Archive for June, 2015

Patience is Hard 6-28-15

In this sermon I explore the healing within a healing from Mark 5:21-43. A man seemingly loses his chance for a miracle when Jesus is distracted by another miracle…yet with God, nothing is impossible.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/patience-is-hard-6-28-15

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.

Each and every week as I’m writing my sermon there are two phrases that are the easiest…the shorter of the two is my closer…Amen…and this is also my favorite word to write because it means that the sermon is finished.

The other phrase is the opener…the one that never changes regardless of the topic or the scripture for the week…that opening phrase that serves as a simple reminder of the gift of God’s grace offered to us through Christ…you know the line…as I just said it…Grace and peace to you…

Some weeks I sit down at my computer and type out that opening line and fly right into the sermon without the slightest pause because the Spirit is flowing…other weeks, the Spirit is still stewing around, and the message just won’t come out.

That was the case on Friday. I had that opening line typed…pretty much all day…and I just kept staring at the blank page…and no matter how hard I was wracking my brain, trying to get this big jumble out…it wouldn’t happen…stuff kept coming up…breaking news, phone calls, emails…interruptions just kept coming and throwing off my normal rhythm…my normal routine, kept getting shunted to the background.

But that was sorta fitting this week…because that’s a pretty good description of the entire week…normal kept getting tossed out the window. It all started on Tuesday morning as I headed to town for text study with other area pastors, pausing on the way to drop off the glass recycling in one of the bins down in town…and as I stood there at the bin, a bottle fell out of the bag, broke on the ground and bounced up to hit my knee…cutting me open and slicing my pant leg all at once…and so instead of going to text study, I had to go home and clean up my leg.

With that, my expectations for the day changed…and things happened differently. Now, Wednesday…I had been invited to participate in an adult Bible Study down in town…and then following the study I had a scheduled meeting with a fellow pastor to discuss some upcoming activities…but once again…stuff happened…and just as we were wrapping up the Bible study my phone rang…and I learned that my father in law was in the hospital…you can imagine how that changed things up for the day…as we scrambled to figure out what to do, and how we could help…and as we experienced that helpless feeling of being too far away to do anything, along with the recognition that even if we are there, there’s nothing you can do anyway…nothing except hope…and trust that those who can do something, will.

The week continued that way…random things just kept coming up…kept getting in the way of the “normal.” And though none of these things were bad…they resulted in Friday coming and going…and my brain was a hot mess…and there was still no sermon.

Through all of that craziness, I kept thinking about the gospel…about this familiar story of two healings…of two interactions…this story, that comes across as a story within a story…a healing within a healing…this moment of interruption…and as we often experience when we dwell in the word of God…we find ourselves relating to a character…and for me, that character is Jairus.

Imagine for a moment…that your child is sick…and this is no ordinary head cold…this is a sickness which has no cure…nothing that anyone can do has helped…and your child is at the point of death…this is an unfortunate reality in our world…there are some that have experienced it first hand…perhaps some here today have walked that awful road of seeing your child suffering…fearing the worst…and in those moments we feel powerless…but if there is any chance…any hope…won’t we go after it with every ounce of our being? (pause)
That’s where Jairus is at today…and Jairus is no slouch…we hear that he’s the ruler of the synagogue…and in a Jewish community…this is a pretty important person…in line with the mayor…and as such he likely was a man of means…someone with the influence and wealth to bring in doctors….but nothing works…and now his young daughter…lies on the verge of death.

But Jairus has heard rumors…stories of a traveling rabbi…a man that some claim to be the son of God…a man that has healed many…a man that has cast out demons…a man…that displays the power of God…and Jairus believes that this man…this Jesus…is his last hope.

Nothing is going to stand in his way…he presses through the crowd…and with no shame, this important man falls at the feet of this traveling rabbi…and he begs…he pleads with Jesus…Please…PLEASE…my daughter is dying…come and save her.

Whatever it is about this instance…about this passionate request…Jesus recognizes the need…and without a single word, they set off together…I can only imagine how relieved Jairus must have been. He’s going to do it…he’s coming with me…my daughter will live…she WILL be healed. His insistence has paid off…and despite all the hardships…and despite the powerless feeling of not being able to help his daughter…finally he has procured the power of God to perform a miracle.

But he also knew they needed to hurry…they needed to make their way through the crowd to get to his house before it was too late…Surely Jesus…if he really is the Son of God…he will understand…he won’t delay…he’ll be just as forceful to get there as Jairus.

But then…out of nowhere…Jesus…just…stops. Imagine being Jairus at that moment…Lord, what are you doing? We’ve got to keep moving…come on, before its too late…she’s dying…But Jesus just stands there looking around…and he asks the weirdest question… Who touched my clothes?” (pause) WHAT? WHO CARES? LOOK AT THIS CROWD…EVERYONE IS TOUCHING YOU…WHAT DOES IT MATTER…MY DAUGHTER CAN’T WAIT…LET’S GO.

But Jesus just keeps looking around…and all of the sudden some random woman comes up to him, falls at his feet and confesses that she touched him…but that’s not enough…she keeps talking…telling this story of her sickness and how she knew that all she had to do was touch his cloak and she’d be healed…and Jesus just stands there listening to her. (pause)

What do you think is going through Jairus’ head in this moment? Somehow I doubt that he’s just standing there calmly waiting while Jesus engages with this woman…he had to be going crazy…wouldn’t you, if you were in his shoes?

And sure enough…his fears come true…because as this exchange goes on between Jesus and the woman in the crowd…Jairus’ servants come up and tell him the worst possible news…your daughter has died…its over…you might as well leave Jesus alone. (pause)
NO!!! HOW CAN THIS BE? Jesus…you gave away my miracle…if you had ignored her, my daughter would have lived. (pause) We don’t hear what his words are in this moment…but wouldn’t that be how you would react…one moment it looks like everything is going to be okay…but then, because Jesus’ get’s distracted…because he get’s interrupted…you lose your miracle…your miracle goes a different direction…you lose out because God’s not paying attention.

Ever had a time like that? I time when you begged and pleaded for a miracle…a time when you prayed for something so hard…and didn’t get the answer you were looking for…and in that moment, it feels like God’s just not on your side. (pause)

I imagine that Jairus was in that boat…when his miracle goes the wrong direction…but the thing is that Jairus’ focus…his ability to comprehend…ends…with death. Because death marks a close for us doesn’t it? It represents a boundary that we can’t get across…a barrier that is insurmountable….but Jesus…well…Jesus has other ideas doesn’t he?

And as we see…death doesn’t stop Jesus…because the power of God…the ability of God…the miracles that are possible for God are not hindered by death…in this story…this encounter…this healing within a healing…this story within a story we are reminded that we have a God acting within our reality through Jesus Christ…that is not hindered by death…we have a God who’s power is greater than the power of death…we have a God who can and does act to do something about death.

And even in those moments when we can’t see that…in those times when our eyes are blinded by our own limitations…by our own lack of understanding…and all we can see is that which we fear…Jesus reminds us that we don’t have to afraid…we simply need to believe the promises that God has made that nothing in all of creation can separate us from His love…Do not fear…only believe. (pause)
Now granted, that’s often easier said than done…and there are times in our lives when those pressing issues…those fears loom larger than our faith…that’s human nature…but praise God that our shortcomings do not hinder him…and that even in the midst of these things God is still at work…that the saving grace of Jesus Christ still applies…and the power of the Holy Spirit is still flowing through this world…even in ways that are far beyond our ability to wrap our heads around.

We have a God who has acted out against the powers of sin and death in this world, even in the midst of situations that blind us to it…and thankfully God has given us signs…things that we can hold on to that serve as reminders for us…reminders of the promises that God has made…and one of these things is our baptism…when the simple act of being washed in the water along with hearing this promises of God results in a time when God comes to us.

In a few moments…Nate Maher will come to this font and we believe the promises that are made that God comes upon him…and he will be called Child of God…made an heir to the promise of eternal life…even if we don’t understand how it all works.

And so in times like this, when the world gets in the way…and when our limited understanding is hindered for whatever reason…we remember the words of Luther that mirror the promises of God…I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him…but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified me and kept me in true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith…in this Christian church day after day, he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day he will raise me and all the dead and give me an all believers in Christ eternal life…This…is…most certainly true.

Truly there are moments in our lives when we lose sight of that…moments when our circumstances are too much…but praise be to God that this is not dependent on us…its not up to us…its already done…and even more amazing, there’s no limit to it.

Jairus may have been concerned that the woman got his miracle…that in order for her to win, he had to lose…but that’s not the way the grace of God works…for through the power of Jesus Christ, God made it possible for each and every one of us to experience this saving grace…and we see that Grace is not divided…it can only grow…this is…most certainly true. Amen.

I Am Not That Big 6-21-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 4:35-41, which is the story of Jesus calming the storm. In it I address those powers in the world that remind us how small and powerless we are, leading into addressing the shootings in Charleston SC.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-am-not-big-enough-6-21-15

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

There are times as a runner…when I think I’m pretty fast. At my normal pace…I can cover a mile in about 8 minutes…give or take…its not record setting by any means…but its not bad…unless you compare me to car….because 8 minutes in a car can take you from the truck stop out by the interstate up to Neola to park at the Community Center…a little more impressive…or take it up a notch to a plane flying along at the speed of sound, where 8 minutes is sufficient to cover about 100 miles…but even that pales in comparison to the fastest speed that we know of…the speed light…where 8 minutes can cover the distance from the Earth to the Sun…8 minutes to cover nearly 93 thousand miles.

Light is pretty fast isn’t it…and it has to be as it covers distances that we can’t even fathom. 8 minutes from the Sun to the Earth…but what about some of our friends out there at the far reaches of our solar system…take Pluto for example…the same light that takes 8 minutes to get to us…takes 330 minutes to reach Pluto…that’s 5.5 hours…a far amount of time…but then considering that the light has to travel 3.67 BILLION miles…maybe that’s not shabby…because Pluto…well…it’s a long way out there…but you know what…the Galaxy…that might as well be beyond measure…That light from the sun…which gets to us in 8 minutes….and covers almost 4 billion miles in a few hours…takes more than 4 YEARS…to reach the nearest star.

Kinda mind boggling isn’t it…when we try to wrap our heads around just how far away things are, even within our Solar System…in fact its almost impossible to judge just how big the universe is…but when we try to…doesn’t it make us feel pretty small? (pause)

Have you ever experienced something that made you realize just how small you are…or perhaps how powerless you are? (pause) I’ve heard many different stories over the years of people who have found themselves in a situation like this…for instance, standing at the base of a mountain, looking up…or being on the seashore, looking out over the ocean…other stories have included events, often natural disasters the unleash the power of the world we live in…like earthquakes, or tsunamis, or giant storms like hurricanes or tornados…these moments when we witness the fury of nature…the destruction…and as we stand there looking straight it, doesn’t it make us feel small…insignificant…or even…powerless?

That realization…that there is nothing that we can do to overcome the power being unleashed against us in that moment…regardless of our wisdom or ability or strength, we…are…powerless…ever had an experience like that? (pause) Because that is exactly what’s going on in today’s story. (pause)

Following a day of teaching the crowds here on the homefront…Jesus decides that its time for a change of scenery…and so he tells his disciples…hey guys…let’s head across the lake here…head on over to the other side…and in an important side note, we also hear that its evening…and so as they set out to cross the sea of Galilee…a trip of somewhere between 8 and 13 miles depending on their direction…night is falling.

Night time on the sea…which, incidentally…is exactly when fishermen would be out on the water in their boats…trying to catch fish…and if you recall…at least 4 of the disciples were fishermen…and so for them, this would be nothing new.

They know how to navigate the sea…they know how to handle a boat…and they’re familiar with the fact that storms can and do, come up out of nowhere…and also, keep in mind that at this point, all of the disciples are still alive, so it stands to reason that these guys have lived through storms out on the water before….they’ve got the ability…they’ve got the know-how. (pause) Until…this time.

Because as they make it part way across the water…long enough for Jesus to konk out on a pillow…up comes a storm…but apparently not just any storm…this is one of those storms that I talked about earlier…one of those storms that makes the disciples realize just how small they are…and they completely…LOSE it.

How crazy must this storm have been…how strong was the wind…how big were the waves to have this sort of effect on these experienced sailors? (pause) One can only imagine…but how ever intense it was…however daunting it was…for these guys…this is it…its all over…and believe it or not…the one person who can do something about it…the one person they trust to get them out of danger…is sleeping…JESUS!!! TEACHER!!! Don’t you care that we are dying? (pause)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that this week…and not just giant storms and crashing waves…but those things in our lives…those events…those oppressive forces that act upon us…sometimes out of nowhere…that have us reeling…those things that make us lose it…those things that show us in that moment just how small and powerless we are…and as I’ve thought about it, I know that those things look different for each of us…but they happen…and for several of you sitting out there today…you’re still facing those events right now…you are staring that storm in the face…and in fact, when we’re honest with ourselves…aren’t we all in that boat…facing a storm that too much for us? That storm that is showing us just how much we are NOT…in control, no matter how much we like to tell ourselves that we are?

Diseases…financial problems…emotional issues…family strife…these are just a few of the storms that rage out there that we face in our lives…and there are others too…other forces…other powers that exist in the world whether we want to acknowledge them or not…and one of these powers is the power of sin…the power of darkness that continues to flow through this world and when we stop and think about it…when we are brave enough to admit the truth…then we realize that there is nothing that we can do about it.

And now I’m not talking about those petty little things that we do each and every day like stubbing our toe and swearing about it or getting short with one another…I’m talking about the power of sin in this world…the power that has warped our reality and our existence into that which is against the will of God…the power that has lied to us to make us think that it is all about me…and that I’m the only one that’s important and everything else needs to just get out of my way…

When I think about that power…the image that comes to mind is that of a giant wave rushing in at me as I stand on the shoreline, knowing that in mere seconds I am finished and there’s nothing I can do about it.

That’s the power of sin in this world…whether we want to admit it or not…and we are CONSTANTLY being reminded of that…and we constantly face evidence that this power is still present…and that power manifests itself in the hate that we are still so capable of…the hate that rears its ugly head and shatters lives…the hate that exists for no reason what so ever…regardless of our tendency to deny it or to try and explain it away. (pause)

Last Wednesday evening…that needless hate manifested in the cold blooded murder of 9 people as they gathered in a church around the word of God…the murder of 9 people condemned to die because of the color their skin….9 people hated because they are different. (pause)

When I first heard of this tragedy in Charleston SC, I was shocked…and as I added it to the mental checklist of so many other tragedies that keep happening, my initial response is that I feel powerless…powerless because I don’t understand it…I cannot wrap my head around the notion of this needless…pointless hate…this judgment passes on another human being based on the color of their skin…yet this is a battle that we have been fighting in this country for decades…and as much as we might want to tell ourselves that we’ve come so far…moments like this show us that no we haven’t. (pause)

Judgment….prejudice…it runs rampant…everywhere…and I’m not just talking about racial tension here…because the second I think I’m above that sort of thing I look in the mirror, and I recognize the needless judgment that I pass in my mind against individuals for different reasons…and as we look around society today…its everywhere. Race, gender, age, orientation…political affiliation…economic status…and that’s just scratching the surface…and it stems from this lie that sin places in our heads that for whatever reason, I’m better than you. (pause)
But we don’t want to admit it do we? We want everything to stay pleasant…and maintain this myth that we aren’t prone to it…but I’ll say it…yes we are…we are not immune…I’ve seen in this part of the country…I’ve seen it here in our nice friendly state…I’ve seen it in our community…I’ve seen it here in our congregation…and yes…I include myself because I see it when I look in the mirror. (pause)

Now rest assured, its not my intention to get political here today…its really not…I won’t tell you how you should think, or what opinions you can or can’t have…and I sure as heck won’t be telling you how you should be voting…

But what I do hope for is that we can take an honest look at ourselves…and recognize this wave coming at us…this power of darkness…this power of sin that’s crashing over us whether we want to admit to it or not.

And in these moments when we recognize just how small we are…just how powerless we are, the only thing we can do is follow the example of the disciples and cry out to Jesus…because he does care…and just as he calmed the sea…just as he beat those waves that were crashing down on the disciple he has already beaten the wave of sin that crashed down on us…its already finished.

And in the meantime, we can and must continue to ask for forgiveness in those times when we pass needless judgment…when we place ourselves above others…and then we remember what Jesus told us to do…Love God…and love your neighbor…And maybe, just maybe when we start doing that through the power of Christ living in us and through us…well then maybe we’ll start representing the body of Christ on Earth…maybe we’ll start shining like that light in the darkness…and maybe, just maybe we can start seeing one another like God sees us all…as His beloved child….and I hope and pray that with God’s help, we will come through this storm to whatever glorious destination awaits us on the other side of the sea.

And it has to be with God’s help…because alone…I’m not strong enough, or wise enough…I’m not big enough…but God is…and thankfully through the blood of Christ spilled on that cross, He forgives us for being so small. Amen.

God Does the Growing 6-14-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 4:26-34. I explore two micro-parables that Jesus shares about the growth of the kingdom of God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/god-does-the-growing-6-14-15

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.

Right about now is a wonderful time to drive through the countryside and be amazed at how quickly the crops are growing. Year after year, I find myself amazed in the early weeks of summer at how tall the corn is already getting…I know the old saying is knee high by the fourth of July…but around these parts I’m pretty sure that some of the corn is likely already coming up on the knee-high milestone. (pause)

That’s the amazing thing about the crops…corn especially, but the other crops as well…something that never ceases to amaze me. (pause) Think about the cycle that we go through each and every year…first off we see the tractors out in the fields…disking them up and getting them ready…and then we spot the planters…and next thing we know…out of the blue, we drive down the road and spot the tiny little shoots as the crops spring up…and then we blink and a month has gone by and those tiny little plants have gotten pretty good sized…they aren’t seedlings anymore…and then we blink again and the corn is 7 feet tall with tassles…and then the next thing we know the fields have turned brown and the combines are out bringing in the harvest. (pause)

Doesn’t that catch us off guard every time? How the fields spring up…the plants grow…all that stuff happens when we’re not really paying attention? (pause)

This phenomenon has, of course, been around for a long time…but in my younger years it was sort of just a passing thing…sure I would notice the big changes here and there…but at the same time being surrounded by the fields, as we are here in Underwood, perhaps it wasn’t quite as shocking because we do see the fields day after day…we might not stop and pay attention, but we’re still exposed to it.

But for me, that wasn’t always the case…and during the 2.5 years that my family lived up in the Twin Cities prior to moving here to Underwood…the changes in the crops always caught me off guard…In this regard, I sort of feel sorry for individuals who live in the big cities…people with a completely different background and experience than we have here in rural Iowa…those individuals who have never seen a farm…who aren’t familiar with the cycle that the crops go through year after year…and I feel that way, because during those 2.5 years of living in the city…I didn’t get to see the fields very often.

I didn’t get to see them, because we very rarely left the city…about the only time we did was every few months when we would head back to the Okoboji area to visit family…and I remember, quite vividly…the blaring changes that the fields would go through between those trips…because I hadn’t seen them day by day…I hadn’t watched the gradual change out the corner of my eye…so for me, the fields would quite literally go from 3 inch high seedlings to 5 foot plants…and then onto brown dried out husks…and then bare fields…and you can ask my wife…I would express utter shock each and every time we’d make that trip when we’d get out into the farmland along the interstate and I’d see the fields for the first time in several months. (pause) But that’s the way it works isn’t it…those things are happening, whether we are paying attention or not. (pause)

And by now, hopefully you’ve caught on to the gist that I’m talking about today, and you already see the connection with today’s gospel lesson, and the first of the two micro-parables that Jesus share’s with his audience today. The agriculture connection…the comparison between the growth of the kingdom of God and the plants of the fields. (pause)

Admittedly, if we were in the midst of the program year, I’d be hearing the snickers of several of our students who were just confirmed back in early May, because they’ve heard me harp time after time about how parables bug me…and as I’ve talked with some different pastors in the last couple years I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in this…because parables are a hard thing when it comes to preaching.

And as I’ve thought about it, I’ve found that a little strange…why are they so difficult to preach on, when it seems like parables are actually pretty easy to grasp? (pause)

Think about this first one…the kingdom of God is like a dude that goes out and plants his crops…and then pretty much goes on about his business…eating, sleeping, just living out the day to day…and all the while the crops are growing…the crops are just doing what they do…and the shoot comes up…and then the ears develop…and the kernels grow…and when they’re ready…the farmer heads back out with the combine.

We can think about that for about a second and a half and realize that Jesus is telling us that the kingdom is going to grow in the background while we live our day to day lives…period…Sound about right? (pause)

And so the challenge for the preacher is finding a way to stretch that last sentence into 15 minutes…when maybe…just maybe…there’s no need for it. Maybe, just maybe…the parable, needs to stand on its own…maybe Jesus’ words need to stand on their own without a ton of explanation.

In many ways, that reminds me of something that I tell my kids from time to time…when they tell me a joke…and then immediately explain why the joke is funny…and I’ll calmly remind them that “hey guys…if you have to explain a joke, then its not a very good joke.” (pause) Maybe it’s the same deal here…that if you feel the need to explain the parable, then it must not be a very good one.

But think about parables in general…today we actually get a touch of narration from Mark into them…when we hear that with many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them…as they were able to hear it…let me say that one more time…as they were able to hear it. (pause)

Have you ever noticed how many of Jesus’s parables have to do with the subject of agriculture…of plants…of growth…its not all of them…but it is…A LOT…of them…and why? (pause) Well, because Palestine in Jesus time…just like rural agricultural Iowa today…was very agricultural in nature….EVERYONE dabbled in farming in one way or another…pretty much every family had a small plot of crop land where they grew wheat or barely to provide bread for themselves…and most families had a few livestock…sheep or goats or maybe a cow to provide milk and meat…they may not have operated on the scale of our present day farmers…but everyone did it…because if you didn’t, well then you had a hard time eating…as there was no local Fareway or Hy-Vee to go to and stock up your pantry. (pause)

Jesus talked with the people in ways that made sense…taking some pretty heady subjects…like, you know…that whole kingdom of God has come near thing…these subjects that we have no way of wrapping our minds around…and he compared them to something familiar…because anyone…and I mean anyone…who has ever farmed a field…or even tended a backyard garden knows…flat out…that we don’t make the plants grow. (pause)

Sure we do everything we can to set the plants up for success…and I’m not trying to downplay the enormous amount of work that farmers put into their fields…the prep work…the planting…the fertilizer…the pesticides…the herbicides…the constant monitoring of the weather patterns…but…just like the farmer in the parable…we don’t make the plants do the growing do we? (pause)

And you know what…that applies to other things in our lives as well. Recently I had a conversation with a couple of our members…Gaylen and Karen Montgomery…who if you aren’t aware…are in the process of transitioning their home to Branson full time…and as we sat and talked the other day, our conversation moved into the intense desire for the house to get sold…and I told them “been there, done that.”

4 years ago as we were preparing to move from Okoboji up to the Twin Cities, we had a house to sell…and for about 2 months I was mentally trying to force it to sell…willing it with every ounce of my being…and you know how well that worked? (pause) Not…at…all…but I was driving myself absolutely batty until one day when a much wiser man than I asked me a simple question. “Can you make it sell?” No. “Then why are you trying to?”

There are things in this world that we simply cannot control…and you know what…the growth of the kingdom of God…its one of them…and sometimes, that can be absolutely maddening can’t it? (pause) I’m guessing that each and every one of us here today has at least one person in our lives that we wish for…that we hope for…that one person who shows no interest in the faith that we profess…the hope that we have in Christ…and it would be so much better if we could just open up their minds and MAKE THEM BELIEVE IT!!!!

But we can’t…because faith doesn’t work that way…growth doesn’t work that way…plain and simple…it doesn’t work…because God didn’t intend for it to work that way…and while that is utterly frustrating for us in those interactions when our minds are reeling…hoping against hope that we can change their minds for them…its also incredibly freeing to realize that hey…its not my responsibility to create faith.

The apostle Paul realized this and wrote about it in his first letter to the Corinthians when he said “I planted, Apollos watered…but God gave the growth.” (pause) God…gave…the growth. (pause)

Make no mistake…God, is up to something in the midst of our day to day lives, whether we’re paying attention or not…whether the humanity is paying attention or not…whether the world is paying attention or not…because Jesus told us, from the get-go…the kingdom is here now…and the kingdom is ever changing, and is ever growing…sometimes just too quietly or slowly for us to notice…but when we stop long enough to take a good look…that’s when we see the growth…the change.

We see it in the world…we see it in the church…we see it in one another…and when we stop and think about it we even see that growth within our own lives of faith. And so in this moment…when it comes to the notion of “growth,” we need to embrace the fact that we just have to let it go…because no amount of effort on our part is going to make the growth happen…whether we like it or not. (pause)

And as shocking as that might seem…before we settle into the notion that God isn’t calling us to do anything, we better take one more look at that parable…because while the farmer isn’t involved in the growing…he is involved in the planting…and likewise we are called to sew the seeds of the kingdom…we are called to proclaim the gospel out there…in the fields of the world…because if they don’t hear it…then they can’t believe it…it they don’t hear it…then there’s nothing to grow.

We do the sewing…then God…does the growing. Amen.

What Will It Take 6-7-15

In this sermon I explore the opposition that Jesus faces early in his ministry as the experts try to explain away his deeds and discredit his message, even going so far as to saying that he is possessed by Satan. This story is found in Mark 3:20-35.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-will-it-take-6-7-15

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

There have been many times in the past that people have asked me “Pastor, what’s your favorite Bible story?” or a similar question of “What’s your favorite worship service through the year?” It’s difficult to narrow it down to any single event or story, because there are a lot of great ones, but if I was to try and offer any sort of answer to that question, I would have to offer my top 3, and say that they all sort of count. 2 of them are pretty obvious, Christmas and Easter…and the third one is the day of Pentecost.

And likely the reason that I love these three days and Bible stories so much is because the event that we celebrate on each day is just so unexpected. Who would ever expect God to become human…and yet at Christmas, that’s exactly what happens…And then, after God has become human…who could ever anticipate, even with a ton of warnings…that God would die…much less be raised from the dead? And yet through Holy Week and Easter…that, is exactly what happens…And then finally, who would ever expect that the power of God would flow through the world to embolden and in some way, even empower regular people to do amazing things…and yet at Pentecost, that’s exactly what happens.

And as today is the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, that particular one should be pretty fresh in our memories…complete with my warm fuzzy feelings of having led worship and preached on that amazing story…except that I don’t have those warm fuzzies…because as you may recall I was gone on vacation that weekend…Bummer…

But then I read this week’s gospel lesson and I remember thinking to myself…wow…this sounds sorta familiar…this sorta sounds like Pentecost…just a touch anyway…because here we have someone…empowered by God, well, because it is God in this case…proclaiming the gospel that the kingdom has come near…and not only that but he’s been performing amazing deeds, displaying the power of God within him, as he casts out demons and heals the sick over and over again…attracting large crowds…and within those crowds…dissention…opposition…and finally…people who make incredibly bizarre statements trying to explain away what’s going on. (pause)

Sounds about like Pentecost right? (pause) Maybe today’s lesson is God’s way of offering me a make-up date after missing Pentecost.

Here we are, quite early on in Mark’s gospel…coming back around to Mark after quite a few weeks away from it…and now, here at the beginning of the season of Pentecost, as we slowly march through the theme of the church growth through the ages…we see Jesus, early in his ministry…he really hasn’t been around the block that long, but he’s making a stir…attracting attention…and with it, of course, opposition.

And I’ve often sat and wondered why…what is it about the gospel that Jesus is proclaiming that’s so darn offensive…or scandalous…or controversial? (pause)

There must be something…because the opposition that he’s facing here is pretty major…we hear that his family has come to try and slam the brakes on what he’s doing…even going so far as to saying “he’s out of his mind.” (pause) And then…to add insult to injury…the scribes come in from Jerusalem…these individuals who are the EXPERTS in the law of Moses…EXPERTS in the proper theology of the day…these guys come in…to make the final ruling.

Because think about what Jesus has been doing…in addition to preaching a simple message that the kingdom has come near…he’s been healing and casting out demons…and huge crowds have witnessed it…and no one can discount that he is, in fact doing these things…he’s no simple charlatan putting on parlor tricks…and so they’ve reached two possible conclusions…that either this is some dark magic, or its from God…but when the experts come in, and they find teachings contrary to what they’ve always believed…well that can’t be right can it…and so they deduce that surely he is possessed of Satan…the lord of the demons…and THAT, is how is does these things (pause).

Isn’t this all a little crazy as we sit here and think about it today…to think that the so called experts in the things that pertain to God would mess this up so badly…would mis-interpret, or mis-judge what they were witnessing…and perhaps even more shocking than that…that Jesus own family and friends from his hometown are trying to do the exact same thing…these are the people that should be supporting him…and yet they don’t…and because they can’t explain it away…they make excuses…which to me anyway, seem really petty and foolish…and so as I read this story today and think about this confrontation, I find myself wondering just what is it about the gospel of Jesus Christ that they find so offensive? (pause)

Whatever it is…whatever irritates these people so much in this story…this story that happens so early on in the ministry of Jesus himself…it hasn’t gone away.

Sometimes its easy to forget about the opposition to the Gospel…at least it is for me personally. I get to stand here in front of you week after week and talk openly about the Good News of Jesus Christ…I get to speak openly about the nature of confession and forgiveness…about how God became human…lived, died, and rose again and not worry that someone is going to stand up and debate me…or worse yet…accuse me of being possessed by the mortal enemy of the one that I represent….but I’m here preaching to the choir as they say.

But what about those times when we step out of these doors. Let’s face it, most of spend all of a couple hours a week inside these walls and we live our lives out there…among everyone else. Sometimes, inside these walls, we forget that some people disagree with us. Sometimes, inside these walls, we forget that some people don’t care about the message of Christ. Sometimes, inside these walls, we forget that some people think we are delusional…crazy…paranoid people that cling to a ridiculous notion that there is a loving God out there that chose to take our place in death and punishment.

But don’t be fooled. We live in a world that is, unfortunately, very cynical. We live in a world filled with people that have turned their backs on the savior of humanity…some of them know and some of them don’t…and that is a sad, sad reality. A reality that the church has faced since the beginning…and a reality that God has faced much longer than that.

The reality, both 2000 years ago and all the way through our history up to today, is that some many people will go to any lengths to discredit the Gospel of Jesus Christ…any length. Whether its presenting scientific proof that the world is millions of years old…or to say that no amount of squinting our eyes shut tight and sending out our positive brainwaves towards the giant policeman in the sky will ever change things for anyone…there are people who will oppose us. They may do it in pleasant debate and conversation, or they may ridicule our beliefs by calling us weak minded fools and Bible beaters and church freaks, or they may do it by hijacking a plane and flying it into a building killing thousands of innocent people.

We can ask the question all day long…Why God? Why does Jesus offend? Why aren’t people open to the best news…the news despite our brokenness…despite our inability to overcome our own sinful natures…despite all that you chose to live and die so to overcome it. WHY!?!

(pause)

This is an age old question. Why is something that seems so simple and so wonderful so hard to accept? What will it take to convince these people? When will it be enough? When will they come around? Will they? Are they doomed? Is humanity as a whole just too far gone?

(pause)

This is a question that has been around for a very long time…its been around since the foundation of the church through Jesus and disciples…and it occurred within the days of the prophets as well…and we hear from the prophet Joel many years before Jesus lived that “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on ALL people.” ALL PEOPLE. Men, women, young and old, slaves and free…ALL PEOPLE…In the last days.

But what do we do in the mean time? How do we get from now till those last days? (pause) Well today, Jesus simply tells us to do the will of God…and the funny thing is that in Mark’s gospel, the will of God is never revealed…and about the closest thing we get to answer for this question is simply to follow Christ to the best of our abilities…and yes we will stumble and fall…we will have our failings…and when we do we simply confess them and cling to the grace of God for forgiveness. (pause)
We do this each and every day…and one day people will understand. One day people will stop making excuses…they’ll stop poking fun…they’ll stop the snide comments…they’ll stop the hate because they’ll understand the love…the love of God in Christ Jesus…ONE DAY!!!
And so we pray for that day…and we ask that God would pour out his spirit upon us now…a spirit of boldness…a spirit of patience…a spirit of understanding…but most importantly a spirit of love for our neighbors…for those neighbors that do not understand…for those neighbors that are still offended by the good news.

We pray that this same spirit would fall upon them so that they would understand…and just as 2000 years of our church history has done, we continue to stand strong in the faith that God has granted…living in the promise that God has given us that he is always with us…and will always be with us…despite the opposition that we face. And be encouraged because it is exactly these times that the Spirit is…at…work…in and through you. If it was not true then the church would have died out with those first followers of Christ. If the spirit was not at work, then the church would not exist…but look around…you exist…the church…exists.

So don’t sit idly by…listen to the Spirit at work within you. Use the gifts that the spirit has given you…let God use you…and one day…one glorious day…every knee will bow and every tongue WILL confess…that Jesus is Lord.

Amen.