Archive for February, 2017

The Story Within the Story 2-26-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 17:1-9, I explore the Transfiguration of Jesus, which was both thrilling and terrifying for those who witnessed it.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-story-within-the-story-2-26-17

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

If you happen to be a movie buff as I am, then today is an exciting day for you…because today, or more specifically, this evening is…the Oscars. One of countless award shows that goes on every year, but in the movie world, this is the big one…the most important.

Now my only complaint with the Oscars…is that it is really long…the typical runtime is usually way over 3 hours. Its long for different reasons…but one of them is the number of awards that are given out. There are a lot of them…and they are aimed a lot of different directions…but if I’m perfectly honest…I don’t really care about most of them…the only ones that I’m really excited about are Best Picture…which makes sense as that’s sorta the big one…and then the acting categories. Best Actor and Actress as well as Best Supporting Actor and Actress.

I think both sides are pretty important. In the lead category, you are looking at the actor or actress that carries the story…they are absolutely central…the supporting categories are aimed at performances that occur more in the background…important for the story…but not absolutely central…but that being said…I’ve often found that for those supporting characters…we could describe their role within the movie as “the story within the story.” (pause)
As I was working with this week’s text for the Transfiguration…and honestly as I was pondering on the gospel as a whole…I recognized that this idea of a story within the story seems to apply.  (pause) Now I don’t think any of us would argue that Jesus would fall in the leading actor category when it comes to the gospels.  Its kinda hard to have a Gospel of Jesus Christ without Jesus in it…and understandably, as we work our way through the different gospels…doesn’t matter which one…Jesus is at the center…and if the New Testament had its own Oscars ceremony, I think Jesus would take Best Actor every single year.

And maybe, just maybe, today’s story would win for best visual effects…because here at the Transfiguration some pretty amazing things happen. You’re likely familiar with it…we hear it every year at this time, just before the season of Lent kicks off.  Jesus decides to hike up a mountain…he takes the Big Three disciples, Peter and James and John and up they go…and while they are there…Jesus is transfigured.

Now just what that means, we don’t really know. All we hear within the different gospel accounts is that his face starts to glow like the sun, and his clothes become dazzling white…honestly that’s not a lot to go on…but as I’ve pondered on this event over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that somehow, someway…the Big Three were given a glimpse at the truth that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine…and this man that they’ve known…this man that they’ve followed around without too much in the way of problems…somehow the divine nature comes blasting through the human.

Now this is not to say that in this moment he became fully divine…I think its safe to say that the divine had been there all along. By this point in the gospel he’s performed countless miracles…but for what ever reason…it is in this moment that the divinity of Christ…the God-ness if that’s what you want to call it…becomes visible for a brief moment.

Now that in itself is amazing enough…but to add fuel to the fire…we also hear that Moses and Elijah show up here on the mountain and they are hanging out jabbering with Jesus as well. Admittedly I don’t quite know how Peter James and John would have known that this was Moses and Elijah…as both of them lived centuries before Jesus and the disciples were walking around…who knows, maybe they were wearing nametags.

But what we do know is that this moment is so amazing…it is so GOOD…that Peter wants to capture it.  If it had happened today…he’d probably want to take a selfie and post it all over Instagram and Twitter and Facebook…and if he did, he’d probably end up with millions of likes. (pause) But truly, Peter wants to stay put doesn’t he? Lord…it is good that we are here…how about I build three tents, one for you and Moses and Elijah…and we can just stay here for a while.

Peter wants to stay in this amazing moment…he wants to stay in the good…to capture it…because I think Peter realizes the truth…that it won’t last…because Peter knows that there’s more coming…that there’s some stuff right around the corner that will be a polar opposite of the glory that he’s witnessing here on the mountain. (pause)
And that brings me around the point that I started off with…the story within the story…because if there was a New Testament Oscar for supporting actor…I think it would go to Peter…at least here in the gospels.

I don’t know about you…but I’ve always related to Peter. He’s present for much of what goes on throughout the gospel…and maybe this is intentional on the part of the authors of the gospels…but he seems to be portrayed as the MOST human out of any of them. He sees incredible things…and he marvels at them. He makes incredibly Spirit filled proclamations about the true identity of Jesus as the Messiah….but he’s also impulsive…and he’s a blabbermouth.  He doesn’t think things through.  He walked on water with Jesus, but then promptly sank.  He expressed faith, and then when Jesus revealed that he would be killed, Peter rebukes him and promptly gets called Satan.

Later on he’ll swear up one side and down the other that he’ll stay with Jesus even into death, only to wimp out and swear up one side and down the other that he doesn’t even know Jesus.

Maybe its just me…but I often think that we are supposed to see this stuff through the eyes of one that we can relate to…because this stuff all happened…and real people witnessed it…real people who lack the ability to describe these amazing things that occurred…and for Peter…right on the tail of this amazing moment that he is seeing…Jesus transfigured on the mountain…just as Peter makes the statement that he wants to hang out here where its good…where he’s happy and comfortable…things take a turn.

Suddenly out of nowhere, a bright cloud envelops them…cutting off their vision…and the voice of God booms out “THIS IS MY SON THE BELOVED. LISTEN TO HIM.” (pause) It’s not quite a “no” in response to Peter’s question of “should we stay here.” But in the very least, it reveals, once again…just who Jesus really is.

And Peter, along with James and John…all three of them freak out…because they have now realized that GOD…IS…HERE. And they are on the ground, flat on their faces because they are terrified….scared out of their wits…or to use a phrase made popular by Luke’s gospel in the King James Version…they are sore afraid, just like the Shepherds who hear about the birth of Jesus…not to mention the women who will experience the empty tomb at Easter and a couple of angels addressing them…they’re absolutely terrified as well…not to mention when the resurrected Jesus shows up and starts talking to them.

It seems, that when God shows up…that when something truly DIVINE happens…it is simply too much for us.  I don’t why…and even if I did I don’t know if I could articulate it.  The only conclusion that I can reach from these different moments in scripture…including this one at the Transfiguration…is that whatever God is…whatever the DIVINE is…words cannot adequately express it…we cannot truly describe it.

That’s why we only hear that Jesus starting glowing…that’s why Moses was unable to actually look at God back there on Mount Sinai but couldn’t look at the place where God had just been. Because God is simply too much. God is in someway bigger…or stronger…or greater than we are…and to be in the presence of the divine must make the individual feel every aspect of being smaller…of being less…of being inadequate.

When I think about the attempt to describe God, I can only realize that our language is insufficient, just as our human limitations are insufficient…however “big” we might describe God, its not enough…and the only thing that I have ever experienced that might just give me a glimpse of this is when I stand next to the ocean…because as I have stood there on a few different beaches over the years looking out at this endless expanse of water, it makes me feel very small…but admittedly that’s not the right word either. Language fails me both in that description as well as in trying to define God.

So no wonder Peter freaked out…because God showed up…and if I was there, I’d say it’s a fair assumption to say I’d be facedown groveling in the dirt right next to him. (pause) But here’s the thing…this isn’t the end for Peter…and even though there’s still some dark junk that he’s going to experience between now and the cross of Christ…the message that he receives is one that we need to hear as well.

Listen to Jesus…and the next words that Jesus speaks are “Be risen and fear not.” Get up, and don’t be afraid because I am with you. (pause)  I love Peter’s story, especially today…because today his example shows us that we will experience the good and the terrifying.  Perhaps you’ve heard me say that the point of the sermon is to bring comfort to the afflicted and the bring affliction to the comfortable…and often times there are people on both sides of that coin sitting out there. But Peter’s example reminds us today that we will experience both in our lives…and sometimes we can go from one to the other just like that.

Peter went from absolute joy and wanting to bask in it, to absolute terror…and our lives reflect the same…but just as Peter was reminded to listen to Christ…we do the same…When we are comfortable and thinking that things are going well, let us look to Christ.  (pause) When we are terrified because what we are experiencing is simply too much for us…let us look to Christ.

Because if we are all doing that…regardless of the division that might be going on that separates the comfortable from the afflicted…well then maybe we can all begin to see what we have in common…a shared humanity redeemed by the one who allows us to approach the divine and not experience the holy terror that comes when our smallness butts up against the Lord’s bigness. (pause)
Truly, Peter’s journey through the gospel is a smaller story within the story…but if he shows us anything…its that he’s human, just like we are…and our limitations are on full display. (pause) And if today’s story of the Transfiguration shows us anything…its that we can’t really describe or understand just what it means when the divinity of Christ shines through the human…and you know what, that’s okay. Maybe we don’t need to know what it looked like…but we can be encouraged to know what the transfiguration means. That Christ bridges the gap…somehow, someway…and that he has assured us that we don’t have to be afraid. Amen.

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Next Verse Same As the First 2-19-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:38-48, I wrap up a series from a larger teaching of Jesus. After several weeks, it might seem redundant, but sometimes we need to hear the same thing over and over.

You can listen the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/next-verse-same-as-the-first-2-19-17

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

My oldest niece is 17…in the midst of her junior year of high school…and she’s got a boyfriend. As her uncle…I kinda obligated to hate this whole situation right? Isn’t that like the unwritten rule? (pause) All jokes aside…admittedly, I’ve never met the kid…and all reports from my sister is that he’s a pretty decent guy…so I guess I’ll begrudgingly allow it.

And to his credit…he tries hard. As they are both upperclassmen this year, they are eligible to go to prom…and as the trend has moved in recent years to include what’s known as “the big ask” he pulled out all the stops and put together a scavenger hunt around town…each clue leading to specific location, and another clue…and once they were all put together…the question was revealed…but she couldn’t miss any of the steps…each one leading somewhere specific…each one…inviting…her towards something different. (pause)

Now, what does this have to do with today’s gospel? Good question…why would I bring up a scavenger hunt, and each step serving as in invitation when we have a gospel lesson that sounds like a broken record?  If you’ve been around…this is now the 4th week in a row that our gospel lesson has come out of Matthew chapter 5…and as I mentioned a week ago…its starting to sound REALLY redundant.

We’ve heard Jesus talk about who is blessed in the kingdom of heaven…and it’s the unexpected person…the person who is the opposite of who the world would typically point out as “blessed.” Then, in the week’s following we heard Jesus give us a reminder that we are different in the world…and that we are called to be different…and then he starts talking about the law…and righteousness and justification…and we are given constant reminders of the way that sin has permeated every aspect of our existence…and that “the law” gets broken way more than we realize.

We’ve heard several week’s worth of statements from Jesus that I like to call the “yah but” statements.  By now the format has likely become quite familiar to you…you have heard it said this….yah, but I tell you its actually like this…and today’s lesson is more of the same.

You’ve heard it said and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say that if someone strikes you, don’t retaliate, turn the other cheek and give them a new target. (pause) You’ve heard it said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy….YAH…but you know what you need to love your enemy too…and not only that but pray for them. Someone wants your shirt…give them your coat too…someone makes you go one mile, double it. (pause)

I can’t help but wonder why? What is Jesus really telling us here…other than perhaps offering up continued examples of that first idea that we heard a few weeks back…that you are salt…so be salt…be different and make a difference in the world.

Isn’t that what all these statements seem to be saying? Over and over and over again?  Honestly…as I think back over the past few weeks’ worth of lessons and sermons its starting to seem like that old repeating song about Henry the 8th. (Sing) I’m Henry the 8th I am, Henry the 8th I am I am…I got married to the widow next door, she’s been married 7 times before and everyone was a Henry HENRY. Henry the 8th I am…next verse, same as the first….and it repeats over and over again. (pause)

Just what is Jesus up to here? I pose that question, because after today, we are stepping away from the Sermon on the Mount…but the sermon itself does go on…there are 2 more chapters of this continued theme from Jesus…and the big question is why? Why does Jesus think that this is so important? Why…are we called to be different? Why does he continue to extend this invitation for us to move away from the status quo and to be something different? (pause)
But before I really dive into an attempt to answer that question, I’ll pose another one…is this something new? (pause) Interestingly enough…this is really just one more step in a long history of God inviting humanity forward into something new…a new way of acting…a new way of thinking…a new way of interacting with one another…and we see that very thing on display if we back up to the very statements that Jesus keeps referencing as coming from ancient times.

Our first reading came out of Leviticus today…and it represents just a small portion of “the law” that God gave to Moses…a code for how the Israelites were to treat one another and not only that but how they were to treat other cultures that they came into contact with…Now most of what we heard from Leviticus today was aimed at those interactions within the community of the Israelites…and we don’t actually hear the direct statements that Jesus would reference…but rest assured those statements were in there too.

As Jesus reminds us…you have heard it said to those in ancient times, and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…and while that might seems a little on the barbaric side to consider yanking another person’s eye out…it was actually revolutionary at the time…if someone harms you…don’t seek ultimate retaliation…but let the punishment fit the crime.  God was inviting the people to recognize that punishment did not need to be an escalation of violence…and at the time…that was a huge step forward.

Now fast forward several thousand years to Jesus day…and that old saying switches to something new…and why? Because through Christ, the kingdom is here now and with that change, once more God is inviting us into something new…a new way of thinking…a new way of responding…because its no longer an eye for eye…but if someone takes a swing at you…offer up the other cheek as well. (pause)

Even today, 2000 years after Jesus posed this teaching…its hard…because every single atom of our being wants to strike back…that’s just the way we are wired isn’t it? If someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back…and all too often…we have the tendency to ramp things up…you hurt me, I’ll hurt you more so you’ll never try to hurt me again.

I can’t think about that without thinking about the last 15 years of conflict that our country has been involved in following 9-11…they hurt us, so we’ve been trying to strike back at them so hard that they’ll never dare raise a finger towards us again…and how’s that been working…we’re on our 3rd administration since that whole deal kicked off…and from where I’m standing there’s no end in site…and that’s not me being political…that’s me making an observation.

We’ve used violence to strike back against violence that was used to strike back against violence…and the cycle keep spiraling backwards through history…but it will never work…because violence can never drive out violence, only love can do that.

And maybe that’s precisely why Jesus gave us the moral imperative 2000 years back to try something different. The kingdom of Heaven is here now…but the world still looks pretty much the same because we can’t break ourselves of the habit of an eye for eye.

But Jesus told us to be salt…to be something that makes an actual difference in its environment…someone attacks you, don’t strike back…it might hurt…but it will sure as heck throw them off their game won’t it? And maybe…just maybe, our example which can only be inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us…maybe it’ll make a difference in the life of one person.

The world is ripe with individuals who are literally hurting for the gospel…they are hungry for a change in the ugliness of this world and how we treat one another…and sometimes…sometimes, all it takes is one small step to make a difference…that one small step can be the thing that opens their eyes and hearts to see the invitation that God is offering their direction through the life changing…earth shattering promise of the gospel…and that one small step can lead to the next thing, which can lead to the next thing…which can lead to the next thing…and the next thing you know…a life has change…and a heart has opened up…and I’ve seen it.

Last Tuesday night…a group of us were gathered downstairs in Bible Study…and we’ve been blessed over the past few weeks to have a new individual with us…a young woman named Brandy who’s been coming to church for a couple months now…drawn in because of a tragedy that our community experienced last fall. And as we sat there, having a discussion about sin and grace and brokenness and the love of God, something was at work in her…and as our discussion continued, focusing in on the truth that while we were sinners Christ died for us…Brandy got what I’ve called the spiritual 2×4 upside the head…and it clicked.  The glory of the gospel which seems like utter nonsense…right up until the moment that it doesn’t…caught her…and in that moment God invited her forward into something new…but it could not have happened if those different individuals that she’s been encountering since last fall hadn’t been doing something different…that’s why Jesus tells us to be different…to be salt…to go beyond what the world expects of us and to be something else…because Jesus knows that this world is not going change if we keep on doing the same old thing over and over again.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the story of the gospel can be broken down into 4 sections. God made it, humanity messed it up, Jesus redeemed it, and we are invited into the work of reconciling the world back to God.  That’s the work that the body of Christ is charged with. He’s in heaven now…but we are here and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be different…so that others may see the change that Christ has made in our lives…and maybe, just maybe they’ll start taking those steps forward as well…that’s how this world is going to change…not by continuing the same old thing…not by sitting around sitting on our hands waiting for Christ to come back, but by actually getting up, and following the invitation to BE Christ in the world…because if we’re willing to do that…who knows what might happen? Anyone want to find out? Amen

The Gospel is a Broken Record 2-12-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 5:21-37, I explore a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus reveals the depth of sin. It results in broken relationships, yet we are reminded to be reconciled.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-gospel-is-a-broken-record-2-12-17

You can 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

This past Tuesday evening, the adult Bible Study gathered downstairs and spent about an hour discussing the 4th chapter of Romans. Now within that chapter, the Apostle Paul focuses quite heavily on the example of the Old Testament figure Abraham…and how he stands as an example of faith…Abraham fits this bill because for years he believed the promise of God, that he would have many descendants…even while he remained childless, until finally God makes good on the promise and Abraham has his beloved son.

I didn’t share this thought during Bible Study…but I was reminded of an old comedy routine…one that focuses in on this very idea.  For God came upon Abraham and asked Abraham do you love me…and Abraham said YES! And God said GOOD…now go in the kitchen…get a knife…and kill your own kid. And Abraham responded….Ummm, let me see if I got this….Could I not merely punch the lad to show my devotion? (pause)

It’s a bit cheesy, I realize that…but its interesting to consider that God asked for a pretty extreme display of faith…and all jokes aside, that situation happened back in Genesis. But coming all the way around, I thought this same sort of idea was on display here within our gospel lesson today…a situation where the punishment really seems to defy the severity of the crime. Where the result seems pretty extreme. (pause)
Admittedly, today’s story may seem like a bit of a broken record…like something we just heard…and rightly so. We’ve been here in Matthew chapter 5 for 3 weeks in a row…and if you were here last week you might remember that our lesson ended with the same verse that I started on today.  Its going to continue as well…and next week we’ll finish up chapter 5…and admittedly it will sound like more of the same.

And the ongoing theme…that which started off last week and continues right on through this week’s portion of the chapter…the law…only here Jesus seems to be explore the depths…and how the presence of sin in our reality goes far deeper than we realize.

Because that’s what the broken law is right? Sin? The failure to live out our day to day lives in a way that God approves of…in the way dictated so many centuries ago through the 10 commandments and the rest of the law…the “procedures” that God’s chosen people were supposed to follow, first of all to live in harmony with God and with each other…and then…if and when the law was broken…the procedure to go about atoning for it…the sacrifices to make, the prayers to pray.

Sound familiar? That’s what I talked about last week…and that Jesus raises up the example of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees to make that point…but sometimes, Jesus’ audience can be a little slow on the uptake right?  And its not enough for him to make the point once…but he needs to dive a little deeper…bringing in things that they would understand….and that’s precisely what’s going on here today.

Think for a moment, that you are a Jewish person…just living out your day to day life…and this traveling Rabbi comes around and starts quoting your cultural rules your way…you’d pick up on it right away wouldn’t you.

You’ve heard it said to those in ancient times…you shall not commit murder…and those who commit murder will be liable to judgment. (pause) Well duh. That’s a no brainer Jesus…its right there in the 10 commandments…we don’t have to dig very deep to find that one do we?

And that’s true…we don’t need to dig very deep in our day in age either do we? Murder is bad…I don’t think anyone would disagree with us, whether they claim to be a Christian or Jewish or any other religious standing. Murder is morally horrible…so of course you’re liable to judgment.

But here’s where it gets tricky…because Jesus starts to take things deeper than face value.  Because if you get angry with your brother or sister, you’re liable to judgment…and if you go one step farther and insult them, you’re liable to the council…and if you call them a fool, you’re liable to the fires of hell. (pause)

Is it just me…or does that seem to be going the wrong direction in terms of the severity of the offense?  It would seem, based on the escalation of judgment for murder all the way up to burning in hell for calling someone a fool…is that logical? Does it make any sense at all? (pause)

But maybe that’s the point…because maybe sin doesn’t make any sense…but if we are trying to make heads or tails of it, let’s take just a look at the rest of the examples that Jesus offers us today. Come to terms with your accuser or risk jail. Don’t commit adultery…good at face value, but apparently a lingering look at someone is just as damaging…and divorce is bad all around, regardless of what the law has to say about it…and then he wraps up this part with making oaths and not sticking to them… (pause)
Now of course, there are some other statements in there too…but when it gets right down to it…isn’t each one of those situations telling of a relationship that is in the very least damaged…and in the extreme is utterly destroyed? It seems so…and if we get right down to brass-tax, it seems to me that this is what sin does. It damages relationships.

Can’t we boil it all down to that…sin hurts…and it doesn’t matter who is the recipient of it…it doesn’t matter who is on the receiving end…because in the end…sin destroys. God made paradise, and he put two people in it who existed in unbroken harmony both together and with God…and then sin destroyed that…and we are still living the very same situation now…with our actions, with our words, with our intentions…we are flawed and the result is fractures in the relationships we have with those around us…and whether we realize it or not with God.

The 10 commandments weren’t just a batch of rules handed down by some cosmic policeman, but they were instructions for how to honor God and those around us…to exist within good relationship…and humanity has broken them, over and over again…and this all serves to support the very same statement that I made last week…I may sound like a broken record, but the truth is that we can’t do it.

The righteousness…which is simply being “right with God” is not possible out of anything we do or don’t do…and no batch of rules to follow…procedures to go through when the commandments are broken are going to atone for that. Righteousness through works of the law does…not…work. (pause)
And so, once again, as we heard last week…Jesus came to fulfill the law on our behalf. We can’t do it…so through the life death and resurrection of Christ God does it for us….its done…completed…fulfilled…period.

And you know what, that’s good news…that while we were sinners Christ died for us…and because of this, even if we don’t understand how or why…its done…and we are able to live in the freedom that Christ has given us…freedom from having to accomplish enough, or avoid enough…freedom to be back in relationship both with God and with each other.

But here’s the part where I get all Lutheran on you…and I throw out something that Martin Luther was found of saying. We are, at the same time, saints and sinners…we are forgiven of the sin that entangles us, and yet we are not perfect and we feel the effects of sin and brokenness…and of course, of broken relationship all the time.

Now maybe those of us sitting here in this room realize this…or maybe we don’t. Maybe we recognize that this is why we share in the brief order of confession and forgiveness every single week…because we need to continue to hear the words of forgiveness offered back to us…because even though we are saved…even though we are redeemed, we are still broken…and our relationships suffer…and being a follower of Christ does not excuse us from that…in fact it has the tendency make us more aware of it…and Jesus addresses that very thing today.

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and god…first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus wasn’t just talking to his Jewish audience who would go to the altar bearing a lamb to sacrifice…he was talking to us…knowing full well that we gather here in worship as forgiven people…and yet people who still harm one another…and as nice and civil as our congregation is…guess what people…we still hurt each other. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it…and I’m pretty sure that I’ve done it.

The gospel might seem like a broken record at times, repeating itself over and over again. Maybe there are times when my sermons sound like the same thing…maybe there are times when the scripture seems to be saying the same thing…and you know…its probably true, because regardless of the changing circumstances, the gospel doesn’t change. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Pause) And now, even if we are forgiven of sin, we are still called to reconcile ourselves to one another when our brokenness rears up and harms another.

And you know…there’s actually an old custom that’s built into traditional liturgy…and while we don’t do it here overly often, its probably something we should do…its called the passing of the peace…or the sharing of the peace….and while in many places it has morphed into a chance to shake hands and say good morning to each other, it should actually look like what Jesus describes today. Being reconciled to those we have wronged.

And so now, rather than doing my normal wrap up of saying amen and walking out to sit down before the organ fires up with the hymn of the day, I’m going to invite you to rise… (let them stand up)

May the peace of the Lord we be with you (and also with you). Let us share a sign of God’s peace with one another.

You Be You 2-5-17

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 5:13-20, I explore Jesus’ reminder that we are salt and light. This is followed up by Jesus’ reminder that he has come to fulfill the law. So what’s that mean for us?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-be-you-2-5-17

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

If I was to ask you to name one story written by the famous author Edgar Allan Poe…I’m guessing most of you would offer up The Raven…perhaps even quoting the raven…Nevermore.

But there’s another story written by Poe, perhaps not quite as well known, but its stuck with me over the years…its called the Tell-Tale Heart…Within the story, we hear the narrator, offering up to us an account of how he committed murder…but was captured after the victims post-mordum hearbeat drove him temporarily crazy and he confessed to the crime.

Now that in itself is strange to be sure…but there’s a detail within the story itself that always bugged me. You see, the premise for this whole murder was weird to begin with…apparently the victim was an okay guy…but one of his eyes was weird…apparently wide and menacing like a vulture is how Poe describes it. And the man who committed the murder, well he couldn’t stand it…so he decided to kill the guy.

And so…for a period of time, he plotted the murder…planning to do it at night…creeping into the man’s home…into his bedroom, where he would commit the crime…and so for a long period…night after night…the murderer would bring a long a lamp, creep slowly into the house, and down the hall to the bedroom door. Once he got his and arm inside the door, he’d open a shutter on the covered lamp, casting a light on his victim’s eye…night after night its shut…and its not until a slip up makes a noise that wakes the man, that he finally commits the murder.

Now the rest of details aren’t really important…but here’s the thing that’s always bugged me. The guy lights a lantern…and closes it…taking a lot of time to creep into the room. And if I know anything about a lantern…I know that it’s basically a candle burning inside a frame…and if you completely close it…which you would have to in order to keep any light from coming out…well then that candle is quickly going to use up all the air available to it…and its gonna go out long before he makes it into the bedroom…I don’t mean to be nitpicky Mr Poe…but that’s how a candle works…put it under a cover after its lit…well that’s just stupid. (pause) I’m guessing you see where I’m going with this.

Today, we dive into the meat of the Sermon on the Mount…a long period of teaching by Jesus…both to his disciples as well as the crowds that have gathered around him…and through the written word of the gospel…teaching aimed at us today. That’s the setting of today’s gospel…Jesus has just finished up the beatitudes, which we heard in worship a week ago…telling his audience about the unexpected people who are blessed in the kingdom of heaven…including You…we hear that…blessed are you. (pause)

And that leads directly into where we pick up today. A passage that seems to have 2 main parts…You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world…and then Jesus switches gears and starts talking about the law.

Now admittedly, this first portion seems a little strange…all this talk about salt and light…and while Jesus’ statements about light might seem kinda obvious, the salt thing is perhaps, a little harder to understand.

I was thinking about salt this week…where it comes from, what we use it for…things like that…and I compared this to Jesus’ words. If salt looses its flavor its worthless, so throw it out in the road…but when we think of salt now…what do we use it for? For its taste, to season our food, and to keep the ice off the roads right? And now…think of where we get salt…typically at the grocery store…and its pure right…because we’ve refined it…and so, for the salt to loose its saltiness, means that there’s nothing left…Pure salt, if its lost its saltiness, is nothing right? So I guess there wouldn’t be much left to throw out on the roads in the first place.

But in Jesus’ day, salt was a little different. They couldn’t go to Hy-Vee or Fareway and pick up a batch. Rather, salt came from a mine where it was chipped out of the rock…or it was scooped up from the sea-shore at lowtide, along with whatever sand and sediment was mixed in with it.

So you’ve got this salt/sand mixture…which admittedly doesn’t sound all that appealing to put on some food…but if something happened, and the salt disappeared, what’s left? Just a bunch of sand…and you aren’t gonna season anything with that are you…so you might as well throw it out in the road where it can provide some traction. (pause)

So it would seem, as Jesus offers up these two brief comments, that salt without its salt-ness…and light that’s covered up are both pointless. Neither one is fulfilling its essence…neither one is doing what it is, quite literally…made to do.

Now here’s the thing…Jesus says You ARE the salt of the earth…and then he says You ARE the light of the world. Jesus says this…Go in Human form…You ARE…not that you should be, or that you will be, or that you used to be…but you are. So be it…God told you that you are these things…so be salt…be light…be you…because you already are. (pause)

Now what’s that mean in the midst of our day to day life? Good question…and perhaps that’s why Jesus switches gears at this point…and we start hearing about the law. And he says some stuff about following the law…follow the commandments and teach others to do the same…don’t break them, because that won’t bode well for you in the kingdom of heaven. (pause) And I have to ask…what’s Jesus talk about here. Especially with his closing statement today…unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you’ll never enter the kingdom. I can’t help but think that seems a little daunting…and perhaps a little odd at the same time.

Aren’t the scribes and the Pharisees always the ones that Jesus’ butts heads with? Aren’t they the ones that he call hypocrites? So why does it seem like he’s offering them up as the example today?

In order to answer that question, we need to remember what Jesus means by righteousness…and that word, one that we throw around a lot, simple means “being right with God.” And knowing that, we need to think about what the scribes and Pharisees do in order to “be right with God.” (pause) They follow the law, to the letter…and not just the 10 Commandments, but all the steps listed out to make up for their mistakes. The religious elite never claimed to be perfect, and we need to remember that…but they knew what do to make up for their sins…the right sacrifice to make…the right prayer to offer…in short…they followed the law, as they understood it, thinking that it made them righteous.

But the big question…how’d that work out for them? Not well…because we can’t do it. We can’t fulfill the law because the law is not just a list of things to do or not to do…and Jesus will spend a pretty big chunk of the sermon on the mount talking about this…that sin goes way deeper than our actions…it goes way deeper than our thoughts and words and intentions…it goes so deep into our broken human nature that we CAN NOT DO IT.

And so if Jesus is telling us to fulfill the law…to be righteous in a way that is greater than the religious elite…well how’s that going to happen? (pause) Well if we can’t do it…then I guess someone else is going to have to fulfill it for us…and maybe I’m crazy but didn’t Jesus tell us today that he has not come to do away with the law but to fulfill it? Pretty sure I heard that in there…
I have come, not to abolish, but to fulfill…To complete…to finish…and realizing that makes me think of a couple of words Jesus uttered on the cross right before he died. It…is…finished. (pause) As Jesus hung there…his body broken…his blood shed…it was fulfilled…and today…in just a few more minutes…we will each hear those same words spoken to us…The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.

This is the gospel…we can’t do it…so God does it for us…and the broken body and blood of Christ fulfills the law for us…the broken body and blood of Christ makes you righteous, whether you think you deserve it or not. (pause)

Now this is important…that we realize that our foolish attempts to justify ourselves…our efforts and our worrying about being good enough…being smart enough…or doing enough…are all just that…foolish waste of effort. Jesus assures us that its already done for you…now. And this frees us up to be what we are called to be…to be what we are made to be.

Salt is salty, otherwise its not salt. Light gives light, otherwise its darkness. You are you…made by God…bearing the divine image of the Lord…empowered with gifts and talents that are unique to you…so be you…quit worrying about being good enough for God and realize that there is nothing you need to do in order to be good enough for God.  He made us…and then he sat back and called humanity very good. And when humanity screwed it up…Christ redeemed it…and its already done. Period.

And now Christ is telling you…be YOU…be who you ARE. And you are a beloved child of God, claimed by our Lord and empowered to join together in reconciling the world back to the one who has redeemed it.

Salt makes a difference in food…and all you have to do it eat my wife’s cooking and then eat my cooking to taste the difference…because I always forget the salt.  Light illuminates…and all you have do it flip the switch in a dark room to see the difference. These things create a change simply by being what they are…and Christ says the same about you.

So you be you…wonderful, incredible…unique you. Not perfect…flawed and broken…but still beloved in the eyes of the one who made you in his own divine image…gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the world. Be what God has made you to be…nothing more, nothing less…You ARE a beloved child of God. Amen.