Archive for October, 2016

Not Really A Hero 10-30-16

In this Reformation Sunday sermon, based on John 8:31-36, I explore the notion of freedom through Christ, and how understanding this idea has led to all kinds of division throughout history.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/not-really-a-hero-10-30-16

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

Most of you know I’m a movie buff, and I watch a lot of movies. Some I hate, some are okay, and some I love. But most movies, once I’ve seen them, I don’t really go back and watch them again. That being said, there are exceptions. There are some movies that I can watch over and over again…the type of movie that if I’m channel surfing and I stumble across it, I’ll just stop and watch it, regardless of what I might have been planning on doing.

One of these movies is Tombstone, came out back in the 90’s…telling the story of the shootout at the OK Corral as well as the aftermath. Now if you’ve seen this movie…you know who the hero is…and honestly, even if you haven’t seen it, common knowledge of the OK Corral would probably lead you to say that the hero is Wyatt Earp…backup players…important, but not quite as cool…were his brothers Morgan and Virgil, and his friend Doc Holliday.  And the badguys…well that was the Clantons and the McClauries…who, of course…got what was coming to them.  Throughout the course of the movie, we route for Wyatt as he blazes a trail through the bad guys before finally getting the girl at the end of the movie and settling down for the rest of his life. (pause)
But that’s just a movie isn’t it? And even though its based on real events…its still just a story…and Wyatt Earp, probably wasn’t anywhere close to as heroic as the movie portrays him…in fact, just a little digging shows us that in all honesty…he was a pretty regular guy who had a lot of ups and down.  But history remembers him as the hero.

Its funny how that happens…how our opinions of someone are shaped over time, or perhaps by a specific instance or period in their lives and we forget that in reality, they were just a regular person, doing their best with the situation that they’ve found themselves in…and that this is pretty much the reality for everyone…even the individuals who were portrayed as the “bad guys” in the movies…I’m guessing that they didn’t consider themselves to be the bad guy…just like the one that history portrays as the hero, they were just trying to do the best they could with the situation they found themselves in.  I’ve heard an old saying that everyone is the hero in their own story…its just a question of who’s telling it.

This same notion applies throughout our church history as well…even going clear back into the period of the Old Testament. We are talking about this idea in the confirmation class this year, as we move through the overarching Biblical Narrative…that the big names in the Bible…none of them were perfect people…and even if God used them to accomplish some amazing things…they had their issues as well.

Think of a few examples…a few big names in the Bible…names like Paul…a former Jewish zealot who, if he didn’t commit murder, he at least condoned it.  Peter, the rock…the first pope…a loud mouth who often spoke without thinking, and denied Christ when things got tough.

Let’s back it up. King David, an adulterer who conspired to murder…Moses committed murder…Noah was a drunk…and even Abraham…the great father of faith…the father of a great nation…the key name that we hear in today’s gospel story…He had his moment as well, like trying to pass off his wife as his sister in order to save his own skin. (pause)
Now I can say for certain, because of course I wasn’t there…but I’m going to venture a guess that none of these individuals probably thought of themselves as the hero…but rather they just tried to do the best they could in the situation they were in…and the case of these specific individuals…the situation they were in corresponded with the action that God happened to be taking in our reality…and so, their names are found in the scriptures…and for the most part, they are remembered as heroes. (pause)
And likewise, there are the bad guys in the scriptures as well…sometimes individuals, sometimes groups of people…and when we find ourselves in Jesus’ time…within the narratives of the Gospels…well those bad guys were usually the Pharisees or the Sadducees…the religious elite…occasionally the Roman oppressors…or in John’s gospel, the group commonly referred to as “the Jews.” And that’s the case today.

Jesus is in Jerusalem…hanging out at one of the big Jewish festivals that he was known to frequent…and over the course of a couple of chapters here in John, he continually ends up in the temple…hanging out…teaching, debating…arguing, correcting…in short, he was there doing his thing…and rest assured between the beginning of Chapter 7 and the end of Chapter 8, there is a lot of arguing…and this short little tidbit that we hear today, barely scratches the surface. Rest assured that the mood within this particular little tidbit of scripture…is not peaceful by any means.

But what I find interesting here, is that by the point where we start off today…Jesus’ teaching actually seems to be working for a portion of the audience…for we hear just prior that many believed in him…and so as we pick up today with verse 31, that is who Jesus is addressing.

You believe in me…Good…now here is what that means…this isn’t a one time deal…abide in me…remain in my teaching…if you do so then you are my disciples…you are my followers and you will know the truth…and the truth will set you free.

Now here’s the weird part…we hear that…and it sounds pretty good…almost a no brainer…freedom in Christ…remain in the word, hold onto the teachings of Jesus…okay.

But for those individuals there that day…this notion that they would receive freedom…well this is something that they just can’t get over. WAIT A SECOND JESUS…WE ARE DESCENDENTS OF ABRAHAM…WE HAVE NEVER BEEN SLAVES TO ANYONE. (pause)
Now that’s a laugh isn’t it? Apparently these guys have a really short memory for history, because their very culture, became a culture in the midst of slavery in Egypt…and there are several other examples of servitude within their history as well…but regardless of all that…regardless of any further debate on the nature of sin, and belief and faith…regardless of all that stuff…these guys are clinging to their heritage as the literal end all be all. We are descendants of Abraham…and for us, that’s all we need.

God gave Abraham the promise…and since we are his descendants, we automatically get it too. (pause) But that’s not how this works.

The promise of God is an amazing thing. The notion of salvation…of eternal life…of being included in the kingdom of God, both in the here and now as well as in the age to come…this is a really big deal…even if it goes far beyond our comprehension…

But the amazing thing about this promise…the amazing thing revealed in this short tidbit of scripture…this short tidbit of Jesus teaching…it reminds us that this freedom that he is describing…it is not some physical freedom…its something more…something that honestly goes so far beyond our ability to wrap our heads around, that all we can do is trust that whatever its going to look like…it will be wonderful…it will be beyond comprehension…and that since God has promised it, God will make good on that promise and nothing will stand in God’s way of giving it to us.  For if the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed…free to receive this gift of the heavenly inheritance…whatever that means….Jesus makes it possible for us to enter into the house of God and be in God’s presence. (pause)
Now once again…for us, here, 2000 odd years after this conversation took place…perhaps this seems almost second nature…maybe it seems like a no brainer…but we’ve got more in common with Jesus’ opponents on that day than we like to admit.

They held onto to their cultural heritage as the end all be all…that being Jewish was all they needed…and we do the same don’t we…we have all sorts of traps that we fall into…cultural…racial…financial…political, just to name a few…we fall into the notion that this is right and that is wrong…and even here within the church we fall in this same trap.

Today is Reformation Sunday…a day when we recognize and celebrate the work of the reformers that all started when a random German priest decided to try and reform the Catholic church and nailed a poster on the church door…and depending on which side of history we fall on, Luther was either a big hero…or he was the chief bad guy.

And in the nearly 500 years that have passed since that day…we have organized ourselves into countless different groups…groups based on tradition…and culture…and interpretation and understanding…we’ve rallied ourselves around different themes and ideas…often times demonizing those who take a different stance…and I fear, all too often we place all of our stock in that basket, along with the false notion that God thinks the same way we do…that we’re right and they’re wrong.

But I’m pretty sure God doesn’t think the same way we do…which is probably good because if God thinks like me then we’re all in trouble. (pause) But the wonderful thing about all this…is a simple promise of Jesus…abide in my word…remember my teachings…even in times when they don’t make sense…even in times when you might disagree with one another on just what I was talking about…even when you’re trying your best to hold on to truth that goes beyond your human ability to understand…in all of this…I have chose you.

That’s the glory of the gospel…we don’t have to get it right…we don’t have know some magic words…we don’t have some cosmic checklist that we need to complete in order to receive it…the glory of the gospels tells us that in the midst of our flaws….in the midst of our brokenness, God has chosen us, simply because he loves us…and he will not be separated from us.

That’s the truth…that God has chosen you…you don’t have to be a hero…you just have to be…God’s already done the rest. Amen.

A Broken Hallelujah 10-23-16

In this sermon, based loosely on Luke 18:9-14, I explore the unchanging nature of the gospel in light of difficult events happening in my community.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-broken-hallelujah-10-23-16

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

If today is the first time you hear me preach, I’m going to give you some insight. If you’ve heard me before, you already know this. I’ve got a pretty distinct style in my sermons.  I open with a story…usually something that has happened in my day to day life or some applicable pop culture reference. I’ve got different reasons for doing this. Mainly because I’m a story teller and I find connections between understanding scripture and regular life…but I also typically use a little bit of humor to try and get you to laugh just a little bit. I guess you could call that something of an icebreaker if you wanted to. (pause)
But today I don’t have a story…today’s different…because today humor doesn’t feel okay, and I don’t know about you, but today I don’t feel like laughing.  In about 2 hours I’ll be at a funeral home for a visitation, and in about 24 hours I’ll be leading a funeral for a 15 year old boy who killed himself.  This may come as a shock if you haven’t heard the news, but this is a small town, so I’m guessing that most of you sitting out there today already know this…and I’m guessing that most of you don’t feel like laughing today either. (pause)

So what do we do?  What do we think? What do I say? (pause) Normally this is the part when I start talking about the gospel lesson. I unpack what’s happening. I look at what the characters are up to…and I attempt, over the course of a few minutes time, to find a nugget of truth and hope within the gospel narrative…and I also try to bring in real world examples…moments that perhaps you are experiencing in your life so that in the end, the gospel…the good news will be something that you can cling to moving forward…because the sermon has done its job.

I’ve heard it said that the job of a sermon is to bring affliction to the comfortable, and to bring comfort to the afflicted…and I’ve often told myself that in any given moment, both will be sitting in the pews. Some will be comfortable, and some will be afflicted.  But today I can’t help but think that none of us are really comfortable…me included…and so I continue to struggle with the question, what do I say? (pause)

How do I offer a word of hope or comfort, from the perspective of the gospel…from the perspective of Good News…when I find myself in a state of not really buying it myself?  Let’s be perfectly frank…in times like this….times when our community is shocked by a tragedy…every single conversation that I have seems to reveal the same thing…we are all asking Why or How and we all know that we can’t and won’t get answers to those questions…and it either makes us really sad…or it makes us really angry.

I’ve been in that state for the past few days…and it really struck me on Thursday afternoon. I had just received the phone call asking if I would lead Caleb’s funeral, and I sat down at my desk and stared at my computer for a moment, and all I could think was “How am I going to do this? How can I proclaim the gospel when I can’t even see it?” And never have I felt such a feeling of inadequacy. (pause) I don’t bring this up to say poor me…I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I bring it up because it is the truth…and as I thought about having to sit there with a family who has just experienced the worst thing that could ever happen, and the call to try and speak a word of hope and comfort into it…the “GOOD NEWS” seemed really bitter. And I suspect that for many of you sitting out there today, perhaps even all of you, it feels the exact same way.

And if that’s the case then maybe today what we need to be talking about is the truth of the gospel. Just what is it…and can we find it in the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector? And if there’s only one thing that I can pull out of that story that seems to be the least bit applicable today, its this…Jesus calls the tax collector justified rather than the Pharisee.

The Pharisee might do all the righteous things…but within his life, or in the very least within his prayer, He is the focus. Lord I thank you that I am not like other people. I do all the right things, and I refrain from the bad things…But the tax collector places the focus on God.  Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.  We don’t know anything about the guy other than his job. We can figure that he’s probably a cheat and a swindler, they usually were…and he made his living at the expense of his fellow countrymen…and following this moment of humble confession, he went home, very likely to continue the very same behavior, and perhaps returning to the temple a week later with the same exact prayer.

But again…he is justified because he appeals to the one who is actually capable of doing something. God, have mercy on me a sinner.  (pause) If nothing else, the tax collector recognizes the truth about who he is…and he also recognizes that there is nothing that he is capable of doing about it.

Salvation…justification…righteousness…whatever we want to call it…is not possible for us. We simply can’t do it…but God can…and not only that but God does…and through Christ it is already done for you.

That’s the gospel…that’s the good news…and what I have to continue reminding myself this week is that doesn’t change….whether I feel good about it or not…and to be perfectly honest today, I don’t feel overly great about it…and if I’m to utter the word Hallelujah today it feels pretty bitter.

But sometimes that bitter Hallelujah…that cold and broken Hallelujah is exactly what we need to say…because it is in the midst of our brokenness and our pain that God is up to something. Its in the midst of the honest realization that I just can’t do this that we finally get ourselves out of the way to let the gospel be the gospel and to let God be God.

If the gospel tells us anything, over and over again…its that God is God and I am not…and salvation from sin…the healing of this broken down messed up reality is not something that I can achieve…only God can do that.

And whether I want to feel good about it in this exact moment when I’m too pissed off at God to want to hear it, much less talk about it…the gospel does not change. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Even if it doesn’t make sense, Christ died for us…Even if it sounds too good to be true, Christ died for us. Even if I’m busy yelling at God to listen…Christ died for us.

And if we feel the need to react to all this stuff in that way, God will take it. Because God has broad shoulders…shoulders broad enough to handle all the sin in all the world…and not only to handle it, but to overcome it. (pause) You want to be mad, you be mad. You want to be sad, you be sad…and by all means direct that towards the one who can do something about it…who has already done something about it.

When Jesus hung on that cross and said it is finished…he wasn’t being metaphorical. This is already done…this flawed broken reality that we live in has already been redeemed…even if it doesn’t feel like it.

And this has all been done by God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in the world…even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. And that, my friends is the gospel, whether we like it or not in this moment. And the glory of the gospel is that it doesn’t change. This is truth now, in the midst of all this junk. And it will be true tomorrow…and it will be true the day after…and the day after and the day after. And it will still be true when we find ourselves back in a headspace that is capable of hearing it with joy. (pause)
And so today we offer up what may feel like a broken hallelujah…may we cling to the tiny bit of hope, even if it might feel bitter…than one day soon, our hallelujah is a joyful one. Amen.

Grace Requires No Persistence 10-16-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 18:1-8, I explore the parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge. At first glance, it seems like its just about praying a lot. But there’s more going on here.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/grace-requires-no-persistence-10-16-16

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

Have you ever heard the expression…10,000 hours will make you an master at anything. (pause) I like that expression…because it implies the importance of hard work and perseverance…that if you are driven and persistent…sticking with anything long enough, then the practice will allow you to master it. I’ve heard it applied to all kinds of different things like drawing or learning to play an instrument just to name a couple.

I was thinking about this whole idea earlier this week, and I found myself wondering…just how long is 10,000 hours? So I did some math…and I did some research…If we started right now…on October 16th, 2016 at about 10:30 in the morning…10,000 hours would be up on Dec 7th, 2017 at about 2:30am.  416 days and 16 hours…of non…stop…work.

That’s a lot time…you can do a lot in that amount of time…and to give you some reference…in that amount of time, you could watch the entire Harry Potter movie saga…8 movies…508 times over.  You could also watch the Star Wars sage, currently at 7 movies…645 times.

Or, given our current activity…considering that my sermons are typically in the neighborhood of about 13 minutes, you could hear me preach 45,153 sermons…which if you’re wondering is about 868 years’ worth of sermons. (pause) I call that, persistence.

Now the notion of persistence is on display today as we hear the parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge…which is a really long title for a really short parable…its only 4 verses long after all…and it can be summed up pretty easily.

There’s this widow in the city…and she comes into the judge’s courtroom day after day…making the same request time after time…looking for justice…looking for vindication over her opponent in what is some unknown grievance.

Now the judge ignores her pleas for a while…and interestingly enough, despite anything else that might be going on here…from a legal standpoint, he’s not actually doing anything wrong.  Keep in mind that in Jesus day, women had no legal baring…so she would have needed a man to come into the courtroom with her…not a lawyer per say, but someone to speak for her…different times, different customs. But this lady, being a widow…didn’t have anyone…and so the only things she’s got working for her is a stubborn streak that would rival any 2 year old who has just learned the word “no” and is faced with broccoli at dinner…and as we hear…she just keeps coming. (pause)

And then there’s the judge…and he’s a real winner isn’t he? Despite the legal precedent that I mentioned, it would seem that this guy is pretty much just a jerk. He’s in a position of power…and it seems likely that he abuses it…we don’t know that for sure, of course…but we do hear, more than once, that he has no fear of God and no respect for other people…we even hear him acknowledge this about himself…so there can be no doubt…he’s an A-1 creep…and as such he continues to ignore the widow, day after day, time after time…but after a good long while, her persistence pays off…and he says to himself…even though I don’t care…she won’t leave me alone…and as the old saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease…and so finally he grants her justice…he finds in her favor. (pause)

That’s the parable…that’s the story that Jesus shares in order to illustrate a point…and interestingly enough…it seems as if Jesus is even telling us what the point of this parable is…something that I appreciate, as it makes interpretation of this parable that much easier.

Listen to the two statements which set up, and then wrap up the story.  “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.”  Then we hear the parable, and then we hear Jesus say directly “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant his chosen ones justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night.” (pause)
Seems like a no-brainer.  Pray more!  HALLELUJAH!!!! That answers the question…I guess I’ll say Amen and go sit down. (pause)

All too often, that’s the take away from this parable…that’s what people hear…that if you want something…all you have to do is pray really hard…over and over again…and eventually you’ll wear God down and he’ll give you what you want. (pause)
There’s a name for this sort of thing…its called Prosperity Gospel…and it’s a simple notion…if your faith is strong enough…if its, BIG enough…well then God will bless you…and God will bless you in ways beyond measure…AKA you’ll be rich and have a lot of stuff…but only if your faith is strong enough.

The theme song for this might as well be (sing) I BELIEVE I CAN FLY…the lyrics include “if I just believe it, then I can do it…there’s nothing to do it.” (pause) Needless to say, this notion doesn’t really sit well with me…and neither does the understanding of today’s parable that all I have to do is pray often enough and I’ll get what I want.

Because we’ve seen evidence to the contrary haven’t we? Haven’t we all?  Think about it…in this life, you will have trouble…Christ himself tells us that…and its true…faith doesn’t excuse us from troubles…often times it almost seems to be the opposite.

But I’ve seen it time and time again with countless individuals who encounter a situation that is totally beyond them, and they pray, and they pray and they pray…and it doesn’t work. I’ve seen families praying for their loved battling disease, and they don’t get better.  I’ve seen people praying that the company they work for will stay open but it doesn’t and they lose their job. I’ve seen couples pray for healing in their marriage and they end up divorced….and I’ve heard the question many times…where was my miracle…where was God on that one? (pause)

It’s a fair question…if all it takes is persistence in prayer then why didn’t I get an answer to my prayer…if the widow received justice then why didn’t I? Isn’t God the judge in that parable? Can’t we wear him down like the widow did? And the answer…even though we might not want to hear it…is No…you can’t wear God down. (pause)
But what if that’s not what this parable is really about? What if the thing that we’re really supposed to be hearing in this parable about prayer is the other thing that Jesus opens with…not losing heart. (pause) Well if that’s the case, then what’s he talking about in this parable that is still about prayer? (pause)
Maybe we need to be asking ourselves what it is that we’re praying for.  I heard someone say this week that when it comes to prayer, venturing too far away from the Lord’s prayer has the tendency to get us in trouble…and as I thought about that, I thought about the teaching that our great reformer Martin Luther wrote in the small catechism on the Lord’s Prayer, something which we study together in confirmation class…something that many of you sitting out there have likely read at one time or another.

Our father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. None of this becomes true by us saying it, but it is true…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. And as Luther says “God’s kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us…and the good and gracious will of God is surely done without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may be done also among us.”

In moments like this, I think its important to remember who taught us that prayer in the first place…Christ, who rest assured, knows what he’s talking about. (pause) Is it our prayer to give praise to the Lord for who he is…and then to pray for the coming of his kingdom and will here in our lives?

Because Jesus tells us, here in today’s story, that when we pray for this God does it. Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, He will quickly grant justice to them.”

Now this is not to say that God grants us whatever we claim as justice…God does not bow to our judgment in any situation…but rather, we need to remember what justice is…and so allow me to reword it. He will grant justification to those that cry out to him.

The presence of the kingdom, which we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer does not equal God giving us whatever our fickle heart desires. Rather, it is the presence of God’s grace justifying us. The kingdom comes to us through God’s actions, and words, and promises to us…all on the basis of his love for us…God’s grace, which justifies us through the saving act of Christ’s death and resurrection, is not dependent on us praying enough, or doing anything else for that matter. God’s grace requires no persistence on our part. God’s grace simply is…and it is already given to you. (pause)
Now all that being said…is there anything that we can learn from the parable today? And I think the answer is yes…and ironically, we learn it from the bad guy…the unrighteous judge…You’ve likely heard me say that when something is repeated in the scripture, its usually important…and the thing that’s repeated today is the judges attitude. He does not fear God, and he doesn’t respect other people…and he’s unrighteous…which might as well be called unjustified…aka, he hasn’t received God’s grace.

I bring this up to remind us of the importance of Jesus’ teachings in another part of the gospel, for when asked what is the most important commandment, Jesus says “love God and love your neighbor.” Not in order to earn anything, but out of gratitude for the free gift already given to you…allow your life, flawed though it may be, to reflect gratitude for the amazing gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

And so, if we are going to be persistent in anything, let it be this…reflecting the love of God for us as individuals back to him, and outwards to those that we encounter. And if we can persist in that…who knows that the world might look like.  Amen.

 

 

Did Anyone See That 10-9-16

This sermon is based on Luke 17:11-19. Jesus encounters 10 lepers and heals them, but only 1 shows any gratitude. That’s worth exploring.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/did-anyone-see-that-10-9-16

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

I think its safe to say that we as a society have a little bit of a fascination with seeing people crash and burn…not literally of course…but there’s something utterly fascinating about seeing someone fail, resulting in some sort of wipe out. A quick search on youtube will reveal videos beyond measure of someone trying to do something big, only to have it fail miserably.

And I know I’m as guilty of it as the next person…and there have been many times when I’ve seen a video like this, and I instantly share it with my buddies, usually with the tagline “You’ve got to see this.” (pause) Now again, its not that I want to see someone get hurt…far from it, but yet it almost mesmerizing to see some sort of trick go wrong.

But before you judge my strange fascination with epic wipe outs…rest assured that I’ve had a few of my own as well…and the biggest one happened back when we were still living in Minnesota, and it involves a bike. Though I don’t do much biking these days, there was a time when I would hop on my bike and ride through town to the gym that we belonged to, I’d check in there and then hop back on my bike to ride home. I’d get a few miles of exercise along with checking off a notch on my monthly gym tally, which was a requirement to get an insurance discount there.

But anyway, this one day I was riding, actually on my way home…and was going through an area full of businesses…at it was commuter time, so there were people driving around, heading to work…Now as I was riding, there were a few moments when I had to go from the street up onto the sidewalk, and rather than simply riding up at a crosswalk, I was trying to be fancy and pop a wheelie to get my front tire up over the curb. I’d done it a couple times already…but this time, I didn’t time it right…and my tire smacked into the curb, and the next thing I knew I was laying on the sidewalk…now I was ok, and so was my bike…but I figured I better let everyone around me know I was okay…so I looked and looked, trying to make eye contact with anyone that was concerned about this whole accident…and even though there were a lot of people around…no one noticed anything….they were all so busy with their normal day to day routine that they had completed missed this epic wipe out…they were too engrossed in their normal lives to notice something amazing happening in their midst. (pause)
Now, what’s this got to the do with the gospel? Good question…so let’s set the stage. Now if you’ve been paying attention, we’ve been moving Jesus towards Jerusalem for quite a while now. His face has been turned towards the end goal of the cross since chapter 9, but now it seems that he’s finally making some progress as he’s heading south. A good chunk of Jesus time and ministry happens up north in Galilee, so in order to finally make it into Jerusalem in chapter 19, he’s got to head south, which means encountering the region of Samaria…as we hear today, his in the borderlands between the two areas.

Now you’ve likely heard me talk about the relations between Jewish people and Samaritans before…they don’t get along…and even though they are distantly related to one another and share many cultural similarities…the Samaritans status as half-breed descendants from the Assyrians several centuries prior still causes issues. And so they are consider foreigners, uncouth…but ironically, being from Galilee, isn’t a whole better, as its considered pretty back water as well.

But here’s Jesus walking in the countryside between the two area…coming up on some unidentified village, when he encounters a group of 10 lepers…Now these 10 guys have it pretty rough…leprosy is a horrible disease…but back in Jesus day, leprosy actually meant a whole lot of different things…it wasn’t any single disease, but was pretty much assigned to any sort of skin ailment.

Now if you had some sort of unexplained issue…you were declared ceremonially unclean…and you got kicked out of town. You had to remain outside of town for a period of time…basically until the problem cleared up, or until you died…kind of an either or situation…but if the problem cleared up, well then there was a procedure to follow…periodically go present yourself to a priest, who would inspect your skin to make sure you were, in fact, okay…and if he gave you the thumbs up, well then you’d do a ceremonial washing, and you’d make a thanksgiving sacrifice…and then you were clean again, and you could rejoin the community.

But until that time, well you were out in the wilderness…required to cover your face and announce from a distance “UNCLEAN!” so that anyone who wanted to avoid contamination could stay away from you…but as misery does love company…fellow lepers could band together. This is why Jesus encounters a group of 10…10 guys…all kicked out of their local communities…hanging out together…and all of them seeking mercy…seeking healing…and apparently…aware of who this Jesus guy is.

For when they recognize him, even though they are following the rules and staying at a distance, they cry out “JESUS…MASTER…have mercy on us.” (pause)  And Jesus, being Jesus…does.  But…here’s the weird part about this story.  We don’t really hear about the healing itself do we?

Rather, Jesus just tells them…go show yourself to the priest. And…that’s it. We don’t actually hear about the healing itself do we? Only a passing comment that as they’re going, they are cleansed…Jesus doesn’t offer any fancy words…he doesn’t do any oddball actions as we hear in other instances…he doesn’t even touch them…he just tells them to go the priest…to basically do exactly what they would already do.  And its on the way that the action happens…the action of being cleansed. (pause)
Now I’m drawn to the notion of action here…because there are actually 3 different actions described within the story…while the 10 men are heading towards the priests…all 10 are cleansed…We also hear that they are healed…now one could argue that these are sort of the same thing…and they are certainly related…but there is a distinction…for their ailment is healed…but to be healed of something, that requires the action of nature…whatever it is that’s causing the sickness clears up, whether by itself or with the help of medicine or in this case with the help of God…but it is…a biological action.

Now on the other hand, to be “cleansed,” while referring to the healing of their leprosy, well according to the rules that we’ve already discussed, well this involves the judgement and action of a priest to say that “yes, you are clean.” And so this action is up to another person. (pause)

Now both of these actions happen to all 10 guys…essentially, even though it originates in a miraculous way…its still very much a part of the normal status quo…for this type of thing happened…someone would be called a leper…but after time they could be called clean and return to normal life.

And here’s where things get tricky…9 of the guys…we don’t really know what happens to them do we?  They believe Jesus enough to follow his instructions…and along the way they are healed…but after that, we don’t know. In all likelihood these 9 guys, who we can assume are Jewish, go to the priest, get the thumbs up, make the required sacrifice and head back to their community…

But 1 guy…the one who happens to be the foreigner…the outsider among outsider, he does something different doesn’t he? As we hear, he returns…praising God in a loud voice, falling at Jesus feet to thank him for the gift of mercy that Jesus had shown him…and we hear from Jesus that this man’s faith has made him well…it has made him whole…and in fact the Greek even says it has “SAVED” him.

Now we talk a lot about salvation don’t we…and we talk a lot about faith…last week’s sermon was all about that…but I find myself wondering what it is that was different about this guy…because out of 10 men who all experienced the same thing…this one guy experiences more…and Jesus commends him for it…pointing out his faith…his faith which apparently is on display through his action of returning with incredible gratitude for that which God has done in his life. (pause)
So what’s different about this guy? What is it that makes him respond as he does? What is it that makes him recognize the presence of something amazing in the midst of the regular day to day? (pause)
As we hear, it’s the presence of faith within him…the belief that God has done something…and that God is the source of this miraculous healing. (pause)
Say what you will about the other 9 guys…there must have been something going on there, because they were healed as well…but it would seem that they are so caught up in the regular…in the status quo…in the way things normally are that they have missed the presence of something more.

Just like all those people in Minnesota who were so busy with their morning routine that they missed me crashing into curb and wiping out…these 9 guys just go about their business…getting back to normal…but because of the presence of faith within this random Samaritan leper…this man who is not only an outcast, but is an outcast among outcasts…he is able to recognize just how enormous this gift of God is.

There’s a moment in Luke’s gospel when Jesus says that he who has been forgiven much loves much, and I think that’s on display here…One could argue that the Samaritan, even though the healing was the same, the blessing was a double measure…so perhaps he’s got insight that the other 9 guys lacked…and we see the same sort of thing on display with believers who’s faith came about in the midst of hitting rock bottom…and the turnaround in their lives is so blatant, because they recognize the enormity of God’s free gift of Grace.

Now, in our lives of faith, we all have moments when we’re one of the 9…and the incredible gift that we’ve been given, simply because God has chosen to out his monumentous love for us…gets missed in our ordinary day to day lives…but at the same time, faith gives us the ability to also be the 1…faith gives us the ability to recognize the presence of something amazing in the midst of the status quo…because through Christ, the kingdom has come near…through Christ, the miracle has already been done…through Christ God’s grace is already given to us, and because of what God has said about us…and what God has done for us…its already here…and it is through the presence of faith in the midst of our humdrum lives, that we recognize the enormity of this gift…and we respond with gratitude. (pause)

Interestingly enough I got into a discussion on social media this week on this very subject…and the question of how do we respond to this gift of grace…and how does faith manifest itself?  Do we respond by cheapening God’s gift and continuing to act like a jerk, holding onto our get out of jail free card…expecting to repent at the last possible second?

Or are we changed? Do we recognize the incredible gift that we have been given…not by anything we have done, but simply because Jesus does have mercy on us.  And in recognizing this, does our life reflect true gratitude…and do we praise God for this gift?

That’s what faith does…it allows us to see just how big of a gift we have already received in the midst of the normal…and our gratitude is reflected as we praise the one who has given us this gift. (pause)

All 10 men were healed…all 10 were cleansed…but only one was made whole…may our eyes be opened to witness the amazing gift that God has given us…and may our lives reflect that back as praise. Amen.

Add Faith To Us 10-2-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:5-10, I explore an interesting request from the Apostles to “increase our faith.” Yet a translation hiccup reminds us that faith is not something that we can quantify.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/add-faith-to-us-10-2-16

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

When I was in high school, I was very active in a lot of the fine arts. One of the things that I enjoyed was large group speech, and in particular, group improv. It is so much fun to work together with a group of people to come up with a story right there on the fly…unscripted…unplanned.

And because of my love for improv, it will probably come as no great shock to hear that back in the late 90’s, that one of my favorite things was the improve tv show Who’s Line is it Anyway…a half hour long batch of games that were completely improvised…and the catch phrase of the show was always great…the show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. (pause)

I think that last phrase…the points don’t matter…that was what always caught my attention…because that tends to be how I approach pretty much everything. In all likelihood that’s probably why I’m not the biggest fan of sports…because I don’t really pay much attention to the scoreboard.  One of my favorite things to say when someone asks me about the score of some random game or another, I usually end up saying “It ended up too much to not enough.”

But honestly…that’s not how things really work is it? We love to keep score…we love to quantify things…and not just the outcome of sporting events…but pretty much everything…we, as human beings, have the tendency to attempt to quantify…absolutely everything. (pause)

And we see evidence of this in our story today…as the apostles look for a boost in on the faith score board.  (pause) Here’s the deal…in the midst of traveling around…following Jesus from place to place…the apostles have seen a lot…they’ve heard a lot…they’ve even experienced a lot of amazing things first hand.  They’ve seen Jesus perform miracles.  They’ve seen him cast out demons. They’ve seen him raise people from the dead…they’ve watched the guy walk on water. (pause) And we can’t forget that the apostles have even been empowered by Jesus, and sent out two by two to do some of these very same things themselves.

But now, as they are finally nearing Jerusalem…getting pretty close to the place where Jesus has told them repeatedly that he’s going to be betrayed and tortured and killed…maybe its finally starting to sink in that at some point…they’re going to be on their own…without their master…seemingly left to their own devises. (pause)
But they also know that they’ve got a mission hanging out there too…to proclaim a gospel of repentance…and then to announce the forgiveness of sins…and not only to proclaim this, but to actually do it…to actually put it into practice.

Right before our passage for today, Jesus has told his followers that when someone sins against them and repents of it…they must forgive…even if they have to forgive that person seven times a day, every day…over and over again.  (pause) Now I don’t know about you…but if I was faced with ALL of this stuff…everything that they’ve seen and heard and experienced…along with everything that Jesus has tasked them with…well I think my response would be the very same. (pause) LORD…INCREASE OUR FAITH.

That phrase…that request…the more I think about it…the more monumentous that request actually seems…and there seems to be a lot of fear and a lot of doubt and a lot of uncertainty all wrapped up in that simple request. Lord…I don’t think I can do this…I know you’ve said to simply believe in you…but come on man…I don’t know about this…You’ve got to help me out here. (pause)
There’s a lot wrapped up in our first verse today isn’t there?  There’s a lot behind that request…and I think if we’re honest with ourselves…we probably make that same exact plea more often than we want to admit.

Lord…I’m facing some big stuff…and I don’t think I can handle it…increase my faith. (pause) Lord, work is overwhelming and I don’t feel equipped…increase my faith. (pause) Lord, what you’re asking me to do it impossible, I can’t do that…increase my faith….and so on and so on.

But when we are saying this…just like when the apostles make the same request within the gospel…just what are we really saying? What are we really asking for?  Are we looking at the heavenly faith scoreboard and finding our tally lacking? Or is there something else going on here?

I think this is an important question to ask…or maybe, just maybe we need to flip it around just a bit to ask…can our faith be increased? And to answer that…we need to look to the words of Jesus today. (pause)
Now his words are a little strange…offering up a couple different topics that seems, at first glance anyway…unrelated…but the first statement does seem to apply to this notion of increasing faith.

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this tree to yank itself up by the roots and plant itself in the ocean…and it…would…happen. (pause)  My first response to that is…what? Why on earth would I want to send a tree to into the ocean…wouldn’t make a lot of sense…and maybe, just maybe, Jesus isn’t trying to make sense here…because if all it takes to make this ludicrous thing true is the tiniest amount of faith…well then it seems like faith can truly accomplish amazing things…things that seem foolish…things that seem stupid even…things that humanity would laugh at…like even the notion that God would become human…and that God would die. (Pause)

Scripture reminds us that the cross…the very place where we put our hope…is folly…a stumbling block…foolish even…but hey, if faith can do something as foolish as sending a tree into the ocean, well then maybe faith can do this too. (pause)
But all that being said…just what is this whole faith thing anyway? It’s a word that we love to throw around in the church don’t we…especially here in the Lutheran Church…but just what is it anyway? (pause) The answer to that question…put very simply…faith is believing that something will happen…and it can look like a lot of things.  Like believing that the sun is going to come up in the morning…or that if I plug in my wife’s number into my phone that she’s gonna answer…or if I put my key in the ignition of my car and turn it…its gonna start. Believing that what is expected to happen, will happen…but none of that is really earth shattering or life altering…but what about being saved from our sins…what about God loving us so much that He claims us as heirs of the promise…and that not only did he talk about dying for each of us…that he actually did it…and believing him when he says that he has gone on beyond death to prepare a place for us and that he will come back for us…simply because he said he would…can we believe that?

Because that’s what faith is…believing what God says about you…believing that God sees you with great worth…worth dying for….that’s the beauty of the gospel…that’s its not about what we do or what we say or what we think…but its about believing what God says about you. (pause)

Now here’s where things get a little hazy…because we’re not good at simply things are we?  Especially not something as big as this…because its in our nature to think that we have to do something for it…that somehow we have to earn it….or that we have to say it, or we have to believe it…big enough….because we like to keep score don’t we.

Call it whatever you want…self justification…or giving ourselves assurance…but when it comes to the here after…I think we all want to look at the checklist to make sure we’ve actually gotten our get out of jail free card.

But that’s not how the gospel works…and we see this within Jesus’ rather cryptic second statement today…what master, having slaves that have been out working all day invites them in to sit down?  No…they’ll do what’s expected of them…which is to feed the master first. (pause)
I went round and round with this part…trying to figure out what it was that Jesus was saying…but I think we find it in the final statement. So you, when you have done all that you were order to do will say “we are worthless, having done only what we ought to have done.” (pause)

Now this is odd…but I think what Jesus is reminded us here is that as followers of Christ…as people who put our belief in him…our faith in him…there isn’t any sort of “minimum activity” that we have to pull off in order to check our cosmic scoreboard to see if we’re winning or not…now matter how much we might want to keep score…no matter how much we might hope for an increased level of faith…that’s not how any of this goes.

The righteous shall live by faith…period.  We don’t need MORE of it…we simply need it…and we don’t earn it…any more than we work to pay it off…and the one thing that the apostles actually do correctly here, is looking to the source of faith…Lord increase our faith….its not from us…its not self generated…it comes from the Lord…the ability to believe this utter nonsense about a God who loves us enough to die for us…can only come through the power of the spirit working within us.

And as per usual…we’ve got a lost in translation moment…and the request from the apostles is skewed because of it…our modern translations pretty much all say the same thing. Increase our faith…as if it could be quantified…but it can’t…and the better way to look at this request is “Add…faith…to us.”  Its not a question of asking for more…it’s simply a question of asking God for it. (pause)

Our Lord is the source of faith…the source of that which justifies us…and God grants it to us because he choses to, not because we have earned it…our salvation is not God’s way of thanking us for anything…but our response…what we do with it…that is our way of saying thank you back to God…and make no mistake, we are called to do something with this faith…with this amazing news that sets us free…and that calling is to share it…to share the message of repentance and forgiveness…made possible because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. (pause)
Now hearing that charge…perhaps it’s a little intimidating…because it falls under that really scary word of Evangelism that none of us really like very much…but the amazing thing about God’s invitation to us to join in the work of reconciling the world is simply realizing that through Christ’s work, our story becomes part of God’s story…and all we are called to do is extend the invitation to come and see.

Some will accept and some won’t…but you know what…that’s not up to you…that’s up to the spirit…so take the pressure off yourself…and look to the source of faith…our father in heaven, who has already made you this promise…and because of what Christ has already done…it is already given to you freely.  Amen