Archive for March, 2014

A Regular Guy on a Regular Day 3-30-14

This sermon comes from John 9:1-41. This is the story of Jesus healing the man born blind and the resulting controversy that surrounds him after the healing.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-regular-guy-on-a-regular-day

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.
It was another one of those weeks…another Friday at home with the kiddos…which means I adjusted my schedule so that I wasn’t “working” on Friday, yet knowing full well that my mental coffee pot would be percolating on what to preach about this morning.
And there was a lot of different things that I felt like I could focus on…this week we have another marathon gospel lesson, similar in size to last week…oh and just a warning…next week is pretty long too…but today we focus on the…rather lengthy…account of Jesus healing a man born blind.
And so, last Friday as the day passed by I found myself being mentally pulled in different direction. On one hand, normal household activities like laundry and dishes and cooking lunch took my focus. Other times I was zoning in on the kiddos, at times sharing some time gaming or curled up watching a movie together…but all the while, Jesus kept trying to get my attention, and the blind man kept swimming up to the front of my mind…he was an annoying little bugger…and just wouldn’t leave me alone.
So that was my day…mental switching from one thing to the next to the next…never really staying focused on any one thing for very long…and then it happened…I was in the kitchen, just finishing cleaning up after lunch when I looked out the window and saw an unfamiliar car pull into the church parking lot.
Now, living right next door, I see most of the cars that pull into the church, and unless I’m really busy with something, I typically stop to see who’s stopping by…but the weird thing about this car was that it pulled into the parsonage side of the parking lot, right next to my car which was sitting in its normal spot…and low and behold…about the time I was muttering under my breath “who the heck is this now?” the front doors opened on both sides of the car and the parents of one of my best friends in the world got out…they wanted to swing in and say hi…check out the new digs and pay a quick visit to one of the several “adopted kids” that their kids brought home.
It wasn’t a long visit, but it was totally unexpected…out of the blue as I went about my regular daily activities…and with that…the blind man from today’s story came swimming back up into focus one more time…and I found myself thinking about his circumstances on the day featured in the gospel lesson.
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. Did Jesus notice him or did the disciples? 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 was a sound that this man probably heard fairly regularly as strangers would spit on him…but then you feel a gentle set of hands smearing cool mud over your eyes…something that would have probably been very unwelcome for this blind man…until he hears the 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…you have no idea who did this for you. (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…Just like Nicodimus from our Gospel lesson a couple weeks ago…right in the middle of the story…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 the entirety of his history…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 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…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 to know the truth…that he is the Son of Man…and the man 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 consquences 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.
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.”

 

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Lenten Monologue-Apostle Andrew

On Wednesday March 26th,  we heard a reading from the perspective of the Apostle Andrew. This reading was based on John 1:35-42 and was based on the question “What are you looking for?” asked by Jesus.

This is the third in Underwood Lutheran’s series of Lenten worship services held on Wednesday evenings through the season. The overarching theme for Lent is the questions of Jesus. Each week we will hear a reading by a different Biblical character who was questioned by Jesus in their encounter.

To those that knew me, my name is Andrew, son of John…although for the most part, history simply remembers me as Peter’s brother. Throughout the ages, Peter has been better remembered. Name the first pope, people tell you Peter. Talk about miracles that happened with the disciples, they’ll tell you Peter walking on the water…its safe to say that history tends to remember my brother way more than me.
You could go a little farther along than that too. Ask anyone to name the disciples, and I’ll bet you money that the first three they call off will be Peter and James and John. The way the history books are written, you’d think they were the 3 most important.
But I’m not bitter about it. Really I’m not…because my worth is not found in the history books…or in being over shadowed by my more famous brother…I find my worth in Christ…though it wasn’t always like that.
My life, like those of my family and those I knew growing up, was quite simple. Like my brother Peter and our father John…and like our partners James and John the sons of Zebedee, I was a simple fisherman. I’d go out at night with my nets and try to catch as many fish as I could. In the morning, we’d haul those fish up on shore…keep what we needed for our own table…and then sell the rest…it got repetitive, day after day, night after night…but that was life in my time.
But you know, there were moments when things did go a little differently. For instance…for a time, I was a disciple of John the Baptist. I watched as he would preach out in the wilderness along the Jordan river…ranting and raving about repentance from sin. He told me about the amazing thing that happened when his cousin Jesus of Nazareth came to the river to be baptized…the heavens were torn open and the voice of God came booming out of the clouds exclaiming that this was His one and only Son.
John said that Jesus was the messiah…the one that would take away the sin of the world…One day, I was standing along with John when he pointed out a man and exclaimed “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” I knew right away that this was the incredible man that John had told me about…and so I followed him.
John had taught me much in the time I was his disciple. He taught me the importance of recognizing our sinfulness…and of repenting from it. He helped me realize that, try as I might, I would fail in my attempts to follow the law given to Moses, but that God would recognize and forgive a repented heart…but most importantly, John taught me that there was another coming that was far more important than he was…and now I had seen him…now I was following him…eager to know whatever he would share with me…simply eager to continue learning.
In my time, very few people were educated…the religious leaders and the scribes were, but for us common people, the most we could learn was at the feet of the traveling Rabbis…the teachers that would go from place to place. And so we learned very quickly as young men, that when we had the opportunity to learn, whether in the synagogues on the Sabbath day or in simple passing with a rabbi, we needed to take advantage of it…and this is why I followed Jesus when John pointed him out…because I wanted to learn…I wanted to find out all that I could from him about our Lord and His ways.
Its almost funny to me, as I think back on it now, how little I realized of the truth…the truth of who Jesus was. I thought he was just an important holy man…perhaps a prophet of greater significance than John…I failed to remember what John had said about his baptism, and that he was truly God’s son. But the reality of Jesus was so much simpler…and yet so much more complex than I could ever imagine.
As I followed him that day, he turned around and looked at me…and I have never experienced a gaze with as much love and caring as I did from Jesus. He asked me a very simple question…but one that would change my life forever. “What are you looking for?”
As I thought about it, I found I didn’t know. I couldn’t put into words all the questions I had…the truths that I was looking for. To be honest, I don’t even think I knew I was looking for them at that time, so I simply asked him “Teacher…where are you staying?” I asked him this, because I wanted to stay with him…to have as much time with him as I could.
The amazing thing about Jesus, he could make simple statement, or ask a simple question and reveal so much truth about a person. In his first question to me, he revealed my longing for understanding…but he did it in a way that allowed us the time together for me to begin to understand my own longing…my longing for something more…for more meaning in my life…for truth in my life.
And in that moment, he invited me to come and see…not just to see where he was staying…but to begin to see the truth of what I was seeking in my life…the truth of God’s love for me and for all people…and the truth that through Christ we could be forgiven…truly forgiven of our sinfulness.
After I spent the day with him…amazed at everything I had already learned…I knew that I needed to share this amazing experience with others. Just as John had shared the truth of Jesus with me, I needed to pass along that knowledge…I needed to point others towards Christ.
And who better for me to bring than my brother. I spent every day with him, and I loved him as all brothers do. How could I not care enough about him to pass up the chance to bring him to meet the Messiah…and so I ran and found him and told him what had happened…and I brought Peter to Jesus…perhaps this is why history remembers me as Andrew the bringer.
From that day forward, my brother and I, along with James and John and 8 other men, not to mention countless others…followed Jesus…we listened to him preach the truth of the kingdom of Heaven. We saw the miracles…we heard the parables. Jesus gave us power over unclean spirits and the ability to heal diseases. The experiences that I had over the three years that I followed Jesus are amazing and words cannot express the joy I experienced. But along with the joys, there were troubles as well. Sometimes Jesus’ teaching was difficult. Sometimes we failed to understand what he was telling us…and so, throughout that time, I was always looking for more answers…I would question Jesus, ask him to explain the truths of God…because I was always looking for more understanding.
Sometimes Jesus asks us a question that reveals more about us than we realize. For me, Jesus very first words to me fell in this category. “What are you looking for?” To this day, I still have not found everything I’m looking for, because I am always seeking more and more truth about God and the kingdom of Heaven…but I do know this much…the truth can be found through Jesus, for he is the way, the truth, and the life…No one comes to the Father except through him. And as he showed me that first day when I met him, if we are seeking, he will invite us…to come and see.

What Is This Living Water 3-23-14

This sermon came from John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I explore what Jesus is talking about when he discusses giving “living water.”

You can listen to the sermon here.
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-is-this-living-water-3-23

You can also 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
Ask anyone a simple question…What is the most important thing found on earth? You’ll probably get a variety of answers…but if you ask enough people…I’m guessing that there is one thing that you’ll start to hear repeatedly…water. (pause)
And rightly so. Water is the most abundant substance on Earth. It covers roughly 72% of the surface…depending on what Google article you read. It’s vital to so many things…life as we know it would cease to exist without water…and you know what, so would several of our common expressions.
Has a lot of time gone by since some major event occurred? Well, good…then there’s a lot of water under the bridge isn’t there?  (pause) Something bad happen between you and another person in the past? Have they forgiven you yet? Well good…water off a duck’s back. Things looking a little bleak in the future…I guess your water glass is half empty…oh wait, not so bleak…then your water glass is half full isn’t it? (pause)
Water’s a funny thing though isn’t it? It can be good or bad…sometimes at the very same time.  Farmers…I bet you’re starting to look for the rain aren’t you…get some much needed moisture in the ground before planting time comes up?  But what if we get too much rain…then watch out…the fields will flood and we’ll be cursing it won’t we?
I can relate with that.  I’ve got some amazing memories that involve water…I remember a day long canoe trip down the Sioux River in the northern part of the state a few years back…that was a blast…but on the flip side, if you were here on Ash Wednesday you heard me tell a story of a time when water almost cost me my life…and just yesterday…not even 24 hours ago, I willingly jumped into water that was maybe 3 degrees above freezing…and let me tell you…there was nothing life giving in that experience.
But now that brings us around full circle…because water itself is life-giving isn’t it? We all need it…all of life on earth relies on it…but as life giving as water is…I have never heard of a way in which water itself…is living…until today’s gospel lesson.
Let me set the scene for you. The Middle East in the season when a person can survive walking all over the countryside…very likely midsummer….hot, arid…not exactly the nicest place in the world…and its noon…hottest part of the day…and we find Jesus, tuckered out from walking all day, hanging out by a well…probably really wishing he had a bucket of some sort…when along comes a woman with her water jar. (pause) Oh, by the way, did I mention this is Samaria?
We’ve got a few things happening here that are strange from the get-go. First off, Jesus, a Jew is in Samaria…a place where Jews did not like to go…let’s just say their dislike of Samaria and the people that lived there puts the rivalry between…say…Iowa and Iowa State look like child’s play…Secondly…we’ve got a man engaging with a woman…which was a big cultural no-no at the time…kind of makes you wonder how they ever managed to get to know each other before getting married, though that’s neither here nor there…So, we see boundaries getting crossed over here…something that Jesus was well known for in his day…but here’s the really odd thing…
Why was the woman coming to the well at noon in the first place? Obviously, she’s there to get water…why else would she go to the well, but the custom was for the women of the nearby town to head out to the well together…safety in numbers and all that…and to do it in the cool weather of the morning…maybe in the evening but even that is uncommon…so what is it that has this woman coming to the well in the heat of the day?
Many scholars will tell you a lot of different things about her, but the most common one has to do with her past…a matter we hear about in the story.  She’s had 5 husbands…and she’s living with a guy that isn’t her husband…SHOCKING! I know…clearly she must be some sort of harlot…sinful in every sense of the word and so she comes to the well at noon, alone in her shame…when no one else will be there to shun her or whisper behind her back.
Though that being said, I’m not all that sure about that…nowhere in this passage is there any talk of sin or repentance or changing her ways…nowhere…and so I think it’s important to throw out that assumption that there’s something wrong with this woman’s behavior…and instead focus on the idea that her situation is simply less than ideal…perhaps those 5 husbands died…or maybe they left her…we don’t know…and maybe, just maybe, the guy she’s living with now is her brother…or perhaps the brother of her last husband who would have taken her in, but she wouldn’t be considered his wife…we can speculate all day long…but in the end let’s just accept that she’s here, and despite the odd circumstances…she’s here for the obvious reason…to get water…that life giving water that flows through the well.
And imagine her shock when she comes walking up to the well…and finds this Jewish guy sitting there…and he has the audacity to ask for a drink…and when you exchange a little bit of banter…he throws this little tidbit at you…If you knew the gift of God standing before you asking for a drink…you would ask him and he would give you…living water.” (pause)
Living water. If this random Samaritan woman is anything like me, she hears that statement from Jesus and before answering him as she does…the thought has to go through her head…What the heck is living water?  I wrestled with this question all week long…and try as I might to just ignore that question in my mind, my old preaching professors voices kept popping up saying “if you have a question about something, that’s probably what you’re supposed to preach on.” They’d be so proud of me right now.
But seriously…living water? Just what does that mean? (pause) Perhaps the woman is asking this question as well, but when she questions Jesus…who is, by the way, the one we should be asking these questions of…she words it just a little bit differently…Sir…where do you get this living water? (pause) Not What is it? But WHERE…is it?
Now Jesus answers the question of where…but as per usual he does it in his own, slightly confusing way. He tells her…the water I give…so we know only that this so called living water…comes from Christ…but more importantly than that, we need to pay attention to the fact that Jesus says he will give it to those that ask him. (pause). Bear with me now…Living water comes from Christ and he gives it to those that ask for it….and when he gives it to them, it becomes a spring that wells up to eternal life. (pause)
Right there…I think that’s our first clue that Jesus isn’t really talking about water here…but something else entirely…but we need to keep on searching if we want to figure out what he’s really talking about…so let’s continue…stay with me now.
Jesus gave us a clue when he said that the water will well up to Eternal Life…but we have to ask the question of what he’s talking about there…and that’s a question that Jesus answers later on in the Gospel.  He says towards the end of John while praying to his father that “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” (pause) Eternal life is knowing God and knowing that Jesus is God…eternal life is believing that Jesus is God…and that right there is the entire key of John’s gospel.
For John, sin is not believing that Jesus is God…that’s it…its singular…lack of belief…and through this lack of belief, denying the relationship that Christ has offered to us…a relationship that results in the forgiveness of our sin. (pause) Okay…still with me? I’m about to bring this all home I promise.
There’s another word that we use to describe believing what God has said…for believing the promises of God…and word is faith…and we hear in the book of Romans that like Abraham believing God’s promise that despite his old age he would be the father of many descendants…we can believe in the promise made by God that if we believe in Jesus Christ and that through his sacrifice on the cross we are forgiven of our sin and therefore, we will not perish but have eternal life. (pause)
Okay now…let me apologize for getting really heady there…admittedly, this has been pretty deep theological thinking…but through this process of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that the “living water” given to us by Jesus is…quite simply…faith…living water that wells up to eternal life is having faith in the promises of God…(pause)
So long story short…faith, is a gift from God…it is not something that we create ourselves…but it is given to us by Christ through the power of the holy spirit…and while you might not realize it…you profess that each and every week here in church…see if you recognize this…
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…(pause)…sounds familiar right? Well then, maybe so do these words from Luther himself…I believe that I CANNOT by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit as called me THROUGH the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith. (pause)
We don’t do it people…and even more than that…the gift of faith does not make us perfect people. It does not answer all the questions, or quiet all the doubts…or alleviate all the fears…just as it didn’t for the Samaritan woman in today’s story.  When she finally comes to the point of recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah…she immediately runs off to town to share what she has learned…to share her experience…but take a careful look at what she says to the other townspeople…
Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done…He cannot be the Messiah can he? (pause)  2 important statements here…first off…Christ revealed “everything I have ever done.”  Faith illuminates our darkness…the light of Christ roots out darkness, exposing it for what it is…and our faith does the same thing…Faith recognizes our own sinful nature…our own shortcomings…faith doesn’t deny it…it acknowledges it and by doing so acknowledges our need for a savior…for a messiah…and secondly, she continues to ask the important question “He cannot be the messiah can he?”
In this woman’s wonderful example we see that faith can and does exist alongside questions and doubts…but more importantly it brings us into relationship with the one that can and does allow us to ask those questions…to experience those doubts…and who walks alongside us through the fearful experiences…and who truly is…the Savior of the World.
In this final important confession, uttered by the Samaritan people, we find evidence of the good news uttered by Jesus in last week’s lesson and hinted at again today…For God so loved…THE WORLD.  The Gospel is not for anyone specific…rather…its for everyone…regardless of age or culture or race or gender or any other division that we might want to create…its for everyone…including you…For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him might have eternal life…even when we might not think they deserve it…that’s the offensive nature of the Gospel…that its offered to the most vile person to ever walk the earth…because the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross…his brutal death that we’ll hear about in a few more week’s time…was big enough to cover over all sin…for all time…and he judges us as righteous…even when we don’t. Maybe this good news come to rest in you today and become a spring of living water, welling up to Eternal Life.  Amen.

Lenten Monologue-Woman Caught in Adultry

On Wednesday March 19th,  we heard a reading from the perspective of the woman caught in adultery that is brought before Jesus. This reading was based on John 7:53-8:11 and was based on the question “Has no one condemned you?” asked by Jesus.

This is the second in Underwood Lutheran’s series of Lenten worship services held on Wednesday evenings through the season. The overarching theme for Lent is the questions of Jesus. Each week we will hear a reading by a different Biblical character who was questioned by Jesus in their encounter.

History does not remember my name. Like countless others who have lived and died throughout the ages, the details of my life have been lost, and the history books do little to tell you who I am.
My name is not important, though rest assured that God knows my name. Like many others, I am very simply a Jewish woman. I lived my life as best I could. I knew the rules. I knew the law, everyone did. God gave it to Moses, and Moses gave it to the people.
Throughout our history, the history of the Jews, we have clung to the law to help us remember our identity as the chosen people of God. We have experienced countless years of heartache and enslavement. First my people were slaves in Egypt. Then we wandered in the wilderness for an entire generation. We could not maintain the promised land given to us by God, and we were invaded, carried off into exile around the world, first by the Assyrians, and then by the Babylonians. In my time, the Romans were in command, controlling our lives and overshadowing our way of life.
Through these trials, my people have been spread throughout the known world, never knowing where we could call home, or what would happen next. But the one thing that we clung to was the knowledge that God had given us the law, it was a blessing to help us honor God and one another. We all know it, and we all cling to it.
But sometimes life takes control away from us, and try as we might, we fail. That is what history remembers of me. When the Jewish leaders found out about my transgressions, they used me. Not out of any concern for me or for the law, but because they wanted to trap the man that they considered a threat. The man called Jesus of Nazareth. I had heard the name, but I knew nothing about him. Only that he was some sort of teacher and he was speaking out against the old ways.
I am not perfect. I have never claimed to be perfect. I have made mistakes. I have let myself get carried away, and I know that I have broken the law. I know that one of the 10 commandments is against adultery…and I also know that the expanded law states that anyone caught in adultery should be stoned to death. I do not deny it, and I do not deny what I did. I was guilty of what they said I did.
But what was strange was how the leaders handled the situation. Honestly, I don’t think they really cared about what happened…all they really wanted to do was trap Jesus. To discredit him so that people would stop listening to what he was saying; what he was teaching. If they really cared about the law, they would have brought the man along to. He was equally guilty, but they left him, and brought only me. Perhaps its because I couldn’t resist them, and I had no rights, I don’t know why. But that was the first clue that they really didn’t care what I had done.
The crowd brought me before this man Jesus as he sat in the temple one day. I was afraid. I knew I was guilty and if they followed the proper channels, I could be killed. They’d have to clear it with the other religious leaders first, and then with the Roman officials, but no one would stop them. I was a woman, I was unmarried with no one to speak for me, and I was guilty. Surely this would end with my death. Of course I was scared…and I was scared of this Jesus.
I only knew that he was a teacher…surely he would know the law and he would agree with the crowd. I was so afraid, I can hardly remember what they said, but I heard them address him. “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery. The law says we should stone her. What do you say?”
I stood there, humiliated and afraid. I had my eyes cast to the ground and didn’t dare try to meet the eyes of this man that would surly judge me as guilty…I just waited to hear him say it…but I didn’t hear anything. After a moment, I glanced his direction, and saw him bending over, writing in the dust on the ground. Why would he be doing that?
I never knew what he was writing, I was standing too far away, but that is all he did. He just sat there writing for a moment…and then finally he stood up.
That was the moment…the moment I was dreading, when this holy man, this great teacher from God would condemn me, but when he spoke, his voice was kind and calm…and he wasn’t speaking to me. “Let anyone among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”
I braced myself…for surely among this crowd of religious leaders would be sinless men. I knew, any second, the stones would start to fly and I would feel the agony of them biting into my flesh, pounding on my body. I tried to cover my head with my arms, fearing the worst was about to happen…and then I heard it.
First it was isolated. The sound of a stone being dropped, not thrown at me, but dropped on the courtyard floor, clattering on the stones below…and then footsteps. I glanced that direction and saw one old man walking away…and then another dropped his stone…and then another…soon they all dropped their stones and left…they just left me there…alone with this man Jesus.
And when I looked at him, he was writing in the dust again…and then he looked at me…there was no anger in his eyes…no hatred…there was only love and compassion. I stood up before him…and then he walked over to me and asked me, very gently “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
I was so shocked…and still so afraid…I barely whispered… “No one sir.” And then he looked at me with such love…such acceptance…and with a smile on his face he said “Neither then do I condemn you.”
In that moment, looking in his face, I knew…I knew that he was no mere holy man…this was the true Son of God…and he had forgiven me…he had every right to judge me guilty…to let them stone me…to agree with the crowd and follow the law…but he didn’t.
In that moment, I knew that God was not an angry judge waiting to strike us down when we failed to follow his law. Rather, he is a God that loves all people enough to offer them his perfect forgiveness.
Jesus told me then, to go forth and sin no more…and while I know that my life is still not perfect, I know now that my past…that my actions do not define me. Instead, I know that I am defined by how God sees me…as his beloved child. And that is how God sees you. No one on earth can condemn you, because your sins are already forgiven, just as mine were that day.

Where Did He Go? 3-16-14

This week’s sermon came from the story of Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night, found in John 3:1-17. In the sermon I explore the difficulty of the truth that Jesus presents, and how some people will turn away from it, needing time to come to grips with what Jesus is telling them.

You can listen to the sermon here.
http://soundcloud.com/revdalen/where-did-he-go-3-16-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the weird punctuation…gotta remind myself of that somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As many of you have learned, I grew up in a small town, not unlike Underwood. But there was one major difference between Underwood and him home town…the size of the school. My entire school, k-12 was less than 300 people. As I think back, I can remember pretty much every room in that school because I was in them at one time or another…but for some reason, there is one room really stands out in my memory. The boys bathroom in what was at the time, the junior high wing.
Now, there is nothing special about the bathroom…no reason that it should still be visible in my memory 17 years after leaving the school for the last time, but I can still see it. A large wooden door…dark red floor, pale blue walls…quite the combination…you walk through the doorway and around a corner, past 3 or 4 toilet stalls to the back wall where there are 2 sinks and 3 urinals. Can you see it? Picture it for a moment.
Now the kicker. This is junior high. Some wise guy thinks he’s funny and flips the lights off as he walks out the door…complete darkness…Great…Needless to say, this situation happened to me…more than once during my time there…but I never panicked. I knew the layout of the bathroom…I knew where the light switch was. All I had to do was carefully feel may way through the darkness and I’d find my way out…sounds simple right? I always thought so, but reality was a little harder. I remember one time in particular when I decided against the normal “feel my way along the wall until I hit the corner, turn and find the light switch” technique. I thought to myself that I knew how to walk out. I don’t need any lights…I don’t need any illumination. As I took a few tentative steps in the right direction…I thought to myself about two more steps then I better put my hand out to find(BAM!!!)… the wall. I guess my “knowledge” was lacking there wasn’t it?
This theme of groping in the darkness blares out of our lesson for today. The story opens with Nicodemus…or as I like to call him Nick…now this guy is a Pharisee…and he’s apparently impressed by Jesus and seeking him out…in the dead of night.  Why at night? Come on Nick!…you’re a prominent guy, why all the secrecy? (pause here) Oh…I see…you’re not quite sure about this guy you are going to see…and not only that, your Pharisee cronies wouldn’t think too highly of it. Okay, I get it…Nick’s got a reputation to uphold…and he’s not overly excited to visit with Jesus during broad daylight when everyone can see what he’s up to.
Regardless of his motivation for the night time visitation…and regardless of the circumstances that led him to Jesus, we should, in the very least give him a little credit. He’s seen the man, and he knows what he can do…Rabbi clearly you are from God because the stuff you are pulling off is impossible…Now, I’m a smart guy. I’m a Pharisee and I’ve got it together, but…I’m still a little confused? Can you shed some light on all this for me?
Now we know how the story goes don’t we? Jesus starts firing off truth for our old pal Nick, who tries to show off how brilliant he is…but it doesn’t quite work out…epic fail…He’s just groping in the darkness…darkness as deep as the night of our story.
Jesus continues to teach him, living up to the very name that good old Nicky used in the first place…Rabbi…Teacher…but it is hard truth…it is confusing…and Nick finally admits his lack of understanding with a simple, yet very profound question…How Can This Be?
Jesus doesn’t miss a beat here, but lays out a pretty strong “religious accusation.” You are a Pharisee…you of all people should get this.” He might as well be saying “See…even the Jewish big-wigs fall short. With all their rules and restrictions and piety, and yet here they are…alone in the bathroom with the lights off, groping around trying to find a light switch.”
But you know what…I think we can probably relate can’t we? Think about it for a moment…Nick comes at night…confused, but curious…lacking understanding about just who Jesus is and what he stands for…but Nick is seeking this understanding…and not only that but he’s seeking it from the source…he wants to drive out the darkness of his confusion with the very light of the truth itself…Jesus…but what he experiences is confusing…its hard…and I think that sounds really familiar.
Because sometimes, when Jesus starts teaching…he lays out some pretty strong truth…and he does exactly that in this story. But in doing so he says a lot of stuff that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For instance, Jesus says that no one can enter the kingdom of heaven without being born from above…Nick’s confused and asks how can someone be born again?
Now it doesn’t really come through very well here in the English, but in the original language it’s the same word used by both men…above or again…same word…which raises the question…did Jesus use it intentionally just to be confusing? Or is this just another example of how the truth about the kingdom…a truth that Jesus knows and understands…is just down right difficult for us to grasp?
Whatever the motivation of Jesus for using confusing language, we simply recognize that it is, in fact confusing…confusing for Nick…and confusing for us today…and so, like Nick, perhaps we find ourselves asking the very same question…Jesus…How can this be? Or to put it quite simply…WHAT ARE YOU BABBLING ABOUT!?!
But in the end, Jesus does stat to move things towards a pretty good conclusion…and in my opinion, he lays out the very center of the entire Biblical message. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have life eternal. (pause) In the midst of some pretty heady stuff…he drops that wonderful little nugget.
But…now at this point…where’s Nick? Did anyone notice that he disappeared by this point? Sure enough…by the time Jesus gets to the really good stuff, he might as well be talking to himself. But there’s a reason for that. As Jesus is teaching, laying out these uber-truths, he is bringing illumination into the world. And it is…intense. After groping around in complete darkness, the lights just came on and they are blazing. Has that ever happened to you?
One of my favorite times of day is a brief moment of quiet that I experience between taking the kids to school in the morning and heading across the parking lot to the office for the day. I grab a cup of coffee, step into the living room…and plop down in a chair that faces the big bay window on the east side of the house…but one thing that I’ve noticed is the second I sit down in that spot is the morning sunlight blinds me…utterly and completely…I can’t see anything because the light is so intense.
I think that good old Nick experienced the same type of thing in his initial encounter with Jesus. Here he is, groping around in the total darkness of his disbelief, and then the full power of the Son hits him full in the face. It’s too much for him. He can’t take it and has to turn away…at least for awhile.
This isn’t the last we see of the man. Later on in the story, we see him…and he’s changed. He defends Jesus within the Pharisee’s, the very people that he feared finding out about his initial encounter with Jesus…though admittedly in that part of the story, his defense of Jesus is simply based on a technicality within the Law…He’s making progress, becoming a little more bold where Jesus is concerned…but he’s still holding onto his old way of thinking.
But then later on…towards the very end of the Gospel…we see Nick pop up a third time…and this time, he assists in the burial of the crucified Jesus…can’t get much more public and exposed than that…assisting in handling the body of the very enemy the other religious leaders had killed.
So what happened? Did he just need some time? Did his eyes need some time to adjust? Maybe so…Maybe Nicodemus simply needed time to come to grips with the life changing illumination that Jesus was giving him…and that…sounds pretty familiar.
Think about your own experience. Was your conversion instantaneous? Or when the full light of the Jesus the Son of God was shining in your face, did you need a little time to come to grips with just what you were facing? For many, the light of Christ may be just as blinding as the utter darkness that I faced all those years ago in the bathroom.
This is the reality of the gospel that we have each been called to proclaim. It is a hard truth and many that hear it will turn away. Like Nicodemus, they might disappear for awhile. We cannot control that….but we shouldn’t condemn it either…because the story of Nicodemus…his journey through life towards faith in Christ mirrors he human experience…one that we all have…one that we all experience. So remember this…when the people are blinded by the light of Christ,  they may just need some time for their eyes to adjust. May it be our prayer that they do…and that they are able to see the truth, and hear the good news that Jesus himself proclaimed…The son of man has not come to condemn the world…but he has come to save it…and to save you…Amen.

Lenten Monologue-Peter

On Wednesday March 12th, I performed a reading from the perspective of the Apostle Peter. This reading was based on John 21:15-19 and was based on the question “Do you love me?” asked by Jesus.

This is the first in Underwood Lutheran’s series of Lenten worship services held on Wednesday evenings through the season. The overarching theme for Lent is the questions of Jesus. Each week we will hear a reading by a different Biblical character who was questioned by Jesus in their encounter.

While the monologue/reading was not recorded, I will plan on posting the readings themselves on a weekly basis, so you can keep looking for them.

Note that about half way through the monologue, there was a video shown that features the Skit Guys in a humorous but meaningful look at the scene featured in the scripture lesson. There is a link to the video at the correct time.

My name is Simon…at least that’s what my parents called me when I was born…and I guess everyone still called me that as I was growing up…all the people that would come to the seashore in the morning to buy the fish that I would catch with my brother Andrew called me Simon…you know what, as I think about it…everyone called me Simon…at least for a while.
But that all changed one day…it changed the day that I met Jesus…let me tell you…that was some day. I was just sitting there along the shore that day…a day like any other…and there he came. I’d heard about him already…some holy man that was doing some pretty amazing things…but I never expected to meet him…and I certainly didn’t expect him to change my life like he did.
Jesus just came walking up to me…and he said “follow me” And I had to…I couldn’t resist…there was just something about him…but what was really amazing about that day was the change that came over me…Jesus looked at me and said “You are called Simon…but I will call you Peter.” Now, you should know that the name Simon means shifting sand…and I suppose that’s fitting. I’ve been known to be a little impulsive…and not just that…I guess I’ve been pretty shaky at times…and just like the sand swirling around when a wave comes rolling in, my life was pretty swirly too…but Jesus said he would call me Peter…and Peter mean the Rock…solid, unmoving…and he said that he was going to build his church on that rock.
How could he do that? How could he even think that I’d be worthy of anything like that? I couldn’t believe it…but then Jesus was always doing things, or saying things that just didn’t make much sense…there were a lot of us that followed him…Me and Andrew…our friends James and John…we were just 4…there were 12 of us…not to mention all the other people that followed him around those three years.
Now let me tell you something…Jesus…he knew his stuff…and he should…I mean, come on…he’s the son of God…but the great thing about it was that he always wanted us to understand…we asked him questions all the time…constantly trying to wrap our simple minds around the amazing truths about God and Heaven and sin and forgiveness…all that stuff…but its tough you know…it wasn’t easy…and I think out of all us…I asked the most…I had to…I mean…he was gonna build his church on me…I guess I felt like I was responsible to know all the answers…so I ask him…and asked him…and asked…over and over again. I thought if I covered all the basis, then I’d be capable of being in charge…and all I’d have to do is put on a brave face and just keep following him.
But what Jesus had in mind went way beyond my abilities…beyond my ability to understand…and beyond my capability to handle.  You see…I always thought that Jesus was going to stick around…and I would be in charge of the followers…but really…we’d all still be following him…Jesus talked about being sacrificed…about being killed…but I didn’t believe him…I thought maybe he was just talking about it as a possibility…but I never thought it would actually happen…but then it did…Judas…he was supposed our friend…he betrayed Jesus…had him arrested…and we knew what that was going to lead to.
We’ve all seen the crucifixions…the dead bodies…we know what the Romans do…but I had said that I would follow him…even to death…but when it got right down to it…I failed…and not only did I fail to help him…I denied him…that was the worst mistake I ever made.
But you know what…after he died…after a couple more days…something amazing happened…and he came back to life…we saw him many times after his resurrection…and just the fact that he was alive again made us so happy…it was so amazing…
But then…one early morning…we encountered him again…and he asked me a question…a very simple question…at least I thought it was simple…until he asked me again…and then a third time…it went like this.

(skit guys video Note..there’s likely a short ad that will play at the beginning of the video…you can skip it after a few seconds)

It hurt so bad that Jesus had to keep asking me over and over again if I loved him. Of course I loved him…but I messed up…I denied it…but you know what…Jesus gave me a second change. He asked me…three times Do you love me…just like I had denied it 3 times.
Because Jesus came to forgive our mistakes…I know that now, even if I didn’t know then…that’s the grace of God…the gift of God. We don’t earn it…we don’t deserve it…and even though my mistake was unforgivable…Jesus forgave me…just like he forgives us all…and then, one more time…Jesus repeated the same thing he’d said to me on the seashore that first day I met him…Follow me.
God’s gift to us is forgiveness, each and every day…and each and every time, he’ll extend the invitation to follow…just as if those past mistakes had never happened. So if he ever calls you by name and asks “Do you love me.” He’s not condemning you for your sins…because he’s already forgiven you…He’s just asking you to follow him.

All rights to the video belong to the Skit Guys.

Confirmation Questions 3-9-14

Last Sunday I did not preach as Underwood Lutheran hosted Western Iowa Synod Bishop Rodger Prois. This sermon was not recorded, which is why I have not posted the latest sermon. It will return again after this coming Sunday. However, the sermon was based on Matthew 4:1-11, which is the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan.  As usual, an important question was raised in the sermon notes by the Confirmation Students, and I’ll attempt to address it here.

-What can’t one person be obedient?
Great question, and one that I believe also stems from the additional scripture passages that highlighted the story of original sin by Adam and Eve. In the sermon, Bishop Prois discussed how the original sin was not so much about eating the forbidden fruit, but more importantly that it was being disobedient to the command of God. In the garden, Adam and Eve had one command…”don’t eat from this tree.” Now I could go on and on about theories as to why they chose to disobey God. But in the end I believe that it really comes down to a combination of two things. First, Satan is really good at his job. The deceit and lies that Satan spins to trap us do their job well. Secondly, for whatever reason (and I don’t claim to know what it is) our nature is to focus on ourselves rather than to love God and love our neighbor. We are just selfish…its in our flawed human nature.  Adam and Eve were tempted to become “like God” in the knowledge of good and evil. This was a lie that Satan told them, and they wanted it.  Likewise, it is in the nature of all of us to be self centered…to place ourselves above others and even more so above God. We may not intend to do so, but yet we still do.  So, long story short, why can’t we be obedient? Because our selfish nature is stronger than our own ability to obey God. But praise the Lord, because Jesus has overcome the condemnation that our sinful nature warrants.