I kept popping into frame…not realizing just how weird it was…nor the lasting effect it would have on my reputation within my extended family.

To this day…people still mock me on that one…anytime there is any sort of event…and there’s a camera present…someone is going to recreate that moment…and everyone laughs…it is…what I am known for. (pause) It is…a vital part of my history.

But isn’t that always the case? And as time marches on…these little aspects of a person’s history really become the defining factor for them…and we have the tendency to gloss over everything else…sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in a bad way.

Think about George Washington…the first president of the United States…remembered fondly…while we forget that he was also a slave-owner and general that nearly starved his own troops to death…Or Henry Ford…father of the American automobile, credited (incorrectly mind you) with pioneering the assembly line…but we forget that he was also a published anti-semite.

This same tendency has carried into how we tend to remember Biblical figures as well…and this has sparked quite a bit of conversation within our current study of The Story as we’ve discussed various Old Testament figures…for instance Abraham…the shining example of faith…was a trickster who tried to pawn off his beloved wife as his sister not just once but twice…and Moses…the great deliverer of the Old Testament…who was also a liar and a murderer who tried his best to weasel out of God’s calling at every turn…or the great king David, an adulterer who was involved with conspiracy to murder.

We find the same thing in the new testament as well, for who can forget Thomas…defined for all time by his doubt…or Peter…ever the one who would deny Christ…or Nathanael who questions anyone that comes out of Nazareth.

But perhaps the one most strongly identified with a single defining moment would have to be…Judas Iscariot…forever known as the one who would betray Jesus…so much so, that within today’s gospel lesson, we find the first introduction to Judas found in John’s Gospel…and we see that he is not even initially called by name…but that he is identified as the one who would betray Jesus…something that he hadn’t even done yet…something that is ultimately motivated by the presence of evil with him…and yet…as we see…it serves as the single defining characteristic that Judas, for all time…will be saddled with…and I find myself wondering…is that fair? (pause)

Is it fair to Judas that history always associates him with betrayal…with the apparent backstabbing that he hands off Jesus’ direction in the closing chapters of the gospel…should that be his one defining moment? Or would it be better for us to lump him in with a different group out of today’s story…that unknown batch of disciples who have been following Jesus…but having sat and listened to this hard teaching…they decide that it’s time to tuck tail and run. (pause)

Because…as we hear…Jesus knew from the start those who would not believe…just as HE knew from the start…that Judas would ultimately be the one to lead the authorities out to the garden…and yet…at the beginning of John chapter 6…in the initial miracle that began this long debate that has raged on throughout the entire chapter…not to mention the past 5 weeks of gospel lessons…when Jesus fed the 5000…guess who was sitting in that crowd…those disciples who turned away…and Judas was sitting there too. (pause)

Now we have the tendency to forget that when John talks about the disciples…its not just the 12 that he’s talking about…in fact…prior to this specific passage…this one point after all those other people turn their backs and walk away…we never even hear about the 12 disciples…they are never set apart…until now…when everyone else has decided that Jesus is asking just a little bit too much of them…that this new teaching is just too much to swallow…its true…up until now…those 12 guys that we tend to put a whole bunch of stock into…they were just a few of a much larger crowd…all of whom…were fed by Jesus…all of whom were in relationship with Jesus…all of whom…at least until now…have liked what Jesus had to say and willingly followed him…willingly found themselves in relationship with him…until now. (pause)
So just what is it about THIS teaching that is SO hard for them? What is it that in the end offends them…makes them lose faith in this man that they’ve been following? (pause)
Is it all the talk of body and blood as food and drink? Maybe…but I kinda don’t think so. In the end, what it seems to be is the truth that is slowly being revealed about the identity of Jesus…that maybe, just maybe this guy really is who he says he is…but if that’s true…and Jesus really is the Son of God…and not just that but that Jesus really is God…well then what does that have to say about the God that they have always known…the God that they were taught about. (pause)

Because what Jesus has to say is going WAY past anything that they can begin to wrap their heads around…way beyond anything that they can justify as being “From God.” First of all…this guy who claims to be God seems to be telling them…not just suggesting it, but flat out instructing them to break their dietary laws…God wouldn’t do that.

And this is the same guy who told them that they needed to treat their neighbors as themselves…even going so far as to naming Samaritans as their neighbors…which might not seem that crazy to us…but it’s the equivalent of telling us that the very people we need to treat as our neighbors includes Muslims….individuals who claim to follow God, but in a radically different way than we do…so different in fact that countless wars have continuously raged through the ages as to who’s right.

This is the guy, who seems to break every single rule that they have held dear throughout the entirety of their lives with the simple goal of being in relationship with the very individuals that those rules state are unacceptable. (pause) Yes Lord…this is a hard teaching…no wonder they walked away.

But remember this…even knowing what we know now…knowing that these individuals would eventually tuck tail and run…even knowing that Judas would eventually betray him…Jesus not only accepts them…but we hear in the verse immediately following today’s passage, Jesus assuring them “Did I not choose you?” (pause)

Jesus willingly choses to be in relationship with those who he knows aren’t going to go the distance…He choses to feed those who will not reciprocate…and in the end…He will even go so far as to wash the feet of this one that will ultimately betray him. (pause)

And while we ponder on that…its also important to remember that even the ones that seemingly got it…even Peter…the very one to make this marvelous statement “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Even these men who have come to believe and know that Jesus is the holy one of God…will eventually abandon him. Peter himself, who makes this faith filled statement, will eventually deny the relationship with Christ…Peter…is also the one to cry out “I DON’T KNOW HIM.” (pause)
What is it about Jesus that causes so many of us…all of us in fact…at one time or another…what is it that causes us to stumble…what is it that offends us so much? Is it, perhaps the notion that salvation is in fact…offered to the entire world…even to those who we deem in the back of our minds as unworthy…as unfaithful…could it be the fact that Jesus invited each and every one of us into relationship with him despite knowing the eventual outcome of that relationship…even knowing that like the disciples we each have those times when we turn and walk away? (pause)

This is a hard teaching…that the relationship between God and us as individuals…ultimately…isn’t up to us…that in the end, its not about what we think of God…but its what God thinks of us…and in our moments of piety…when we forget that its not what God thinks of those that we think are out…and yet God calls them in. (pause)

I can see how the individuals there that day would have been offended by this teaching…that all of the rules don’t matter…that all the checks and balances don’t matter…that all of our accomplishments mean absolutely nothing…and that we are just as dependent upon the invitation as everyone else.

Do you suppose that hearing Jesus make these bold statements was enough to make them question whether or not this is really God talking? Because in the end, that’s what sin is here in John’s gospel…not believing that Jesus is in fact, who he says he is…whether that meets us with our expectations or not.

This is why Jesus asks them if they are offended…if it makes them stumble…or as the actual translation stated “Does this cause you to stop believing?” (pause)

The gospel is hard…not because we have to do anything to accomplish it…but precisely because the gospel is without prejudice…and no matter what rules we try to apply to who’s got it and who doesn’t God ultimately doesn’t really care about our rules…and God will NOT be hindered by them. God will invite whoever God choses to be in relationship…and the only thing that we can do about it is recognize it…and then we need to be grateful…because to truly hear the gospel is to recognize our own need for it…

To recognize that yes…I am sinful…to recognize that no, there is nothing that I can do about it…and even though humanity might define me by the horrible things in my life…the sin that resides right here…the sinful things that I have done…and then finally to realize that the arms of Jesus are opened to me anyway…and that he accepts me, not as I would like to be or hope to be…not as someone else thinks I need to be…but simply that Jesus accepts me as I am, right here, right now…and there is no power on Earth that can change that.

My past doesn’t define me…not the mistakes I’ve made…not the triumphs I’ve accomplished…not the red hair in college, or the orange hat in seminary…not the old video of me bouncing up and down at my aunt’s wedding. I am defined by how God see’s me…as his beloved child.

And the beauty of the gospel…is that this is true for all of us…YOU…are a beloved child of God…and for all eternity, THAT is what you are known for. Amen.


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