Peace in the Midst of Life 4-23-17

This morning’s sermon is based on John 20:19-31. This story is commonly known as Doubting Thomas, but yet makes up 2 separate examples of Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/peace-in-the-midst-of-life-4-23-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I’ve got quite a few pictures that decorate my office. Some are pretty new…others quite a bit older…they were taken in a wide variety of different situations and places…but a couple of them were taken in one of my favorite places in the world. Rainbow Trail Lutheran Bible camp in the mountains of southern Colorado.

Most of you have probably heard me talk about Rainbow Trail before. Once a year, my family packs up the car and road trips out west for a week of family camp. We drive and we drive…and finally after winding our way around countless mountain peaks, we turn off the main highway, and drive about 3 miles up a bumpy gravel road to camp.

Its usually the highlight of our year. We are refreshed and rejuvenated. We enjoy the company of wonderful people that we’ve gotten to know over the course of the past 11 years. We spend every waking moment taking in glorious views, with the constant programming we are going from morning till night…and perhaps most wonderful of all, up in the mountains there is zero cell reception…so there are no interruptions from the outside world.

But inevitably…the end of the week rolls around…and we pack ourselves back in the car…and the tiredness of the week catches up…and the cramped feeling of being in the car at the beginning of more than 11 hours’ worth of driving sets in…and as we drive back down that bumpy gravel road…back into the presence of cell service…the phone starts beeping with all the missed calls and texts…and usually before we’ve even driven 5 miles, we’ve started bickering.  And when that happens, one of us, usually my wife makes the statement “Welcome back to real life.” (pause)
I can’t help but think that same sort of situation has been our reality in our very recent history. Just 1 week ago…we all experienced the mountaintop that is Easter Sunday…and it was glorious.  Here at the church, Easter kicked off with our Confirmation Students leading the worship for our Sunrise Service…This led into a wonderful time of fellowship downstairs for breakfast…a couple hours later the sanctuary was packed to the rafters for our regular Easter service…and after that everyone scattered out in their own directions for various family dinners and gathers and celebrations…and it seemed…for that brief moment anyway…that everything was perfect…and nothing could mess up that feeling. (pause)
But I find myself wondering…just how long that feeling lasted for everyone? How long did it take for real life to take hold again…how soon did the craziness of life push that mountaintop experience of Easter to the back burner? (pause) THE TOMB IS EMPTY…HE HAS RISEN…HALLEJAH!!!!!! Oh, but guess what, welcome back to real life. (pause)

As true as that seems to be for us today…I can’t help but think that the earliest followers of Jesus must have been experiencing the very same thing…and I wonder just how quickly real life…how quickly reality…got in the way for them. (pause)

Over the course of the next several weeks…we’ll continue to encounter the various stories that occurred when Jesus made post-resurrection appearances…times when various individuals would encounter the risen Lord. And as we begin to take a look at those different stories…those different encounters…we begin to see some similarities between them…but we also see some pretty major differences for the individuals who have these experiences.

Now interestingly enough…our story today…commonly known as the Doubting Thomas story…it begins on Easter…so as we pick things up today, we almost need to backtrack a week…almost like the beginning of most tv shows anymore that give you a quick reminder of “previously on our show.” (pause)
Well previously on this show was Easter Sunday…when the tomb is empty and as we hear in John’s gospel…Mary Magdalene is the first one to encounter the risen Lord…but at first she doesn’t recognize him…and its only through their ongoing encounter that she does…but when she does, she goes off and tells the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” (pause)
Well now, we jump ahead a few hours…to the evening of Easter Sunday…and we find 10 of the disciples, no Judas, no Thomas…but the rest of them…huddled in a locked room out of fear. They’ve heard Mary’s report, but it doesn’t seem that its made much difference for them…and they are stuck in the reality of fear…afraid for their lives…afraid that their association with Jesus might just land them in the same boat with the Religious leaders…and they might be arrested or killed just like Jesus had been.

Suddenly…out of nowhere…Jesus is standing among them. We don’t know quite how he manages this…but he does…and he says to them, not once but twice. Peace to you…and he shows them his wounds so that they know its really him…and then he strengthens them by breathing out the very spirit of God…the Holy Spirit into each one of them. (pause)

Amazing right? Now, here in the midst of their fear…the resurrected Jesus has appeared, defying all logic…and for these men, everything is different for they have encountered the Risen Lord…all except Thomas. Poor guy.

When he hears the news he can only think that he’s missed out…that he’s missed his opportunity…but since he’s heard the reports…it seems that he hopes to have the same experience.  Mary encountered the Risen Jesus and reported “I have seen the Lord.”  Then the other disciples encountered the Risen Jesus and gave the same report “We have seen the Lord.”

So don’t sell Thomas short here…even though history remembers him for doubting…it seems to me that he’s simply expressing his hope…his desire…to physically encounter the Risen Jesus just as the rest of them had….and low and behold…a week goes by…and the situation is still pretty similar….they’re all still locked away…and so it seems that the fear is still hanging around…and this time Thomas is there…and once more Jesus is among them with the same message…Peace to you…and then he turns to Thomas, who gets his personal encounter with the Risen Jesus…and once he does, Thomas makes the ultimate confession…My Lord and My God. (pause)
Now these are just a few of the different stories we have of the Risen Jesus and the encounters that different have with him.  We also hear of the road to Emmaeus when two disciples encounter him…and walk along side him for 7 miles…talking…and they don’t recognize him…being to consumed by grief.  (pause) We hear of the disciples encountering Jesus on a mountain, and they worship him…but we hear that they doubted.   We hear that Jesus appears on the seashore after Peter and handful of the others decide to go fishing.

And interestingly enough…John tells us that there are others stories that we haven’t been told…that he did many other signs in the presences of his followers that are not recorded…but we hear about these ones so that we might come to believe…and even Jesus himself reminds us that blessed is the one who has not SEEN…and yet comes to believe. (pause)

Now I bring all of this up…all of these stories…to remind us that countless people encountered the Risen Jesus in many different circumstances…and it would seem that none of those individuals was in an overly happy mode when it happened.

Likewise…I think its safe to say that as wonderful as our Easter mountaintop experience was last Sunday, real life came crashing back in pretty quickly didn’t it…because real life is still happening at the same time as our celebration of the Risen Christ.

This craziness of life comes at us in many different ways. Different for each of us. I discovered it first hand as I tried to deal with a malfunctioning air conditioner and lack of internet connection in the office. Granted these are minor problems, but they added up to create a couple of crazy days this week. But there are others out there who have experienced a whole lot more “real life” than this. Some are dealing with the last days of a loved ones life.  Some are dealing with surgeries and sickness. Others with unease in their employment and finances…others experiencing broken relationships…and the list goes on and on.

Every single one of us is experiencing the ups and downs of life…the roller coaster…with wonderful things happening in one instant…and devastating things happening in the next…and that’s life.  But here’s the thing…that is where we encounter the risen Lord.  Remember that from last week…no one encountered Jesus in the tomb…they encountered him in the midst of the pain and the anguish of life…and so do we.

But if there’s one thing we can take away from today’s story…and the encounter of Jesus with the disciples in the locked room, both the first time around as well as a week later when Thomas was around…its this…the first words of Jesus to us in the midst of the craziness of life…the first words uttered by the Risen Lord are this. Peace be with you. (pause)
He doesn’t tell them not to be afraid…he doesn’t tell them hi or anything else so trivial as that…in the midst of whatever anguish and pain that life had dealt them in that instant he offers them peace.

This is what our Lord can do…this is what our Lord has already done.  He has come into our broken existence…and through his life, death, and resurrection has somehow, some way made it possible for us to find a sense of peace right in the middle of all of it…he has given us something to cling to when things are darkest…he has given us hope…and we receive this hope through the power of the Holy Spirit that he has given us. (pause)

I can’t tell you just how you have encountered the Risen Lord…because as we see in the scripture, that’s different for everyone…and its especially important to note that our experience is very different from his first followers…for they were actually able to see him…and like Thomas they were able to see the marks in his hands and feet…they were able to physically encounter the Risen Lord…but our reality is a little different…and our encounter with the Risen Lord comes through the proclamation of others…through their stories of ways that they have encountered the power of God at work…through their stories of what the Holy Spirit has done….and yet Christ reminds us that we are blessed because we have not seen and yet we come to believe. (pause)

Whatever craziness of life you are facing in this moment…whatever storms are raging in the back of your mind…because they are the reality of your life…remember this…the Risen Lord grants you peace in the midst of it….a peace which passes all human understanding…a peace that we cling…just as we cling to one another for support…and as we look around this room today, may we see one another as a gathering of people who are willing to offering this to one another…for this is why we gather together today, to get through this thing called life…knowing that with the peace of God given to us by Christ, and the strength that we find in the united body of Christ here on earth…that somehow, some way, we will find God’s peace in the midst of the craziness of this life. Amen.

Behold 4-16-17 Easter Sunday

In this Easter Sunday sermon, I explore Matthew’s account of the Resurrection, found in 28:1-10. We see a lot…and we are intended to. The tomb is open so that we can be witnesses to what has occurred.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/behold-4-16-17-easter-sunday

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The first of my grandparents to die was my grandpa on my mom’s side.  He and my grandma had moved to the Phoenix Arizona are when I was 5 years old…and they were still living there in the midst of my junior year of college, when Grandpa, quite suddenly had a serious health problem. He hung in there for a while…long enough for my mom to get down there to see him…but shortly after that he died. There was a small funeral for him, attended by those who could make it…but the timing was off for me, happening right in the midst of college mid-terms and sadly, I was unable to attend.

Then about three years later…I was finished with college. My wife and I had been married for about 18 months or so, and we decided to fly down to Arizona to visit my grandma…and while we were there, the three of us hopped in the car and visited the cemetery where my grandpa had been buried.

Now of course, I had mourned my grandfather when he died…but when we walked up to his grave and I looked at his tombstone, I just…lost it. I can’t explain why this happened, but I learned an important lesson that day. There are certainly things that you just have to see in order to fully experience them…and in this case…it was the grave of my grandfather.

(pause) Now, perhaps it seems a little strange to kick off an easter sermon by talking about death. Admittedly, I sort of thought the same thing as I sat at my desk on Friday, working my way through the preparation of this message.  As you likely realize, Friday was, of course…Good Friday…and I struggled with this message because my head was in two different places…I was thinking about Good Friday and our worship service that was coming up that evening…and at the same time I was thinking about this morning and the joy of Easter Sunday…and I was stuck in that tension between the two…I was stuck in thoughts about death while I was trying to think about new life.

But then I read today’s gospel lesson again and I realized that this is exactly where the story of Easter begins…with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb…and rest assured, they know where to find it.  If we back track just a little ways, we hear that these two women have been witnesses to all that Jesus has endured. They are among the women standing there when he dies on the cross…and they are watching when his dead body is taken off the cross and laid in this very tomb.

And so, as the action picks up…early morning on this random Sunday 2000 years ago…these two women are walking to see the tomb.  That’s an interesting point here in Matthew’s gospel…there are no spices in tow…and nothing about going to anoint his body…the tomb is closed…he’s dead and buried…they are simply going to see the tomb.

Now I pondered on that fact for a while…and then I remembered what happened to me at my grandpa’s grave…sometimes you’ve got to see it…and maybe, just maybe they were going there in order to try and feel a tiny little bit of connection to this man that they had known and loved.

Isn’t that what we do when we visit a cemetery…when we walk up to the grave of someone that we loved in this life…when we sit there and talk to them…what is it that we are doing, besides trying to have a tiny little bit of connection to this beloved person who has crossed the boundary that death creates.

Make no mistake…we all know, as we walk up to that tombstone…that in no way are we going to see the person again. We know that if we talk them, they aren’t going to talk back again…we all know about this division…this boundary created by death…and the two women knew it too.

They knew he was dead…but yet they went to SEE the tomb…and make no mistake…they saw the tomb…but they saw a whole lot more than that…Interestingly enough…the phrase “to see” or “to behold” is all over this short passage today…and there is a lot to behold.

They went to behold to tomb…and BEHOLD…there was an earthquake….and BEHOLD and angel descended from heaven and rolled the stone away. The angel greets the women, telling them fear not…You are looking to Behold Jesus who was crucified…BUT BEHOLD…he is not here…come and see.

The angel has a message…and a command…go and tell the disciples…he has been raised…but go into Galilee and there you will BEHOLD the risen Christ…this is so amazing…also frightening…but with joy the women run away from the tomb…and wouldn’t you know it…BEHOLD, there’s Jesus….who tells them the very same thing…don’t be afraid, but go tell my brothers to go out into Galilee and there they will BEHOLD me. (pause)

If the old saying is true…and seeing is believing…then we’ve got a lot to believe today don’t we? But what is truly amazing to me, is that what the women expect to see is the polar opposite of what they experience. They went looking for the tomb…but they found a whole lot more…and so…do…we. (pause)
Now…I don’t even need to tell you that Christ is Risen do I? I mean, of course he has…but you already know that…you’re already here today…clearly the Resurrected Jesus is something that is prominent enough on your radar that you are already here.

But imagine if you didn’t know that…because that’s the situation the women found themselves in. They went expecting death…and interestingly enough…but what they experienced included and earthquake, and an angel opening up the tomb…and then the angel pointed something out to them…not the Risen Christ…they didn’t find him there…the angel pointed out the lack of a dead Jesus. You are looking for Jesus was crucified, but see he is not here.

Here’s the amazing thing about that angel’s message and action of rolling away the stone. He didn’t show up in order to let the risen Jesus out of the grave…somehow that had already happened, even with the stone blocking the entrance…he moved the stone to let the women…and to let us IN…so that we can BEHOLD that the tomb is empty…that death didn’t get the last word…and that somehow, some way, there’s more to this story.

Now in it in their fear AND great joy…experienced at the same time mind you…as they follow the command of the angel to go and tell the disciples what they experienced…that’s when they encounter Christ…not among the dead, but out there in the world….and his command, repeated to the women in order that they might share it with the disciples is the same…tell my brothers that they must go out into the world and THERE they will see me. (pause)

This is the big deal about today…like the women, we expect to find death…and sure enough, we all experience it…and I’m not just talking about physical death…but something I tend to call little deaths…because this world is not perfect…and our lives are not perfect…and simply being followers of Christ in whatever capacity we find ourselves today does not excuse us from that.

We come to worship this morning…expecting the empty tomb…expecting trumpets and joyful proclamations…expecting the Resurrected Jesus…BUT…we come bearing all sorts of little death…you know what they are in your life. Those things that you struggle with…those voices in the back of our heads that tell us that we aren’t good enough…that we aren’t smart enough…that we haven’t done and will NEVER be good enough. We all have those hardships…those trials…those things that stand in the way of joy. (pause)
BUT…the tomb is empty. (pause) Death doesn’t get the last word…and what we experience…what we see…what we BEHOLD in the empty tomb is that we have a God who can…who has…who DOES create new life out of death…and as we go forth…out there into the world, bearing the news that the tomb is empty…bearing the knowledge of our experience…of our own story about what we have seen God do in our lives…when we are out there….that’s where the joy of the resurrected Christ meets us…and as we share this news as WE have experienced it…just like the women…just like the disciples at the end of the gospel…that’s where we find the Resurrected Lord….not in here…because here today…we find an empty tomb…but out there…as we bear this news that the tomb is empty…that death doesn’t get the last word…as we look in the face of the beloved child of God that we share this news with….that’s where we see Jesus….and maybe, just maybe, they’ll see him too. (pause)
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen…and that’s something to behold. Amen.

Love Wins 4-13-17 (Maundy Thursday)

In this sermon for Maundy Thursday, I explore the importance of the foot washing that Jesus provides for his disciples at the Last Supper.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/4-13-17-love-wins-maundy-thursday

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

As we get older, I think its fair to say that bit of advice and wisdom that someone chose to share with us in our younger years tends to stick…and soon enough we find ourselves bestowing that very same wisdom or advice on to others.  I’ve certainly discovered that to be true within the various aspects of ministry that I am involved with.

Some of you have probably picked up on this. When I find myself in a situation that repeats, what comes out of my mouth probably sounds the same time after time. Its true in teaching…its true in preaching…I’ve found it to be true in the proclamation of the gospel in funerals…and I’ve found it to be true in the advice I give couples on their wedding day.

Now, perhaps this will come as no great surprise, but this wedding advice that I pass along was advice given to my wife and I during our wedding ceremony. It speaks to the patient nature of mutual love for one another…especially in situations when we start getting on one another’s nerves…those situations when we let one another down…those times when we just aren’t getting along.

In those times, as we look at each other, and we aren’t feeling a whole lot of warm fuzzies for each other…we need to remember this advice. Even though I don’t like you very much right now…I still love you.

I think that very sentiment reflects the truth about our relationships with one another…because we all fail…we all get selfish or moody…we all get frustrated and angry…and in one way or another we always end up hurting one another…I guess you could call that a true aspect of the human condition. (pause)
Now I was thinking along these very lines earlier this week as I pondered on tonight’s scripture and sermon. This is, of course a familiar passage…one featured every year here on Maundy Thursday…John’s account of the Last Supper, as Jesus gathers along with the 12 disciples to share one final meal…to share in a time of teaching and fellowship…and a time when Jesus will show his love for his disciples by setting aside the position of honor and authority as the host of the meal…and taking on the role of the lowliest servant to stoop down and wash the feet of these men that he loves. (pause)

Now admittedly…Holy Week is a time when I tend to think of all that God is doing…and because of this…when I think about Jesus…I tend to think about his divinity…that Jesus is the personification of God’s literal and physical action within our reality…and throw in the strong focus of John’s gospel on the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh…and for me…it becomes quite simple to forget that in addition to being fully divine…Jesus was also fully human.

Yes, this is God playing host to the disciples at the Last Supper…but at the very same time…this is also a Man.  And just like each one of us…Jesus…experienced the full gambit of emotions. We hear about that in various aspects of the gospels. He experiences joy. He experiences anger. He experiences sorrow and mourning…He experiences frustrations…just like us.  And even though we likely fail to realize…I think its safe to say that Jesus experienced his share of frustrations…even with those he cared about most…even the 12 disciples. (pause)

But despite that reality…Jesus invites them into the meal…and as we have heard, he serves them all.  But there’s one point that catches my attention right at the beginning of this passage. Jesus…knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…all things. Jesus…knew…everything. (pause)

He knew what was coming. He knew the hearts and minds of those 12 men who sat at the table with him. He knew what they were going to do. (pause) If we look ahead in the story…knowing what’s coming over the course of the next 24 hours…Jesus looked at these guys and I can’t imagine the disappointment he must have felt.  Judas…well that’s a no brainer. Judas would utterly betray him. Judas would be responsible for leading the soldiers to arrest him.  He looks at Peter…knowing that even though Peter is his strongest supporter…he would ultimately deny even knowing Jesus not just once, but three times.  He looks into the face of each and every one of them…knowing that when things get ugly out there in the garden…every one of them is going to run away…every…single…one.

And I can only imagine that as Jesus sat there at the table with them…and then as he got up and filled the basin, and then knelt at the feet of each one of them…and gently washed their feet and dried off…looking each on in the face as he did so…I can only imagine the disappoint that he must have felt…knowing that he has poured his heart and soul into them…teaching them…guiding them…only to have them run away when things get darkest.  (pause) Maybe, just maybe in that instant, Jesus is thinking to himself…Right now I don’t like you very much…but, I still love you. (pause)
That’s the thing…that is what we need to remember…because that’s what this night is all about. Jesus has gathered with those closest to him…these men, who in a few short days, will take over as the core group of his body here on earth…and in spite of any negative human emotions that Jesus must have been experiencing…his love for them as individuals is on full display….and not just for one or two of them…but all 12.

He washes the feet of the men who will abandon him in the garden…He washes the feet of the 3 guys who fail to stay away and pray with him, even though he asks them more than once…He washes the feet of Peter, the one who will deny him…and he even washes the feet of Judas…the one who will betray him…he knows all of this is about to happen and he serves them anyway.

Why would he do that? I think its safe to say that is any of us were in his position….we’d probably err on the side of condemnation…or in the very least shooting a guilt trip at each person for the failure that they will ultimately endure…But Jesus doesn’t do it?

Because for Jesus…who is fully human in this moment…and yet is also fully God…love wins.  Love trumps everything.  We hear this…having loved his own…he loved them till the end…he loved them in the midst of their failures…he loved them through his own death and resurrection…and he still loves them…because we haven’t reached the end yet.

This is the amazing thing about the God that we serve…about the God that we worship…that ultimately…even though this world is dark and broken…and even though we ultimately end up failing one another with startling regularity…God still loves us. And just as he washed the feet of his disciples knowing what was in their hearts, he took the cross for all of us, knowing what is in our hearts.

Now there are times when that amazing news seems so clear…and its so easy to hold on to…to believe…but there are also times when it seems so unrealistic…but you know what…Jesus knew that too…and as he says to Peter…what I am doing you do not know now…but later you will understand.

This gospel that we profess is so utterly and completely mind blowing…that it should come as no great shock that we experience moments of doubt and disbelief. Likewise, it should come as no great shock to us that express this belief that there are many in the world who can’t wrap their heads around the gospel.

This is the reality that we live in…but there is a promise that we can cling to in the midst of all this. Remember the exchange between Jesus and Peter.  When Jesus offers something to Peter…at first he tries to refuse…and then in his lack of understanding he asks for more than he needs. But Jesus assures him in the end…Peter, you are clean…

The amazing thing that we need to remember from this night…is that salvation is not up to us…its not a choice that we make ourselves…because God offers it to us freely…and at the same time…its not difficult…and in the end…salvation is simply about what Jesus has said about you…and what he has said is that you are mine.  This action of action…and this declaration of Christ is not up to you…but it is for you.

And tonight, we begin the final journey that Jesus will endure in order to show you just how far he is willing to go to prove this amazing sacrificial love for you.  Despite any and all failings on our part…he still makes the choice to do this…because when it comes it comes to God…our failures don’t matter…and in the end, love wins.  Amen.

Who Is This God? 4-9-17

This sermon is based on Matthew 21:1-11, which is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, kicking off Holy Week.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-this-god-4-9-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

These days, with the weather warming up, its getting increasingly common for me to walk around town. Here in Underwood there aren’t many places that you can’t walk to inside of 10 minutes.  But there was a time in my life when I relied on walking a whole lot more than I do now…and that time was my 2 years at Iowa State.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the campus at Iowa State. Its good sized…covering approximately 4 square miles, dotted with all kinds of different buildings. And when I was in school those two years, I walked all over the place.  Go here and there for various classes and events. I always had my rhythm depending on the day that would dictate where I was going.

And as I think back, Friday’s always included a trip to the Memorial Union…because you could cash a check in the Union…and having cash in my pocket was always a necessity going into the weekend.

Now week in and week out, this would work out just fine…but there was one time when things got a little tricky. It was early in the fall of 2000…and for the first time ever…politics interfered with my day…because on this particular Friday afternoon…the Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore was scheduled to give a campaign speech on the front steps of the Union….something I was actually unaware of until I approached the building on my usual Friday afternoon quest for cash.

But because he was going to be there…security forces had blocked off the street that I had to cross…something I didn’t realize until I got within about 100 feet of the building…and in order to get the rest of the way into the building…I had to walk an extra ¾ of a mile…and I remember being SO irritated by this whole situation. I kept asking myself “Who does this guy think he is?”  I might as well have been asking the same question posed in today’s Gospel. “Who is this?”

Now interestingly enough…that Friday afternoon on the campus of ISU had some similarities with this exciting day in Jerusalem that happened 2000 years back.  Something big was happened…the upcoming festival in Jerusalem…a visiting political VIP in Ames…and because of both situations…people were in a tizzy.

Now, Al Gore aside…that was the situation as Jesus approached the city. He’s been traveling around…his ministry is now come to a close…and its time to come into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Interestingly enough, Jesus and his band of followers would have been a tiny group in the thousands upon thousands of Jewish people flocking into the capital for this festival. And yet…out of all those people…Jesus is the one whose arrival causes a scene.

Now personally, I find this whole situation a little odd…because there are aspects of Jesus showing humility…and at the same time there are hints of something greater going on.  (pause) We hear that Jesus approaches from the Mount of Olives…which is quite close to city…only about 300-400 yards outside the walls, but across a deep valley…and when he arrives at that point, he sends two of his disciples ahead, into the outskirts of town where they’ll find a donkey and her colt…and he has them bring the animals out to him.

Once they get back, Jesus hops on…and slowly rides down the winding road from the top of the mountain, down through the valley, and back up towards the city…and coming along this road, sitting on the back of a donkey…we hear that he’s fulfilling an old prophecy that the king will come into the city just like this. (pause)

Now, we know that Jesus has a following…and not just the 12 disciples, but there are others as well…and as Jesus rides along, these followers, along with the other people that they begin to encounter…they all start treating Jesus like a VIP…and we see this in a couple different ways.

First off…we see in their shouts of jubilation. Hossana to the Son of David….Hossana in the highest…Simply calling him the son of David is pretty telling…because they would all know that a descendent of David would retake the throne…God had made that promise to David afterall…and so, clearly…they see Jesus as royalty.

But the second sign of this VIP status, is how the people prepare the road for him to pass.  We hear that they pull of their cloaks and that they yank branches off the trees, laying them in the road before him. (pause) Now have you ever stopped to wonder why they did that? What would possess these people to treat anyone like this, regardless of if its Jesus or not?

Well, have you ever walked along a parade route once the parade is over…and you discover that there were horses in that parade because you aren’t paying attention and you step in the wrong spot? (pause)
Interestingly enough, that’s what the people are trying to avoid. Anytime a visiting dignitary would come into the city…the people would do this…but it had to be a very important person…someone like, maybe a king perhaps?  (pause) They spread their cloaks so that Jesus wouldn’t have to step in anything…and that was the common practice.

Now imagine you’re in the city…and you hear shouts of jubilation for someone approaching…you hear rumors of royalty…of a Son of David…someone who might just be the long awaited Messiah…and then as he comes around the corner…you see a humble traveling Rabbi getting the Royal VIP treatment.

This isn’t a king…if it was…he’d be in a chariot…we’d be able to tell…this is just some guy?  And so, even though the city is turmoil because of all this stuff going on…the people ask the question. WHO…IS…THIS? (pause)

I can’t help but think that the entire world has been asking this same question for the last 2000 years. Who is this? This Jesus guy. This guy who travels around…who spends time with the lowly and the outcast. This guy who heals the sick…who challenges the elite…Who is this guy who feeds thousands with a few morsels of bread? Who iis this guy that brings hope to the powerless…and brings rebukes to the powerful? And maybe the biggest question of them all…Who is this, that claims to be God?

We’ve heard Jesus called many things…and we’ve heard the stories of the amazing things that he does.  We hear them week in and week out all year long…we read them in the scriptures…and there are countless examples that we could point to. But who is this God?

What do we find if we ask this question just through what we’ve encountered here during the season of Lent?  Who is this God? He is one that faces temptation and somehow overcomes it.

Who is this God? He is one that commands Satan, and Satan listens.

Who is this God? He is one who speaks of the mysteries of faith…that we must be born again…and in doing so he teaches the teachers.

Who is this God? He is one who can look at an individual and KNOW them…he is one who can tell me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?

Who is this God? He is the one who can open the eyes of the blind.

Who is this God? He is one who weeps…who mourns in the face of death…but he is also the one who does something about it. (pause)
We stand here today…Palm Sunday…mere days before the event of God entering our reality comes to completion through the death and resurrection of Christ…and perhaps we are all asking the question. Who is this God…Who is this man?  Who is this Messiah? (pause)
The people in Jerusalem had the wrong idea…They though the Messiah was someone who would establish the earthly throne of David…who would toss out their political oppressors and lead them to freedom…they thought he was someone so important in the human sense that his delicate feet must be protected from stepping in manure…But little did they realize that this man…this Messiah…this God in human form was about to accomplish something even greater…but he would do it through the most humbling…the most humiliating…the most brutal fashion…but if we go there today, we get ahead of ourselves. (pause)

Today Jesus enters the city…triumphantly…in a fashion that begs the question Who is this? And today, we leave it right there…but in the days to come, continue to ask yourself that same question.

Ask, “Who is this?” when he shares a meal with his friends and humbles himself to wash their feet.

Ask, “Who is this?” when he prays in anguish for the cup to pass from his lips.

Ask, “Who is this?” when he is betrayed…when he is tortured…when he is nailed to the cross.

And then, ask you ponder on that question throughout this week to come…take it one step farther…and ask “Who is this God” who willingly does this? (pause) We’ll leave it right there…for now.

Death Stinks 4-2-17

In this sermon, based on John 11:1-45, I explore the raising of Lazarus, as well as the long story leading up to it. Death, like many of life’s other hardships, leave us asking the question “Where are you on this one?”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/death-stinks-4-2-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There’s a story about a young couple, maybe you’ve heard it before…but the story goes that this young man and woman get married, and on their first day together after they get home from the honeymoon, the new bride decides that she’s going to cook a big fancy meal for her new husband. So she goes out to the store and buys all the fixings…including a great big, tasty ham for the main dish.

Now he’s home when she’s cooking…and as she’s getting ready to put the ham in the roaster pan…he watches his new bride pull out a knife, and slice the end off the ham, before putting in the oven.  Now he’s curious…why would she do that…and so he asks the obvious question. Honey…why did you cut the end off the ham?  She looks at him for a moment, clearly thinking about it…and she responds…well…because that’s what my mom always did before she cooked a ham…I guess I don’t really know why. That’s just what my mom taught me.

So now both of them are a little curious…and so the young woman pulls out her cell phone, puts it on speaker and calls her mom.  Mom…when I was growing up, whenever you were cooking a ham, I remember that you always cut the end off…how come?  Mom thinks about it for a moment and replies…Well…because that’s what I always saw my mom do? I guess I really don’t know why? That’s just what my mom taught me. (pause)
You see where this is going. Now the young bride dials up Grandma…and poses the same question. Why do you cut the end off a ham before you cook it?  And Grandma laughs…well dear…when I was first married to your grandpa…we had a tiny little oven…so small, that I couldn’t fit an entire ham in it…and I got in the habit of cutting the end off so it would fit…and now that I think about it…I never stopped, even when I got a bigger oven. (pause)

Sometimes the things that just seem normal, have a very different, often unexpected reason why they start in the first place. We have many different examples in our day to day lives…things that we do, because that’s just what you do…but they have their roots in something specific.

And one of these things happens around the subject of funerals.  Now the first funeral I remember going to was my great grandmother when I was about 8 years old…and I don’t remember much of anything about that day…except the flowers. The front of the church was blanketed in flowers…and with good reason.  Because when someone dies, what do we do? A batch of us get together and place an order to have flowers sent…its just what you do…and I know that, because that’s what my mom taught me.

But have you ever stopped to consider the reason why? Why do we send flowers? Why is the automatic association with someone’s death, flowers? There’s a reason…but it goes back aways…back before the days of funeral homes…and mortuaries. Back when most people didn’t die in a hospital…they died at home…they’d get sick…they’d be cared for in their final days at home in their bed…and then when they died…the body would stay right there…and when loved ones came for the visitation, they would find the bedroom draped in fresh flowers. Because fresh flowers give off a pleasant smell…and that smell was intended to cover up the smell of death.

Now in the years since, we’ve outsourced funeral prep…and that’s not a bad thing…but in the process, the flowers have just become the go-to sympathy gift…and the masking of death has gone the route of science. We prepare bodies for the funeral in an attempt to hold off decomposition…and we dress up the body, with nice clothes and makeup…trying to make the individual look life-like, and pleasant, and nice…but make no mistake. Death isn’t nice.  Death has an effect…and death has a smell.

Now many of here today are familiar with farm life. And one of things that I can remember most vividly, having grown up around livestock, as the rendering truck when an animal died. That smell is locked in my brain…you can’t put it in words…but its awful…and that smell sticks with you. Last summer, we were sitting at a baseball game for my son…and this particular field was right next to a gravel road…and as we sat there, 3 or 4 different times the rendering truck drove by…and for about 5 minutes…all you can smell is…death.

Now imagine for a moment…that you are Mary and Martha…and your brother has died…and not only that, he’s been in the tomb 4 days…not just dead, but buried…enclosed…rotting…and then Jesus shows up, and he asks you to open the tomb. (pause) That’s exactly what happens today, but interestingly enough not till quite late in this rather lengthy story.

We hear that Lazarus is sick…this man, who along with his two sisters are beloved friends of Jesus. And this is a sickness that isn’t going to get any better so they send word to Jesus…because if anyone can help him…if anyone can make a difference…its Jesus…he’s opened the eyes of a blind man after all…certainly, he can heal Lazarus…

But when Jesus hears the news…he promptly sits around for 2 more days before finally working up the gumption to head towards Bethany…and by the time he meanders there…as we have heard…Lazarus is already rotting away in the tomb.

Needless to say, the sisters…well they’re a little perturbed aren’t they…and apparently they are close enough to Jesus…that they can get away with ripping into him a little bit…and we hear the exact same accusation from both them at different times. If you had been here…my brother wouldn’t have died.

Now I can’t help but think that this is a pretty common reaction…when something bad happens…when something occurs in our lives that we can’t make heads or tails of…and we happen to be in the group of people that express belief in God…I think its safe to say that at one time or another…we have probably all uttered a statement like that haven’t we…or maybe asked the question…Hey God…where were on that one?

I think there are many different examples of things that happen in our lives that bring that question to our minds. Its not just limited to a illness and death…maybe we ask it when our family faces a financial crisis…or when we lose a job.  Maybe we’ve prayed that our marriage will work out…but instead it deteriorates and we find ourselves getting divorced.

Or maybe we are facing the trials of bullying with no end in sight…or maybe we’re being abused…or maybe we’re facing the difficulties of mental illness…there are countless ways that people suffer…and as we look around this room today…who knows what someone is experiencing in the depths of their heart…who knows what hardships are present…hardships that make us ask the question “Where are you on this one God?”

But if the story of Lazarus shows us anything today, its this.  While God might not act according our timing…and while God might not respond to our prayers or requests or questions quite like we hope for…God isn’t afraid to get into stuff that’s messy.

Take the stone away…Lord he’s gonna smell. I don’t care…take it away. (pause) A lot has happened in this story before Jesus cries out in a great big voice…a voice that’s somehow big enough that not even death can hinder it.  Jesus has been accused of not caring.  He’s been blamed for coming too late…but he’s also witnessed death of someone that he loves…and he’s gotten mad…and he’s mourned…but now…finally we see that somehow, someway…Jesus, God in the flesh…cries out in the same voice that spoke creation into existence in the beginning…and in this same amazing voice…he speaks to the dead…and the dead listens. (pause)

That’s the amazing thing about this God that we serve…this God that we worship…this God that we look to for salvation…This God, is willing to get messy…this God is willing to step into those things that make no sense…those things that bring us pain…even death. God gets into it…and not only that, but God get’s his hands dirty in the process…because life’s messy and so is death…its messy because of the way that power of sin has twisted our reality away from that which is good and joyful…but we have a God who loves us so much…who loves us beyond anything we can imagine…this God will go to any length in order to overcome that brokenness.

And that is what the cross is all about…We are almost there…next week Jesus gets to Jerusalem…and just a few days later, he’s betrayed…he’s beaten…he tortured…and he’s nailed to a cross where he suffers and dies. (pause) But the cross is not about God saying I’m so angry with you that I’ll punish my son. (pause) The cross is God saying I’ll endure even this to show you that I love you. (pause)

I am the resurrection and the life. These words of Jesus are a corrective today…both for Martha and for us…because there is this misconception that the life death and resurrection of Jesus is only something that’s intended to benefit us out there in the unknown future.  But Jesus reminds us that we live in the hope of the resurrection…and through that hope we live in the freedom from all that which hinders us…right here right now…and if we don’t believe that…then look at the tomb…because Jesus get in the stink…and cries out in that amazing voice that not even death can stop and says Lazarus come out.  (pause)
And this same God calls us by name…inviting us into a new life…a life free from the things that hinder us…a life where we are not defined by what the world says about us.

And so, wherever you find yourself today…whatever it is in your life that isolates you…whatever suffering makes you ask the question Where are you on this one God…rest assured…that whether we are able to recognize it or not…God…is right beside you…whether it makes sense or not…and as I say this, I pose the same question that Jesus asked Martha…Do you believe this?

I hope so…because believing it grants a freedom that goes beyond words…a freedom that goes beyond the ability to explain…but I believe that its true…I don’t know why…its just what faith has taught me. Amen

Tell Your Story 3-26-17

This week’s sermon, taken from John 9:1-41, delves into the story of Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth. Its a lengthy and rather odd story, where we find the man with a whole new life available to him, but the loss of community as he had known it before.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/tell-your-story-3-26-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Back in 1984, the confirmation class here at Underwood included a guy that many of you will remember. Jeff Montgomery…now while Jeff’s been gone from Underwood for a while now, his parents Gaylen and Karen were very active here in our community until just about a year ago when they relocated to the Branson area…but its Jeff that I want to focus for a moment.

Following his Confirmation in 1984, Jeff would go on to be a summer councilor up north at Ingham Okoboji…at it was there, during a week of camp in the summer of 1991, that Jeff first encountered a crazy little blond spaz case. They didn’t interact much during that week of camp, but they did cross paths.

Fast forward a few more years, and Jeff was the On-Site Director of the Ingham location, and in early 1996, he has a conversation with the local lumberyard deliveryman, and Jeff inquires if he might know anyone that wants to run a lawn mower part-time through the summer.  The deliveryman, who’s name was Rick Dalen…said, yah I know somebody…and his, then 17 year old son went out to meet with Jeff and got the job…only to decide a month later not to do it, because this crazy high schooler wasn’t a big fan of God, or of church, and was WAY too worried about what his friends would think when they found our he was working at a Bible Camp.

But then a year later, that crazy soon to be high school graduate thought about it again, and went out to talk to Jeff a second time…Jeff gave him a look, asked the question “Are you actually gonna do it this time?” And when the crazy kid nodded, Jeff laughed and said okay lets do this.  The crazy kid started that summer riding a lawn mower, but made a lot of relationships with faithful people that influenced him greatly.

Fast forward 20 years…and that crazy kid is now a pastor, nearly 4 years into his first call at the very congregation where Jeff was confirmed in 1984, and that pastor is sitting at the supper table when his son asks the question “Dad, if you hadn’t worked at camp, do you think you would believe it God?”  (pause) We never know the circumstances that God will use to get our attention…and that is precisely where we meet today’s gospel lesson of the man born blind.

Now as a blind man, his regular day to day activities probably involved sitting alongside the road…just trying to stay out of the way…and hoping for the kindness of those around him as he would sit begging day after day. And this day was a day like any other…when an amazing interruption happened…unexpected and out of the blue…an interruption that changed his life forever. (pause) Because on this day…Jesus came walking by.

As I think about this scene I find myself wondering exactly what happened as Jesus and the disciples happened upon this blind stranger. We hear that Jesus notices him first, but that’s about it. But then we don’t know what happened. Did the man ask them for some money…or was he just sitting there silently? We really don’t know the full details…but apparently something about his situation caught the attention of the disciples…and they ask Jesus a question centered around an old understanding that physical ailments or impairments…his blindness in this case…is the result of sin. (pause) But that’s not what Jesus tells them is it?

And in a truly…odd situation, we find Jesus setting the disciples straight with a statement punctuated by hacking a loogy on the ground. (pause) Just imagine it…imagine Jesus calmly professing “I am the light of the world” (hack a loogy)…and then not only that, bending down, mixing up some mud with said loogy…and smearing it on this blind man’s eyes. (pause)  Think about how crazy that would look…and now think about how crazy it must have sounded to this random blind guy as he sits there listening…You hear conversation…you hear a slight rebuke…you hear a guy spitting, which unfortunately would be a sound that this man probably heard fairly regularly…But then you feel a set of hands smearing cool mud over your eyes…something that would have probably been very unwelcome for this blind man…until he hears a gentle voice tell him Go…wash your eyes in the pool…

And then the stranger stands up and walks away, taking his followers with him…leaving this blind man alone with mud all over his face. (pause). But then…imagine what it must have been like after he made his way to the pool…and washed his face clean…and for the first time ever, opened his eyes to see the world. (pause) It’s not enough to say that this was life changing for him…though it certainly was…but I’d say its safe to call this an earth-shattering thing…and the crazy part is…he have no idea who did this for him. (pause) Think about that for a moment…because that is exactly the situation that this guy is facing now. Blind his whole life…some random stranger comes by, smears some mud and leaves before the man can see who helped him.

And that is an interesting point right there…because for the next 27 verses…Jesus is gone…right in the middle of the gospel…which we usually expect to feature Jesus pretty heavily…right here we discover that the LORD HIMSELF…disappears…and this is precisely the time that the man, once blind but now able to see…could have used a little divine backup.

Because this encounter with Jesus…as much of a blessing as it must have been for this guy to go from being blind as a bat to being able to see and care for himself…as great as that must have been…things get a little rough for him.

As the man is walking back home, he begins to encounter his neighbors…people who have known him his entire life…but they can’t recognize him… “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” He looks familiar but that man was blind…this cannot be the same man…and we see a sort of isolation begin to occur around the newly healed individual…as those around him fail to see past one physical trait that has defined him throughout his lifetime…they just can’t see past it…despite his continued assurances “hey guys…really, its me.”

And as bad as that must have been for this man…to not even have the ability to celebrate with is neighbors…we see him essentially put on trial. “What happened?” (pause) I don’t know…this guy put mud on my eyes, told me to wash them, and I could see…but I don’t know who he was.”

And things escalate…and now the people are bickering and they ask him again “WHAT HAPPENED?” (Pause) Mud on my eyes, he told me to wash. I did, I could see…But they still aren’t convinced…and he’s taken before the Pharisees who look down their nose at the fact that this all happened on the Sabbath…WHAT? HE MADE MUD ON THE SABBATH…HE PERFORMED A HEALING ON THE SABBATH…Surely not…he must be a sinner…Quickly now…tell us how this happened.
And the guy has to explain…again. (Pause, take a breath) Mud, eyes, wash…not blind anymore…and they bicker amongst themselves…some being swayed and others not…and they ask him again…HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? (pause…take a deep annoyed breath). Blind, mud, eyes, wash, not blind…yes we got that but who is the man…he’s a prophet…can I go now?

But he can’t leave…because the elite aren’t satisfied…and they bring in his parents…and what happens there? Well, we see the man further isolated because of the fear his parents experience…they don’t want to be kicked out of the synagogue…and so all they’ll say is “well, yes that’s our son and he was blind…BUT WE DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT…ASK HIM!”

This is getting ridiculous for the man…first he’s healed, but he’s alone when it happens…then his neighbors and friends fail him…then the religious leaders fail him…then his family fails him…and then to top it all off the religious leaders haul him back in for a second round.

Tell us again…how did this happen? (pause) After the day this guy is having, perhaps its understandable that he gets a little snarky with them. HEY…I already told you…why do you want to hear it again…planning on learning from him or something? And low and behold, he’s kicked out of the synagogue because of his situation…and then…only then…do we finally see Jesus come back on the scene…and for the first time, the formerly blind man is able to look in the face of the one who offered him this great gift…but he doesn’t know it…until Jesus asks the right questions…and gradually opens the man’s understanding of the truth…that this is the Son of Man…and he… believes. (pause)

Now take a moment to think about all this that’s happened. In the midst of the normal routine of his day, Jesus utterly changes his life…and that change causes two completely different things to happen to the man…as we’ve seen, it creates a brand new isolation from him as he loses the relationship with his neighbors…and then with his parents…and finally with his “church.”

And that can happen…for some…the radical change brought upon them by encountering Jesus can cause the loss of old relationships…because the light of Christ shining in their lives drives away darkness…perhaps you’ve experienced that in your own life…but in the midst of this growing isolation…we also find a change coming over the man…and this change has to do with his testimony about Jesus.

First, he’s just the man that smeared mud on my eyes and told me to wash…but I don’t know who he is…but then, as the man continues to speak about the truth of his own experience…he calls Jesus a prophet…and then he starts getting really bold in his testimony. We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, so if he were not from God he could do nothing…Yes, this man comes from God…and then finally, he comes to know and believe that Jesus is the son of God…Lord I believe.

And Jesus gives this man a new found relationship in the face of the loss of his old relationships…and this is the relationship with God himself…the one that send Jesus into the world…and that is a reality that we all face.

In one way or another, we encounter Jesus Christ through our experience with the Gospel…one way or another we have each heard the good news that God loved us enough to overcome the sin that stands in the way of our relationship with him by willingly coming to Earth to live and die a brutal death on the cross…so that in the end, we will not face the consequences of our sin…

But sometimes…often I think…our encounter with Jesus Christ puts us on a path that causes rifts in our old relationships while at the same time granting us the courage to speak truthfully about our own experience with Christ…that’s all this man did…throughout all the trials and the hounding…this simple man spoke a simple truth of his own experience….in short…he shared his story of what God did…even if he didn’t know that it was God who did it…not to mention that he had no idea how it worked.  He simply shared the truth.

GIVE GLORY TO GOD, We know that this man is a sinner. (Pause) I do not know whether he is a sinner…I only know that I was blind and now I see. (pause) For this one many who lived and died all those years ago…his encounter with Jesus brought physical sight to blind eyes. But for us today…our encounter with Jesus illuminates our eyes, blinded by the darkness of sin…darkened by the lack of understanding of the truth…but praise be to God that he has sent his Son so that we may be freed of this blindness…and we too may have the courage to testify “Lord, I believe.” And then, as time goes on…the courage to share our own stories…This is what happened to me. I don’t know how it works or why, but this is what God has done. Amen

He Sees Me 3-19-17

This week’s sermon is based on John 4:3-42. Here Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well and they have a rather lengthy conversation. Her perception of Jesus changes, while his perception of her never wavers. He sees her from the get-go.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/he-sees-me-3-19-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Most of you are probably aware that I fall under the category of second career pastor. I lived some life after college before I started seminary. Likewise, many of you know that when I started seminary, I was living up in the Okoboji area…juggling a full time job and my family…and I completed the first half of my seminary education through a distance program.  This first portion of my education took me about 2.5 years, and during that time I grew quite close with a group of fellow students that were all doing the same thing. Most of our work was done online, but a couple times a year we would gather on campus for intensive classes.  In the realm of seminary education, those people were my community.

But then, right about the halfway point, opportunity took my family to the Twin Cities, and I switched from the distance program to completing my work on-campus…and with this switch, I found myself outside of the community that I had developed. Most of the on-campus people had been in classes together, and so when I started off the spring semester that year, I felt amazingly isolated.

But it wasn’t long before one of the other guys recognized this sense of isolation that I was feeling…and he made a very solid effort to get to know me. He asked me a lot of questions. He was always intentional about asking me how my day was going when we’d bump into one another. In short…he made the effort, which meant a lot to me.

Now after that first semester, we all went off for our year of internship, but when we got back for our final year of on campus work, he picked right back up again…and pretty quickly invited me into a group of other guys…they became my community during that last year…3 or 4 of us…each of us unique in our own ways…each with a different approach towards ministry…but bonded together over one thing we all had in common…a love of having a couple beers on a Friday afternoon while playing random video games for a couple hours.

I’ve always appreciated this particular guy, not only because of his invitation into this community…but also because of our mutual respect for one another. Because while we had a lot in common, we had some very real differences as well…especially in terms of ministry. I’m very laid back in many ways, including worship…you’d call me very low-church as I don’t put a lot of stock into ritual and tradition…He’s on the opposite end of the spectrum…he loves all the pomp and circumstance of the traditional liturgy.  You’ll find him all decked out in the clergy gear…the collar, and the robe, and the decorative vestments. Me, I’d stand up here in a t-shirt and jeans if I thought I could really get away with it. (pause) Now those are just a couple differences…but they were never a problem…and I loved how our branch of the body of Christ…our denomination had room for both of us. And we were able to see past our differences to see one another as people of worth. (Pause)

Now I bring all this up, because the idea of being seen is on full display today. That was a long story…but a familiar one…as Jesus has an encounter that illustrates the truth of what he told Nicodemus a week ago…that God so loves…ALL…the world that he gave his only son.

Jesus goes hiking through Samaria…and long story short, Jews and Samaritans do not get along. Relations between the two ethnic groups are tense at best…and more often than not they just avoided each other. And yet, as Jesus is traveling back from Jerusalem in the south to Galilee in the north…he is compelled to go right straight through enemy territory…and now at noon…tuckered out from travel, Jesus has sacked out by a well in the heat of the day, while the disciples headed off to town to find lunch.

Now we could go back and forth about the intentionality of Jesus being here at this particular moment…but regardless of all that…he’s there, and the woman shows up with her bucket to grab some water. Jesus asks for a drink…and their dialogue is off and running.

Admittedly, I wish we knew a little bit more about this woman.  There’s been a lot of speculation about her over the years…most of it really bad assumptions…but all of them aimed at the question of just why she’s there alone in the midst of the day…the norm would have been to come with the other women of the nearby city when its cool, in either the morning or the evening…but never alone in the midst of the day…when we partner up this odd situation along with the realization that she’s had 5 husbands and is now living with someone who isn’t her husband…we have the tendency to think that she’s got a “past,” that she’s…sinful. But you know what we need to throw that out the window…because there’s no mention of sin or the need for repentance in this story. What’s likely going on is that the woman has been either widowed or abandoned 5 times over…which at the time…happened…they even had laws that dictated that it needed to happen in certain situations.  So whatever assumptions we want to make about her…we are probably wrong…but then we all know what happens when we assume don’t we?

All that being said…the woman arrives here…at noon…probably used to whatever stigma has been applied to her because the situation she finds herself in…and it seems that she’s accepted it…and as she walks up on this particular day…there just happens to be a man sitting there at the well…and all it takes is one look at his appearance to know…this is no local…he’s a Jew…so she thinks she’ll just ignore him. (pause)
I can’t help but think that the Samaritan woman…one who has been on the receiving end of assumptions of character…she seems to do the exact thing…and we see it in the way that she addresses Jesus once he asks for a drink.  How is that you…A JEW…asks me for a drink.

The way we address one another is telling isn’t it? The way we refer to one another…and the fascinating thing about this long back and forth encounter…is the way the woman addresses Jesus throughout the course of the narrative.

It starts off…Jew…he wants nothing to do with me and I want to do with him. But when Jesus does…well, whatever it is that Jesus seems to be so good at doing…and he engages with her in the way that only the Son of God seems to be able to do…that perception begins to change.  They start off talking about water…and being thirsty…and somehow that shifts over to something that Jesus calls living water, whatever that might be…and during this part of the conversation she calls him…sir a couple of times…no longer A JEW…but now, sir. (pause)
Now at this point, Jesus makes the random request for her to go get her husband, leading to the truthful revelation from Jesus that he knows her marital situation…in short that he knows her…and she realizes that God must be with this guy…he must be a prophet…and so, in order to impress the prophet, she starts dropping some religious knowledge as they banter about places of worship…and she starts talking about the Messiah…and what’s really interesting, is that she uses the Hebrew word. I’ll impress the prophet by speaking the old language…and its not until she finally goes into town, utterly changed by the encounter…when she’s breaking the cultural boundaries to do the inviting to everyone she encounters…that finally she calls him the Christ. (pause)

I don’t think any of us would argue that this was a long encounter…it was a long conversation with a lot of twist and turns…and amazingly, it took this long for her to begin to see Jesus for just who he really is. He went from a Jew to be ignored….to the Christ…God’s anointed one…and it didn’t happen because he shamed her in anything…it didn’t happen because the clouds opened up with heavenly proclamation.  It happened because they took the time for her to eyes to be opened to the truth about who he is….that this is God standing before her.

But on the flip side…this entire conversation happened because Jesus sees her from the get go. He doesn’t see Samaritan…he doesn’t see woman…he doesn’t see stigma…he sees someone of value…someone of worth…he sees an individual lovely made in the divine image of the Father…and she realizes this when he speaks the truth about her existence…not condemning her, simply SEEING…her.

Now you’ve often heard me speak of how God uses the unexpected person…and this woman is a perfect example…but her story lines up perfectly with the encounters that Jesus has with the first disciples.  Andrew asks where he’s staying…Jesus invites him to come and see…which Andrew does…and then he goes off to find Peter, inviting him to come and experience the Messiah for himself.

The woman does the very same…she spends time with this man…and gradually her eyes are opened to the truth of his identity…and she issues the very same invitation…come and see. This woman…who so many, including us, have labeled according to our assumptions about her…she’s an apostle…she is one sent by Christ with a message.

But perhaps most wonderful of all…whatever stigmas had blocked her from community prior to this encounter…we hear at the end of the story that those stigmas are gone and the gift that Christ has given her is relationship with her community.

Now I think that’s significant for us to recognize…that Christ makes it possible for broken people to look past the things that separate and to join together over what we have in common…we are all broken people…each one of us…and because of that brokenness we are really good about demonizing the same brokenness in others…we are really good at seeing only that which separates us…and hating each other because it…and that is a truth that has dominated our society, and even though I fully recognize my own part in that…I am sick of it….I’m sick of it in our regular day to day lives and I’m sick of it here in the church.

I’m tired of the church only being known for what we hate…when Christ has called to be his body here on earth…He has looked past our brokenness to see each of us…he sees me…he sees you…and he loves you…and that is what we need to focus on.

We come together today…and in just a few moments we will gather around this meal…broken people gathered around the table of Christ to hear a word of forgiveness…a word of love…a word of acceptance…and it is my hope that the church…Christ’s church…not just our congregation or our community or our denomination…but the entirety of CHRIST’S body will realize that there is room at that table for all us…and may we all be united in the knowledge that we are broken people…and yet because of what Christ has done…because God has come among us as one of us…we are no longer separate by that brokenness…we are no longer defined by it…because each and every one of us are a beloved child of God…each of us. Even those that look different, or think different, or talk different…everyone is made good, bearing the divine image of God, whether we want to believe it or not.

And so as we walk out of these doors today, having heard the proclamation that the body and blood of Christ has been broken and poured out not only for us as individuals but for all people…will we hold to the truth that we have a God who sees past all the junk that we get stuck on to see the person…and will we recognize that this table that we gather around is big enough for everyone? Because if we truly believe that, then maybe we’ll walk outside these 4 walls and invite those that we encounter to come and see that they have a place here as well…and if we can that, then maybe, just maybe all people will begin to see the truth, that when it comes to God…HE…SEES…ME. Amen.