Archive for July, 2015

Pay No Attention 7-26-15

In this sermon, based on John 6:1-21, I explore two of Jesus well known miracles; the feeding of the 5000 and walking on water. I then explore the common notion of trying to explain them away and why we should never underestimate the power of God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/pay-no-attention

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

Most of you probably know that I’m a lover of movies…and I really have been since a pretty early age. I can tell you that the first movie I saw in the theater was Lady and the Tramp…and one of the earliest movies that I watched repeatedly was The Wizard of Oz…that 1939 classic which features a bunch of great quotes like “There’s no place like home” and “I’ll get you my pretty” and “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

I was think about that last line quite a bit the other day…and how the line was intended to serve as misdirection so the 4 main characters wouldn’t realize the truth behind the illusion…that the wizard was just some guy with a projector and really loud speakers.

But that’s the thing about illusions isn’t it? All questions of misdirection and wonder aside…in our present time we no longer have magicians…we have masters of illusion…which speaks to the truth of the situation…that there’s nothing overly supernatural happening…but rather a trick…something done that only appears to be magical. (pause)

Now undoubtedly, when we are young, we still believe in the magic when we see it…but at a certain point as we grow up…the reality sets in and we accept that there’s a trick to it. But honestly…when we know the trick…isn’t it a little bit of a let-down? (pause)

I remember sitting in art class when I was about a freshman or sophomore in high school…and the art teacher was showing us various card tricks…and one in particular…it was the usual trick of being able to take a card out of the deck, put it back in, then cut the cards and still be able to find the right card…and as the teacher continued to show us this trick over and over again…one by one the various students figured out the trick…except me.

I could not get it…no matter how hard I tried and how many times he’d give me a pretty major hint, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that if you already know what the bottom card is, then when the deck is cut, that bottom card will now be sitting on top of the right card…(pause then with flourish) ABRA CADABRA!!!

But finally I got it…finally I realized what he was showing me…and from that moment on…the trick just wasn’t as cool anymore. I don’t know why…but maybe we just like being fooled…maybe deep down we don’t really want to know the secret, because that removes the mystery…it takes away from the effect…it takes away the fun. (pause)
But isn’t that telling of the world that we live in these days? Truly we live in a society that loves to explain…everything. Advances in science and technology and understanding…it seems like we have done a pretty excellent job of explaining away the mystery of just about everything…and if we bump into a situation where we can’t definitively figure out what’s going on, then we’ll make our best hypothesis…we’ll present the most promising theory as a means explaining that which we can’t quite grasp.

I was thinking a lot about that tendency this week as I approached our gospel lesson…which as you heard a moment ago includes 2 different stories…both likely familiar…as Jesus feeds the crowd of 5000 people with a few loaves and fish…and then a little while later as he takes a hike across the surface of the water to get to the boat carrying his disciples.

2 amazing situations…2 moments that defy everything that we think can or should happen…2 experiences that can only be described as…miraculous…and here’s the thing…as I was working with the text of these two stories…I was quite surprised to read…in Biblical commentaries mind you…possible physical explanations for both miracles…or signs as John likes to call them.

First off, the feeding of the 5,000…the only miracle to be found in all 4 gospels mind you…when the disciples and Jesus face the immense need to provide food for this enormous crowd who have followed them out into the middle of nowhere…and all they have available is 5 loaves of barley…and 2 fish…and somehow…some way Jesus manages to provide enough for everyone to be satisfied, and then they pick up 12 baskets full of left over scraps.

Within the context of this story…two possible explanations were offered as to just how Jesus managed to pull off this amazing feat. First off that the tiny amount of food was used to give each and every person a tiny morsel…nowhere close to a mouthful…but because it had been given to them freely they were fulfilled or satisfied in the “spiritual” sense. (pause) Interesting theory…though if you listen to the language of the text and hear that everyone ate as much as they wanted, that seems to shoot a hole in this first theory…and so onto the second. (pause)
The second possibility…that once the small boy brought out his 5 loaves and 2 fish to willingly share…then everyone else was moved to share what they had…and in the first ever Lutheran Potluck supper…many different sources of food were shared in order to feed everyone…thus resulting in the 12 baskets of left overs…nothing miraculous…just inspiring…which sounds an awful lot like the story of Stone Soup…if you happen to be familiar. (pause) 2 different explanations…plausible? Perhaps…but miraculous? Well, not so much. (pause)

And so now…what about the second story of Jesus walking on the water…we find that the first story feeds directly into the second…as Jesus works to send the people away, the disciples head off in a boat to cross the sea…something that we hear of them doing a lot in scripture…and as the night passes…and the wind and waves pick up…we hear that the disciples have traveled a few miles, but that they are struggling against the oars…until Jesus comes walking out to them. (pause)
And once again…the commentaries attempted to explain it away…citing ambiguity in the Greek translation…that perhaps the disciples had been traveling along the shoreline…and that Jesus was approaching them from the shore line…or that he was walking IN the water…rather than ON the water…and that this explains why the instant he joins them at the boat they happen to arrive at their destination. (pause)

Now…is all this possible? (pause) Certainly…I wasn’t there…so who am I to say that these theories of explanation aren’t accurate…but if they are…and the miracles of Jesus can simply be explained away…then I pose the question…are they really miracles? (pause) Are they really signs performed by God to display His power…are they signs performed by God so that living breathing people can witness the power of God present here within our reality? (pause) Are they signs performed and then written down so that we as readers may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah…the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name? (pause)

I don’t know about you…but honestly…I don’t want to know how Jesus pulled off feeding that crowd…because I’m afraid that if I witness the power of God at work, its going to be more than I can handle…because I believe that God is more than I can handle…at least now in this limited, frail human existence that I am living. And in all honesty…when I encounter an individual who wants to explain away the power of God, then I fear that I’m encountering an individual who’s sole purpose, whether they realize it or not…is to bring God under control. Because if we can explain how God does a miracle then we can stop it…and if we can stop it then we can control it…and if we can control it then maybe this work of salvation that Christ is up to in the world…this work of reconciliation between God and humanity…between God and Me…if we can control it…then I guess we don’t really need God do we…and perhaps what the atheists continue to profess is true…that we have this life and that’s it. (pause)

Well I don’t know about you…but I don’t buy it…because I have seen things in this life that point me towards a power that is bigger than me…a love in this world that is far greater than any unselfish grace filled love that I am capable of sharing…and I have stood in hospital rooms watching individuals literally breathe their final breaths and to see the look of joy and peace on their faces or to hear words describing what they are seeing as they cross from one existence into the next has left me with little doubt that there is more out there than what we are currently experiencing…and that there is power out there that is bigger than we can control or explain away. (pause)

Now does that mean that faith has given us all the answers? Of course not…and acknowledging that is to be honest about just what faith is…believing what is promised even without having physical evidence to support it…that’s faith. (pause)

And while I am saying all this perhaps you are asking the question of just what we are called to have faith in…and that’s a valid question…and as I think about it, I think this is why John chose to include the brief portion of today’s story about Jesus walking ON the water…because the rest of John chapter 6 is tied to the feeding of the 5000…first the miracle itself…and then Jesus teaching about it…talking about it…butting heads with people over it…and so why is this unneeded…seemingly unrelated snippet of a story included? Well…because Jesus reminds us…in this moment…just who he is. Many of you have heard me talk about John’s gospel and Jesus’ tendency to call himself I am…the name of God given to Moses…and you know what…John chapter 5 talks about Moses…and so does a lot of chapter 6…and in the midst of walking on water, Jesus doesn’t say It is I? He says in Greek…ego emi…translated literally I am.

Who is it that can take 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed 5000 in abundance…with an abundance left over? I Am. Who is it that can defy the laws of physics and walk on water? I am…Who is it that is willing to enter into our reality and die so that we might be with him? I am….that’s who.

And so, the next time you encounter someone who wants to explain away the miracle, whether its one recorded in the Bible…or a miracle that you witness within your own life, just remember…that whether we believe it or not…God’s power is not limited to our feeble explanations…and I don’t know about you…but I for one…am grateful that its not just some trick…that where God is concerned…there’s no man behind the curtain that we need to ignore…because through Jesus…we have a God who’s power is out here in the open for all to see. Amen.

What I Need or What I Want 7-19-15

In this sermon I explore Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 as Jesus meets the needs of various individuals. Within the sermon I explore how our wants don’t always match up to our needs.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-i-need-or-what-i-want-7-19-15

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.

Last weekend, Emily and I, along with my older brother and sister and their respective spouses engaged in a tradition going back a few years that we have joking named “Wino weekend.” We travel around an area, making four or five stops at various wineries where we sample their wares…and purchase a bottle or two before packing up and heading off to the next one.

We’ve done this in a few different general locations, and this time around we hit 4 of our local wineries here in the SW portion of the state. 1 was amazing…2 were pretty great…and the final one…which will remain nameless…well from the moment we drove into the parking lot…it was a little lacking.

It didn’t get much better as we went inside to sample what they had…but the most memorable part of that single location was when my brother asked for one variety…only to have the gentleman behind the counter reply with “Umm…I’m gonna go ahead and recommend that you…not…try that one.” We were all a little dumbfounded…but once the guy explained his reasoning…we understood. (pause)
Has that sort of thing ever happened to you before? As I think about it…I think I’ve bumped into this sort of thing the most when I’m in a restaurant of some sort…and the server takes it upon themselves to make a suggestion…they make a recommendation based on their opinion.

Now this same sort of thing actually just happened to me on Friday at lunch time…I was sitting in my office, as I usually do, working on the sermon…and it got to be lunchtime…and so being too lazy to walk across the parking lot and attempt to scrounge up something to eat…I hopped in my car and buzzed out to Subway…and once I made my request, I got the normal question of “So would you like that toasted?” And as I almost always do…I responded by saying no, I didn’t want it toasted…and then the girl behind the counter just sorta gave me this look…and then she responded “Well sir…when you get flatbread…we ALWAYS recommend that you get it toasted.” (pause) My response…well, okay…go ahead…which she did…and then she finished my sandwich, I paid for it and walked out the door to the car. And as I was driving back into town the thought went through my head “Now that was pretty smug…how does she know the proper way that I like my sandwich? What makes her think she knows best what I want, or what I need? (pause)

Ever fall into that trap? Ever found yourself questioning the motives of another person, who may or may not really be looking out for your best interests when they make a suggestion…when they make a recommendation…or when they simply seek to do what they consider to be the best way of serving you? (pause)
There’s a similar situation going on in today’s gospel lesson…as Jesus takes on the role of this proverbial waiter…making recommendations for what people should or should not being trying. (pause)
To set the scene…our lesson today opens up with the disciples returning to the complete group along with Jesus following the unknown period of time that they engaged in the two by two mission…which you may recall was featured in our text from a couple weeks back…They’ve been out actively doing the ministry…proclaiming the gospel…performing miraculous healings and exorcisms…all in the name of Jesus.

And because of this work…this ministry that’s been going on for a while now, both through the disciples as well as with Jesus specifically…word is getting around…again, we’ve been seeing evidence of this throughout our various gospel lessons for quite a while now…and because of the incredible popularity of what Jesus and the disciples have been up to…the crowds are flocking. It would seem that Jesus has the makings of a pretty good mega-church at this point…and here today, we see that this trend continues…because as the disciples come back together into the complete group…the crowds are pressing in on them…hounding them…constantly coming and going keeping them so busy that they don’t even have time to eat.

And Jesus recognizes the toll that this seems to be taking on the disciples…and so he makes a recommendation…Come away to a deserted place…all by yourselves…so that YOU may rest for a while.” And the disciples must like this idea as they all hop in a boat and strike out across the sea…and yet, the crowds see them heading off…and apparently they must have listed their travel plans because the crowds seem to know exactly where to find them…and promptly beat them there.

And so we see as the boat lands and everyone hops out…there are great crowds…yet again…so much for the disciples vacation time right? (pause) But as Jesus looks out upon these crowds, we hear his compassion for them…for he recognizes that they are like sheep with a shepherd…milling around…lacking direction…seemingly with no idea what to do with themselves. (pause) And once again…seeing a need…Jesus meets it…but what does he do? (pause) He taught them…Jesus seemingly sits down for a theological lecture…maybe its Sunday and he’s leading and adult forum…who knows…but the need that Jesus meets this time around…is the need for learning…and we don’t know exactly what he’s teaching them…Mark doesn’t give us that detail but given his track record…he’s likely teaching them about the kingdom of God. (pause)

Now at this point in the story…we jump ahead…we fast forward about 20 verses…which I can understand from a “length of the gospel lesson” standpoint…but by doing so…we also miss out on a couple of really important stories…and we miss a couple more opportunities for Jesus to meet the needs of the people.

The first of these two stories is the feeding of the 5000…a well known story that involves this very crowd that Jesus is teaching…for after a full day of teaching…its late and the people are hungry…and Jesus…miraculously takes care of this physical need…and then…after this amazing thing has happened…Jesus puts the disciples in the boat once more and sends them out, while he stays behind…And as the disciples are crossing the water…another storm comes up…and Jesus, seeing that they need some help…doesn’t let this little thing like water stop him, and he walks out to them…and calms the winds so that they are able to safely cross the water.
2 important stories…2 more times when Jesus recognizes the true needs of the people and meets it. (pause) And then from there we move into the last half of today’s lesson…as yet again…the crowds gather where Jesus is…and not just once…but we hear that where ever he goes, the people rush around the countryside…finding those that are sick and in need of healing…and they carry them to wherever Jesus is supposed to be…all of them having heard the story that Jesus can heal you if you only touch the edge of his cloak…and it happens over and over again.

But as I was thinking about this smattering of stories…and the crowds that always seem to flock around Jesus…I’ve found myself questioning their motives…Why are they there? Why do they flock to him? (pause) Just what do they hope to get out it? What benefit?

Are they there because of what he is teaching? Perhaps…we tend to hear mixed responses to his teaching though…sometimes people appreciate it…other times it is difficult and drives them away. Are others there for a blessing…or for a healing? Do they desire to be in the presence of God…or are they just there to beat a disease and then they’ll go on their merry way? (pause)
I’m not sure just why I found myself asking those questions this week…because it really seems like Jesus genuinely cares about the people…all the people regardless of who they are or what their story is…but admittedly…in situations like this I’m often cynical…questioning the motives of people…and wondering if they really know what it is that they are looking for…wondering if they really know what they truly need. (pause)
Perhaps this is telling of the state that we find the world in these days…and the place that all too often God get’s demoted to…Ok God…things are pretty good at the moment so you just sit up there on the shelf until I need something…and we go our own way…until something goes wrong and we need some magical Jesus powers to solve it for us. (pause) Ever been guilty of that? Ever found your prayer life to be centered around that which we think is the right answer…what we think, is what we need?

And I wonder…how often are we really right about that? How often do we actually know what we need? And I wonder, how often do we place things in the hands of the Lord to provide that which we actually need, even if its not what we want.
Because truly, there are times when the answer that God provides doesn’t feel like the best answer. Sometimes we ask God for healing for an individual…and the outcome is death…Sometimes we ask God for help with our finances only to open up the mail and find yet another unexpected bill…sometimes we ask for a healing of a breach in a relationship only to have it end.

And in those times, perhaps we are asking the question of whether or not God really has our best interests in mind…and we wonder if God has made these things happen…or if not, why God will just sit back and let this broken reality continue to smack us in the face. (pause)

That’s a hard place to be…it’s a hard place to find ourselves in and typically when we’re there the last thing that we want to hear or admit to ourselves is that these hardships and strange turn of events might just be the best thing for us in the long run. (pause)
But now as I say that, please don’t think that I’m trying to say that suffering is good…and that God makes it happen for a reason…because that’s not what I’m saying…all I am saying is that this is a part of our broken reality…this is part of our flawed world…and I think the first being to mourn this broken reality is God…who walks alongside us through these times whether we recognize his presence or not. (pause)
And so as I’ve thought about all these things through the week I began to ask the question…just what do we need from God? Not what we want or would like to have happen…but what do we need?

I think this is a question that we should also stop and ask ourselves…what do I need from God…that maybe…just maybe God is already providing and I’m taking it for granted. (pause)

Take a big deep breath…everyone, do it now…feels good doesn’t it? Who do you think designed your body to be able to do that? (pause)
Take a look around at one another…whether you realize it or not, you are in relationship in one way or another, with every single individual that you are looking at right now…and this is made possible because we were made in the image of a God that already existed in relationship. (pause)
There were two more things that occurred to me as things that I need from God…because I recognize that I cannot provide them for myself…and both of these things are a part of our worship service each and every week. The announcement that through the power and authority of Jesus Christ, ALL my sins are forgiven…and then the announcement God will bless you and keep you…even if I don’t quite get just what that’s gonna look like.

There are times when the service that is “recommended” for us seems like the very last thing that we want or need…that’s what I thought as I drove home with my freshly toasted Subway sandwich on Friday…but then I got home, and unwrapped that sandwich, and took my first bite…and DARN IT…wouldn’t you know it…it tasted pretty darn good…I guess the girl behind the counter knew what she was doing after all didn’t she?

And maybe, just maybe…God knows what he’s doing too. Amen.

That Reminds Me 7-12-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 6:14-29, I explore the rather odd story of the death of John the Baptist, recounted in Mark’s gospel through a flashback. This odd and almost brutal account highlights the power of misunderstanding, and yet reveals an important nugget of truth.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/that-reminds-me-7-12-15

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

Over the course of this past week, our congregation hosted VBS, a wonderful summer tradition…and from 9am-2pm, Monday through Thursday, the church was buzzing…all kinds of stuff going on. The younger kids laughing and playing…older kids serving as helpers…all sorts of volunteers here to help out in different ways…it was wonderful.

And as I freely admit to having the gift of gab, a great deal of this week, I was not…sitting in my office…rather, I was moving around the church, engaging various people in conversations…and these conversations covered a wide variety of different topics…and not only varying from person to person…but in certain situations…the topics jumped all over the place within single conversations with single individuals.

And you know what…I absolutely love that sort of thing…those unplanned interactions…those unexpected tangents that conversations can take. (Pause) Now certainly, this sort of thing happens all of the time, but I’ve often noticed that it will happen much more frequently when I’m in conversation with another person that I really get along with well…one thing idea leads to another…one discussion jumps into a different discussion…one story sparks off another story…and it seems like these tangents are always introduced with the phrase “OH…THAT REMINDS ME…”

Ever found yourself in a conversation like that…one that keeps jumping around because one thought leads to the next…and the next thing you know a whole bunch of time has passed as the two of you sit there just sharing stories…sometimes these are stories that you experienced on your own…other times, depending on the individual…maybe they’re stories that you were both a part of…and you find yourself simply reliving those times together…bonding over that shared experience…and whether you realize it or not…strengthening your relationship through the power of story. (pause)
Now perhaps it comes as no great shock to you that I absolutely love this sort of thing…I love sharing stories…I love hearing stories and learning about one another through hearing them…and I ABSOLUTELY… love finding myself in the midst of a conversation that is filled with “OH…THAT REMINDS ME…”

But now here’s the thing…there are times when these stories…that are almost interruptions within a conversation…can take us to some really odd experiences…not necessarily bad…not necessarily good either…just odd…those times when a story comes out of nowhere…and really doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything you’ve been talking about. They can be fun…they can enlightening…but they can also be really confusing.

And that…is where today’s story comes in…Because today’s story…is one of those odd…confusing situations…one of those stories…that seems to come out of nowhere. (pause) Now before I really dive in today…let me set the scene for you…and keep in mind that this story occurs in the midst of Mark’s gospel…which as you may recall is a story where the author is telling us the Good News…of Jesus Christ…the son of God…and in the middle of this story…Mark…goes on one heck of a tangent. (pause)

Now right before this passage…before this story…we hear that Jesus has sent the disciples out 2 by 2 into the countryside…they head out to proclaim the gospel…to heal diseases…to cast out demons…in short…Jesus sends them out to do the very same stuff that he’s already been doing…and then…right after today’s story…we hear that once this mission is done…the disciples and Jesus all come back together and talk about what they’ve been up to.

In short…if we skipped today’s passage…the story would continue on with no interruption…it would flow along in a perfectly acceptable way…and it would make perfect sense…And yet…right in the midst…Mark seems to go “OH…NOW THAT REMINDS ME.” (pause) and we are treated with a story…with a quite detailed anecdote…regarding the death of John the Baptist. (pause)

Because at first glance…this has nothing to do with where we’re at in the gospel itself. We’re in the midst of Jesus’ ministry…we’re smack dab in the middle of the disciple’s first test as proclaimers of the gospel…and now we hear this…Herod…one of the powers that be in the area…has, flexed his muscles…in the past mind you…and arrest John simply because John pointed out the fact…that Herod’s been breaking the rules by marrying his brother’s wife. Come on Herod…you know better…that’s a no-no.

And Herod responds…seemingly because his sister in law turned wife gets a little cranky about…I guess Herod believes in that old notion of happy wife-happy life…but knowing full well that John’s got a pretty substantial backing from many people…and he’s got a good reputation…Herod locks him up in jail…but up to this point has been protecting him…that is until an odd situation occurs with his step daughter, herself in the midst of a situation she really shouldn’t be in…and now Herod’s wife takes full advantage of a momentary slip up from her husband…to get John killed…bring me the head of John the Baptist…on a platter…a lovely mealtime site I’m sure….and now Herod…needing to save face…because all his cronies heard him make the promise…has to go through with it…and so John ends up substantially shorter in stature.

And I’ll pose the question one more time…what on earth does this have to do with the gospel? (pause) Certainly this is a crazy situation that we find ourselves in. Mark, tell this story…which is literally a flashback…this all happened quite a while before Jesus’ started garnering a following…and not only that…but John’s story is really over by this point…he had served his purpose as the herald of the coming Messiah…so why do we need to hear about his, rather pointless death…at this point? (pause)
After pondering on this question for quite awhile…I did start see the connection…or at least to recognize what it was that made Mark go “OH…THAT REMINDS ME.” And here it is…as the disciples are out on their two by two mission, word is spreading…people are talking…they’re talking about Jesus…they’re talking about the disciples that are doing miraculous things in his name…word, is getting around…and it even reaches into the palace…arriving in the ears of Herod.

And Herod, of course, starts asking questions as well…Who is this guy? We need to check him out…because Herod has people that he answers to as well…and in this case it’s the Romans who might just take issue with anyone out there in the public developing a following…you see the Romans don’t like it when too many people start banding together behind someone other than them…that’s how uprisings get started…and so if they catch wind of this type of thing, they’ll crack down on their appointed authorities, which as you might have gathered…includes Herod.

And so everyone is asking the question…who is this guy? It seems to be the big conversation of the day…Some say its Elijah…other’s a prophet…and it makes sense that people would say this…it was part of their religious understanding that God would raise up prophets once again…but when Herod heard it…he could only think…Its John…He’s back…I had him killed…but…he’s back. (pause)

Now to us that might seem like a strange conclusion to come to…After all, Herod knows that John is dead…he ordered it…he saw John’s severed head served up on a platter…perhaps with a fine wine along side…and as everyone knows…when you’re dead, you’re dead…that’s it. Want someone silenced? Kill ‘em…because dead men tell no tails. Pirates know it…mobsters know it…the Romans knew it…and you better believe that Herod knew it to.

But yet, that’s the conclusion that Herod reaches…this odd man traveling around…preaching a new gospel…curing the sick, casting out demons…it must be John raised from the dead and that is where these powers are coming from. (pause)
Now I don’t know about you…but I hear this statement from Herod…and doesn’t it seem sorta foolish? All thoughts of Jesus and resurrection aside…why would Herod come up with something like this….He was dead but now he’s alive again and that’s why he can do this…Herod might as well be accusing him of witchcraft and having him burned at the stake…because he seems to be explaining this away with magic…with mystical powers only brought on through the power of death…

And yet…if we think about it…maybe there would have been some evidence to support this idea. Because as Jesus has been traveling around…performing miracles…one of the things he’s done…already by this point…is raise people from the dead. We heard about just a couple weeks ago when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus…there’s another story when Jesus happens upon a funeral in the village of Nain and out of pity for the widow, he raises her son from the dead…later on he would visit the home of Lazurus…who’d been dead in the tomb pushing a week, and Jesus raised him too. (pause)
And I’m betting those stories had reached the ears of Herod as well…and you know what…that’s pretty major…Because as we all know…once you’re dead, you’re dead…but all of the sudden, that’s out the window. (pause) If people won’t stay dead, then the rules don’t apply anymore. (pause) If people won’t stay dead, then we can’t count on anything to stay the way its “supposed to. (Pause) If people won’t stay dead…well then who know what might happen next.

And the thing that really caught my attention as I was thinking about all this…is that Herod, despite making a claim that we all know is pretty foolish…despite making a claim that makes no sense, and is something that maybe we want to laugh off as foolishness…Herod…actually has a grain of truth in the midst of his doorknob statement.

Herod claims that through resurrection, these powers…these miracles…are possible…and while he misidentifies Jesus as the resurrected John, he’s correct in saying that the power that makes resurrection possible is responsible for all this. Because Jesus carries the power of God…Jesus carries the power to heal…the power to cast out demons…the power over death…a power that he would later showcase when God raised HIM from the grave.

And that my friends…is something to stop and consider…because if people won’t stay dead because of the power of God…well then all bets are off…and who knows just what God might do.

Maybe God choses to act within some stressful situation, eliminating or reducing the negative effect…maybe God choses to heal a horrible disease…maybe God choses to soften the heart of someone that we had written off…who know what God will do? (pause) I can’t speak for what God will chose to do in your lives…I can only look back and see God’s fingerprints in my experience…but I sure love those times when I get to sit down and listen to you share what God has done in yours. (pause)

Sometimes we can see these experiences…these God moments pretty clearly…other times our eyes are clouded to it. Herod didn’t quite understand just what was going on in today’s story…and likewise we don’t always understand either…and that’s okay, tough at times, but okay in the long run…because in the long run, the one who carries the power over death has promised us that one day, we will join with him in the resurrection…whether it makes sense or not…because that…is what God is up to, even when we’re not paying attention.

That’s the gospel…that’s the good news…oh…and that reminds me…the gospel, its for you. Amen.

Maybe We Should Just Wipe the Dust Off 7-5-15

In this sermon I explore Mark 6:1-13. Jesus is rejected in his hometown and then sends out the disciples two by two. I also explore the reality of opposition to not only the gospel, but its presence in general within our society.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/maybe-we-should-just-wipe-the-dust-off-7-5-15

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.

2 years ago…to the day…and almost to the exact minute…I drove into Underwood with the moving truck…we pulled up into the driveway at the parsonage and with a lot of help from congregational members, we unloaded to start our new life, and join together with you in the ministry here at Underwood Lutheran.

Its hard to believe that its been 2 years already. On one hand, two years sounds like a long time…but in reality, its not that long…not if you compare it with another celebration that’s going on this weekend. Independence Day…as the United States of America has now turned 239.

239 years…pushing two and a half centuries…and to us…that seems like an awfully long time doesn’t it? But, if we compare the longevity of our nation’s history with that of some of our European nations…America is pretty much a spritely teenager…wet behind the ears…and just getting started.

The various nations in Europe began emerging as the Roman Empire dwindled away…some as early as England back in the 10th Century…others over the course of the next 4 or 5 centuries…culminating right about the time that this random German monk got ticked off a the church at nailed 95 theses on the door of the chapel at the University of Wittenburg…sparking off what history has come to know as the Reformation. (pause)
Now with all this talk of history, perhaps we should switch gears to think about the history of the church itself…something that started round about 2000 years back with a Jewish carpenter turned traveling rabbi…and his rag tag cohort of 12 random ragamuffins…and throughout the years since then, history has watched this movement grow and expand…and throughout history, we have seen a cycle…that about every 500 years or so…something pretty major happens…something…pretty earthshattering in terms of the historical perspective.

The first go-round happened when the Roman Emporer, decided that he was sick of the old Roman gods…because there were way to may to keep track of…and so he converted to Christianity…bringing along the entire Roman Empire with him…pretty major expansion at this point…but it also brought with it all kinds of turmoil as literally millions of individuals, almost overnight, tried to change their theological mindset…and it took a while for the dust to settle.

Then we fast forwards aways…to round about the year 1000…when this little debacle known as the great schism occurred…and the single unified Christian church split…resulting in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church…same God, same Savior Jesus Christ…but some pretty radical differences in the way they run things…and once again…the dust up was pretty major.

Now we fast forward again…to a moment that I mentioned earlier…the Reformation…when for the first time the availability of this radical new invention called the printing press…allowed materials to be mass produced…so that the ideas of the various reformers and their critics could spread around like wildfire…

Starting to see a pattern here? Would you be interested to know that 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the 95 theses? (pause) And I don’t know about you…but it seems to me that, once again…we are in the midst of a pretty major dust up here in the realm of the church. (pause)
Now if history has taught us anything, its that the church, much like the mythical phoenix, always manages to rise up again with new life…but it usually takes a while for everything to settle down…often times a century or more…so I guess if history is truly cyclic…and we’ve really only been in the early stages of this major change for perhaps the past 10-20 years, depending on who you talk to…then we’ve got quite a while to go before things will really smooth out.

And in the mean time, we have to live in the craziness that comes with it…the new ideas clashing with the old ideas…old reliable verses innovation…all the while, listening to the various voices clamoring against one another. It is by no means a new concept…we just have a relatively new way of both listening to, as well as ourselves participating in the conversation.

And I’m talking about the advent of the internet…our online presence…spearheaded most predominantly within the world of social media. (pause) Its both wonderful and horrible all at the same time. It’s a blessing and a curse. We can connect with one another and share all kinds of information…We can find like-minded people and speak with passion about whatever topic we choose, and likewise we can either find…or be found…by those who oppose us…often times with utterly hateful, venomous comments. (pause)

And the past couple of weeks have certainly provided a lot of real world fodder for the social media spectrum hasn’t it? (pause, and take this slow) Charleston SC shootings…which led to questions of racial tension…outrage both against and for the presence of the Confederate flag flying high…followed almost immediately by the Supreme Court’s divisive…and equally divided…decision on marriage equality in this country…which has led to more rainbow pictures on Facebook that anyone can count…then smacked back with American Flag pictures…all the while postings of passionate people, on both sides of every single coin imaginable…listing out reasons to love, or to hate…of being persecuted, or of finally being accepted…posting after posting…picture after picture…meme after meme…and each one more self-righteous than the last…and each one seemingly rooted in the notion that I’m right…or I’m entitled to my position…or to borrow a phrase from that German Monk…Here I stand, I can do no other. (pause)
I sat at my computer late in the week, getting absolutely bombarded with this as I was working on this sermon this week…and while I recognize and fully support in every way our 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech…to the freedom bought and paid for by the blood of those who served to win America our Freedom two and half centuries ago…I also got to the point where the noise was just too much and I just wanted to tell EVERYONE all over social media to just…shut…up already. (pause)

If you agree, that’s fine…if you disagree, that’s fine too…there’s no right, no wrong…no definitive answer to the multitude of issues that we are facing in our society today…some of us see recent events as progress…others as attacks on their way of life…some see the lack of progress in social matters, others think we’ve come so far…and in the end, it seems like no one really wins…and all we do is argue about who’s to blame for it. (pause)
Life…is full of controversy…its full of doubt…and different opinions…and different experiences…and there is no one constant that anyone can agree on to cling to in all this…and while those of us sitting here this morning might name God as a constant…there are those out there…many of whom seem to find their way to my facebook feed…who will argue that point with us…This…is…our reality. (pause)

This has been dominating my attention this week as I worked with the gospel text out of Mark…two, seemingly disconnected stories partnered up together simply because of their proximity in the gospel, and the thought that 6 verses isn’t enough for a lesson and so we better double it.

Jesus is rejected in his hometown…and then the disciples go out two by two…What do those have to do with one another? And perhaps the other question you are, I’m guessing…asking yourselves right now…what do they have to do with all this stuff that I’ve been up here squawking about for the past few minutes? (pause)

I was going round and round…asking myself that very same question…but then in the midst of texting my wife…trying to explain my frustration at the distraction of all the online hub-ub…I realized that there is a connection…and here’s the first one.

Jesus goes home…to the place that should be the most familiar to him…the place that’s safe…family is there…and friends…people who have known him his entire life…perhaps your hometown is like that…a small intimate place where everyone knows you…and if you’re part of a certain family, you’re related to ¾’s of the town.

That seems to be the case for Jesus…he steps into the synagogue…and though Mark doesn’t give us all the detail, we hear from the other gospels that he shares a reading from the Prophet Isaiah and then proceeds to preach to these well-known people how its all about him…and they…freak out.

Jesus…Dude…we know you…you’re a carpenter…that’s your mom right there…we know your brothers and your sisters…We know better. (pause) Mark tells us that they took offense at him…which is a really nice way of saying that they tried to take him out and throw him off a cliff. (pause) And so, connection number one…we see here that the gospel has ALWAYS been one of those things that people get up in arms about…they either accept it…or they scoff at it…and if the people that knew Jesus best had trouble with it…it should come as no great shock that we also encounter people…sometimes those we are closest to…who will scoff at the message that we share…whether it’s the gospel or any other topic that we throw up a post about on Facebook.

Now stick with me…because this first part also connects to the second part…remember who was with Jesus as he headed home? The disciples…they traipsed along behind, and I found myself wondering just why Mark felt the need to share that with us…and then I realized just what the disciples had been doing up to that point…they were tailing Jesus…observing…watching the miracles, seeing the healings…listening to the preaching and the proclamation…and that included seeing this moment of intense opposition…and it was all in preparation for what Jesus had in store for them next.

Because directly following this encounter at home, that nearly resulted in death by unintentional cliff-diving…Jesus seems to shrug his shoulders…and move on to the other villages…doing more of the same…and in the midst of doing just that…he sends the disciples out…two by two…to do the exact…same thing.

And Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it…He sends them with no supplies other than a walking stick…totally dependent on the hospitality of those they will encounter…to proclaim the gospel…to preach the good news that through Jesus, the kingdom has come near…that forgiveness for sin is possible…that a renewed relationship with God is now possible…and as they had witnessed just prior to this…they will encounter opposition…they will encounter people who will scoff…people who will laugh…people who are so set in their ways because of their experience that they are completely unable to listen to the message that the disciples are sharing.

And what does Jesus tell them to do in these moments? Wipe off the dust from your sandals…and head off to the next town. Which to me sorta sounds like that old saying “water off a ducks back.” (pause)
People are going to disagree with you…people are going to oppose you…some openly, some secretly…but rest assured its going to happen…and when you start talking about something as life altering as the gospel…something as life changing as becoming a NEW CREATION in the eyes of God…well, not everyone is going to be ready to hear that.

And that…is…ok. So in those moments when we encounter the noise…the opposition…maybe all we can do is shrug our shoulders…kick the dust off our sandals…and move onto the next thing…to the next encounter…and we’ll see how that goes…We can’t control the response of the other…that’s not up to us…we can’t change their opinion any more than we can change their experience which has led them to that opinion in the first place.

But what can we do in the mean time? Well…love God…love your neighbor…and maybe log out of facebook when the noise gets a little too much…and maybe if we can all start doing that…then it won’t get quite so noisy…and maybe by the grace of God, then we can start to have a real conversation. Amen.