Archive for February, 2014

Confirmation Questions 2-23-14

Last Sunday’s sermon came from Matthew 5:38-48. In it I tried to wrap up 4 weeks worth of Sermon on the Mount focus as well as discussing the notion that we are able to join with God in the work that God is doing in the world. You can find that sermon here.

The confirmation students posed the following questions on their sermon notes. I’ll attempt to answer them.

-Why would Jesus tell a person to give up more (in the context of giving someone asking for your shirt both your shirt and your cloak)?
This is a great question…and honestly one that doesn’t make a great deal of sense, especially at face value. It is strange to wonder why Jesus tells us to go above and beyond what is being asked of us. In this context, its also important to note that the language of the text indicates that if someone is suing you for your shirt…a strange notion to us, but it implies the idea of property…Perhaps what Jesus is saying here is that if someone takes legal action against you, don’t give them the minimum, but go above and beyond. Make sure that you are not shorting them in how you respond. A difficult teaching to be sure, and honestly one that leaves me scratching my head as well. Perhaps, in the end, Jesus’ main point here is that we are always to go above and beyond for the sake of our neighbor, even those who are acting in a negative way towards us. For Jesus, this took him all the way to the cross…because he was so self-sacrificial…everything he did was for the benefit of others. We are called to mirror this attitude.
-Why does Jesus constantly fail to make sense with some things that he says?
This is another great question…and one that I tend to ask myself often, particularly in situations where I’m trying to figure out how to preach on a difficult text. My first thought on this question is that our failure to really understand either what he’s saying or why he’s saying it speaks to the utterly drastic change that Jesus has brought into our reality. The kingdom of heaven is so radically different that we simply cannot always understand it. And Jesus knows that…Sometimes we get the benefit of his explanation into what he’s talking about, but we really have that in this particular instance.  Sometimes in moments like this, when we find ourselves confused by Jesus’ teaching, we can only pray for understanding and ask for forgiveness when we fail to follow what he says. And then one day, when we encounter Christ, then we can ask him what he was talking about.

PS I Love You 2-23-14

This sermon comes from Matthew 5:38-48. In this sermon, I try to wrap up 4 weeks worth of the Sermon on the Mount. In particular, I tackle the passage in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies, praying for those that persecute you.  This can be a difficult teaching to accept, much less to act on, but I make the point that by doing so, we are joining with God in the work that will bring this reality to completion.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/ps-i-love-you-2-23-14

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

Earlier this week, I saw a clip from the old Mel Brook’s movie called The History of the World. This particular clip involved Moses receiving the Law from God. Now, if you’re familiar with Mel Brooks, you know that his movies tend to be pretty humorous, and this is no exception. Moses walks out from behind a rock carrying 3 stone tablets. He approaches the edge of a cliff and begins speaking to the people. “People of God…I have received these 15 Commandments from the LORD” and he drops one…the stone tablet smashes on the ground. He looks at it for a moment…and then addresses the crowd again. “I have received these 10 Commandments from the LORD.”
As the week went on I got to wondering what those extra 5 commandments would have been…and if they would still seem as applicable today…who knows…perhaps number 11 would have been. Thou shall mind your mobile manners…and 12 would be Thou shall not cross the street without looking both ways.
Or maybe, if there actually was a third tablet of the law, it wouldn’t have been more commandments…but a prologue…that short bit at the front of a non-fiction book where the author lets you in on some of the insights of what you are going to read…sometimes as I think about the law, I think that would have been helpful.
Dearest humanity…enclosed on these stone tablets you will find 10 commands that shall help you to honor me…and to honor each other.  Keep in mind…at face value they may seem obvious…but in actuality it will be quite difficult for any of you to pull them off as intended…but being God…all-knowing and all that…I’m fully aware of the challenges you will face and so in a few thousand years I’ll switch things up for you…I’ll send my son to explain things…and as he’s going to be the one human to pull of the commandments in their entirety, I’ll plan on sacrificing him to atone for the sins that you will all commit. Until then…happy reading…PS…I love you.
But as we know…there were only two tablets…and God’s prologue to the law, helpful as it might prove to be…wasn’t included. And so for several thousand years during the period between Moses and Jesus, the people pretty much went on about their business…trying to follow the law as best they could…but as we all know…coming up short…but then…things changed…and they changed when God finally said…ok son…why don’t you head on down there…we’ve let this go on long enough…and as we’ve heard many times before…Jesus came on the scene…and the scene was dramatically changed…even though those present…didn’t realize it.
Today marks the 4th week that we’ve been in Matthew chapter 5…the first chapter in the sermon on the mount…and if you’ve been here the past three weeks, you’ve heard me talk about how Jesus changed everything…how when Jesus came on the scene, he brought the kingdom of heaven with him and its here now…and because of that reality is different than we realize…and the old way of doing things…the old way of seeing things…has gone right out the window.
The first week we heard the beatitudes and how God calls the unexpected person blessed…but that when we stop and think about it, the unexpected person being called blessed by God is every single one of us…particularly in those times when we don’t realize it because life doesn’t feel like it.
Then in the second week, we heard about how God calls us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That we are somehow different…and we also heard that the light of Christ is not something that we hold or something we control…but rather its something that we are…and that God is calling us to be what we were made to be…different.
Then last week things got a little bit uncomfortable when Jesus started laying out in inadequacy of the law….when we heard that the status quo…the you have heard it said in ancient times to act in such and such a way…just wasn’t going to cut it anymore…and not only that but Jesus confirmed…a little harshly…that the law points out sinfulness…period.
And now, at first glance, it sorta seems like he’s doing a little more of the same in the final portion of Matthew chapter 5. We hear more of what I like to call the “yah but’s.” You’ve heard it said this…Yah…but I actually say this.
And in today’s lesson, Jesus almost seems to be giving us the advice “be a doormat.” (pause) If someone strikes you on the cheek…don’t retaliate…turn your face towards them…make it easier for them to hit you…and then invite them to hit you a second time…ouch…my cheeks hurt just thinking about it.
Then…if someone makes you go one mile…don’t let that stop you…go 2…and if anyone tries to take your shirt, hey why not…throw in your coat as well….bullies of the world rejoice!!!! Jesus seems to be throwing you a bone here. (pause)
But then here comes the really crazy part…another “yah but.” You’ve heard it said to love your neighbors and hate your enemies…Yah…but, how about we try loving them too. (pause) Say what now Jesus? Love those that persecute us? Well how are we supposed to do that? (pause)
Now I’m guessing for most of you sitting out there…this passage is not unfamiliar. We’ve all heard it before haven’t we? Turn the other cheek, pray for those that persecute you…love your enemies. And if we’re honest…we hear that…maybe stifle a yawn…and think to ourselves…Yah right pastor…that’s all well and good in the Bible and all…but in real life?  Nah…doesn’t really work like that.
And maybe we chalk this one up to another one of those Bible mysteries that doesn’t quite make sense…or we think to ourselves that one doesn’t really apply to me…or maybe we go a different direction and think I can’t do that…and then we hear Jesus last sentence to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” And we realize that’s impossible, so we just want to throw up our hands and give up.
But…what if…maybe…just maybe…Jesus isn’t being metaphorical here…and he’s not laying out an individual command to an individual person…but instead…he’s actually telling us to do exactly what he says…because once again, he realizes that our understanding and capability to follow the law is coming up short.
An eye for an eye might be a good deterrent from violence…or in the end we might just all end up blind. A tooth for a tooth might stop someone from taking a swing…or in the end we might all be sucking applesauce through a straw…because returning violence is never going to get us anywhere. Hate will never banish hate…it can’t…all it can ever do is create more hate…that’s what sin does…it breeds more of itself…and we all know where that leads.
But love? Well, you never know what love can manage to do. (pause) Now maybe you’re thinking “really pastor…really?” And I say to you…yah, really…I think that the call to love one another…even in the face of negativity and violence is precisely what Jesus is calling us to in this passage…Jesus is calling us to love the unlovable…to love those that will not repay our love in kind…either because they are unable to or because they chose not to…and when we stop and think about it…and I mean really think about it…isn’t that exactly what God does for us?
Doesn’t every single one of us fall under the category of being loved by God even when we wouldn’t or couldn’t love him back? I’m pretty sure we do and the apostle Paul believed the same. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (pause)
How amazing is it…that while we were enemies of God…enemies who perhaps antagonized believers…or condemned them…or mocked them…or who laughed at God, or scorned Him…or hated him…or perhaps…just flat out ignored him…he loved us enough to die for us…he loved us enough to make a difference by showing us that love…he loved us enough to keep on loving us even as we threw it in His face…until one day when each and every one of us stopped hating…and started listening…and we were each changed by that amazing love of God…the amazing love for the one that would not love in return…until the day that they did.
That is the change that God is invoking in the world…the change that has already come…and is continuing to occur in the world through Jesus Christ…the love of God is spreading throughout the world…and what Jesus is really telling us today is that we get to be part of it.
We’ve been hearing for multiple weeks now that Jesus has brought a change with him…that reality is different and now Jesus is telling us that simply showing love, even to those that refuse it…is how we join with him in bringing about this change in the world.
And while we all know it isn’t finished yet, we know that this world is moving towards something new…something better…something that only God truly understands…and one day it will be finished…one day it will be completed…and that, my friends is when all will be perfect…as our heavenly father is perfect.
Jesus is not telling us that we need to be perfect in our actions and intentions, because Jesus knows we can’t pull that off…if we could there would be no need for a savior…but rather…Jesus is telling us to continue moving towards completion…together with God…so that one day…one glorious day…everyone will understand the love of God…and everyone will mirror the love of God.
But until that day, God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good…and he sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (pause) God continues to let life go on, day after day…until that one day when we all truly understand it when God says “good job…oh and ps…I love you.”  Amen.

 

Confirmation Questions 2-16-14

The sermon from last Sunday was taken from Matthew 5:21-37. You can find the sermon here.

The confirmation students posed a great question based on the sermon that I will attempt to answer here.

-Why does Jesus say that you should cut off your hand if it causes you to sin?
This is an excellent question. I believe that Jesus is simply making a very strong statement here. His purpose is to stress the dire nature of sin and its affect on us. The wages of sin is death and the judgment is hell, separation from God. Jesus is saying that if your hand is the cause of sin, then remove it, therefore removing the sin from you. But Jesus also knows that we cannot actually do this. We cannot remove sin from our lives. If we could, there would be no reason for Jesus to have come to earth and for his sacrifice. We may be capable of individual actions that are considered good works, but no one is capable of avoiding sin. It runs too deeply in our nature. This is why God had to intervene through Christ.

Are You Serious 2-16-14

Today’s sermon came from Matthew 5:21-37. This marks another continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. In this passage, which is admittedly a difficult teaching, I tackle the harsh reality of sin in our lives, and that the hope we find in Christ is knowing that, though the wages of sin is death, through Christ God creates new life out of death.

You can listen to the sermon here.
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/are-you-serious-2-16-14

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
How many of you out there are the oldest sibling? (pause) Okay…who are the middle kids out there? (pause) Alright, and now who are the youngest in their families? (pause) Ok…now I know who I’m working with.
I’ve heard it said in many different situations, that the oldest kid always has it the hardest…that with each additional child the parents get a little more laid back…or perhaps they mellow out more…or maybe they are just that much more exhausted, and lack the energy to get too worked up over things.
Regardless of the cause…older siblings…would you agree that you had it the hardest in your family growing up? (pause) It’s probably true.  I, being the baby of my family, definitely reaped the benefits of the ground work laid down by my older brother and sister.  There is one particular story that my sister tells…constantly…that offers evidence to this notion. Now, I don’t remember this happening, but in my defense I was probably only about 3 when it happened…so I’ll give my sister the benefit of the doubt that it is a real story.  The three of us were in the back seat of the car…acting up as young kids tend to do. We were actually getting very close to being home…only about a quarter of a mile away from our driveway when the constant noise and ruckus got my dad to the breaking point, and he pulled the car over.
Now my sister swears up one side and down the other than both she and my brother got hauled out of the car for a spanking…and it certainly may have happened…when we earned it, we would get a swat, and I certainly earned my fair share of swats over the years…but this time around, allegedly I jumped over the seat crying to mom that I didn’t want to get a spanking…and ALLEGEDLY…according to my sister…I didn’t get one that day even though…ALLEGEDLY…I was the main instigator in all the back seat commotion.
Considering that I was too young to remember the incident in question, I guess we’ll never know if the punishment fit the crime…or as the case may be, if the lack of punishment was a great injustice.
But thinking along these lines brings us into the midst of our Gospel lesson for today. Jesus continues in his mountain top sermon…and if you were here last week, the gospel lesson ended with the statement “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Now certainly that particular statement must have come as a shock to those listening to Jesus that day. After all, the scribes and the Pharisees were the epitome of righteousness. They knew the law inside and out…backwards and forwards…if there was anyone who should be capable of righteousness through their actions, it’s the scribes and the Pharisees…but Jesus tells us that we’re supposed to top them if we want any chance of heaven.
I don’t know about you…but I hear that and I think to myself…WHAT?  REALLY?  Great…now how am I going to pull that off? (pause) Well, that’s where Jesus goes in today’s lesson. Many scholars call this particular portion of Matthew’s gospel the antithesis…because at face value…Jesus really seems like he’s raining down judgment…the very thing that we’ve grown accustomed to thinking Jesus was against.  Jesus is the expression of God’s love right? He came to save us because he loves us right?  So how can he be advocating for us to achieve our own righteousness? I don’t get it!!!
But that seems to be exactly what he’s saying here doesn’t it…and even stranger than that…is the unexpected progression between the sin and the punishment…did anyone notice that?
In the confirmation class, we spent the last several weeks discussing the 10 commandments…and a couple of weeks back…the students and the adults who were present got great joy in the fact that I had a momentary brain lapse and couldn’t remember that the fifth commandment is Thou shall not kill…I’ll admit it…I blanked…but I think we would all agree that murder is pretty major on the sin scale isn’t it? Even those who do not express belief in Christ or associate themselves with the teachings of the Bible would agree that murder is a huge moral no-no.
So perhaps its fitting that Jesus starts off this little rant with murder…You have heard it said in ancient times You shall not murder…and as I picture the scene I imagine all the people there hearing Jesus saying that…and nodding their heads…Yes Jesus, we know that…don’t murder…and Jesus continues that those who commit murder are liable to judgment…and we cue the nodding heads again. (pause)
Okay…so we’ve got murder…this morally reprehensible notion…and the punishment for it…well, we don’t really know…only that its judgment…Okay…so murder gets us judged. (pause) But now here’s where it gets a little coo-coo…Jesus says “But I tell you that if you are angry with a brother or sister you are liable to judgment.” WHAT!!!! Getting peeved with someone else earns us the same punishment as killing them? Really? REALLY? (pause) I’m guessing Jesus really has everyone’s attention at this point…because that can’t be right can it? Well, what else does he have to say?
Well, he says that anyone who goes as far as insulting another person is now liable to the council…not just that they’ll get judged, but they’ll be judged by the highest human authority in the Jewish culture…the religious council…well holy cow…this is starting to get serious…what else is he going to drop on us?
If you say you fool then you are liable to the fires of hell. ARE YOU SERIOUS!?! Calling someone foolish earns us a ticket to hell? Come on Jesus, I’m all for treating others as we wish to be treated but sometimes people are stupid…we can’t tell them that? (pause) Well, I guess not…but it makes me wonder…does the punishment really fit the crime?
Truly…this is a hard teaching…once again we see Jesus utterly turning reality on its ear…because everyone knew the law…just as we know the law today…and we do don’t we. We know what’s good to do and what isn’t…but just knowing the law isn’t good enough…and Jesus is showing us why in this passage…but he doesn’t limit it to murder and anger and insults.
Jesus goes on into some more detail, and then he tackles a subject that probably makes a squirm in our seats just a little bit…adultery…and all the different things that go into it. Because as we see…sin isn’t limited to the physical act is it?  We see that with Jesus words on anger and insults…and now we see it hear with how we look at another person…or how we think about another person…and jeepers, who didn’t get a little bit uncomfortable when Jesus told us that we should pluck out our eyes and throw them away if they make us sin.  This whole anti-sin thing is getting pretty serious isn’t it.
But Jesus goes on from there too and he starts hinting at something that hits close to home for a lot of people in today’s society…the issue of divorce…and when its okay…and when its not okay…and the consequences of it…and how the whole thing pretty much boils itself down to being right there on par with adultery itself…and we hear him talk about how divorce pretty much lends itself to breaking another one of the big 10.
And I’m guessing that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people…people in general and likely some of you sitting out there today…because the stats don’t lie. More than 50% of 1st marriages…divorce…more than 60% of second marriages…and the number keeps going up…and perhaps as you sit here in church…a place that is supposed to be open and welcoming…and non judgmental…and you hear Jesus himself say things like this…and you hear me talking about it pretty bluntly…and maybe it hurts…I’m guessing it does…and while I’m so very sorrow to be hammering on this point…I don’t deny that which Jesus is implying here…sin is painful…and the aspects of life that dable in and around sin are messy…and they hurt…and while I also believe that there are marriages out there that can and should end…and are likely the best thing in the world for everyone involved…that doesn’t make the notion of divorce a good thing. (pause)
And so let’s call it what it is…divorce is a death…it marks the death of a marriage…the death of a relationship…the death of a family as it once was…just as much as anger and insults mark the death of any relationship as it was before…the apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the wages of sin is death…and it would seem here today, that Jesus agrees. (pause)
I stand up here before you today…saying these things…and hating the fact that I’m saying them…hating the pain that I might be causing some of you sitting out there today…and in all honesty hating the fact that the Bible even records these words of Jesus…the one who came to love us…and I find myself asking that same question Are You Serious?
And in the midst of asking that question I wonder where we find good news…where do we find the gospel in the midst of this passage that in the very least stings…and on the opposite end of the spectrum, I fear may cause some of you to walk out of worship not wanting to come back again. (pause) Where do we find the gospel in the midst of pain and death?
We find the gospel when we see Jesus hanging on the cross…and in the midst of his pain…and in the midst of his death he utters the words “Father Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And then he dies…but then three days later he comes back…we are people of the resurrection…because we believe that while sin and death are very real…and they are very painful…and they are a present reality…we also believe that sin and death doesn’t get the last word…God does…and God proclaims life…life found in the resurrection of Jesus…a resurrection that we share…because in our baptism we join with Jesus in a death like his and by doing so we also join together with him in a resurrection like his…and in the case of our lives…when we experience these painful realities…we must cling to the hope of the resurrection…that God can and does create new life out of death. (pause)
And so today…we do not deny the reality of sin in our reality, nor do we deny its reality within our own existence…rather, we embrace it…we admit to it…and then we turn our attention to the cross of Christ where he said IT IS FINISHED!!!! And we cling to the hope we find when that stone was rolled away and death lost it’s power over the world.  Let us cling to that today. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 2-9-14

Last Sunday’s sermon was based on Matthew 5:13-20 and focused on Jesus declaration that “You are” the light of the world. You can find that sermon here.

A question came out of the confirmation student’s sermon notes that I’ll attempt to answer here.

-Why does God continually forgive us even through we mess up so much?
Great question. The simple fact that, through Jesus Christ, God does continue to forgive us is evidence of the incredible depth of the grace of God. Because Jesus has experienced life and all the temptations that come along with it, his sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to overcome all sin for all time. Because of this, God continues to forgive sins.  If there is a simple answer, that would be it. Now on the other hand, I’m going to get a little bit more “heady.”  Luther called us (individual members of humanity) simultaneous saint and sinner. This means that, at the very same time and all of the time, we are completely forgiven of all sin within our life because of Christ and yet we are still completely sinful because of our human nature. The important thing to recognize here is that through Christ we are forgiven. That’s a done deal for us, not by anything we have achieved but only by the grace of God. Yet at the same time, we still feel the effect of sin in our life. Sin is still present, but through Christ we are not subject to the judgment that our sin deserves.  But it is because of this dual nature (sinner and saint) that we can see the effects of sin in the world. We know that the world is not perfect, and neither are we. But the ability to recognize this, and to acknowledge it is exactly what makes us turn to Christ, declaring each and every day, that we are incapable of doing it on our own.

Shine the Light of You 2-9-14

This morning’s sermon is taken from Matthew 5:13-20. It marks the 2nd of several weeks in which the Lectionary focuses on the Sermon on the Mount. In this particular passage, we hear the familiar verses “You are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world. In this sermon, I focus on the Light aspect, and how Jesus tells us to shine the light that we are.

You can hear the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/shine-the-light-of-you-2-9-14

You can follow along with the text 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
Last Sunday featured two major headlines. Depending on your point of view, one was likely much bigger news than the other, garnering a lot more attention as well as a multitude of additional offshoot headlines over the course of the next couple of days.
The first event was of course…the Superbowl…and the massive beat down handed out by the Seahawks over the Bronco’s…this was the big story of the day…and certainly the basis for a lot of water cooler conversations on Monday.
Though I am, by my own admission, nothing of a sports fan, this does tend to be the one televised football game of the year that I stop and pay attention to, and this year, if nothing else, it provided me with the joy of seeing my 10 year old son, who is…at least this year…a Bronco’s fan…riddled with angst as his beloved Peyton Manning and the rest of the Bronco’s offence got systematically dismantled by the superior defense of the Seahawks….now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t make me happy to see my son sad, but I was laughing to myself quite a bit as I heard him ranting at the tv. “Why’d you make that pass?” “How could you let him make that catch?” Or perhaps my personal favorite… “Come on Peyton, you have to yell Omaha…then everything will be okay.”
Well, as we know, for the Bronco’s the game didn’t turn out so well…but admittedly, I was somewhat distracted from the game by the other news of the day, which had hit the airwaves earlier in the afternoon. The academy award winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead at the age of 46.
For many, this news was a bit of a downer, but quickly dismissed as yet another Hollywood celebrity lost too soon…but that was not my reaction. I am a movie buff in every sense of the word, and Hoffman has always been one of my favorite character actors…his ability to embody a character on both the big screen as well as on stage was well known, and I have enjoyed his work immensely…so when I heard the news that he had been found dead, I sat up and paid attention…over the course of the next few hours, more information was released, and the world found out that Hoffman had been found with a needle in his arm…his death caused by an overdose of heroin.
Hoffman was a drug addict, though one who had seemingly overcome his addictions more than 20 years ago…but for whatever reason, this darkness once again took hold of him, and whether it was accidental or on purpose…drugs snuffed out the light of Hoffman’s life.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the course of the past week reading various blogs and news articles, both about Hoffman and not about him…but all together aimed at the monkey on your back known as drug addiction…and as I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to realize that quite a few people that have influenced me over the years have addiction in common.
Some of these people I know personally…other’s I’ve interacted with through social media, though I’ve never met them in person and still others have influenced me through their writing or public speaking…but through hearing their stories I’ve come to understand more about the notion of addiction…and the way that the darkness of the world can cause such pain that they cannot help but to find unhealthy ways to dull it.
Perhaps this hits close to home for me because of an event that changed my life and that of my extended family back in 2007. On a clear bright summer day I received the news that my cousin had been found dead…and as time went on we came to find out that he had taken his own life…the pain caused by mental illness had become to strong for him to overcome and he had stopped the pain in the only way that he could think of.
In many ways, this is not unlike the descriptions I have heard from various addicts as they too seek to deaden the pain that they feel…and though I struggle to understand the strength of this pain in their life, I do recognize that life is not without pain and darkness…and we all look somewhere outside of ourselves for relief from it.
One of the blogs that I read this week seemed particularly fitting, and I’ll share a portion of it here with you. “I wonder how many people slip away from this life, knowing they have missed something important. And never knowing what it was. Like a source of untouchable peace that sustains me when the “noise” becomes “too much.” Or a source of strength that enables me to overcome “the pain of living.” Rather than escaping into something that solves nothing and creates more pain. Or a hope so strong that not even the darkest of days can erase it. Where can I find the power to conquer my inner darkness when there’s no scriptwriter to write a happy ending? Not in me. Not in my greatest achievements. My personal strength. Or even my deepest relationships. Life is too hard, my resources too finite to find ultimate answers by looking in myself. Or around at the people close to me. I found them only when I looked up. And saw there a God who loves me, extending His hand to me. With a peace … a hope that holds me together, when the noise and the pain are overwhelming. The darkness doesn’t have to win. Not with this Light that nothing can extinguish.” *(see below)
I’ve thought so much about this issue of light and darkness this week. Many of you have heard me preach on this subject before and have likely come to realize the importance of this concept for me, and it likely stems from this scar in my family history…and the questions that arose from my cousin’s death…and the questions that any family goes through of why? Why did they do this? Why didn’t they ask for help? If they couldn’t handle it on their own why didn’t they look somewhere else?
And that brings us back around to another notion that I’ve come to understand about addiction…for most of us, the ability to control things is within us…we have the capability to handle our high, whatever it is that helps us to escape the pain and the darkness in the world, even for a moment…we are able to maintain…but for the addict, this self control simply does not exist…and it MUST be found from another source…and that source often times comes from yet another addict…someone who truly understands the pain and the struggle but has been given the tools to over-come them.
In yet another blog, I stumbled across this passage, written by another famous drug addict that has been clean for more than ten years but still battles his addiction each and every day. When an event causes emotional pain to rear up in his life, and he finds himself on the verge of hunting up a dealer…he writes these words.
“I [wind] down the hill in an alien land…the pain quickly accumulated incalculably, and I began to weave the familiar tapestry that tells an old, old story. I think of places I could score. Off Santa Monica there’s a homeless man who I know uses gear. I could find him, buy him a bag if he takes me to score…Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web, I am reaching for my phone. I call someone: not a doctor or a sage, not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he’ll just let it ring out. It’s 4am in London. He’s asleep, he can’t hear the phone, he won’t pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry mouthed nocturnal mumble: ‘Hello. You all right mate?’ He picks up. And for another day, thank God, I don’t have to.” ** (see below)
This individual looks for a refuge from the darkness in another person…and that’s where I’ve been going with all this. I admit, this sermon has been a bit of a downer today…and I may be coming across to you as soft on the notion of addiction…but that’s not my point today…my point is that we all feel the effects of pain and darkness in our lives…because this life is full of it…this life is full of darkness…and we have a God that knows it.
And in today’s scripture passage, we hear the words of Jesus telling us to do something about it…today’s lesson is a familiar passage, particularly the opening portion. You are the salt of the earth…and then just one verse later…You are the light of the world.
If you were here last week, you heard me discuss the notion of just who Jesus is addressing here in the Sermon on the Mount. Is he talking just to the 12 disciples? Well, the answer to that question is no…he’s got a much broader audience when he points his finger and says You are the light world.
In both of these verses…the you are is referring to everyone…Jesus is talking to the community of faith, not just to individuals…but to everyone…and he’s talking to them as a single unit…as the community.  So even though we hear you are the light of the world…it might be better heard if Jesus was from Texas…because then it might sound a little more like “Y’all are the light of the world.” (pause)
But if we…all together are the light…then we have to ask the question of just where does it come from…because we all know that the light of life is not self generated…but as we’ve heard before the Light is God and the Light dwells among us…the source of the light is God himself…Jesus Christ, God in flesh…dwelling among us…as one of us…but even more importantly…dwelling AS us…for we are the church and the church is the body of Christ here on earth.
So when Jesus tells us that We are the light in the world…we need to stand up and pay attention…its not something we do…its not something we achieve…its something we are because God himself says so…but then he goes on from there…and he tells us not to hide the light…as if we could…but to shine…very simply be the light shining in the world.
The Greek is very simple…if I was translate it word for word it would “Shine the light OF YOU.” The light is not something that you possess simply because of your status as a Christian…its not a special card that you carry around in your wallet, or an app on your phone, or badge that you wear…no…YOU are the light of Christ, so shine…shine in this world of darkness and pain…
And how do we do that? Well…its pretty simple…we’re called to love each other. Remember that passage about midway through today’s lesson…when Jesus says that he came to fulfill the law…well it’s true…you see the Law gets kind of a bad wrap…because we know that we can’t live up to it and we do fail…and we do need Jesus to save us from ourselves…but Jesus himself tells us that the commandments can be summed up in two very simple statements…Love God…and love your neighbor…all 10 of the Commandments can be boiled down into those two statements.
And when we love God…and when we love our neighbor…well that is the light shining so brightly that the world cannot help but notice…that is the light of God…and the love of God shining through us…in spite of the pain and the darkness.
The darkness doesn’t have to win…not with this light that nothing can extinguish. Amen

* Ron Hutchcraft, The Stunning Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman,

** Russell Brand, http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/mar/09/russell-brand-life-without-drugs?CMP=twt_gu

Confirmation Questions 2-2-14

Last Sunday’s sermon was based on the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12. You can find that sermon here.

A great question was raised by the confirmation students on their sermon notes. I’ll attempt to answer it here.

-Why does Jesus say “Great are your rewards in Heaven?”
This is a really excellent question. In the final Beatitude, Jesus says “blessed are you [when you are persecuted on account of me]. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.” Now, just what Jesus means by this is up in the air. We could think that he’s referring to our salvation and that Heaven itself is the reward. Those who do not deny Jesus and are, in turn, persecuted or even killed because of it can rest assured that they are in relationship with Christ and therefore with God. Acknowledging Christ as our savior is evidence that we are, in fact saved from our sin. That being said, it is important to note that it is not up to anything that we do to guarantee our salvation. But all that being said, it is admittedly ambiguous what Jesus means by saying we’ll be rewarded in heaven. Does it mean that we gain higher status in Heaven, or that we’ll have riches of a sort that we do not understand in this life? Perhaps, but we just don’t know.  All we know is that Jesus says (later in the Sermon on the Mount) that we will be rewarded by God. What Jesus does not say is what those rewards will be.

So long story short, I can’t really give you a good answer to this question, aside from the assurance that Jesus says we will be blessed and that in Heaven there will be a reward. May we all see that one day.