Archive for June, 2016

At the Last Minute 6-26-16

In this sermon from Luke 9:51-62, I explore several odd interactions that Jesus has with potential followers.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and Peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years of regular preaching…its that I never know quite where the spark of inspiration is going to come from. This week, I was sitting in the sanctuary, pondering on the text, and the baptismal font caught my eye.

I sat there looking at it for a moment, and I found myself thinking about the various baptisms that I’ve participated in here at Underwood…and then I got to thinking about my own baptism.  Now I don’t remember it, because I was only 6 days old when it happened.

Now, that’s pretty early…typically a child is at least a couple months old before we baptize them…not because they need to be, but because logistics of lining up a date usually take about that long…but in my case, it was a little different.

At the time of my birth, Bethel Lutheran Church in Graettinger Iowa was served by Pastor Auto Reitz…he’d been there for a few years, long enough to have baptized my brother in 1974 and my sister in ’76…but by late April of ’79, he was about to leave…in fact…he had one more Sunday to go before he was done…and I was born on Monday…and I guess Mom REALLY wanted him to complete the set, so he said “If you can have him here on Sunday, we’ll get him baptized.” And so, 6 days later, I took a dip in the water…what amounts to the very last official act that Pr Reitz did at Bethel Lutheran. I was, almost literally, baptized at the last minute as far as he was concerned.

Funny enough, that’s not the only time I’ve been on the receiving end of a Pastor’s last deal. Fast forward to June of 2013, and the current Western Iowa Synod Bishop, Michael Last, was in his final days of being bishop before retiring…and if you think about it, that was right after I’d graduated seminary…in fact, to my knowledge, the last thing that Michael Last did as Bishop of Western Iowa, was my ordination…and then he was out the door.

Two very important events in my life, overseen by two different pastors, and completed at the last minute…done just before they closed the door on one thing and moved on to the next. (pause) And in today’s story, there’s a little snippet that indicates the notion that Jesus is making a transition as well…listen to our opening verse again. When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face towards Jerusalem.

This is a bit of foreshadowing to the tail end of Luke’s gospel…for the closing verses of Luke highlight Jesus’ being taken up into heaven…and important event that was followed up his resurrection, which of course followed his death on the cross…all of which happened…in Jerusalem.

And so we hear that its getting on towards time for Jesus mission on earth…his work of redeeming humankind and renewing our relationship with the Lord…its coming to head…but before it can happen, well…Jesus has to get his tail to Jerusalem.

Up to this point, he’s mostly stayed around Galilee…hanging out in his home territory in the northern part of the region…of course he does get out and about as well…moving into various area to do his ministry…to perform the healings…to teach the masses…but now at this point…as we hear…Jesus decides that its time to head south…and if you’re familiar with the region, it explains a bit. Galilee is in the north, Jerusalem in the south…but to get from one spot to the other, you’ve got to go through Samaria…it was the central region, and so you either walked right through, or you went around.

And now here’s the thing…Samaritans and Jews…well they weren’t on the best of terms. Each group saw the other as outsiders…and even though they worshiped the same Lord, they did it differently and so neither group recognized the validity of the other one…and so lets just say that their interactions with one another…which only occurred in the instances that they absolutely could not avoid…were tense at best. (pause)

But this passage marks the switch. Jesus changes gears from what he’s been doing…and now he’s intentionally on the way to Jerusalem…it just takes him a long time to get there…we’re in chapter 9 now…he’s finally make it into town on the back of a donkey at the end of chapter 19…so we see that there’s a lot of interaction…a lot of ministry still going on as he’s on the way…but from this point on, everything that Jesus is doing…everywhere he goes…Jerusalem, is the end game…that’s the goal.

But boy, aren’t there some crazy events happening while he’s on the way? First the whole deal with the Samaritan village…just what’s going on there we don’t know…only that they refuse Jesus…we don’t know why, other than because he’s set on Jerusalem…but regardless…James and John decide that the best course of action…the best way to respond to this snub…is to ask permission to call down fire from heaven and consume the town.

Just what is going on in their heads is hard to say. This event does occur between two different times when Jesus sends his followers out, empowered, in order to heal and proclaim the kingdom…the first time around its just the 12, and it occurs shortly before this…the second time, it’s a larger group, and Jesus sends them out two by two into the villages that he plans to visit on the way to Jerusalem…and it would seem, that this particular Samaritan village is the first.

Now James and John…maybe they’re just jonesing for another chance to utilize a little bit of divine power that they’ve gotten a taste of…but regardless, Jesus turns around and rebukes them…he flat out rips into them…because he knows…that the Good News…the gospel…the coming Kingdom of God is going to be met with opposition…but Jesus doesn’t chose to condemn that…Call down fire? Heck no…let them be…we’ll head on to the next town.

Now maybe this is just a bit of foreshadowing…because once Jesus gets to Jerusalem…well we all know how much opposition he faces don’t we…it gets pretty dire…but even as he’s hanging on the cross…completely innocent and yet condemned to die…he didn’t call down fire on his captors…actually he forgave them. (pause)

And so, as we see, James and John put back in their place, Jesus and his followers continue…and then we hear of three quite random encounters that occurred somewhere along the road. (pause) Now just who these random three people are, we don’t know…some think based on the different statements that are present here in Luke’s account that it MAY have been conversations between Jesus and some of the disciples…but we don’t know. It could very easily have just been three random people that he encountered…that’s a pretty common theme in the gospels as well.

But what we do know, is that three people are given something of a harsh reaction as they express interest in being a follower of Christ. I will follow you where you go…You will huh? Well, that means that you will have no home…and you will wander. (pause) Another gets the invitation but says “Well first I need to go bury my father.” Let the dead bury their own dead. (pause) And then finally, I’ll come, but let me go home and tell everyone goodbye…Looking back is pointless. (pause)
Isn’t that a little weird…the way that Jesus has reacted in these three encounters?

Because aren’t there times when we face those same choices? I think we all like having a home to go to…a place to lay down at night. And there are times when we are called to care for our loved ones…and there are times when we need to grieve their loss…And likewise, we all have relationships to maintain at home…for our lives as Christians include relationship…so just what is Jesus really talking about here? How are we supposed to respond when we hear this?

Are we called to abandon everything? I don’t know about you…but I really don’t think so…and so what do we do with this? (pause) Maybe, what Jesus is talking about here…is priorities…and doing what we are called to do. And yes, sometimes that call is to be at home with the ones that we love…or to grieve the lives that are lost….but there are also times when we are called to go out and care for the needy…or times when we are called to visit the sick…and there are times when we are called to serve at a shelter…we all face countless choices of ways to serve the kingdom of God.

And the crazy thing about all of this…and what kind of seems to be going on here in the story, is the reminder that we simply are not capable of being all things to all people all the time.  Perhaps you are called to serve God over here…but if you are doing that here, well then something is being missed over there.

For any of my fellow geek culture nerds out there…guess what…you share this trait with Superman…because his greatest burden is that choosing to help someone means not being available to help someone else. (pause)
This is simply evidence of our flawed reality…that no matter how good our intensions are…we fall short… (pause)

And so this raises the question…if this entire passage is Jesus seeming to rebuke those who have expressed a desire to follow him…then where’s the good news? Where is the hope that we find?

And the good news lies in the simple action that Jesus makes right at the beginning. He turns his face to Jerusalem. Jesus willingly and intentionally goes to the place where he knows he’s going to be tortured and killed…and he does so because he knows that this is the only way to overcome the power of sin and death in this world…those powers that are present that hinder us…those things that tie us down…those things that ultimate isolate us from God and from one another.

That’s the good news…and remember this…Luke’s gospel more than any of the others shows us…time and time again…that Jesus will always stand with the marginalized…with the isolated…and we remember that in the end…when we have reached our last minute…on that day when each and every one of us faces our judgement…we need Christ to stand with us…and because of what he has done…because of the amazing love that he holds for each and every one of us….when we need him…he WILL be standing there with us…not because he has to…but because he choses to.

He has set his face towards Jerusalem…and in doing so…he has set his mind upon you…not expecting us to be perfect…to have every answer, or provide every service…not needing us to get everything right…but asking only to follow me…knowing that at times we will fail…but when we recognize it and ask his forgiveness…his grace is big enough to provide it….this is good news for all of us…because the last act that Jesus does as part of his ministry…its for you…YOU are the recipient of what Jesus does…quite literally in HIS…last minute. Amen.

A Random Road Trip 6-19-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 8:26-39, I explore Jesus’ venture into Gentile territory in order to free one man possessed by demons. The fear that erupts around this event reminds us of how scary change can be, and yet we see how far God will go for those who are isolated. In light of Orlando, this is an important reminder.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Over the course of the past 3 years of living in the area, I’ve noticed several different landmarks. One of them has caught my eye on numerous occasions. It lies just off of 680, about a mile east of the intersection with I-29…a large lookout tower.

I’ve driven past that tower, looking at it from down on the interstate, over and over again…most recently about a month back as we headed that general direction for a baseball game…and my wife and I agreed that sometime, we should drive up and check it out.

Well about two weeks ago, we did just that. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and we were all a little stir-crazy…so we jumped in the car and drove on up there…we pulled off at the exit and parked the car at the base of the tower. We walked up the roughly 75 steps to the top, and spent a couple minutes looking out over the Missouri river valley, as well as back to the east over the rolling hillsides of Iowa. (pause)

And then we left. (pause) Now while we did end up doing some other random things while we were out and about that day…the whole point of the excursion…the only reason for leaving the house and driving clear up there, was to walk up those steps…and that…is…it. It was a random road trip with a singular purpose.

Today’s story…it features the exact same thing. A random trip…with a singular purpose…though of course it sits nicely within a larger portion of narrative about Jesus ministry…especially considering the relative regularity that he feels the need to cross the sea. Over and over again we hear of Jesus getting in a boat and traveling to the far side of the sea of Galilee…doing some sort of ministry in Jewish territory, and then crossing over into Gentile territory…back and forth.

And today’s story, is just one example…for just prior to the opening verse for today, Jesus says to the disciples “Let’s go to the other side of the sea.” And they get into the boat to do just that…interestingly enough…as they’re crossing, Jesus konks out and a great big storm comes up…freaking out the disciples, so they wake Jesus up…and he gives them a look before telling Mother Nature…HEY…KNOCK IT OFF…and amazingly enough…it does.

Following that little adventure, this random road trip…or perhaps boat trip would be a better name…brings them to the far side of the sea, in the area known as Gerasenes…and immediately Jesus encounters the demoniac.

Now just what he’s up to, we don’t really know…but it seems safe to say that he’s got a pretty lousy life going on…possessed of countless demons…driven out of town…driven out of his right mind…living day by day in the tombs…sometimes chained up, but most off trailing the broken chains along behind him…this man is the epitome of isolation…shunted to the side by the people of the city…out of sight and out of mind…and why? Well, because these demons, whatever they are, cause him to behave like a raving lunatic…the last person that civilized people want to have in their neighborhood. (pause)

Now you all know the story…you know what happens…Jesus recognizes the presence of evil spirits and commands them out…they talk back…seemingly in fear of Jesus, because they recognize that this man is God….that this man has power and authority over all kinds of stuff…diseases…death…nature…and yes, even demons…and so they beg him “DON’T CAST US INTO THE ABYSS!!!” There’s pigs over there? Can we go into them instead?

I can almost see Jesus get a little grin on his face…You don’t want to be cast into the bottomless void…but pigs are okay? Well sure Legion, head on over to those pigs…which they do…and the pigs FREAK out…and run into the sea where they drown…and whatever the heck demons are…if they require a living host, well then I guess they end up right where they don’t go in the first place don’t they?

That’s the story…Jesus sees the man…sees the presence of evil…and takes care of it, leaving this poor soul…this wild man who has been shoved to the margins…whole again.

But what’s the response of those who witness it? Well, they freak out too…they run off to the city and bring everyone out…and they all see this man who they only know as a dangerous lunatic…as one to be feared and therefore controlled or cast out…they see him sane…and whole, just sitting there listening to Jesus…so changed that he desires to give up his life as he knows it…and his community even though it has cast him out…and follow after Jesus…but Jesus has other plans for this man…turning him into an Evangelist who returns to his home to tell everyone what God has done.

And once again, the response of the people who witness the results of God’s work through Christ…they’re afraid…and they ask him to leave…beg him even…and Jesus gets back in the boat…and together with the disciples, he sets sail back for Jewish territory…His whole purpose in coming all the way across the sea…braving the dangers of a storm…the whole point was to heal this man pushed beyond the margins…who lives among the dead…to free him of what oppresses him…and then he left. (pause)
Now all of that is amazing enough on its own…to consider that Jesus would go CLEAR out of his way for this one miracle…for this one act of mercy…but its even more amazing than that. Jesus broke just about every single cultural rule and boundary to do this. He’s a Jew and he enters into Gentile territory…the man himself, a Gentile…He’s naked, so for Jesus to engage with him breaks another cultural taboo…the fact that he lives in the tombs means that he literally lives in the midst of death…and guess what, dead bodies make you ritually unclean…there’s another rule that Jesus bypasses…heck even the presence of pigs which are an unclean animal creates another boundary.

And yet, Jesus doesn’t hesitate…in fact…despite all of these forces that stand in the way…his very purpose for going in the first place was to free this man from oppression…from isolation…to restore him to life in community.

Jesus shows us in this story that he willingly, and perhaps even intentionally crosses any and all barriers to bring ONE individual back from that which isolates him…to bring him back from life quite literally as a dead man….foreshadowing perhaps? A little glimpse into just how far Jesus is willing to go to reestablish life in relationship for any one person? Yah, I’d say so. (pause)

Now that’s all well and good…honestly that’s the gospel in a nutshell right there…but I’m drawn back to the response of the people who were there…fear. (pause) Now just what it is that they are afraid of is hard to tell…Perhaps they’re afraid to witness a supernatural power that is so much greater than they are…I’d say that’s fair…perhaps on the other hand they’re afraid that Jesus will continue to cost them their livelihood…after all, his actions cost them a great herd of pigs worth a great deal.

Or maybe, on the flip side…maybe they’re afraid of what it means that now this man is coming back into the community. For a long time, they’ve known this guy as the demoniac…a lunatic, dangerous…unacceptable and unpredictable…a danger to himself and to others…and so they cast him…tie him up and leave him chained in the tombs among the dead…but now…this guy…known only by his history, is going to be back in the neighborhood…living among them as one of them…and maybe, just maybe, they can’t get past that…maybe they can’t see him for what he is, a fellow human being…and they can only see the history that surrounds him…and the fact that the measures they have taken to contain him are no longer applicable…for his presence, clothed and in his right mind represents a total change from how they’ve dealt with the situation up to this point. (pause) And yah…that can be scary.

Now keep in mind, these are Gentiles…maybe they’ve heard of God, but it stands to reason that they’ve got their own gods…their own way of thinking about things…but despite their views or their theology, God acts in their midst anyway…and this really shouldn’t surprise us, because it seems like throughout scripture God…and especially God the Son…pretty much always ends up standing with the marginalized….whether everyone else approves of it or not. (pause)

Now what’s that mean for us today? Well, that’s the million dollar question. Usually at this point I’ll throw out something generic about recognizing the presence of the marginalized within our lives…how sometimes we are the ones pushed to the side…and that is true, I don’t dispute that…and yes the good news of the gospel IS for us.

But recent events have brought things to the point where I can’t just be generic anymore. Last Sunday, I had no more than wrapped up worship including a sermon about recognizing one another as people…as human…as individuals of worth…and I stepped into my office to do a little of the follow up work I do every Sunday…and that’s when I saw the news about Orlando…and the mass shooting…49 people dead at a nightclub.

And all I could think was “AGAIN?” And I shook my head in disbelief…because these events are happening SO often that there’s nothing else I feel like I can do or so…and so I went on about my day…but I kept hearing the news…and more and more details emerged…and in the end, it has come light…that the nightclub was a gay bar…and the perpetrator used his beliefs to justify killing almost 50 people simply because of their orientation. (pause)

Now I’m not going to stand up here and tell you what you should think or feel…or tell you what’s the right theological understanding on what we always seem to label as the “Gay Issue.” That’s another conversation for another day…but what I am going to say is that NOTHING…NOT ONE THING…can possibly justify the senseless slaughter.

These were human lives…fellow human beings…and whether society wants to approve and condone their lifestyle or not…it doesn’t change the fact that they are human just like the rest of us…and as fellow members of the human race…they are made in the divine image of God…just like everyone else…we hear way back in Genesis 1…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them…

I’m pretty sure that male and female covers the gambit of humanity…we are all made in the image of God and God has called this Very Good. And yet we see fit to destroy one another simply because we are different…

Now I’m not going to try and change your mind…I know that many of you sitting out there disagree and I respect that…but what I am saying is that we MUST find a way to co-exist with one another…and to treat one another as equals. (pause)

I do not fool myself into thinking that this is easy, but I do believe that God is calling us to mutual respect for one another…for Christ himself commanded us to first love God, and then to love our neighbor…even going so far as to tell us that the world will know that we are His followers if we have love for another. (pause)

Life is messy…and life is complicated…and its hard…and we all fall along different points in terms of our views on this topic…I get that…but praise be to God that nothing in all creation, not our shortcomings nor our sin, nor our mistakes will separate us from His love…Jesus made the ultimate road trip for that purpose…to free us all from that which isolates us….and there was nothing random about that. (pause)

I know that this conversation…this topic…is emotionally charged…I know that its scary…maybe even dangerous to tread into these waters…But God entered our reality in order to bring about unity…and remember that unity does not equal conformity…but rather a mutual love and respect for those we encounter. It is my prayer that we can start there…and trust that God will ultimately lead us where He wants us to go….whatever that might ultimately look like. Amen

You Know What They Say About Assuming 6-12-16

This sermon, based on Luke 7:36-50, explores the dangers of letting our assumptions about individuals define them in our minds rather than seeing them as precious people.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

As I think back on elementary school, I have certain memories that stand out for each and every year…certain events or interactions that have seared themselves into my memory…but one year actually has 2 of these memories…3rd grade…the year I mistakenly called my nearly retirement aged teacher Grandma…and more importantly, the year when I got a strange notion to watch the clock on the wall for 15 minutes straight…right in the middle of whatever lesson was currently going on…I’m not making this up.

For whatever reason, I sat and stared at the clock, watching the second hand make lap after lap for 15 straight minutes…I was so impressed with my laser like focus, that I raised my hand, and interrupted the lesson to share with my teacher and the rest of my class that… “I just watched the clock for 15 straight minutes.” I assumed that my teacher would be impressed…but you know what they say about assuming…if you’re familiar with that old saying, I think its safe to say that I certainly fit the bill that day…and needless to say, I didn’t score any brownie points with my teacher.  (pause)
Now why do I bring this up today? Because the notion of assumptions is all over this gospel lesson…while Jesus reclines at dinner hosted by Simon the Pharisee, a sinful woman enters, approaches him, cries on his feet, wipes them with her hair, and then pours expensive perfume on them…this sparks off a great deal of controversy and conversation around the table…along with assumptions and judgements.  (pause)
Now the first assumption that happens belongs to the host…Simon the Pharisee. Just why he chose to invite Jesus to dinner is up in the air…perhaps he was curious…perhaps he hoped to learn more…or on the flip side perhaps he had already passed judgment on Jesus and he hoped to use this as a chance to discredit him…but either way, Simon holds an assumption…a preconceived notion about Jesus.

Then once the woman enters…Simon makes assumption number two…that Jesus must not be who he says he is…the rumors must not be true…because IF he were a PROPHET….he would know what type of woman this is that is touching him…that she is a sinner. (pause)

Now here’s the funny thing…because for many of us…perhaps even most of us that are familiar with this story…I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’ve made an assumption as well…Ask yourselves this question…what do we know about her? Think about it for a second. (pause) Now what did you come up with? I’m guessing that some of you have it in mind that this woman is a prostitute…and that her sinful reputation is physical in nature…am I right…at least with some of you?

If so, don’t feel bad…you aren’t the first one to come to this conclusion…but if you did, allow me correct you…no where in scripture are we given any evidence of who this woman is, or what she does…and more important what the nature of her sinful reputation entails…but if that’s the case then were does the assumption come from?

Perhaps from the somewhat scandalous nature of what she does…at least for that time. Keep in mind that it was socially unacceptable for a woman to approach a man in this way…it was also unheard of for a woman to touch a man who wasn’t her husband…and even the fact that she lets down her hair to wipe his feet is something that would not have been done…and so for those present in that day and age…this would be a little scandalous…and perhaps its in the scholarly knowledge of Jewish custom at that time that has given us the common assumption that she’s a prostitute…but in reality…the only thing that we know…is that she is sinful…but just like Simon the Pharisee, we have judged this book by its cover. (pause)

Honestly, isn’t that what’s going on here…as the event unfolds Simon thinks to himself that because Jesus allows himself to be touched…to be engaged by this sinful woman, then there is no way that he can be a prophet…in short…Simon’s passing judgment on both of them at the same time.

Now after some back and forth…Jesus asks a question…Do you see this woman? I thought a lot about that question…because at face value, it could be a simple question…Hey Simon, look at her…but it doesn’t seem to be…rather in this simple question, Jesus points out that Simon sees only the sin…only the reputation…only that which the rules dictate to be unacceptable…

But Jesus sees more…he sees the woman for who she is…as an individual…not as a list of prior infractions and mistakes…and then he goes one step farther, pointing out something that perhaps Simon had completely overlooked…that this SINFUL woman, has actually fulfilled the acceptable rules of hospitality that Simon overlooked.

I am your guest Simon, but you gave me no water to wash my feet. You gave me no kiss of greeting. You did not anoint my head with oil…all the things that the host is expected to do, Simon neglected…now perhaps he thinks that Jesus is a lowly guest who’s unworthy of these things…or maybe he’s just forgetful…we don’t know…but what Jesus points out is that the woman, in doing what Simon assumes to be scandalous, is actually fulfilling what was expected of Simon…funny, it seems that she’s bailing him out of his faux pau…this lowly sinner and this SUPPOSISED prophet, have put Simon in his place. (pause)

Now that’s all well and good…and it serves to support the notion that Jesus has come to usher in a great reversal…that God stands with the downtrodden…and that her sins while many, are forgiven because of the faith that she displays.

But what’s this got to do with real life? I went round and round with that over the course of this week…and honestly, I kept coming back to the assumptions about the woman…that Simon assumes to know her…and that we hold the misconception that she’s a prostitute…in short…that we all assume the worst and define her by it rather than seeing her as a person…as someone of worth.

And while I pondered on all this…the news this week has been slammed with story after story of a gifted college athlete receiving a slap on the wrist sentence after being convicted of 3 counts of sexual assault…I’m guessing most of you are familiar with the story…and you’ve perhaps clicked on the links to read the letter that his victim shared at his sentencing…and the public outcry over his lack of compassion…his lack of ownership over what he has done.

Now this is only one example…but it’s a story that I hear about far too often…when someone victimizes another person…and all too often…our assumptions end up placing blame on the victim…and instead of hearing words of comfort…we make statements and assumptions that she was asking for it…that she have known better.

And this is unacceptable…this is a failure on the part of our society…first off that we shift the blame away from the perpetrator onto the victim…and secondly that we have not done a better job of teaching our children how to love and honor and respect one another.

For how else could this have happened besides one individual failing to see another individual as a person of worth…but rather as an object to be used as they saw fit…isn’t that really what sexual assault is? And likewise, isn’t that what Simon did in the story…by failing to see the woman as a person, but rather as a listing of her past…and if that example isn’t fitting enough, lets slide back to our Old Testament reading…and the great king David…the epitome of a leader who follows after God…well he did the exact same thing with Bathsheba…treating her as an object for his desire…and when it backfired on him…he went on to treat her husband as less than human…having him killed. (pause)

Now as I share all of this today, I know that its harsh…and I realize that some of you might need to go home and have some uncomfortable conversations within your families…but this is reality…this is life…and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times, the Bible…Scripture, its honest about the fact that life…is….messy…and its messy because of sin.

And when we boil it all the way down, I think its safe to say that sin manifests itself in selfishness…in placing ourselves above others…either in how we view them, or how we judge them…or how we treat them…sin will place us on the pedestal every single time. (pause)
I wish that I could stand here and tell you what to do about it…but I can’t…I wish that I could tell you how to solve it, but I can’t…because we can’t solve it.

We can only look to the example of Christ, who reminds us to look and see the person…not the sin…to see the individual, not the assumptions that we make about them…and finally to look to Christ with humbleness, recognizing that we are sinful…that we are flawed…and that we need to be saved from it…and thanks be to God that Christ has already saved us from it…it is already done…and as he tells the woman, your faith has saved you, go in peace. (pause)
That’s good news for us to take with us as we go…but as we go we also need to be aware of what’s going on in the world today and hold ourselves and those around us as accountable for how we treat one another…Let us learn to ask the question in every encounter…Do you see this woman? Do you see this man? And in the meantime, let it be our prayer that we do not look to our assumptions…but that we see one another as God sees us…a person of worth…a person worth compassion and love and acceptance….and lets throw those assumptions out the window…because in the end, you know what they say about assuming…

In the End 6-5-16

This sermon is based on Luke 7:11-17. In this story, Jesus raises the son of a widow from death, one of only 3 instances in the gospels. The miracle is done on one person, but is intended for another.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Friday was national donut day. It combined two of the things I love most…Friday, which I think is the greatest day of every week, and donuts, which are one of the world’s most perfect food. I was sitting in my office on Friday morning when a picture popped up on Facebook. My wife and kids were down in town enjoying donuts on national donut day…and I was in my office…with no donuts.

The thought went through my head…Man, if this was Star Trek, I’d have them beam me up a donut so I could have it…but unfortunately this isn’t Star Trek…and despite the marvelous advancements that we’ve made with various technologies, scientists have yet to create something capable of sending me a hot delicious donut from a distance.

But you know what…things really have come along way, technology-wise. The vast majority of us carry around a micro-computer in our pockets capable of a multitude of things (hold up phone) …need some info, ask Siri. Need to send and message to someone anywhere in the world…text them…need to capture a moment, snap a picture…need directions, its got gps…Oh and you can even make phone calls with it.

The various advances in technology effect pretty much every aspect of our lives…and perhaps the greatest place that we see this is within the advent of modern medicine. We have developed technology, medicines, techniques, and countless other things that have enhanced our quality of life…our overall health…and even our life expectancy.

But despite every advancement that our society has come up with…we could almost consider it all a futile effort…because in the end…all this stuff does is delay the inevitable…because no matter how hard we try…we can’t beat death. (pause)

In my 37 years, I’ve heard a lot of different people express a lot of different opinions and theories about it…but in the end…the story pretty much ends up the same way…it happens.

And it happens in today’s story…or more specifically, it has already happened when the story begins…Jesus comes walking up to the village of Nain with his full entourage of disciples and followers in tow…and before they even get into the town…right there at the gate, they meet another crowd…this one a funeral procession.

Now we don’t know a whole lot in the way of details here. About all we know…it’s a young man…the only son of a woman in the town…and she’s a widow…and that’s about it. (pause) Now here’s the thing…this is a brief story…only a few verses long…we’re not given a ton to go on with it…we don’t know anything about the people involved…and it seems that once this story is over, Jesus goes on about his business and we’re left with no indication of what might happen with the family in the aftermath.

Its so quick in fact…and we’re so disconnected from just what’s really going on that perhaps this story becomes one of those events that we can quickly gloss over and forget about…and honestly…doesn’t that type of thing happen quite a bit in our day to day lives?

How often do we encounter a situation sort of like this…but in passing? Perhaps driving down the road and meeting a funeral procession…or going past a cemetery seeing a gathering of people there for a committal…or hearing about the death of an individual on the news…and after a brief moment of acknowledgement, we go on about our business…mostly unaffected by the truth of the matter…that a life has ended. (pause)
But there’s a flip side to that story…and there are individuals who aren’t just passing by…they are finding themselves stuck in the midst of this reality…that a person that they love is gone…and there’s nothing they can do about it…except to experience the grief of loss…the pass of separation…and the wide range of emotions that comes along with it.

I’m guessing that the mother in the story today was in the midst of that reality. She’s faced death before…as many of us have…she is a widow so we know that at some point in her history she lost her husband…but now she stands in the midst of this funeral procession, shocked at the loss of her son.

It stands to reason, that this event is happening quite soon after the young man’s death occurred. It was normal for funerals to happen quite soon, often within a day…sometimes even the same day…and so this poor woman has had zero time to experience the shock of loss…and in truth, she was likely in shock…unaware of what to do, or say, or even think…and as such…she doesn’t really do much in this story.

When we think about different moments of scripture, when Jesus performs some sort of miracle…more often than not, someone approaches him…but not this time…the woman says nothing to him…no one does…he just happens to be in the right place at the right time…but this is vastly different from what we usually see…and even taking into account the small number of instances when Jesus raises someone from the dead, this is unique.

There are only two other instances…the daughter of Jairus and Lazarus…and in both instances, loved ones of the individual approached Jesus…but not…this time. (pause) This time…Jesus just…steps in. First off, he tells the woman not to cry…and then, he simply says the words….young man…be raised…and…it…happens. (pause)

Amazing right? Jesus raises the dead man to life simply by speaking the words and telling him to be raised…and then he gives him back to his mother…the crowds are astonished…and he walks away…and honestly we don’t even hear about him walking away…the story just sort of ends at this point…and that’s true in all three instances of Jesus raising someone from death. It happens and the story just sort of stops.

There doesn’t seem to be much focus, hardly any even on the life after death…in fact each story, this one included…seems to focus more on the death itself…and I found myself wondering just why that is…wouldn’t you expect that the gospel…the Bible…this Holy Word of God that contains the promises made for us that God is doing something about this flawed reality that we live in…wouldn’t you expect it to focus on the good part…the part where the woman gets her son back…where death is beaten and we see life after that? (pause)
As difficult as it might be to consider…the Bible…this story of what God is up to…this good news of Jesus Christ, actually seems to give more focus to the reality of death than to the rare instances when Jesus literally does something about it…and maybe that’s a hard pill to swallow.

But its true…and as I thought about that…I found myself reliving pretty much every conversation I’ve had with a family or an individual who is in the midst of grief…and while every single situation is different, I’ve often times heard the question of why…or how did this happen…especially when the person who was lost is young, and the circumstances are tragic.

I’ve seen individuals who were utterly lost in the pain of loss…just as the mother was in the story today…and the difficult thing about this…is that those families…those individuals didn’t get a random rabbi walking up in the midst of the funeral to bring their loved one back to life…and I’ve seen the anger and the pain…and I’ve even heard someone ask the question “where was my miracle?” (pause)

More often than not, when we are faced with situations like this, and yet we are facing it from the outside looking in…we feel like we have to say something to make the person feel better…but in truth, there is nothing that we can say…because there are questions with no answers…there are realities with no explanations…and the lack of sense is what strikes us as so difficult.

And because we don’t know where to turn…or who to blame…and we can’t make sense…its been my experience that the individual often turns the questions and the blame towards God…and the questions come out…Why would you take them? Or why didn’t you step in on this…and while I believe that God has very broad shoulders and will take it when we holler out those emotions His way…I also believe that we need to remember that God does not cause these things to happen…and in fact…God has compassion on those who are experiencing it…just as Jesus had compassion on this woman who was probably too far in shock to even realize he was standing there.

Make no mistake…God is not a fan of death…and while it is a part of this reality, I believe that God mourns it…so much so, that God has ultimately done something about it because he loves us far more than we realize.

Just as we experience death as a separation from those that we care about…death also causes a separation between God and humanity…something that ultimately God WOULD NOT…stand for…and so, in Jesus Christ…in his life…and his death…and ultimately his resurrection God HAS already done something about the reality of death.  It is not gone…but it is overcome….and Jesus ultimately took the cross to show us that there is NO length that God will not go to for those that He loves. (pause)

I’ve often wondered just who was the recipient of the miracle in today’s story. We could argue that it was the man who Jesus raised from dead…and there is a certain truth to that…but Jesus acts out of compassion for the mother…and in the end, he gives her son back to her…the miracle enacted upon one was intended for another.

Jesus himself is a miracle…God in human form…because isn’t that something that is impossible? That God would become human? And even more than that…that God would die? And yet this has happened…and the ultimate display of God’s miraculous power was raising Jesus from the dead…taking away the power of death over our eternal existence…but that wasn’t done for Jesus…it was done for us. (pause)

That’s the good news of Jesus Christ…that God has done this for us…but in the here and now, we still feel the effects of sin and pain and loss and death…that’s a hard fact of our reality…and so in the midst of this, we must cling to the hope that we receive in the promises of God…that nothing can cancel out those promises…and so in these moments of pain and struggle, sometimes we have to remind ourselves…and sometimes we need to remind one another of this…that I AM convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor ruler, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor ANYTHING else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

We feel the pain of loss…but the promises of God remind us that on the other side of death, he meets us and holds us in His arms…made possible because of what Christ has done….In the end…the miracle of Christ…is intended for you. Amen