Archive for June, 2014

Its Not Over 6-29-14

Today’s sermon is based on Matthew 10:40-42. This is the tail end of Jesus’ address to his disciples before they go on the two by two mission. In order to put the scripture in context I also included additional verses from the beginning of his address in chapter 10. Within the sermon, I talk about the authority of Christ as it is manifested and entrusted to believers. Likewise I talk about what that looks like and how often, particularly in the world today, it doesn’t look the same “as us.”

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-not-finished-6-29-14

Note that a few minutes into the sermon, there is a pause in the audio. At this point I am removing my robe to reveal the clothing I’m wearing underneath.

You can also follow along with the sermon text here.

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

Its been a year. Today marks Sunday number 52 since I began the call as pastor of Underwood Lutheran. And I find myself wondering today if you have picked up on my patterns yet…particularly in terms of worship and especially in my preaching. (pause)

Every preacher has their own style, one that develops over time…and I’m no exception. Just about every one of my sermons can be mapped out the same way. An opening story, often times something that happened in my day to day life during the week or an applicable pop culture reference that I describe…typically trying to include a little edge of humor to get you to laugh a time or two.

Then I switch gears into the scripture lesson, attempting to explain how, at least in my mind, the scripture is connected to the opening story…I talk at length about what is going on in the scripture story itself…just what God is up to in the midst of it…I tie in what this means for our day to day lives often times including a list of real life examples to get you all to sit up and pay attention so that when the “good news” of the lesson kicks into gear you all have something applicable to hold on to. Then I attempt to tie it all up together, connecting the whole message up in a pithy final couple of statements…I pause for a brief moment and finish it up with a final “Amen.”

Sound about right? Yah, that’s my style…oh and have you also noticed that they pretty much all start the exact same way? With the opening line “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Have you ever wondered just why I say that? I mean, its not really connected to whatever I end up saying right after it and I’ve even noticed that my tone of voice and delivery tend to switch between saying that line and then actually kicking off the sermon…Weird huh?

So why do I say that line? (pause) Good question. And the answer is that it’s a subtle reminder of the authority represented in the sermon. I don’t just say grace and peace to you. Because its not my grace to offer…and I can’t give you peace…only our God can do that…and that’s why I say it. (pause)

And have you noticed that there are a few other spots in worship where the same sort of thing happens? Does this sound familiar? “As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ…and BY…HIS…AUTHORITY I declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins…”

I stand before you today as I have for the past 52 weeks…and as every other individual who has come before me, not under my own power…but through the authority entrusted to me by God through Jesus Christ. And I am not alone in this. (pause)

Do you realize…that this same authority is entrusted by God to each and every believer in Christ? (pause) And that includes every…single…one of you. And not just you…but every single believer gathered together for worship around the world today…and not just that, but every believer that has gathered together across time all the way back to the disciples who were gathered together with their teacher and Lord Jesus Christ in today’s story, about to embark on important mission…one in which they would each be entrusted with the same authority…not their own, but God’s authority, manifested in humanity through Jesus Christ, and placed upon every believer through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And as we gather here today, we can ask the question of just what does that look like? Are there signs of this authority? As I look out amongst you today I see individuals gathered together…decent looking clothes…some quite dressy, others not as much…and perhaps as you sit there in the pews, looking up this direction, you recognize normal “authority style” garb on my part too.

I’ll admit it, I’ve got a normal style that applies to worship. You either see me in a suit with my clerical shirt one…or you see me with my robe and stole like I am today…but I ask the question…is that normal? (pause) Or perhaps a better question would be…is that necessary? (pause)

A month ago, we held our blockfest party…a wonderful event that was attended by many in our community, and one of the goals was to introduce ULC’s “new pastor.” If you were there…you may recall that it was hard to pick out just who the new pastor was…because I was walking around like this…
(pull off stole, robe, put on hat and sunglasses to reveal casual outfit)
I remember at several different points when individuals told me I was hanging out pretty incognito…and they were right…because that’s how I view the authority granted to me through Jesus Christ…the office of pastor is given to an individual chosen from amongst the people…it is given to an ordinary person…a sinful person…a person who is equally in need of salvation offered only through Christ. In short…I intentionally dressed casually, just like I am now…to make the point that I am no different than you…I am a fellow member of the human race, fallen…flawed…and in need of a savior.

And as fellow members of the human race who have been fortunate enough at one time or another to have heard the good news of Jesus Christ…that through his life death and resurrection God himself became human, lived a life full of every temptation that we likewise faced…and through his bloody death on the cross overcame the powers of sin and death so that we as individuals may once again be in relationship with our Lord…and through his resurrection we too may share in the inheritance of eternal life…that is the gospel in a nutshell and in today’s story Jesus Christ is charging his followers, both the 12 disciples then and everyone else including us today…to take that very message out into the world. To carry his authority, entrusted to us, out into the world…and why? (pause)
Because we are all members of it. Through each and every one of us the gospel travels incognito…there’s no special type of person…there’s no pre-requisite…there’s no pre test or entry fee or anything else of that nature…there is only the authority of Jesus Christ entrusted to you so that you too might be sent out into the world.

But now here’s the really interesting part…and it requires us to think about just what it is that Jesus tell the disciples…anyone who welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (pause)

Did you catch a theme there? The mission of Jesus’ followers…the authority to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near only manifests itself when we cast off all notion of control…and are at the mercy of another individual’s hospitality. Jesus says “you wanna proclaim the gospel…then go be welcomed.”

But just what does that mean for us today? This is an important question to ask especially in the context we are in right now…sitting here…in worship…together as a community of faith where, at least for the most part…we are members…we are the hosts.

And we are aren’t we? Think about it…as worship begins I say a special welcome to visitors. We have greeter before worship…we try to go out of our way to welcome others into worship together and that’s fine…but Jesus us today that this is not our mission…our mission isn’t to bring them in here…our mission is take the good news and go out there…to those that welcome us…

The gospel is not one of gathering, but one of sending…the gospel does not manifest itself by us proclaiming the message to the outside world You need to come in here…you need to look like us…you need to think like us…you need to be just like us…RATHER…the gospel manifests itself when we go out there, bringing the gospel with us of course…but not in order to make them more like us…but rather that we can explore that gospel…that good news with one another…learning from another…and who knows…maybe even discovering that God is already up to something in the life of that individual…and in those moment we might even find ourselves changed by the power of the gospel…the gospel which we have already heard.

And now when I say that…I do not mean to say that we should gather for worship…I do not mean to say that we should not be welcoming to the visitor that chooses to gather with us…these are important things…after all we gather together to hear the word of God proclaimed…to receive the forgiveness of sins…and to share the sacraments…these are all good things…but they do not represent the entirety of life with Christ.

Because a life lived with Christ is not compartmentalized…its all encompassing…yes it includes worship…but it also includes the remaining 6 days and 23 hours of the week…the gospel sends us out…and so I want to you to think about it this way…

The gospel is sending me…or more accurately, Jesus has entrusted me to go out and share the gospel with those that welcome me…even if they don’t look like me…or don’t talk like me…or don’t think like me…and maybe…just maybe through the sharing of this marvelous gift of the gospel, I too will receive a gift…that I too may be changed by this encounter…and that maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly what God has intended all along.

As the church of Christ continues to move into the future, the church is changing…whether we want to admit or not…its changing…and we are called to change along with it…to embrace the other…to shaped by one another until that glorious when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

But before all can confess it…all have to hear it…and only then can the Holy Spirit work to bring them to faith…because if you haven’t heard it you can’t believe it…But once you have…who knows what changes it might just bring about.

Make no mistake, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not just some nice story…its way too brutal for that. The gospel is earth shatteringly awesome…it is utterly beautiful to learn that we have a God who willingly took on flesh, who became one of us…who depended on humanities hospitality…who did all this in order to reclaim the relationship between the individual and the Father…and likewise it is utterly devastating to learn that this relationship can only be possible because God chose to die for it.

That’s big people…we can’t hear it without being changed regardless of what the person looks like who is entrusted to share it with you…and we can’t proclaim it without witnessing how it can and does change those who encounter it…even if the person encountering it, is us.

And so today, I’m not going to try and wrap this all up with a pithy phrase…I’m not going to try and tie up lose ends…because the work of Christ isn’t over yet…we’re all sent and so that means the story’s not done…and if the story’s not done then the proclamations not done…and if that’s the case?

Advertisements

That’s Life 6-22-14

This week’s sermon came from Matthew 10:24-39. Jesus is offering a sort of pep talk to the disciples prior to their departure on the two-by-two mission. He reflects on the reality of the gospel’s divisive nature, and tells the disciples that they will experience the same sort of response.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/thats-life-6-22-14

You can also read 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

Having never really been a big sports enthusiast, I don’t recall ever sitting in the locker room before a big important game listening the coach deliver his epic inspirational speech. I’m sure it happens though…it has too right?

We have countless examples of the epic pep talk in the movies…sometimes it’s the hero of the story like Mel Gibson inspiring the Scottish troops before the first major battle in Braveheart, telling them that they have one chance…just one chance to tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!

Or it could be the president of the United States psyching up pilots just before a giant aerial battle to destroy invading aliens and crying out Today is our Independence Day! (pause) Or a seasoned father trying to inspire his son to be better when the aged and ragged Rocky Balboa tells his son that life hits hard but you’ve gotta be willing to take the hits and keep moving forward…that’s how winning is done!

But perhaps no other pep talk is as inspiring as those we see in sports movies…who can forget the movie Rudy, just before the last game of the season at the end of the movie, when the head coach calmly but intensely says No one…and I mean no one comes into our house and pushes us around.

And the one that comes to mind most vividly for me comes from another football movie Any Given Sunday, when the great Al Pacino, head coach of the fictional Miami Sharks gets his players reved up for the final regular season game in order to make the playoffs…he goes from calm and vulnerable to intense and loud…declaring to them that football is a game of inches and the man who’s willing to fight and die is the one that’s gonna win that inch.

As Pacino delivers this speech, you hear the responses of the players start in. “That’s right.” “Heck ya.” As he continues they start to rise to their feet…they nod…and in one brief image that always sticks with me, one no-name player gazes at his coach, fire in his eyes…so much intensity that his head is literally shaking.

That’s the point of the pep talk…to prepare them for battle…whatever the battle will be…but as I think about this laundry list of inspirational movie scenes that I’ve listed off here…I find myself wondering at just how realistic they really are…because none of them, inspiring as they may be for the audience watching the movie…are probably all that accurate in terms of real life. (pause)

But today’s gospel lesson…well, now that’s a different story. We find ourselves in the midst of a scriptural pep talk…all of Matthew chapter 10, both the verses before today’s lesson as well as the few that follow, along with the entirety of today’s lesson…makes up the speech that Jesus delivers to the disciples just prior to one of their “big games.”

The disciples are about to embark on their first mission away from Jesus…commonly known as the two-by-two mission. Jesus is sending them into the countryside to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near. He also gives them authority over unclean spirits, and the ability to heal all matters of diseases. They will serve as his heralds around the region…because he is sending them out to where he also intends to go.

But the difference between Jesus’ speech and all those other movie speeches, is the fact that Jesus paints a more realistic picture…and honestly…it’s a pretty sobering one. We hear that the disciples are like sheep among wolves…they will be arrested and flogged…dragged before governors and kings…there will be betrayals and some will be put to death. (pause) Hmm…inspiring huh?

But despite all the hardships that they will face, Jesus does offer encouragement. Now some of that encouragement comes across as pretty obvious. “Have no fear of them…Even the hairs of your head are counted…You…are…of value to your father.” (pause) But some of the other encouragement is a little more subtle. (pause)

All week long, its been driving me a little crazy, pondering on this text…as to why it starts right where it starts. A disciple is not above the teacher…it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher. I kept coming back to that opening couple of verses. It seems, at first glance, like Jesus is laying out a bit of hierarchy within the community of believers…but with further reflection I’m no longer convinced that’s the case.

Rather…I think Jesus is simply offering the disciples a very realistic look at what they will be facing…both in the immediate two-by-two mission…but also later on…following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus…when they constitute the church. A disciple is not above the teacher…but it is enough for the disciple to become like the teacher.

Perhaps what Jesus is really saying here is that…guys…you are going to experience the very same things that I do…and we all know that Jesus experienced division within his ministry…that’s obvious…some believed, other’s doubted…some followed him, other’s scoffed…some supported him, while other’s nailed him to a cross to suffer and die. All that despite the amazing signs and miracles he performed…despite the amazing truth that he proclaimed….despite the amazing love that he embodied…despite all that, the results of Jesus ministry in terms of personal response was mixed at best.

And in this particular passage he’s telling his followers…both the disciples there in the room with him as well as us today that we will face the very same results when we follow the mission of Christ to go out into the world to proclaim the good news that through Him, the kingdom of heaven is here.

Just like the disciples, we also face division…we face scoffers…we face opposition. Now some of it will come in the form of polite conversation…or perhaps in more intense debate…or they may ridicule our beliefs by calling us weak minded fools and Bible beaters and church freaks, or they may do it by hijacking a plane and flying it into a building killing thousands of innocent people.

And that’s a sobering thought isn’t it? It doesn’t exactly sound encouraging does it? (pause) Or does it?

Maybe…just maybe…what Jesus is trying to tell his followers here…both the disciples then and us today…is take heart…you’ve seen how people respond to me…its gonna be the same for you because the authority that you possess…the good news that you proclaim…the person that you represent isn’t you…its me!!!! (pause)

And even more than that is the encouragement that Jesus tells us that we share in his experience…and at the same time, he shares in ours. That’s something that I kept coming back to this week…something that I wanted to focus on…but I found myself coming at it from the wrong direction. I was trying to approach this text from the perspective that we share Jesus’ experience…and as per usual, last Friday, I attempted to sit down and write a sermon about it.

But it was one of those days. I was home with the kids…and try as I might to focus my mind on sermon…on organizing my jumbled thoughts into a coherent message….life kept getting in the way. I would spend 5 minutes in thought…and then I’d realize that the laundry needed to be changed…or one of the kids had a question…or it was lunch time and I needed to make some food…or paperwork for a ymca camp came through that needed to get filled out…

All day long I kept getting interrupted…life kept happening which was, of course, frustrating. After awhile I gave up on it and tried to enjoy the evening with my family…until about 7:30 when we looked outside and saw yet another storm approaching…and I nervously watched the swirling clouds while listening to the radio and watching tv to catch severe weather updates…all while trying to reassure the kids that everything was okay.

And then later on I went to bed…but sleep was allusive…and about 2:30 in the morning I was up and around…listening to the rain still falling…watching the lighting keep flashing…worrying about all kinds of things…and I remember thinking at one point “come on Lord…what’s next?”

And as I thought about life getting in the way…I realized hey that’s life…Life is busy…life is distracting…life is messy. Things happen…some of them good like a moment when Jack walked up me on that busy Friday just to give me a hug…and some of them not so good like when we spent half an hour aggravated as we searched for a lost library card. That’s life.

And coming all the way back around to today’s scripture lesson and the encouragement that Jesus is trying to offer…Jesus shares all that. Because Jesus lived. (pause)

We have a God who loves us enough that he chose to step away from his heavenly existence and live life among us as one of us. Our experience in the ministry that we share…in the life that we live is like that of our teacher…like that of Christ, not because we seek to be like him…but because he chose to become like us.

Jesus lived a life full of distractions…full of worries and concerns…full of interruptions and we see in scripture that he didn’t always have the best response to it. There were times when he got angry…there were times when he got short…and there were even times when concerns led Jesus to experience sleepless nights.

Friends in Christ…the glory of the gospel is that we have a God who willingly chose to enter into this messy existence…and he did so with a purpose…to do something about it. Jesus Christ came into this world just like we do…as a helpless baby. He grew…lived his life…and then died a horrific brutal death, only to be resurrected by his father in heaven…overcoming the powers of sin and death…and in the midst of all that, he tells us that we become like him…and then subtly tells us in the midst of the hardships that we face just as he did….that OUR father values us…not just his father…but OUR father.

Because through Christ…through our teacher and master…we are made heirs of the promise of eternal life…and through him, we are given the ability to call God Our Father…just like he does. Because he has lived life…life with all its hardships…but also life with all its blessings…and he shares that life with us. Amen.

 

 

Its Not Over 6-15-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 28:16-20. This is the story of the Great Commission and I explore it from the perspective of the Holy Trinity, which was also celebrated today. You can listen to the sermon here.
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-not-over-6-15-14

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

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve noticed a trend that has emerged at the movie theater. As a self-professed movie buff, I have sat through a lot of movies…and for the vast majority of them, reaching all the way back to the very first movie I can ever remember watching…which was Lady and the Tramp by the way…when the picture faded out and the credits started rolling, everyone in the theater stood up, got their stuff together and started filing towards the exit.

But that’s all starting to change, particularly in terms of a certain genre of movies…the uber popular comic book movie…recently I took my son to the see the latest installment in the popular X-men franchise…and I noticed when the movie faded out and the credits started rolling…quite a few people remained in their seats…just sitting there…staring at the credit roll…and if you wondering…yes, we were doing the very same thing.

We did so, because like everyone else still sitting in the theater, we expected there to be a post-credits scene…this little bit of added story is getting more and more common anymore…particularly in franchise films, as the studios want to tease up the next installment…keeping audiences teased up at what is happening within the larger movie universe. (pause)

Now, while this tendency has really only caught on in the past few years, really catching on when Samuel L Jackson appeared post credits in the first Iron Man movie back in 2008, the actual idea has been around quite a bit longer.

The very first time I ever found a post-credits scene was the popular 80’s movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…and it was clearly intended to be a joke…following the day long antics of a high school senior that decides one last skip day is order before graduating…the credits roll…but in the off chance that you sat through them in the theater, or more likely…forgot to push stop on your vcr when it came out on video…the credits wrapped up…and suddenly, Ferris himself popped around the corner with a confused look on his face. He walks towards the camera… “You’re still here? It’s over…go home…go” and then he walks back around the corner before the screen cuts to black…because it is…truly…over at that point.

I found myself thinking about the notion of post credit scenes this week…simply because of the situation that we find in the gospel lesson…the great commission…a well-known passage…one that points to the importance of mission work and evangelism…but significant this week simply because of where it falls here in the Gospel of Matthew. (pause)

Smack dab at the end…Matthew has spent this entire time…27 chapters sharing the story of Jesus…the story that culminated in his death on the cross…and now, finally in chapter 28…he comes back…and over the course of this final chapter in Matthew’s gospel the women find the tomb empty…are instructed to tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee…and the women aren’t told just once but twice…and then sure enough…when the disciples heed the command made by Jesus and relayed by the women…they find themselves in Galilee here…at the end of the story.

And this brief encounter between the disciples and the risen Jesus Christ…this short passage, 5 little verses, packs a heck of a wallop…and rightly so because everything that has happened up to this point…everything that’s occurred…every detail, every teaching moment, every miracle, every sermon he’s preached, every person he’s healed, every command he has given has led up to this point…and we see at this point, that Jesus is handing off the reigns to the disciples.

Jesus makes 5 distinct statements…first off…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…and Jesus has proved that…the miraculous things that he has done in the presence of the disciples stands in proof of his divine authority…and none more prominently than the display of God’s authority over death itself, when Jesus walked out of that tomb…resurrected and alive.

And so Jesus has all authority, so we ask the question of just what he does with it…well, he sends the disciples…and this is not the first time that he’s done it…earlier in the gospel we hear that Jesus sends out the disciples two by two into the towns that he also planned to go…and now, once again…he tells them Go…and not just that, but go and make disciples of all nations…all nations…all around the world…all manner of people…because God desires to draw all people to himself.

Well, okay Jesus…so you have all authority and you want us to go make disciples…well, just how do we do that? Quite simply…baptize them. Jesus issues the command that creates the sacrament…why do we baptize? Because Jesus told us to.

But what do we do with them once we’ve baptized them Jesus? Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you…and that’s the key right there…that’s why this passage needs to fall here at the end of the story…that’s why Jesus has spent all this time…all this energy…teaching the disciples so many things…because now he is entrusting his divinely given authority to them… (pause)

Now its important to note that Jesus did not give them their own authority…he entrusted them with his…because the disciples and all believers ever since have proclaimed the same gospel…the same truth…and the same commandments that Jesus himself uttered…we are simply heralds of Christ’s own authority…but not just Christ’s…oh no…Did you catch that?

Jesus says that we are to do all of this in the name of the Father…and of the Son…and of the Holy Spirit…because all authority comes from God…and we believe that our God is the mighty three in one…One God, three persons…and so we see here that Jesus proclaims the truth of the trinity…even if he doesn’t really explain it very well, we know that it is true because he has told us. (pause)

But that’s not all that Jesus tells us…there’s one more thing too…a promise…an assurance that as the disciples go out into every nation…as they venture out to proclaim the gospel…as they go out to make disciples, baptize them, and teach Jesus’ own commandments…Jesus promises that I am with you always…even to the end of the age.

The disciples receive the promise…and so do we…that Jesus is here now and always…and I find that interesting, here at the close of Matthew’s Gospel…think about it for a moment…we find ourselves at the end of the story, and yet through this promise of Christ, we know that it is not the end….Here at the end of the story we find that the story isn’t over…it goes on…and we are a part of it, because we have received the same gospel…we have shared in the same baptism…and we have heard the same commandments…and so we know that Jesus’s words to the disciples are intended for us today as well. (pause)

We share in the same mission, just as we share in the same savior. And its reassuring to know that the faith granted to the disciples is granted by the same holy spirit that comes upon us within the baptism that we all share…and just as the disciples did when they saw the resurrected Jesus for the first time on that mountain in galilee…when they witness the fulfillment of the promise that he had made them that he would go ahead of them and meet them there…when they saw that it was true…they worshipped him…

Likewise…we gather together today, not only in the name of Jesus, but in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to do the very same…to worship our lord and savior…to worship our creator…and to worship the spirit which grants the ability to believe in the first place…and in gathering together today I believe we are gathering together with all believers around the world today…and not only that, but with all believers across time…one body with many members…connected together through the love of God expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And just as the scripture tells us that there was doubt within the disciples, we know that doubt enters our reality as well…but just as the disciples followed the command of Jesus in the midst of their doubts and fears and questions…we are called to do the same in the midst of our doubts and fears and questions…

Their presence does not negate the truth of the gospel…rather it pushes us to continue seeking out better understanding from the source…from the authority from Almighty God…three in one…Like the disciples we are first called and sent by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ through the proclamation of word and the sharing the sacraments for the sake of the world which God first created and loves so much.[1]

And we must also remember Jesus words…that through all of this, he is with us, even to the end of the age…The story isn’t over…not by a long shot…but we are part of it…we share in it…

And so today…if Ferris Bueller walks around the corner with an inquisitive look on his face and says “You’re still here?” You can rely “You bet we are.” And if he tells you to go home, you can say “Home? Nah…but we are heading out there.” And if he says “It’s over,” you can tell him… “Not by a long shot…And let me tell you why…” Amen.

 

[1] Lose, David, Dear Working Preacher: Trinitarian Congregations, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=3254

Getting Pretty Windy Out There 6-8-14

This sermon comes from Acts 2:1-21. The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples at Pentecost, enabling them with spiritual gifts. This same spirit is still active in the world today, and I explore that throughout the sermon.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/getting-pretty-windy-out-there-6-8-1

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’s safe to say that we had one heck of a storm last Tuesday night didn’t we? The rain fell, the wind was howling…hail fell, branches broke, sheds blew over, fields flooded and crops were stripped. It was certainly not a laughing matter by any sense of the word.

But as I talked with various individuals in the days following Tuesday night’s storm, I heard a trend. Yah, there was some damage, but everyone’s okay…and that’s the important thing. In pretty much every conversation that I had, once we reached that important point, then we broke into grins, and we started to tell a few jokes, and we all started chuckling.

In one instance, I was out visiting with a couple of our members and we got to talking about old storms that we’ve lived through. Various thunderstorms and blizzards…and I recounted the tail of living through a little debacle known as Hurricane Charlie…summer 2004. Emily and I, together with about an 8-month old Jack were vacationing in Orlando FL. About midway through the week, they started talking Hurricane…but all information indicated that it would miss Orlando, tracking farther south…reality though, was a little different.

In the end…Charlie decided that he wanted to spend the night in Orlando as well…and the category 3 hurricane came roaring into the city right about nightfall. The three of us hunkered down in our hotel room, as there wasn’t much else that we could…but fortunately, the outside door of our hotel room was blocked by a very wide support beam…giving us the added protection of a very sturdy wall between us and the elements…at one point, well past dark when we could hear the storm raging, I harnessed my inner farmer, and stepped outside to take a look. It was really wet…and the wind was howling…but that seemed to be about it.

When I stepped back into the room Emily asked me “Well, what’s it like?” I smiled and said “Well, its getting pretty windy out there.”

By morning, the storm had passed, and we ventured out and about. I was surprised at the amount of damage that had occurred, because to my untrained eye, the storm that I had witnessed the night before seemed about like one of the all too common thunderstorms that we experience here in the Midwest…storms that you’ve all lived through as well…and perhaps many of you have done the very same thing that I did that night in Orlando…stood at a door or a window…when you really should probably be in the basement…and watched the storm…only to have the same thought I had…hmm…It’s getting pretty windy out there. (pause)

All kidding aside…it is really amazing to realize just how powerful the wind can be isn’t it? The wind…quite simply air moving around in response to the environment can…and as we saw Tuesday night…does go far beyond our control. Late Tuesday evening we were watching the news, and one of the Omaha stations showed a time lapse video from late afternoon as the clouds slowly built, blowing on the light wind in the normal direction…when suddenly, Mother Nature decided she wanted to move things differently…and on the video, suddenly a giant cloud bank came flying back through the picture in the complete opposite direction from normal. And as much as well hoped to control where the wind was blowing…that video reminded everyone watching that the wind blows where it will and nothing you do or think is going to stop it. (pause)

And now with all this talk of wind, let me switch gears over into the scripture lesson for today. Pentecost…the church’s birthday…the day when decided it was high time that the disciples got to work. 10 days after Jesus has ascended to heaven, the disciples are gathered together in Jerusalem…as are countless other Jewish people from all around the known world…gathered for the harvest festival of Pentecost.

Now we don’t know exactly what was going on other than as the disciples are sitting there together in the house…a wind that I can only imagine made Hurricane Charlie pale in comparison…came rushing through the entire house…but not just wind…for just the second time in scripture…the Holy Spirit shows up in a physical form. The first time was the dove at the baptism of Jesus…but this time around…it’s a little different isn’t it? There’s nothing calm and serene about this scene.

No…this time…the spirit comes blowing in as tongues of fire…resting on each of the disciples…now between the wind and the fire…this had to be a little freaky for the disciples…but just what their emotional reaction to the situation is, we don’t know…all we do know is that they start spouting off in different languages…as the spirit gave them ability.

But they weren’t just babbling away…they were proclaiming God’s amazing deeds of power…and not just that…but they were doing so according to the various languages of all those other Jewish individuals in the city that were attracted to the disturbance of the Spirit blowing through the house. (pause)

Now as I think about this whole scene, I find myself pondering on the form of the Holy Spirit…and admittedly it’s a head scratcher. Of the trinity, the Holy Spirit is often times the one that lacks proper understanding. We believe in it…oh yes we do…we confess belief in the trinity…including the Spirit each and every week here in worship…but I think the Spirit…its just kinda tough to put our fingers on that one isn’t it? We’ve got God the father…the creator…and while we don’t know just what God looks like in his heavenly form, we heard in the creation that humanity was made in God’s image…so I guess God looks just a little like us…and then we’ve got the Son…God in human form…and as human he probably looks a whole lot like we do…but then there’s the spirit…that has no form at all. Its simply the spirit of God, or the breathe of God.

And that right there is an important point. Through scripture, old and new testament, the spirit of God is often depicted as either wind or breathe…and perhaps it will come as no surprise to you that the same words are used for all three…wind, breath, spirit…its either pnuema in the Greek, or Ruach in the Hebrew. (pause) And it seems, in every single instance that God himself is the source.

God breathes life into Adam…in the short passage we heard from John’s gospel Jesus breathes on the disciples to give them the spirit, and here in Acts the spirit blows in like a mighty wind…So either God just likes it to be pretty windy, or maybe just maybe, the almighty…all powerful spirit of God is so amazingly strong, that when it blows past us we can actually feel it.

And that same spirit that came blowing into the house in the middle of Jerusalem 2000 year ago…that same spirit that empowered the disciples in that moment to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in languages that they neither knew nor understood…that same spirit of God…has remained throughout the ages…the same spirit is present here and now and though we might not see any tongues of fire flipping around…the spirit is still here…resting on each and every one of you…and just as we heard from 1 Corinthians, it is the spirit which grants many different gifts…and those gifts of the spirit have an intended purpose.

For some it is the gift of proclamation. We saw that with the disciples…others have the gift of teaching…other’s have the gift of compassion…some for organization…some for planning…some for building…there are countless gifts supplied by the spirit…and as Peter shared from the prophet Joel…the spirit which God pours out on all people…allows some to dream dreams…old and young, men and women…there is distinction.

And this is important to note…because it is through the dreams and visions supplied by the Spirit that God continues to act and lead and guide the church into the future. It is those dreams that reveal the direction that God is leading…the direction that spirit is blowing…the direction that wind will carry God’s church.

Because while Pentecost may be considered by many to be the birthday of the church itself…I believe its more important to realize that it was simply the time when the Spirit started blowing…and it’s never stopped because the Spirit has been, is now, and will continue to blow throughout this world.

And so we can either chose to try and stand against the wind and get blown over…or we can choose to ride with the wind and see where God will carry us. Friends in Christ…together we have seen that the Spirit is blowing here our community…a week ago we held what I hope to be the first of many annual block parties…Our first try was a huge success, and even the mayor commented that it was a boost that this town has been needing. And that whole event began as a dream…a dream that was shared and together, using the various gifts and talents provided by the Spirit, the body of Christ pulled it off and we made our presence known within the community. But the Spirit isn’t done yet? And we all have dreams…and we all have abilities that the Spirit grants us. I feel it building here at Underwood Lutheran…and that’s exciting as we continue to move from in here…to out there…and you know what…and the Spirit continues to move in this community…I think its getting pretty windy out there. Amen.

They Are Yours 6-1-14

This sermon comes from John 17:1-11. In this passage, Jesus prays for the disciples as he is about to leave the earth. In the sermon I explore what it means to be one in Christ, and to follow his example of the work that we are called to do for the gospel.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/they-are-yours-6-1-14

You can 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

I find that the church calendar is a wonderful thing…rotating year by year…season by season…and it works well to point us towards specific periods in the history of the church. Advent prepares us for the coming messiah…Christmas heralds his birth…Epiphany celebrates Christ being revealed to the world…Lent prepares us for the darkness of Holy Week…Easter joyful declares our risen Lord…and Pentecost celebrates the long ongoing growth of the church itself.

And in addition to the seasons…we also know that there are specific days that fall in the church year that are of special significance…Some of them fall on a specific date every year…Christmas Eve and Christmas day for example, and they carry their own celebrations. Others change from year to year, but are still important and recognized…Easter Sunday and along with it, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday…still other important celebrations will skip around date-wise, but still have a specific time in the year when they are celebrated…like Reformation Sunday the last weekend of October, or the day of Pentecost coming up in another week. (pause)

But then…there’s an exception to this cycle…there is a church holiday that tends to slip through the cracks just a little bit…because of its very specific timing. Ascension Day…Now to clarify…the Ascension of Jesus does move around every year…it is dictated by Easter…always occurring exactly 40 days later…and now think about that for just a moment…the last time I checked my math…40 is not divisible by 7…and so we will never find Ascension Day happening on a Sunday.

And because of that fact partnered up with the notion that Jesus’ Ascension, while an important event, sort of pales in comparison with some of the other yearly events…the Ascension often times gets overlooked. Sometimes it will be highlighted in worship either the Sunday before or the Sunday after…and that does happen…we highlighted the Ascension a week ago here in fact…but all too often we mention it in passing…and that’s about the extent of it…if the various seasons and celebrations within the church year were a family…then Ascension day would be the proverbial red-headed step child.

That being said, the lectionary does do its part in making sure that we remember this important day when Jesus leaves Earth and returns to his father in heaven…and as is the custom…our first lesson today featured the story from the book of Acts…but at the same time the lectionary plays a bit of an odd joke on us, as our gospel lesson for today, the 7th Sunday of Easter…still places us in the midst of the last supper…before Jesus betrayal and arrest.

Certainly this is an odd combination of passages for us to focus on today…and yet it is not without a sense of purpose. For Jesus returned to the Father last Thursday…and next Sunday we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost…and the two events are certainly connected.

And even more so…we must also remember that this brief period is a time of transition for the disciples, as they adjust to the absence of Jesus, their teacher and leader for the past three years…and therefore, a reminder of the prayer offered up by Jesus…prayed on the behalf of his disciples shortly before his death…is fitting. (pause)

Now there’s a lot in here…quite a bit of heady stuff including the authority of Jesus granted by the Father…making the name of God known…learning the word of God, keeping the word of God…doing the work of God…all kinds of stuff…and its all important stuff…but what I am most drawn to in this passage today is the moment when Jesus prays specifically for the protection of his friends.
I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours…protect them in your name that you have given me…so that they may be one, as we are one.

It’s interesting to note here that the authority granted to Jesus…the authority over all people…is manifested in a VERY limited number of people…the disciples…and that’s it…did you notice that? I do not ask on behalf of the world by on behalf of the ones that you gave me…Jesus has been around all this time…more than 30 years he’s been walking the earth as the only Son of God…and for 3 years he’s been proclaiming the kingdom of heaven…performing miracles…debating religious leaders…causing all manners of uproars around the countryside…yet his work…his duty…his task…was limited to these 12 guys. (pause)

And now as he departs this world he asks…flat out begs the father to protect them and to make them of one mind…of one being with one another just as Jesus himself is of one being with the Father and the Holy Spirit. (pause) Let them be one…

Well one what? (pause) When I ask that question I wonder how many of your minds skip over to the idea that the church is the one body of Christ here on Earth…many of you I hope…that’s where my mind goes as I ponder on this train of thought…Let them be one Father…let them be one church…let them be the body…your body…here on Earth in my absence….because these men…these 12 individuals know me…and through me they know you…we are all in relationship with one another…so protect them…and bind them together.

Jesus prays this prayer, in the midst of the very people he’s praying for…and he does it for a specific purpose…to strengthen them for the work that they will do…Jesus work is done…to proclaim the truth to the disciples so that they may know what God has done for them in the life of Christ himself…and their work…is to pass along that same gospel…and Jesus highlights this very point shortly after the end of today’s lesson…just a few verses later he says I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. (pause)

If you stop and think about it…Christianity is really a giant pyramid scheme…and while that may sound like a joke, I don’t intend it that way. (pause) The word of God became flesh and dwelled among us…teaching 12 men the truth, that through Christ the kingdom of God is here now…he called them by name and they are his…and then they went out to proclaim the very same…following Jesus own command to make disciples of all nations…baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit…knowing that each and every person who would follow in their footsteps would become members of the one body of Christ…and would join together in the same work started by Christ…continued by the disciples…and carried on through the lives of every believer down through the centuries.

And today…in just a few moments…God will add another individual into the one body. Brandt Sealock will come forward…presented by his parents to be washed in the font…to be washed in the same water that Jesus himself was washed with all those years ago…and in the waters of his baptism Brandt will be given the same name given to Jesus by the Father himself…my child, the beloved…and Brandt will take his place as one member of the body…joining with Christ in a death like his, but also in a resurrection like his…just as each and every baptized member of the body of Christ that has come before him. (pause)

And each and every member of Christ’s body…has a role…has a task…has work to do…just as Jesus’ work on earth was to make disciples of the 12…we are called by Christ himself to do the same…we are given authority to proclaim the gospel…maybe like Christ, we have 12 other people to reach in our lifetime…or maybe we have just 1…or perhaps we have thousands that God intends us to reach…only God knows what that is…but this is the work that we are all called to as fellow believers in Christ.

And we heard that very thing from Jesus himself in the first reading from Acts today…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…and you WILL BE my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria…and to the ends…of…the…earth.

And with the water that will wash over Brandt’s head in a moment, we believe that the Holy Spirit will come upon him just as it comes upon us all…we are the church…connected back through time to those 12 disciples…and through them to Christ himself…and Christ himself prayers to his father…reminding the Father…reminding the disciples who were in the room…and reminding us today that…Father, they are yours. Amen