Archive for January, 2016

Dark Hats or Dark Hearts 1-31-16

This morning’s sermon is based on Luke 4:21-30, though I also included the opening portion of the same story (verses 14-20). Jesus addresses the hometown crowd, and things get a little tense.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dark-hats-or-dark-hearts-1-31-16

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

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

In recent years, I have noticed a trend with the entertainment realm dealing with the main character of various movies or television shows…the anti-hero…In short, the main character, or protagonist as they are called, has morphed from the typical good guy into the type that is way more ambiguous from the moral perspective.

The anti-hero acts in ways that normally we would consider to be negative, and yet, with the narrative of the story revolving around them, they remain the one that we root for…so much so that a movie from just a few years back actually came with the tagline “Get ready to root for the bad guy.” There are certainly a lot of examples of this, with a few recent examples including shows like Breaking Bad or the Sopranos.

As we continue to see this brand of story telling more and more often, it really reveals how much things have changed since the good old days…I can remember sitting and watching old episodes of Gunsmoke with my dad when I was younger…and even though I was clueless as to just who was who…I never had to question who was the good guy and who was the bad guy in any given scene.

The good guy always wore the white hat…and the bad guy was wearing the dark one. They put it right there on front street…but now…well, it’s a little harder to know just who we should be rooting for isn’t it? (pause) But you know what…that’s kinda telling of our day to day lives too isn’t it? Morality and choices…how we treat one another…how we act in our day to day…its all gotten pretty muddled…and at times I think it would be easier if everyone would just wear a hat that would show me in an instant, if I could trust them or not…a hat…that would reveal the color of their heart…but of course, that’s the not the case…and it’s a lot harder, at a glance, to pick out those with a dark heart, than it would be to see them wearing the dark hat. (pause)

Now granted, this isn’t a movie, and it certainly isn’t a western where everyone is walking around with a 10-gallon hat on their head and a revolver on their hip. Real life, we all know its different…and even if we did all wear a hat that revealed our intentions…we’d likely be switching back and forth from that white hat to the dark one over and over again…minute to minute…because human nature is fickle isn’t it? (pause)
Now we see this fickle nature on display here in the gospel lesson for today…that continuation of the same story from last week…as Jesus opens up his ministry in his home stopping grounds…going synagogue to synagogue…enjoying positive reaction after positive reaction…that is, until…he makes it home. (pause)

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives…sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed…Jesus reads these words from the prophet Isaiah…and then as he opens his mouth the preach…the first thing he says is “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (pause) This all sounds familiar doesn’t it? We heard all this last week…but now today, we get the rest of the story.

Initially…the people here in Jesus home town…men and women that he had grown up with…friends, neighbors…aunts and uncles, people who have known him since he was a babe in Mary’s arms…initially, they’re all pretty impressed at this word of grace that he has uttered…and to hear him say that its now fulfilled through him? Wow. This…is pretty big news…and their astonishment is clear. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (pause)
And that right there…that question, that statement…which could be expressing amazed astonishment in recognizing the truth…or on the flip side snarky negativity wondering who this upstart that we’ve known forever thinks he is…could be either way…but this statement…sets Jesus…off.

That’s the thing that surprised me the most as I was working with this passage. Jesus almost seems like he’s picking a fight here…Jesus’ human nature along with its tendency to be back and forth, one extreme to the other…he is the one, who seemingly turns a little dark in order to take the first shot. (pause)
Doubtless you’ll say to me “doctor cure yourself” and then you’ll ask me to perform the deeds of power that you’ve been hearing about…and I can only imagine that the people are sitting there nodding, perhaps wondering why Jesus is starting to turn negative…but then he really pours it on…Truly I tell you…no prophet is accepted in their hometown. (pause) Jaws have to be dropping in the synagogue by this point…and people must be looking at each other with confusion…wondering just what he’s talking about.

If what he says is true…and the prophecy of the Lord’s favor being turned towards the oppressed…certainly that has to include us right? (pause) After all, the Jewish people know all about oppression…having been conquered over and over again…and now in Jesus time being subject to the Romans and whatever whims the government or the military throws out…they are very familiar with this frame of mind.

So why would Jesus start talking so negatively…and why on earth, would he go on in the way that he does? (pause) In Elijah’s day, Israel was filled with widows during a famine…but God sent the prophet to a Gentile woman….and Elisha, he could have healed countless Jewish lepers, but it was the foreign general that received the healing. God’s blessing, which should have gone to his chosen people, were instead bestowed on their enemies. (pause)
I can only imagine when Jesus makes this bold statement there amongst his friends and neighbors…there must have been a shocked silence for a moment…until anger boiled out of them…because Jesus seems to be telling them…Yes…the favor of God is fulfilled through me, but don’t think that just because you know me that you automatically get it…You’re not privy to anything here. (pause) Mind…blown…and not in a good way…

And how do we see them respond? These people, who only moments before we’re astonished and joyful are not full of anger…and wrath…and they grab Jesus and drag him out to the gate of the city, where they fully intend to toss him right down the mountain…You ungrateful brat…how dare you treat us this way…You were raised here…you know our struggles…you know our traditions…you know that we are good people…and that we are God’s chosen people…how dare you say that we don’t deserve this blessing? (pause)

That’s the rub…that’s the tension…the thing that sets them off…when they are faced with the truth that their culture…their heritage…their family line…their pedigree…earns them nothing. (pause)

But it goes even beyond that. God’s blessings, foretold centuries before by the prophet Isaiah…now coming to fulfillment…and instead of being given to those who thought they were chosen by God…its offered to their mortal enemies…the absolute worst of the worst…to those who would be wearing the black hat if this was an old western. (pause)

And so we ask the question of just what does this mean for us today…when God in human form tells us that our association gets us nothing…and that the blessing is instead offered to those that we feel have no right to it what so ever? (pause) Here’s that offensive nature of the gospel that we’ve talked about before.

That the good news doesn’t just apply to certain people who look a certain way, or talk a certain way, or think a certain way…but that maybe, just maybe when we hear that God so loved the world that he gave his Son that maybe, just maybe that really means that God really does love the entire world.

Think about the people that shouldn’t get it…that don’t deserve it…the liars and the thieves…murderers and rapists…atheists or agnostics…or hindu’s or buddists…and maybe I’ll ruffle some feathers with this…but what about Muslims, or homosexuals…or on the other hand the ultra right wing fundamentalists who end up borderline cult-like and condemn everyone else to hell if they don’t think exactly the same way…When I ask you to mentally list those who don’t get the gospel…those who fail to grasp it…those who sure don’t deserve it…I’m guessing that every single one of you can make that list. It will have different types of people on it depending on who you are…and yes…full disclosure, I’ve got that list too…I am just as prone to the need to justify myself at the expense of others as anyone, sinful though that is…and I know it is…because the second I make a list of that includes those who I deem as unworthy of the gospel then I have just placed myself in the judgement seat…I have just set myself above God…I have put my way as the only way.

But my way, its not the right way…because I’m pretty sure that this random carpenter 2000 years ago named Jesus made the statement that I am the way…and if scripture shows us anything its that when someone things that they’ve got it all figured out, Jesus tends to get a little harsh with them…but when someone finds themselves on the outside…marginalized…outcast…that tends to be the one that Jesus is hanging out with.

It seems that the scripture shows us that anytime we, or anyone else for that matter, draws a line in the sand dividing those who are right from those who aren’t…dividing us from them…Jesus is typically standing on the opposite side of that line. (pause)

As I stand up here saying all this…I wonder how many of you are thinking that I’m coming off pretty judgmental…I know I sound that way…and yes there are times when I think that way…times when I hope for more from our congregation and get frustrated when I feel like I’m not seeing the results that God desires…but when I boil all that down I know that its just another case of me placing myself into a spot where I have no business being…and my pride has tripped me up again.

This is the human condition…we don’t all wear white hats or dark hats…because our human nature is too wrapped up with the flawed reality of sin…but there is good news here.

Even though Jesus gets a little harsh with the people in his hometown, he does tell them, Today, this is fulfilled in your hearing…and Jesus is not just saying that it is fulfilled in me…though that is true…but it is fulfilled…the gospel is fulfilled…the release of the captive is fulfilled in YOU hearing it.

You are set free when you hear the good news that God loves you as you are…that Jesus has redeemed you as you are…and at the beginning of worship when we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, then we hear those words, spoken in the authority of Christ that you are forgiven…and all of it counts. Jesus died for all sins…even THAT one. (pause)

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we should all be wearing the dark hat…because it speaks to the truth of a dark heart within us…but praise be to God that he loves us enough to meet us in the darkness…to bring that darkness right up in our face…where we cannot deny it…and then through Jesus Christ that darkness…is…no more.

This is the promise given to us through the waters of our baptism…that we are a new creation, and sin, though it is still present, no longer holds sway. We recognize it, we confess it…and we hear those sweet words from God that you…my child…are forgiven.

These are the words of grace spoken by our Lord…they are spoken for us to hear each and every time we stumble…and likewise, they are for us to share as well….not because we have to…not to earn ourselves brownie points or to erase enough checkmarks on some cosmic bad-deeds list…but we share it because it is good news…and it does grant freedom…and because it is intended for everyone, whether we like it or not…because as Jesus has told us…it IS fulfilled…and there’s really nothing we can do about it…except maybe, to share it. Amen.

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Can You Picture It 1-24-16

This sermon, based on Luke 4:14-21, explores the great work of reversal that God is up to in the world through Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This same spirit empowers us to join together in this important work.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/can-you-picture-it-1-24-16

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

You’ve all heard the old saying, “a picture is worth a 1000 words.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement…As a person who values detailed descriptions, the added value of a picture is huge…specifically in how it can instantly show the details that it would take countless words to describe.

But that being said, I’ve found that there are two sides to this coin. Sometimes, a picture, detailed though it may be, only creates more questions. (pause)

As you walked into the sanctuary, most of you likely saw this picture (hold up picture). My sister in law took this picture years ago. Honestly I have no idea how I ever ended up with it, but now it sits on my desk. A random elderly man, walking slowing through a park with his dog. Other than this detail, we know nothing about him…we can only imagine his story and what may have been going in his mind on that sunny afternoon as he walked through a random east coast park. (pause)

But on the flip side, sometimes a picture can reveal something specific…something that we can all share in…and we have examples of this here in this room as well. Around this sanctuary are several sets of stained-glass windows…and the center pane of each holds images that likely reveal a specific Biblical instance in your mind when you see them. One is loaves and fish at the feeding of the 5000. Another is 3 crosses for the crucifixion of Jesus…another shows the birth and another the resurrection…but one…this one right up here behind the organ…well it seems particularly fitting today.

Most of you likely can’t see it from where you’re sitting due to the angle, but the picture in this window shows a white dove and tongues of fire…pointing to the two instances in the scriptures when the holy spirit takes on some sort of physical form…and its fitting today, because as we heard, the Holy Spirit is active in leading Jesus through into Galilee to begin the first portion of his ministry.

Now this is something of an important theme here in Luke…particularly in the opening few chapters as we hear over and over again of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding and empowering individuals to participate in the work that God is up to in the world.

The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary to conceive Jesus in the first place. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, are filled with the spirit. John himself is filled with the spirit even before he’s born. Two prophets are led into the temple by the spirit to witness the baby Jesus. Jesus himself is anointed with the spirit in his baptism. The spirit leads him into the wilderness just before today’s story…and once that time is over, we hear today that the same spirit leads him into the Galilee where he begins to preach…and everyone is amazed at this local boy…and they all speak highly of him…and then…the Spirit leads him home…and since it’s the Sabbath day, Jesus heads into the synagogue where he is the featured preacher for the day…and we hear once more about the Spirit of the Lord…and we realize that this is nothing new. (pause)

For Jesus takes the scroll of the prophet Isaiah…writings that originated centuries before Jesus came on the scene…and we hear these words. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (pause)
As I pondered on this text this week, I was struck by the realization that this notion, proclaimed by Jesus has being fulfilled, is in fact a very old notion. Not only that Isaiah proclaimed it some 500 odd years before Jesus was around…but its even older than that. I’m reminded of the ongoing discussion that we’ve been having in Bible Study as we explore the Story, that God’s intention for the Jewish people…for this great nation…God’s chosen people…was for them to serve as an example for the whole world, what God desires for relationship, both between individuals as well as between God and humanity.

This was the purpose of the 10 commandments…this was the purpose of God’s promises to Abraham all the way back…that God would bring about a great reversal of everything that society and power dictates should be…Good news to the poor, release of the captives, sight to the blind…we are reminded as Jesus reads from Isaiah…that even in Jesus’ time, this was nothing new…but it represents a vital reminder of just what God is up to in the world. (pause)
But that being said…there is something else at work…for we are reminded that in Jesus…in the life of Christ, God in human form…this work that God is up to in our reality takes an important step forward…for while this was God’s intention for his chosen people…and while the word of God came upon the prophet Isaiah in order to proclaim this good news…in Christ…this work takes another important step forward…and the great reversal takes action.

Christ tells us that it has been fulfilled…and it is because of the power of the Holy Spirit, which first gave the power of proclamation…but goes so far beyond that. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the major power player behind the scenes here in Luke’s writings…something that we see center around Jesus in the gospel…and then in the book of Acts, at Pentecost when the Spirit comes upon the disciples…this work of Christ…this work of God in our reality is taken up by humanity through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And here’s the thing…Isaiah was anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim this good news…Jesus was empowered by the same Spirit in the waters of his baptism…and likewise…so…were…we. (pause) Just as the disciples received the Holy Spirit and got to work, likewise we are empowered by that same spirit to get to work as well…we are empowered and united through the spirit into the one body of Christ here on Earth. (pause)
There’s another picture in this church that displays this notion…its out in the narthex…and from a distance when you look at it…it simply looks like a picture of Christ…and the caption even says “The body of Christ.” But then as you get closer to it…the image gets grainy…and the closer you get, the more you can see that this single large image of the body is made up of tiny images of our members, taken from a collection of family pictures for a directory…reminding us that we are one body with many members, united by the Spirit.

And not only are we united, but we…are…empowered…first to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ…to proclaim this great reversal…and this incredible notion that we have a God who desires to be in relationship with us…and not only with us, but with everyone…the poor…the outcast…the disabled…those that we have the tendency to miss. (pause)
I was struck by that notion as well this week…that the Holy Spirit anoints us to reach out and embrace those that society has deemed unacceptable…as unworthy…as worthless…to proclaim…to share the truth that they are of worth…that they are loved…not only by the one who made them…but also by the ones who make up the body here on Earth.

We are called by God…we are anointed by the Spirit…and that’s a pretty big deal…for we are called to be different…we are called to live out this great reversal…recognizing that at times, we are the ones who need to hear the good news…that at times we are the outcast…the unacceptable…and we find great joy in knowing that our maker loves us and claims us as his beloved children.

But there are other times that we are called and anointed to do something with that knowledge and that hope and that gift. (pause) There is another sign in our narthex that caught my attention this week. I’ve seen it countless times, but something about it made me wake up and pay attention this week…it hangs over the sink next to the bathroom and reads, quite simply…its in the giving, we receive.

This simple statement speaks volumes of what we are called to do as the body of Christ…not only to proclaim the good news…but do go outside these walls to embody the love of God in Christ Jesus…to stand with the oppressed…to lift up the stranger and the outcast…to live out the love of God in Christ Jesus first shown to us. (pause)
Last Sunday, we took some important steps in this direction within the annual meeting…pledging to give $5000 to a program that provides food for children in many different communities who lack this simple resource…children who leave school on Friday with a backpack full of food so that they don’t have to go hungry until Monday…this is a huge step…and one of many different opportunities right here in our community, that we can support, not only with our dollars, but with our time and energy as well. (pause)

This serves as a good reminder for us…that doing the work of God in the world doesn’t mean we have to pack up and move to a foreign country on the other side of the world to proclaim the gospel…sometimes…many times in fact…the work of God is literally in our backyard…something that we are reminded of in today’s lesson…for Jesus…filled with the Holy Spirit…filled with the power player in Luke’s gospel…the one behind the scenes…Jesus…returns home…and gets to work. (pause)

Likewise we’re called to do the same…we are empowered by the same spirit to follow the example of our Savior…and get to work…remembering the overarching story of what God is up to in the world…God made it, humanity messed it up, Jesus redeemed it…and now we are invited into the work of reconciliation…and what might that look like when all of God’s people begin to stand with the oppressed…with the marginalized…with the powerless…Can you picture it? (pause) Now let’s work together to not only picture it…but empowered by the Spirit…to go out there and do it. Amen.

An Abundance of the Best 1-17-16

In this sermon, taken from John 2:1-11, I explore the story of Jesus turning water into wine. This is the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs in John, and shows us that God desires an abundant life for us.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/an-abundance-of-the-best-1-17-16

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

Its very likely that I’ve mentioned this before, but I am a big fan of weddings. They are a lot of fun, and I have enjoyed a multitude of them. Several stick out in my memory as significant, but the first wedding that I really remember loving was my sister’s wedding, which happened the summer after I graduated high school.

Probably the reason that I enjoyed that wedding so much was the dance. It was a blast and I danced up a storm…so much so, that I was hot and sweaty pretty much the whole time…and at one point, I remember needing to take a breather, so I plopped down at a table next to one of my mom’s cousins…who shall remain nameless.

She took one look at me and asked “Having fun out there?” To which I replied “Sure am, but man am I thirsty.” And without skipping a beat, she grabbed an empty glass on the table in front of us and poured me a healthy swig of beer. “Here you go, and don’t worry, you parent’s aren’t’ looking.”

So I took that swig of beer and for the first time ever…I thought beer was delicious. It was ice cold and I was so thirsty…it really hit the spot…(pause) And now many of you are aware that I’m a fan of beer…but at that point I wasn’t…not to mention, I was underage anyway…but I’ll cop to it. That moment represented the first time that I thought beer…even cheap American Light beer…was good. (pause)
Now don’t get me wrong…I’m certainly not advocating for underage drinking here…but rather making a connection with a mighty fine tasting beverage…in the setting of a wedding. (pause) Seems fitting with today’s story right?

For in today’s story we see something…kinda similar. An amazing tasting beverage at a wedding. The obvious difference of course…the source of said beverage. (pause) The wedding at Cana…the first of Jesus’ signs here in John’s gospel…the first time he publically performs something miraculous in public causing different individuals to believe in him. Fitting that we have this story here during the season of epiphany as Jesus continues to be revealed to the world. (pause)

Now the nature of this whole story is a little odd. We’ve got Jesus and his disciples crashing a local wedding…Mary’s there…and for whatever reason…the hosts have committed the ultimate wedding faux pa, and have failed to stock enough provisions to last throughout the entirety of the celebration…7 days worth…which I can only imagine represents a pretty healthy stockpile of quality vintage.

Though that being said…the enormous quantity required for that much time would explain the common custom that the steward mentions…starting off with the good stuff and moving into the low quality swill when people got a little too tipsy to tell the difference.

But all that aside…this really was a big deal…and for the hosts to run out of wine part way through…that would have been a huge stain on their reputation…it was simply something that you did not do…if you’ve heard the old saying “its better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it” Well that’s certainly in effect in this situation…and yet…as we see…that’s exactly what happens.

And when it happens…for whatever reason…the individual to step and take charge…is Mary, the mother of Jesus. We have no idea why…but she certainly seems to have a plan, even if Jesus is less than keen about.

PSST…JESUS…SON, Come here…What Mom? They’re out of wine. Yah? So? (pause) At first glance that seems to the be the end of it as Jesus rather bluntly tells Mary off…or does he? Maybe all he needs is this little push. Maybe, Mary knows exactly what she’s doing…or maybe she has a gut feeling that Jesus, this amazing Son of God that she has born and raised…could do something about it…and so she steps aside to the servants with the bold statement “If he tells you to do something…do it.”

And of course…as we know…whether Jesus really wanted to or not…whether it was the proper hour or not…Jesus…for the first time here in John’s gospel…Jesus…takes divine action.

You see those jars…those big ones over there…Fill ‘em up…Fill them with what Jesus? We’re out of wine. Yah, I know…fill them with water. So they do….Now what Jesus? Draw some back out…and take it to the steward…Let him taste it.

And low and behold…somehow…someway that water has turned into wine…and not just any wine…but the best wine…and the steward, as we hear…is amazed. At this point in the celebration, he’s expecting…Arbor Mist…but he gets Crystal…he’s expecting a Natty Light…and gets the most pristine Craft Beer available…And he is amazed…and so he runs of the groom to congratulate him on this amazing development…and I can only imagine the groom to be utterly clueless to just what the steward is talking about. (pause)

Funny…how many different individuals there are that are involved in this whole situation…different individuals, who show a wide variety of understanding about just what is really happening.

We’ve got Jesus…and of course he’s aware…We’ve got Mary, who may or may not know the result. We’ve got the steward who completely misunderstands the situation and misses the miracle itself and the groom…and who knows what he’s thinking. In fact…other than Jesus himself…the only ones who really witness the sign from start to finish are the servants.

But regardless of everyone’s level of understanding…everyone benefits don’t they? The guests can continue the celebration…the servants can keep doing their work…Mary’s request if fulfilled…and the host saves face…even if they don’t fully grasp what’s going on.

Because isn’t that often the case when Jesus does something miraculous…when he performs some amazing sign? There are many of them in scripture…and 7 here in John’s gospel…this is only the first…and one of them…the feeding of the 5000 bears a lot of similarity…when Jesus takes almost nothing…and through his divine power…he is able to provide for everyone…and not just enough…but in abundance.

And we see the same sort of thing here…especially when we begin to consider just how much water was in those big jars in the first place. 6 jars, each one holding 20-30 gallons…and with a little bit of math, we see that Jesus has created anywhere from 600-1000 bottles of wine…WAY more than the party would ever require….and as we heard it was the BEST wine.

Because when God does something…when God choses to provide something…God doesn’t go half way…God does just allow things to squeak by…no, we have a God who provides an abundance…and not only that…but an abundance of that which is best for us.

I’ve often heard this passage explained as something called grace upon grace…and it speaks to this very train of thought…that God gives far over and beyond what is necessary…and often times in ways that we fail to grasp or understand…God’s glory is shown through his grace for us…and not only that God forgives our sins…but that God desires an abundant life for us, both in the eternity of the resurrection, but also in the here and now.

Jesus provided the wine to allow that simply celebration to continue…so that those present could continue to experience the joy of the day…the joy of the celebration…and the joy of community with one another…and likewise God desires that we experience the same…both in our day to day lives as well as our eternal relationship with him, made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That’s what the signs of Christ point towards…a life of abundance…and that’s what Christ’s entire existence was geared towards…even if he seemed a little hesitant to show it that day…Admittedly I’ve always found Jesus’ response to Mary a little odd…why should I care…my hour has not yet come.

Well Jesus…when will your hour come? Because we hear this statement from him countless times throughout the gospel…but, we also get an answer to that question…For when Jesus finally reveals that his hour has come…its at the last supper…just before he is betrayed…and tortured…and killed. And that, THAT, is where God’s glory and God’s intention for us is truly revealed…when God shows us that there is no length he will not go to in order for us to have life and to have it abundantly…God is willing to die for it…and talk about something that makes no sense…something that we fail to grasp. God dies? (pause) You bet he does…and he does it for each and every one of you, regardless of if you think you’re worthy or not…because that’s grace…that’s a free gift…one that’s given beyond our ability to understand or comprehend. (pause)
And so now I ask, what will you do with this gift? With this abundant life that God has given you? (pause) I cannot answer that question for you, because the gifts of God given to us through the Holy Spirit are individual gifts, but together when we start using those gifts, then the body of Christ is strengthened…and when we take those gifts outside these walls into the world out there…that’s when the world will experience the abundance that God continues to grant us…all made possible simply because Jesus, God in human form chose to give us and abundance of that which is best. Amen.

Haven’t We Heard This Before 1-10-16

This morning’s sermon for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday comes from Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. I explore the importance of Jesus’ baptism and the promises made for each one of us in our own.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/havent-we-heard-this-before-1-10-16

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

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

In any situation, when a person sets out to tell a story, no matter what form its in, every story can break down to one of three different plots. The person verses person…person verses the environment that they are in…and person verses themselves…that’s it…every single story line, in its most basic form will fall into one of those three categories.

And so, many story tellers will often report that there are no original stories…simply that every story is a variation on one of those three plots. And in recent history, no other medium highlights this notion as well as the movie industry. Considering that we are now into a new year, and me being a movie buff…I got a little geeky and looked up the top 10 grossing movies of last year…at least for here in the US…and here’s the list starting with number 10 moving up to number 1. See if you recognize these titles. Spectre, Cinderella, The Martian, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Minions, Furious 7, Inside Out, Avengers Age of Ultron, and the winner…Star Wars The Force Awakens. (pause)
Now…did you sense a trend? Out of those 10 movies, 1 is an original idea…1 is a nearly verbatim adaptation of a book, 1 is a live action remake of the very same story told in animated form, and the rest…7 of the top 10 films of the year…are sequels…and not only are they sequels, but they are increasingly far into different series. There is 1 part 2, 1 part 3, 2 part 4’s, 2 part SEVENS…and finally…the 24th…Bond Movie. (pause)

With these stats in mind…I believe that it is beyond debate…that Hollywood, is REALLY good…and telling the same story over again. Because in the end…particularly with movies…that’s what sequels do…they tell the same basic story with new details…period.

And I bring all of this up, because today’s gospel lesson reminds me of a sequel in many different ways. First off…because the opening portion of today’s gospel was featured just 4 weeks ago as we heard John the Baptist rattling on about NOT being the messiah, and pointing out the important differences between them. (pause) And secondly…because this story…the baptism of our Lord…is one of those stories that we hear, every year…there are a few different ones…Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Transfiguration…and this one…the Baptism of our Lord.

Now, some of those stories are always the exact same gospel…Christmas for instance always comes out of Luke…others from that list will feature the same story but from a different gospel…and today, the baptism of Jesus…well it falls into that second category. For the baptism of Jesus is mentioned in all four gospels…even John gets in on it…but with the other gospels, Matthew Mark and Luke…the details surrounding the baptism are all pretty similar…there are a few differences here and there…but we see those differences within the lead up to the baptism itself…and when we get right down to the nitty gritty of the story…when we get down to the action featured here for Baptism of Our Lord Sunday…no matter which gospel, it’s the same deal…and here…I’ll read it again…the baptism of Jesus.

When all the people had been baptized, and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form and a voice came from heaven saying You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased. (pause)

Wait a sec…did we miss something? Was there a baptism in there…oh yah…Jesus was baptized…talk about a throw away comment…but, I guess it is in there that Jesus was in fact baptized…even if every one of the gospels almost glosses over it…they all do tell us that it happened…but then…in all four gospels…we hear about what happens next…it’s the same old story…SLIGHTLY different details…just like movie sequels.

But you know what…the focus that all four gospels gives on this next part is probably a pretty good indication that we should sit up and pay attention…for following the baptism of Jesus…the heavens open up…and the Holy Spirit shows up with some sort of physical form…one of only 2 times in scripture when this happens…and the Spirit comes upon Jesus…but that’s not all…and we hear, once again, each and every year…the voice of God the Father…You are my son the beloved, in you I am well pleased. (pause)
This moment…this one story, told from different perspectives…is the ONLY time in the entire Bible…when we have all three members of the Holy Trinity present and accounted for. The voice of the father, proclaiming to the world the identity of the Son, who now harbors the Holy Spirit. 1 God in three persons, all of them here. (pause) And let me remind you of the occasion…this all happens because Jesus is baptized…

So what is it about this story…that is so significant…what is it about this story that led the different authors of the gospel to line up some precisely with the details of what has happened…what is that causes us to talk about it, each and every year? (pause)

Great questions…especially when we stop and think about baptism as a whole. For it was nothing new at that time. John was simply utilizing an old Jewish practice to symbolize the purification of the sin that they had repented of…but then John tells the people, when they claim him as the messiah…that no…the Messiah will still baptize you…but it will be different…He will still purify you…but in a way that we can never do…With the Holy Spirit and with fire. (pause)
And we all know that the practice of baptism has continued…most of us in this room, if not all of us…have been baptized…and interestingly enough, at first glance it almost seems like our baptisms are closer to John’s…for we use water don’t we? There’s no fire here…and thankfully so because I don’t think any of us would react very well to being dipped in fire would we? (pause)

But here’s the thing…something that I talked about a few weeks back when this passage came up…something I talked about a year ago when this story was featured…something I talk about in every baptism class with new parents seeking baptism for their child…something I talk about for 2 class periods with the confirmation students…and something that discuss with individuals on a constant basis…
Jesus has taken baptism…and through the ordinary element of water, God does something impossible…God does something new…God does something different…and somehow, someway…in ways that we can neither physically see or understand…God is able to purify us with fire…through the power of the Holy Spirit…in the same baptism perfected by Christ…and just as Christ experienced death and resurrection, we are given the promise in the waters of our baptism that we have joined with Christ in baptism like his…and likewise we join with Christ in a death like his, for the waters of our baptism drown the sinful self and we rise out of that water…with new life…a new creation…and as such we claim the promise that we will join with Christ in a resurrection like his. (pause)
This is the work that God is up to in the waters of our baptisms…its nothing that we do…its nothing that the parents or the sponsors…or relatives or friends…and certainly, this is not the work of the individual who is baptized…this is the work of God…and this is a wonderful thing…that we do…and we do it…because Christ himself told us to…

I mentioned before, that this is the one time when the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all present and accounted for…but there is one more time when all three are named…and it happens in the great commission when Jesus tells us to Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…one God in three persons.

And we invoke all three for a very specific purpose…remembering that it is not us who does the work…But we are baptized in the name of the Father who created us in the first place…in the name of the Son who redeems us through his death and resurrection…and in the name of the Holy Spirit who comes upon us in our baptism to unite us as individuals into the one body of Christ…and to empower us to be the church…to be the body here on earth until such time that Christ shall return and we will join together in his resurrection.

And this…is a very big deal…something worth remembering…something worth clinging to…and that is why we tell this story every year…remembering that Christ was baptized so that in the waters of our baptism we might join with him…and as God calls Jesus his beloved Son…God is also pleased to claim us as individuals, through our baptisms as His beloved child.

We cling to this promise…in all things…we cling to the hope found in the promise when we face the reality of death, that it does not get the last word…we cling to the promise that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…not even our failings…and so we remember…and as Martin Luther said…every day when you wash your face, remember your baptism…live in the promise that God has given you that you belong to him…that he has claimed you…and yes, we’ve all heard this before…but it is worth hearing it again….because this same old story…is the best news that we can ever receive. Amen