Archive for December, 2013

Where Were You On That One 12-29-13

This week’s sermon came from Matthew 2:13-23. THis story is the slaughter of the innocents, when King Herod attempts to destroy Jesus as a baby, seeing him as a rival.

Listen to the sermon here:

You can read along with the sermon here. Disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
August 9th, 1997…That’s one of those days that I’ll remember forever. It was a Saturday…a very warm and pleasant day, particularly at about 7:30 in the morning. I had big plans for the day. Two of my friends were picking me up from my parents farm…from there we were going a town over to pick up another one of our friends, and from there we were road tripping out to Sioux Falls, SD…the closest “metropolis” to our rural farm town community.
The first couple steps of our planned outing went just fine. They picked me up, we buzzed to our friends place and picked him up…and the four of us were off for the day…road tripping in a mid-80’s beige Ford Tempo.  We hadn’t gotten very far…maybe all of about 10 or 15 miles…when our plans…went right out the window. (pause)
As we drove along the highway, the car drifted over towards the shoulder…not an uncommon thing when you have four young friends joking around together…but then at just the wrong time…the right side tires dropped off onto the shoulder…and at the exact point where this happened…the shoulder had eroded away to a good 8 or 10 inches below the surface of the road.
The force of the car slamming down onto the shoulder combined with a set of tires that was well aged and in need of replacing…resulted in the front passenger side tire blowing out…just as my friend, the driver, tried to yank the car back onto the road…a blow out…a quick direction change…and the momentum of the car all combined together to throw us completely out of control…We drastically fishtailed back and forth between the ditches until finally, our forward momentum took over…and we rolled over twice…right down the middle of the highway.
Sitting there in the passenger seat, I can remember looking down and seeing my window shatter on the pavement…then looking forward to see the windshield spiderweb as we came down on the roof…I felt the jolt as we came down on the tires to first time and then the sickening feeling of going over sideways one more time before finally coming to a violent stop.
Needless to say…this was a major shock…a major surprise…because none of us, expected that to happen. But then, we’re never really ready for that type of thing are we?  If only we’d had some sort of early warning system…if only we’d known ahead of time how dangerous thin the tire had become on that car…we’d have driven a different one…If only we’d known ahead of time that the shoulder had gotten washed out…we’d have taken a different road…if only we’d known ahead of time that this accident was going to happen…we’d have never gone on that road trip. (pause) But we didn’t know those things…we didn’t have a warning…and it happened…because Accidents…happen don’t they…and diseases happen…and tragedies happen…Things happen whether we’re ready for them or not.
But what if your name happens to be Joseph…and you live in a little backwater part of the Middle East…and you’re wife happens to be the mother of God. Well in that case…it seems like you get a warning.  I don’t know what just what it is about Jospeh…maybe he had a metal plate in his head or something…but he sure seems like he’s tuned into the Angel of the Lord Dream network isn’t he?
Matthew 1:20…We heard this a week ago. Just when Joseph had resolved to dismiss the pregnant Mary, “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”  Well…okay…one time, that’s nothing…angels appear to people in the Bible constantly. (pause)
But then…Matthew 2:13…After the wise men left, “an angel of the Lord appeard to Joseph in a dream and said Get up, take the baby and his mother and flee from danger.” (Pause) Hmm…that’s twice…and then…just a few verses later we hear “When Herod died…you guessed it…an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph and said…He’s dead…head on back to Israel.” THREE TIMES the angel appears to this guy…telling him what to do…and more importantly…warning him of danger…What is it about Joseph? I just don’t get it. (pause)
Well now hold on a sec…maybe its not about Joseph…because Joseph isn’t the one in danger here…Joseph isn’t the one that really needs to worry in any of these situations is he? 1st time…Mary’s pregnant…2nd time, the baby Jesus is in danger…3rd time…the danger for Jesus…has passed…what do you know…it’s not about Joseph after all…this whole time…the warnings, though they are directed Joseph’s way…are about Jesus…God sends an angel to intervene, not once…not twice, but three times to ensure the life of Jesus. (pause)
Well, you know what…that’s all well and good…Jesus needed to live…I get that…I think we all get that…we need him to stick around for a few more years…he’s got this whole crucifixion thing that he needs to take care of before he dies…so, maybe I can get behind the need to spare his life…the precious life that is still so very new. Granted, he’s a couple years old at this point, but shoot, we’re still in the season of Christmas…liturgically speaking…he was just born on Tuesday for pete’s sake. Isn’t it a little bit early to be hearing about threats on Jesus’ life? (pause)
Because that’s exactly what’s going on here. With the arrival of Jesus…with the way that God chose to break into our reality…even now…this soon…this quickly…things are changing…and as we see, there are people out there who are so comfortable in the way things are that they will fight tooth and nail against the dramatic change that God’s bringing into the world through Christ…and the obvious example from today’s lesson…King Herod.
Now, I don’t know what you might have heard about this Herod guy…but he’s certainly no boy scout…this is no model Jewish citizen we’re talking about.  He’s a lacky of Rome for starters…but what power he did have…he was not about to let it go. This is guy who arranged the murder of COUNTLESS people…including his own children that might one day oppose his rule. In short…the guy was a power hungry maniac…and now he’s gotten word by way of the wise men that there’s a new king on the block…how well do you think that news went over with our old pal Herod? (pause) Yah…not real great.
Well Herod does a little investigating…probably managing to lop off a head or two in the process…and figures out that this new king is still a baby…under the age of two…and was born around Bethlehem…right down the road from the palace…and you know where this is going.
Herod send out an army of soldiers to the nearby town…with specific orders…Horrific orders…find all the baby boys under the age of two…and kill them…KILL THEM…KILL A BUNCH OF INNOCENT BABIES THAT POSE NO THREAT TO HIM WHATSOEVER!!!! And why? Because one day…one of them might challenge him?
Now here’s the part where I start to have a little trouble.  We know that this is the point where God sends the angel to Joseph…tells him to grab Mary and Jesus and blow town…cuz troubles comin…but why did God do it that way?  Why didn’t God warn everybody in town. How hard would it have been for the angel to make the rounds that night… “Hey…you got a baby boy? Might want to head out a town.”  But no…that’s not what happens…Jesus is saved and that’s good, but what about all those countless other babies…those innocent little children that had nothing to do with anything? Why not save them?
Maybe…just maybe…God could have sent the angel of death in Herod’s direction…just take him out…save all those lives…he was a paranoid psycho anyway…no great loss if something happened to him…but that’s not what happened…and all those babies were killed. (pause) Now what makes it even worse…just a few years later…literally 3 or 4 years later…Herod was dead….what a waste…Where were you on that one God?
Where was the warning…where was the intervention…I ask those sort of questions a lot…pretty much anytime there’s some major catastrophy or accident or tragedy.  I find myself asking God “Where were you on that one?” (pause) The Newtown shooting a year ago…Columbine…Tsunamis…earthquakes…car accidents…WHERE ARE YOU GOD? Where’s your angelic warnings when real people need them…and how do we look into the faces of individuals who have either lived through those horrors, or the individuals who have lost loved ones in them and offer them any sort of hope?  What do we say to them, when they ask us…believers in Christ…the very same questions…WHERE WAS GOD WHEN THIS HAPPENED? (pause)
Often times…in those moments…there is no good answer…which certainly doesn’t help the situation…but as I’ve thought about them…as I’ve looked back at various tragedies, I think of the words once uttered by Mr Rogers…When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
And then as I think about that, I remember that we are the body Christ…and that’s where God is at…God is in those people who rush to help complete strangers…God is in the firefighters and policemen who run into burning buildings when the rest of us would run out…and sometimes…sometimes…God is in the person who will simply sit and hold the hand of a sobbing mother who has just lost her child…
And while we can see the face of God reflected in the faces of those willing to help others in the time of tragedy, we must also remember that in the midst of the horrors of Herod killing the innocents, that one baby did escape…and that baby was Jesus Christ…God Himself…and in the life of Christ, God experienced all aspects of our existence…and because he experienced it, he also shares it…
And I believe that when tragedy strikes and innocents are lost because of the way that sin has warped our present world…the first being to shed a tear and mourn is God himself.
We may not receive the warnings ahead of time…and because of that we may not be able to avoid the tragedies…but remember that when those tragedies strike…we are not alone…and the God that mourns the death of each and every person in all of creation…also mourned the loss of those innocent babies when his son was spared…and then 30 years later…he also mourned the death of his own son 30 years later…but then…God…brought him…back. (pause)
And in that action…in that defeat of sin and death God put sin and death in its place…and while we may still feel the effects of it in our present reality, we don’t need to be afraid of it, because we know…that there is something more…and we know that we are not alone…for he is called Emmanual…which means God is with us. Amen

What’s So Significant 12-24-13

This is my sermon from Christmas Eve. It focuses on the typical birth narrative found in Luke 2:1-20. You can listen to the sermon here.

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen.
Christmas is upon us! Unless your name is Ebenezer Scrooge, this is probably a joyful thing. Many people love Christmas right? It is truly a wonderful time of year. Many people celebrate in different ways, sticking with their own traditions. As I am getting to know you, I’ve started to hear about some of those traditions…and I certainly have a few of my own that happen year after year.
One that really comes to mind is a tradition that I married into. Christmas morning at my wife’s parents house. Before we start opening presents, we say a prayer and we sing happy birthday to Jesus. Now apparently traditions must make an impact because about a few years ago, my son Jack made a comment based on this tradition, and that comment has stuck with me. We’d been talking about Jesus living in our heart and while sitting at the kitchen table, the whole family got started talking about His birthday coming up. Jack stopped eating, looked down at his chest and said “Did you hear that Jesus…on your birthday, you’re gonna get cake.” Kids certainly say the strangest things don’t they? But it is not without a certain truth. After all Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus isn’t it?
The birth of a person, is really pretty important when you stop and think about it isn’t it? After all, if a person isn’t born, they don’t have a life do they? Without a birth, they simply cease to be…or more accurately, they never were…but that being said, how often do we really place importance on someone’s birth?
Think about it for a minute. How many “births” do you really remember or care about?  I can think of two. One of them occurred on January 15th, 2004. The second one on July 26th, 2006.  Can anyone guess who was born on those two days?  (wait for answers).  Yep…my kids, Jack and Ava.
Now, I could go into a long story, recounting every detail of those two days. I remember them well, but if I did, two things would likely happen. One, Emily would roll her eyes at me and probably slug me after the service, and two, many of you would probably also roll your eyes and promptly forget nearly every single detail within about 3 minutes.
Have you ever had someone drone on and on about the birth of their kids? Be honest? Its one of those conversations that you wish you didn’t have to experience isn’t it? Because do you care? Honestly? Probably not.
As I think about the birth of my son and daughter, there are probably about 3 groups of people that really care and really want the details. Emily and I as their parents. Our parents, because I’m told that becoming a grandparent is the greatest thing on earth…and the last one…the doctor, because he got paid for it right?
Its true isn’t it? There are very few births outside of our own family that we really care about.
Considering the apparent lack of enthusiasm that we have regarding the details about someone’s birth, we have to ask the question of just why Luke chose to include it. Look at the other gospels. Mark doesn’t talk about it at all. John simply tells us that the word became flesh. Matthew goes a little farther along, but even he only mentions it in passing…but Luke…he really goes into detail, doesn’t he?
Luke gives us a reference for the time period, telling us that Augustus was the emperor of Rome and Quirinius was governor of Syria. There was a census happening. We see a road trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the part of Joseph and Mary. Jesus is born in a barn because the entire town was full. Nearby shepherds get an eyeful of angels and then come running into town to check it out. Honestly, Luke really heaps on the details.
But why? What is so significant about the birth of Jesus? Why start the story here. Not much else seemed to happen before Jesus was 30. Why not gloss over the whole thing like Mark does and start with the important stuff? Does he expect anyone to really remember this humble birth…one of countless babies born that same day. From a historical perspective, people are much more likely to remember Caesar and or the governor.
Additionally, if we look at the importance of the people involved, the information that we receive from Luke in the previous chapter indicates that John the Baptist probably should have been more important. His birth was foretold within the temple and he was born to a priest. Jesus, on the other hand, is foretold only to his mother, a simple girl, engaged to a carpenter. No one of significance.
His birth itself…again, very humble…born in a barn. Now, you may picture in your heads a cozy manger scene. Brightly lit with soft gleaming straw lining the floor…but my friends, I’ve seen a barn in the middle of a winter night…filled with a bunch of animals that have slept there. Its loud…its humid…and it smells like…well…let’s just say it smells pretty bad. (pause) Its nothing special…in fact, its probably about as humble as you can get.
But perhaps this is exactly why Luke chose to include it. God is choosing what seems to be the lowliest circumstances to enter into humanity. This is no simple prophet being born. It is no ordinary person. This is God himself, becoming human…becoming like us to experience life as we do. This is…a very big deal.
We all know who Jesus becomes don’t we? The savior of all mankind. The angel even tells us this. “Born to you this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah.” Certainly, this is significant enough that it needs to be proclaimed to the entire world right? Well yes but…not quite yet.
So who gets the message? Who hears this angelic proclamation? A bunch of shepherds.  A batch of guys, just out doing what they do. Hanging out with their sheep. And they are the first ones to hear about the greatest birth in the history of mankind? Why?  Why them? What was so significant about the shepherds?
Why not send the angels to proclaim this heavenly message in the temple or among the streets of Jerusalem. Certainly the center of the Jewish culture, only 6 miles away from Bethlehem, would have been a better place with better witnesses right? Announce it to the priests, or the Pharisees. Surely it would make more sense for them to witness the Christ child. More people would believe their message. Because they have credibility.
You see, in the Jewish culture, a person’s occupation went a long way in establishing their credibility as a witness. As shepherds, these men would were pretty much the bottom of the barrel. They were considered riff-raff…shady at best. If they were called into court to testify, very few would count their testimony as valid.
But despite that, it’s THESE men that get the message. THESE men…are chosen to hear the good news in a divine fashion. Luke tells us that they are terrified, but yet they go and see. They follow the calling and witness firsthand the newborn messiah.
And then, what do they do? (pause) Luke tells us that they left the manger and made known what they had seen and heard.  They testified. They told the good news of the messiah born in Bethlehem…and all who heard it were amazed.
Right here…in this simple act, we are given an important lesson. The shepherds…simple men…insignificant men were given a call…they answered it, scary as it was for them…they went and saw…they experienced Jesus Christ…God here on Earth…and then they went out and testified about it…telling everyone that they encountered.
So today…consider yourself a shepherd. Here today…you have received the heavenly message. God has entered into humanity…He has taken on flesh and he has done it for you because he loves you. We cannot hear this wonderful message…I mean really hear it…without being changed. As scary as it is…we are called to be a witness to what we have seen and heard.
Regardless of who we are, when we believe in Jesus Christ as our lord and savior…when the Holy Spirit nestles right down within us and gives us that saving faith in Christ…at that moment…we are called to testify to that good news.  The shepherds were simply the first people to do it…and regardless of their insignificance…they followed their calling…Will you?
In a moment we will sing a well-known Christmas song that I believe is very fitting. (sing) Go tell it on the mountain, over the fields and everywhere…Go tell it on the mountain…that Jesus Christ is born…
People of God, this is our calling…it is universal. The good news of Jesus Christ begins again today. It begins with many insignificant details…An insignificant girl…an insignificant birthplace…insignificant witnesses…yet utterly significant results.
Go Tell It On The Mountain…That Jesus Christ Is Born…Amen

Confirmation Questions 12-22-13

My sermon this week came from Matthew 1:18-25. You can read it here.

Though the confirmation students are “on break” over the Christmas holidays, a few are still doing sermon notes just to keep on top of things.  A great question came out of this.

-Are the things that God plans for us always going to be good?
Great question. This likely came out of the statements that I made in which Joseph trusted that God was working in the midst of a really difficult situation. Likewise that God is always working in a specific direction. Creation and our reality is going somewhere and God is moving reality towards it.  Sometimes we are able to recognize and understand these movements but not always. Now in regards to the question of if God’s plans are always good for us, I would answer yes, they are always good…but that doesn’t mean that they are always easy. It also doesn’t mean that they are always going to seem like a positive thing when we experience it. We hear in Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This was God speaking to Jeremiah, and though God’s plans were good, Jeremiah’s life was not always easy. This speaks to the same situation that Joseph and Mary found themselves in once Mary was found to be pregnant. They faced difficult choices. The end results were good, but certainly not easy. Finally, we face the same sort of situation. God is still working, still moving reality towards the ultimate goal. We are effected by that work. Ultimately, it is for good, even in those instances when it doesn’t seem that way.

Real People, Real Problems 12-22-13

This sermon is based on Matthew 1:18-25. This is Matthew’s account of the birth narrative, though it is very brief with very little focus on Jesus’ birth itself. Rather it focuses on Joseph and the tough choices that he needed to make.  You can listen to the sermon here.

You can also follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember to do them somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
It is nearly Christmas…we are almost there…just a couple more days. Earlier this week I was having a discussion about the ideal Christmas and what it looks like…particularly in terms of Christmas Eve worship. Now, admittedly, I can’t remember who I was talking with, but they told me that their wish every year is to go to the late service…and then walk outside to find it quiet and calm…with a very light snow falling…the tiny flakes drifting slowly to the ground…and that is just about perfect…and you know what, even with as much as I admittedly dislike snow and winter weather…that does sound like a nice ending to Christmas Eve.
And Christmas Eve itself is a wonderful time…in addition to all the wonderful songs we will sing, we hear the story of Christ’s birth from Luke’s gospel…full of wonderful detail…the trip to Bethlehem…the cozy stable…the angels appearing the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night…all that wonderful stuff…and in the midst of it all, we hear that Mary…the perfect mother, treasured all of it. (pause)
But it isn’t Christmas Eve yet is it? Its Sunday December 22nd…its still Advent…and this is no idealistic manger scene with Mary calmly sitting there treasuring things. (pause) Last Friday served as a good reminder that real life…is a little bumpier.
Friday morning started off in the Dalen household like a lot of days…with epic battles ensuing as we attempt to get the kids ready for another day of school, and get ourselves ready for work.  Parents, I’m sure you’ve been there…you feel our pain…well once we finally got everyone situated and were a few minutes away from heading over to the school for the morning drop off…I stepped outside to start up the truck and scrape the thin sheet of ice that had accumulated on my windows…and the fun…continued.
The instant I started running the scrapper across the windshield…it snapped…I knew it was coming. I’d been expecting it for the past week or so, knowing that it was wearing out…I even had it on the current list of stuff to pick up at the store…but now…in this moment…I’ve got a broken ice scrapper…and a whole lot of window left to scrape…so I did the only thing I could do…I grabbed the broken end of the scrapper, contorted my hand around in a super uncomfortable way…and proceeded to get my windows scrapped off…needless to say, a trip out to the gas station to pick up a new scrapper followed the school drop off.
And it wasn’t just me that was experiencing real life and real problems…Emily called me a little while later…”I hate getting gas!” She’d pulled up to the pump out south of town…1st attempt…didn’t work at…so she tried a second time…and managed to pump exactly 6 cents worth of gas…then she pulled around to the other side of the pump…and got a $1.50…exasperated, she headed off to another gas station where she had to pass a written exam and give a blood sample just to get gas…and as she was leaving the station…she discovered, much to her dismay…that there was a median blocking the direction she needed to go…I know this because she was on the phone with me when it happened.  Real life…real people…real problems.
Granted…these are all relatively small problems…more irritations than actual issues…but hey…that’s real life isn’t it? And its things like this…days like this…on going moments like this that make me remember that the world’s not all sunshine and rainbows…it can be a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are because life will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it…No one…can hit as hard as life…because life…is…messy. Life…is tough…it just is.
Today’s scripture lesson offers us a glimpse into that tough reality…into that real world…with real people…and real problems.  Matthew’s gospel offers a little bit of a grittier look at the birth narrative. Did you notice…that today’s lesson does include the birth of Jesus…but careful…blink and you miss it.
Matthew doesn’t really focus on the birth itself…it’s only mentioned in passing…but rather…Matthew is giving us a glimpse into the reality of the situation. (pause) And that reality focuses on Joseph…and his choices. (pause) Think about this for a moment…but don’t think about the well-known birth narrative…don’t think about the peaceful scene…think about real life…and remember that Joseph and Mary…were two real people…with real problems…and real consequences to face.
Israel 2000 years ago…short life expectancy…hard work…hard life…under Roman oppression…and not only that, but there are all kinds of religious regulations that dictate a lot of behavior.  Joseph, as we hear, is a righteous man…likely very young, probably still in his teens or early twenties…finds out that his young bride to be…is pregnant…and he knows it’s not his…can you image that conversation between the two of them? I sure wouldn’t want to bump into that in the midst of pre-marital counseling…Joseph faces a choice…the rules dictate that he can either expose Mary in public…which would likely end with her stoned to death or spending her life as outcast…or he can dismiss her privately…which involves their divorce process…and still pretty much leaves her un-marriable and dependent on her family for the rest of her life…that’s Joseph’s choice, and its not an easy one.
Social decorum states that he must do one of the two…he certainly can’t marry her…he just can’t…and even though Joseph obviously cares for her…he obviously loves her…but he’s afraid to do anything else…and so Joseph decides to follow the path with the least consequences and dismiss her.  But this is a real problem for him…and obviously it’s a real problem for her, too. She’s unmarried…pregnant…and totally unable to support herself or her child…at this moment, for these two very real young people…life is beating them to their knees…and they don’t know what to do.
But then what happens? (pause) Well…God steps in…we know that God has already been at work…through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary is already pregnant. This process is already in motion…so they better hold on.  And in Joseph’s case…cue up the angel of the Lord in the midst of a dream. Joseph. DO…NOT…BE…AFRAID to take Mary as your wife.
Joseph…I know this is scary…I know this seems like you don’t have any good choices…and I know that if you do this…it will create even more problems for you…you’ll be socially shunned…so will your wife…if you do this…you’ll feel as if you are breaking the laws which you have lived your life by…if you do this…your whole world will be turned upside down…but DO NOT FEAR.
Think about it for a moment…Joseph…and Mary as well…have been asked to give up control…or perhaps it would be better to say the illusion of control…because none of us are really in control of things are we? Those real life problems…those real life issues and irritations serve as reminders that we do not control things…there are powers at work that are beyond our comprehension…some of those powers are working against us in this life…in this reality…like the powers of sin and death…but at the same time…there are powers that are working for the good…even when we don’t realize it…and in this case…in the instance of Joseph and Mary…that power for good…is GOD HIMSELF.
Maybe what’s really going on here…in the midst of this heavenly encounter…of this Godly command…is for Joseph to let go of his fear and trust that God’s is working this stuff out.  We face the same situation in our own lives.
Sometimes we can see very clearly what God is up to in our lives and in our reality…but honestly…not very often…because God’s timing…and God’s work in the world moves at a much different pace than we tend to look for…and so we try to control…and we try to plan…and we try to maintain…but sometimes…often times in fact…we’re really just getting swept along in the river of life….and the messiness of reality.
But in the midst of all that craziness…it is vitally important to remember…and cling to the hope that GOD IS UP TO SOMETHING…and that God IS taking steps in a specific direction. We see that in today’s story.  Mary and Joseph truly had their world turned upside down…but in that massive upheaval…God entered into this messy reality…and He did it with a specific purpose…to overcome those powers of sin and death that work so hard to destroy us in this life…God entered into this reality to take the hits that we cannot withstand.
God was willing to take the hits…God was not afraid…God didn’t place blame…He didn’t make excuses…He came into this life…and took the blame…he took the hits for us so that we don’t have to be afraid anymore…despite the darkness that is still present in this world…we don’t have to be afraid.
So today, think about your life…think about the stuff that’s going on that’s scary…think about those things in your life that God is telling you “DO NOT FEAR.” I can’t tell you what those things are in your life…because it’s your life…it’s your experience…but rest assured that God knows what they are…and maybe…just maybe…God’s got that all figured too.
The glory of the gospel is that when God entered out reality through Jesus Christ…and 33 years later when Jesus took the cross…and then 3 days later rose from the dead…he did it for us…despite the issues that we face in this messy reality…God accepts us, as are…and we don’t have to be afraid of who we are…we don’t have to be afraid of our issues or our fears or doubts or shortcomings. To follow God…and to follow Jesus is to be ourselves fully. The gospel means that we can be excited to truly be WHO WE ARE…not wishing to be someone else…because God has accepted YOU…as you are.
God knows that we are real people with real problems…because God became a real person…and God uses real people…and one day…these problems will be behind us, because we will have reached that glorious day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes…so today…Do Not…Be Afraid. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 12-15-13

Last Sunday I preached on Matthew 11:2-11 and focused on John the Baptist’s doubt that Jesus was truly the Messiah. You can find that sermon here.

The confirmation students presented some great questions on their sermon notes, which I will attempt to address here.

-If you had the chance to be perfect, would you?
This is an excellent question, and it really points towards the nature of sin and the human condition. If perfection was possible by our own actions or will, then there would have been no reason for God to come to earth. Jesus would not have had to enter into our sinful reality to overcome it. This poses a difficult notion for me on a personal level. On one hand, it would be absolutely wonderful to be perfect, to never disappoint God or anyone else. But on the other hand, my own experience of extreme gratitude for the grace of God, the free gift of salvation from my sinful nature made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ defines me. I hesitate to think about what my life would be like if that wasn’t present…or more specifically, if there was no need for it.

-How is the least in the kingdom better than John?This is another great question. Jesus makes this statement right after he credits John with being the greatest of the prophets. I believe what Jesus is trying to say here is that at this moment of doubt for John…or perhaps it is better to say the disbelief of John…in this moment, John does not have salvation from sin. He lacks faith at this moment because he is questioning if Jesus is the Messiah. He doesn’t believe it.  And so when Jesus says that the least IN the kingdom…that is to say anyone that has a saving faith in Jesus…is ahead of John in this moment.  Now that is not to say that John is excluded from salvation in the long run, because I don’t believe that is the case. Rather, Jesus is making a point about belief. It needs to be there. Belief in Christ for the salvation from our sinful nature.

What Do You Expect 12-15-13

After a break of a couple weeks, I’m back to posting sermons again. This week’s sermon is shorter than normal as the Sunday School students presented their Christmas Program today.

In today’s sermon, I focus on how John the Baptist allowed his preconceived expectations for the Messiah got in the way of allowing him to recognize what the Messiah was actually up to.  You can listen to the sermon here:

You can read along with the sermon here.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Every year when fall rolls around and the temperature drops for the first time, I tell myself “Don’t worry, we’ll get Indian summer. It’ll warm up again.” And it always seems to. Then sometimes, like this fall, we get an early snow like we got about a month back…and I grumble and complain, but I still expect it to melt and the temps to climb back up again.
Then at some point, typically in December in this part of the country…the temps drop again…and it snows again…and while I sit there, still expecting another shot of Indian summer, its not going to happen. We can simply look out the window today and see that winter has officially set in. And my expectations for the weather…well reality is a little bit different.
Today’s scripture lesson is a similar situation. Not to say that it’s weather related, but rather there’s a similarity of misplaced expectations.  I’ve heard it said that in Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist got it wrong.  He’s been proclaiming the coming Messiah, preparing the way for the one to come…and now that Jesus is on the scene and his ministry is underway…John, sitting in prison…is underwhelmed…and he sends his disciples to Jesus to check it out.
Are you the one to come…or should we look for someone else? (pause) He might as well be saying. This isn’t cutting it Jesus…I expected more out of you. (pause) But once again, we see that reality…is a little bit different.
Sometimes when Jesus is faced with a question, he gives a specific answer…sometimes he’s a little more vague…and sometimes, it seems like he’s blunt and maybe a little bit confrontational. That seems to be the case today. “Go tell John what you see and hear. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the good news is proclaimed.”  It almost seems like Jesus is saying “HEY! WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? THIS RIGHT HERE!!! THIS IS WHAT THE KINGDOM LOOKS LIKE! (pause) Now…what are you gonna do with it?”
What are you gonna do with it? That’s the million dollar question right there. God’s reality…Jesus’ reality…often times it doesn’t match up with our expectations does it?  But that’s precisely why Jesus came to earth…to change reality…to turn reality on its ear.
And there’s really only one thing that we can do with that isn’t there?  And that one thing, is to simply believe it. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.
But sometimes, our expectations of what SHOULD happen, get in the way don’t they? That’s the issue that John was facing in today’s story.  Unfortunately John didn’t get to see Jesus’ ministry come to completion…but we do. We have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story…and knowing that through faith we will share in the resurrection of Jesus. And faith is simply believing that which God has promised us.
Perhaps it’s fitting that as Jesus speaks about John, building him up as the greatest of the prophets, he also says “that the least in the kingdom is greater than John.” (pause) John’s expectations got in the way of his belief that day…and that’s a trap we all fall into, particularly adults.
I think that it is very fitting that today the Sunday School students presented their Christmas program…because I think that our children provide us with a wonderful example of faith.  Because when it comes to God and Jesus, they don’t have any expectations…God loves them and they know it.
Jesus tells us that we must have faith like a child…and simply believe the promise…drop the expectations…and simply believe it. When Jesus says “This is what the kingdom looks like” and asks the question “So what are you going to do with it?” He’s reminding us, don’t question it, just believe it. Amen.