Archive for April, 2016

The Human Condition 4-24-16

In this sermon, based on John 13:31-35, I explore Jesus commandment for us to love perfectly, and the way that our human condition gets in the way of that.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-human-condition-4-24-16

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

There are times when the Holy Spirit works very clearly and very plainly, and by the time I sit down to write my sermon on Friday, I know exactly what to talk about. Other times though, not so much…and that was the situation this time around. Today’s gospel is quite brief…and its setting in the Last Supper makes it an odd choice to be the assigned text here three-quarters of the way through the season of Easter.

And so, Friday morning I stood in the kitchen over at the parsonage and made the comment to my wife “I’ve got zero clue what I’m going to do with this one.” (pause) Its funny though…because sometimes life has this funny way of revealing just what the spirit it up to…and so…today…a modern day parable…

The kingdom of heaven is like a guy who goes to the store and places an order for a new dryer…the salesman is quite helpful, and after a few moments, the sale is complete…with the expected delivery and setup scheduled for the following Friday, as well as the plan to haul away the old dryer…and when the day of arrival occurs, the delivery team shows up, as expected, and everything seemingly goes well…until the team leaves, having said “you’re good to go” and then the man walks down into his basement to discover that the power cord now installed is simply hanging off the new dryer, as it was the wrong style of cord.

The man calls customer service and explains the issue, but is told that they can’t get someone back out to fix the problem until Monday…and so, irritated with the inability to get the problem resolved on their end…the man takes it upon himself to overcome the problem…and so he grabs his tools, disconnects the incorrect cord, drives 30 miles each way to exchange it…and then installs the correct cord himself…leaving himself greatly inconvenienced…and yet with a functional dryer. (pause)

Now, if this was actually happening in the gospels…we would likely see the same sort of result…when Jesus’ audience, whether it’s the crowds or religious opposition, or possibly even Jesus’ disciples asking the question, “Lord, we don’t understand…what does this mean?”

That question right there…as well as the parable itself, reveal a lot about the human condition…our inability to understand just what God is up to in the world…as well as our shortcomings which caused God to take action in the world in the first place. (pause)

And now, to explain the parable…the man had expectations of what would happen…that the store and the delivery would hold up their end of those expectations…but they didn’t…and when presented with a way to overcome the issue, they reveal that they are unable to do so in a way that’s acceptable…and so the man takes matters into his own hands to overcome the problem, despite the personal cost of time and effort.

Now I could connect that, in general to the overarching story of the gospel…in that God created humanity, and gave us a single expectation…which we messed up…and then God gave the Law, intended as a way to overcome and atone for the foul up…but we were unable to successfully fulfill it…and so God took matters into his own hands, at great personal cost to rectify the situation…and so long story short…the man buying the dryer is God…the furniture store is humanity, the dryer itself seems to be the functioning relationship between God and humanity…and that cord…well that seems to represent sin, or our brokenness…because as it originally was…well, it just didn’t work.

But despite all that going on…and despite the surface value of using this whole dryer delivery as a metaphor for THE GOSPEL…perhaps you’re wondering just where this fits in with TODAY’S gospel…and that’s a pretty good question.

Now as I mentioned earlier, this is a bit of an odd snippet to cover…but if we think about it…perhaps it starts to make a little more sense if we consider Jesus’ statement to the disciples that “I will be with you only a little longer.” If we think Last Supper, then that points towards his death which was literally right around the corner. But on the other hand, if we consider it in light of our current season and timing…we begin to think of Jesus’ pending ascension…40 days after Easter…and coming right up in about another week and a half.

And so, in that light, we see the importance of Jesus’ teaching here towards the end of his earthly life…but even more than that…we see the importance of this new commandment that he issues to the disciples…as they look towards the pending reality of Jesus’ absence…when they will look for him and will not find him, because where he is about to go…they…and we for that matter…cannot follow.

A new commandment I give to you…love one another, just as I have loved you…so you must love on another…by this all will know that you are my disciples…if you love one another. (pause) Now, by itself…perhaps this isn’t surprising…one of our most basic tenants of the faith is that God is love…it shows up all over the place…particulary in the writing of John…and specifically in two different spots which I’m guessing you’ll recognize. Who among us doesn’t know the song (sing) “Beloved…let us love one another, for love is of God and anyone who loveth is born of God and knoweth God…he who loveth not…knoweth not God for God is love…beloved, let us love one another 1st John 4, 7 & 8.”

And then the second one is equally well known…maybe even a little bit better when we hear “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (pause) Love…it’s a pretty major point isn’t it…and so coming back around to this new commandment that Jesus gives during his final hurrah…maybe it seems like a bit of a no brainer…at least until we take a closer look…and realize that Jesus says “As I have loved you.” (pause)
Jesus is throwing out an expectation here…a benchmark for us to attain…but it’s a little trickier than it seems at face value…because of the way that Jesus says it…now in the original language, there are bunch of different words that we call love…and they reveal slightly different situations…but the word that Jesus uses here is Agape…perfect love…the perfect love that God has for all of creation including us…PERFECT…all encompassing love…and so let’s plug that back into the commandment…Agape one another…just as I have agaped you, so you must agape one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you agape one another.

But here’s the kicker…can we pull that off? Can we achieve…perfect love, even for a moment…if we think about it and answer that question honestly…well then I think we all come to the conclusion of no. We may feel love for one another…we may show it…and perhaps with a fair bit of regularity…but each and every day, somehow some way our selfish nature takes over and we fall short of that perfect love that Jesus commands…the presence of which reveals us to be his followers. (pause) That blasted human condition…this flawed nature that we possess, this messed up life that we live…it wins every time…which I guess doesn’t bode very well for us does it?

No wonder Jesus tells us that where he is going, we are unable to follow. We’re unable to follow his perfect example of love…just as we are unable to follow him beyond the borders created by the presence of sin and death in our reality. (pause)

But…there’s more to the story…remember back to our modern day parable…did the man simply accept that the situation was a lost cause? No…he did something about it…and took steps to fix it…and that’s why Jesus is here in the first place…we can’t do it…we can’t love perfectly as God loves us…but God has taken steps to overcome the breach…because of his perfect love for each of us. (pause)

Now if I had continued reading a few more verses beyond the end of today’s lesson…we would have heard Jesus tell us “Do not let your hearts be troubled…Believe in God, believe also in me…In my father’s house are many dwelling places…if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, SO THAT WHERE I AM, THERE YOU MAY BE ALSO.”

This is the promise of the gospel…flawed and broken as the world may be…and as such we are cut off from the life intended for us by the Father…but despite that God, fixes what we are incapable of fixing…God meets the expectation for us since we are unable…and Jesus promises, that he comes back for us to bring us where we cannot follow on our own.

This is the promise of the gospel…that God claims us, even though we don’t deserve it…and in this regard, the gospel is the polar opposition of what we like to call Karma…instead of getting what we deserve, the gospel promises us that we get precisely that which we do not deserve and it is all predicated on this perfect love of God expressed in Christ Jesus…and the amazing thing about all of this is that it is offered to each and every one of us…and we receive this promise in a tangible way, through the waters of our baptism when God uses ordinary water to wash away our sinful self and we emerge as a new creation, claimed by God as his beloved child…and today, its Jett Taylor’s turn…today God claims him when he is brought up to this font by his parents and sponsors and by this congregation.

Together we are expressing love for him…not the perfect love that God commands, but yet we are expressing love in the best way that we can…by sharing the promises of God’s perfect love in the way that he is has commanded us to…this is how we share God’s perfect love, by proclaiming God’s promises for us…because despite our failings, despite our human condition, God’s love is still perfect, and his promise is for you. Amen.

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Is It Good To Be A Sheep 4-17-16

Today’s sermon is based on John 10:22-30, in which Jesus speaks about being our good shepherd. But I guess that makes us sheep doesn’t it?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/is-it-good-to-be-a-sheep-4-17

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

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

With warm spring weather upon us, I’m getting back into the habit of walking over to the post office to grab the mail. It’s a win win situation. I get a little exercise and I get to spend a few moments out in the beauty of nature. Friday morning I did just that as I pondered on this week’s sermon…the gospel lesson rattling around in my head as I headed the few blocks over to main street and back.

As I walked, I enjoyed the wonderful sounds of birds chirping…I spotted quite a few squirrels bouncing around like they do…I even spotted a couple of rabbits hopping from place to place. And in those moments I realized the joy of spring and wildlife.

And as I thought about it a little more, I found myself chuckling at an old comedy bit from my youth, when the actor and comedian Denis Leary started talking about animals and animal lovers…and remarked…you know, it’s a pet-peeve of mine when people start in about loving the animals…I LOVE THE ANIMALS I LOVE THEM SO MUCH…but no you don’t…you only love the cute animals…maybe we should just have animal auditions…let them come in and plead their case…What are you? I’m an otter. And what do you do? I swim around all day on my back and do cute human things with my hands…you’re free to go. (pause) And what are you? I’m a cow…GET ON THE TRUCK! But I’m an animal…You are a baseball glove…But…your a t-bone steak…you are a delicious greasy hamburger…get on the truck.

That bit makes me laugh, because honestly there’s a lot of truth there…and if we consider the multitude of domesticated animals in our history…we keep most of them around because they are useful…or at least delicious. (pause) Cattle…hogs…chickens…all useful in their own right…and so we keep them around…and in my days of growing up on the farm I worked with all of them.

But…there is one type of farm animal that I am glad my dad never chose to get involved with. Sheep…because in my experience, such as it is…sheep are quite possibly the dumbest animal on the planet. I first experienced this fact when helping a friend of mine load sheep into a trailer when I was about 16. All we had to do was block off one open slot in the fence, and the only direction they could go was down the fence line into the trailer…but as I stood there, blocking off a gap that wasn’t more than about 3 feet wide…that batch of sheep, being chased by my friend…totally ignored the open path right next to them…and thought that their best course of action was to go over me…not past me, not through me…but over me…and 5 sheep all attempted to jump over top of me.

I’ve heard stories of sheep in a pasture standing in one place…eating every single bit of grass within reach…and then refuse to move, to the point of someone having to go out and chase them to a new spot, otherwise they’ll starve.  They are completely and totally reliant on whoever it is that has taken on the task of caring for them. Sheep are the epitome of helpless creatures. They need to be led to water…they need to be led to pasture…and if a predator shows up…the blasted things will just stand there quivering until the predator comes in and picks one off.

Its true today…and based on a lot of the various stuff we hear in the scriptures, I’m guessing it was the same exact thing in Jesus day…Sheep are dumb. (pause) And now, as we find ourselves celebrating what is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday…we hear a portion of the larger story known as the Good Shepherd discourse…and over the course of the 3 year lectionary cycle, we hear the vast majority of this passage…as Jesus talks about being the shepherd…the one who cares for the sheep…the one who brings them in and out of the pen…who leads them to green pastures…the one who protects them from the bandit who breaks in to steal…his sheep know his voice and follow him when he calls.

Now you know…that is an interesting thing to think about…the sheep knowing the voice of the one who calls to them…they hear “Follow me” and that’s exactly what they do…but if they don’t recognize the voice, they ignore it…and I’ve certainly seen that in action growing up on the farm.

Dad would often send me out first to start rounding up the cows for milking…and so I’d head out in to the pasture…and pretty much all I would accomplish would be moving them from one corner to another as they simply walked away from me, and went right back to eating grass…but then a couple minutes later, Dad would step out of the barn…and I’d hear a whistle and a “COMEBOSS” and sure enough…those blasted cows would line right up and go traipsing into the barn slick as can be…they knew his voice, but ignored mine. (pause)
And so, as we hear in the scriptures…Jesus here in the midst of opposition, as he often finds himself…facing the question “Are you the Messiah” which is actually a question of “Are you the one who is going to lead us and take care of us?” And Jesus…gets the tiniest bit testy…Am I the Messiah…I have already told you that…and the signs that I have done testify to the truth of who I am. (pause) And then he drops the hammer on them…you don’t believe it, because you aren’t my sheep. They know me…they know my voice and believe it…they follow me…and I take care of them. (pause)

Now most often, when I hear this passage…or others like it…as Jesus talks about caring for his flock, and the trust that they have in him…its reassuring for me…because I count myself within that flock….but I got to thinking about it this week…and I realized that if Jesus is the shepherd…which he is…and I’m part of his flock…well then it stands to reason that Jesus…God in human form…is calling me a sheep.

God…is calling me a stupid, idiodic, mindless moron who is totally dependent on someone else for my well being…and as true as that might just be…it almost seems a little on the insulting side doesn’t it? Think about it…as you are sitting here today…it would seem that you’ve also heard the voice of the shepherd calling in one form or another…and so you have followed here, to this place…and so I guess that makes you a sheep too. We’re all in this together…a bunch of stupid creatures who will stand there starving to death rather than to walk 5 feet to achieve that which will sustain us…that is unless…someone leads us there. (pause)
But you know what…as crazy as that might sound…isn’t it about right? We human beings…as smart and accomplished as we have become as a species…are still pretty stupid aren’t we? We do dumb stuff…we say dumb stuff…we think dumb stuff…and more often that not…even though we might know better…we choose the dumb choice…because its in our nature.

We are sheep…totally dependent on the life that the shepherd provides for us…we may not always think so, but I think when we take an honest look we’ll all realize it. We need to be cared for…we need to be looked after…because in the end we are all broken creatures, standing there timidly shaking in the face of whatever predator it is that’s stalking us.

What is it that you fear? Be honest with yourself…because we all do. What makes you worry, quaking in your boots with the “what if” or the “What if not…” What pain lies in your life…whether physical or emotional…because we all carry pain…we all have sorrow, and fear…and perhaps…maybe, just maybe, the one that we all share, whether we want to admit it or not…is the realm of death…because its out there and even though we might chose to ignore it, it rears its ugly head more often than we care to admit.

Earlier this week my son was reading the headlines, and discovered that a pro wrestler that he knows and watches has been diagnosed with cancer…and the very same day he shared that with me, I received word that a gentleman who has served as camp grandpa out at family camp in Colorado…a man that I know as Grandpa Dave over the past decade, lost his battle with cancer…and as my son and I sat there talking about both of these things, we both agreed that death…it just doesn’t care. You can be old or young…you can be rich or poor…you can be famous or a nobody…and yet death comes after us all…and the more often I face it, the more I realize that its true…and it is scary.

And as I think about all of that…I start to see the truth…and I’ll admit it…Jesus says he’s the shepherd of the sheep…and I’m a sheep….BAA!

But there’s hope here too…because Jesus makes a promise…a promise that not only does he care for the sheep…he holds them in his hand…and nothing will snatch them away from him…not even death…because of what he has done for us…we hold onto the hope that there is more…that there is life beyond whatever barrier death represents…

But even more than that…right here…right now…in the midst of everything in this big scary world that often times leaves me shaking in my boots…Jesus says tells us that his sheep know his voice…and that is true…but even more importantly HE…KNOWS…THEM. (pause) He knows you…he knows your name…he knows your every thought…he knows your fears and your doubts and your failures and your victories…he knows your pain and sorrow…and he see each and every tear that falls…and in the midst of all that…HE HOLDS YOU IN HIS HANDS…both in those moments that we recognize it…as well as in the moments when our “sheep-brain” takes over and we’re too dim to realize it…Just like in the All-State commercials…you’re in good hands…because you’re in his hands. You are held in the hands of the good shepherd.

And just in case you’re wondering what makes him so good? Well, because our shepherd that gives us life abundant…our shepherd that loves his sheep…was willing to become one himself. He’s lived this life…he’s overcome the forces that bind us within it…and he leads us beyond them. (pause)
The Lord is my shepherd…I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. Yay though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…for you are with me…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  (pause)

Sheep are dumb and helpless…and I’m a sheep. BAA!

Normal is Out the Window 4-10-16

In this sermon, based on John 21:1-19, I explore the reality of God’s grace and how it utterly changes us. There is no going back to “normal.”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/normal-is-out-the-window-4-10-16

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

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

By now, I think most of you are used to my normal way of opening a sermon. I talk about a movie or a tv show or a song or a conversation or an event from my past that, at least in my mind, somehow connects with the gospel story…and once I explain the applicable anecdote its normal for me to say something along the lines of “and that’s where I connect with today’s gospel lesson.” (pause)

But today, normal is going out the window…and I’m going to start things off with a thought about creation…all the way back in Genesis 1…somewhere between the lines of the 4th day as God is making the various animals that walk the earth…because in the midst of everything…God said “Let there be dog,” and there was dog…and God saw that dog was good…and God said “Who’s a good dog? You’re a good dog.” (pause)

Full disclosure…that has nothing to do with ANYTHING today…but I saw it pop up on Facebook as I was pondering on this sermon and it made me laugh…because its so random…and telling a completely unrelated random joke, though not out of the ordinary for me in other settings…is so COMPLETELY out of the norm for me, it seemed like the perfect way to start off this sermon. (pause) Because as I mentioned…today, normal is right out the window…but not for lack of trying.

For today, as we find ourselves a few weeks out from the resurrection…and the reality that the tomb is empty has sorta begun to sink in for the disciples…and they seem to have accepted that the Risen Jesus is still out there walking around somewhere…popping into view from time to time…a group of the them are sitting around…a little over half of the remaining 11 disciples…and all I can think is…they’re getting bored. (pause)

Ever have a time like that…just sitting around…with nothing really going on…and out of the blue, someone has a random idea that they just decide to run with…that’s what happens…as these 7 guys are sitting there, wondering what’s next…Peter has a spark of an idea. “DUDES!!!! I’m going fishin.” I can only imagine the other 6 guys blinking at one another for a moment, only to chime in “Yah, that sounds good…let’s do that.” (pause)

But this is no random notion of a leisurely way to kill an afternoon…I think Peter has something else in mind all together. Because as we hear…this all occurs on the Sea of Tiberius…or as its more commonly known, the Sea of Galilee…and so it seems that Peter is heading home to his old stomping grounds…that’s where he’s from…that’s where he grew up…and fishing on the sea of Galilee…that’s how he made his living before that fateful day 3 years earlier when a random rabbi found him on the beach…and he’s not alone either…for also in the group are the sons of Zebedee…aka James and John…as well as a couple of unidentified disciples…one of which is likely Peter’s brother Andrew…and if you recall, those 4 dudes were partners…they worked together in the boats, with their nets…night after night…bringing in fish. (pause)
And now…it appears that they are going right back to it….almost like nothing had ever happened…like the past 3 years of their lives hadn’t occurred…that they hadn’t been called to follow Jesus…and wandered around with him…watching the healings…listening to the teaching…seeing the opposition…and that they hadn’t ended up in Jerusalem for the Passover…and shared a meal with Jesus when he washed their feet and told them to love one another…only to see him betrayed by his friend…and arrested, and tortured…and hung on a cross where he died…like they hadn’t seen the empty tomb, and then stood there in astonishment when the risen Lord appeared in their midst on multiple occasions. (pause)
Think about it…how could Peter have witnessed all of this stuff…and then shrugged his shoulders…and thought “Well, I guess this is done…I’ll just go back to normal.” (pause) Isn’t that what he’s doing here? Jumping right back into life like he knew it before? Seems like it…right on down to the events that occurred just before Jesus showed up in the first place.

We hear early on in Luke’s gospel, that Jesus shows up on the shore to find Peter and James and John and Andrew coming off an unproductive night’s worth of fishing…and he jumps in the boat with them, tells them to head back out…and throw the net off the wrong side of the boat…and low and behold…a miraculous catch of fish.

And now…here at the end…as they’ve attempted to get back to normal…they hear a voice from shore. “Children, have you no fish? (pause) Throw your net on the other side.” (pause) And once more…an amazing catch of fish…an abundant gift, miraculously provided by the Lord…and in this…they realize who it is that is calling out to them from the shore…and Peter…ever the impulsive one…promptly dives into the water to swim up to shore…leaving everyone else to haul in the amazing catch.

But what Peter finds when he makes it to shore seems to stop him up in a hurry doesn’t it? A charcoal fire burning…just like the one that had been burning in the courtyard of the temple…a fire just like the one where Peter warmed himself in the cold of night…when others stood there asking him “aren’t you one of his disciples…aren’t you one of his followers?” And three times at that fire…Peter…says…no. (pause)

And so as he comes up to shore, I can only imagine that previous moment…that previous failure…those three denials…were playing out in his mind…but the Lord, well he’s not thinking about that…he just invites his friends to breakfast…come on guys…let’s have a sandwich together. (pause)

Now here’s the thing…here in John’s gospel…this is it…this is the last story…there’s only a few more verses that follow what we read today before John comes to a close…and so as far John is concerned…this is the last encounter that the disciples will have with Jesus…and what do they do? Pretty much the same thing that Jesus always seems to do with those he encounters…they hang out…they share a meal…and have a conversation.

I get the sense that this was the key to Jesus…time spent with one another…abiding together…just being in the moment and enjoying the company…the relationship…but in this moment, Jesus also realizes that there’s something in the way for Peter…and that Peter’s thoughts are still caught up in his failure at that first charcoal fire…and maybe, just maybe, Jesus also realizes that Peter is living in denial of everything, as he has tried to go back to normal life…life like it was before…But Jesus knows better…and he reaches out to Peter, meeting him in the midst of the pain that he’s feeling in his failure.

Peter…do you love me? (hold up 1 finger). Yes Lord I love you…Okay…feed my lambs. (pause) Peter…do you love me (Hold up 2 fingers). Yes Lord, I love you…Okay…tend my sheep. Peter…do you love me (hold up 3 fingers). Yes Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you…Okay, Feed my sheep.

We hear that Peter is hurt at this three-fold question…but perhaps its simply because it reveals the depth of his betrayal and the shame that he feels at not being able to live up to what he had promised. (pause)

I’ve often found that life has this funny way of pointing out our failures and shortcomings to us doesn’t it? Maybe its our conscious, or maybe its that voice of the liar in the back of our minds that loves to make us feel lousy about ourselves…but I think its safe to say that no one recognizes our failings quite as well as we do about ourselves…and yet…God meets us right there.

That’s the amazing thing about the grace of God. This free gift of forgiveness and salvation…and a life eternal, spent abiding with God…both in the here and now as well as in the age to come…that’s the promise of God’s grace…that we don’t have to earn it…or avoid something in order to keep from loosing it…but rather that there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less and that his love for us is already here…and the promise is already made and it is offered to us each and every day…each and every time we need it.

3 times Peter denied being Jesus’ follower…and so Jesus gives him 3 chances to renew the relationship…and then he gives him a task. (pause) Sin…repent…receive God’s grace already given…and get back to work.

That’s the amazing thing about this gift of God…this promise made to us…that once we receive it…normal goes right out the window…and life is not the same. When the grace of God hits you…and the Holy Spirit gives you that metaphorical 2×4 upside the head…there is no going back to the way things were…sure our day to day activities may continue…but the grace of God and his promises for us come along for the ride and that cannot be denied.

And the wonderful thing about all this…is that we have signs of this promise…something that we do, that God has given us, when these promises are made real in a tangible way…and we call this the sacraments…when we come to this font…or to any other font…or any other body of water period…and we hear the words that you are baptized in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit, then you are a new creation…and you are claimed by God as his beloved child, and those promises are yours. Not because of anything that you have done or said or thought…not by anything you have earned, or problems you have avoided…but simply because God has spoken this promise for you…and in just a few moments Rylan Pedersen will be brought to this font where the promises of God will be proclaimed for him…just as they are freely offered and proclaimed for each of you. Receive it today…and know that because of what God has already done…whatever normal has dominated your existence up until this point…its right out the window…because you are God’s beloved child, named and claimed…and nothing can take that away. Amen