Archive for September, 2014

Authority-Its Tricky 9-28-14

In this sermon, based on Matthew 21:23-32, I explore the notion of authority. Jesus’ authority is challenged and he responds with a parable about obedience. This leads us to think about how we recognize authority and how we respond to it.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/authority-its-tricky-9-28-14

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

If you have ever watched me in the final moments right before worship starts, you know that I am a pacer…when nervous energy starts in I have the tendency to just keep moving…and particularly, I pace…a lot.

I also have the tendency to get up and walk around when I’m thinking about something…sermons for instance…and this week was a perfect example. As I was trying to get my brain into sermon mode Friday afternoon, I was walking around…and as I walked I realized that I was also doing something with my hands…(hold up whistle, step out and start twirling it).

Yes I have a whistle…yes, I twirl it. (pause) But as I was doing, just that, I got to thinking about other people that have whistles…the refs at my son’s football games…teachers when they are out with the children at recess…lifeguards overseeing the safety of swimmers…and as a self-professed fine arts guy, one that I greatly appreciate…drum majors.

And thinking about drum majors reminded me of being at the football game here in Underwood just last week for the Homecoming game…as well as quite a few other home games over the past year…and something unique that I’ve only ever seen from the marching band right here in town.

At the beginning of halftime, the band marches across the field from the backside…each coming to their assigned starting position…and the drum major turns away from the band…facing up towards the crowd and the announcers box. The announcer asks if the band is ready…which the drum major acknowledges with a salute…and we hear the announcement “The field is yours.” With that brief exchange, control…or perhaps it would be better to say…authority over the field and what happens on it…transfers over to the drum major. (pause)

It’s the notion of authority that brings us into the gospel lesson for today. We find ourselves in Jerusalem…Jesus has finally made it…and upon arriving, he has gone into the temple…and Jesus does not like what he finds…and just before today’s lesson…just before our story picks up for today…Jesus has had a divine temper tantrum…losing his cool and going off on the merchants and money changers…clearing things out in the event known as the cleansing of the temple. (pause)

And as our story picks up today…the chief priests and the elders of the people confront Jesus…wanting to know just what he’s up to…why he’s justified in his actions…for what reason or purpose he feels the need to upset the status quo…or perhaps more specifically, why he’s challenging the way things work here…on their turf…where they are supposed to be in charge…in short…they question…his authority. (pause)

Now, in Jesus day, teachers…or rabbis as they are called…receive their authority from their own teacher…who in turn had received it from their teacher…and so…proper authority to teach or issue commands as Jesus has done should be backed up with two-fold…or perhaps two-name…credentials…but as we all know…Jesus tends to buck the status quo doesn’t he? And the “regular way” of doing things just doesn’t tend to apply in matters that catch his interest.

And instead of quickly snapping to the “right answer” to appease human standards…Jesus answers the challenge in his normal way…by posing a question right back at them…You question my authority? Well how about this…who gave John his authority? God…or humanity…whad’a ya think boys?

And rather than cause any sort of commotion, we see the priests decide among themselves to try and maintain the peace by walking the middle ground…by giving the easy answer…they don’t want to recognize John as having had divine authority, because he made them look bad…and yet they don’t want to deny him, because the crowds backed him and the priests don’t want to lose the favor of the people…and so they shrug their shoulders and say “we don’t know.” (pause) And Jesus responds by refusing to name the source of his authority…which of course we recognize to be the same as John…divine…but that’s getting ahead of ourselves just a touch.

And within the story, Jesus decides to explain things in yet another normal “Jesus fashion”…with a story…But admittedly, at first glance…this parable seems oddly disconnected from the present situation…Jesus is asked about authority…and he responds with a story about obedience.

A man had 2 sons…he told them both to go get to work…one said no, but then changed his mind and did it…and the other said okay…and then totally blew it off…which one was obedient to the father? (pause). Perhaps Jesus is actually asking us “which is more important? Being honest but eventually listening…or paying lip service and not following through?” (pause) But if we limit this parable in this nature…if we try to sum it up that easily…I think we miss the point…and if we stop here then perhaps we all walk out of worship today with nothing more than moral guidance and the notion that we just need to shape up and follow orders…or worse yet the idea that we can chose to walk the “right path” and earn our way into salvation…and if we do that we truly miss the connection to just what Jesus is really talking about.

Because remember, Jesus is addressing the notion of authority…where it comes from. (pause) Now perhaps it goes without saying that the religious leaders recognize that Jesus does, in fact…have authority…but what they can’t figure out is where it comes from…he doesn’t have the right 2-fold rabbi deferred credentials…and by their established human standards…they find themselves confused.

But think about authority for a bit…think about how you recognize it…who carries it…and how we respond to it. If I asked the question of which direction authority flows, what would you say…at least of the top of your head? That authority flows downhill…that it stems from the top? I don’t think you’re wrong to think that…for certainly there is evidence that this is true…all we have to do is take a look at the structure of the military to see that…but when we stop and think about it…perhaps we also begin to realize that authority is granted from the bottom up as well…because if the proposed authority fails to inspire or persuade those it is trying to influence…then is the authority really there? (pause)

In short…we grant authority to those that seek to exert it…whether we realize it or not…true authority is followed…it is respected, perhaps even earned…but most importantly…authority…is bestowed…it is given…and much like faith…it is never self-generated.

And so we see that the flow of authority…or perhaps the power within it…flows back and forth between individuals…those with the proposed authority…and those following it. (pause)
But you know what? As I stand here talking about this today…I’m struck by how much it seems to resemble a motivational speech…or perhaps a keynote address at a business leadership conference…and that is not what we need to be talking about…and so how do we begin to switch our minds over to matters of faith…I mean, just what does the question of authority have to do with us here in worship today? (pause)

And the answer is this…if authority really is a two way street…and we grant authority to those who are attempting to influence us…then the question really becomes who are we gonna listen to? (pause)

Because there are a lot of different thing flying around these days…notions and ideas that try to persuade us one way or another…things that try to make us think one way or another…things that make us try to feel one way or another…and all too often, that message…that feeling that blares in our day to day lives is the flat out lie that you…just…aren’t…good enough.

Whether its subtle advertisements that let you know that you’re life will only be complete if you lose 15 pounds…or if you have this new flashy phone…we are constantly bombarded…and it seems like we always have that little whisper in the back of our mind that calls us “worthless.” (pause)
But…we also have a God that loves us so much…that cares for us so much…that desires to be in relationship with us so much…because we are of worth…and he tells us so…he tells us that we are loved…that we are accepted…that we are…of worth…regardless of our inadequacies. (pause)

And so today, I pose you this question…which voice are you going to grant the authority to? The sly one in the back of your mind that whispers the lie that no one cares about you…that you are worthless? (Pause) Or are you going to grant the authority to the voice that says my beloved child…I love you…and there is nothing that I will not do to show you that? (pause)

We hear in the story today, that the tax collectors and the prositutes…those who were socially outside the fence…those who were considered “unacceptable” in the eyes of the religious elite…they were the ones who recognized the need to listen to that second voice…that voice that told them despite their flaws…despite their failings…that they are loved…that they are accepted…and that their minds are changed. (pause) A better way to say this…at least according to the original language…is that they turned away…that’s what it means to repent…to turn away from the sin…but its also important to note that its passive here…they are turned away by something else…by the loving voice of God, who loves them enough to forgive their sin…just as he loves you enough.

And rest assured…he loves you enough…and so today, I’ll leave you with the question one more time…there are two different voices trying to take authority over you…one that says you are without worth…and one that loves you so much that you are priceless and worth any cost…so which voice are you going to listen to? Amen.

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There Is No Order In Grace 9-21-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 19:30-20:16. It is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. I explore the sense of fairness being broken by the master’s actions, but then discuss how there is no measure to God’s grace other than that we receive the fullness of it.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/there-is-no-order-in-grace-9-21-14

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

Since becoming the pastor here at Underwood Lutheran, I’ve presided over two weddings, and in both of them…the placement of the individuals who made up the wedding party was the same…everyone has their place…and as I think back to the multitude of weddings that I’ve been to, regardless of my level of involvement with them, I can say that there is certainly a normal placement of people that is pretty universal…a sort of inverted V…spreading out from the front…pastor here…bride and groom here…best man and groomsmen going out that way…maid of honor and bridesmaids going out that way…ring bearer and flower girl alongside…father of bride standing out here at one point…ushers in the back… …and in my time…I’ve stood in just about all of them at least once.

I’ve stood here in the pastor’s spot…being married I’ve obviously stood in the grooms spot…I’ve been best man…I’ve been a groomsman…I’ve been a ring bearer…I’ve been an usher…I haven’t managed father of the bride yet…but my daughter is only 8, we’ll give that one some time…and believe it or not…I’ve even stood over here in the bridesmaid line…long story…I’m not going into it…but yes I have even stood there. (pause)

Being part of the wedding party is a lot of fun…but for me, the best aspect…the biggest benefit…is that you get to go through the food line first at the reception. 9 times out of 10, the wedding party is the last to get there…and yet they are the first to eat…and I pay attention to these things…because inevitably…whenever I am at a reception and have not been part of the wedding party…my table is one of the last one’s to go through line…never fails…even if I’ve been one of the first to arrive…I’m always one of the last to eat. (pause) The first will be last…and the last will be first…Sound familiar?

This phrase bookends the gospel lesson for today…and perhaps you’ve heard me say it before…but in the writing style of the New Testament…when they repeat something…it means that it’s important…and of course today our speaker is Jesus himself…The first will be last and the last will be first.

Jesus, currently in an ongoing discussion with the disciples, uses this phrase to make a point…and then he transitions into the parable that makes up the bulk of today’s lesson…and then at the end…he says the phrase again…wrapping everything up…and so I have found myself coming back to that phrase over and over again this week…not because I want to…but because that appears to be the theme of yet another one of Jesus’ parables. (pause)

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early to hire laborers for the vineyard…they agreed on the wage…and he sent them out to get to work…Three hours later…he goes out again…Oh hey…there’s more people hanging around…Hey guys…go get to work…and I’ll pay you…and again a couple hours later…More people? Okay…go get to work…and then in a few more hours…Wow…more people…off to the vineyard…until finally, he makes one last trip right before the end of the day…and yet again…there are people standing around who have yet to be invited to work…people who lack the call into a crew…and yet again…the master says come on, I’ll hire you. (pause)

Hmmm…so the kingdom of heaven apparently has a WHOLE lot of work to do…and apparently there are a lot of people standing around lacking direction…interesting…but that’s just the start of things.

At the end of the day…once the work is over…the master decides that its time to settle accounts and brings in those late arrivals first…and low and behold…he pays them for a full day…and word trickles down the line. (pause) WOW!!! This guy is generous…they only worked for an hour…and he paid them for a full day? We’ve been here longer…some of us WAY longer…I WONDER HOW MUCH WE’RE GONNA GET? (pause)

And when the first workers finally get their paycheck…and greedily open up the envelop…expecting to see countless riches from this generous master…they are shocked…and amazed to find…exactly what they earned…exactly what the master had promised them at the beginning of the day. (pause)

And this…does not…sit well…and we hear that they begin to grumble and complain against the master…but in typical fashion, they don’t actually take it to him…the greek word here indicates a sense of quiet mumbling…similar in scope to what we might do in the midst of an argument when the other person leaves the room and we grumble about them…not really wanting them to hear what we have to say…because in all likelihood, it isn’t’ that nice…but yet we want the last word because darn it…we’re right and they’re wrong.

MASTER!!!! This isn’t fair…We have worked our tail off for you…we’ve been here all day…the whole time…we have done 10 times as much…and yet you give them the same amount as us. (pause)THAT’S NOT FAIR!

Gone is their viewpoint of the master as a generous man…now he’s just acting ridiculous…because common sense dictates that WE’VE done…far outweighs what they’ve done…we’ve earned it…they haven’t…we deserve it…they don’t. (pause)

Sound familiar? (pause) I’m sure it does…anyone with kids has heard countless arguments about fairness…I’m pretty sure that the phrase “That’s not fair” is uttered in my house at least once a day…probably more…and when we’re honest with ourselves, our views of what’s fair…what’s right…what’s justifiable…goes far beyond childhood doesn’t it?

This is something that we see all the time…smack dab in the middle of our day to day life…and perhaps in our capitalistic society…driven all too often by the almighty dollar…we run into this attitude constantly…and this parable really speaks to us…and we feel like those guys who started off the day in the vineyard are completely justified in their concern over the paycheck situation. (pause)

The notion of earning…or seniority is certainly prevalent for us isn’t it? So much so, that its second nature…this thought that those who have been at longer deserve more…that they should be justly rewarded for their work…for their service…for their time.

But Jesus tells us in this parable today that this is not the case in the kingdom of heaven…and so perhaps we try to shift our thinking now…remembering that, Oh yah, this isn’t supposed to be about money…its about the kingdom…and so we start thinking about the church…the congregation…and all the work that we’ve done over the years…has that thought ever crossed your mind? That I’ve done my part…I’ve put in the time…and maybe, just maybe I deserve the benefits more than that person…or that one…ever thought that? Even for a moment? (pause) I know I have from time to time…that notion of superiority kicks in, whether I want it to or not…guilty. (pause)
But you know what…Jesus has this amazing ability to shut me up pretty quick when he reveals the truth about things. And in typical fashion, he does the same thing here…when the master reminds us that he is allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to him…and then Jesus reminds me again that this is about the kingdom of heaven…not money…not seniority…its about the gift of God.

God is like the master who continues to go out into the world…looking for those who have not been brought in yet…he doesn’t stop after the first trip…or the second…or the third…he keeps on going until the very last moment, continuing to bring people in…and regardless of when he finds that person…the result is the same…the full measure of God’s grace.

Because the grace of God cannot be measured out…it cannot be divided based on how long you’ve been in the body…grace doesn’t work like that…but he makes us a promise that if we call his name…if we come back into relationship with him through faith in Christ that we will receive the full measure of his grace…in its entirety.

And just as the master says to the first workers…God does us no harm by offering the same measure of grace to those that come after us…and no matter of longevity changes that grace…whether we are believer for a century or an instant…we receive the full measure of forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord…and we need only look to the scripture in order to believe it…

Because as Jesus hung on the cross…dying for the sins of all humankind, one of the men hanging next to him looked up and said Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom…and Jesus looked back at him and assured him that Today…you will be with me paradise. (pause)

Friends in Christ…we know, full well, that there are times when jealousy rears its ugly head…and we all fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve earned it more than the next person…no matter what the subject is…but despite all that…despite our failings…and our sinful nature…we have a Master who is generous…who offers us the free gift of his grace…not because we earn it…but simply…because he chooses to…it doesn’t matter when you show up…only that he has called you in. Thanks be to God. Amen

 

Quality Not Quantity 9-14-14

Today’s sermon is based on Matthew 18:21-35. Within the text Peter asks Jesus to clarify how many time we are called to forgive someone who sins against us. Jesus responds far beyond Peter’s expectations, and shares the parable of the unforgiving slave. Within the sermon I explore Jesus’ response and just how we are to respond within our own lives.

https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/quality-not-quantity-9-14-14

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

Last Tuesday afternoon I ended up in Neola at the community center, cranking out a pint of blood for the Red Cross. As I sat there with my feet up chatting with the nurse, I was transported through a montage of my childhood…because playing in the background was an extended playlist of 80’s music. I heard Madonna and Tears for Fears and Prince just to name a few.

The nurse and I were joking around about it, both being children of the 80’s and the next I knew we were talking movies…and perhaps I’m biased…but I tend to think that the 80’s produced the best batch of “classic movies” out of any decade…and one in particular comes to mind. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…arguably the pinnacle of John Hughes’ career.

If you’re unfamiliar, Ferris Bueller, a high school senior from Chicago decides that he needs one last day off from school before he graduates…and not only does he pull it off with his parents, but crazy hijinks ensue while the whole day, his principal tries to bust him…starting off with a phone call to Ferris’ mother.

Mrs. Bueller, are you aware that your son is not in school today? Do you know how many days he’s missed this year? Oh I don’t know 3 or 4? 9 times…9 times? NIIINNNNEEE TIIIMES? (pause). Within this conversation, the principal is very intentional about quantifying the number of absences of our hero…Mr Bueller.

And its this notion of quantity…of assigning a number that draws me into todays gospel lesson…Directly following last week’s passage, when Jesus gives guidelines for being reconciled with a brother or sister that has sinned against, Peter…ever the impulsive one, asks a question of clarification of Jesus…and I can about imagine just how that conversation really went. (pause)

“So, Jesus, just how many times should I forgive? Like, seven?” (thumbs up, gesturing up) “More than that, my friend.” (pause) “Ok, like seventeen?” “Not even close.” (pause)“Wait, like twenty-seven?” “Keep going.” (pause) “You’re kidding, right? Thirty-seven?” “Try seventy-seven times.” (pause) “But that’s ridiculous! Impossible![1] Seventy-Seven times?” “SEVVVEEEENTYYYY SEEEEVVVVINNNN TIIIIMES.” (pause)

Now clearly this is a shocking number for Peter, regardless of if we read it as 77 or 70 times 7…either of which are valid translations of Jesus’ response…but as we think about it, perhaps we begin by questioning Peter’s motive for his question in the first place. Jesus is talking about forgiveness…and he has told us to offer it…to be reconciled…seems pretty open and shut so just why does Peter ask in the first place?

Well, perhaps its his Jewish heritage…obviously Peter as well as the other disciples would be familiar with the law…they had the 10 commandments not to mention the rest of the over 400 laws handed down in the Old Testament…so perhaps Peter is just trying to get the specifics…making sure he’s got his bases covered…and so he offers a legitimate question of quantity…how many times must I forgive Lord? Even as many as 7 times? (pause) And interestingly enough, I think Peter is actually considering this to be a pretty generous amount…Seriously Jesus…if my brother wrongs me 7 times and I forgive him, that outa be enough right? (pause)

But Jesus, in his divine wisdom, reacts in much the same way he usually reacts to a question of this nature…but tossing it right back at the individual in a way that tends to blow their understanding right out of the water. No Peter…77 times…or 70 x’s 7…either way its an enormous amount…and think about it…are we really going to forgive someone that much? Do we have that capability…or is Jesus just throwing out some astronomical number to get us to think WAY bigger. (pause)

Now before you come up with an answer in your mind on that question…or before I try to offer you one…let’s switch gears…just like Jesus does…because for Jesus…the question of forgiveness doesn’t get a quantity. (pause)

And so Jesus switches into a parable…which he’s known to do, because he knows that we have a REALLY hard time getting past our own limitations…and in his normal style…he tells a story…a story about a king…and two servants…each who owes a debt.

And let me offer you a little perspective here…about just how different these two debts are that we hear in the story. The first servant…owning a debt to the king…that Jesus says is ten thousand talents…and the second guy, well he owes the first guy 100 denarii…and now perhaps you’re thinking “that’s all well and good pastor, but we don’t know what those values add up to.” And so…perspective…

The federal minimum wage is current $7.25/hour. Now a talent…that’s the equivalent of 15 years worth of wages…and this guy owes the king ten-thousand of them…and at $7.25/hour, 1 talent equals about $226,000 dollars…and if you multiply that by 10,000, we find the first guys debt at a little over…2…BILLION…dollars…let that sink in for just a minute. (pause) OK, and now the second guy, well he owes 100 denarii, which is the equivalent to a day’s wage…1 day…so his total debt is roughly…$6,000. No laughing matter of course…but something that’s doable…something that he could…given enough work…pay off. (pause)

That’s what we’re looking at…and interesting enough…when faced with judgment day…when faced with their debt being called in…these two men…respond the exact…same…way.

BE PATIENT WITH ME…AND I WILL PAY YOU EVERYTHING… (pause) Now the guy who 6 grand…maybe that’s not surprising…he probably could…but the other guy…roughly 6 billion in debt…yah right? Unless he’s on good terms with Warren Buffet, I kind doubt it…but yet these guys both seem to think that somehow…some way…they can pay it off themselves…that they can somehow free themselves of this cost…of this burden…

And isn’t that our normal tendancy….it must be part of the human condition…to think that somehow…someway…if we just work hard enough…or if we just say the right thing…or sway our reality with enough force that somehow, we can manage to overcome…we think it in moments when it might actually be possible…and we think it when the reality is so far beyond impossible that its not even funny…And that is the response of both of these guys today.

But what’s really interesting to note in Jesus’ story…is the response of the king…He recognizes the impossibility of the first servant ever managing to even put a dent in it…and he…forgives it…completely…its like the debt never existed in the first place…and yet despite that…this man…newly freed…cannot do the same with even a tiny amount…he can’t show the same mercy….and because of that…because of this inability to mirror the mercy first shown to him…he is punished…and Jesus tells us…that we face the same choice. (pause)

This story is all about forgiveness…but for Jesus…for God…forgiveness is not about quantity no matter how much our limited human understanding wants to make it that way. Jesus tells us, that there is no limit to the forgiveness and mercy that we are to offer our brothers and sisters…no limit…but rather that we are simply to mirror the grace offered by God when HE forgave our unpayable debt. (pause)

The apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the wages of sin is death…this is the cost…the debt…the burden that we bear because of the presence of sin within our own existence…and just like that first servant…there is no way that we can do it…we are completely unable do anything about it…and not just because it is some astronomical amount of money…but because the ability to atone for sin is beyond our human ability…and so in His unfathomable mercy…God showed us grace and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our immeasurable debt is paid…and we are called to mirror that same mercy…that same grace for others. (pause)

But as I say all that…I’m struck by the truth of the situation…by the truth of forgiveness…and I fully realize that there are situations in our warped reality where forgiveness…is REALLY hard…and it may even seem impossible.

Sometimes it might be easy to offer…and that’s great…but what about those other times? (Pause) A few days ago was September 11th…when we as a nation remember the horror of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers…when a force of unknown individuals broke the tranquility of our lives…and when thousands of lives were needlessly lost…and imagine if you were a family member of one of those people…and you were trying to forgive the horror of their death…that’s just one example. What about a murder of a loved one…or a betrayal of trust…or the destruction of a marriage…there are countless ways that we as individuals can do what might seem to be utterly un-forgivable to one another.

So what do we do with that? (pause) Valid question…because I think…at one time or another…we all face this reality on one side of the table…or the other…and in all likelihood, we face it from both side of the table at one time or another…I know I have.

For me…it was the inexcusable loss of a winter job…when my old boss knew full well of my intentions of working for him through the season before returning to my summer job…I had made no secret of that…and yet, out of the blue, he fired me…and I fumed over that situation for years…I always said I was over it…but anytime it came up in conversation…the person I was talking to could tell I wasn’t over it…and I hadn’t forgiven him…and even now today, as I stand before you and think about it…it still gives me pause…and I still get a bitter taste in my mouth over it. (pause) And likewise, I know that I done equally hurtful things to other people…and I know that they have struggled to let go…and to forgive…and in recognizing my own faults…my own failings…I too struggle to offer myself forgiveness…and perhaps you can understand…perhaps you face similar situations in your own lives…and so together we wonder just how to go about this whole forgiveness thing that Jesus is talking about.

And I don’t want to stand here before you today…looking down on you…and telling you that if you just believe enough it should be easy…because it’s not easy…and there is no surefire way…no amount of faith that is big enough to overcome our inability to heal and let go of the past…because even though the phrase is forgive and forget…we have a really hard time with that whole “forget” thing don’t we? (pause)

But maybe…just maybe…in order to begin the process…we must first acknowledge the pain and hurt caused between us…I read this week that forgiveness can be defined when we acknowledge that the past…hurtful as it may be…cannot be changed…when we acknowledge the reality of what has happened and that it will be forever a part of our history…and only then can we even begin to move forward.

And perhaps…the reason that Jesus tells us that we are to forgive 77 times is because we need to forgive the same thing over and over again…and maybe…just maybe…today if you have something eating at you…a past hurt…you need to simply say “Today I acknowledge it…and right now I’m gonna let it go.” And maybe it will come back in 5 minutes…or in a day…or in a month…or a year or a decade…and in that instant…when you recognize it again…and realize that we can’t change it…we let it go again…and maybe Jesus is telling us that we have to forgive the same thing over and over again…

And perhaps on the flip side, when we were the ones in the wrong…and we struggle to offer ourselves forgiveness, we need to do the very same thing…admit that we can’t change it, but repent of it and let it go…and remember that we must do the same the next time it comes up again.

Maybe forgiveness really is an ongoing process simply because we are flawed and we lack the ability to ever really let something go…but find hope in the fact that God can…and not only can he…He already…HAS…and you better believe it…because Jesus himself said. IT IS FINISHED…and you know what? There’s hope in that…but even in those times when we fail to see that hope…well…Jesus forgives that too…because that’s the quality of God’s forgiveness…for you. Amen

[1] Credit for this little exchange belongs to Karoline Lewis in her commentary on the Working Preacher website
http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3322

Be Reconciled 9-7-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus offers instructions on being reconciled when there is sin between believers.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/be-reconciled-9-7-14

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

I have always enjoyed history…there is just something exciting about visiting the past either through exploring historical facts, or hearing stories, or seeing different artifacts that connect us to the past. Because of this, I’ve often visited different museums and historical sites…something that my parents encouraged as I was growing up…and I can remember several different times when we would visit places of historical significance.

One instance that for whatever reason has always stuck with me was a visit to an old one room school house. Perhaps I feel a connection to this old style of school because my grandfather actually started in a local one-roomer…or perhaps I just like it because the notion is so foreign to me.

Regardless of that, something I saw in that little one roomer has stuck with me over the years…a poem written by a student, of what could only be described as a very…VERY small school.

When I am at school, there’s much I can say
However I think, it goes either way

I am the shortest, and I am the tallest
I am the biggest, and I am the smallest

No one is younger, and no one is older
No one is warmer, and no one is colder

I come in last place, and I come in first
I am the best student, and I am the worst

I like to follow and I like to lead
I am always the first and the last to read

However you look, I’m all you can be
For here in my school, its only just me[1]

I find it hard to imagine just what it would be like to be the only student in a school…not just in a class, because I’ve been there done that…but to be the only student in an entire school. As odd as it would be, one benefit would be the total lack of conflict…because it is very easy to get along with everyone…when you are alone.

But today’s gospel lesson presents a different sort of situation. Jesus describes a situation not only in which the hearer is with other people…but where conflict has arisen…and where individuals have sinned against one another. (pause)

Now, as hard as it may be for us to realize…it is certainly possible that individuals will fail…to get along with one another…I know…shocking right? But it is true. Put more than one person in a room…and it won’t be long before you have some sort of conflict…some sort of grievance…and things can quickly go sour.

That is precisely what Jesus expects will happen within the church…I’m guessing that Jesus had a pretty solid handle on the human condition…even among fellow believers…because he predicts coming issues…conflicts…sins against one another…what do you think? Was he accurate? (pause)

And so, in what may sound sorta familiar…possibly reminiscent of a procedure outlined in the church constitution…which is actually 100% accurate, because its in there…Jesus gives us a procedure to follow when dissension enters the community. (pause)

If your brother or sister sins against you…go and find them…point out their fault quietly between the two of you…and if they listen…REJOICE…for the two of you have been restored. Okay…well, what if they don’t listen to you?

In that case…take a couple extra people along with you…for with witnesses…surely your brother or sister will listen to reason…but…what if they don’t? Well, in that case, bring the matter before the entire assembly…get the whole congregation together and discuss it…and if they still won’t listen to you, then treat them as a Gentile or a tax collector. (pause)

Hmm. Is anyone else slightly weirded out by this passage? I’ll be honest, it strikes me as a little odd coming from Jesus…because we typically don’t hear this sort of thing from him…instructions for the assembly…for the church…its just not really his normal speed…and yet…here it is…and as I thought about this passage…I tried to be intentional about the intended meaning…about the truth behind what Jesus is talking about…and in the end…it really boils down to something pretty simple. (pause)

Has your brother or sister sinned against you? Okay…go find them and be reconciled. Go and make your peace with them…don’t let the bitterness or the bickering take over…go be reconciled. (pause)
And as I thought about that…I realized that it sounded familiar…sorta like something I’ve heard Jesus say before…and so I backtracked…Matthew chapter 5…we spent a lot of time here a few months back…looking in depth at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount…and in the midst of those teachings…Jesus says something very similar.

“When you offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (pause)
Sounds pretty similar right…and it should…because these two passages offer bookends to the very same theme of reconciliation within the community of faith…BUT…it is important to note that they come at it from opposite directions.

We hear today…if someone has sinned AGAINST YOU….go find them and be reconciled…and we hear in chapter 5 that if you realize that you have sinned AGAINST someone else…go find them and be reconciled…Does that seem odd? That Jesus would sorta contradict himself between these two different teachings on the same subject?

Maybe it seems like it should be up to one or the other…If you are the one who sinned, it should be up to you to make amends right? But that’s not what Jesus says…if we look at these two passages together, Jesus tells us, quite simply…if there is an issue between you and another…I don’t care who started it…YOU…go and be reconciled to your brother or sister…YOU…take the first step.

And by doing so…by offering reconciliation, we offer a word of grace between one another…and by doing so we mirror the love of God in Christ Jesus who offered us reconciliation with God. That’s the long and short of this passage today…if there is a grievance, be reconciled.

And we know that there will be grievances…even WITHIN…the body of Christ…and why? Well…take a look at the body of Christ…it involves…US…and we screw…up. Our selfish desires and thoughts eventually win out…and we harm one another. Jesus not only expected it…he helped us plan for it. (pause)

All that being said…there is a BUT…in this message…Even though Jesus himself models and instructs a way for us to be reconciled to one another…our flawed human tendency takes this wonderful olive branch and turns it into a weapon… (pause)

I have seen…first hand…more times than I care to think about…this very passage…intended for good…twisted and used to exclude…to condemn…to divide…and to harm one another. I have seen it between individuals…I have seen it between groups of people…I have seen it within congregations…I’ve witnessed communities of faith tear themselves apart with this passage…with good intentions…with intentions of pointing out someone’s error…but in the end…accomplishing nothing except judgmental damage.

Way to go humanity…take something that God intends for good…and use it for our own selfish judgments…but it happens doesn’t it? Perhaps you’ve seen it…perhaps you experienced it…and perhaps you’ve even unknowingly participated in it…because we’re flawed…and try as we might we harm one another. (pause)

But remember what Jesus said…both today and in the sermon on the mount…Be reconciled. (pause). And today…I plan to follow Jesus’ instructions. If you are individual who has ever felt excluded…or judged harshly…if someone has ever hurt you by using this passage as a weapon…on behalf of that individual or group…I’m sorry…please forgive this hurt. (pause)

And if you have ever felt isolated…pulled aside…excluded by a pastor…even if its me…I’m sorry…please forgive this hurt. (pause)

And if the church as a whole has ever made you feel unwelcome…like you aren’t good enough…if its made you feel judged…I’m sorry…please forgive this hurt. (pause)

And if perhaps, you find yourself today feeling convicted of having caused hurt in the past…allow me offer a word of grace…a word of forgiveness…for we have a God that willingly took the cross to overcome our hurts…to overcome our shortcomings…to atone for the sins that we don’t even realize that we are doing…and through it…God offers us reconciliation…he offers us grace for the times when our humanity stands up and does or says something stupid.

And it happens…it happens to all us…and it happens from all of us…but throughout this…receive God’s grace and offer it to one another…and remember that wherever two or three are gather in the name of Jesus…he is there also…(pause)

And while you think about that…remember this…that we are gathered…not under our own power or desire…but we are gathered by another and it is by Christ, in whose name we are gathered…and we call this the body of Christ…imperfect, full of flawed people…but bathed in the grace of God…and that is why we gather together as a church…to hear a word of grace…to receive God’s forgiveness…and to blessed through the forgiving presence of one another. (pause)

And in just a moment, before we join our voices together in song…and before we share in means of God’s grace through holy communion…I’m going to invite you to get up out of your seats…and I invite you to share the peace with one another…not just to shake hands and say good morning…for we’ve already done that today…but to offer a sign of God’s peace to one another…so that as Jesus instructs us…within the body…we may be reconciled…Amen

May the peace of the Lord be with you all (And also with you)
Let us share a sign of God’s peace with one another.

 

[1] I could not actually find the text of the poem that I read in my childhood, and so I wrote this short poem in order to catch the essence of the original.