Archive for October, 2015

Take Off the Blinders 10-25-15

In this sermon for Reformation Sunday I explore the assigned text from each year in John 8:31-36. Jesus says that believing in him sets us free. I explore what we are freed from.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/take-off-the-blinders-10-25-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

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

I have never made any secret of my loathing for winter. It is the season that comes around every single year that makes me wonder why I never moved to Florida…and because winter comes right on the heels of fall…this time of year that most people absolutely love tends to rub me the wrong way.

I hear it in conversation on almost a daily basis this time of year…how wonderful it is…the cool weather…the lack of humidity…the ability to open up the windows to get fresh air in the house…the joy of sitting by a fire on a chilly evening. (pause) And of course…the beautiful colors…the colors, the colors, the colors. (pause)

This is of course…referring to the trees changing colors…which I know a lot of people love…but for me…it’s a bane of my existence…because those leaves…red, yellow, brown…they look nice for about 5 minutes…and then they drop all over my lawn…mocking me…telling me that its time to get out the rake or pull out the mower…they fall on the roof, ending up in the gutter…telling me its time to get out the ladder…and they drift up in the corners…sloppy and wet, where they’ll sitting come next spring when I really have to clean them up. (pause)
I hate the leaves…but, even I’ll admit it…for about 5 minutes away, until they start dropping…they are beautiful. (pause)
But each and every year, I can also guarantee another discussion that happens around the fall colors…the question of what causes the color change in the first place. I still get it from my daughter, though by now her older brother has it pretty well figured out… “Daddy, where does the pretty color come from?”

And the amazing thing about it…is that those colors were there all along…we just couldn’t see them. (pause) For those of you out there not as scientifically minded as I am, leaves are green because of the presence of chlorophyll…that amazing stuff found in plants that can take sunlight and somehow turn it into food for the plant…something that in the trees, or more specifically in the leaves…tends to dry up and disappear in the fall. But that chlorophyll is so bright…it is so overwhelmingly green…that it overpowers the natural color of the leaf itself…and its only when that chlorophyll dries up in the fall that we can finally see the leaf as it really is…red, orange, yellow, or brown. (pause) Throughout the rest of the growing season, the green merely blinds us to the true nature of the leaves.

Now perhaps you’re wondering just what in the heck leaves and fall colors have to do with things today…particularly here on Reformation Day when we jump away from Mark’s gospel and hit a familiar passage out of John…one featured each and every year.

Abide in my word…know the truth…and it will make you free. (pause) Hold on a sec Jesus…Abraham, we’re already free…its all good…what are you talking about? (pause) You all know the passage don’t you? A bunch of fellow Jewish people are in the temple listening to Jesus…his words resonate and they believe…only to have him drop this little bomb on them…a statement which perhaps sounds like good news to us…and it trips them up…leading to a massive argument…a bunch of name calling…accusations of demon possession…and threats of stoning due to blasphemy. (pause) Seriously…John chapter 8 is a rollercoaster of reaction isn’t it?

It interesting to me…intriguing even…to hear about this reaction of individuals who have just begun to believe in Jesus…only to turn right around and change their mind. (pause) But it catches my attention simply because of the important nature of belief here in John’s gospel.

Throughout the course of the gospel, Jesus is constantly inviting individuals, as well as us as readers to believe in him…and not only that but to abide…to remain, to stay with him…we hear it today…abide in my word…stay in my word and my teaching…believe in me.

And just what are we supposed to believe? Well, the author of John addresses that towards the end…telling us that all of these things have been written down so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and through believing you might have life in his name. (pause)

And so…it would seem that this random group of Jewish people, in Jerusalem like good Jewish people…observing their traditions that dictate the proper way to honor God, begin to believe what Jesus has to say…seemingly, starting to believe that Jesus is in fact who he says he is…until the truth of just what this means starts to come to the surface. (pause)
Isn’t it interesting, what trips them up? This notion that faith in Christ brings freedom? They can’t get past it can they? And I wonder why…is it simply because to acknowledge that God became human is to begin to understand why he did so in the first place? (pause) To acknowledge that humanity is enslaved by a power greater than themselves…that we as individuals lack freedom. (pause)

Perhaps I say that, and it is a difficult thing to acknowledge…to understand…after all, one of the things that we pride ourselves in here in our country is our freedom…the notion that nothing holds sway over us…but think about it for a moment…is that really true? Or do we all have things that have their hooks in us…I think we do.

Now some of these things are easy to recognize…other’s not so much, and I think that’s the case that we see in the story today…the people that Jesus was addressing were unable to recognize that they were enslaved to sin…to a power that exists in our reality that goes far beyond our ability to understand or comprehend, much less overcome.

And this power is entrenched so deeply within our very existence that it blinds us to this truth…it blinds us from the ability the recognize that its even there…it blinds us from seeing things as they actually are. (pause) That’s what sin does…it warps things…hides some truths from us and whispers lies about other things…but in the end, the power of sin blinds us from the truth that we have a God that made us and loves us.

And you know what…I think sin tells us one more lie as well…and that is the lie that we can even begin to understand God and just what God is up to in the world. (pause)

It seems as if the people listening to Jesus that day, whoever they were, were so set in their ways, were so firmly convinced that their ancestry was all that mattered to God, that they were blinded to the life altering truth that God was standing before them, offering them freedom from the very thing that blinded them in the first place…their pride as descendants of Abraham…the very thing that they thought was their salvation…was the thing standing in the way of it.

And I think we fall into the same trap…we all have blinders that we wear…and all too often I fear that the very thing blinding us to our need for Jesus is the notion that we have it right. (pause)

Perhaps its fitting that we cover this text on Reformation Day…on the day every year when we celebrate the beginning of a major change within the body of Christ…a time when the church began to recognize that there are differences…and that no one individual has it all figured out…because the church, as it is, is made of people and every single one of us is flawed…none of us is perfect…none of us has perfect understanding…because none of us are God. (pause)
If you need evidence to support this…look at all the different denominations…there are countless…even within the Lutheran branch…and we each define ourselves by different traditions and practices…different understandings…different interpretations.

And I fear, one of the traps that we fall into, both as individuals as well as denominations…is the notion that we have it right and everyone else is wrong….that our denomination heritage and personal interpretation of the Bible is 100% accurate…or worse yet…that God thinks exactly the same way we do.

News flash!!!! He doesn’t…and I for one am pretty glad about that, because if God thought the same way I do then we’d all be in trouble…but that isn’t the case.

Because God doesn’t think the same way we do…God doesn’t love the same we do…God doesn’t exist the same way we do…and the freedom that is offered to us through Jesus Christ is freedom from the notion that we have to get it all figured out before its accessible…Jesus frees us from that which blinds us from the truth…even those blinders that we think ARE truth. (pause)

So here’s the thing…we aren’t perfect. We never were, and in this life we never will be. But the good news in Jesus Christ is that we don’t have to be…and truth that Jesus is trying desperately to show us is that his action…God’s action in our reality…makes us okay anyway.

The gospel is not a bunch of rules of what you have to do, and what you have to avoid in order to make God happy with you. It’s not a cultural requirement, it’s not a financial bench mark. Because none of that will make us right with God…none of that will overcome the power of sin in this reality…the power that exists far beyond our understanding and breaks the relationship with God because God cannot tolerate that which is against his will…but the wonderful thing is that God WILL not tolerate being separated from us and that is why the word became flesh…to somehow…someway take on the power of sin which results in death, and by dying and coming back God overcomes it…we don’t have to understand it…we don’t have to explain it…we just believe it through the power of the Holy Spirit acting within us.

And so, each and every day, we ask God to remove the blinders…to remove that which stands in the way of us recognizing that we need a savior and he exists as God made flesh dwelling among us…and simply because HE chooses to…he makes us free from all that blinds us…because HE chooses to…our blinders are removed…and once again, that relationship with God, flawed by the presence of sin in our reality today, will one day be perfected whether we understand it or not. Amen.

Don’t Get Distracted 10-18-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 20:32-45 I explore Jesus’ response to James and John asking for an honor that is not intended for them. Jesus reminds us to be who we are called to be, nothing more and nothing less.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-get-distracted-10-18-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Mark 10:35-45 (also including 32-34)

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

There’s a type of character that commonly pops up in movies aimed at young viewers…and this is particularly evident within animated movies from Pixar. The character type…the goofy sidekick. That unexpected character that pops up part way through the movie and comes alongside the main character, often times serving as comic relief within the story line…and in my opinion…more often than not, that character makes the movie.

Where would Shrek be without Donkey cracking jokes? Who can forget Olaf, the living snowman that traipses along beside Anna and Elsa…Aladdin’s furry little friend Abu…or my personal favorite…Dug, the talking dog from Up.

I love Dug…and in my opinion, the best scene is his introduction as he meets the main characters and displays his mechanically wonderful collar that allows his thoughts to be heard.

Its an amazing scene, as Doug acts like any friendly dog…jumping up on the chest of the main character to express his instant affection… “HI THERE…My name is Doug…I have just met you…and I love you….SQUIRREL!!!!!” (pause)
That’s my favorite spot right there…as Doug is distracted by a squirrel…something any dog would do…and yet…it makes the scene unforgettable…so much so that in recent years the word “SQUIRREL” has become synonymous for someone being easily distracted…and that’s where I’m jumping into the gospel lesson for today. (pause)
Now as I mentioned…I included a few extra verses at the beginning of today’s gospel lesson…and those verses included Jesus’ third and final passion prediction here in Mark. We heard the first two out of chapters 8 and 9 a few weeks back…and now, as Jesus and the disciples are finally nearing Jerusalem…Jesus shares the same message for the third time. Its not any different from the previous two…and he shares, quite clearly…the Son of man will be handed over and will be condemned to death…he’ll flogged…and beaten…and mocked…and he will be killed…and after three days he will rise again. (pause)
And immediately…right on the heels of this…James and John come trotting up to Jesus with this bold request. And I can only wonder…were they just listening? Or were they completely caught up in something different…utterly distracted…Honestly…I kinda hope so…it would explain quite a bit.

Maybe…just maybe, while Jesus is talking to the disciples about this tragedy that is coming right up…James and John are having a little side conversation because they are already planning on asking Jesus this…important question.

Psst…James….you ask him…no John, you ask him…well, maybe we should ask him together…I dunno…you think we should pull him aside…something tells me the other’s aren’t going to like this very much. (pause) SQUIRREL!!!! (pause)

I’d like to think that’s what happened…that they were simply so caught up in what they were about to ask Jesus that they completely missed what he was saying…because Jesus’ predictions about his suffering and death seem WAY too momentous to simply ignore right? But isn’t that what seems to happen?

I’m going to die and rise again…Hey Jesus…in your glory can we sit beside you? (pause) WHAT? They couldn’t have heard him could they? I mean, seriously. (pause) But what if they did? And what if this response is simply more evidence of the incredibly blatant point that Mark likes to make…that the disciples JUST…DON’T…GET IT.

We’ve seen this theme a lot haven’t we? They are constantly failing to understand Jesus’ teaching…or his miracles…or his healings…and when he comes around to teaching them…directly and plainly…about his death and resurrection…its more of the same. The first time, Peter rebukes him and gets called Satan….the second, we plainly hear that they don’t understand and promptly start bickering about who’s the greatest among them…and now…James and John…two brothers who likely have the normal sibling tendency to think alike hit him up with “Hey Jesus, let us sit in the places of honor beside you in your glory.”

I can only imagine the epic facepalm that Jesus gave them when he heard it. (facepalm) “Guys…really? You really think you deserve that?” And then we hear questions of cups and baptisms…and man aren’t the sons of Zebedee sure of themselves? Oh yes Jesus…we are able to do what you’re going to do. (pause)

Now granted…this whole exchange between Jesus and the brothers is a little odd…there’s a lot of debate about just what they’re really talking about here…is the cup Jesus’ death? Perhaps…and if so is he telling them that they will be killed? Its hard to say in the long run…because James was eventually martyred…but he wasn’t crucified…and John, well, he’s the one disciple who actually lived long enough to die of natural causes…so who knows what the cup is all about…and the baptism, well, that could be a lot of things…but regardless of that…Jesus makes the main point that to be the ones at his right and left hand is not what’s in store for James and John…that “honor” is prepared for different people. (pause)

Once again…when faced with the notion of Jesus dying, the disciples seem compelled to establish a pecking order…over and over again we see this…and today’s story is no different…they are so distracted by their petty human desire to be top-dog that they forget what Jesus has taught them over and over again…and so he reminds them once more…its not about trying to be great…serve one another…follow my example because the son of man came not to be served, but to be a servant of all…to give his life as a ransom for many.

And with that, we see the disciples finally shut up and listen. (pause) Over and over again Jesus has been telling these men that to be a follower of Christ…to be a disciple means a life of serving others…and yet it never sinks in…but this time, Jesus tells us that his life, which is about to be taken…will serve as a ransom…as a payment…because that’s what a ransom is…a payment to grant the freedom of someone that has been taken captive. (pause)
Maybe…just maybe…for the first time the disciples are starting to get it…even just for a moment…perhaps they are starting to see past their own petty distractions about what the Messiah is supposed to be…to see what the Messiah actually is…and where his glory truly lies. (pause)
All to often it seems like the disciples are focused on this amazing kingdom that Jesus is going to establish…and even more so…their place of prominence within it…and I fear that we get caught up in the same distraction…constantly asking the question of just what following God is going to get me. (pause)

But Jesus is revealing the point of his glory…and where it will be found…not in a kingdom…not in miracles or teachings or healings…but the glory of Jesus is found as he hangs on that cross…as he embraces a cursed death…taking on the curse of sin for all of humanity…paying the ransom to free us from that which holds us captive. (pause)
Maybe this is why the disciples seem to clam up after this third and final prediction…and why James and John don’t push the issue anymore…perhaps they are finally beginning to understand, if only for a moment…the true reality of what Jesus is talking about as he predicts his death.

James…John…you want to be beside me in my glory…you can’t…its not prepared for you…Maybe Jesus is predicting that they will all run away and abandon him…which we know they do…but…when Jesus is hanging in excruciating and degradation pain on that cross…he’s not alone…and this is why we say that he is in his glory…because the only time in all four gospels when anyone is described at his right and at his left…its two criminals…hanging up on crosses on either side. (pause)

This is the utterly unbelievable aspect of the gospel…that God would die…and not only that, but that God would willingly endure the most painful, humiliating, cursed death imaginable…and that he would do it surrounded…not by his friends…but by condemned criminals…revolutionaries…the lowest of the low…and that God would do this willingly to ransom us from the powers of sin and darkness that are so present in this world…holding us captive…and not only that…but that God would do all this for individuals that are often too distracted to notice…too distracted with worry…or with ambition…with anger…or with fear. (pause)
I can’t tell you what it is that distracts you from recognizing the incredible act that Jesus accomplishes on that cross…but I know that we all have those distractions in our lives…and yet, Jesus willingly does this for us anyway…and in the midst of all this…his words to James and John, as well as the other disciples, serve as an important reminder for us as well.

One day we all drink from the cup of death…the same cup that Jesus himself asked the Father to remove…and likewise…we share in the same baptism as Jesus…washed in the water and gifted with the holy spirit…and throughout all of that, we are not called to be anything more than what God intends for us…the places of honor…to be at the right and left of Jesus in his glory were prepared for two specific people…and God has prepared something specific for you.

And so, as we leave this place today, reminded of the incredible cost willingly paid by God on our behalf…remember…do what God has called you to do…be who God has called you to be…and while that looks different for everyone…there is something that we all have in common…that God has called us his beloved children and nothing can take that away. Amen.

Not Just Difficult But Impossible 10-11-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:17-31, I explore the story of the rich man’s encounter with Jesus. This leads to the impossible nature of salvation based on anything that we do, as well as the impossible nature of the love of God expressed in Jesus Christ.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/not-just-difficult-but-impossible-10-11-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

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

There is a franchise in Hollywood that I’m a pretty big fan of. It goes all the way back to 1966. Mission Impossible. The original tv series ran until 1973. A rebooted tv series ran from 1988 to 1990. This finally led into a series of movies starring Tom Cruise starting back in 1996 that is still going on as the 5th film in the series hit theatres earlier this year.

The whole premise of Mission Impossible is right there in the title. During each episode or movie, the team facing seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles to accomplish the given mission…but given enough training and know-how…throw in enough techno-gadgets…and in the end…they always seem to accomplish what they set out to do. However crazy their objectives are…they always manage to do the impossible. The name of their organization is even a wink at this…the IMF, or Impossible Mission Force.

There’s actually a pretty telling moment in the second film, which came out back in 2000…when Tom Cruise sits in a meeting with the director, who is outlining the mission at hand…part of which is to find and convince a wanted jewel thief to join the team and help with the mission. The director asks “Can you do it?” Cruise responds… “It will be…difficult.” And then in a nod to the audience, the director says “Well this isn’t Mission Difficult…its Mission Impossible…Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.” (pause)
As cheesy or silly as the tv shows and movies can be, there is a nugget of truth here. As a species, we humans are pretty good at overcoming some pretty insurmountable odds aren’t we? Look at some of the things that we have accomplished…simply because we set our minds to it…accomplishments that at first glance seem like they would be utterly impossible. (pause)
We have figured out how to leave the earth behind and fly…in an airplane anyway. We decided to explore space…worked at it, launched satellites and eventually people into orbit…we even sent people to the moon, simply because we decided to go there.

We’ve built 100+ story skyscrapers, we’ve explored the rainforests, and climbed mount Everest…simply because we as a species decided to work hard enough to figure out how to do it. We’ve done it as a species…and we do the same sort of thing as individuals…I remember October 17th 2011…It was my wife’s birthday and I decided that day I was going to go to the gym with her…and that day I ran 1 mile…and I thought I was gonna die. But I kept working at it…with an eventual goal in mind…and in February of 2014, I spent 5 hours and 5 minutes on a treadmill in my basement covering 26.2 miles…accomplishing a marathon…simply because I decided to do the work, to do the training and preparing that it would take to pull it off.

Its true…we as humans seem to be able to accomplish anything that we put our minds too…so much that we have a common phrase “you’ve done the impossible.” (pause) But I find myself wondering…is that…well, for lack of a better word…possible? (pause)

The definition of “impossible” is this…not able to occur, exist, or be done. (pause) Not just difficult, but not able. And so to say that we have accomplished the impossible, by definition…must be a lie. Certainly we can and do accomplish amazing things…things that take extraordinary amounts of effort…but if we do it…then it isn’t impossible. (pause)

I’m sure by now you see where I’m going with this…for in today’s gospel lesson we hear an astonished, likely exasperated question from the disciples asking the important question…Who can be saved? And the honest, if daunting reply from Jesus…for mortals it is…impossible.

But before we explore that any further, we need to back up and take a look at the situation that prompted this exchange in the first place…the encounter between Jesus and the rich man who asks the familiar question…what must I do to inherit eternal life? (pause)

I think many of us are familiar with this story…I even referenced it last week…this random man comes up to Jesus…kneels before him, which is worth noting…this guy pays the proper respect to Jesus and so his question seems to be quite sincere…It seems that his heart is heavy because despite all that he has done throughout his life…he lacks the assurance that eternal life has been given to him…and so the question to Jesus…what must I do?

Jesus response…well, it’s a bit odd this time around isn’t it…You know the commandments…and he lists off a batch of them…and the man’s response…I have done all these things since I was young…which is likely true…we have no reason to think that this man has failed to follow the listed commandments to the letter.

There’s something interesting that we need to notice though…even before Jesus jumps in to point out the one thing lacking for this guy…we need to stop and think about the commandments and who they are aimed at. Commandments 4-10 are aimed at how we treat other people…and each commandment that Jesus listed off to the guy falls in that category…but what Jesus did not list off for this guy are #1-3, which are aimed at our relationship with God. (pause)

Now remember that Jesus didn’t dispute the man saying he’s followed the listed commandments…but he does point out something pretty specific…that the man needs to go off, sell everything he has and give it to the poor before finally coming to follow Jesus.

And we see…in this instant, that the man can’t do it…he goes away crestfallen…saddened…downright gloomy…and then, only then do we hear that he has many possessions…Possessions which he places all value upon…possessions and wealth that he places his trust in…so much so that he can do what Jesus asks…and this makes me think that this man’s wealth is the idol that is standing in the way of his relationship with God.

Remember that command that I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me? (pause) For this guy…its his wealth…and as we see in the story today, its too much for him to give up at this point…and Jesus’ call to discipleship for this guy…the invitation to come and follow me…goes unanswered. (pause)
I kept coming around to this part of the story this week…over and over again…wrestling with the question of if Jesus is taking a pot-shot at wealth in general…or if it is simply the specific hurdle that makes this specific guy fail in his relationship with God…and there’s a lot of debate about that…perhaps because we as individuals are pretty attracted to the ever present dollar sign in our lives as well. (pause)

But in the end…Jesus seems to point out the important point here…he actually says it twice to his disciples after this guy walks away. How hard it is to enter the kingdom of heaven…how hard it is…children…to enter into the kingdom. (pause)

Well now wait a second…Jesus just called the disciples…those who are following him despite their flaws and shortcomings…children…haven’t we heard lately…from Jesus himself…that it is children who receive the kingdom? (pause) Well now that’s interesting isn’t it?

To be a follower of Christ is to be called a child…and that’s not all bad…because children are loved despite their flaws…despite their shortcomings…and we see this in Jesus’ call to the rich man today. Even before pointing out the insurmountable hurdle in this man’s existence, Jesus looks at him…and loves him…

The love of God in Christ Jesus for all of humanity exists long before we recognize our sin…long before we recognize the futility of our attempts to earn out own salvation…and long before we realize just how impossible it is for us to inherit eternal life.

That was the man’s question way back at the beginning of the story…what must I do to inherit eternal life…and now think about how you inherit anything…do you do anything? Or do you wait for someone to die? (pause)
Jesus assures each of us, that we are incapable of fulfilling the law…and as such the law can never bring us salvation…this is what he calls impossible for mortals…yet his love for us is already present…and he proved it by going to Jerusalem…and taking on that cross…dying…so that the inheritance of eternal life might be possible…

In order to inherit anything the owner of it must die…and wouldn’t you know it…the one who holds eternal life in his hands has already done so…and not only that…but knowing us fully…all that which is good and all that which is lacking within us…he loves us enough to offer it to us freely. (pause)
Now all that being said I need to come back around to the disciples…those 12 poor schmucks following Jesus around and seemingly failing at every possible opportunity to show what they are learning…for as Jesus talks about this situation…explaining it to them, all they can say is “Who then can be saved?”

Perhaps we hear that and think they are throwing their hands up in disgust…Jeepers Jesus, we’ve been following you around and we have no idea how to do it…how can anyone else? Or maybe they were exasperated at the fact that, once again…Jesus is showing love to someone that they think is unworthy of it…someone unwilling to give up everything as they have…in order to follow along behind.

Either way…I think it speaks to the impossible nature of the Gospel…on both sides of the coin. Its impossible for anyone to ever do enough or be enough or say enough to earn salvation…just as its impossible to ever love another person enough to offer them freely that which they cannot provide.

Our sin stands it the way of our relationship with God because we constantly put something else in front of Him. We have idols everywhere…whether we realize it or not and so perhaps as we cry out about the impossible nature of all this maybe we’re being honest with our selves thinking that its impossible that anyone could love ME…that much.

And yet…God does…for what is impossible with mortals is possible for God. (pause)

God knows us…and despite that which stands in the way, he loves us…and he loves us so much that he has died in order for us to inherit that which we cannot achieve on our own…eternal life in the age to come…whatever that looks like…and in the meantime…he extends us the invitation to come and follow…where ever that might take us. Amen.

The Rules Are Not Enough 10-4-15

This sermon is based on Mark 10:2-16, as Jesus tackles an uncomfortable topic in divorce. But what catches us more importantly is the notion that rules are never going to define righteousness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-rules-are-not-enough-10-4-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

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

My Sunday morning outfit never really changes much does it? Dress shoes, nice pants, and a suit coat over my clerical shirt. Occasionally I put on my robe and stole, but that doesn’t happen very often anymore…and so for individuals walking through the doors, about the one outward sign that I’m the pastor is my clerical shirt.

More often than not, I wear a black cleric right? About the only time you’ve seen me in anything different is the two occasions during the liturgical year when I wear my red shirt…Reformation Sunday and Pentecost…however…there are a multitude of different colors of clerics available for purchase.

I found that out a few years back as I was nearing my ordination…and I thought that I would attempt to secure a different shirt for each color represented in our liturgical calendar. Green for the season of Pentecost, red as I mentioned a moment ago, black which I obviously managed, dark blue for Advent, white for Christmas and Easter, and purple for Lent. And so I went online to a supplier to attempt to get as many of those as I could find…but they came up a little short on selection…and so I ended up with black, red, light gray, light blue…and purple.

And then about a week or so later…I was sitting down with a fellow pastor, and we ended up talking about this particular order…and when I mentioned purple…he just sort of looked at me funny for a moment before asking me a simple question, “Scott…in the Lutheran church…who wears purple?” (pause)

If you’re unaware, there’s something of an unwritten rule here in the ELCA that only bishops wear purple…as far as I know its not actually recorded anywhere officially…but its one of those things that you just don’t do…and so I panicked and called the supplier right away. Fortunately it was a small one man operation in terms of order processing, and the guy on the phone actually informed me that the purple shirt that I had ordered was actually on backorder…and so he said he would process everything else and cancel that one.

I breathed a sigh of relief…only to have the back ordered purple clerical shirt show up about 2 months later. So I called him back and he made the joke of “well, after talking to you on the phone I figured you would be a bishop by now, so I sent it anyway.” (pause) But as we all know, I am not a bishop…and that “unwritten” rule against wearing purple is not one that I plan on breaking anytime soon.

Now I bring this all up because today’s gospel features pretty heavily on this notion of rules. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a squirmy subject today, as the Pharisees attempt to utilize a long standing rule…one going all the way back to Deuteronomy and Moses…in order to try and trip up Jesus.

And considering the ongoing tendency of the religious leaders to try and use various religious law to discredit him, it would seem that the subject they breech must have been every bit as uncomfortable then as it is now…divorce…and make no mistake…reading this passage in this day and age where over 50% of marriages end in divorce and then hearing Jesus’ words on the subject…its uncomfortable.

I discussed this passage in a few different settings with a few different people this week, and each and every time we agreed…yah…that’s tough…and a couple of the high school boys were blunt enough to make the statement that I wish I could make “Glad I’m not preaching on it.”

But here we are…faced with a situation where individuals try to trap Jesus by using the rules…and in all honesty…I’m drawn more to that fact than I am to Jesus blunt words about divorce and adultery. (pause) And so for the sake of covering our bases today can we simply agree that divorce is bad…and while there are times when it may be the best thing, its never a good thing? I hope so…if you want to hear more, I preached on this about a year and a half ago…hit me up and I’ll send you the sound file for it. (pause)

But in the end…I’m struck a little more firmly by yet another example of individuals trying to play the rule card with Jesus. (pause) How often do we see this sort of thing in the gospels? Over and over again. (pause) We’ve heard “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We’ve heard the disciples arguing about how to be great in the kingdom of Heaven. We’ve heard the question of how many times do I need to forgive my brother? Or why do your followers eat with defiled hands?

Today…the question…Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (pause) Over and over again people get caught up with the rules. The checklists…the notion of salvation being granted by what we accomplish or what we successfully avoid….this notion that if I can mark enough checkboxes then I’ll be covered…and if I can avoid a list of bad stuff I won’t lose it. (pause)
Isn’t that telling of our society today though? We have rules about everything…bench marks that we need to achieve…negative things that we need to avoid. (pause)

Look at sporting events…collectively we do such a bad job of following the rules that we have guidelines for the various penalties of breaking them. And if you need a visual example…just watch a football game and look for those yellow flags getting thrown all over the place.

Additionally…we have those unwritten rules in society of how to treat one another…when its okay to speak out about something and when we should just bite our tongue.

Rules rules rules…we have rules everywhere…and I wonder…how’s that working out for everyone? (pause) I’m going to run the risk of sounding political for just a moment here…but rest assured that’s not my intention…here in our country…we have laws about firearms. Some will argue that they are too strict…others that they aren’t strict enough…but regardless of your personal opinion on guns in our country…10 people died last Thursday when yet another nutjob opened fire at a community college in Oregon.

Now I know it doesn’t sound very loving for me to call the shooter names…but like all of you, I’m sick of hearing this news every few months…that it happened again…that once again…someone breaks the law…and a bunch of people die. (pause)

People die…because the law…can’t protect them…it can’t save them. (pause) And that right there is the truth of our reality…the reason that Jesus always had something to say whenever he faced the question of how to interpret some law…how much is enough, or what is considered going too far.

The law…the rules…the guidelines are never going to do enough or be enough to save us…because our reality is too flawed…flawed by sin…flawed by that which breaks down our relationships in the first place.

Think about it for a moment…the original law…the 10 Commandments were given to the people of God as a gift in order to show them how they can live in harmony with God and with one another…how they can live in relationship with God and with one another…but as we have seen throughout the course of Old Testament history…and perhaps more specifically through the teachings of Jesus during his ministry, we CANNOT do it…we cannot fulfill the law. No matter how hard we try, its not enough…and the relationships always suffer because of it.

Maybe that’s why Jesus speaks out against divorce in today’s passage…because divorce at its very core is the ending of a relationship…and if our relationships are destroyed by the power of sin in our reality, then I suppose we have to say that divorce is sinful…just as the destruction of any relationship for any reason is the result of sin.

Now once again…I’m not trying to call out divorce right now…I’m really not…rather I’m being realistic…realistic about the fact that our reality…our very existence as it is today is contrary to how we were created in the first place. (pause) Think about the story of creation…we know there are two accounts at the beginning of Genesis and we heard a portion of one in our first lesson…but we see when God decides to create humanity in the first place…God says “Let us create humankind in OUR image.” Let me say that one more time…in OUR image.

We see in Genesis chapter 1…from the beginning God is in relationship…our Triune God…one God-3 parts…confusing as that might be…was in relationship before our reality began…and then we were made in that image…we were made to be in relationship as well…first off relationship with God…and then as we see our first lesson, equal relationship with one another as well. (pause)
We live in a reality, created by God in order to be with one another…and sin breaks that down…period…and there is nothing that we can do about it. There is no magic set of rules…no checklist…no batch of things to avoid that is going to take sin out of our existence…its dug in too deep.

That is why Jesus always seems able to counter the questions of those looking to trip him up with just the right thing to point out to that individual how deep sin runs in their existence…and because it runs so deep…that’s why Jesus came in the first place.

Since we are unable to repair the breach in our relationships caused by the presence of sin…the only being able to do anything about it…did…that is why God entered into our reality…not in order to establish some new set of rules and guidelines that we would turn around and fail at…but in order to bring the kingdom of heaven here.

We can’t get there…so he comes here…and he pays the price of sin…the wages of sin is death…and now through Jesus Christ that debt has been paid…because through Jesus Christ…God takes our messes…our screw-ups…our weaknesses…and God makes them into miracles. (pause)

And so…to wrap this all up today…yes…today Jesus presents us with a hard teaching…one that we’re all uncomfortable with…because there is no good answer to either the question of divorce…nor is there a good answer to the bigger question of “Well Lord…how much is enough?” Because the rules…can never…and will never…be enough…Only God is enough…and praise BE to God…that through the work of Christ, He makes us enough too. Amen.