Archive for January, 2015

Let’s Go Fishin 1-25-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 1:14-20. Jesus encounters and calls the first disciples, telling them to follow him and that he will make them fishers of men. This is a familiar story. Within it I look at the notion of Jesus calling us within our vocation, not to spite it.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/lets-go-fishin-1-25-15

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
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a bit of a pop culture nut. I love movies, music, tv shows, books…all kinds of that stuff…and while I’m a big fan of a lot of things that are current…I’m also partial to some older stuff too.
This has formed a bit of a trend for me lately as well…as I’ve been finding many different ways to binge on the pop culture type stuff that was popular in my younger years…my music apps have been flooded with 90’s pop and alternative music…I’ve taken to watching some of the cult classic movies from that same time period…and most recently, I’ve been using Netflix to binge watch a lot of tv shows from that time period…most recently Star Trek the Next Generation and the super popular sitcom Friends. (pause)
Now friends is truly a blast from the past…and as I’m only about midway through the first season which aired back in 1994…a lot of it seems very dated…big baggy clothes…big poufy hair…huge clunky phones…it is a very honest representation of the mid 90’s…but what the heck…I like it because watching helps me remember those younger days and makes me think about what I was up to when the show originally aired.
In short…all these different little aspects that serve as a blast from the past really get me thinking about my life about that time…when I was in high school and college. I think about the changes that I’ve gone through…the directions I’ve gone…and I realize that where I’m at today is about as far away from that scrawny little blond haired kid that was bopping around NW Iowa 20 years ago.
And a lot of those differences center around how I pass my time. Granted…as a typical high schooler I had quite a bit more free time than I often find myself with these days…and so I had to find different ways to fill it…and one of those things that I chose to do a lot of, particularly in the summer time, was fishing. I was an outdoor nut…I hunted in the fall, and I was always going fishing in the summer time…I’d connect with a friend or two and we’d head off to one of the local lakes and spend hours tossing a line in the water.
To be perfectly honest, I can even remember doing this before I was old enough to drive on my own. I think it served as a good way to keep a couple of us occupied, so our parents would load us up…making sure we had plenty of nightcrawlers, and drop us off at a specific spot where we’d spend the afternoon pulling in bullheads left and right.
In fact this love of hunting and fishing…the general love of the outdoors that I still hold…shaped me so much in those days that it influenced my expected career path and therefore, my focus of study during my first two years of college.
But in all my time spent at the lake shore…in all those fishing excursions…there was one thing that never happened…never once did one of the local preachers come walking up to me and my friend telling us to follow him. (pause) But in today’s story…that’s exactly what happens. (pause)
Now before we really dive into Mark’s story for today, its important to remember something. Mark, being the shortest of the gospels…and focusing on the good news of Jesus Christ…tends to gloss over a lot of detail…if you were here a couple weeks ago you likely remember me talking about that.
But right here, with only a few tidbits of info at the beginning of Mark, we hear the story of Jesus going around the region of Galilee, proclaiming the good news…and now we hear that he’s calling his first disciples. (pause)
What we don’t hear is the specifics of just what Jesus has really been up to in the lead up to today’s story…While Mark doesn’t give us much of anything to go on, we do know from some of the other Gospels that Jesus has been active prior to this moment…he didn’t go from the baptism straight to the shore of the Sea of Galilee to where these 4 fishermen were hanging out…he did some traveling first…he was laying the groundwork for the rest of his ministry…and we do actually get just a tiny hint of that in the opening verses today…as Mark tells us that Jesus came to Galilee and he was proclaiming the good news…and so, it is very likely that this random encounter with 4 fishermen was not the first exposure that any of them had with one another.
Galilee itself is a fairly small region…it measured about 25 x 50 miles…so figure it stretches from here to down around Glenwood, and then over about 10 miles past the far side of Omaha…not overly huge…and there wasn’t much out there either…a few towns spaced out every few miles…and not really a ton of activity…life revolved around each town, and specifically in Jewish life around the synagogue of each town…and if Jesus had been traveling from town to town preaching as it sounds like he was…then the 4 guys likely had heard him on some random Sabbath day.
Maybe they’d even had conversations prior to this moment…we don’t really know, but it stands to reason that all four of them would have had some idea of just who Jesus was on this day when we walked up to them on the seashore and invited them to follow him. (pause)
In all honesty…I kind of hope that this is the case…because we hear that immediately Peter and Andrew dropped their nets…then James and John leave their dad…and off they go.
And if this really is an immediate response to Jesus’ call as Mark says it is…then I really find myself wondering just what it was about Jesus that made them respond as they did…what was it about Jesus that made them apparently leave everything…as tradition tells us…to follow this guy around for the next three years. (pause)
Scripture tells us that there was nothing about him that was overly special…in fact Isaiah said that he had no form that we should look at him…and no beauty that we should desire him…sounds like a pretty normal looking guy, and yet his simple invitation to follow him results in just that…(long pause)…or does it? (pause)
As I mentioned a moment ago tradition tells us that the disciples left everything to follow Jesus…and certainly there are some instances in scripture that support this notion…but all we really hear in this case is that the guys left their nets, and the other two left their dad…but we also know that Peter still had a house…and he kept his boat because later in the story we hear about them.
So maybe…just maybe…when Jesus offered the invitation to follow me…it wasn’t so much the idea that they had drop everything…turn their back on their regular day to day lives and forsake everything as they trudged along behind him. (pause)
Maybe…Jesus was simply offering an invitation to become a simple follower…and the more I thought about that possibility the more it seemed to make sense. (pause) Think about the rest of his invitation, particularly to Peter and Andrew…follow me and I will make you fishers of men. (pause)
Weren’t they already fishermen? It stands to reason that they are…Mark even tells us they are…and it seems like Jesus isn’t asking them to give up their profession…he’s just tweaking the way they look at it. Hey fishermen…follow me and I’ll help you bring in people…not to sell or to eat…but people who will come to believe in the truth that I present to you and through you…that the kingdom has come near…so repent and believe the good news. (pause)
But what if they hadn’t been fishermen? Would the invitation be a little different? Perhaps…but I think the message would be the same…You farmers…follow me and I’ll help you harvest believers…You accountants, follow me together we’ll add up the numbers…Doctors and nurses, follow me and I will help you care for others…Stay at home parents, follow me and I will help you raise disciples. (pause)
It seems like Jesus was simply engaging these 4 guys in the midst of their regular day to day lives…and while we do hear that they chose to literally follow him around…perhaps what Jesus was saying to them on that day…and what he is saying to us now today, is that we are called to be followers of Christ in the midst of our regular day to day lives…something that we call our vocation…or that which we are called to do.
Because let’s face it…not everyone is called into professional ministry…in fact very few have that calling…but yet Jesus still invites each of us to be his follower…to learn from him…to learn about him…and to hear his message…to receive the good news that he provides that through his life death and resurrection the kingdom of God is here now…and as we engage with that good news in the midst of our day to day lives we also engage with those around us and hopefully…as we encounter them in the midst of our routine, Jesus helps us to catch them as well. (pause)
If we learn nothing else from the example in today’s story…its that Jesus is willing to use everyone…and he offers the same invitation to everyone regardless of who they are. Fishermen…guys who hang out with fish as much as possible…and if they guys on Deadliest Catch are to be believed…then fishermen are dirty, smelly, crude, and rude…and these are exactly who Jesus calls into fellowship…and not only into fellowship but into service for the kingdom…And if he calls a bunch of crazy fishermen, and in the end places one in charge who has the constant tendency to put his foot in his mouth…then maybe, just maybe he’s calling you too.
Not to drop everything and forsake everything and everyone in your life to follow him around the countryside…but to simply engage in the message that he brings…that God loves you enough to come to you…to meet you where you are…and to form a relationship with you.
That’s the net that Jesus gives to these 4 guys as they fish for people…the love of God embodied in the life of Christ…and you know what…he gives you the same tool…the same net…when he invites you to follow him…so what do you think? Anyone want to go fishin? Amen.

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Can Anything Good 1-18-15

This sermon is based on John 1:43-51, the story of Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael to be his disciples. Nathanael’s response is pretty blunt, but that’s not really a bad thing.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/can-anything-good-1-18-15

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
Have you ever said something off the cuff…without really thinking about it before you say it…and then almost immediately you regret saying it? (pause) Been there done that.
I’m guessing many of you have likely noticed by now that I have the tendency…at least at times…to speak faster than my brain is moving…to think it and have it come spilling out immediately. When I get in this mode…the natural filter that lies between an individual’s brain and mouth is completely bypassed…and sometimes…not all the time mind you…but sometimes…something kinda stupid comes out. (pause) And I…am most certainly guilty of this.
Just last week…a mere 7 days ago…I was downstairs with the confirmation and adult forum class…and we were discussing the massive crowds that followed Jesus during his ministry…and we talked a little bit about just why that is…and a lot of it has to do with the region where he had grown up and where he was at for much of his ministry…and that is the region of Galilee.
If you are unfamiliar…Galilee lies in the northern section of what we call Israel…it was considered to be a very backwater, out of the way region…quite a ways away from anything of major significance in that part of the world.
And as I was trying to explain all this to the class…I had one of those “foot in the mouth” situations. And I said…imagine yourselves in a really remote…backwater type of a place where there isn’t much excitement going on…like say you are from…(hold the pause)…and immediately I was scanning my mind for local communities in this area…especially one that might seem particularly “backwater” and the only town I could come up with…literally the first town that popped into my mind was…Minden. And immediately…about 4 different people in the class were like “Hey!!!”
Allow me to offer my apologies to the good people of Minden…it is a fine town…it was simply the first one that came to mind. Had we been up in my neck of the woods, I could have named off a dozen different towns that would have fit the bill just fine…something that harkens all the way back to my youth…when we had nicknames for every neighboring town…and in particular the ones that we would meet up with for school sporting events.
An example…every time we’d be playing Armstrong/Ringsted…the talk around school was how we were going to hammer Armpit/Ringworm. (pause) And isn’t that really the case where ever we go? There is always a town, or a state, or a college, or something that we pick on. Not that we really have any actual distaste for it…but its just what we do. Around here we make fun of Omaha, just like they call this side of the river Council Tucky…Up north we hammer on Minnesota…and likewise they pick on Iowa. We all do it…and we see another example of this in today’s story…as Nathanael let’s us in on a little hint of the distaste that he seems to have for Nazareth.
We find ourselves today in the midst of John’s account of Jesus’ first disciples. Directly before today’s story Andrew starts following Jesus and brings along his brother Peter…and today as we pick up…Jesus has wandered into Galilee from the Jordan river…which really isn’t that far…and he happens upon Philip…now Philip likely knows Peter and Andrew as they’re all from the same town…and so maybe, just maybe he’s got some idea just who this Jesus guy is…but regardless, Jesus spots Philip…tells him very simply “Follow me” and Philip is off and running on the disciple train…and what’s the very first thing that we see Philip do? (pause)
He runs off to find his buddy Nathanael. (pause) Now Nathanael is an interesting character…admittedly we don’t know a whole lot about him…he’s only found here in John’s gospel and even then only a couple of times…right here and then at the seashore along with some of the other disciples following the resurrection of Jesus…Some scholars speculate that maybe Nathanael also goes by the name Bartholamew, who’s partnered up with Philip in the list of the 12 disciples in the other gospels…but we don’t really know. (pause)
Long story short…he’s a bit of a mystery…BUT…he makes no mystery of one thing…Nathanael lacks a filter. (pause) Because when Philip finds him…clearly excited beyond belief…he shares his joy by exclaiming “WE have found him about whom Moses and the prophets spoke.” Now in the Jewish culture, this would clearly be talking about the long awaited Messiah…something that everyone would have been excited about. And I imagine that Nathanael’s face must have lit up at the prospect of meeting the messiah as well…until…Philip finishes his statement.
It is Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth….(mimic excitement draining BIG TIME…and lay on the snark) Nazareth….REALLY? (pause) Can ANYTHING good come out of Nazareth? (pause) Clearly Nazareth is a little lacking in terms of Nathanael’s opinions. Granted…we don’t know just what it is about Nazareth that Nathanael has an issue with, but he certainly would have been familiar with it. Nathanael was from Cana…just a handful of miles away from Nazareth…and just as I used to take issue with the neighboring towns when I was a kid…he apparently does the very same thing. (pause)
And how does that come across? Most often when I read this passage, I think Nathanael is pretty blunt…sometimes he strikes me as rude…and if I’m feeling particularly sensitive then his comment makes him seem like a total jerk….but here’s the funny thing…Jesus doesn’t seem to care…in fact…Jesus applauds the bluntness of Nathanael’s question. (pause)
Granted, it sort of raises the question of just how Jesus even knew about it…as they hadn’t been introduced yet…but as Nathanael walks up to Jesus along with Philip Jesus’ first words to him are “Here is truly and Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (pause) To put it in today’s terms “here’s a guy that doesn’t sugar coat it.” Or “he’s a straight shooter” or maybe “now this guy cuts the crap.” (pause)
Now the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael goes on from there…and Nathanael not only becomes a follower of Christ…but he is told about the wondrous things that he will see as a disciple. (pause)
Truly, this is a strange look at this random disciple…a man who only pops up twice in the entire Bible…and yet this is precisely the one that Jesus affirms. (pause) And why is that? Why would Jesus be so impressed by a guy who insults his hometown? (pause) You would think that Jesus would just ignore him…there’s no way he should make him a disciple…and yet that’s exactly what Jesus does.
And so this raises the question today of just what we can learn from the example of Nathanael. (pause) That rudeness is rewarded? That our prejudices against other placed is justified? (Pause) Well probably not…but maybe what we can learn from Nathanael is that doubts and questions are okay.
Isn’t that exactly what he does when Philip says the Messiah is from Nazareth…Nathanael voices his question and his concern…and his doubt…and isn’t that what it truly means to be a disciple…and to learn from someone else…to share the questions and the doubts…to bring them to someone that can shed some light on those things that confuse us about the situation…and in this case the ultimate situation…a life of faith.
Jesus doesn’t tell us that to follow him…to abide with him…to live our lives with him is going to result in every single question being answered before we ask it…or every doubt to disappear or every fear to vanish…quite the opposite actually…but when Nathanael is bold enough…or perhaps just blunt enough to share his concerns…Jesus not only welcomes the question…but he welcomes the man…and Nathanael is invited into that life of discipleship. (pause)
Now its interesting to think about all the things that Jesus tells him he will witness. Admittedly it makes me kinda jealous…I would have loved to have seen the ministry of Jesus first hand…but as we know…that distinction belongs to a rather limited number of people…but Jesus was well aware of this…and towards the end of John’s gospel he tells his disciples “you have believed because of what you have seen…but blessed are those who have not seen and have come to believe.” (pause) Jesus was talking about the spread of the gospel…about the growth of his church which began with these few disciples…and over the course of 2000 years has grown exponentially…and it has grown when someone has the gumption to share their experience…and then to invite the next person to come and see.
What we will witness in our lives of faith is often amazing…but it is also often confusing…and life is hard…and the questions and the doubts and the concerns do happen…but praise be to God that we have a savior who not only welcomes the questions and the doubts…but he praises us for asking them.
My friends, we have nothing to fear in this life…and yet how often do we find ourselves paralyzed by fear or doubt or questions…how often do we let them waylay us from doing the important work of sharing the gospel…how often do we find ourselves falling into the trap of “I can’t do that…what if they ask me something I can’t answer?” (pause) Ever been there? (pause) I know I have and certainly that’s an uncomfortable place to be…to be faced with legitimate questions that we feel ill prepared to answer. But the wonderful thing about all this is that within the body of Christ…within the relationships that we have with one another we are able…and encouraged to share our struggles…to voice our doubts…and within them to build one another up…just as Christ builds us up…and just as Christ recognized the truth within Nathanael. (pause)
Nathanael was blunt…and Jesus knew that…in fact Jesus knew Nathanael even before meeting him…just as Jesus knows each and every one of us…with all of our imperfections…and all our doubts…and all our fears…and he loves us anyway…and he calls us blessed.
Praise be to God that we don’t have to be perfect people in order to follow him…we simply need to be honest…honest with others and honest with ourselves…recognizing that we don’t have all the answers…and that we don’t have to…because Jesus still gives each of us the same invitation…Come Follow Me…Amen.

Don’t Leave Me Hanging 1-11-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 1:1,4-11 which is the story of the Baptism of Jesus, I explore His baptism from Mark’s perspective. I look at the notion that the lack of detail makes important points, and that in our baptism we are connected to Jesus.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-leave-me-hanging-1-11-15

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

A few days back, I was talking with my son, and the subject of homework came up. On this particular day, he was working on an assignment for his social studies class…one that required some online work, as well as answering the various question in a program on his computer.

As we chatted about his assignment, he made two comments. The first was “I really like social studies.” We’ll call that one a win…and the second was “Its nice doing homework on the computer.” I told him to remember that in a few years when he’s sitting there trying to crank out a 10 page paper for some assignment and getting nowhere with it.

As I think back to that conversation…I’m of course reminded of the multitude of writing that I’ve done. As a pastor I still do a fair share…weekly sermons…monthly newsletters…various devotions…and even the annual report earlier this week. And all this writing that goes on certainly reminds me of the various assignments that were required back in my seminary days…when hardly a week would go by that I wasn’t knocking out a 5-pager here…or a 15-there.

One major difference these days is that I rarely have a specific page count that I need to reach in order to complete the assignment…though that was certainly the case in school. I never really had too much trouble meeting the goal though…because as a classmate once pointed out to me…Scott…you can’t say hello in less than 100 words. (pause) And she’s right of course. (pause)

But there was also an ongoing joke with this particular classmate…a good friend of mine who is now a pastor out in North Carolina…that to fill out the requirement…it’s all in the adjectives. You can either say “God works in the world”…or you can fill up space by saying “The divine being that we call God began his extensive work at the beginning and it ever stopped but continues as He continues the ongoing work of creation within the realm that we call the physical world.” (pause) 5 words vs 37. (pause) 37 word statements get you to 15 pages a lot faster than 5…just sayin. (pause)

No perhaps you’re sitting there wondering just what this all has to do with anything here in worship…and I don’t blame you if you are…and so I’ll explain…today’s Gospel represents pretty much the polar opposite of my writing style. (pause)
Now admittedly, I’m excited today…because even though we’ve been in the Lectionary year B…the year that features the Gospel of Mark…for 7 Sundays now…my absence during the first Sunday of Advent means that I have yet to actually preach out of Mark’s gospel. (pause) And granted this is all understandable considering the seasons that we’ve gone through…Advent as we prepared for the coming Messiah and then Christmas as we celebrate his birth and then hear stories from infancy…and we can’t get those stories from Mark…because Mark doesn’t include them.

Its kinda funny how each of the gospels start…the way each author thought we needed to enter into the story that circles around this man named Jesus…this man who was also God. Luke thinks that a good starting point is just before birth…and we start off with the proclamation of the birth of both John and Jesus…and then there’s Matthew…who thinks we need to go back a little further…and so he dives in with a genealogy beginning ALL the way back with Abraham…oh and don’t forget about John who feel it necessary to begin the story of Jesus’ work in the world by taking us all the way back to the Beginning. (pause)

But Mark…well, not so much…Mark leaves out a lot of that extra stuff…because Mark is the polar opposite from me in terms of writing…while I like to heap on the detail…not unlike Matthew and Luke…Mark likes to cut to the chase…and just hit the important points…letting them speak for themselves.

And so today…here at the beginning of a new year…on our first day back into regular programming after our break…we find ourselves at the beginning of the assigned Gospel for the year…and you know what…that’s a pretty good place to start.

Now I love the opening verse of Mark 1…what many scholars believe to be just a title…The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…the Son of God. Short…to the point…but Mark leaves no confusion as to just what he’ll be talking about does he? This…is about Jesus…and we start at the beginning…and for Mark…the beginning of the gospel begins with a baptism. (pause) The baptism of Jesus…to be exact. (pause)

But in true Mark fashion…we don’t get much detail do we? We actually hear more about John than Jesus. We know John’s activity…baptizing…we know his message…repentance for the forgiveness of sins…we know his wardrobe…camel hair was all the rage in those days…and we hear about his typical menu. (pause)

But what about our Lord…you know him…the one that actually got baptized in today’s story…well all we hear about him is that he came from Galilee…and then in the mother load of all detail…we hear “and he was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (long pause)

That’s it? Umm…really? Wow…thanks Mark…you really paint a picture for us there. (pause)

Well okay…to be fair we do hear a little bit more…we hear that immediately after Jesus came out of the water the heavens were torn apart and a voice proclaims to Jesus…you are my son, the beloved…with you I am well pleased.” And that…is…it… (pause)

Perfect example of Mark’s writing style here. Lacking detail…and honestly…it really seems like a cliffhanger. We get a brief mention of the baptism itself…the Spirit comes down…God speaks up…and then nothing…and we are left hanging. (pause)

Now perhaps…just maybe Mark is doing for a specific reason…because we actually see the very same sort of thing again…we see here…at the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…and we’ll see it again 16 chapters from now…at the end…when Jesus has raised from the tomb…and the women find his grave empty…and they run off terrified and say nothing to anyone…

Talk about cliff hangers. (pause) Why would Mark do this? Why would Mark give us so little detail about these important stories…and why would he cut things off without properly explaining just what God’s up to in all this? (pause) That my friends…is a question that has been debated for centuries.

And while I’d love to provide you with some expert answer to that question…I can’t. And so perhaps all we can really do today is look at the details that Mark does give us…limited as they are…and while we do that, keep in mind that what he does tell us is probably pretty important.

First…the gospel begins as Jesus is baptized…the very same baptism that we ourselves share in. The same baptism in which the Holy Spirit comes upon us…and we are claimed by God as his beloved children. (pause) Hmm…maybe this is a little more significant than we realize. (pause)

And then maybe we better take a closer look at just what happens in the midst of this baptism. Mark loves the word “immediately.” He uses it all the time…now in our translation for today it says “just as he was coming from the water” and while that isn’t too far off…immediately really conveys the timing.

Jesus would have been under the water…fully submerged in the flowing water of the Jordan river…and we hear that immediately as he came up from the water…the instant…the second…the microsecond…that his head broke back through the surface of the water…the heavens were RIPPED APART…not just opened…like God popped open a window, or the spirit walked through a doorway…but literally ripped to pieces.

There is only one other place in Mark’s gospel where we hear this same wording…when Jesus dies and the curtain hanging in the temple…separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple…is ripped in two. (pause)

In that instant…the separation between God and humanity was eliminated…some might say that humanity could now access God…and that’s true…others might say that God was free to encounter humanity…and that’s also true…when the curtain was ripped open God was set loose in the world among us.

And today…in the instant of Jesus baptism, the heavens were ripped open…the heavens…the place where God is…the plane of existence which is totally separate from our reality…God destroyed it in order to get to his beloved child…God destroyed his reality in order to get to one that he loves.

What’s that say about God? (pause) What does that tell us about the lengths that God will go to in order to be with those that he loves…those that he cherishes. (pause).

And now what does that say about us? Because in our baptisms…we are also called beloved child of God. (pause) So maybe…just maybe…today, even though Mark fails to give us much in the way of details…and even though he cuts things off…seemingly right in the middle of this story…this story that serves as the beginning of the gospel of Christ…maybe today we are reminded that God is willing to tear heaven apart…God is willing to destroy the barrier between us and him for each and every one of us…simply because he loves us too much not to. (pause)

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ…this is the good news…that his life…his death…and his resurrection simply serve as evidence to the fact that there is no length that God will not go to for you. (pause)

And the truly remarkable thing about all this…is that God chooses to do it…its not up to us…God does it…God is the one taking action…making all of this possible. When someone is baptized…God does it. Its not the pastor or the parents…its not the sponsers…its not the grandma or the grandpa…and its certainly not the individual that’s taking the action…its God…it is the action of our creator who will go to any length to be with you…and so when the words are uttered that you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed in his love for ever…God’s the one doing the marking…God’s the one doing the sealing…and you can rest assured that the same Spirit which came upon Jesus in his baptism comes upon you in yours. (pause)

The beginning of the gospel is found in baptism…but it doesn’t end there…especially not in Mark’s gospel where we are seemingly left hanging…because the gospel goes on…and even when Mark stopped writing…the story wasn’t over yet…because the gospel is still going on…it didn’t end with Jesus death…it didn’t end with his resurrection…and it hasn’t ended now today…and because God’s story keeps going on…and because God desires for us to join with that same story…the gospel goes on…whether we’re paying attention or not…God’s not leaving us hanging. Amen.

The Big Reveal 1-4-15

This morning’s sermon is based on John 1:1-18. This is the assigned reading for the second Sunday of Christmas every year. Within the sermon I explore the notion that in Christ, God is revealed and comes into relationship with humanity. Likewise, we are revealed to him…scary as that might be.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-big-reveal-1-4-15

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

One of the big trends that has emerged in the past few years is something called either the big reveal…or the big ask. (pause) The mentality behind this new trend is a big surprise when asking an important question.

This idea has been around in terms of wedding proposals for a long time…but in the past few years it has also become the norm for asking your date to the prom, or for a bride to ask her prospective bridesmaids to stand up for her on her wedding day.

In a slightly different direction…the big reveal is also popular. Now this trend tends to happen on reality shows…often times the big make over shows…whether the Biggest Loser finale…or Extreme Makeover Home Edition…or one my wife is particularly fond of…Restaurant Impossible. At the end of the episode, we see the subject, whether a person or a house or whatever, as it used to be, and then suddenly a giant tarp drops and everyone sees the dramatic change…cue the inspirational music…and grab the Kleenex…its almost always a tear jerker.

But that’s the point of the big reveal…to be dramatic…and to introduce the change…out with the old…and in with the new…and then as the cameras cut away…its time for everyone to get used to the new big thing.

Whenever I sit and watch any of these shows, I find myself wondering just what happens when the cameras shut off…when the individuals involved really sit down and attempt to get on with their regular lives in the midst of the change…in the midst of the big reveal…in the midst of everything that is different now. And its this sense of wondering just how the change effects real life that leads me into today’s gospel lesson.

Because we’re sort of at that point right now aren’t we? That time of transition…we’re in a new year…but we’re also at the end of the season. Today’s the second Sunday of Christmas…and most of the celebrations are pretty well wrapped up…after today all the decorations will come down and the sanctuary will get back to the normal look.

And scripturally speaking it’s the same sort of thing. Jesus has been born…we’ve been joyfully celebrating that for a couple week now…but as the season wraps up, even our lessons are rapidly moving away from the manger and back into real life.

Today’s lesson is, of course, the prologue to John’s gospel, which includes John’s version of the incarnation…but this time around there are no mangers…no shepherds…no angels…none of the regular stuff that we tend to expect at Christmas…rather we simply hear that the word became flesh…the light shined in the darkness…and that God…entered our reality. God…made the big reveal. (pause)

And just how did God make this revelation? Well…the word became flesh and dwelled among us…or as Eugene Petersen wrote in the Message…the word became flesh…and moved into the neighborhood.

And when that happened…everything changed…whether we realized it or not…and now as we wrap up the season of Christmas…I think we’re in the same sort of situation that the shepherds found themselves in on Christmas Eve…after they found the baby lying in the manger…and they just headed back out to the fields and their flocks…changed…but still in the midst of their day to day lives. (pause)

And so that’s what we do…we go back into our regular lives…our students head back to school…those of us who took some vacation time at the end of the year head back to work. Here at the church education starts up again, and we get back into the normal week to week routine…

And as much as we tend to get stuck in that normal grind…things just aren’t quite the same as they used to be are they? Because there’s someone new in the neighborhood. (pause) Have you ever had new neighbors move in…maybe across the street or even right next door? And occasionally you catch a glimpse of one another…maybe driving down the street, or when we’re out mowing the lawn…or sitting on the back deck…and the interactions begin…and slowly as time goes on we get to know one another…and whether we realize it or not…we have formed a relationship with one another.

And this is why Jesus came to earth in the first place…that’s why the word became flesh…that’s why the light started shining in the darkness…because God took a look at humanity…each and every one of us…God’s own beloved creation…loved greatly…but flawed…and God wanted that relationship…but we were all so busy stumbling around…blinded by the darkness that permeates our lives that we just couldn’t notice God.

And rather than just sit off somewhere in the clouds…shrugging his shoulders and saying “Oh well,” God did something new. God broke into that crazy cycle that humanity has been stuck in ever since the beginning…and by doing it…by taking on flesh…by becoming one of us…by entering our reality…God himself was revealed through the Son…and that’s what the Gospel of John is all about.

Many of you have heard me talk about these first 17 verses of John before…the prologue…how they set up the entirety of just what John’s Gospel is all about…and how they sort of serve as a table of contents because you can read through these verses and have a decent idea of the overarching argument that John is going to make about the action of God in the world…the action taken on by his only begotten Son…a man, born of the Holy Spirit through a Virgin…the action which led directly to the cross where He would not only take on the sin of the entire world…but he would die for it…atoning for it…and then three days later he would raise again to show each and every one of us that the darkness of sin was no match for God…that when God sets his mind to fix something you can rest assured that it will happen…and that when God decides to fix the problem that was hindering the relationship between God and every single member of the human race that God will…in fact…be revealed through the very Son himself. (pause)

That’s what this prologue is all about…that’s what John tells us in these 17 verses…that God…the word…the light…the one that first created the world…has now entered it and in doing so God…full of grace and truth is revealed.

And you know what…that’s just a little bit scary…Don’t get me wrong…its wonderful at the same time…and it gives me great joy and it gives me great hope to know that the creator of the entire universe loves me enough to take on flesh with all of its issues…and all of its faults…and all its emotions and problems…and God was willing to do this just so I could get to know him.

But the really scary thing about all this…its not so much that through the Son…through God made flesh, I could get to know God…but it’s the flip side…that when God is revealed to me in the relationship made possible through Christ…at the very same time…I am revealed to God…and God gets me WAY better than I get him. (pause)

That’s what relationship is all about…together we get to know each other…but the difference here is that my understanding of God…which is possible through Christ…is still limited by my humanness. That are limits to what I can comprehend…to what I can understand…and God goes FAR beyond those limits…and that is why God became human…God became tangible…God became something that I can wrap my feable human brain around.

But…while I’m doing that…within the relationship made possible by Christ, God knows me intimately…and while God may take great delight in those good aspects of my life and character…I often times find myself quaking in my boots to think that God also knows the dark side of Scott Dalen. He knows my thoughts before I think them…he knows my negative emotions before I experience them…he knows the hurt that I carry and cause before I do. (Pause) Because God and I have been revealed to one another in Jesus Christ…I have no secrets that I can keep from God…whether I want to or not…

And this truth…this scary realization…is true not only for me…but for you as well…whether we know it or not. (pause) John tells us that Christ came to his own…and his own did not know him…and there’s a lot of debate about just who “his own” refers to…but at this point, when he came into the world…he was human…God was human…and therefore I believe that “his own” means humanity…it means us…it means that he is here for each and every one of us whether we acknowledge it or not.

In your relationship with God…made possible through Christ…revealed through Christ in whatever way it has taken shape within your life…you are intimately known…you are intimately revealed…to God…the good and the bad…

And if that notion scares you just a little bit…its okay…because in all honesty…when we take good hard look at ourselves…illuminated by the perfect light of Christ shining upon us…we see the dirt too…and if we see…then God does too.

But it is for this very purpose that the perfect light of Christ shines upon us…not to make us feel dirty or exposed…but to help us realize that we need a savior…and that very savior is the source of the light in the first place.

God entered this world to help us see just how much we needed God to enter this world….and this work is ongoing. Because the light shined in the darkness…and while the darkness has not overcome it…the darkness is also not gone yet. And so the work of God continues and through the only begotten Son, He continues to be revealed to us…just as we continue to be revealed to him. And for those of us who have experienced this…everything is different now.

And so I pose the question to you today…as we kick off a new year…one full of all kinds of unknown opportunities…one full of joys and sorrows yet to be revealed…will you take the joy of Christ with you? I hope so…so that maybe…just maybe…the light of Christ will reflect through your life…and someone else will experience God’s big reveal in theirs. Amen.