Archive for February, 2015

One Big Wilderness 2-22-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 1:9-15, and features the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness…always the featured story for the first Sunday of Lent. I explore the temptation and what it means for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/one-big-wilderness-2-22-15

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
This past week holds an interesting distinction for me…this week I had the opportunity to write 2 different sermons at home. First my sermon for Ash Wednesday which I wrote on Monday…and then since the kids were out of school on Friday, I wrote this one at home as well.
And as can sometimes be the case…I was stuck on this one for a pretty good chunk of the day…and so finally at one point I asked the kids “Hey guys…what should I preach about on Sunday?” Jack suggested that I just not do it…which was sort of tempting…but then Ava piped up with her idea… “Kittens.” (pause)
Now here’s the crazy thing…we never know what God is going to use to spark off an idea…but in this case…kittens was the spark. Because as I sat there thinking about the domesticated cat and their offspring, I was reminded of many instances where cats show their wild side. There have been the recent “dear kitten” commercials produced by Friskies…one of which involves the cat going all ninja crazy town on the dog…this in turn makes me think of our cat and her odd tendency to simply go off on Emily…you may pet me 3 time…no more…or I will bite you. (pause)
But finally, this got me thinking about an article that I had read not so long ago that named house cats…yes…house cats…as the single most dangerous, diverse, equal opportunity hunter in the world. Cats are responsible for the deaths of more birds and small animals than any other predator out there. (pause) And when I remembered that I realized that cats are the best representative of what today’s gospel lesson calls the wild beasts. (pause)
Now if today’s story sounds somewhat familiar, it should…this particular passage in Mark is highlighted three separate times within the first few months of the lectionary this year. We heard the first portion at the baptism of Jesus back in January…and we heard the final portion when Jesus proclaims that the kingdom has come near shortly after that when Jesus calls the first disciples…and now we hear it all again…simply because it also includes the temptation of Jesus…as this story happens to be the featured lesson for the first Sunday of Lent each and every year.
And why is that you ask? Is it because Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and Lent is 40 days? Maybe. Is it a reminder that even Jesus endured dark times which serves as a reminder for this dark season? Again, maybe. Or maybe, in the long run there isn’t really a good explanation and we simply accept that every year at this time we’re going to hear the story of the temptation.
But now here’s the kicker…Mark, as we’ve discussed before is kind of stickler when it comes to detail…he just doesn’t include much of anything does he? And because of this…maybe that’s why we get the overlap of two other stories that we’ve already heard and focused on in the past 6 weeks…simply because the lectionary needed to add a little filler into the gospel lesson for the week.
In all honesty, if this week is supposed to cover the temptation in the wilderness…we could have stuck with the two verses in the middle…And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him…period…end of story. (pause)
That’s it? Really? Come on Mark…you gotta give us something…no details about the 3 temptations themselves…no back and forth verbal sparing with Satan…Jesus doesn’t endure and then bark an order to “Depart from me Satan!” (pause)
Seriously…the lack of anything even remotely resembling details of just what’s happening out there in the wilderness is devastating…once again we’ve got nothing to go on…All we know is that Satan’s there…and animals are there…and Jesus is there…and it was the prompting of the Spirit that got him there in the first place. (pause)
Oh hold on now…just a second here…anyone remember the last time we bumped something like this? I actually think it was the story of Jesus’ baptism a few weeks back…and in that instance it seems like I mentioned that since Mark says so little, we REALLY need to pay attention to what he does say.
And Mark tells us that immediately following his baptism…the Holy Spirit DROVE him into the wilderness…we could also say that the Spirit CAST HIM OUT into the wilderness…and I don’t know about you…but that seems pretty harsh…that the spirit of God got a little physical with Jesus, just as he himself would later get physical with demons…not to mention all the merchants and money changers in the temple…same deal…the Spirit…almost violently takes Jesus out of civilization and out into the wilderness.
And he’s not alone…because Satan’s there…instantly…right away…immediately following his baptism Jesus comes under fire…Jesus is subject to temptation…and its not limited to 3 different temptations…we don’t hear of three isolated things that Satan smacks ol’ JC with…no, Mark tells us that he is tempted for 40 days…apparently non-stop…and in the midst of all that…there’s dangerous animals around…this is no pleasant setting that Jesus finds himself in.
He’s in physical danger…and he’s in spiritual danger…and all of this at the whim of the Holy Spirit. (pause) And when we realize all that, perhaps it gives us a moment of pause…and the question creeps into our mind…wait a sec, the Spirit drove him out to where he was going to tempted…does that mean that God wanted Jesus tempted? And if so…does that mean that God wants us to be tempted? (pause)
Did anyone else go there? Or was it just me? Does anyone else hear this and squirm just a little bit…wondering just what in the heck we are supposed to take from this? (pause) Because surely we can start to see a lot of similarities here. Jesus was baptized…Jesus was tempted…and Jesus was in the wilderness…and in our lives…we experience a lot of the same stuff…because we live our lives in the midst of wilderness…perhaps not a physical one…but we certainly find ourselves in the midst of a spiritual wilderness within our regular lives don’t we? Times when we feel alone…or times when we feel surrounded by enemies…times when it feels like everything and everyone is a predator just waiting…stalking us…seeking to move in for the kill. (pause)
Does that sound familiar to anyone out there? I imagine so, because for many of you, I’m familiar with your stories…I know some of the things that you’re experiencing…some of the things that you are walking through…and perhaps it seems like there is no end in sight. (pause)
Now Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days…a month plus…and I’m guessing that in the midst of the temptations…in the midst of the testing that he endured at the hands of Satan, it probably seemed like there was no end in sight for him too. (pause)
And so once more, I beg the question…was this the will of God…for Jesus to be alone out there…for Jesus to be subject to the attacks of Satan…and if it was, does God intend the same for us? (pause) And my answer to that question…is no…because Jesus wasn’t alone was he?
And I’m not just talking about Satan or the animals…but I’m talking about the angels…throughout this entire ordeal, Jesus was…not…alone…and neither are we. (pause)
Now at this point I could say that we aren’t alone simply because Jesus faced temptation…not only facing it but overcoming it…and because of that we have a God who has experienced the same temptations we do…and while I believe that is true…that’s not what prompts me to say that we are not alone…
And its also not because Jesus had angels with him…because when we are in the midst of temptation…I’ve never looked around and seen a glimmering dude with wings and a halo backing me up…but yet I will still say it…we are not alone.
And I say this because of the mission of Jesus Christ…not just to endure temptation…not just to live and perform miracles…not to gain a following and then die on a cross…but the mission of Jesus Christ was to enable relationship. Remember that all of this happened at the prodding of the Spirit which had entered into him at his baptism…the Spirit of God was with Jesus throughout this ordeal…because in the Father Son and Holy Spirit we see that even God is in relationship and we remember that God desires us to be in that relationship as well…and not just between himself and us as individuals…but between us as fellow believers as well.
Not only did Jesus’ death and resurrection enable us to once again be in relationship with our heavenly father…the one who calls us his beloved child just as he called Jesus the beloved…but his death and resurrection also made it possible for us as sinful people to forgive the hurts that we cause one another and come into blessed relationship with one another.
This is fellowship…this is community…this is togetherness and remember even in the midst of the wilderness and temptation at the hands of Satan…Jesus experienced community. And take heart in knowing that this community is where we seek aid…where we seek support in those instances when we experience our own temptations in the midst of our day to day wilderness. (pause)
And so I’ll ask it one more time…does God intend for us to experience temptation in our wilderness? And I believe the answer to that question is no…but God is aware that we will experience it…and so He has provided us with the means to endure it…and in those times when we do fail…when we fall to temptation…he has also given us the means to hear the words of forgiveness…to hear the words of grace made possible through Jesus Christ…to know that our sin no longer holds sway over us…
And so…during this season of Lent…these 40 dark days that mirror the 40 days of darkness that Jesus endured in the wilderness…let us join together as a community…let us support one another and pray for one another…so that we too might be sustained…just as the angels sustained Jesus…and at the end of those 40 days, we will emerge into the glory of the resurrected Christ…who has made it possible for us to join in his victory over Satan. Amen.

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Turn Away From Turning Away…Ash Wednesday 2-18-15

This sermon, which occurred in the context of Ash Wednesday, is based on Joel 2:1-2, 12-17. In the sermon I explore the call that God gives us to acknowledge our sin and turn away from it and back to God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/turn-away-from-turning-away-2-18-15

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 heard the expression, life imitates art? In a moment of personal disclosure, I fought this sermon tooth and nail…not that I didn’t want to write it, but because I didn’t want to write it on Monday, which is normally my day off…yet the longer the day went on the more my mind kept coming back around to this sermon…to the need to write it…I just kept dwelling on it and as much as continued to try and blow it off and relax…that just didn’t happen…and before long I was pacing the house…round and round…lap after lap…cycle after cycle. (pause)
And the more I thought about it, the more the notion of cycles seemed to be significant…because life is just full of cycles…and the more I pondered on that particular thought…the more I got to thinking about a theme that has emerged this year in the class I teach on Sunday mornings with the confirmation students and the adult forum.
Those of you who have sat through those class will likely recognize this cycle as we’ve talked about it over and over again…but in particular we discussed this cycle early in the program year…starting last fall…as we discussed the narrative found throughout the Old Testament.
The people follow God…things go well…time passes…the people turn away from God…things stop going well…things start to get bad…things remain bad…the people can’t figure out why things are going bad…then the people remember God…the people turn back towards God…God once again blesses the people as they are following God…things go well…time passes…repeat…repeat…repeat. (pause)
Now perhaps I’m just keenly aware of this idea because tonight I’m preaching out of an Old Testament passage…and not just a regular Old Testament passage…but a prophetic passage…and not just any prophetic passage…but one of the passages featured in the category known as the minor prophets…namely the short books found towards the end of the Old Testament from prophets that we just don’t know much about. (Pause) And of course…I’m talking about the passage from the prophet Joel that I shared a moment ago. And here’s the skinny on Joel…we know hardly anything about him…period. We know his name and his father’s name…and that’s pretty much it. Scholars will tell you that Joel was active at some point between 2 and 10 centuries before Christ…so we’ve got a nice 800 year window of history…a history full of that very cycle that I talked about a moment ago…The people follow God, the people forget God, the people turn away from God.
And so as I thought about this passage in preparation for this evening, I found that it was extremely difficult to try and place this passage in any sort of context that might just help connect it into our lives…simply because we know so little about it…but then I kept thinking about the cycle…going round and round and round again…both the people through the history of the Old Testament as well as my own pacing round and round…
And as I pondered on this cycle itself…I got to thinking about what Joel is instructing the people to do…declare a fast…call an assembly…bring together the people…and in the midst of bringing everyone together…we hear the word of the Lord “Return to me with all your heart.” (pause)
In this random moment, at some unknown point in the history of the Jewish people…in the midst of that cycle that repeated time after time…we find ourselves at the point when the people turn away from what ever it is that has captured their attention…whatever it is that has pulled them away from the Lord…and now they are turning back towards God. (pause)
This notion of turning back…or turning away from that which captures our attention…this is where the theme of repentance comes from. A theme that has been present throughout Old Testament history…and one that comes all the way through the New Testament…and right up to today…because to repent means…quite literally…to turn away.
And its funny because the idea of turning away can really be found on both sides of the coin in terms of the cycle that we live out in our lives…because everyone…turns away from God…everyone gets distracted by something…or places something above God…everyone across the board…and when its gets right down to it…that’s sin…that is what hinders us…that is what stands in the way of our relationship with our maker…and none of us are immune to it…and because of this…because all of humanity is caught by the power of sin…we all turn from God…and because we turn away from God…God calls us to turn back…to fix our attention back to the one that has made us… (pause)
But at the same time…as easy as that sounds…in theory…we all know just how impossible it is to pull it off…we can’t do it on our own…and because of this…because of the human need to place ourselves above God…because of our inability to due to the will of God…all of humanity has been cursed by sin…with death. (pause)
And today is a day…one of the few in the church year…when we sit back…and acknowledge it…Ash Wednesday…Good Friday…and funerals when they happen…and when we stop and think about it…that’s really about it….maybe because death is painful…because death is the ultimate separation…and it is…any of us who have lost loved ones knows this…death creates a barrier that we cannot cross…and God knows this too…because death is the result of sin…death is the result of the broken relationship that humanity has experienced with God…death is the result of humanity turning away from God…not because we want to or that we chose to…but because we live an existence that itself has already turned from God. (pause) That’s the power of sin…not some bad thing that we say or do…but an active evil within existence…and active evil which has taken hold of us and offers us no hope of escaping by anything that we can say or do or accomplish. (pause)
Yet there is one that can do something…there is one that can overcome this separation…and that is God…and so as the prophet Joel tells us…we turn to the one who can do something…as we recognize whatever it is that holds our attention and has caused us to turn from God…and we turn away from that…back to God…we turn away from turning away…
This is repentance…this is turning away…and returning our attention…our devotion…our love to the one who can act on our behalf…who has already acted on our behalf…and who is still acting on our behalf…and we look towards the saving grace of God found in Jesus Christ…not the man who did the miracles…not the great teacher or healer…but to God himself who took all that sin and all the death and all the darkness upon himself as he hung on the cross…dying in our place…but then going beyond it so that one glorious day we may join with him in the resurrection…fully forgiven of the sin that entangles…of this sin that captures our attention…of the sin that turns us from God. (pause)
Now here’s the thing…the resurrection of Jesus is an amazing thing…it is a life altering…not to mention a death altering story…one full of hope and joy…And just last Sunday, this was the story that we discussed downstairs in confirmation…and after the lesson was over, and we gathered in groups to talk a little more about it…I was sitting with the adults…and rather than focus on the resurrection itself…our discussion centered on death…and that was hard…I think it was hard for all of us as we sat there…and for some it was harder than others…perhaps due to personal circumstances…and personal history.
And as I thought about that discussion, I wondered just what it was that took us from the glory of the resurrection back to the pain of death…and then I realized that we can’t get to the resurrection without experiencing the death first. Jesus couldn’t be raised from the dead until he was dead…likewise…we can’t join with Jesus in a resurrection like his until we experience our own death…and make no mistake…we will…because the wages of sin are death…and our belief in Christ as our savior does not excuse us from it…but it does open the door to what lies beyond it… (pause)
This is why we acknowledge death…because it is a reality…one that we will all share…and this is why in a few moments we will each hear the words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is death that we are talking about…but because of the saving of love of God expressed through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are able to turn away from it…we are able to turn away when we hear the words that we are forgiven.
And so tonight…immediately after you hear those words that acknowledge your own death…you will also hear the words the body and blood of Jesus Christ given for you for the forgiveness of sins. (pause) We acknowledge our sin…we turn from our sin…and we find the grace of God…not because we earn it…not because we’re entitled to it…but because God chooses it. (pause)
So over the course of the next several weeks, as together we travel through this dark season of Lent…the season that culminates on Good Friday with the death of Jesus Christ…remember this…we have to go through death to get to the resurrection…we have to go through the pain and the fear and the darkness…not as punishment…not as penance…but simply because it exists…but praise God that through Christ…through his death…there is something more and he has promised…that we…will…receive it. Because through the death of Jesus, God has made it possible each and every day for us to turn away from turning away…and so Even Now, declares the Lord…return to me with all your heart. Amen

God WILL Be Seen 2-15-15

This sermon is based on Mark 9:2-9, which is the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. In the sermon I explore the confusing nature of this story, and go on to talk about how God will be revealed to humanity just not in the way that we might expect.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/god-will-be-seen-2-15-15

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.
For any of you sitting out there today that have spent more than about 5 minutes with me…it will come as no great shock that I’m extraordinarily extraverted. I love people…I love interacting with people on many different levels…but on the flip side, there are moments when I also need to be by myself…just to sit and be.
Some of you have heard me talk about this as well…how my daily ritual involves taking the kids over to school and then before crossing the parking lot to the office I grab a cup of coffee and sit in the living room for a few moments. Now over the course of the past couple of months, with the days shorter and the sun far to the south, my spot in the chair has been pretty dim. But just the other day, I sat down in my chair and discovered to my delight…that as we inch towards spring, the sun is moving back into my line of sight.
As I sat down in my chair…I looked out the big picture window that faces east…and got the full blast of the sun in my face…and it…was…glorious. I instantly felt my face warm up…and I just felt content…but…I couldn’t see anything. Because as wonderful as it felt…I was blinded by the light…that life giving light from the sun. (pause)
And in that moment, as I was basking in the blinding glory of the sun…I felt like Peter…basking in the life giving glory of God’s son in today’s story. (pause) Today’s story features the transfiguration…a moment in the gospel when three of the disciples catch a glimpse of the divine within the man. (pause)
Now our story starts off with a bit of a strange comment…that its 6 days later…ummm okay…well 6 days later than what? And actually, this is a really important question to ask…because if we shift backwards in the story, we find an important exchange between Jesus and Peter…Jesus has asked who the disciples think that he is…they’ve been together for a long time at this point…and in a Spirit-inspired moment…Peter makes the ultimate confession…Jesus…you are the Messiah…but up to this point…all anyone knows about Jesus is that he’s human…truly he’s got some remarkable God-given abilities…but he’s human. (pause)
And now 6 days later…Jesus heads up the mountain…and he brings Peter along with James and John…and in this unique moment…they discover the ultimate truth about Jesus…about the one that Peter has called the Messiah…when Jesus is transfigured before them. (pause)
Now here’s the thing…the transfiguration is kinda hard to figure out….what does it really mean anyway…when Jesus is transfigured? Honestly we don’t get a ton of detail…the original languages gives us just a tiny bit of insight…as we hear the word metamorthey…or metamorphosis as we commonly know it…Now metamorphosis indicates change…a new form…a new appearance…and anyone who has seen the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly knows that this is a permanent change…but just what it is that changes about Jesus’ appearance we don’t know…we don’t hear…and really the only other notion of just what’s happening that we hear about is that his clothes become dazzling white…such as no launderer on Earth could make them. Umm…okay…so apparently this is a white that goes far beyond our comprehension of bright….but that’s all the detail we get.
And so, if you’re anything like me…and you try to wrap your head around just what it is that the three disciples actually witnessed that day…perhaps you find it a bit of a head scratcher…this moment when the divine shines through the human. (pause)
Now I’ve heard a lot of different sermons on the transfiguration…I’ve even preached a few myself…and often times preachers will try to explain it away…they’ll try to help people understand just what’s happening…just what’s being revealed…but you know what…maybe…just maybe we aren’t supposed to understand just what’s going on here…the three disciples sure didn’t…and they were the ones who saw it…maybe what they saw goes far beyond our human ability to comprehend…because not only was Jesus changed…and his divine spotlight turns on….but in the same moment Moses and Elijah show up…the two men that tradition tells us represent the law and the prophets…the guiding principles of Jewish life and tradition are standing here in conversation with the messiah who’s ultimate nature is blinding the very people that he brought with him to see it. (pause)
Crazy huh? That Jesus had actually invited these three guys to come along…and witness this event…this event which did nothing but confuse them…and we know it confused them…because Peter…the very person who had made the ultimate confession of Jesus’ identity, calling him messiah…is now unable to comprehend just what the heck is going on…and promptly puts his foot in his mouth. (pause)
But as Peter makes this statement…Lord its good to be here…let me throw up some tents for you and Moses and Elijah and we’ll all just camp out here for awhile…he’s simply trying to allow himself the time to figure out what’s happening…I’m guessing James and John were probably thinking the same sort of thing…but they don’t get that chance do they…because the instant that Peter starts blabbing…God interrupts…with a cloud that envelops them…that utterly surrounds them…what I can only imagine to be the thickest fog that any person has ever experienced…and their vision is cut off…and the blinding nature of Jesus’ divinity shining through…is cut off…and only then, does God reveal the truth of Jesus identity. This is my Son, the Beloved.” (pause)
And in that instant…when the truth of his identity is revealed by God, the vision is over, but Jesus remains. (pause) Now we don’t know if the transfiguration…the change…the metamorphosis is permanent or not…does he still look different? Are his clothes still blindingly white? (pause) We don’t know…the gospels don’t tell us…and so we come back around to the confusion of the transfiguration…and so maybe, just maybe its okay if we give up on trying to explain it…to understand it…and simply accept that it happened. (pause)
But if we’re gonna do that, then we have to ask the question of just where do we go from here…and perhaps the best answer to that question is to follow the direction that God gave us…This is my son…listen to him. (pause) And what does Jesus say? (pause) Don’t tell anyone about this until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. (pause)
Weird huh? These three guys have just seen something amazing…something that they can’t comprehend…that they can’t understand…you’d think that the first thing they would do would be to talk about it…to try and makes heads or tails of what they have just experienced…but they can’t (pause)
And they can’t…because God hasn’t really been revealed yet…yes it seems as if the divine nature was shining through the human…but we can’t comprehend it…its too much for us…we’re blinded by it just like I was blinded by the sun the other morning as I sat with my coffee cup…the divinity of the Son is blinding to our limited human understanding. (pause)
But if the story of the transfiguration teaches us anything today…its that God WILL…be seen by us. God WILL be revealed to humanity…and the truth of Jesus’ identity…of Jesus’ divinity will also be revealed…but not by sight…because its too much for us.
Peter James and John learned the truth…once the fog rolled in and their sight was cut off…because we don’t see the identity of Jesus…we don’t see God in plain site…its too much for us. (pause) But God will be revealed through Jesus…just not quite yet. (pause)
Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany…three days from now is Ash Wednesday…the beginning of Lent…as we embrace the darkness and begin the dark journey towards the cross…and that is where we find Jesus…that is where we discover God.
Jesus told the 3 disciples not to talk about this experience until he had been raised from the dead…because the truth of God…this God who WILL be seen…is revealed in the darkness that fell as Jesus was hanging on that cross…the darkness that fell as he died. (pause)
This God…our God…this God who WILL be seen is not revealed in plain site…our God is revealed when he shows us that there is no length that he will not go to for us…even to the point of death…and even beyond it. (pause)
So today remember this…we have a God who chose to set aside all traces of divinity and take on flesh as one of us…and there were moments when that divine nature came blasting through in ways that blind us…that go far beyond our ability to understand. So don’t look for the divine to be revealed in plain site…rather, we find the divine…we find the presence of our God in the midst of the darkness…in the midst of pain…in the midst of suffering…and in the midst of death…because our God chooses to enter into it to in order to reveal himself to us.
And we need only to look back at our story today to confirm this…because in the midst of all that happened on the mountain…every confusing bit of it…every blinding instant…Jesus was with them…and when it was over…and they were trying to make heads or tails of what just happened…Jesus was still them…and when they journeyed towards the cross…Jesus was with them…and then after he died, he rose again…and he did this to show them that in the midst of everything, even death and whatever lies beyond it…that Jesus…that God…is with them…and we hear it today so that we know the same truth…that God…is with us. Amen.

Have You Found Jesus? 2-8-15

In this sermon, I explore Mark 1:29-39. Jesus has been active in Capernaum, but when everyone starts looking for him, he decides to leave. Apparently Jesus isn’t open to “being found.”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/have-you-found-jesus-2-8-15

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
Rituals are…at times…a wonderful thing…something that we do for a specific purpose as a reminder…or as a way of maintaining a connection. (pause) But at other times…a ritual is something that needs to happen as a way to maintain order.
I got to thinking about this second type of ritual the other day as I was preparing this message…and as I thought about it…I recognized a ritual that has formed over at my house…one that is enacted pretty much every night just before we head off to bed…finding the cat.
You see…the kids head off to bed earlier than my wife and I do…and its pretty normal that when we put our daughter to bed, that we leave her door open so that light will come in from the hallway while she’s falling asleep. But we always try to close her door when we go to bed…and this is because of our cat.
If any of you are cat owners…you know that they have the tendency to be independent and not controllable. They go where they want when they want…and often times this roaming around happens at night. We discovered pretty quickly that when the cat decides to roam into Ava’s room in the middle of the night…she wakes up…and that means everyone wakes up…and so, the simple solution, since we can’t just tell the cat to stay out of there…is to pull her door shut…but before we can do that…we also have to make sure that the cat hasn’t already ventured in there and curled up in her room somewhere…and yes this is a common occurrence…and so, pretty much every night as we’re shutting all the lights off we ask the question…have you found the cat?
And we never know just where she might be hiding…sometimes out in the open, or other times she’s curled up somewhere secretive and it takes us awhile to find her. And as I was thinking about that, I remembered an old Far Side comic that I saw once…there’s an open in a house, and the lady who lives there is at the front door where she is greeted by a couple of missionaries asking her “Have you found Jesus?” (pause) Now the first time I saw this I wondered what was supposed to be so funny…until I looked a little closer to discover a pair of feet decked out in sandals hiding behind the curtain…because Jesus was hiding…waiting to be found.
And apparently in the world of this particular comic…Jesus, much like my cat…needs to be hunted for…needs to be found. (pause) Now that obviously draws us into today’s scripture lesson…now today’s story is yet another direct continuation of the ongoing narrative of Mark chapter 1. Following last week’s lesson where Jesus has been in the synagogue casting out a particularly troublesome demon, he and his disciples head across the street into Peter’s house where Jesus first heals Peter’s mother in law…and then a little later on in the day the entire city crowds around the door watching as Jesus heals person after person…casting out demon after demon.
And then…following all of this, early the next morning…long before sunup…Jesus rolls out of bed…walks out of town in the surrounding wilderness to get himself just a little bit of God time…and as we see…his departure, is not well received in Capernaum. (pause)
The first things we hear is that Peter and the other disciples…however many of them there might have been at this point…are hunting for Jesus…and we also hear that they are not alone. And you know what…the notion of hunting for Jesus strikes me as significant…because there’s really nothing gentle and passive about hunting is there? Any hunters out there will likely agree with me…its something that you’ve got to really go after…to hunt for something means you are fully invested in everyway…you are dedicated all of your energy into finding whatever it is that you’re hunting for.
And as I mentioned…Peter and the rest of the crew aren’t the only ones on the hunt for Jesus…we hear that EVERYONE…is looking for him…Everyone…and once Jesus find out that he’s been targeted…he tells the crew…hey guys…lets head out…we’ve got work to do elsewhere. (pause)
And you know what…that’s always struck me as a little odd. Clearly the people of Capernaum want Jesus to stick around…they seem open to what he has to say and they certainly appreciate the miracles that he’s been dolling out…and so, it raises the question of just why Jesus wants to skedattle out of there. You’d think he want to stick around…clearly he’s got a receptive audience now…all it took was casting out a few demons…curing a few fevers and now he’s good to go right? (pause)
But that’s not how Jesus reacts is it…Jesus doesn’t seem to like being hunted…he doesn’t like it that everyone is searching intently for him…and I often time wonder just why that is…and perhaps we can start to find the answer to that question if we stop and think about the season of the church year that we’re in right now.
Today is of course, just about the end of Epiphany…just one more week and then we hint Lent…and think for a moment about just what Epiphany means…it started back in January when the 3 wise men followed a star which revealed the Christ child to them…and all the way through this season…short though it may be this year…we been hearing story after story of how Christ is revealed within the world…of how God in human form becomes known. (pause)
Never do we hear about how Jesus is found by anyone…about how the Christ is simply identified by anyone…Christ…God…Jesus…is always revealed to someone…Christ is never found…because he is the one that does the finding.
Christ is the one that walked up to Peter and Andrew along the seashore and said follow me…he found them…not the other way around…and likewise…it was Jesus who revealed himself to the people of Capernaum…and he did so through those miracles that he performed the night before he headed off into the wilderness.
And so, the next morning…as all these people are seeking him out…we have to stop and think about their motivation…did they really want to hear more about kingdom of God…or did they simply want this magical healer to stick around and take care of any problems that they might experience.
I fear that the people of Capernaum were trying to find Jesus on their terms…they were trying to put him in a box…to limit what he was in the world to do…and to keep him for themselves. (pause) But just like my cat has a mind of her own…and goes where she will and refuses to play by my rules…Jesus isn’t going to be contained either.
That’s why he takes his disciples out into the neighboring towns…because that’s what he’s here to do…not to get stuck in healing mode…though he certainly does a lot of that…but to continue to reveal the truth that the kingdom of God has come near…and to continue to free individuals from those things that hinder their live in relationship with God.
And as we realize that…perhaps we need to stop and think about our own motivations when we seek God. Are we seeking God in order to seek his will…to spread his gospel…or as I fear…do we all too often fall in the trap of seeking God when we need something from him? Do we seek to put God in a box…to keep God limited to our terms? (pause)
I pose that question…because I think we all fall in that trap sometimes…and its not only important to avoid placing limitations upon God…but its vital to realize that God…will not…be controlled. We cannot place God in a box….we cannot keep God limited to what we think is right…because God will not be hindered.
This is the good news that Jesus came to proclaim when he said that the kingdom of God has come near…We have a God who not only spoke the entire universe into existence simply because he chose to…but we have a God who set aside EVERYTHING…and became human like us…simply in order to be with us…because He wants us to be in the kingdom along with him…and by become human…by taking on flesh and dwelling among us…God utterly destroyed those human limitations that hinder us from taking an active role in the kingdom…from finding a living relationship together with our maker….and since we all know that we just can’t do anything to get ourselves up there…he gave up everything to come down here…and this is what he seeks to reveal to us. (pause)
This is why he proclaimed the gospel…and this is why we are called to proclaim that same gospel that we have first received…so that one day all may hear it…and one day the glorious truth of that gospel will be revealed to everyone.
We don’t find Jesus…Jesus finds us…Jesus reveals himself…to us…no matter how hard we try to make it work the other way around. So don’t ask the question “Have you found Jesus…” Rather, ask yourself “Has Jesus…found me?” Amen.

Freedom From What Captures You 2-1-15

This morning’s sermon comes from Mark 1:21-28. Jesus encounters a demon possessed man and gives us an example of his authority.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/freedom-from-what-catches-you-2-1-15

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 had one of those times when there was something really important that you needed to work on…something pressing that really needed your attention…but no matter how hard you tried to get to it, no matter how good your intentions are…you just can’t seem to sit down and take care of it? Because no matter how hard you try…other stuff keeps getting in the way…keeping you occupied…catching your attention…That ever happened to any of you? (pause)
It happened to me in a big bad way this week. Many of you know that I spent the majority of the week up in St Paul MN at a conference…and because of that…a lot of my normal weekly work either got done ahead of time…or it sort of got shunted to the background.
One thing that fell into the shunted category was getting my sermon written…as you have maybe heard, Friday is my normal writing day, but that just wasn’t going to be an option this time around as I was in the conference until lunch time, and then had the rather lengthy drive back down here to Underwood taking up the rest of the day…but I knew that I would have the opportunity to get to it a day late, as my family was heading off to visit some family over the weekend…and I would be by myself.
And so, my plan when I rolled out of bed yesterday morning was to hit the sermon…and then pick away at a few other things before settling in to a long day of Netflix binging…but that is not…what ended up happening.
All day long…other stuff kept catching me. A quick trip into the office got lengthy with various discussions with Tonya…and my mind was all over the map thinking about different projects that are pending for different things. And then my phone kept ringing…over and over again I kept getting interrupted…then the pending weather caught my attention for a while…and finally, just as I thought it was time to start writing…I ended up discovering the last piece of tax information for the year…and so I spent all afternoon taking care of our taxes…all the while…I kept walking past my work computer…just sitting there waiting for me to sit down and start writing…just waiting patiently for me to untangle myself from everything else that kept catching me. (pause)
Now perhaps you’re wondering just what my day of constant interruption has to do with the story of Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue…a fair question…and the connection lies within the notion of being caught…because we see an example of that today.
Here we are…still very early in Jesus’ ministry here in Mark’s gospel…the baptism has happened…the wilderness temptation is over…the disciples are following along behind…and now…for the first time…we actually see Jesus in action…as he takes up the post of teacher in the synagogue on this particular Sabbath day. We don’t know what he’s talking about in the midst of the people that day…but we do hear that his teaching must be effective as Mark shares the astonishment of the people…and the fact that they recognize his teaching as having authority…but I find myself wondering just what this authority looks like…because we don’t seem to hear it in the details that Mark shares. (pause)
Yet in the midst of this scene…chaos ensues…as a man possessed by a particularly loud and violent demon erupts within the calm. (pause) Imagine that for a moment…imagine that as we sit here in worship today suddenly someone jumps up out of their pew…or perhaps comes bursting into the back of the sanctuary…screaming and shaking. (pause) Now with the Superbowl happening in a few short hours we might first think that its just some crazed fan getting geared up a little early…but something tells me that the reality of the situation would quickly set in…and we would all recognize just how dire this situation is.
Because this man was possessed…not just that he had a weird moment…but rather…this demon has completely captured this man…the demon has taken control of his body…of his speech…whatever is going on here…this man…is a captive. (pause)
Now I need to stop for a moment and talk about demons…because I think this is a subject that’s probably just a bit spooky for all of us…something that makes us just a little bit uncomfortable when we start to think about it…either that or we simply try to dismiss the notion of demons…just leaving them back there in the ancient days…because its just something that we never notice in this day and age. (pause)
Or do we? (Pause) I’ll admit it…I don’t know a ton about demons…but I do think they’re out there…I do…but I also think that demons are something that go far beyond our comprehension. Who’s to say that demons haven’t just gotten sneaky…hiding behind a wall of mental illness diagnosis…or physical ailments…We hear that this particular demon liked to shout out and that it shook the man violently…when we hear this…perhaps the idea of turret’s syndrome and epilepsy come to mind.
Sometimes I think it’s a little dangerous when we try to explain away the odd…or perhaps the somewhat scary things that happen in the scriptures…and by trying to do just that…we ourselves are getting caught up in the need for explanation.
And getting caught is exactly what was going on here…regardless of the explanation…this demon had interrupted the regular life of this man…it stopped him from living his life in the fullness intended by his maker…in short…this man was completely caught. (pause)
How often do we find ourselves in a similar situation…how often do we find our lives interrupted by something…something that seems to hold our attention…that stands in the way of us living out our days with joy and peace…because we are completely focused on whatever it is that captures us? (pause)
There’s a lot of stuff out there that can capture us isn’t there…for some…we’re captured by fear…fear of the unknown…or fear of a diagnosis…or of a lost job…others are captured by pride…completely blinded by the constant need to be right…to be in charge…others may be captured by doubt…or by envy…or by anger or lust…we live in a world of constant interruptions…and I’m not just talking about the general busyness of life…but when we stop and take a moment to really think about it…don’t we see that we are all completely entangled in something…I think we all are…I think everyone of us has something that captures us so completely that it dominates us…whether for a moment…or for a lifetime…there is always something coming after us…something that’s working with every ounce of its being to catch us…to tie us up…to hinder the life that is intended for us… (pause)
But…within our passage today…we are given a glimpse of the authority that has come into the world…the authority that has the power to do something about all this stuff that seeks to capture us…and that authority rests within Jesus…and we see that those forces of darkness…those entities hanging around out there…sometimes visible and sometimes sneaking around in the background…those forces seeking to tangle us up…they recognize this authority…they can spot it coming from a mile away…and you know what…that authority of God made flesh…that authority of the divine maker of the universe resides within this man named Jesus…and those forces of darkness are terrified of it.
WHAT HAVE YOU TO DO WITH US JESUS OF NAZARETH…HAVE YOU COME TO DESTROY US? (pause) You know what I think? I think this particular demon…who had set up a nice little comfortable nest by dominating the physical life of this man…looked upon Jesus…and that demon…that force of darkness…it saw its own destruction. (pause)
I think…all too often…these forces of darkness…whatever we want to call them…will try everything in their power to keep us away from the light of Christ…that’s why so many things that ties us up seek to keep us in isolation…to keep in the darkness…to keep in the secret…and so we feel shame at these things that hinder us…because that sense of shame is just another weapon of isolation that the darkness uses…
But praise God that with Jesus…LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS…and as we’ve heard time and time again…when light shows up darkness….LOSES. (pause)
We have a God that desires us to live the life that He intended for all of humanity in the beginning…a life of freedom from all that which hinders us…from everything that seeks to ensnare us…and since we simply cannot free ourselves from the things that catch us…God himself did something about it…God himself took that divine authority…that divine power…that amazing ability that he has to create by simply speaking the words…and in today’s story he speaks these words of power to that demon…to that darkness that is trying desperately to continue holding onto this man…and Jesus simply tells it “BE SILENCED!!”
No longer will God stand by allowing the forces of darkness to capture us…that’s the beauty of the gospel…that’s the joy that we find in the kingdom of God that has come into our reality along with Christ…We have a God that will do anything in order to free us from all that hinders our true life…our fulfilling life…our life in true relationship with God himself.
We have a God that desires freedom from all of this stuff…freedom from whatever it is that holds us back…that keeps us immobilized…whatever it is that has us paralyzed…God frees us from it…not by creating some divine checklist, or demanding some blood sacrifice…but rather by showing us through the life of Jesus Christ that the love of God for all the world has no boundaries…that there is nothing that he will not do in order to free you from all that hinders you…from all that captures you…from all that seeks to hold you back. (pause)
I don’t know what it might be in your life…I don’t know what it is that’s got a hold of you…and I certainly can’t free you from it…because I’m just a man like you…flawed and broken…captured by my own darkness…but what I can say is this…as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ…and by…HIS…AUTHORITY…I declare to each of you that you are free from the darkness that holds you…it no longer has control over you…because God himself has said so. (pause)
And we need only look to one another to find that light of Christ shining…this is why we seek the fellowship of one another…so that together we may share in this light…not under our own power…but by the power of God given to his church through the Holy Spirit…and that together…we are freed from all that captures us. Amen.